Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Viking Wedding ~ the new book!

Advance news ~ I'm working hard on my new book. I've done a lot of work while I was on holiday, usually two hours a day, and  finally got the time scale straight.  It is a stand alone story but Flane and Emer, from Far After Gold, feature in it, which sort of tells you that it is a Viking tale. 

This one is set in Stornoway in the 11th century. I have another 20,000 words to write, and a difficult bit approaches, so yesterday I spent some time  doing a cover, and though it may change - or be a more "perfect" version, this will basically be it.

Oh - the title? Viking Wedding.

The break from writing to playing with Photoshop gives my thoughts time to settle into how I want to proceed with the "difficult" bit.

And when will it be ready? Another month should see it well on the way. I'll check back then.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

A copy of Matho's interview

As part of the Interview My Character Blog Hop, Lynn Dawson interviewed Matho Spirston on her blog Blogging with Labradors and I liked it so much I decided to copy and paste it here. The pics haven't transferred, but you can always check back on her blog by clicking on her name.


Matho Spirston


Today at Blogging with Labradors I’m delighted to be interviewing Captain Matho Spirston. I first met Matho in Abduction of the Scots Queen by author Jen Black, which follows the young Matho on his adventures on the Anglo-Scottish borders in the sixteenth century. Matho has come a long way since his first appearance in Fair Border Bride and is beginning to make a name for himself in the service of the Scottish Queen Dowager.
Jen Black gives the following introduction to her character:
Abduction of the Scots Queen is rather a giveaway to the time and the place, not to mention the storyline! However, the story really begins with what I call the prequel ~ FAIR BORDER BRIDE ~ in 1543. The setting is a hamlet called Aydon not far from the northern bank of the river Tyne about twenty miles west of Newcastle. The Carnaby family are the local landowners and their daughter, Alina, has grown up liking Matho Spirston, the guard captain who keeps the family safe from raids by those rascally Scots.
Matho has rather a soft spot for Alina. When she falls for well-to-do Harry Wharton, and her father throws Harry into the dungeon, she begs Matho to help Harry escape. The friendship begins there and prospers when Harry’s father invites them both to ride into Scotland and bring the infant queen south in order that she should marry King Henry’s son. With heads full of promises of gold, the two young men set out north.
Each book is complete and sees Matho learn how to conduct himself as he climbs the social ladder and deal with lords and ladies of the time.
Without further ado I would like to welcome Matho Spirston to Blogging With Labradors.
Matho, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, I know you’re busy these days, you’re a man on the rise. But it wasn’t always so, was it? Will you tell me a bit about the early days? Who were your parents and where were you raised?
The early days? Thinking about them make me smile. My da was head cowman for the Carnabys, the local gentry who lived in the big house at Aydon. The Scots raided so many times we fortified the farmstead with big high walls and parapets and called it a castle. I grew up with the gang of youngsters who fought and played around the castle farms, cots and cabins in the Aydon Township. Lionel Carnaby was in our gang, until we all grew up and had to take on responsibility. I was fourteen when da took me to work for the family. I got to be guard captain by the time I was twenty, but I never earned more than enough to feed myself.
Some of your early success came through your friendship with Lord Wharton’s son, Harry. It seems an unlikely friendship on the surface. How did it come about?
 Well, I suppose it would be because of Alina Carnaby. Pretty girl, the same age as me. We were friends. Well, maybe I fancied for her a bit, but I wasn’t breaking my heart over her when she fell for Harry. There was a nasty tangle because he used an alias, a family name that her father hated. He threw Harry into the dungeon and was going to execute him, so I helped him escape. Saved his life. Then the reivers galloped off with Alina on her wedding day, and without me, Harry had no idea how to find her. The friendship just grew. We complimented each other. I can see that now. He had all the book learning I didn’t have, but I had been ordering rough men about since I was fifteen, and he was a little naïve in that respect. I mimicked his accent, which is why I talk so well now, kept his wild ideas in check and taught him all I know of the dirty tricks of hand-to-hand fighting.
You were on a mission with Harry Wharton when you first encountered the Earl of Angus’ daughter, Margaret, I understand. I’m told this is a sore point with you, and she’s a controversial woman, I know. What do you think of her and are you still friends?
Ah, you mean the beautiful, calculating, scheming, delightful Meg Douglas. Oh, I was a fool. Because she was a noble lady, I was flattered that she took an interest in me. It went to my head, according to Harry. He knew of her in London, and he warned me, but I thought I knew best. She was young, attractive and I thought she was rich. Compared to me, she was. The money Harry’s father gave me was the first real money I’d ever had. She nearly got me killed, and I wouldn’t call her friend now, not since I scarred her handsome new husband’s face…but with hindsight, she also got me noticed by the Dowager Queen and that has been good for me. 
And now you’re working for the Dowager Queen. Another formidable woman. You’ve known her for a while now, I suppose. Can you tell me how you first came to be working for her?
I’m laughing because she threatened to have me executed at dawn and if I hadn’t escaped from Stirling’s dungeon, I would be dead. She thought I’d stolen her child, the little queen. In fact, I had stolen her but Meg tried to save her own skin by returning the child to its mother. I got away and came back to England. The next time I met Marie de Guise, I didn’t think she’d remember me, but she did and drove a hard bargain, which I honoured. After that, I think she trusted me.
What is she like, Mary of Guise? Do you like her?
She is a brave woman surrounded by a pack of greedy nobles who will serve anyone who pays them. I admire and respect her, for she has a good head on her and manages to outmanoeuvre most of them. I was wary of her for a long time, still am to a point, but if you ask me again in five years’ time, I will probably say I like her.
This may be a difficult question to answer, Matho, but I have to ask. You suffered a loss, back in Edinburgh. Can you tell me about her? What happened?
Briefly, because I don’t wish to dwell on this, Phoebe and I were in Edinburgh when the English invaded. We were going to marry, found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and the English cut her throat. Going to France was a Godsend. It got me away from everything that reminded me of her.
Your first mission for the Dowager Queen took you through France, delivering letters to her family and was a great success, I’m told. What was the most important thing to happen to you on that journey?
I learned a lot about people and dealing with strangers, especially important ones. I learned a language on the hoof, you might say. I made good friends in Jehan and Agnes and the lady who reintroduced me to the pleasures of a shared bed. I suppose the most useful thing was le duc de Guise told the Dowager Queen he approved of me.
There’s a rumour that you recently married, Matho, although it doesn’t seem to be generally known. Can you tell me the truth about that? Who is she?
Agnes de Guise is a distant relative of the Dowager Queen. She’s illegitimate, the daughter of a de Guise brother in the church, but her mother was of lower class, and he did not marry her. The Dowager seems to have taken to Agnes, and she now has a place at the Scottish court. Since we both have an enemy in the Cardinal of St Andrews, we have decided to leave the court and I am taking her to my old home on the banks of the Tyne. Yes, I am returning to Aydon. No doubt there will be changes there, but at least I can say hello to Harry and Alina again.
You’re an Englishman and you work for the Scottish Crown. Some people would call you a traitor for that. How do you see it? Do you ever imagine a time when you’ll find yourself with divided loyalties, with England and Scotland at war?
So far, nothing I have done has damaged England. The Dowager likes me because I am not Scots and have no loyalties to anyone in Scotland. No claims of clan, or family. No Scotsman can say that. She also likes me because I am honest and tell her the truth. I hope the situation you describe will not happen, but if it does, I shall deal with it. In a way, the border folk are used to being at war with each other. You might say it has been an ongoing situation for the last two hundred years.
What happened to your friendship with Harry Wharton? Does he know where you are and what you’re doing? Do you think it would cause a breach between you?
I shall be seeing Harry soon. He probably thinks I’m dead in a ditch somewhere! He won’t think me a traitor for he was always open minded, but he might ask a lot of questions about Scottish policy on the borders. If he does, he’ll find I don’t know a great deal on that topic.
You’ve come a long way from a lowly captain of the guard, Matho. What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself being over the next few years?
I hope my house is not taken over by roaming bands of homeless men. It has been empty a while now. I spent a lot of time building two new rooms onto the cottage for Phoebe, but she never saw it. I imagine my new French wife and Alina will become friends. What will Agnes make of life in Aydon? It’s a very different life to the one she led with the Duc de Guise’s family, and it is nothing like the Scottish court. Jehan may join us from time to time. If things settle down with the Cardinal in Stirling, I may go back, or I may work for Harry’s father again. The Dowager may need me again. Something will turn up.
I’m sure it will for a young man as resourceful as yourself. Matho, thank you so much for joining us today. Good luck with your return to Aydon. Personally, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventures, and I sincerely hope to see more of them from Jen Black in the future.
That’s all from Matho Spirston for today and it’s been a pleasure talking to him. For more details of his adventures, I strongly recommend you try the books yourself, available at these links.
More information about Jen Black and her books can be found at the following links:

