The Refugee Council

A guest post by editor Fiona Pickles

As those who were involved in preparing our charity anthology CALL TO ARMS – and, hopefully, also those who bought copies and enjoyed them – may remember, all the proceeds from the sale of this volume go directly to the Refugee Council. We sent them their first ‘royalty payment’ at the end of February, and in return they kindly sent us a letter of thanks and a copy of their ‘Impact Report’ for 2016-17 to enable us to see where our contribution is likely to be spent.

Not only is it nice to be acknowledged by such busy people, it’s also very valuable to have some sort of picture of the work they do. On the whole we could probably have guessed most of it, but there were a few highlights which stood out and captured my imagination, so I thought I would pass those on to you.

In 2016-17, the Refugee Council supported 7,522 refugees and asylum seekers and 3,318 unaccompanied children. They helped 97 young people who had been trafficked – 77 girls and 20 boys. They pushed for refugee status and resettlement funding for Syrian refugees, enabling them to attend university in the UK – and also to apply for passports, so that they can travel abroad to see their families.

They support refugee children whose age is disputed, who are sometimes treated by default as adults and therefore put into unsuitable accommodation; they provide them with language teaching, help with socialisation, access to sports facilities and homework support. They also provide psychotherapeutic services for children and young people, and training and support for foster carers.

In addition to helping refugees with documentation and legal services and steering them towards suitable work and accommodation, they have helped a number of refugee doctors to retrain and requalify so that they can be employed in the NHS. It’s difficult to imagine anything more closely resembling a win-win scenario than this!

There is, too, an extensive programme assisting and supporting destitute asylum seekers who are otherwise forced to rely on the standard asylum support payment of £5.00 per day (about $7.00 US) – intended to cover food, clothes, toiletries, travel and in fact everything else the individual may require. The Refugee Council provides hot meals, showers, laundry and barbering facilities and – perhaps even more importantly – moral support and social opportunities for people who must at times feel very isolated by their position.

In fact, it probably doesn’t take too much imagination to put oneself into the position of an asylum seeker or refugee, hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles from home in a country where the weather, the language, the customs, the clothes and just about everything else are not only unfamiliar but potentially quite terrifying. Getting away from the threats, the violence, the famine or the fear in their home country and making a difficult journey half-way around the world is only the beginning of the story for them. Once they arrive in the UK, however, the Refugee Council is – together with Oxfam, Amnesty International UK, the British Red Cross and a number of other organisations with dovetailing remits – right there in the front line of people stepping up to welcome them and help them to settle in.

All in all, then, it’s difficult to think of a better use for our “ill-gotten gains” than to support the Refugee Council in their sterling efforts, and we look forward to sending them further payments every three months throughout what we hope will be the long lifetime of CALL TO ARMS.

You can find more information about the work of the Refugee Council on their website.

We’d like to thank anthology editor Heloise Mezen for nominating the Refugee Council as our chosen charity, and for undertaking all the initial discussions with them. Take a bow, Heloise; none of this would have been possible without you!

Food, glorious food!

An author blog post
by Julie Bozza

As many of you will have already realised, I am a bit of a foodie. I love food. I love eating out, I love cooking, I love eating, I love nurturing others with my food. When I travel, I love exploring the local cuisine. It seems natural to me that a home revolves around the kitchen and dining areas, that people gather together to share lunch or dinner, that birthdays, anniversaries and other events are celebrated with a special meal.

Because it’s such a central part of my life, I have quite naturally included food and all its associated circumstances in my writing. Characters plan to meet again over a meal out – or at least over coffee! One character offering to cook at home for another is a Significant Step in their relationship. The point-of-view character happily indulging in the taste, scent and texture of … let’s say pancakes … helps express their enjoyment of life in all its glories.

It was a surprise to me, early on, to be laughed at over this. Laughed at fondly, in an ‘omg only you would include pancakes in this story’ kind of way. I hadn’t realised it was an idiosyncrasy! I thought it was just life as she is lived! The laughter didn’t stop me, though, and I certainly know by now I am not the only author who explores the meanings and metaphors of food in their writing, even when food isn’t the main subject at all.

