Thursday, 28 May 2020

There was a heatwave that year

My gift to everyone over lockdown was to make each of my titles free for 4 days. 

I chose the order in which the books would appear by drawing straws - or the equivalent - out of a hat, and the 9th title is up as I write. If nothing else the exercise has shown me which genre is the most popular - and that is Regency romance. So far The Gybford Affair: the heiress and the fortune hunter is the clear winner but The Matfen Affair : the bridesmaid and the ghost is not far behind. 

I am keen for the end of the run, for then I will be able to look at the true statistics for all titles. I am rather surprised that the early medievals, Tudor tales and Viking stories lag behind in the popularity stakes, but they are as much romances as "histories." 

My current story is now at 50k and going fine. With a working title of Silver Season, which may or may not last the course, this one is not Regency, but Edwardian.  It is set in 1911 when the Titanic was undergoing sea trials and King George V and Queen Mary were crowned. The time period is very close to the opening season of Downton, but my story will take place within the one year. 

There was a heat wave that year, hints of coming war with Germany and a sense that the season may well be the last of its kind. My heroine is Ellen Montgomery, an American heiress born in Boston and married to Charles Byland, heir to the 5th Marquess of Durrington in the north of England. They have been happily married for three years, but with one flaw ~ there is no sign of a child and that impinges rather heavily on their happiness.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Discovering Diamonds: Guest Spot - Jen Black:

17 May 2020

Guest Spot - Jen Black

I’m an ex-library manager resident in the Tyne valley in Northumberland, a wonderful county for history lovers (and dog walkers!). The Roman Wall and Vindolanda are well known, but the castles, bastles, fortified farms and wonderful landscapes are equally amazing. I take lots of pics and pop them on my blog. (

On a clear winter’s day I can see the snow on the Cheviots that form the border with Scotland, and the beautiful unspoilt coastline is barely thirty minutes away by car. My degree in English Language & Literature didn’t help me get an agent interested in my first attempt at a novel and because I baulked at paying postage on a paper ms across the Atlantic, I tried e-publishers. The first one accepted me. Perhaps this should have told me something, but I was so pleased I just went along for the ride and “met” my first authors there.


That was back in 2008. Since then I have learned a lot about editing, promotion and networking. My book was duly published and the same day, the publisher announced bankruptcy. Except that she didn’t exactly call it that, and she didn’t follow the rules about doing it. I learned a lot about how Americans handle themselves in tight spots over the next few months.

I signed with other independent publishers including Quaestor 2000, who published 2 of my titles in paperback (they still float around as second hand book, which is disconcerting as I have re-edited and re-published them on Amazon Kindle) but they too failed one way or another, and out of sheer frustration decided to go with Amazon Kindle. I now have a dozen published titles there, some also in paperback.

My favourite author will always be Dorothy Dunnett and reading her rather austere conception of Marie de Guise set me researching and thinking about a softer, warmer personality. Another Marie slowly grew in my mind. Several people told me how much they liked Matho, a minor character in Fair Border Bride and why didn’t I write about him? So I did. I brought Matho and Marie together in a trilogy. The everyday facts are as close to history as I can get them but because Matho is entirely fictional, so is the relationship between them. I hope Marie had an Englishman who helped her, but I doubt it!

The SCOTTISH QUEEN trilogy is an action-packed romance set during the turbulent English-Scottish wars of the 1540s. Powerful lords surround the infant queen of Scotland and the valiant Dowager Queen struggles to save her daughter’s crown. Matho Spirston, initially a diffident young guard captain at a small English border castle, becomes entangled in a plot to kidnap the young queen.

Book 1: Abduction of the Scots Queen Encouraged by his well-born friend Harry Wharton though Matho thinks they have as much chance of success as a "duckling chased by a fox,” they set out for Scotland to kidnap the child queen. Meg Douglas, King Henry's headstrong niece, pursues the same quest – and she flatters Matho into helping her and at the same time snares the interest of Lord Lennox, who alternately woos both her and the Dowager Queen. 

Book 2: The Queen’s Courier Love is not easy to find or sustain amongst all the plotting and violence of the times. When the Queen Dowager repudiates Lord Lennox he once more turns his attention to Meg. Matho Spirston, now coming into his own as a bold, gruff product of the borderlands, falls for a Scots lass but ill luck finds them in Edinburgh during the English invasion of the town.

Book 3: The Queen’s Letters
A grief-stricken Matho puts his life in danger when he fulfils his bargain with the Dowager by delivering letters to her relatives in France. Dodging assassins, learning the language as he travels, danger intensifies when he sets out to unmask a powerful enemy and the hangman threatens once more. Meg achieves her dearest wish but finds life is not quite as she imagined.

I have written four Viking stories set in either Dublin, Ullapool or Stornoway. A Viking called Flane features in three of them and Finlay of Alba sets out to rescue the kidnapped maiden in Viking Summer. 

