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On the first day we visited Corstopitum (Corbridge), which had been replaced by the fort at Halton when Hadrian’s Wall was built.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.

The 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967

Today, 27 July 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised private homosexual acts between men over 21 in England and Wales. As is obvious from the length of that description, this was only a partial victory, and we can hardly pretend that gay men and other people in the LGBTQ+ spectrum enjoy full equality even now.

Despite those caveats, the legal victory in 1967 and all the progress made since are things to be celebrated. The Manifold Press team was surprised and delighted by how many of Britain’s cultural institutions are acknowledging the milestone of this anniversary during 2017 – and we wanted to celebrate, too.

Hence, OUT OF THE SHADOWS: EXTRACTS FOR AN ANNIVERSARY 1967-2017. This is a free anthology of extracts from Manifold Press titles that illustrates in a modest way the changes experienced by gay men over the centuries in Britain, and how the social and legal situations may have affected individuals. The extracts begin with the Romans in the 1st century CE, and bring us right through to current issues such as marriage equality and gender-fluid pronouns.

The anthology also includes a detailed timeline of gay history in England, from 17 BCE through to the present day, written by Fiona Pickles.

This free eBook is available to download directly from Smashwords and its distributors, in all available formats. We plan to also make free paperbacks available at Queer Company 3.

We’d like to thank all the Manifold Press authors for supporting this project, and in particular the following authors for agreeing to us sharing their work: Julie Bozza, Morgan Cheshire, Adam Fitzroy, Elin Gregory, Sandra Lindsey, Eleanor Musgrove, R.A. Padmos, F.M. Parkinson, Cimorene Ross, and Jay Lewis Taylor.

We hope that readers will find much to ponder in this volume, and if you are inspired to explore further – whether in our titles or elsewhere – that would be marvellous, too!

More price reductions on old favourites

Continuing our year of changes throughout MANIFOLD PRESS, we’re introducing another set of permanent price reductions on classic titles.


It’s 1991, and a group of English football fans are driving across Belgium; their trip takes them through the site of a former battle, and that’s when a strange sequence of events begins. For Dennis and Allan, colleagues who cordially dislike each other, this means journeying further still – into what appears to be the past, and into the lives of two men who travelled this way seventy-five years earlier, whose unfinished love-affair remains to be played out in full. As they move backwards and forwards in time Dennis and Allan have only themselves to rely on, no markers to show them where they’re going, and no real certainty of ever finding their way home again.

MONTANA REDMONTANA RED by Jane Elliot – now $4.95!

It’s out of the frying-pan and into the fire on the day Henry first meets Red. He’s happy enough at first to be having sex with a man – Heaven knows, it’s better than what he’s running away from! – but it isn’t too long before Red’s sexual extravagances are driving the two of them apart. It’s only when Henry’s trying to manage on his own again that he at last begins to achieve a little perspective – on inversion in general, on himself in particular, and even on his relationship with Red. That’s when he starts to wonder if maybe there isn’t a way back for them after all, but this time it will definitely have to be on his terms…

THE EAGLE'S WINGTHE EAGLE’S WING by Cimorene Ross – now $5.95!

Roman Gaul: Lucius Valerius Carus isn’t naturally impulsive; when he suddenly and unexpectedly buys a slave at a market it’s because he feels sorry for a man who has obviously been maltreated in the past. However he’s taken on far more than he bargained for with Keret – intelligent, educated, and a great deal stronger than he looks. Roman society wouldn’t think twice about Lucius using Keret for his sexual pleasure – indeed, it would be astonished if he didn’t – but it’s likely to be horrified if it ever learns that Lucius has started to respect his slave, and absolutely disgusted if it discovers that he’s gradually beginning to fall in love…

HUNTEDHUNTED by Liz Powell – now $6.95!

As a professional footballer it looks like Adam Hunter has it all, but when the secret of his affair with midfielder Louie Jackson begins to leak out he’s plunged into the depths of misery – prompting a desperate series of manoeuvres to conceal the truth. Injured, distrusted by his team-mates and plagued by personal tragedy, Adam goes from hero to zero – and by the time Louie’s transferred to a German side he’s running out of reasons to stay alive. If there’s any way back from the brink of suicide, it isn’t clear to him at the moment…


William Ashton, retained as a gardener by Edward Hillier, discovers his new master to be a detached and driven man. Over the years, as travail and tragedy bring them closer together, he understands that they have more in common than he first realised, but the affection they feel for one another will be sorely tested by boundaries both of class and of rigid Victorian morality. Like the private garden behind the high walls their love must flourish only in the strictest secrecy – or else it will not do so at all.

