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 thecopperriver.wordpress.com 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.

Locations

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!

Ceremonies

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!

Visiting Physic Gardens

A guest post
by Julie Bozza

I don’t have green thumbs, alas! But I do appreciate a good garden, and I’ve long been fascinated by medieval physic gardens.

Physic gardens (as we know them) date back to the time of Charlemagne (742-814). Sections of a garden would be set aside for growing plants used for medicinal purposes, and for teaching apothecaries about their trade.

This makes physic gardens sound very practical – and they were! – but there is also an element of beauty within them. Many of the medicinal plants were in themselves beautiful. For example, certain irises were grown in such gardens, as their rhizomes (known as orris root) were used in both perfume and medicine. Irises are utterly gorgeous and my favourite flower, so that decisively proves my point, at least to myself!

With all those herbs and flowers growing, you can imagine how beautiful such gardens were for the nose as well as the eye! It was common practice for a bench to be installed in a physic garden so that convalescents could sit for a while and soak up not only the sun but the healthful scents.

The idea of physic gardens evolved into our modern-day botanic gardens, which have a broader interest in all plants – though of course most botanic gardens specialise in particular areas, or are shaped by their location and climate.

Chelsea Physic Garden (photo by Julie).

The University of Oxford Botanic Garden embodies this history, as it was founded in 1621 as a physic garden, and now has a wider remit with over 8,000 different plant species across a four-and-a-half acre site. True to its origins, however, the garden includes medicinal beds growing plants used in modern medicine.

Continue reading “Visiting Physic Gardens”

I blame it on the cats!

An author guest blog by Chris Quinton.

GAME ON, GAME OVER happened because of cats. And Avebury, but mostly cats. Many years previously, the fur balls were a ‘thing’ in the fan fiction I was reading at the time. All of them were cutesy, fluffy, adorable, and they charmed the heroes with their irresistible appeal – well, you get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a sucker for the feline kind, canids and equines as well, but I wanted something more than the saccharine sweetness of those stories, and none were to be found. So I decided to write my own.

My cat wasn’t cute. Wasn’t fluffy, either, regardless of what some poor deluded human had named him way back when he was a kitten. Though in all honesty, he probably had been appealing back then, the way all kittens are, no matter what they grow into. This one grew into an autocratic, battle-scarred and cynical tom, based on a rather large ginger and white individual I saw in the courtyard of the Red Lion, Avebury’s pub. The humans he interacted with were fleshed around two characters from a TV series. Yes, I wrote fanfiction and I make no apologies for it: fanfic got me through some difficult times in my life.

I didn’t use the characters’ screen names in the original story, as Aidan was very good at creating new identities, had gone into solitary ‘retirement’ in the sleepy little village in the heart of Wiltshire, and was determined to stay there. Scott was as determined to forge a relationship with him. And TBC, aka That Bloody Cat,  merely wanted to live in his old home again.

The setting of Avebury reflected my love and fascination with the place, and its unique archaeological history. Then there are its ghost stories: the barber-surgeon, Florrie the Barmaid, the ghostly coach to name but a few.

Some time later, when I’d had a few titles published, I remembered that decades-old fanfic. Other than a few mentions of their shared past and their physical appearances, there was nothing at all to show its original inspiration, not even their names. So I began to put together a new backstory for them. To misquote a soccer commentator, it would be a tale of two halves, and the new title was a natural choice: Game On (where and how they met and parted), Game Over (where and how they got together again and reached their HEA).

I’d recently read a fascinating article on the Silk Road, and anyone who knows me, knows how I am addicted to archaeology. Add in the political situation of the area, plus a hint of Kipling’s Great Game, and I had the first part nailed. Aidan Whittaker would be an MI6 agent, undercover at an archaeological dig in Tajikistan, near the border with Pakistan. Scott Landon was a photographer tagging along behind a journalist, and we all know how much trouble a determined newshound can get into without really trying.

The second part would be entirely different in pace and setting from Part One, and its setting was Avebury. Thanks to family and friends prepared to drive me to one of my favourite places in England, I already had a large folder full of photos, but I wanted more of specific areas. This time, though, no one with a car was available, so I resorted to the buses. Getting to Avebury by public transport wasn’t easy, involved changes, and took forever. I had only a limited time before the return trip. So I chose the field where the pair of fictional cottages would sit, took many photos up and down the street, and had just enough time for a sandwich and a cuppa at the Red Lion before I caught the only bus back to where I could pick up the return bus to Salisbury.

