Wednesday 28 December 2016

Author’s Inspirations ~ Larry Shackleford @larrydshack

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I welcome back Larry Shackleford  onto the blog again! Larry is going to share with us his inspirations behind his latest book…
The Reliquary
Larry Shackleford

The Reliquary is the sequel to The Keresa Headdress. The fast-paced crime fiction novel takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah. The unique cast of characters from the Keresa Headdress are back, along with new team members, to solve another extraordinary criminal investigation involving fossil theft and a psychotic killer. 
FBI Special Agent Karen Adams' career has flat lined since the exciting Keresa Headdress investigation, where she met Special Agent Marcus "Playboy" McCoy and her fiancé, archaeologist Derek Simms.  Karen's supervisor, Roger Miller has since reassigned her to investigating mundane medical waste, fraud and abuse cases. Karen and Marcus are reunited as unlikely partners when a paleontology team goes missing in the remote Morrison Formation near Richfield, Utah.
The missing persons case quickly escalates into a chilling nightmare that no-one could have expected. Karen and Marcus soon discover the murdered scientists along with missing Allosaurus fossils. The violent killer leaves few leads to pursue, and the team enlists Riley, a local polygamist and nudist, along with heavyset homicide detective, Colin Childs, to assist with the investigation.  Marcus continues his “Playboy McCoy” antics until he meets Dr. Lisa Gruber, a paleontologist from the University of Utah who is unlike any woman he has ever met.
Dealing with recent personal issues, Karen finds herself in another professional frustrating situation. Unfortunately, she must risk her own life as another case submerges her into the unimaginable underworld of antiquities theft and the criminally insane.
Author’s Inspiration
First of all, it is an honor and a privilege to be invited back to Mary Anne’s blog site!  I have been a longtime fan of Mary Anne’s books; my friends and co-workers have all thoroughly enjoyed her Du LacChronicles series. 
The inspiration behind The Reliquary, the sequel to The Keresa Headdress (2015), was directly related to my interest in paleontology and the fascinating world of dinosaurs.  During my law enforcement career, I had the opportunity to work on several investigations involving the theft of Allosaurus fossils on public land in the State of Utah.  I even traveled to two different foreign countries to recover stolen fossils.  Utah’s unique geology makes for world-class paleontology sites spanning millions of years of evolution.  The Allosaurus was named the official Utah State fossil in 1988 because there are more Allosaurus fossils in Utah than anywhere else in the world. 

Allosaurus - Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry museum, Utah, USA

The Allosaurus was a late Jurassic-era bipedal top predator that lived approximately 145 to 150 million years ago in North and South America.  It was smaller than its Late Cretaceous relative, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, weighing in at 1.5 – 2 tons as an adult, and measuring 30 – 40 feet long.  Unfortunately, the irreplaceable fossil remains have also become a lucrative target for the black market.  Similar to the illegal “pothunters” in archeological resource theft, the “rock hounds” of the paleo world have also capitalized on the theft of the rare and valuable resources.  One femur bone from a well-known dinosaur can easily be sold on the black market for approximately $15,000 - $20,000 US dollars.

My goal with The Reliquary was to continue telling the story of Karen, Derek and Marcus, but this time I wanted to incorporate a plotline involving paleo theft.  The challenge was not to simply make a sequel, but create a story that would stand alone without any previous knowledge of characters depicted in The Keresa Headdress.  Also, I found that character development is very difficult when you are using characters from a previous story.  I do not know if other authors will agree with this: writing fiction is truly rewarding in many ways, but there is also negative side to publishing your work.  In a sense, you feel somewhat vulnerable and “exposed” wondering if readers will not only like your stories, but your characters as well.  Right or wrong, it is interesting to witness other people discussing the characters that you have created. 
Positive and negative feedback from readers for an author is critical, but it is also interesting to see what individual readers glean from your stories.  I would love to see Mary Anne create a small section on her blog that highlights comments authors have received from readers that have surprised them.  For example, in one of my books, The Cherubim Rosewood (2015), the main character gives his long-time girlfriend his parents’ wedding rings shortly after completing a horrific journey through the Amazon jungle.  In the book, he simply tells his girlfriend that he would like for her to keep the rings safe.  I had a reader tell me that was one of the most unique, romantic ways she had ever read a wedding proposal.  I thanked her for her kind comments, but when I wrote these words, the thought of a wedding proposal NEVER crossed my mind!
Based on the feedback I had received from The Keresa Headdress, I was motivated to really develop the character Marcus McCoy in the story.  So many readers absolutely loathed this character, so I strived to portray the human side of Marcus in the sequel, without condoning his unsavory shenanigans.  I also wanted to introduce the historical side of fossils, their implications to modern times, and reveal the alarming rate in which fossils are used for illegal purposes.  I also wanted to introduce a deeply troubled suspect.  I will not go as far to say this story is based on a real experience or individual, but I will suggest that the best law enforcement stories are the ones that the general public will never hear about!