Another aspect of my writing is that I like to write about adult characters who are reasonably self-sufficient. This is often signified by the characters being ready, willing and able to cook. Whether they live alone or with others, they can manage a home and a kitchen. They also care enough about themselves to eat properly, balancing health with a happy enjoyment of indulgences.

This all goes right back to Albert, main character of my very first attempt at a professional novel, THE DEFINITIVE ALBERT J. STERNE. He’s been living alone since his mid-teens, and he’s super efficient in managing himself and his home. He’s a vegetarian – not because he’s squeamish, but for all the many logical, moral and ethical reasons there are – and he has developed his recipe repertoire accordingly. Albert is also a well-barricaded loner, so allowing Fletch into his home is a huuuge deal. Soon Albert is not only cooking for him, but also exploring and inventing vegetarian versions of the Creole and Cajun dishes that Fletch enjoys so much. To me, this all speaks volumes about their growing relationship.

My more recent novels continue to include similar tropes. As I have mentioned in other blog posts, the first building block for A THREEFOLD CORD was Ben’s huge warehouse-conversion apartment. This gave the couple and then the threesome a safe haven with plenty of room in which to grow. As well as this, Ben is a serious cook with a serious kitchen, and he quite deliberately sets out to not only nourish Grae with his food choices but to intrigue him as well.

Why, yes, I was brought up with the notion that the way to a loved one’s heart was via their stomach! But seeing as my stomach also benefited from such efforts, I figured it was a win-win situation.

When Ben and Grae are finally invited to Chris’s place for a meal, they realise he is also house-proud (if in a more modest way), and he is also a serious cook. This gives Chris and Ben something to bond over (other than Grae himself!) but also drops a few clues about Chris’s true nature that neither Ben nor Grae pick up on right away.

Apart from my love of food, there’s no hiding the fact that I’m a coffeeholic. I always know what my characters drink by way of coffee (or tea); their preferences in milk, sugar, lemon, and so on; and their choices of mugs or cups. Coffee provides the rhythm of my own day, so I tend to conceive of my characters in the same way. Unlike me, some of them are tea-drinkers instead, but I figure that similar concerns apply.

So far so good, but there’s no denying that this focus on food and drink can go wrong sometimes! There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, as they say!

As with any trope or subject matter, readers’ tastes will vary from the author’s, often significantly. My focus on food and cookery (and coffee!) will work for some readers but not for others. I guess that must be true for just about any subject you care to name…

I’d love to hear from you in turn! What are your thoughts on defining and exploring characters via food? What other subjects are you interested in reading and writing about? The books the characters read; the locations in which they live; the way they decorate their room(s); the music they listen to; the social media they use? What helps truly define a character for you…?

Some books just happen

A guest blog post by Adam Fitzroy

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER WYE happened all by itself, over a very short period in 2013. As has occasionally been the case with Manifold Press, our editors found they had a vacant publishing slot for February when another project was delayed, and asked around for anything that might be completed quickly enough to take its place. I’d been floundering for a while, trying to decide between competing story ideas, but this gave me the impetus I needed to get off my backside; I had a piece of fan-fiction ripe for redevelopment, and I pulled it down off the shelf and took a fresh look at it.

I’m not remotely embarrassed to admit that this particular book was originally fan-fiction, and the reason is this: as soon as I started to rewrite it, it completely took on a life of its own. In fact, it’s so very different that the original story is actually still online somewhere – and I defy anyone to come up with the name of the TV show it was based on. (Entertaining guesses will be welcomed!)

What happened after that is all a bit of a blur. The basic plot featured a character stepping in to take over the farm of a brother who’d died in mysterious circumstances, inheriting responsibility for his brother’s family (and debts) at the same time. He would then meet up with an old flame/passing love interest, and they’d rekindle their relationship while working for a shared objective. This, basically, is all the book has in common with its fan-fictional progenitor! Anyway, the fact that I’d been watching rather too many cooking shows on TV guaranteed that there would be a chef or chefs involved somehow, and historical research I’d done for another project gave me a location – not a million miles from the setting for MAKE DO AND MEND, as it happens. If you ever look at a map of the River Wye, you’ll see that there’s a large lazy bend in it with the villages of Welsh Bicknor and English Bicknor on opposite sides. There are, too, several derelict bridges along that stretch that used to carry railway lines but have been allowed to decay for a hundred years or more – they’re quite spectacular, but probably very dangerous to cross.