Incidentally, the weather was glorious. Few things can beat summer sunshine in a tiny English village with thatched cottages and an excellent pub.

Above, I said I was addicted to archaeology – that isn’t an understatement. In Game On, Game Over, when Scott asks Archaeologist Aidan, ‘Why?’ his answer is as much from my heart as Aidan’s.

“… But you, these kids, you’re out here in a strange land, living in tents with basic amenities, no real freedom to come and go, watched over every now and then by the army. Just to dig holes in the ground. Why? What’s the point of it?”

Why?” John rounded on him ferociously, taking Scott’s breath away. “Do you think we live in a vacuum? That present and future are the be-all and end-all of two-dimensional lives? The point is, Mr Landon, you, me, those postgraduates, the lecturers, the cooks and drivers, are linked to the past as surely as we are to the present. We are no different to the people who travelled the Roads and stayed in the caravanserai. We are no different from the Roman soldier on Hadrian’s Wall who wrote home to his mother asking her to send him more socks. And yes, before you ask, he’s genuine. Every minute fragment of the past found in excavations enriches the present. Every translation of newly discovered writing expands our knowledge and strengthens the links to our past. Human nature has changed very little in the millennia we’ve walked upright, and we’re faced with the same choices today as our ancestors were. The only differences now are our enhanced abilities to create and destroy.”

So, yeah, that’s my one and only ‘Mary-Sue’ time (apart from that one I wrote when I was fourteen, starring me and Elvis…). Come on, I was fourteen, for the gods’ sake…

 

A sense of place

An author guest blog by Morgan Cheshire

When writing historical fiction set in an urban environment, with both gentlemen still living with their families, it can be quite difficult to find a suitable location to forward their romance.

ALWAYS WITH US is set in Victorian Liverpool, with its many hotels, but that meant there was always the risk of being recognised. I needed somewhere away from the city, that Harrison had legitimate reason to visit, which had suitable accommodation, and could provide a reason for not returning home. Enter the village of Eastham, across the river Mersey.

Eastham is one of the oldest villages on the Wirral and has been inhabited since Anglo Saxon times. The oldest part of the modern village is to the east of the A41 and is centred on St Mary’s church, the scene of the funeral of one of Harrison’s clients. There has been a ferry service between Liverpool and Eastham since the Middle Ages, originally operated by monks from the Abbey of St Werburgh.

A large increase in traffic in the 1700s led to a new pier being built and there could be forty coaches a day, both passenger and goods, arriving to cross the river to Liverpool. In 1816 paddle steamers replaced sailing boats, but it was less than thirty years before demand for the ferry service declined after the opening of a rail link between Chester and Woodside Ferry, Birkenhead.

The village had now spread to the west, on the other side of the main road, and to get to the ferry itself you had to drive down through farmland. To increase his profits the owner of the ferry, Thomas Stanley – the Stanleys are an old Cheshire family – built a hotel adjacent to the pier at Eastham Ferry. To attract more visitors to the hotel he also decided to build an adjoining Pleasure Garden and charge admittance. It was a big undertaking and must have required quite an investment of time and money. The landscaped gardens included ornamental trees and fountains, and in the spring Azaleas and Rhododendrons made a colourful display.

The gardens became a popular choice for a day out, especially attracting visitors from the city who came to enjoy the fresh air strolling among the flower beds. There was, however, more to see and do than admire the intricate planting. There were tea rooms to rest and enjoy cakes and sandwiches while listening to music from the performers on the band-stand; theatrical productions also appeared on the open-air stage – presumably ‘weather permitting’, although I have attended an open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where it rained solidly and there were some very sodden fairies – but luckily the audience was under cover.

For the energetic there was a ballroom to enjoy, a boating-lake, and a water-chute. One of the major attractions was the zoo; lions could be seen in wheeled cages that were drawn around the park, monkeys and an antelope had their admirers, and then there was the bear-pit with its two occupants.