Links to Purchase

About the author
Larry was raised in southwest Missouri where he received his college degree, but he received his education after he graduated and began working in a maximum-security federal prison. After spending two years behind bars, he continued his law enforcement career as a criminal investigator, residing and working in eight states and two foreign countries. Larry retired from law enforcement after twenty-five years of service and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife and cat.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Happy Christmas

I would just like to wish all my fabulous reads a very Happy Christmas!

Friday 23 December 2016

What did a War Time Christmas Look Like? #WW2 @Suzy_Henderson

A Wartime Christmas 
by Suzy Henderson
When I began writing The Beauty Shop, I decided that my male and female protagonist would meet at a New Year’s Eve dance held at an air base. The year was 1942, and it was the first Christmas the Americans would spend in England. While I’d read about service dances and budding romances, it seemed the war years were joyful and exciting, but I feel that was perhaps just a little light that shone through the ever-constant darkness. So, I went back in time, back to the 1940s, in search of a wartime Christmas.

December 1940 was a challenging month, and the first year the British people had to endure heavy bombings in some parts while preparing to celebrate Christmas. The Blitz had begun on September 7th, 1940, and by the end of the year, 24,000 people had been killed while hundreds of thousands became homeless. The Luftwaffe virtually destroyed the city centre of Coventry in November, while around 41,000 British Soldiers were captured on the continent. Many women now worked, children had been evacuated, and families split up. As many people mourned the loss of loved ones, many more feared for their fighting men, and for those displaced and homeless, Christmas must have seemed a very bleak prospect indeed.

Manchester suffered quite heavily between the 22 -24 December as the Luftwaffe launched bombing raids on industrial targets. One side of Manchester Piccadilly was virtually destroyed during the second night of attacks, with buildings set ablaze. Incendiary bombs caused hundreds of fires over two consecutive nights. Christmas and homes would have been destroyed for a number of people, along with the loss of lives. Fortunately, Britain and Germany made an unofficial agreement to refrain from any further bombing raids until the 27th December, an agreement that did not extend to ground or sea forces.

Small Christmas trees were in great demand as many families prepared to spend the day in their air raid shelters, in case the Luftwaffe should come again. Paper chains were made from scraps of paper, glued together and strung across rooms or shelters for decorations. The ration was beginning to bite, and many items including food and gifts were in short supply. The government discouraged the public from spending money on gifts and encouraged them to buy war bonds instead, to help the war effort. In doing so, they managed to raise around £10 million one week before Christmas.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

“Make do and Mend” was the official slogan used prolifically throughout the war years. Everything that could be recycled was, including brown paper and string, which was so scarce and used over and over on parcels. Hand-made presents were the order of the day, including boats, trains and doll’s house furniture carved from wood while women made knitted items such as dolls, hats, and scarves from any spare wool they could find. Gifts were also generously donated by other countries and charities.

Christmas dinner was an ingenious affair. Turkey was simply unaffordable to the masses and many other cuts of meat, although cheaper, were still expensive. Many working class people turned to home-reared chickens and rabbits. The latter often became cherished family pets of children who would undoubtedly be upset to see them served up at Christmas. By now many people were growing their own vegetables and making chutney which would be a blessing for the dinner table at this time. Fruit was scarce, and there were very few imports, so Christmas cakes and puddings were made with substituted ingredients in place of dried fruit and marzipan as people became more resourceful in the kitchen.