Also, when I was writing the book, gangmasters and illegal immigrants were much in the news; one company was revealed to be housing migrant workers in a ‘temporary village’ in its fields – a situation which only became apparent when they applied for planning permission to build them a cinema. Friction between a small, independent organic farmer – with good intentions but little money – and a large dominant agri-business with massive resources but questionable ethics, made for a good conflict scenario, which becomes more powerful still if the large dominant agri-business happens to be boosting its profits by employing undocumented workers and housing them in sub-standard conditions. So, in essence, what I ended up with was David versus Goliath – with a side order of organic mange-tout!

Fleshing out the minor characters was one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. They always start off as people needed for a specific purpose – to deliver a piece of information, or to be knocked out (or off!) so that someone has to take their place – but the moment you start thinking about who they are and why they’re in the place you need them to be they begin to grow all by themselves. One such was Sharon, the police officer who guides the characters through the latter part of the story. I’d been on a bus once when an unruly passenger started acting up – and, after a few minutes of suffering in silence, the (stunningly-dressed – I think she was on her way to a wedding) woman in the seat in front of me got up, leaned over, quietly produced her warrant card and said, in effect, “Look, I’m off duty at the moment but it would only take one phone call. Shut up, or get arrested.” He chose to shut up.

I have no idea who the woman was, but she stayed in my mind – largely because I would never have looked at her in her finery and thought ‘police officer’. She stepped out of her civilian life just for a moment, did her job, and then stepped back. That intrigued me, and Sharon was the result; she doesn’t actually look like a copper at all, and she’s all the more effective for that reason.

I had a lot of fun, too, writing Rupert’s friends Gary and Steve. (Minuscule clue there to the series of origin!) Believe me, I researched their apartment very thoroughly; I’ve seen the view from their balcony and it’s wonderful. I’ve also stayed at the hotel where Jake and Rupert had their rudely interrupted night of passion – and yes, you can hire a car at Victoria in the middle of the night, but I bet it costs a small fortune!

So I think what I’m trying to say is that this was a book that – as Rumer Godden apparently used to say – was ‘vouchsafed’. It dropped into my lap almost fully-formed, precisely when I needed it, and I wrote it very quickly to fill a need. Everything clicked into place smoothly, and it was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve ever had. I wish more books would ‘happen’ like that, but I mustn’t be greedy; I’m just grateful that THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER WYE* came along at all, and particularly just when it did!

*PS: I can take no credit for the title. I stole it, as I should have made clear in the book itself, from an episode of the short-lived (but absolutely excellent) TV series Extreme Archaeology.

Layers of love

A guest blog
by Heloise West

Julie Bozza asked us to talk about the love we have for our novels—I had to give ARDENT a re-read in order to capture the ghost of that feeling again, but it’s there, buried beneath the layers of paint and plot twists.

I loved creating these characters, watching them come to life, and it’s challenging working within the historical context. We always ask what a character wants when we start this journey, and, in general, they want what we all want. To be happy. But every character’s definition of happiness is different, an expression of that person’s core qualities.

Morello is the simpler of the three main characters. Art is his love, his family, but not having had a home or a family to call his own, he yearns for that, too, and for someone to share it with him.  He is as honest as he can be; he wears his heart on his sleeve. His journey to happiness is the hard work of loving, supporting, and waiting for Benedetto, though it’s a trial that affects him on a professional level. When he had no love, at least he had art, and loving Benedetto has endangered his reputation.

Benedetto, I’m afraid, doesn’t have his best moments in the beginning of the book, but I think he redeems himself. His evasions, theft, and regret hide a passionate, loving nature. His journey to happiness lies in revealing the truth and dealing with the consequences, and loving Morello the way he deserves to be loved.

Leo, like Morello, is honest about his emotions and his desires. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone because of his affairs, but he remains true to his wandering, lustful nature. He looked out for Benedetto as an elder brother would when they were younger, taught him all he knew about art, allowed Benedetto to manage him, and taught him to love. The only lesson Benedetto couldn’t learn from him was the art of letting go.

