Wednesday 31 August 2016

Author’s Inspiration ~ Elisabeth Storrs #histfic @elisabethstorrs

I am so excited to have historical fiction author, Elisabeth Storrs on the blog today to tell us about her inspirations behind her latest book…

Call To Juno

"An elegant, impeccably researched exploration of early Rome and their lesser known enemies, the Etruscans… Elisabeth Storrs weaves a wonderful tale!" 
Kate Quinn, author of The Empress of Rome Saga

Four unforgettable characters are tested during a war between Rome and Etruscan Veii.

Caecilia has long been torn between her birthplace of Rome and her adopted city of Veii. Yet faced with mounting danger to her husband, children, and Etruscan freedoms, will her call to destroy Rome succeed?

Pinna has clawed her way from prostitute to the concubine of the Roman general Camillus. Deeply in love, can she exert her own power to survive the threat of exposure by those who know her sordid past?

Semni, a servant, seeks forgiveness for a past betrayal. Will she redeem herself so she can marry the man she loves?

Marcus, a Roman tribune, is tormented by unrequited love for another soldier. Can he find strength to choose between his cousin Caecilia and his fidelity to Rome?

Who will overcome the treachery of mortals and gods?

There would be few people who haven’t heard of the famous siege of Troy. The exploits of the heroic Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon and Menelaus have been retold for thousands of years. So too the infamy of Helen and Paris, the lovers who sparked the war.

However, there was another siege that lasted a decade. A conflict known only to those who are aware of an obscure episode in Roman history. It was a war fought between Rome and the Etruscan city of Veii. However, unlike the Greeks who sailed over the sea to battle the Trojans, the Romans only ventured twelve miles across the Tiber River to attack the Veientanes. Yet despite being close neighbours, the enemies were from opposing worlds so different were their customs and beliefs. For the nascent Republican Rome was austere and insular compared to the sophisticated Etruscans with their vast trading empire. And while Roman women were second class citizens, Etruscan women were granted independence, education and sexual freedom.

My interest in these contrasting civilisations was piqued more than 15 years ago when I discovered a photo of a 6th century BC sarcophagus depicting a life size couple embracing on their bed. The casket was unusual for that period because women were not usually commemorated in funerary art. Discovering more about the ancient society that portrayed such tender affection led me to the world of the Etruscans and the Tales of Ancient Rome.

As in the Iliad, the fates of the characters in my saga are entwined around those of two lovers who are blamed for starting the war: the Roman treaty bride, Caecilia, who comes to love an enemy nobleman, Vel Mastarna, whom she is forced to marry in The Wedding Shroud. Ultimately Caecilia must determine where her loyalties lie: her birthplace or her husband’s city. Yet her decision to forsake Rome in The Golden Dice means she is perceived as an enemy by the Veientanes while knowing that, if Veii should fall, the Romans would execute her as a traitoress. In Call to Juno, Caecilia must summon even greater reserves of strength at the height of the siege to prove her loyalty to Mastarna’s people, and ensure the survival of her family.

The Golden Dice and Call to Juno continue Caecilia’s journey which begins in The Wedding Shroud but I’m sure readers will have no problem in following the plot whichever book they pick up first as I wrote each as a standalone novel. And to ensure both sides of the war are recounted, I introduced Pinna, a Roman tomb whore, into The Golden Dice. She is reduced to using coercion to escape her grim life but in the process falls in love with the Roman general who is besieging Veii. By following Caecilia and Pinna’s tales, the reader will not only learn about the battles fought between the warriors they love, but also understand the trials these women face in order to protect themselves and all those dear to them. Who will survive the treachery of mortals and gods?

Links to Purchase
TheWedding Shroud 
The Golden Dice 

About the author 
Elisabeth Storrs has long had a passion for the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. She graduated from University of Sydney in Arts Law, having studied Classics. Elisabeth lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney, Australia, and over the years has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer and corporate governance consultant. She is one of the co-founders of the Historical Novel Society Australasia

Feel free to connect with Elisabeth through her website or Triclinium blog. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter @elisabethstorrs, Bookbub  and Pinterest. Subscribe to her monthly Inspiration newsletter for inspirational interviews and insights into history - both trivia and the serious stuff! You’ll receive a free 80 page short story, Dying for Rome: Lucretia’s Tale.