While many people made the traditional visit to church that day, there was a distinct silence in the air as all bell ringing was banned, reserved only to signal the German invasion. The BBC broadcast a Christmas service from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, and the Kings speech went ahead as usual via a radio broadcast. Most families would be sat huddled around the radio, listening intently at 3pm to King George VI as he addressed the nation. His speeches at this time throughout the war years became so popular with the people that they continue to this day. The entertainment of choice would be cards, singing songs, carols and listening to the radio.

On Sunday 29th December, the Luftwaffe returned with a vengeance, launching one of the heaviest raids of the Blitz so far, with fires that raged so ferociously it became known as the Second Great Fire of London. The city was burning, and one of the most powerful images of the entire war was taken that night of St Paul’s Cathedral; the dome of which rose untouched as flames danced all around. It was hailed as a miracle by the people, and St Pauls became a symbol of the will of the British, rising triumphant from the ashes. They would not be defeated, and they would not give in.

By December 1942, the Americans had joined the war, and the British people were asked to welcome a GI into their home at Christmas time. Many did, and forged friendships with those young men who were so far away from home. And of course, the GIs always took along their individual rations which were always gratefully received and helped deliver a little extra festive cheer.

So, the British people demonstrated their indomitable spirits by smiling through the harshness and tragedy of war, determined that Hitler would not break them. They enjoyed the festivities as well as they could, making an effort for the sake of their children. They extended the hand of friendship to our American neighbours, ensuring that they too enjoyed this day in the company of others, with families to show them they were not alone. The true spirit of Christmas, generosity, compassion and friendship.

Today, we are far more fortunate, and I have no experience of the hardships the people faced back then, something I am most grateful for. Christmas is a time of peace, and of friendship, love, and extending hospitality to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is a time of giving, and we can all give so much to others, so much of ourselves, including our time – it’s not necessarily about buying presents. And remember, no one should be alone at this time unless they wish to be. 


Suzy Henderson was born in the North of England, but a career in healthcare would eventually take her to rural Somerset. Years later, she decided to embark upon a degree in English Literature with The Open University.
That was the beginning of a new life journey, rekindling her love of writing and passion for history. With an obsession for military and aviation history, she began to write.
It was an old black and white photograph of her grandmother that caught Suzy’s imagination many years ago. Her grandmother died in 1980 as did her tales of war as she never spoke of those times. When she decided to research her grandmother’s war service in the WAAF, things spiralled from there. Stories came to light, little-known stories and tragedies and it is such discoveries that inform her writing.
Having relocated to the wilds of North Cumbria, she has the Pennines in sight and finally feels at home. Suzy is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Romantic Novelists Association. "The Beauty Shop" is her debut novel and is available here...  Amazon
Useful Links

Thursday 22 December 2016

Christmas in Sherwood ~ #history #RobinHood #Sherwood @MichaelReuel

Christmas in Sherwood
By Michael Reuel

There’s a great deal of media debate flying around about how eventful 2016 has been, which for many is another way of saying how depressing it all is.

It started with David Bowie dying back in January and the arrows haven’t stopped flying ever since. Everyone’s favourite sheriff of Nottingham, Alan Rickman, was next, with Mohammad Ali, Prince, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Andrew Sachs, Kenny Baker, Victoria Wood, Terry Wogan and Zsa Zsa Gabor being just some of the names to follow who had earned remarkable public affection during their lifetime and let's not get started with the election results.

When faced with such a debacle, a look at history can often provide an ideal tonic for keeping our troubles in perspective. Indeed, even for those who insist there has been no silver lining to the events of 2016 and just want it out of the way, a look at other times can provide a compelling argument for shaking off the blues and getting in the Christmas spirit.

Because of my Robin Hood studies I confess to having spent much of the unhappy 2016 with my head stuck in fourteenth century England. My aim has been to recast Robin as the yeoman he always was before clumsy historians decided to give him noble blood and, in order to achieve this, I was required to find out as much as I could about a type of people that chroniclers too often overlook as important: the common folk.

