A goonie…and a broonie!

Nancy Jardine bringing you another update from a sunny North-East Scotland. On Friday last, the 29th May 2020, I was scheduled to board a train for York, England. I love walking the wall and wandering the Shambles. I adore visiting the museums, and doing general tourist pursuits. Five years ago, I had a wonderful seminar weekend with some of my co-authors at Ocelot Press, in York. Though, back then, we were published authors with Crooked Cat Books.

York Museum grounds- c. Nancy Jardine

My visit this time was to join the fun at the 2020 Eboracum Roman Festival, organised in the main by York Museums. Loads of Roman themed events and activities were organised – some indoors, though many of them outdoors in the streets of central York. I had planned to fill my camera with amazing photos, but the highlight of the ‘Friday through Sunday’ event was joining a lovely line-up of authors in a ‘pop-up’ bookstore, all of us selling our Roman themed historical novels. I imagined lots of impromptu information being shared with customers, and me getting to know the authors I’ve only met ‘virtually’ via Facebook. In 2019, the author tables were set up in the ‘Hospitium’ in the grounds of the York Museum and I was hoping for the same venue this year. Sadly, COVID 19, changed the plans. Like other major events, it was cancelled.

Though not compulsory to wear re-enactment outfits, I had noticed that a number of the authors got into the swing in 2019. I’ve always meant to make myself a Late Iron Age outfit, so going to York was a brilliant excuse.

In January (2020), I researched possible cloth. The ‘Celts’ used standing looms to weave their cloth which is thought to have been either plain, or with fairly sizeable checks (though not Tartan). Textiles do not survive well in the ground, but there are a few excavated examples that have been found across the Ancient Roman Empire. The fragments found indicate an open weaving technique was used, and they also give an idea of what might have been used to dye the wool. 

Dark green commercial dye.

I fancied a mid-green colour for the long dress and a checked material for a bratt (shawl). York in late May can be pretty warm, so a pure woollen cloth sounded very hot and scratchy. I wanted to be as authentic as possible but suitable green cloth eluded me. I opted for light grey which, I imagined, could be dyed to my preferred colour. The cloth arrived but it wasn’t the open weave I expected from the little photograph. (It must have been a very high magnification)

And it didn’t dye. Not at all!

I tried a deep green commercial hand dye which dulled down the checked material I had bought for the shawl, but the grey for the dress was still grey.

I then thought maybe if the suiting material (supposedly 55% wool) had a mordant process done to it, it would accept a natural dye. Using beetroot might make it a pale dusky pink – which I could live with, instead of green. Beetroot is a more recent variety of the Beta Vulgaris species, but 2000 years ago the Iron Age Tribes would probably have eaten a variety more like chard. However, it’s also possible that the Ancient Romans introduced to Britain the forerunner of the modern sugar beet that we grow and eat today, since Ancient Romans ate a number of Beta V. varieties.

The Beetroot Broonies!

The mordant treatment, a boiling in (vinegar and salt) for an hour was pretty stinky, but the soaking in the cooked beetroot juice was even more so. 24 hours later, the indestructible cloth was STILL grey but a machine wash, thankfully, got rid of the pong. The dyeing processes were useless, but all was not lost – I used some of the boiled beetroot to make beetroot brownies, which were yummy, and the remainder is pickled.

My ‘goonie’ is a bit boring so I used some of the shawl material to give it a lift. Is it authentic for Northern Romano Britain? Since we don’t really know what styles they wore, I can only imagine that any embellishment to dresses was of a practical nature!

What do you think of it? It’s surprisingly comfortable and I will wear it when selling my paperback novels, or for author talks etc.

I’ll be putting my name on the 2021 list of authors selling at the next Eboracum Roman Festival…and who knows what I’ll be wearing.

p.s. I’m thinking that when the COVID 19 situation eases and I can shop again, I might look out for some more exciting cloth that I don’t need to dye!