Tuesday 30 August 2016

Castle Dore and #Arthurian Legend #Cornwall

As you may know, I write historical fantasy set a generation after the fall of King Arthur. In The Du Lac Chronicles, my protagonist, Alden du Lac is the defeated King of Cerniw and his fort, called Castle Dore, has been razed to the ground. In The Pitchfork Rebellion, Alden sees first hand what the King of Wessex has done to his beloved fort. I want to have a look at the legend and the archaeological evidence of Castle Dore today.

Let's start with the legend.

Castle Dore was the home of King Mark of Cornwall and was the setting for one of the most beautifully tragic love story of all times. I am of course talking about Tristan and Iseult. Move over Romeo and Juliet you have nothing on these guys. If you want a recap on the legend, then check out the blog post I wrote on Sir Tristan. Now, on to the facts.

 Tristan and Iseult as depicted by Herbert Draper (1863–1920)

What do we know of Castle Dore?

Castle Dore is situated just outside of Fowey in Cornwall. It is an Iron Age Hill Fort ~ I know I know, not quite the Dark Age fort that we want, but hey, when you are talking about legends what's 1000 years between friends?!

There is some speculation that the name Castel Dore comes from the Cornish "Earth Castle," which has an appealing ring to it, doesn't it?

Excavations were carried out on the site in 1936 and 1937 by the famed, Dark Age, English archaeologist and historian Courtenay Arthur Ralegh Radford (1900-1999). He concluded that the fort was re-occupied in the 5th/6th Century, which would tie in nicely with the Arthurian legend. Just to note, Radford also excavated sites at Tintagel and Glastonbury Abbey as well. But later interpretation of the site suggests that it was an Iron Age fortification, with little of evidence of Dark Age occupation.

However...The fort was re-occupied in 1644 by the Earl of Essex and his Parliamentarian Army during the English Civil War. To cut a long story short, the Royalist surrounded Dore. Essex managed to escape although there was a great loss of life. It was a bitter blow to the Roundhead's and ultimately secured the South West for the king, until the final days of the war. 
 King Charles I

There is also evidence of a small village to the eastern gate of the Hillfort and in my books, Dore does have such a village.

I wonder why Dore was chosen to be part of the Arthurian story. It is small and seemingly insignificant and is now being left to crumble away. But whatever the reason, Dor is associated with the legend and I have to admit, there is something special about the place. 

And if you fancy checking out The Du Lac Chronicles, you can find the link below.

Monday 29 August 2016

#bookreview ~ Smoke and Mirrors #YA #fantasy @Jess_Haines

Because sometimes a girl needs a dragon, not a knight.

Smoke and Mirrors
Jess Haines

A girl who uses her illusions to fool the world into thinking she's just like all the other magi.

A dragon who sees through her lies.

Together they just might survive a world that wants to control or destroy them both.

Kimberly may wield ultimate cosmic power, but even a mage has to pay the rent. No one will hire her for her magic talents until she's got the credentials, so she's stuck in a crappy rent controlled apartment with her mother, yearning for treats she can't afford at her part time job in a cafe, counting down the days until she graduates the secret Blackhollow Academy school for magi. Only then will she have the certificate she needs to land her dream job in a coven.

The problem? She needs a familiar to graduate.

As an illusionist, she doesn't have the ability to summon or create a familiar of her own. Her only option is to convince a supernatural creature to let her bind it instead. Since having a powerful Other at her beck and call would guarantee her a place in a coven after she graduates—and legendary treasure hoards are an added bonus—she thinks binding a dragon as her familiar will solve all her problems...

My thoughts on the book…

Smoke and Mirrors ~ was ever a book so aptly named?

A skilfully told story that captured my attention from the beginning and held it throughout. This is an action-packed adventure, with so many twists and turns that it left me with whiplash ~ but in a good way!!