Dredging up reliable information about a particular common person is an unenviable task – even if that person happened to become the most famed and celebrated hero of his day. Nevertheless, much can be said about the lives that these people lived; by tracing world events, the laws of the land and the behaviour of the ruling classes. Meaning that a sense of what they had to live through is not so obscure and only demands the use of our imagination.

OK so there is a blatantly obvious comparison to make here, in pointing out that medieval commoners had a tougher life than we face. They were a subservient and downtrodden people, likely to be poor and malnourished and with a low life expectancy.

They were different times. However, even with medieval expectations in mind, the fourteenth century can be described as tragic and hellish for what its people were destined to go through – and to an extent that vastly outweighs any of the bitterness we can possibly hold towards the days of 2016.

At first glance this appears strange in that, initially, the century appeared to be the dawn of a new era of optimism for the English nation in general. Edward III had kicked a usurper off the throne, before proceeding to turn around the nation’s military fortunes. By the time his reign was in full swing, the English people no longer needed to worry about invasions from the Scots and an inferior position to the French on the world stage had been completely overturned. They had perhaps England’s greatest achievements on the medieval battlefield to celebrate, at Crecy and Poitiers. Plus, they also had a king who embraced the cultural nourishment of his classes from top to bottom, staging courtly events, games and tournaments that gave the country a fresh and merry atmosphere it had not known. Though Victorian historians would later reject Edward III as a king to celebrate because of his excess and warmongering, there can be no doubt that his people loved him. They drew comparisons between his reign and King Arthur’s, at the same time as embracing a new national flag and patron saint whose colours he championed on the battlefield. Even the famous line...
 ‘The Pope may be French, but Jesus is English’ 
...dates to this time.

Edward III counting the dead on the battlefield of Crécy (Wikipedia)

So what went wrong? Well, the year that stuck in everyone’s craw back then was not one with 16 in it, but 48.

1348 was the year when all of that changed, because not only did loved and famous people die but pretty much half of Europe did too. The reason for this was the bubonic plague, which became known as The Black Death.

The disease wiped out whole communities, leaving the dead in so great a number that it became impossible to bury them. Being a great power did not save England from its misery and, even though the plague had left by 1350 (only to return in 1361), it appears to be the case that sickliness lingered on in the air and continued to take its toll regardless.

Edward III lost so many heirs to unnamed illnesses that only two of his 13 legitimate children were alive when he died in 1377. The country had also lost its favourite prince – Prince Edward; the hero of Poitiers who was known as ‘The Black Prince’ – so the succession had to go to his grandson, Richard II, who never came close to achieving similar popularity.
Edward III
So it was that a vibrant kingdom then faced a desperate time in spite of its achievements… and yet even then the Christmas spirit was not allowed to diminish.

Alan Rickman’s sheriff might have called off Christmas in Prince of Thieves, but Edward III did quite the opposite, embracing it with as much wealth and splendor as he was able. Even though he was himself mourning the death of two children, none of the events that had been organized to celebrate his victories were cancelled. Christmas saw an extravagant games event held at Otford, with another in Merton for Epiphany. Guests arrived dressed in elaborate costumes, including some who came as ‘wild men of the wood’, in what is likely a nod to the popularity of Robin and his Merry Men. 

 Robin Hood - Call Off Christmas 
Robin Hood Prince of Thieves  ~ 1991 

Though it is not possible to be exact with dates, the folklore suggests that Robin Hood died a decade or two before the Black Death arrived. But 1348 remains an important time for the Robin Hood stories, which were being told by the people who loved to hear them, as storytelling offered moral support and brought communities together through harsh times. It was this place in the people’s hearts that would eventually lead to the oral ballads being recorded on paper, so that we still have them today – even though historians largely choose to ignore the many revealing aspects of their content.

Unlike with a mighty king like Edward III, with a brave yeoman we only have the folklore to go on in order to know his story. And yet, this winter 2016 has presented us with a curious memento from his time and location, in the shape of a gold ring that has been found in Sherwood Forest.

Read the article here

A nice Christmas present for its finder (metal detector Mark Thompson, who looks to be around £70,000 better off for the happy coincidence), most media coverage has overlooked the possibility that this ring could indeed have belonged to one of the Merry Men.