My stock for the Festival, available in paperback and kindle formats from: Amazon Author Page

If you’re quick, you’ll find that Books 1 and 2 are at #99p/99c across Amazon for a limited time in early June!

Book 1 The Beltane Choice

Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn

Celtic Fervour Saga Series

Pizza? Yes, please!

This post is by Nancy Jardine.

Social distancing has recently been making the process of normal food shopping a much longer one than usual, during the current ‘COVID 19 pandemic’ lockdown situation, though this post isn’t about our current global health crisis. It’s about a very ancient issue of feeding people when the supply chain is either interrupted, or needs to be established.

I bake quite often so my larder generally contains baking supplies, though not a sufficient amount for many months. Re- stocking has become an issue, of late, because flour became scarce almost overnight as a result of panic buying and stock-piling, at the end of March. (And we’ll not talk of toilet rolls! … till maybe later 😉)

Being mindful of waste, quantities for bread making, pizza dough, shortbread – and even my breakfast porridge – have been scrutinised more than normal. And in an odd way, this fits in well with my current fiction writing, since I’m often considering what my characters might be eating some 2,000 years ago in Roman Britain.

My usual breakfast is porridge, topped with whatever fresh fruit I need to use up. Many of my Ancient Roman military characters are also eating some form of porridge, though not only for their breakfast. Ancient Greek writing refers to the soldiers of the Roman Empire as being ‘pultiphagonides’ – meaning porridge eaters – and evidence proves that the Roman Army marched effectively on a high carbohydrate, low meat diet. There’s textual evidence of soldiers complaining of being fed too much meat, which might seem strange for some people today.

My 1/3 cup usual measure as opposed to 500 g worth of rolled oats.

My porridge, made with a 1/3 of a cup measure of rolled oats (113g/4oz.) to 200 ml of water, sustains me in energy over the morning hours much better than any other cereal. And it worked well for the average Roman soldier, though the estimated quantity of grain each soldier consumed per day is pretty huge in relation to my tiny plateful.

I’ve read a few sources which estimate the typical daily grain ration for a Roman soldier was in the region of 1 – 1 ½ kg, though the amount varied depending on whether on campaign, or barracked in a Roman fort. My scale pan can’t hold much more than the 500 g worth you see in the photo above, but that amount of oats may have been tripled per day and consumed in a limited variety of ways, depending on circumstances.

Roman grain supplies tended to be of hulled wheat. Emmer (triticum dicoccum) and Spelt (triticum spelta) were carried as grain to prevent mould, and then milled using a small portable quern stone when required. Other grains were oats, millet and barley, though the latter was often considered to be a ‘punishment’ ration. (Perhaps because of digestive results and no toilet paper to hand! 😉 ) The grain was cooked as porridge, bread, hard-tack biscuits, and even in a sort of pancake form when mixed with oil or wine – edible, or not, depending on who cooked for the basic contubernium squad of 8 men. Some lucky squad might have had a poor enslaved captive to do this for them.

In Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Saga, my Romans are mainly on campaign in A.D. 84, marching northwards in Caledonia. They expect to receive the higher end of the above estimate of grain but, sadly, the general supply chain is somewhat hampered by the successful guerrilla incursions of my local Iron Age tribes. General Agricola’s army consists of upwards of 20, 000 soldiers on the march, so a regular grain supply – sourced from around the Roman Empire and sent to point of need – is critical. The Taexali local tribes grow and rear enough food for their own small communities, but even if Agricola requisitions every last morsel from them, it will only make the tiniest dent in the amount needed for his army. And to add insult to injury, as they say, the cool Scottish climate hasn’t changed much in 2000 years. Wheat doesn’t grow so readily – though barley does very well! (Where’s a dock leaf when you need one? 😉 )

In my current writing, Book 5 of the series, the Romans are mainly fort-based so their daily amount of grain is adjusted and supplemented by some meats when locally sourced, or foraged. My garrison at Vindolanda Roman Fort have reasonable regular supplies arriving at the gates, evidence for this found in the many fabulous Vindolanda tablets that have been excavated.