The protagonist, Kimberly, is an incredibly well-crafted character. She is one paycheck away from eviction, but she hides her hardships behind an illusion. No one sees the tatty clothes or how thin she is from lack of food. All her classmates see is someone who doesn’t quite fit into the magical world. Kimberly is desperate to graduate. If she doesn’t, then she fears that there will be no way out of the poverty that currently defines her life. All she has to do is find a dragon that will consent to be her familiar. But, what dragon would want to bond with someone like her?

 I really liked Kimberly. She is a very loving and humble young lady, who doesn't come from a magical background ~ she only learnt that she had magic when she was 16 ~ because of this, Kimberly is sublimely unaware of the danger she is in. She seeks out Cormac, having no idea who he really is. She has been told that he can help her find a dragon. He is, therefore, her last hope.

Kimberly provokes strong protective emotions in Cormac, although at first, he is wary of her motives. Cormac cannot deny the physic desire he feels towards her and he cannot understand why he has this all-consuming, irrational want, to become her familiar.

I loved the characterisation of Cormac. He comes across as being incredibly wise and strong. You would want him in your corner! But there is also this endearing hint of vulnerability about him, which made him appealing. I enjoyed reading about him.

The antagonist, Viper, is a dark and poisonous character. He is suitably evil, although I am guessing there is a backstory to him, which I would be interested in learning about.

Smokes and Mirrors is a well-crafted and incredibly compelling novel. I loved the many mythical creatures. Haines has created a believable world with an endearing protagonist. A book worth reading.

I Highly Recommend.

Links to purchase

About the author
I'm a displaced New Yorker with a penchant for the silly, the obscure, and the fantastical. Tampa, Florida is home for the time being. I'm currently working on the H&W Investigations urban fantasy series and the Blackhollow Academy young adult contemporary fantasy series. Find out more about my books, drop me a line, or join my mailing list at!

Thursday 25 August 2016

St Govan's Chapel ~ the final resting place of Sir Gawain? #Wales

Let me tell you a story...

There was once an Irish monk named Govan, who was travelling to Wales to visit family. The journey was uneventful until he reached Pembrokeshire. Here he was set upon by pirates. All hope was lost, until the cliff opened up and left a fissure just big enough for him to crawl into. Legend states that the cliff then folded itself around him, keeping Govan hidden from his pursuers. How fabulous is that?

But hold your horses, there is more...

So grateful was Govan for such divine intervention, that he decided that this was the perfect place for a hermitage.

Now, Govan built his little chapel and he had a beautiful little bell.  All was right with the world. Alas, those pirates came one night and stole the bell. Disaster.

But fear not, for the divine would intervene again. Some Angel's came down from Heaven and stole the bell back…

I don't know why that bit of the legend appeals to me so much, but it does.
Turn in next week for another exciting episode of,

Angels v. Pirates.

Who will win?!...

Obviously, the Angels won and they gave the bell back to Govan.

But what was to the stop the pirates coming back and stealing the bell again?

The Angels came up with a cunning plan. If they were to encase the bell into a huge stone, then no one, not even those pirates, would be able to steal it again. Clever!

Now, I know what you are thinking. How can you peal a bell when it is encased in stone? For Govan, this was surprisingly easy, and boy did he make that bell ring. I don't know how just take my word for it.

But that is not all. There is more. The legend states that you can still see Govan's handprints on the floor of the cave, and it is reputed that he is buried under the chapels alter. And for many years if you wanted your wishes to come true then this is where you should go to ask them.

But...we aren't interested in that version of history. Hell, no. We want to hear the Arthurian one.

Okey-dokey. Right. Now stretch your imagination a little. Govan ~ sounds a bit like Gawain, or vice-versa. Is Govan actually a corruption of Gawain? Who knows!

Gawain will fit. He will be associated with this chapel. One way or the other. So here goes...

We all know the story of how Lancelot killed Gawain's brothers in his bid to rescue Guinevere from the pyre and how Gawain travelled to Brittany to seek his revenge. Lancelot didn't want to fight him, but Gawain wouldn't back down. Lancelot accidently kills him in a duel etc…etc...

