Saturday, September 06, 2014


 Quintessential Britain? 
A cathedral, 
a red doubledecker bus and a book fair...

The Shambles
The ancient street of the butchers of York, mentioned in the Doomsday book of William the Conquerer...



Lendal Tower dating from about 1300...

Stonegate...once a Roman paved street, in use for 1,900 years...


ROYALTY!!!  Kings (and Queens) everywhere, some of whom didn't mind their heads...

The Pavement so called as early as 1378...

St Samson's Church
First mentioned in 1154... now put to other uses

Guy Fawkes was born in this house...
Yep, I'm having fun.

Friday, September 05, 2014


So what research am I doing anyway, you may ask? The book I am writing at the moment is Book 3 of The Forsaken Lands, and that is set in a world that equates with our 18th century Netherlands and England, yet here I am, haring off to look at Neolithic burial chambers, Welsh castles and Norman churches, dovecotes and Anglo-Saxon artifacts from Sutton Hoo. 

Well, that's one of the glories of writing in secondary worlds (that is, worlds reminiscent of ours, but actually mostly made up.)
I can use ideas, adapt them to my world and make it something new and fresh. At the same time, it is important to make the world realistic. Seeing real places and real artefacts from our world therefore supplies both inspiration and reality; they are jumping off points for my fiction.

Here are a few more photos from the complex at St Cross:
 Above: Barrels in the Medieval cellar
 Above: a wooden wash tub and scrubbing brush
 Above: a cart used for carrying the coke into the kitchens
 Above: a wooden sink lined with metal -- tin alloy? surely not lead?? --attached to a pump... Imagine the kitchen drudge washing up the dishes here, day after day.
 Above: the kitchen range, with roasting spit and a side oven for bread baking... (Did you know there used to be spit dogs? A breed that turned the roasting spit by an extinct breed. I don't suppose they had them here, but I can think of a story where a kitchen boy runs away with the dog to save it from a life of servitude...)
Above: A jug made of leather
 Below: The Brethren's Hall where they dined
What did they use that balcony -- overlooking the dining hall -- for? And why are there six leather fire buckets hanging suspended from it? A writer immediately starts imagining, What if....?

Thursday, September 04, 2014


The photos below all show the mash-up of styles that occurs when a church is built over a long period of time -- and then repaired and extended as the years go by. The end result is an extraordinary building. There's everything from Norman carved austerity to Renaissance frivolity. The capitals and plinths  can vary in design from one pillar to the next, depending on when they were built.

Here's the altar:
And a side isle chapel:
The original organ was smashed in Puritan years...
The ceiling of the belfrey is visible from the transept (where all four pieces of the cruciform shape meet in a tower). It is a 19th century repainting of the original woodwork:
Renaissance stalls at the side of the choir, and a stone screen from the late 15th century (recycled from another church at the time of the reformation?):
The side aisle with lovely 12th chevron mouldings:
Most of the church was repaved in the late 14th century, when the flooring was already 200 years old... and much has been replaced since then as well.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


The Hospital of St Cross (and remember it wasn't a hospital in the modern sense) was founded in the 1130s by Henri de Blois, the Bishop of Winchester. He was a grandson of William the Conqueror and the brother of King Stephen.

The Church of St Cross was commenced in the 1150s  and not completed until about 1400, which means that different bits are in different styles. These photos show the exterior from different viewpoints.                                   
From the Master's Garden
Stone for the church was brought from the Caen quarries of France, shipped in barges to Southampton and then by cart.
Another view from the Master's gardens
Front, from quadrangle (14th century)
The whole establishment, of course, was Catholic in the early years, and Anglican now.
From the rear (Norman)
Where the church and the ambulatory meet

Monday, September 01, 2014


Isn't that a wonderful expression?
At first I wondered if it was some sort of weird Medieval idea that poverty was enobling, but no, it actually means an almshouse for penniless nobles. In truth though, the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, just outside the city of Winchester in England, was first and foremost a charity for the poor, with the almshouse for nobles a later thought. If you want to be cynical, you could say it was primarily a way of ensuring one's own entry to heaven through charitable works, but I prefer to think of it as something intrinsically humane, creating a place of dignity and peace for the less fortunate, termed "brethren".
And, oh yes, maintaining to this day the tradition of the dole to passing travellers: free food and a drink, the "Wayfarer's Dole" -- now a tiny bit of bread and a tumbler of beer. 
We paid for afternoon tea (cake cooked by one of the brothers) instead.

And yes, this is all part of research for a future novel.
Entrance gate Beaufort Tower mid 15th C.
The reverse side of Beaufort Tower

 The truly remarkable thing about the hospital (hospital in the Middle Ages sense of hospitality) is that it was founded in the 1130s (think about that for a moment) and still stands today serving precisely the same general purpose, housing twenty-five brothers in a community that has evolved over the centuries, had its problems, but has emerged vibrant. 

The church, the brethren's quarters, the kitchens and dining hall, the ambulatory and the tower, all form the sides around a grassed quadrangle.
Looking towards the church  1150-1400
The Ambulatory 1492-1675 (gallery between Master's Quarters & church)
Brethren's apartments 1439-47
Brethren's apartments, Brethren's Hall, Beaufort's Tower

 More about this place some other time...

Saturday, August 30, 2014


 The British Fantasy Convention this year is in York 
(Friday 5th-Sunday 7th September), 
and I will be there -- my first time at this particular convention.

I will be a panellist on two panels (see below)
and also giving a 20 minute reading from either
 The Lascar's Dagger or The Dagger's Path.