My writing is set during the very first garrisoning of the Vindolanda site, so the supplies of A.D. 90 may have been a bit less varied than on some of the tablets which were written a little later than that date. There are mentions of pickled and preserved products, olive oil, garum fish sauce, olives, garlic paste. Salt, pepper, various spices and herbs are available to those who can afford them – perhaps the fort commander and the officers? There are seasonal fruits and vegetables mentioned like apples, plums, blackberries, onions, leeks, a kale-type cabbage and various nuts. Common food items listed on the Vindolanda tablets, over the centuries of Roman occupation, are impressive and would not be out of place in a kitchen today.

Vindolanda Tablets- Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I used up the last of my 00 Bread flour to make pizza. My favourite is fully-loaded. Smeared with tomato-based passata, it’s then topped with mushrooms, capsicum peppers, sliced onions, olives, chorizo, artichoke hearts, anchovies, at least one type of cheese and olive oil. YUM. Would the ‘pizza’ eaten by my Ancient Roman soldiers be similar? 

No, to tomatoes since they came to Europe from the Americas long after my Roman era. The Romans did have a kind of sausage, though maybe not quite chorizo. Yes to mushrooms, maybe no to capsicum peppers. Artichokes and anchovies are very possible. Definitely olive oil and maybe a form of cheese. Some of these may have been added to round ‘flat’ breads made at Vindolanda Fort.

My tagine which resembles a clibanus type of cooking pot.

There’s evidence that some Romans cooked using a dish named a clibanus, a flat pottery plate which was covered with a domed lid, similar to my Moroccan tagine in the photograph. Rounds of bread, and flat bread, were baked in these when set upon a fire.

In the village of Kintore where I live, in north-east Scotland, there’s evidence of an Ancient Roman temporary camp used by General Agricola c. A.D. 84. When excavated in 2004, it yielded more than 180 ‘Bi-Partite Roman Bread Ovens’ which were used for the campaigning Romans to make their ‘flatbread and pizza’, with or without a clibanus. The design of the keyhole-shaped ‘fire’ meant that slow cooking could be done on the flat stones adjacent to the burning fire.

Roman Bi-Partite bread oven at Kintore.

Maybe the Roman soldiers in the ‘Deer’s Den’ camp at Kintore were lucky enough to have both ‘pizza’ and porridge for their evening meal, once their temporary camp was built!

You can read about my Romans and the avenging local Celts in the Celtic Fervour Saga Series. (Click to access the novels on Amazon)

Whatever you are reading during the COVID 19 lockdown period- enjoy! And if you have some flour, will you be baking? Tell me about your favourite ‘lockdown’ recipes, please.

Or why not make some Roman bread or Roman flat bread ? I made some bread with spelt flour a few years ago.

Read about it on my own Blog It was delicious- and highly nutritious. Now where will I get spelt today?

Slaìnthe!

Discover historical research with Cathie Dunn

Hello, everyone! I hope you’re all keeping safe and well. We’ve been isolating here in France for 2 1/2 weeks now, but with plenty of books to read and several plots to dive into, I can’t complain about being bored. Fact is, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to get bored!

But today, I’d love to tell our readers a wee bit about historical research, giving the example of my Scottish romance adventure, Highland Arms.

As my readers will know, I love history. I’m fascinated by Scottish history, particularly medieval and Jacobite, English medieval and Tudor, and the Norman conquests across Europe. Add to that the odd foray into the reigns of Charlemagne and Louis XIV…  Oh, I could go on!

Anyway, my bookshelves are creaking under the weight of history tomes, but in between those, you’ll find little booklets, their content collated in small Highland or Normandy communities, released by small local printers, which provide inspirations galore. Those are the jewels in the crown, as you’ll discover important little details that make your plot just that little more authentic.