Four stories with a romance and an adventure make up what I call my Romance Quartet. Set in either Regency or Victorian England - northern England, as I know little of London, you will get to know my heroines: Daisy and the thief, Frances and the fortune hunter, Melanie and the smuggler and Leigh and the ghost. Captivating one and all!

And of course, there is my old favourite, my first novel, now re-edited and repackaged as Alba is Mine, a tale of Vikings and Scots in the 11th century and very, very loosely based on the MacBeth story. 

People can also visit my Page at and send messages to at

AMAZON Central, where all the books are listed:

Click HERE to find  Jen  on Discovering Diamonds

If your novel/s have been reviewed by Discovering Diamonds
and you would like to participate in our 
 Guest Spot
click HERE for details

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Pilgrimages were big business

Should you chose to go diving in your local river you might be as lucky as Gary Bankhead.

But take care, for river diving can be dangerous. I remember my parents warning me away from the edge of the riverbank at Durham because, many years earlier, they had witnessed a young man fall in and become trapped in the tree roots that stretch out under the surface of the water. Gary is a highly qualified diver as well as an archaeologist. 

He has recovered many small metal objects from various periods of history by searching the riverbed downstream of the twelfth century Elvet Bridge in Durham City ~ altogether 13,000 of them, probably “the largest collection of late- and post-medieval finds in the North of England: a unique regional/national resource.”

The location, so close to Durham Cathedral, is important. The Department of Archaeology in Durham University have adopted the site as a research project known as the Durham River Wear Assemblage (DRWA). Archaeology students and specialists work together to record and research the objects.

During the late medieval period, pilgrims would very likely have crossed Elvet Bridge on their way to St Cuthbert’s shrine in the apse beyond the high altar in Durham Cathedral. There is also the story of the bridge being so crowded with pedlars stalls that the Prince Bishop's sargeant ended up throwing stalls into the river when owners refused to move them.

Check pictures of some of the finds here:

Pilgrimage was big business in medieval times. People travelled huge distances to and from sites like Durham Cathedral and Compostela in Spain. They needed taverns, food, and beds as they walked or, if they were lucky, rode. Every school child who has ever read Canterbury Tales will recall how Chaucer satirised the sale of religious relics sold to pilgrims.

Badges, crafted from lead alloys, were worn as proof of having completed a pilgrimage. One such 'souvenir' was recovered from the River Wear in 2011: a lead alloy cross with flared arms which had either been thrown or had fallen into the river.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020


Not everyone knows about the Bowl Hole Cemetery at Bamburgh Castle.

Just 300m south of the castle some claim it was the burial ground of the royal court that once lived in the ancient castle beneath the current Victorian building. Discovered in 1816 when a winter storm blew sand away and revealed ancient stone grave markers, some investigation was carried out, but records were sadly lost and no one was sure of the location.

A research project was recently set up to relocate the site. 91 skeletons have been found and were sent to Durham University for analysis. Results declared the people to have lived in the 7th and 8th centuries – some of the earliest Christians in the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. Their stature, sex, diet and, in many cases, their birthplace, has been revealed. Characteristically tall, robust individuals they suffered from tooth cavities and plaque problems. Abscesses were common in people as young as twenty – possibly a consequence of rich food.

This led to the assumption that the skeletons were those of well fed, high status individuals of the ancient royal court. Few grew up in the immediate local area and many came from other parts of Britain. Western Scotland and Ireland were well represented in the findings, which could indicate a connection between the Northumbrian church and Iona. Others hailed from Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. Bamburgh was evidently well-known 1300 years ago.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Ebooks win!

Dragondrums (Pern: Harper Hall series Book 3) by [Anne McCaffrey]A lot of people claim they dislike ebooks.

They swear by a real book. For along time I hovered on the neutral line and told myself I liked both and I didn't really have to choose.

Since lockdown, I have discovered I truly like ebooks! They are there whenever I want them, at a time all the bookshops and libraries are closed and when Amazon is inundated with so many online requests for real books (among other things!) that the postal service in the UK has been logjammed.  A letter from our grandson, aged 5, has taken over a month to arrive from Australia.

I have been re-reading a series I enjoyed long ago, way back in the days when I was young and impressionable. I speak of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. I still have two of the paperbacks published back then, and boy! is the print tiny. It isn't just my fading eyesight, even though I need a cataract removed which will also have to wait until lockdown is over, but the print really is small! The map of Pern is almost unreadable.

But when I ordered an ecopy of The White Dragon, not only did it arrive on my ipad within seconds - and this was at midnight when I finished one book and still wasn't sleepy - it also had a new cover and nice clear text that I could read without strain. Hurrah! If I wanted I could enlarge the text, and adjust the brightness of the screen. I have since ordered other titles in the series, and will go on doing so.

Ebooks win!