Tuesday, September 30, 2014


 Today, in spite of the rain, a longtime birding friend and I went to a nearby lake. It was a good day -- nesting Little Grebes with at least one fluffy young on the nest being fed by a visiting parent while the other brooded, nesting Magpie Lark, nesting Little Pied Cormorants and Darters sharing the same tree... and:

Tree Martin Petrochelidon nigricans 
"There's always someone pushing their way to the front..."  -->

"I'm getting squashed!"
"I can't see back here!"
"See? Look what happens when Dad brings lunch..."

"Unfortunately there's always someone wanting to evict us too... Not enough housing (ask anyone trying to rent around the metro area)..."

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Well, I am back home. Minus luggage for a while, but it did turn up. And I brought home a cold. That was NOT a good exchange, airline people!

I have since been trying to do my taxes and write a book -- those two things don't mix very well, I find. When I'm doing one, I worry about not doing the other...
Anyway, until I get back to posting pretty pictures and such, here's something to listen to:

 Cheryl Morgan is the interviewer, Ujima Radio is based in Bristol, UK. The first person interviewed is also a writer, Amy C. Fitzjohn, speaking about going the self-published route and how to raise profile.

Then me, chatting about my life, writing and such. Enjoy!

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 walking...now 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...