Ballachulish, Loch Linnhe

Highland Arms is set in the Scottish Highlands, near the dramatic hills of Glencoe and the hamlet of Ballachulish, in 1720. Having visited the area many times (and missing it much from a distance), the decision of where to set Highland Arms was an easy one. I loved to create a novel based on the stunning landscapes and troublesome history of my favourite area in Scotland.

Even the ‘Drovers Inn’ mentioned in the novel is based on a real inn: the cosy Clachaig Inn! Visitors of the Scottish Highlands should check it out. (And no, I’m not on commission, sadly!)

Baile a’ Chaolais, Ballachulish’s Gaelic name, means ‘village of the narrows’. It lies at the junction where Loch Leven flows into the much larger Loch Linnhe. The original village lay in what is now North Ballachulish (Highland Arms is set just a couple of miles to the north along the shore of Loch Linnhe), with a settlement in South Ballachulish, now linked by a bridge, established later. I used a local historian’s accounts (one of those useful booklets) for details smuggling activities in the area, which I incorporated into the novel. 

Ballachulish is less than a mile from Glencoe village, at the entrance to the Glencoe hill range. The small villages nestle at the bottom of hills, with clouds always hovering low over the mountaintops. It is a highly atmospheric place. Scottish history buffs will know the sad story of the place, the Massacre of Glencoe that befell Clan Macdonald in 1692. You can still sense the desolation today as you travel through the glen. I used the melancholy of the area and incorporated it into a scene where the heroine travels on horseback, listening to tales of  the (then) fairly recent massacre. The low mist and drizzle, which tends to be the norm in Glencoe, completes the setting.

1720 was a time of great upheaval, only five years after the first major Jacobite rising of the early 18th century. Spies lurked everywhere, and Highlanders didn’t know who they could trust. Clans fought against each other, plotting and seeking their own advantage. Jacobites were lying low, defeated but not giving up. A tale of a ship carrying arms stranded in a northern Highland loch (another fabulous booklet) gave me with the perfect backstory – the hero needed the muskets to start another rebellion. Or so he hoped…

So you see, it’s not necessarily the big, generic historical accounts that provide authors with the best plot ideas; sometimes it’s the little stories, the tales collated and written down by locals, and spotted in a dusty little museum, that make the best storylines.

Keep looking out for them!

About Cathie:

Cathie Dunn writes historical mystery & romance set in Scotland, England and France. A hobby historian, her focus is on medieval and Jacobite eras.

She has four historical novels published:

Highland Arms and A Highland Captive (the Highland Chronicles Tales);
Dark Deceit, the first in The Anarchy Trilogy, set in England & Normandy;
Love Lost in Time, a dual timeline story set in AD 777 and present day in the south of France;
Silent Deception, a romantic Gothic novella set in Victorian Cornwall.

Cathie lives in historic Carcassonne, south-west France, with her husband, a rescue dog and two cats. She currently works on a medieval murder mystery and the sequel to Dark Deceit.

Links:

Website: www.cathiedunn.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathie.dunn1

Twitter: www.twitter.com/cathiedunn

Amazon:  author.to/CathieDunn

Serendipity and Discovery

This post is by Nancy Jardine

When I’m writing my Celtic Fervour Saga Series, set in late 1st century Roman Britain, I depict a reality that my readers can immerse themselves in and totally relish. A 2019 review of Book 1 included: “The descriptions of the people, places, tribes etc are phenomenal – I literally felt like I was there.” Comments like these are absolutely delightful and tell me that what I strive for is well-appreciated.

Award Winning – Celtic Fervour Saga Series

Since written evidence for late 1st century Roman Britain is so scant, more than a quick dip into archaeology is needed, and other sources also help with world-building. Scientific disciplines like soil culture, land erosion, natural plant and animal habitats assist with describing the landscape of 2000 years ago – because, to me, it’s wrong to put characters of Roman Britain into the fields and farms of the 21st century and call it historical fiction.