If you missed any of these diverse and fascinating titles earlier in their illustrious careers, this would be a wonderful opportunity of making their acquaintance!

Valentine’s Day Giveaway – Day Two


Thank you, dear Readers! The comments left for us yesterday made us blush with their kind wishes. We sincerely hope you all enjoyed the day, in whatever way you wished to celebrate (or not!).

With the help of random.org, we have drawn a name out of the virtual hat from yesterday’s entries: Chris asked for a copy of THE EAGLE’S WING by Cimorene Ross, and that will be flying your way very soon, Chris!

Chris and all our other lovely readers are now very welcome to enter the second day of the giveaway. Also, please stay tuned for some very exciting news being announced here this afternoon!

For seven days from Valentine’s Day, we’re giving away one free book per day, with the draws to be made as close as possible to 12.00 midday UK time starting on Sunday 15 February.

To win the Manifold Press book of your choice all you need to do is tell us – in a screened reply below:

  • your first name,
  • your email address,
  • the title of the book you’d like, and
  • the format you prefer (epub, mobi or pdf).

All our current titles are available, but only in electronic formats.

If you are successful once, don’t let it deter you from entering again; you can win twice before being disqualified for the rest of the giveaway.

So come on in and join us. It’s a great chance to experiment with the work of a new author, or to complete the backlist of a favourite – and good luck and best wishes to everyone who takes part!


The story of an addiction

I admit it, I’m a research junkie. It’s always been that way and, once I became a librarian with a whole reference library within reach, it only got worse. I know a lot of people won’t agree with me, but when it comes to research I’ll always prefer books to the internet; there is so much misleading – and plain wrong – information out there in the ether that it involves too much effort to sort out. Having spent a lot of time chasing ancestors on various genealogical sites, for example, I’ve come to the conclusion that some people lose all common sense when adding people to their family trees; even with my vague grasp of arithmetic I know that women have to be born before their grandchildren, unlike the owner of one tree I found on ‘Ancestry’ last week! Still, it amused my family history class – and thank heaven for the printed Yorkshire Parish Registers!

I read a lot of historical detective fiction, which often highlights large gaps in my knowledge; my school’s syllabus had some limitations, and therefore anything between the Romans and the death of the first Elizabeth I had to discover for myself. I clearly remember doing this when I first encountered the ‘Brother Cadfael’ books; I had vaguely heard of Stephen and Matilda but I had no idea why England had been split apart by civil war. Once I had read a couple of books on the subject, however, I returned to Cadfael better able to appreciate the author’s knowledge of the period.

Likewise, I discovered the ‘Mamur Zapt’ series of detective fiction about three books in to the series and, although I was immediately hooked, I realised I didn’t know why Britain and France were propping up the Egyptian government. Fortunately I soon found Bimbashi McPherson’s letters home and the Chief of Police Russell Pasha’s autobiography, and quickly recognised a few storylines which had been reworked into some of the earlier books. Egypt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries soon became an obsession, and I now own a shelf full of diaries and autobiographies relating to the period.

For some years my fellow Manifold Press author Morgan Cheshire and I were involved in American Civil War re-enactments. During that period, most of the books I collected were ladies’ diaries rather than military histories; primary sources are always fascinating, and I found them very useful when preparing talks to accompany demonstrations of ladies’ costumes of the period. The audience always enjoyed hearing one particular Louisiana lady’s comments about the war, handsome gentlemen and her hatred of quilting – almost as much as they enjoyed trying on the hats and crinolines!

Another collection arose from my book group choosing to focus on travel books set in Central Asia or the Far East. All I could find in the library at the time was an account of a bicycle tour through Siberia – but as a result I could now happily navigate my way around Lake Baikal and into Mongolia, if ever I was given the chance!

I was late in encountering the TV series Numb3rs, and quickly ended up buying all the boxed sets. I’m quite sure though that, even without the show, it would only have been a matter of time before I discovered the American Craftsman movement – I was already buying patchwork fabric in William Morris designs – but those who watched Numb3rs will know that the Eppes family live in a Craftsman house. These houses and bungalows were constructed on a small scale with built-in furniture, much of which either still exists or has been lovingly reproduced. Anyway, I soon had a large pile of lavishly-illustrated books about them and was delighted to discover the Numb3rs house – not in Pasadena, but in the West Adams district of Los Angeles. The last time I had a room redecorated, these books came in very useful for inspiration!