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Relaxing days in the Dordogne


Monday 8th July Another cool morning but with 33 forecast. We cut some more hazels from beside the millstream behind the house and by the time we gave up I had sweat running down my face like Rafael Nadal on centre Court! Had a shower, then lunch and then enjoyed a lazy afternoon with a sparkly white watching Rafa beat Jao Souza. The sky is grey and it is so warm I’m expecting a thunderstorm this evening.

Tuesday 9th July The expected storm did not materialise though there was a lot of activity on the bolly between 1 and 2.30am because the security light kept flicking on and off. I imagined a fox could smell the herb sausages and salad we’d had for dinner and was trying to find the source of the smell. Poor fox! We left nothing. It might have been mice or lizards running around. Deer wouldn’t be interested in sausages, but we do see what we think is deer shit around the field and the drive. Plus the creature that digs a hole and then shits in it is around too; I did not get up to investigate. (Bill thinks it is the greenery blowing in the breeze in front of the security light.)
We had a visit around 9pm – a couple promoting the St Felix féte on 27th July. This happens every year – someone visits and they can’t speak English and we can’t speak more than pidgin French so with great good humour on both sides we do a sort of charades conversation that incudes calendars on phones to explain that by the 27th we will be back in Angleterre, but we’ll support their venture with a donation. Hopefully, Jenn and David will go and partake of said event instead of us and enjoy themselves.