As a child wandering around the overgrown woodland and finding uneven stone steps, slippery with moss, that led down to a strange stone-lined pit felt like finding a place out of a fairy tale – especially as the sun never seemed to penetrate the leaves of the Rhododendron trees. It wasn’t until much later that I found out it had originally been a bear-pit, and given that the original occupants would not have had a very good life perhaps the gloom was a fitting memorial. In its day the bear-pit was a highly popular place, though, and an iron-work dome meant that people could stare at the bears in complete safety.

In the summer entertainers performed in the gardens; these included Blondin, a famous tightrope-walker, who once wheeled a local boy across a high wire in a wheelbarrow. I wonder what Health and Safety would have to say if he tried that today?

Another visitor, in 1854, was the United States Consul in Liverpool, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote admiringly in his journal about the antique houses and picturesque aspect of the village itself.

As the Gardens prospered so did Thomas Stanley. The Manchester Ship Canal was opened by Queen Victoria in 1894, just before the events of ALWAYS WITH US, and in 1897 an archway was built at the entrance to the Gardens to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee.

The popularity of the Pleasure Gardens was not to last, however.  Eighty years after it was opened it was in decline, and the last paddle-steamer made the river crossing in 1929. The following decade saw the gardens neglected and falling into disrepair; the iron pier and Jubilee Arch were dismantled, and except for local dog-walkers the place was forgotten.

In 1970 it was designated a Woodland and Country Park and visitors returned to stand on the truncated pier and look out across the river to Liverpool, to watch tankers going past before they entered the Ship Canal which would take them to the oil refinery at Ellesmere Port and the docks at Manchester.

Thankfully the hotel remains, and it is possible to have a meal in the restaurant. There are no flower beds but the bluebells can be admired in the spring, and a bird-hide attracts both people and birds. A lot of the rhododendron growth has now been removed and it is possible to wander the paths and find hidden steps, including those that lead to the bear-pit.  However I doubt if many people realise what a thriving centre the Pleasure Gardens once were; indeed I would not have known myself if I had not been searching for the ideal place for Harrison and Daniel to further their relationship!

How I made do and mended

An author guest blog by Adam Fitzroy

The book that eventually became MAKE DO AND MEND started out very differently. It was originally going to be about four brothers, living on a not-entirely-successful family farm in Wales, fighting off a land-grab from a consortium that wanted to build a golf-course – and it was emphatically going to be taking place in the ‘present day’. However some elements of the story were in place even then; there would be conflict between the two elder brothers because Two was a nasty resentful piece of work and would undermine everything One was attempting to do, but Three and Four would turn out to be – perhaps to their own astonishment – good and sensible men who could be relied on in a crisis. There would also be a mysterious stranger to the village, a quiet, dignified older man, who would draw the attention of the hitherto flighty One and with whom he would eventually form a romantic relationship. Two and Three would be firmly heterosexual; Four’s preferences were still unknown.

I hadn’t written any of this before the plan changed dramatically. I’d been thinking about it and discussing it with friends for some considerable time, but there was something about it that just wasn’t gelling in my head. I don’t know, now, precisely what it was that prompted the change of direction, but one day it suddenly occurred to me that setting it during the Second World War would make it a more interesting project and radically change the dynamics of the situation. For one thing, there was huge pressure to produce food and other necessities for the war effort (flax, wood, etc.) so that even a farm that was struggling beforehand would enjoy a period of relative prosperity. For another, it would enable One to have a perspective on life and love that didn’t just revolve around the narrow confines of his familiar Welsh valley.

The valley itself was one of the constants. Being a regular traveller on trains between Newport and Chester, I’d always been intrigued by a village north of Abergavenny. There ought to be a station there, I thought, so that I could get out and explore – but there wasn’t. So I did my initial exploring online and on the OS map, and eventually managed to tour the area by car as well. I found the perfect site for the house, which ended up being called Hendra, but what was there was less prepossessing than I had in mind. Therefore, in a move I’m sure English Heritage would deplore, I picked up Stokesay Castle, made some alterations to its layout, and transported it a little matter of fifty miles down the road. I tacked on a somewhat rickety Home Farm a short distance away, and a couple of quarrymen’s cottages higher up the hill, and that was that – I had my location!