Having written this far, perhaps it’s time to acknowledge to myself that I’m not merely a research junkie – I’m actually a book junkie. I’ve had to be very firm about passing on to the library such things as fantasy novels and American cosy murders, but I still add a lot of books to the shelves and boxes upstairs. I was introduced to LibraryThing online (https://www.librarything.com/) by a fellow ex-librarian and was horrified to discover that my catalogued collection numbers about two thousand books. Some time soon I really must be brave and have another purge!

Recommended reading

The Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ellis-Peters/e/B000AP86R4/

The Mamur Zapt mysteries by Michael Pearce http://www.amazon.co.uk/Michael-Pearce/e/B000APQZKE/

Egyptian Service 1902-1946 by Sir Thomas Russell http://www.amazon.co.uk/Egyptian-Service-1902-1946-Thomas-Russell/dp/B0006ASIG2/

Bimbashi McPherson: A Life in Egypt by Joseph McPherson http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bimbashi-McPherson-Egypt-Joseph-McPHERSON/dp/B001PAVBYS/

Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone 1861-1868 by Kate Stone http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brokenburn-1861-1868-Civilization-published-University/dp/B00E320B32/

Through Siberia by Accident: A Small Slice of Autobiography by Dervla Murphy http://www.amazon.co.uk/Through-Siberia-Accident-Small-Autobiography/dp/0719566649/

The Bungalow: America’s Arts and Crafts Home by Paul Duchscherer and Douglas Keister http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bungalow-Americas-Arts-Crafts-Home/dp/B000GUJHI0/

New review of THE EAGLE’S WING

THE EAGLE'S WINGOnce again Elisa Rolle, steadfastly working her way through her TBR pile, has done us proud – this time with her highly favourable comments on Cimorene Ross’s THE EAGLE’S WING:

It was also good to read how the author grasped the custom of the time: that Lucius bought Keret as a bed slave wasn’t strange at all, but that he wanted a relationship with him was basically forbidden

and she closes by saying:

it was for sure an original Gay romance, out of the thousand of titles you can find out there.

We figure if anyone should know about those ‘thousands of titles’ it’s Elisa, and we’re very glad that she felt this one stood out from the crowd. Thank you, Elisa, and congratulations to Cimorene for making an impression!


Thank you all for entering our EXTREMELY RANDOM HARVEST giveaway draw; the last winner for this time round has just been drawn, and it’s Helena – who should by now have received her copy of THE EAGLE’S WING by Cimorene Ross.

Although that’s the end of the freebies for the time being, please keep an eye on this LJ as we will be giving away more books later in the summer. Meanwhile, we hope those of you who were successful will enjoy reading your books, and that those of you who weren’t will try again in the future!

And now, we start the countdown to our two new releases on 1 May; we just can’t wait!


Welcome to

random harvest banner

For the next six days we will be giving away one free book each day. Just reply to this post with your first name, e-mail address, the title of the current Manifold Press book you’d like to win, and your preferred format – all replies are screened; we’ll select a winner at random at 12.00 noon on 16 April (UK time).

You can enter once per day for as many days as you like, but nobody is allowed to win more than twice.

This is a great chance to experiment with a book or an author you haven’t yet tried, or to complete the backlist of a favourite; whatever your tastes, we’re sure to have something that will appeal to you – so what have you got to lose? Come on in and join us – the more, the merrier!

– – – – –

The Day One winner was Mead, who chose THE EAGLE’S WING by Cimorene Ross; congratulations, Mead – it’s on its way to you already.


Everyone who writes historical fiction must enjoy research and want to reflect in their writing the customs of their chosen period of history. I'm not referring to the 'historicals' read by devotees of the romance shelves back in the days when I was a junior in the library – their only connections with history were usually long skirts, carriages rather than cars, and no electricity – although I do remember we whiled away boring late-opening nights by looking for glaring anachronisms in the cheaper end of the market. The advent of the internet has made research much easier and leaves the author with no excuse for not checking facts, although I must admit that I still prefer books; indeed, Fiona and Morgan have complained for years that I love research more than writing! They may have a point, otherwise it wouldn't have taken me more than thirty years to complete THE EAGLE'S WING. The story itself, though, actually first emerged twenty years before that as a 6th Form project, after 'A' Levels were over and when we needed an occupation – apart from the 6th Form play – until the end of the term. Some of that original survived into the finished novel, so coming from a long line of pack-rats definitely has its advantages! However, as other people have already discussed the joys of research in these guest blogs, Fiona suggested that perhaps I might explore homosexuality in the ancient world – and, after knowing her for nearly forty years, I know when to take the hint!