Wednesday 10th July Sunshine and clear, but a lower temperature – hurray! The skin doesn’t shrivel when we walk in the sun! Bill is busy taking all the unwanted shrubbery we cleared yesterday to the bonfire. I, believe it or not, have been making scones. Now this is not an easy procedure (for me) in France because they do not have the same flour as we are used to back home. They have bread flour and a flour for tout purposes. It doesn’t rise like self-raising flour so I guess French housewives must add a raising agent. The first lot I made, guessing the quantities, were edible. A bit like a cross between a cake and bread. This batch I remembered to add sugar and used lait entire instead of semi-skimmed. They smell nice as they are cooking, so we’ll see how they go with coffee at around 10.30am

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Discovery in the woods



Sunday, 7th July Overcast and blessedly cool morning, so we decided to go on a favourite walk while we could. Walks in France are called randonées and are marked by yellow poles with a yellow circular band at the top. If the walk turns right, then the pole will carry a yellow strip that looks like a | with a – at the top right, rather like an upside-down L.
We followed the path easily, because the commune ensures that the grass is kept at a reasonable level and fallen trees etc are cut back. On the other side of the valley was an old mill, now a renovated farmhouse, with a thriving orchard neatly laid out in rows. We guessed the crop the farmer and his tractor were collecting was apples, but we might be wrong.

The path followed the route of an old pound, now dry and covered in ivy. Once upon a time the pound would have taken water to the mill and on the return trip we discovered, buried among the trees, we found the old water wheel; a gigantic structure which must have need a good flow of water to turn it.
Spent the afternoon finishing off In a House of Lies, the latest Ian Rankin, thoroughly good, swimming and relaxing in the delightful co-o-o-l.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Sleeping naked

A dovecote?

Thursday 5th July Threatening another 35 degree day today. We were going to go to Lalinde but not in this sort of heat. We’ll wait til Monday, when according to the forecast, it will be cooler!
Thursday 6th July The trouble with the heat is that it builds on what has gone before. Before we knew it and despite all our precautions, the heat inside the mill shot up to 28.5 by midday. We were hot, but poor Tim was distressed again. We hosed him down twice and he had a splodge inn the stream, but he absolutely refused to have a wet cloth draped over him.

I don’t know if air conditioning is as common in France as it is in the UK – that is to say, practically none-existent, but I suspect it is so except in the homes of the very rich and the big modern public buildings. The heat wave seems to have dropped out of the news once the highest ever temperature in France was recorded, but believe me, the heat goes on in the mid-high 30s day after day. We worked in the mill room, which was the coolest place; cleaning the window and renewing a coat of white paint around it.

Sleeping with all the windows open, naked under a single sheet, is a rare experience for me, but the night air didn’t cool the house down even though the outside temperature dropped to 17 degrees and thunder and lightning woke us at 5.30 am. Spectacular sheet lightning moving west to east along the valley, a moderate wind and rain that lasted precisely fifteen minutes and then stopped.
We’ll see what today brings.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

No let up in the heat!

Nearby Gite Rural

Sunday 30th June Happily Tim seems fine this morning. He’s been out for two walks already, one around the neighbouring fields and it is only 10.30. No hesitation on eating his breakfast biscuits, either. The forecast is for 30 degrees today, so I may decamp downstairs into the mill room where it is so much cooler. We feel trapped by such oppressive heat; no trips out, no pcs; thank goodness for the pool! (13 lengths now plus lots of fooling/floating around.
Monday, 1st July. We took a late walk over the fields yesterday evening. Given several glasses of red wine, wellingtons -in case the grass is wet or the ground soggy or we might disturb a snake – rare but has happened - and the sloping ground, I staggered and stumbled as Tim tugged me up the hill. When I unclipped his lead, he shot off like a bullet, running in circles and that made me laugh more. Bill was ashamed of me, but I couldn’t stop laughing, though I admit I felt rather blah this morning when I woke up. Even Tim was not disposed to go for an early morning ramble around the lake until 10.30am when Bill returned with the weekly grocery shop. A quiet day was had by all.
Tuesday 2nd July A cooler day and initially we just sat back and made the most of it. Temperature a more comfortable 29 degrees and a cloudy morning which was a boon. Lunch outside on the balcony, dinner outside on the bolly and only 1 bottle of wine with our meal. We’ve trimmed the greenery outside the gate and thinned out the laurel hedge beside the pound in order to allow more light into the mill room – and improve the view from David’s desk!
Wednesday 3rd July Now Bill has the unenviable task of getting all the dead branches to the big bonfire. I’m staying indoors with Tim – who shows very good sense by coming indoors when the sun gets too strong – and will be working on my novel. We’ve had our bounce around the lake, discovered the deer ((or something) have re-opened their pathway across the pound and into the field, sunbathed for twenty minutes and when we started to perspire while simply breathing, came indoors. It is 9.30am. Writing about howling storms in the Hebrides while sitting here takes a fair bit of imagination!