However, I also acknowledge that what I write comes from speculative information. An archaeologist digs out an artefact from a situation, takes care to detail its surroundings, but what happens after that is his/her interpretation of its use in society. Since beginning the writing of my series in 2011, I’ve discovered a recent archaeologist interpretation of a historic site may differ from an interpretation of the 1970s. Both of those may also be quite different from those of the earliest historians and ‘hobby archaeologists’, from the Medieval era onwards (before archaeology was a proper scientific study with documented procedures).

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hadrian%27s_Wall_west_of_Housesteads_3.jpg

I love reading that evidence uncovered four or five centuries ago is being given a new examination because the very early investigators were sometimes a little bit off the mark. A glaring example might be that, for a while, it was thought that the c. 73 miles of stone wall, which extends across the north of England, was built by Ancient Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. Severus’ Wall? I can see lots of heads negatively shaking right now! That opinion was formed by some of the early classical scholars who relied on translating the scant written texts available to them, in conjunction with studying some artefacts unearthed in the area. It was only after a lot more physical evidence was gradually uncovered that Emperor Hadrian was given the glory for being such an incredible frontier builder. Emperor Severus WAS in the Hadrian’s Wall area during his Caledonian campaigns of c. A.D. 210, but by then the wall had existed for around 90 years.

Now, it seems that almost every day, there’s new information on social media about artefacts uncovered from the forts and settlements that peppered Hadrian’s Wall. I’m heartily glad that we now get an almost daily update on archaeological digs, and it’s really exciting when we get glimpses of the evidence before they are cleaned. Even better is when I see daily webcam footage of ongoing archaeological investigations!

Trimontium Museum, Melrose – Nancy Jardine

In late 2018, I visited a wonderful little museum in Melrose, in the Scottish Borders, run by the Trimontium Trust – though it’s currently closed to visitors and under expansion. When re-opened, its upgrade will make it mirror the typical museum style of the 21st century and in some ways, this saddens me. When I visited the one-roomed museum, it was literally crammed to the ceiling with evidence collected from the nearby Trimontium Roman Fort (Newstead Roman Fort) and wonderful reconstructions of what life might have been like at Trimontium during the few centuries of fort occupation. I hope the new museum will still have a similar tactile and visual impact. The most recent excavations indicate that the area housed multiple successive forts with adjacent temporary camps – the Romans adept at dismantling a building, levelling the ground, and rebuilding over the top. The downside being that process makes it difficult for archaeologists to asses the layouts of the earliest Flavian forts, especially the one which my characters would have inhabited.

Trimontium Museum, Melrose -Nancy Jardine

Trimontium Roman Fort, named for the three peaks of the Eildon Hills behind it, was situated at a crossing of the River Tweed where the Ancient Roman Road we refer to as Dere Street wended its way northwards. Trimontium was therefore an important, strategic fort on the main route north/south and, unlike many forts in Scotland, had longer periods of use than some others.

reconstructed Parade Helmet and Mask – Trimontium Fort, Melrose – Nancy Jardine

The evidence collected at Trimontium has been astounding, as has that of another location on Hadrian’s Wall named Vindolanda Fort. I expect to be writing at length on my own blog about Trimontium and Vindolanda…not to be mistaken with Vinovia, which is yet another fort on Dere Street and not so far away from the ‘wall’

All of these forts feature in Book 5 of my Celtic Fervour Saga, expected to be published later in 2020 when I complete the stories of General Agricola, Beathan the Brigante and my Garrigill Clan.

Ocelot Press novels are all well-recommended, wonderful tales. Whatever you may be reading – enjoy the experience!

For the link to Nancy Jardine’s Author Page on amazon click HERE . All novels are available in #KindleUnlimited and paperback versions are available to order/buy at bookstores.

Agricola’s Bane Blog Tour ends with a flourish!