It’s an odd triangle, considering one of these characters is absent for most of the story, though his influence is felt throughout.

The character of Falcone at first was just a thug with an uglier name, but weirdly, he showed up at the palazzo where Leo had died and soon became more fully realized, an important plot point of the story. An orphan like Morello, he did not have the kind local priest to raise him, but the mean streets of Florence. I do love my darker characters and one my favorite scenes is the confrontation between Falcone and Benedetto when Falcone needs help fleeing the city. I’d love to write Falcone’s story, about how he finds himself loved and redeemed.

(It’s Julie here, chiming in to say oh how I do pine for that companion volume exploring Falcone’s story. How intriguing that would be! Well, in the meantime, we still have ARDENT to treasure…)

Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including ARDENT – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

Creating a world of modern horror and magic

A guest blog
by Dorian Dawes

HARBINGER ISLAND came out of a dark place in my life. I hadn’t written much in the way of fiction in nearly three years. I’d become isolated, virtually agoraphobic, hiding in my boyfriend’s room and doing nothing but playing video games or browsing the internet. Some days it was a chore just to get out of bed. I’d resorted to dying my hair crazy colors just to retain my creativity.

The only thing I looked forwards to was playing D&D and Pathfinder every week with my boyfriend’s gaming group. Getting to escape, be anyone who wasn’t me, and to tell a story without the pressure of succeeding. The discouragement over lack of interest in my work, coupled with personal recent traumas made the very act of writing anything out a Sisyphean task. I loved the world we built and the characters we played, and somehow out of that, found the inspiration to write my own campaign.

I wanted to do something different, to create a world of modern horror and magic and combine my various aesthetic sensibilities into one cohesive vision. Part modern-day Dungeons & Dragons and part X-Files, I created the town of Oakridge and beset it with undead horrors shambling out of the fog. I had some friends online, gay and trans alike who were interested in playing, and together we laid the groundwork for the world that would become Harbinger Island.

To help facilitate exposition for key plot-points, I created a character named Professor Bartley Prouse. He was modelled after specific horror-archetypes, the old man who’s battled evil before (Donald Pleasance in Halloween) and the eccentric and creepy scientist (Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator). The shades of darkness and light that surrounded him compelled me, and I wanted to continue his story long after the campaign ended.

The drive to create for creativity’s sake had rekindled within me, and I set about writing the prologue story that introduces Harbinger Island. From there, once a month, I made myself write a story within that setting, some which didn’t make it into the book. I kept returning to that world, because it was something I made that I liked. Despite all its horrors, I wanted to live there.

Harbinger Island is a world where oppressive darkness exists, horrors and conspiracies that lurk around every corner, but it is a work of fiction where minorities like me are seen fighting back. Bartleby Prouse is an asexual trans man utilizing his knowledge and powers to protect the queer minority students beneath him from the horrors that surround them. He remains one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, and ever roleplayed in a tabletop game. I’m currently embroiled in work on other projects, but I hope to return to that world someday again soon. It gave me my writing back, and for that, I will be forever grateful. No matter what I work on in the future, this book will forever be held in my heart affectionately as the one that started it all.

Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including HARBINGER ISLAND – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

The culmination of a dream

A guest blog 
by Eleanor Musgrove

When I was asked to write a post explaining what I love about SUBMERGE, I had to think about it for a bit. Truth be told, I hadn’t read it in a while, due to a combination of having other things to write, real life getting in the way, and the fact that by the time I’ve edited something a million times (Manifold’s high standards don’t just happen, you know!) I generally can’t bear to look at it for a while. But it was about time I revisited my story, and I’m glad that this post gave me a good reason to do so, because suddenly the things I loved about the story, and the things that made it so much fun to write, came flooding back.

What do I love most about Submerge? Well, the first thing is Submerge itself. The book is named for the nightclub where most of the story’s main events take place, and that nightclub is the sort of place I would hang out if I could. It’s a very warm, friendly LGBTQIA+ safe space, with the big noisy dance-floor/bar setup alongside a smaller, quieter performance area, both with plenty of tables and chairs to sit down at if, like me, you’re not quite up to partying all night. Miles – the manager, and one of the main characters – has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that it’s not just a gay/lesbian bar, for example by offering free pronoun stickers to make introductions easier between people with varying gender identities. And that makes a lot of sense when you think about Miles’ friends, who make up the main cast of the novel.