Popular culture still directs people all the way back to King John’s time to find Robin Hood, but he was not there. His story began during the latter part of Edward II’s reign, but largely belongs at the start of Edward III’s. The ring has indeed been dated to the early thirteenth century and so it is entirely possible that a rich traveller had to reluctantly hand it over to a villainous but charming yeoman of the forest.

The ring is adorned with an image of the baby Jesus as well as one of the Virgin Mary whom, as the oral ballads consistently attest, was Robin Hood’s most venerated saint. He would certainly have appreciated the treasure and now the forest floor has given it up as a curiosity for us to wonder about.

It certainly wasn’t a Christmas present for Maid Marian though. That lass is pure fiction.

Robin Hood Existed
Folklorist Michael Reuel delves into the legend of Robin Hood 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. Amazon

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Author’s Inspiration ~ Cynthia Ripley Miller #histfic @CRipleyMiller

It is with the greatest pleasure that I welcome historical fiction author,
Cynthia Ripley Miller onto the blog to talk about her inspirations behind her latest book…
On the Edge of Sunrise
Cynthia Ripley Miller


When love commands, destiny must obey.  The year is AD 450.  The Roman Empire wanes as the Medieval Age awakens.  Attila the Hun and his horde conquer their way across Europe into Gaul. Caught between Rome’s tottering empire and Attila’s threat are the Frankish tribes and their ‘Long-Hair’ chiefs, northern pagans in a Roman Christian world, and a people history will call the Merovingians.

A young widow, Arria longs for a purpose and a challenge.  She is as well versed in politics and diplomacy as any man … but with special skills of her own.

Emperor Valentinian, determined to gain allies to help stop the Huns, sends a remarkable envoy, a woman, to the Assembly of Warriors in Gaul.  Arria will persuade the Franks to stand with Rome against Attila.

When barbarian raiders abduct Arria, the Frank blue-eyed warrior, Garic, rescues her.  Alarmed by the instant and passionate attraction she feels, Arria is torn between duty and desire.  Her arranged betrothal to the ambitious tribune, Drusus, her secret enlistment by Valentinian as a courier to Attila the Hun, and a mysterious riddle—threaten their love and propel them into adventure, intrigue, and Attila’s camp.  Rebels in a falling empire, Arria and Garic must find the strength to defy tradition and possess the love prophesied as their destiny.

Author’s Inspiration
An avid reader of both fiction and history, I stumbled upon fifth century France and the world of the barbarian Franks, later called the Merovingians.  I was immediately intrigued.  My curiosity doubled when I discovered a different view of ancient Rome in this late antiquity period and its interaction with European barbarian tribes.  The Roman Empire was on the brink of collapse and into this gap stepped the barbarians.  Gregory of Tours, bishop, and sixth century historian, wrote in his work, The History of the Franks, of how the Franks rose from tribal chiefs and warriors to the acknowledged masters of Roman Gaul (France).  Fascinated by this era of change and upheaval, I chose late ancient Rome and Gaul as the setting for my novel, On the Edge of Sunrise

 Clovis I ~ the first King of a united Frank

History and People
By the third century, the Germanic Franks were a federation formed of eleven tribal groups, which included the Salian Franks and the Chamavi.  They occupied the territory on the east bank of the lower Rhine valley known as Gaul (modern Belgium and southern Netherlands) and in the later centuries as Francia/France.

Merovingian, the title given to the Franks, derives from Meroveus/Merovech one of the first kings of the Salian Franks.  Around 450, he entered a power struggle with his older brother for the throne.  Meroveus went to Rome to gain support from the Romans for succession as king against an elder brother who aligned with Attila the Hun for the same reason.  Priscus, a Roman historian, wrote of Meroveus, “ … he was still very young and we all remarked his fair hair which fell upon his shoulders.”  Frank nobles distinguished themselves from the commoner and other groups by wearing longer hair, despite the fashion, and were called ‘Long-hairs.’  The Salian Franks fought with Rome at the Battle of Catalaunum or Catalaunian Plains. 