The joy of writing something like this is the research. Wanting a box-bed for Jim’s cottage I found just the thing online, which turned out to be in a rural museum on Orkney. Years later I got to meet it in person … and that was the trip which ended up inspiring IN DEEP. I also managed to fit in a visit to Western Approaches Command and chose one of its mysterious closed doors to be Harry’s decoding office. (I have no idea what was really behind it; it could have been a store-room or a doorway into Hades for all I know!) When I decided to make Jim a conscientious objector – because I’ve never forgotten the Dad’s Army episode in which Godfrey is revealed to be a conscientious objector – I researched the Peace Pledge Union, their white poppies, and the advocacy work they did. I hope that if I was ever in the position of being ordered to fight (unlikely now, given my age!) I would have the courage not simply to do as I was told but to say that I thought it was wrong and find another way of serving instead.

I could go on. The hotel in Liverpool exists, and has been the scene of numerous fannish conventions. The pub where Harry lodges sort-of exists; there is a pub there, but I transported a building in from another location because I liked it better. The road over Sermon Pass is a real road now, but at the time the book is set it was little more than a track. And as for Birkenhead Park … it’s a jewel, and was reputedly the model for Central Park in New York.

There are, of course, loose ends in MAKE DO AND MEND. Jack (Three) will stay at Hendra, married to Kitty, and their children will farm there in their turn. Thomas (Two) is likely to move away after the War, to some place where his predictable lack of success will be less visible to his family and he can be the person of importance he so clearly thinks he is. Harry (One) will emigrate, Jim at his side, to a country where nobody will care who they were before – possibly Canada. Jim will write books and teach; Harry will no doubt go into broadcasting in some capacity. They won’t be rich, but they’ll be happy. As for Freddie (Four), his future is more opaque; there is, somewhere in the back of my mind, a whole new set of adventures for him – one of which I’m hoping will coalesce into a short story for Manifold Press’s World War Two anthology CALL TO ARMS. In fact it would be fair to say that I have no idea, at the moment, precisely what happens to Freddie, but I’m very much looking forward to finding out!

[Oh, and the land-grabby golf-course-builders may well make an appearance at some point, too… ]

The purpose of a butterfly

An author guest blog
by Julie Bozza

I had quite a conservative and sheltered upbringing (and am eternally grateful to my friend Cathe, and to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for helping me begin the process of opening out!) but I always took the idea of marriage equality seriously.

I also took the idea very personally, despite being an (apparently) cisgender woman happily married from the age of 20 to a (definitely) cisgender man. (I am actually way more complicated than that, as I suspect many of us are, but people tend to relate to me as such.) Despite having what everyone assumed was a ‘traditional’, legally permissible marriage, I felt the issue of marriage equality had a great deal to do with me and my own choices.

When marriage equality was first becoming a matter of wider public debate, Australia’s prime minister was John Howard, a conservative both personally and in politics. Whenever asked, he always defined marriage as being ‘between one man and one woman – for the purposes of having children’.

I could just roll my eyes at the first part of the definition, as of course that was the actual problem we were all arguing about. But the latter part of his definition really stuck in my craw. ‘For the purposes of having children.’

Mr B and I don’t have kids, and that was a deliberate mutual decision made during the first few years we were together, that we’ve never regretted. But that doesn’t mean our relationship isn’t a ‘proper’ marriage. It doesn’t mean we’re not a ‘proper’ family, despite it being only the two of us. And fie on John Howard for suggesting otherwise. (I am still rankling, all these years later!)

Not everyone wants to get married, of course, but I strongly feel that those who want to should be able to. That includes anyone of any sex, gender identity or sexuality – whether they can or can’t have (their own biological) children, and whether they intend to have children or not.

Marriage is a partnership between individuals, and each relationship will be different, and will grow and change over time. As long as everyone involved is happy and willing, the state can and should offer support, but otherwise mind its own business. In my opinion!

Why am I getting on my soapbox about this particular issue in relation to my novel BUTTERFLY HUNTER…? Because the crux of the matter was really brought home to me while researching for the story.

As can be inferred from the title, the main characters Dave and Nicholas are on a quest in the Australian Outback for a particular species of blue butterfly. As part of my research, I often browsed The Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia by Michael F Braby.