That’s the second thing I love about Submerge (though I know some people found it a bit off-putting) – the group of friends it centres around is quite varied in terms of LGBT+ identity. My main characters are two gay men, a bisexual woman and a lesbian, but the supporting cast includes a transman (one day I’d love to write more of his story, and indeed if I ever expand Submerge into a series I will go deeper into his life), an asexual woman, and a pansexual drag queen with a glitter obsession. Though it might seem like a box-ticking exercise, it is actually more to do with the friends I found when I was first beginning to understand my own identity, and the friends I continue to have now. I have always had friends from all over the sexuality and gender spectrum, and I didn’t see many of those mixed queer groups in fiction. Besides, when you set a book in a gay bar, you have to go all-out and pack it with a range of colourful characters, don’t you?

Submerge is my first published novel and the culmination of a dream I’ve had since I was fourteen years old. Well, I say ‘culmination’, but that suggests that I’ve finished, and I haven’t. I’ve learned a lot from the process, and I definitely still have stories to write! I really enjoyed writing Submerge, so I really hope people enjoy reading it just as much.

Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including SUBMERGE – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

The surprises and joys of historical fiction

A guest blog 
from Sandra Lindsey

UNDER LEADEN SKIES is, and always was, the story of Huw and Teddy (aka Max). Or rather it’s Teddy’s version of the story because it was only after several false starts that I tried writing a bit in first person from Teddy’s point of view and suddenly things started to click.

Some things clicked a little too well. Within a few pages, I found Teddy on rather intimate terms with someone who definitely wasn’t Huw. Cheeks was a complete surprise to me – I’d anticipated him becoming a close friend of Teddy’s, but not that close! Of course, once I learned that Sunderland flying boat crews always left a pair of men aboard, it seemed only natural that young men like Teddy and Cheeks might take advantage of such a situation …

Cheeks wasn’t the only character who surprised me: there was also Jem, who I hadn’t expected to return to the story until he did so, and Teddy’s grandfather who turned out to have some very different views to those I’d first imagined.

Aircraft were a little more predictable – although even there I found I had to re-write sections once I gained a better understanding of technical details. I can’t stress enough the value of being able to see preserved aircraft ‘up close and personal’ in museums as well as at airshows when creating a story like this. Sylvia’s reaction to the Spitfire is based on my own first encounter with one of the iconic single-engine fighters on the ground, although mine was at RAF Museum Cosford rather than on my in-laws’ cricket pitch!* Other parts of that scene are based on a tale I heard of wartime goings-on in the village where I live: it wasn’t a Spitfire or a cricket pitch, but there were hastily erected anti-aircraft defences involved.

This is where I find the most joy in historical fiction – as both a writer and as a reader – the weaving of real historical events into a fictional narrative. Truth is always stranger than fiction, but in fiction we can skip the boring parts.

*None of my in-laws have a cricket pitch, as far as I know.

Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including UNDER LEADEN SKIES – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

Two lost boys on a journey

A guest blog
by Michelle Peart

The two main protagonists in my book TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR are Edward and Burn and I love the journey their friendship takes. They are much more than polar-opposites, they are planet-opposites. To the Left of Your North Star is an adventure, a fantasy, and a road trip, but at its core is the relationship between the two lost boys, Edward and Burn.

Edward is a spoilt rich kid with a huge chip on his shoulder. He lost his mother at a young age and has a rocky relationship with his famous father. His bravado is to cover up the fact that underneath he’s scared, alone, and neglected emotionally by his father. With his good looks and money, he was the boy that everybody at school fancied but Edward’s relationships never lasted long because, put simply, he was a complete ass.

Edward represents the boys that I used to watch from afar in secondary school, the boys that always had a flood of kids around them, popular, perfect, and trendy. As I was the weird kid that tried to disappear into the walls, I used to admire those plastic people. But, now I know the plastics weren’t perfect after all, in fact they probably had the same self-doubt that I had.