And I'd like some help here. 
If you have an opinion on these panel topics, 
email me, or comment here or on facebook or twitter... 

For example:
What fantasy/SF books have you read
(apart from The Isles of Glory!) 
where there was a platonic friendship between women
forming a central part of the book (or fantasy TV series/film)?

Why do you think (if indeed you do) that such platonic friendship 
between women in fantasy fiction is rarer than male ones?

Is it necessary to dispose of the parents of young protagonists? 
Can you think of successful examples where parents were a full participant of the young hero/heroine's adventures?

Saturday 12.00 Noon  
Dead Parents, Burned Homesteads and Wicked Stepmothers
Is it essential to write out the parents before youthful characters can head out on adventures? Are adult figures always unhelpful or malign? Should writers search for ways to keep parents around — or do fantasies of a world without parents fulfil a real need?
Marc Gascoigne (m), Edward Cox, Emma Newman, Sophia McDougall, Glenda Larke, Laura Lam

Saturday 3.00pm 
She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister
Kirk and Spock, Luke and Han, Frodo and Sam – epic friendships between men are common in fantasy, but friendships between women, or platonic relationships between men and women that stay that way – are much thinner on the ground. The panellists discuss why it matters and examine some of the rare exceptions.
Roz Kaveney (m), Mhairi Simpson, Glenda Larke, Charlaine Harris

Friday, August 29, 2014

More Medieval Research on Anglesey, Wales


Thanks to the kindness of Welsh friends from Porthmadog, my Welsh exploration continued -- all background and research for another novel, I must admit. I can't look at Medieval architecture and remains without knowing that one day I have to write a novel set in those times. 
(Many people seem to think that fantasy novels are all Medieval. In fact, I have 13 novels already published or underway, and not one of them is set in a landscape belonging to the Middle Ages. However, that will change in the future.)

Above: the complex of Penmon Priory
Front left: the Dovecote, 
Background left to right: Ruins of the monastery, Prior's house, Church

 A 6th Century saint, Seiriol, founded a monastery here in Penmon, Anglesey. In the 13th century it became a priory of the Black Canons, the Augustinians. There is (of course) a holy well and a hermit’s cell nearby.  The earliest wooden church was burned by raiding Danes in the 10th century. 


The church has been extended, but the older part contains some interesting Celtic crosses (predating the church & monastery) from about 1000 CE. One arm was sawn off for a lintel of a refectory window. The font resides in the pilfered base of another Celtic cross c1000. Monks were nothing if not practical!
The arches show Norman influence and the arcading is early twelfth century, and the figures on the wall above it are interesting. 

 The one above is shiela-na-gig, a woman exposing herself (so says the blurb on the leaflet…) and why that should be considered appropriate for a church transept is a mystery to me. (When I was growing up, ‘shiela' was a common word for ‘woman’ in Australia — not exactly respectful but not exactly derogatory either.)

The property was taken over by a private family in 1536 (I would guess someone friendly with Henry VIII and other royals) who then built a dovecote and walled an immense area as their own private deer park. Doubtless that particular family thought the dissolution ot the monasteries was a fabulous idea.

The Prior’s house above on the left is now a private residence. The monastery, also adjoining, (not in the photo), now a ruin. 

 The photo above is from the refectory, the floor now missing, and the window on the left has steps leading up to a seat, where a canon would have read holy texts to the monks while they were having their meals (no red meat, being Augustinians, but they did have a fishpond…)
The gem of the complex, though is the dovecote (above), built in 1600. The birds — free flying — would have entered through the top cupola of the corbelled roof, and then nested in the holes in the interior wall. 

The central brick structure inside (below) is a mystery, possibly some sort of aid to support ladders, which were needed to reach the uppermost nests. There are 930 nesting holes. (Cleaning the dovecote would have been a nightmare.)

 The doves would have supplied eggs, but also poults — the fledglings. Pigeon pie would not have been made from adult birds (flying develops muscles and birds therefore are usually tough eating) but from birds not yet old enough to leave the nest.

Puffin Island (above) is where St Seiriol died, a hermit. I’m not sure why being a hermit was regarded as saintly; to me he was probably another selfish old man, more interested in his own afterlife than in helping living people. Either that, or he was mentally ill. Anyway, Serriol's remains are now buried under the altar of the modern part of the church. He is supposed to have made a point of always walking with his back to the sun — earning him the name Seiriol the Pale — so he was certainly eccentric.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A 5,000-year-old grave: BRYN CELLI DDU, Anglesey.

This dates back to later Neolithic, when farming first started. Perhaps appropriately, the site is now surrounded by farm fields.
Beginning as a henge (14 upright stones surrounded by a bank and a ditch), it was later deliberately covered and turned into burial chamber. The theory postulated is that this was done by people with differing beliefs to the first lot. (Yep, maybe rival religious cults is nothing new…)
The grave entrance is flanked by portal stones leading into a stone passage and a chamber where stone slabs supported two giant capstones. 

View from entrance looking inside
Inside this chamber is a standing stone, which is rather unusual.
Inside the chamber
Visitors have left offerings: coins, weavings of vegetations, flowers, fruit. My husband contributed a coin in remembrance of a loved family member, whose death had just occurred.
This view shows the standing stone in front of the back slit.
The original mound was larger, and after burial was apparently sealed. It was, after all, for burials. At some stage, an ox was buried in a chamber outside the entrance, possibly all part of rituals conducted there.
Looking out of the back entrance