Because very few non-religious texts survive from classical times, it is impossible to make any definitive statements. Opinions differ over the social norms regarding sexual life, and in any case there must have been considerable variation throughout the centuries and civilisations from Sumer to the Hittites. In the few texts mentioning homosexuality in Ancient Egypt, for example, only the New Kingdom Book of the Dead implied that it was condemned. As may be expected, some scholars believe that this was only aimed at priests and other personnel who were banned from any form of sex on temple premises.

Egyptian society expected every male to marry early and produce children, so both prostitution and homosexuality were officially frowned upon but probably flourished regardless. Once a man was married, with a household of his own, he no doubt lived the rest of his life precisely as he pleased. As with all ancient civilisations, however, our knowledge is based on the upper classes; the hoi polloi were too busy scraping a living to become educated or to leave much evidence of their lives.

It's in the myths of the Egyptian gods where the topic of homosexuality takes a starring role; Seth and Horus were not condemned for their night of passion so much as that it developed into complicated infighting in the hierarchy of the gods, an all-too-common occurrence in the pantheons of ancient civilisations.

There is a funeral stele showing two young men face-to-face – and, likewise, two theories. The simple one is that they were a gay couple, the other that they were twins buried together as they were born together and thus creating the balance the Egyptians lived by. Take your pick; expert opinion, as always, is deeply divided!

Another story is straight out of the defunct tabloid newspaper 'The News of the World'; a pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom was observed sneaking out of the palace at night to visit his lover, a general in the army. Funnily enough, it wasn't his choice of paramour that incensed people; their complaint was that he brought the kingship into disrepute by sloping out under cover of darkness.

By the time of the Greeks, and then the Romans, there are plenty of texts including laws, literature and graffiti. In Greece the heterosexual relationship wasn't the centre of social life; women were uneducated and confined to the home, while men conducted their lives in public. Educating a youth to become a man, a worthy citizen, was the responsibility of an older man – a relationship bound by strict rules of courtship and behaviour which was only supposed to last a specific period of time. Continuing in the passive role as an adult was frowned upon but not unknown; once maturity was reached and facial hair sprouted the youth was supposed to abandon the passive role – both cultural and sexual – to take his place in civic life, marry, raise children and become the educator of his own beloved youth. It was a way of life which had started as an initiation rite in pre-classical times and reached its peak in the last few centuries before Rome conquered Greece. The Greeks didn't differentiate between homosexuality and heterosexuality so much as between active and passive patterns of behaviour.

Rome held no truck with the Greek way of courting a beloved, or of educating the object of desire; to an upper-class Roman, this was merely lack of virility. A male Roman had to be the active one in any sexual encounter, regardless of the gender of his partner, and the passive male sexual partner of a Roman had to be of a class lower than his own – whereas in Greece the chosen beloved had to be freeborn and from a good family.

Rome rejected the Greek tradition of 'courtly love', as losing oneself in love and sensuality was considered moral slavery and thus a dark shame – especially if it affected public deportment and social relations. It was felt that a well-born man must never submit himself either physically or morally to an inferior of either sex – and all women were by nature considered inferior!

By the late Republic and early Empire standards had slipped, and Rome embraced pleasure with enthusiasm. Augustus introduced laws attempting to restore morality to his city – without much effect, as the upper-class man, including Augustus himself, continued not to distinguish between male and female partners. There was no such thing as privacy in Rome; the Romans had no need of the internet – their 'social networking' came in the form of household slaves. Members of the ruling class were never alone, and their slaves gossiped – at the fountain, in the markets and shops, and while attending their masters in public. Gossip must have spread widely to reach the ears of the masters and mistresses, and thus it's no wonder that the literature of ancient Rome comprises such a vast amount of scandal.

Sadly, however, in time the more open attitudes of the pagan world died out; belief in the old gods faded, and the harsh laws of the new religions of Christianity and Islam were enforced with a severity that had never previously been encountered. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Fourth Day winner

Thank you once again to everyone who took part in our free giveaway draw – and congratulations to today’s winner, Monica, who has chosen to receive a copy of Cimorene Ross’s debut novel THE EAGLE’S WING. We’ll be in touch with you about it shortly, Monica!

Meanwhile, the Fifth Day draw is about to open; you all know how this works by now, so we’ll look forward to seeing you again in the screened comments as usual … and good luck, everybody!