Ah, but wait. In this story, Gawain doesn't die by Lancelot's hands. Oh no. When Arthur dies, Gawain, like many other knights, decides to live a life of simplicity and peace. He travels all the way to Pembrokeshire in Wales and he becomes a hermit. He builds a chapel, and this is where he spends the rest of his days. Gawain is even buried under the chapel's alter.

See, we can make him fit.

I have to be honest; I love both versions of the legend. It is just perfect. Much like that little chapel.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Author’s Inspiration ~ Michael Reuel #history & #folklore @MichaelReuel

I am so excited to have Michael Reuel on the blog. His new book is definitely one I look forward to reading as it is all about Robin Hood!

Robin Hood Existed
Michael Reuel

Historians tend to point out that there is no historical evidence for the existence of Robin Hood, but there is an incredible amount of folkloric evidence for his existence that has gone overlooked.

Folklorist Michael Reuel delves into the legend in order to assess how much we can learn by studying folklore, without applying the rigid terms of ‘historical’ proof. In the process he discovers that, although folklore does have obvious limitations in terms of what it can prove, the sheer amount of source material on Robin Hood is nevertheless sufficient enough to conclude that the famous outlaw and his Merry Men did in fact exist.

If you are interested to understand how Reuel has been able to arrive at this conclusion, then his research is chronicled here in the ground-breaking ‘Robin Hood Existed’; a study that promises to open a new window upon the story of Robin Hood and the life of thirteenth to fourteenth-century England. 

As well as shedding new light upon the story of everyone’s favorite outlaw, Reuel provides a compelling exploration of the nature of storytelling, defining some of the key differences between how truth and myth manifest in the human psyche, and highlighting many factors that lead to certain peoples and stories becoming overlooked or dismissed by historians.


A few years back the opening line of Wikipedia’s ‘Robin Hood’ page kicked off with a sentence that was something like, ‘Robin Hood was a medieval outlaw who didn’t exist’.

I don’t have the exact wording as the page has since been improved on, but I remember the line well because it was the catalyst for leading me to begin the research for what I then didn’t know would end up turning into the upcoming publication ‘Robin Hood Existed’. From the title, I’m sure it’s pretty easy to guess that my conclusions disagree with whomever was responsible for that Wikipedia entry. An amended page was not enough for my liking, however. My instincts had always been to suppose there was a real person behind the legend, but I had turned a corner and wanted something of substance to explain why.

For someone in love with British folklore I was conscious of the fact that the journey might be perilous, leading only to disappointment. What if I ended up siding with the naysayers? But that was not the case. The more I looked at all the factors involved the more complete my picture of the legend became, so much so that I don’t even like using the word ‘legend’ anymore and have tried to purge it from the book as much as possible.

Before stumbling upon Wikipedia that day I had always interpreted the public mood towards the Robin Hood story as being one on which the jury is still out. Although I sided firmly with the camp that thought he did exist, even before my own research, I was comfortable with the status quo; there is no firm ‘historical’ evidence after all. Fearing that there might be a growing tendency to dismiss England’s – and perhaps the world’s – favourite hero in such a way, however, made me sensitive on the subject of credibility. I began to notice how those who don’t believe that certain folklore has some truth behind it are far readier to adopt a tone of being in the right than those who remain curious. But baseless scepticism has never equalled wisdom, any more than romanticism has. Plus, as anyone who enjoys reading up on their favourite period of history will attest, the picture of history that the public consciousness is presented with – even to the extent of being taught it in school – is very rarely one from which sound judgements can be made.

Before I started reading up on Robin Hood’s time, the period of history I was most familiar with, from personal interest, was that surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. Now anyone who knows anything about British history knows that 1066 is a pretty important date to consider. People who grew up in the UK do not have to be very historically aware to know who the winners and losers were at the Battle of Hastings. Even those who try to avoid history as an interest are likely to be able to say something about King Harold being the one who possibly died with an arrow embedded in his eye.