Edward has always believed, because that’s what he was taught, that the only valuable people in the world are the rich and famous. But he slowly learns that is not the case and I love the fact that he has to rely on Burn, a weirdo as far as Edward is concerned, for his food, shelter, and protection.

Burn is a simple boy from a simple life, different from the other villagers but intelligent, loyal, and loving. Orphaned from a young age he had to raise himself and that gave a quirky edge to his character.

At school, I always felt different; a vegetarian in an age where people couldn’t even spell the word never mind understand why some people refused to eat meat. I was the only vegetarian in the village (so to speak) and viewed with suspicion. It’s unbelievable to think of that now. I feel I unconsciously wrote a part of younger me into Burn.

Burn uses Edward’s desire to leave Abaytor as a way of experiencing his planet and expanding his horizons. Whereas Edward has a serious dislike for him, Burn likes Edward, he likes everyone, it’s in his nature, but he also has a naughty streak and decides to liven up their journey and seduce the sullen boy from another planet.

My teenage son and his friends have read the book and I overheard them all talking about who identified with Edward and who identified with Burn. I was so pleased that I had created characters that resonated with them and hopefully others.

I’m very proud of my debut book, it marks a steep learning curve in which I acquired new skills, new friends, and a new passion. I have a short story in the A Call to Arms anthology and one in the No Holds Bard anthology, and I’m delighted with both.

You can find me on my blog blogging about anything from writing to theatre to travel to Merlin, or catch me @shellpeart.

Manifold Press is currently offering five of our recent novels – including TO THE LEFT OF YOUR NORTH STAR – at discount prices on Smashwords. Follow these links, and then click the Buy with coupon buttons for the books of your choice. (Whether you then click the Give as a gift button is entirely up to you, but hey it is the silly season soon!)

Happy reading!

Walking Hadrian’s Wall

A guest blog post 
by Cimorene Ross

It was the year I left school that I first encountered Roman remains. It was also the summer that the first incarnation of THE EAGLE’S WING was born as a school project, along with the Sixth Form play, to keep us occupied after the A-level exams until the end of term. My friend and I decided to walk from Northumberland back home to Yorkshire, staying at Youth Hostels on the way.

On the first day we visited Corstopitum (Corbridge), which had been replaced by the fort at Halton when Hadrian’s Wall was built. It didn’t become a supply base until much later, so wasn’t in use during the period of THE EAGLE’S WING.

The following day we discovered Cilurnum (Chesters), which I must admit was the only time I have visited the fort that I hijacked to house the 3rd Augusta Gallorum (with apologies to the 2nd Asturian Horse who actually garrisoned the place). Cilurnum is situated beside the river where the remains of the Roman bridge can still be seen alongside what is considered to be the best military bath-house in Britain.

Ruins of bath-house at Chesters Roman Fort, along Hadrian’s Wall. (photo by Steven Fruitsmaak, 2007, Wikimedia Commons)

The reason I chose Chesters rather than the better known neighbouring Vercovicium (Housesteads) is that I needed a cavalry fort. Housesteads is a much bigger site built on a windswept hillside.

That summer in the early sixties we walked along the Wall itself exploring milecastles and watching rock climbers ascending from Crag Lough. Since then I have been back to Housesteads, once in a fog which was very creepy. It was easy to imagine that an infantryman would emerge from the mist at any moment.

The last time I visited Housesteads was on the way back from an American Civil War event in Tynemouth, so Morgan Cheshire and I were accompanied by two Confederate soldiers which garnered some very odd looks. It being too warm for Victorian costume, Morgan and I were both in mufti, so we explored the praetorium and the hospital (my model for the one in Eboracum) while the scruffy members of the 33rd Virginia were unaccountably fascinated by the communal latrine in the south-east corner.

The latrines of Housesteads Roman Fort along Hadrian’s Wall. (photo by Steven Fruitsmaak, 2007, Wikimedia Commons)

Once we’d managed to drag them away and back onto the Military Road, our journey was disrupted by an overturned lorry stuffed with chickens – which brings me to Vindolanda (Chesterholm) and the 3rd Augusta Gallorum’s obsession with chicken rustling.

I know I have been to Vindolanda but I can’t remember when or with whom. Appealed to on the telephone, Morgan swears she has never set foot in Vindolanda, so it remains a mystery.