General Flavius Aetius, also referred to by some as the ‘last Roman’, served as the Master of the Soldiers from 429 to 454 and had a long career as a soldier and general.  He won the Battle of Catalaunum against Attila the Hun in 451.  After Attila’s death in 453, Emperor Valentinian III believed that Aetius conspired to put his own son, Gaudentius (betrothed to Valentinian’s daughter) on the throne.  Valentinian felt threatened and stabbed Aetius to death as he read a financial account to him.  With Aetius gone, the empire was vulnerable and left without a true defender.  In 455, the Vandals sacked Rome.

By the fifth century, most of the Roman Empire was Christianized, including many barbarian groups.  However, reputable sources have recorded that the Germanic Franks were northern pagans in a Christian Roman Empire.  Little evidence exists regarding their precise spiritual beliefs, especially in the fifth century.  Yet they were a Germanic tribe.

The references to Germanic pagan deities that we have today illustrate some parallels to the Norse pantheon of Gods of Viking Scandinavia, and whose Scandinavian sources were recorded 500 to700 years after some of the earliest Continental Germanic sources.  Gods such as Wodan (Norse-Odin), Thunar/Donar (Norse-Thor), and Tiwaz/Ziu (Norse-Tyr) are thought to be Continental Germanic and Norse counterparts. 

One example in particular is the South German Nordendorf Fibula (6th century AD).  It has a runic inscription that mentions the deities Wodan, Donar and Logathore recognizable equivalents to the Norse gods, Odin, Thor and possibly, Loki.  In my novel, I took some liberty by using both the Continental Germanic and Norse equivalents.  For example, Thor is better known than Donar, but Wodan offered a stronger Germanic tone; Tiwaz as a name predates Ziu.  Gregory of Tours wrote from his Gallo-Roman perspective:  “… They [Franks] did not recognize the true God.  They fashioned idols for themselves out of the creatures of the woodlands and the waters, out of birds and beasts: these they worshipped in the place of God, and to these they made their sacrifices.” 

The Franks remained pagan until Clovis.  He united all the Frank tribes under one ruler to become their first official king and converted to Christianity in 496. 

5th Century Products and Domestic Life
The most important role for a Roman woman was as a wife and mother.  Mothers passed on their domestic skills to their daughters, but historians write that girls and boys attended primary school.  Girls from elite families learned Latin and Greek.  Girls and boys sang in choirs and attended social events.  Women from the upper classes appear ‘well-educated, some highly so, and at times praised by historians for their learning and cultivation.’  Freeborn women were citizens but could not vote or hold office; however, women played an active role in trying to persuade the government to adopt certain policies.  Although Roman women held no direct political power, those from wealthy or powerful families could and did influence through private negotiations. 

The currency at the time was the Denarius and Solidus.  Braziers (a portable heater) were stoked by wood, charcoal and coke; oil lamps for light and heat.  Rural farms used center room fire pits.

Barbarian men wore tunics with leggings and the women tunic style dresses.  Brooches were used to secure capes and robes together.  Roman men wore uniforms if in the military and on duty, otherwise tunics without leggings.  Togas were more for dress or ceremony.  Roman women wore the stola, a draped, belted dress.  Barbarians liked mead.  Romans liked watered down or sweetened wine.  However, they would not pass up what was available to them!

The fifth century is an era rich in drama and ripe for storytelling.  I sought to bring my heroes, Arria and Garic, to life in an age not only changing in cultural perspectives, but also, one struggling to be born. 

Quoted Sources:  Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks; Beryl Rawson, The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives; Bertrand Lançon: Rome in Late Antiquity

Links To Purchase

About the author
Cynthia Ripley Miller is the author of On the Edge of Sunrise, the first novel in the Long-Hair Saga, a series set in late ancient Rome and France and a Chanticleer International Chatelaine Award finalist.  She has lived and travelled in Europe, Africa, North America and the Caribbean, taught history and currently teaches English. 

Her short stories have appeared in the anthology Summer Tapestry, The Scriptor, and at Orchard Press  Cynthia blogs on her website, and at Historical Happenings and Oddities: A Distant Focus.

She lives with her husband and their cat, Romulus, and German Shepherd, Jessie, in a suburb of Chicago.  Book Two: The Quest for the Crown of Thorns will be published in October of 2016.

Useful Links 
Twitter: @CRipleyMiller