Butterflies go through quite a complex life cycle, which involves four very different forms: egg, larva, pupa and adult. It’s the adult form we tend to think of when we think of butterflies – the beautiful, delicate winged creatures, who might live only for months or even days. For different (human) cultures, adult butterflies have symbolised transformation, change, joy, colour, the soul, and death.

I realise we humans are imposing symbolic meaning, and our love of beauty, on creatures who do not share our ways of thinking. However, it really brought me to a crashing halt when I read the following sentence in Braby’s Field Guide:

The adult, also known as the imago, is responsible chiefly for reproduction and dispersal.

And I’m not saying he’s wrong per se. He’s obviously right at some level. I’m just saying that this reductionist approach to life horrifies me. There is so much more to our human lives than making babies and placing them somewhere useful. Maybe a butterfly isn’t conscious enough in itself to think about more than mating, and then laying eggs in good locations. However, the facts that we can appreciate a butterfly’s beauty, and attach culturally-relevant symbolic meanings to them, proves that there’s a whole lot more to being human.

And so I say again, fie on John Howard and his reductive definitions of marriage, and fie on his successors as well. All these years later, Australia still hasn’t signed off on marriage equality. Let marriage be about choice and love, about transformation and life, about souls and joy. Let it be about a dinky-di fair go for all.

Come on, Aussie, come on! It’s more than time. We are way overdue. Get it done!

Vampires in Barcelona, 2042

FOOL'S ERRANDAn author guest blog
by Chris Quinton

About eleven years ago, I wanted to write a vampire story. This was when that particular genre took off in the world of ebooks, and I didn’t want to follow the established tropes that closely. I’d watched films, read books, both vampiric and science-fiction rather than whichever branch of the paranormal vampires occupy, and a tentative idea began to form. I talked it out with friends, especially the biology of vampires. Luckily, I have a forensic scientist among my contacts, and her input was invaluable.

At the end of all that, I had a six page ‘thesis’ on the biology and history of the vampire, and the vampire communities. Admittedly, it did get tweaked a bit once I got deeper into what would end up being Fool’s Errand … And because of the various political situations I wanted to play with, I set it in the near future – 2042. Thanks to various movies and documentaries, plus the photos taken by my self-employed son who’d spent a lot of time there on a contract, I chose Barcelona, in that fiercely independent region of Spain, Catalunya.

Then I needed characters, and again, I wanted to avoid the usual take on a vampire, on when and how he was ‘turned’. After various name and nationality changes, I ended up with Andreas Rousakis.

Here’s a clip, as Mark Kermode says in The Film Review:

Barcelona by urformat via Pixabay
Barcelona by urformat via Pixabay

Nearly a century ago, war had swept across Europe. Germany invaded Greece in 1941 and like many of his countrymen, Andreas had managed to get to Canada, where he was trained to fly sorties against the enemy. He ended up flying Spitfires out of Malta, providing fighter cover for the bombers and striking back at the German bombers and their Messerschmitt escorts. He’d been shot down over Italy, and after a month on the run, he’d been captured. He’d ended up in a concentration camp in Austria, close to the Hungarian border. The regime was brutal, the determination to survive so he could gain some kind of vengeance was the only thing that kept him alive for the next year.

Then Benedek Nagy had been brought to the camp. Benedek was a member of a small Hungarian Resistance group, and he had a couple of secrets. Like Andreas, he preferred men in his bed, something they both made sure their captors never discovered. They had become lovers, and it wasn’t long before Andreas learned the greater secret. Benedek was a vampire.

When news came that they were all to be shipped out to the notorious camp at Stutthof, Benedek had offered the men a devil’s bargain. He would make into a vampire whoever wished it, and they would spearhead a breakout, killing as many of the camp guards as they could and ultimately releasing all the prisoners. Andreas had been one of the ten volunteers.

My second main character, and one Andreas ultimately connects with on various levels, is Xavier Peres Escuderos, a small-time crook and gigolo, on the run from the police and the bad guys after he’d witnessed a murder and become Suspect Numero Uno. Xavi is – complicated. He’s stroppy, egotistical and a bit of a narcissist. He doesn’t need anyone or anything, least of all an overbearing, controlling bodyguard attempting to keep him in protective custody.