Some thirty or so years ago there was the amazing discovery of the hoard of letters that have revealed so much about life on Hadrian’s Wall. A recent issue of the Association for Roman Archaeology’s newsletter announced that there has been a new discovery of 1st Century writing tablets. It will be interesting to see what these reveal once the tablets have been deciphered. All my information about chickens in the diet of soldiers comes from the previous letters published in Anthony Birley’s book GARRISON LIFE AT VINDOLANDA. Until I read that I wasn’t even sure that domesticated poultry had reached Northern England.

My research into cavalry auxiliary forts came from these early visits and a lot of reading. All the books said that the arrangement of barracks and stables are still mostly conjecture for the smaller cavalry forts, and I chose to use what most archaeologists have agreed on.

It wasn’t until I had finished the epic that I visited two unusual forts, both courtesy of our village Coffee Club’s summer trips. About three years ago we went to South Shields. I and several other historically minded people set out to discover Arbeia, which is perched on a hill and acted as a seaport and supply depot, now incongruously surrounded by modern housing. An hour later and I was on my own (my fellow explorers long gone in search of lunch), admiring the reconstructed buildings – the magnificent gatehouse, the commanding officer’s house and, more importantly, a barrack block complete with officer’s quarters at one end.

The reconstructed barrack-block at Arbeia Roman Fort, in South Shields. (photo by Chris McKenna, 2005, Wikimedia Commons)

Long after THE EAGLE’S WING was published I finally reached reached Segedunum (Wallsend) on one of the last Coffee Club trips (most members are now too old or infirm for day trips). No one was surprised when I abandoned everyone in Newcastle to disappear down into the Metro and head for Wallsend. It is the only railway station in the world with signs in both English and Latin.

The fort has been excavated, but cut in two by the main road. Houses built on the site in the late 19th Century have since been demolished. It is now one of very few places in the Roman Empire where a fort can be seen almost in its entirety (the road is still a problem).

The cavalry barracks at Segedunum are several centuries after Lucius and Keret’s time and are totally different from those at Cilurnum. There the stables are separate entities, but in Segedunum three horses are stabled in the front part of the barracks with three cavalrymen sleeping in the back room. The decurion and his under-officers lived in the larger set of rooms, complete with their horses, at the end of each barrack block. It would have been nice to have seen this layout earlier, but the Cilurnum design suits the Pannonians better – the Wallsend pattern gives them no room for stockpiling ill-gotten gains.

Segedunum has an extensive museum with reconstructions of barracks and the strongroom, while a decorated bath-house is based on the Chesters building as the original hadn’t been found at the time. The real bath-house was discovered down by the River Tyne after the existing buildings were demolished in 2014, and parts have been excavated and are now on display to the public.

Segedunum Roman fort., from the viewing platform. (photo by Keith Edkins, 2004, Wikimedia Commons)

The legionary fortresses of Deva (Chester) and Eboracum (York) have very few remains visible above the ground apart from bits of the walls in York and the amphitheatre in Chester. There are smaller remains open to the public in unlikely places such as the basement of Spud U Like (a takeaway serving baked potatoes), and a piece of the strongroom is hidden in a side-street in Chester. The foundations of the headquarters building can be seen under York Minster. It is well worth a visit to the Grosvenor Museum in Chester and the Yorkshire Museum in York.

I would recommend membership of the Association for Roman Archaeology to anyone interested in this subject. Membership not only includes newsletters but free or discounted entry to 45 Roman-related sites.

Being a librarian, even though retired, I can’t help but conclude with a book-list.

Spirituality and Place

A guest blog post 
by Julie Bozza

When I wrote OF DREAMS AND CEREMONIES, the sequel to BUTTERFLY HUNTER, I wanted to explore a couple of questions of spirituality. I don’t think I found any firm answers, mind you, but then maybe there aren’t any. Or maybe there are as many answers as there are individuals. We all have our own belief systems, after all – even those of us who are atheists. So maybe an exploration of the questions, and an honest ‘thinking / feeling things out for ourselves’, is all we can do.