If you enjoy Historical Fiction or you’re curious about the genre, I highly recommend this series. The books should be read in order, in my opinion. I had no qualms about giving this 5 stars!

The Blog Tour arranged for Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Historical Saga Series is now over and what a tour it has been!

Four Guest Posts written by the author were very well-received; one really entertaining Author Interview was conducted; four Extracts were posted; and along with general promotional material, a wonderful new clutch of 10 Reviews has been gained for the novel.

Choosing which of the reviews to mention here is a difficult task since they have been highly complimentary of the writing of the series and/or really positive. The variety of comments has been extremely helpful to Nancy as she progresses with the series.  

 A huge thank you goes to all of the participating bloggers and to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for organising such a well-executed and professional tour.

Here are a few of the review comments:

“As I’ve come to expect with a Nancy Jardine novel, the narrative is full to the brim with fascinating insights and historical details.”

“Nancy Jardine has done it again with Agricola’s Bane! I am in love with this series and I cannot rave about it enough. This is how Historical Fiction should be done.”

“As ever, I have enjoyed the story from both sides of the battle lines. The Celts and their unyielding determination to remain free of the Roman yoke is inspiring to read. Equally, the complexity of the ever-expanding Roman empire and their struggles in a new challenging climate are really interesting too!”

You can access all the Reviews, Guest Posts, Extracts and Interviews via Nancy’s own blog HERE

The Celtic Fervour Saga Series is available in ebook and paperback formats from Amazon; paperbacks can be ordered from your nearest bookstore.

Enjoy your Ocelot reading!

Get Ready for Ocelot Press Characters to Spill the Beans

We’re gearing up for an exciting 10 days or so at Ocelot Press. Our character interview blog hop starts tomorrow, when each of us will interview a character from another Ocelot Press author’s novel.

Tom, from Jennifer C. Wilson’s The Last Plantagenet?, starts the line-up. Sue Barnard will be interviewing him on her blog tomorrow, 29th October.

See the graphic above for the full list of interviews and where they will be posted.

Our series of Meet the Ocelots posts last week introduced the characters and their backgrounds, but from tomorrow you’ll learn a lot more about them: what makes them tick; their hopes and fears; and the major formative events in their lives.

That’s not all: to celebrate the blog hop some of the ebooks will be at a reduced price for a short time, so snap them up while you have the chance.

Jennifer C. Wilson’s time-slip novella, The Last Plantagenet?, is reduced to 99p.

Cathie Dunn’s historical mystery, Love Lost in Time, to be published on November 28th, is on pre-order on Amazon for 99p or equivalent. Order it now and pay nothing until it’s downloaded to your Kindle on publication day.

Other titles will be reduced during the blog hop, so visit the character interview posts to get further information on those.

You might get some other surprises!

We hope you’ll enjoy our blog hop.

Nancy Jardine’s ‘The Taexali Game’ Joins Ocelot Press

We’re excited that another historical fiction title from Nancy Jardine has joined Ocelot Press this autumn. This one has a time travel twist. The story of ‘The Taexali Game’ centres on an interactive computer game that takes the players back to the time of the Romans in Britain and their attempts to subdue the North of the island.

Here’s the blurb:

When the Rubidium Time-Leap flips Aran, Brian and Fianna back to AD 210 the reality of the game is incredible. They have a task list to fulfil, which includes solving a local mystery, but it’s petrifying when Ancient Roman Legions heap death and destruction on the Taexali Celts of Caledonia.

Giving help to Taexali and Romans alike becomes a lethal assignment—some Celtic chiefs are as foul as the Ancient Roman Emperor Severus and his beastly son Caracalla. Dicing with death becomes the norm for the time travellers.

Will they complete the mission and return home unscathed?

The Taexali Game is available from all Amazon stories. The Kindle version is on pre-order until 30th September; buy now and pay nothing until the book downloads on publication day. The paperback is available now.