On the famous demise of England’s last Anglo-Saxon king, however, I feel it apt to point out that I have yet to come across any major historical publication, in the last 20 years at least, that has found reason to humour the conclusion that Harold II died with an arrow in the eye or chopped down by a horse rider, as the Bayeaux Tapestry suggests.

Yet, presumably for no other reason than because this is a debate that has rumbled on through history and so has become a force of habit, we are still taught that this is what happened. Certainly I was taught so at school and, as I have worked as a proofreader of educational material, I have also come across the same teachings in current school texts. Along with many other statements that are simply amazing, such as ‘England as a nation was formed in 1066’.

It was not and neither did those responsible for the Bayeaux Tapestry know how Harold II died. Everyone who has written on the events of 1066 knows this, as does everyone who has read up on the up-to-date conclusions available, but everyone else still gets the other version.

Similarly, ‘everyone else’ is still presented with a construct of the Robin Hood stories that has the outlaw motivated by keeping the throne of England from Prince John, during the time when Richard the Lionheart was at war in the Crusades. Whereas those who have researched the original stories know that the king on the throne during Robin Hood’s time was always an Edward.

They should also know that the outlaw was a ‘yeoman’, which in aristocratic terms basically means a nobody. And yet many who do humour the possibility that the folklore is genuine still attempt to layer its origins with the idea that ‘Robin Hood’ became a second identity for some nobleman or earl with a grudge. The Earl of Huntingdon becomes a regular suspect, as does a disinherited Robin of Loxley.

Understanding why historians have constantly attempted to tie the outlaw to an identity that can be traced within available records became an important part of my research. A folklorist needs to understand what smokescreens have been put up and why, before being able to assess what the purist interpretation of the story really is and the truth that is too often overlooked when studying Robin Hood is that the life and achievements of yeoman from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries are not very likely to be historically proven at all.

So why are we so unable to appreciate the down-to-earth side of this famous hero? Can it be that our modern sentiments still remain more attached to the glory of royal blood and nobility than we would like to think? For sure these desperate attempts to give a man who lived in the woods some kind of link to the aristocracy suggest so.

A scene from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail springs to mind. King Arthur, on his way to a castle occupied by ‘French types’, stops to speak to couple of peasant folk who are rolling around in the muck. Prior to this he has been identified as a king by the commoners because ‘he hasn’t got shit all over him’. The peasant folk he stops to speak to are not so interested in him as Mary Anne Yarde, as one of them says ‘Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here’, which they then start gathering. With this image in mind, I can’t help feel that all the historical studies available have done very little to advance our view of what common medieval folk were like. The peasants are more than they seem though, questioning the king’s right to rule supremely over them because some ‘watery tart threw a sword at you’ and lecturing him about how they are an ‘anarcho-syndicalist commune’.

It would be nice to think that an exchange like this did actually happen, but I feel it is also apt to question whether we really went through the entire medieval period without there being a single peasant or yeoman who turned out to be a lot more than meets the eye.

My research for ‘Robin Hood Existed’ is not solely a historical one, therefore, but also a folkloric one. The search demanded that I discard looking for proof of the outlaw in stately homes and official records and go deeper. Crucial to understanding the folklore is a better appreciation of what it meant to be a ‘man of the wood’, other than just that a woods is a convenient place for hiding from the Sheriff. The social heritage and geography of the region are essential in this respect, as are linguistic observations and, perhaps most importantly, the nature of storytelling itself, in both its written and oral forms.

Tread carefully, therefore. I promise to delve into the ‘legend’ without the need to tie up the folklore with recognised figures from history, or tying up the goings on in Sherwood and Barnsdale as having much to do with who sat on the throne of England at all. There will be no further layering or smokescreening in order to arrive at a position of comfort. So, if it does turn out that our favourite outlaw had shit all over him, then that’s just fine with me.

Purchase Links

About the author

Michael Reuel is a writer of adventure mysteries that are inspired by myth, as well as being a keen folklorist. He grew up in Coventry, England and studied at the University of Wales, Bangor. His first published work was the sinister Not Far From Aviemore in 2014 and he is currently working on a follow-up, as well as exploring obscure pre-1066 folklore.