Those of you who’ve read BUTTERFLY HUNTER will remember that Dave Taylor is surprised to find that he has some kind of connection with a particular location in the Australian Outback. This is the isolated waterhole where Nicholas finds his blue butterflies, which is known to Dave’s Indigenous friend Charlie as a Dreaming site. Because Dave can find this secretive place when others can’t, Charlie suspects that Dave has a spiritual connection with the waterhole, despite Dave being a white fella.

Indigenous cave paintings of waterholes on Uluru, photographed by Kim Dingwell, and sourced on Wikimedia Commons

Being a white fella myself, many might sincerely believe I have no business writing about such things, and I apologise for any offence given. To quote from my acknowledgements in the novels, I wrote these stories ‘with nothing in my heart but a love of and a wish for interdependence between all our peoples – and for that perhaps any infelicities will be forgiven’.

I remained all too aware that I was approaching this with a white fella’s understanding, and I made sure that Dave himself expressed the same awareness. I’ve read a fair bit about the Australian Indigenous people’s Dreaming, and it feels pretty much impossible for a white fella to get her head around. It involves such a different way of thinking about time, let alone anything else.

So Dave and I were interpreting and applying ideas from our own perspectives. On the practical side of things, Dave was both conceived and born near the waterhole, despite his parents living in Brisbane. On the mystical side of things, the Barcoo grunter ancestor sleeping in the waterhole must have felt some kind of affinity with Dave’s soul, and created the connection between them. And thus it was all very much tied to place, to a specific location in a particular country.

Before all this unfolded, Dave never thought of himself as a spiritual person, and it’s probably still something that doesn’t quite sit neatly within him. He probably thinks of it all as something strange (though not unwelcome) that happened to him, rather than something that happened because of him.

So, I pondered – finally coming to The Question I wanted to explore in the sequel – how would Dave react to spiritual things connected to other locations, other countries?

The Duloe Stone Circle in Cornwall, photographed by Philip Halling, and sourced on Wikimedia Commons

In OF DREAMS AND CEREMONIES, Dave has followed Nicholas to England; Nicholas promptly proposes marriage and Dave just as promptly accepts. They spend their honeymoon in Cornwall, near a circle of standing stones. While (the English) Nicholas is drawn to the stones, and finds them eerie and unsettling, (the Aussie) Dave reacts to them with no more than mild interest. To him they’re a human construction that happens to long predate the nearby cottage they’re staying in, and that’s all there is to say about that.

So my answer to that question was that Dave is a spiritual creature within a particular context – within a country that he considers home – but that doesn’t necessarily make him sensitive to spiritual things associated with other locations steeped in other traditions and understandings. Whether that’s a misguided notion or not, I leave you to decide!


The Other Question I wanted to explore a little was what kind of ceremony it would take for these two men to feel married. At the time in England, the only legal option available to them was civil partnership, involving a ceremony performed in a civil or non-religious location. Nicholas declares that he thinks of this as marriage regardless of the legalities – but, while I don’t think he’s any more religious than Dave, I suspect Nicholas would have chosen a church service if he could.

The spoken vows required at that time certainly lacked poetry:

I declare that I know of no legal reason why we may not register as each other’s civil partner. I understand that in signing this document we will be forming a civil partnership with each other.

I had Dave and Nicholas each speak their own vows as well, which were based on the stories of their lives, to supplement those dreadfully prosaic words.

A threefold Celtic symbol, created by Tinette, and sourced on Wikimedia Commons

Returning to The Original Question for a moment … I was less explicit in the novel about another spiritual aspect of their stay in Cornwall. They befriend Margaret Widgery, a local woman who acts as caretaker for the cottage, along with her mother Joan and her daughter Maeve. The three women can be seen as representing the Maiden, Mother and Crone. While there’s some contention about the historical basis for the neo-pagan Triple Goddess, it is a potent idea.

Even though Nicholas never indicates whether he sees the three Widgery women in this way, he jumps at the chance of a handfasting ceremony led by Joan, to supplement his and Dave’s civil partnership ceremony. The novel also mentions other ways in which Dave and Nicholas affirm their vows to each other, in other times and other places. Indeed, between us we make it as thorough as we know how, bringing in both the practicalities and the different strands of spirituality to which they are connected.

They can hardly claim they weren’t thoroughly married to each other by the end!