Another clip:

Narrow street, Barcelona by 495756 via Pixabay
Narrow street, Barcelona by 495756 via Pixabay

Xavi liked gold. Solid sunshine, it lay on his smooth, tanned skin and glowed. He smiled at his half-naked reflection in the cheval mirror, and hazel eyes gazed back at him, eyes that could look guileless or seductive with equal ease. His thick dark hair was combed and styled into place, and his mouth had a sensual swell to the under lip and a crisp shape to the upper. He turned his head a little and gauged the effect. Xavi had always considered his profile was like that of a Roman god-hero.

He touched his fingers to metal that was rapidly warming to his body-heat. It was a heavy curb chain, diamond-cut, its facets etched with fine arabesques, and it looked very good on him. There was more gold on Sophia’s dressing table, a careless tangle of necklaces and pendants and other assorted glitter that cost several fortunes, all treated with the same insouciance. But this one had been bought for him. She’d said she had a gift for him when she picked him up at their usual meeting place, but he hadn’t expected anything like this.

Sophia finished fastening the clasp at the back of his neck and kissed his shoulder as she came to stand beside him. “Beautiful,” she murmured.

“Yes,” Xavi said huskily. “You are.” But his eyes weren’t on her. He knew he looked good, knew that women were drawn to him like mares in season, and he revelled in it.

FOOL'S OATHTo be honest, I didn’t intend to write a sequel to Fool’s Errand, let alone turn it into a trilogy, but Xavi wouldn’t shut up. He wasn’t entirely settled into his relationship with Andreas, not to mention his new life in the public eye. They still had issues between them that needed to be worked out – and let’s face it, Xavi needed to grow the hell up and take responsibility for himself and his actions.

By the time I finished Fool’s Oath, I’d accepted that, yes, I had a trilogy on my hands. Months later, I completed Fool’s Rush, and gave the three books the overall title of Fool’s Odyssey.

However, I knew I wasn’t entirely finished with the vampire genre. There’s Fox Hunt, an entirely different setting and and entirely different people, but that’s for another time …


If you’re as intrigued as we were, you can find all the details about FOOL’S ERRAND, FOOL’S OATH and FOOL’S RUSH on the Manifold Press website!

The exceedingly Clever Baggers sponsoring Queer Company 2!

Queer Company iconA guest blog post
by Sandra Lindsey
author of UNDER LEADEN SKIES

Everyone loves a freebie, don’t they? Obviously, the prospect of a goodie bag isn’t the only reason delegates look forward to book-related festivals and conferences, but it certainly doesn’t hinder one’s enjoyment to return home with a quality, reusable souvenir which will make you smile with memories of the event.

Last year at Queer Company, we had very useful folders stuffed with interesting info and a fun anthology of short stories set in Oxford. This year, we have something a little different, and it’s all my fault…

You see, I have a personal connection to a company which specialises in printing eco-friendly cotton bags (among a whole host of other products, but the bags are where it all started). They’re called The Clever Baggers, they’re based here in the UK, and they offer a rainbow of different coloured cotton bags. At the Manifold Press AGM, I offered to ask if the company would be willing to sponsor Queer Company 2 by providing bags for us to fill with goodies and give out to all attendees.

They said yes!

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I was lucky enough to be in the building the day our bags were printed, so I snapped a few photos of them being produced on the digital printers. I’ll try not to bore you with the technicalities, but for a variety of reasons, printing onto textiles is very different to printing onto paper. If you’re printing onto coloured (dyed) cloth, there are even more complications, and being able to do this digitally, i.e. directly onto the fabric by machine controlled by a computer, is a far more recent development than most people expect. In this instance, the machine applies a pre-treat to the bag, then prints a base-layer of the image in white, then prints the full colour image on top of this. All of the substances used in the process are water-based to make both process and product as eco-friendly as possible.

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I was very impressed by the end result, and hope you will be too!

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Everyone at Manifold Press HQ is certainly thrilled at the gorgeous results. We set The Clever Baggers a bit of a challenge with an event logo that looks lovely online but might not print very well. They’ve done us proud, though, as I’m sure you’ll all agree.

There are a very few tickets left for Queer Company 2. Do please join us if you can!

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