Uncovering History

Today I’m delighted to welcome back fellow Crooked Cat author Nancy Jardine, who’s here to talk about new discoveries that are informing the research for her Celtic Fervour series of historical novels (which, incidentally, you can snap up for 99p/c in the Crooked Cat sale, if you’re quick!)

Welcome back, Nancy! 

Many thanks for inviting me back again to your blog, Tim. It’s always a pleasure to pop in!

Why do I love an exceedingly dry summer?

I love writing about a time that’s considered to be on the cusp of pre-history, yet I confess that it also comes with multiple frustrations. My Celtic Fervour Series is set in late first century northern Britannia and charts the trials and tribulations of my Garrigill clan of Late Iron Age warriors (Celts) during the campaign invasions of the Governors of Britannia from c. A.D. 71 to A.D. 84 – Cerialis; Frontinus and Agricola. Little has been written about their events in Roman Britain, my main source being Cornelius Tacitus, the son-in-law of Agricola.

With little written evidence to base my fiction on, I’ve turned more specifically to the known archaeology of the period in what was ‘barbarian’ land c. A.D. 71, and outside of what was considered to be the western boundary of The Roman Empire. And that is where both elation and frustration sets in!

Archaeology is absolutely fascinating with all of its fluidity. Every week some new site across Britain is excavated by archaeologists, largely due to the legal needs of developers who have to satisfy the law that no site of special interest is being destroyed before thorough investigation takes place. For historical enthusiasts like me, this has been one of the best innovations in recent memory. Many exciting new aspects of Ancient Roman occupations have been uncovered in the north over the last decade. The findings are fabulous knowledge for me as an author of the period. However, better use of scientific techniques sometimes means what was deemed to be an archaeological fact in the 1970s may now no longer be accurate in 2018. This causes me some hesitation when continuing to write my series since what I thought was relevant research to use when writing Book 1 in 2011 may no longer be an attested fact in 2018! Since I’m known to strive for authenticity in my writing, and in creating realistic characters and settings, minor changes can be a pain in the bahookie!

A typical example might be that some Ancient Roman fortress and fortlet building, in today’s Yorkshire and southern Scotland, is now thought to have occurred earlier than was credited in former times by archaeologists. During Victorian times, and perhaps even centuries earlier, General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola was thought to have been the first Ancient Roman General to invade the bulk of Scotland. Recent excavation interpretations in southern Scotland are setting that invasion clock back to the time of Cerialis c. A.D 71 (perhaps even Governor Bolanus c. A.D. 68) and not as late as Agricola’s of A.D. 77/78. Much of this new dating evidence is resulting from ground excavations, but recently some new sites and Roman roads have been identified from the air.

In 1976, Ancient Roman sites in the north-east of Scotland were identified by aerial photography during a particularly dry summer, the areas of interest showing up as crop markings. Particularly in Aberdeenshire, that photography gave corroboration to temporary camps that had been identified in Victorian times e.g. the Deer’s Den Camp at Kintore. The Victorian enthusiasts believed that some camps like Kintore had a ‘Flavian’ style gateway construction; the type used by Agricola’s engineers- and aerial photography of 1976 was able to clarify some of those earlier speculations.


In 1976, other camps in Aberdeenshire showed up a different gateway style and were interpreted as being used by Emperor Severus c. A.D. 210. The crop marked revelation of the huge camp at Durno (58 hectares), opposite the hill range named Bennachie, might have been used by Severus but the Ancient Roman legions were a canny bunch of men. It wasn’t unusual across the Roman Empire for legions to re-use the earthworks of a previous camp, if they were reinvading an area that had been previously occupied. The temporary camp of ‘Deer’s Den’ at Kintore is interpreted as having been originated by Agricola but there has been sufficient evidence to believe it was re-used by Severus at a later date. Or potentially even more exciting is the theory that the camp at Kintore was used by another Roman commander just prior to Severus, perhaps in the time of Commodus. This speculation comes from interpretative findings made during the very thorough excavation of Kintore temporary camp c. 2002-2004.

These Ancient Roman Temporary Marching Camps go northwards from the city of Aberdeen almost as far as Inverness on the Moray Firth. Of course, it takes more than a study of aerial photographs to prove Ancient Roman occupation. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of what has been identified as possible Roman sites across northern Scotland has been thoroughly excavated. Finance plays a huge part in this since many of the possible sites are on private land that is not under development and therefore not in the same circumstances as land that is about to be developed by house builders or wealthy corporations.

This summer of 2018 has been exceptionally dry in Aberdeenshire and I eagerly wait for news of new aerial photography that will, at a very minimum, support already known sites of interest but hopefully will identify a whole set of new ones. I’m also on tenterhooks to find out if any LIDAR (laser imaging) surveys have been conducted this summer. The fabulously exciting thing about LIDAR is that the laser beams can penetrate all ground surfaces and show up ground disturbance even in heavily forested areas. Since the Forestry Commission was initiated in the 1920s, Aberdeenshire has been covered in tree plantations obscuring many potential sites but the use of LIDAR for archaeological surveying could be explosive!

What I find almost as frustrating as not knowing clearly what actually happened during the Roman invasion of Aberdeenshire c. A.D. 84, is having no real knowledge of why the Ancient Roman Legions of Agricola camped in the north and then, within a very short time, retreated south again. It was documented by Tacitus that Agricola was recalled to Rome, most likely in late A.D. 84 or very early A.D. 85, but we have no knowledge of the movement of his troops when he went back to Rome. Did the legions leave with him, or did they stay a bit longer across Aberdeenshire? While writing Book 4 of my series – Agricola’s Bane – I’ve asked myself many questions and plenty of ‘what ifs’ have resulted.

Archaeological evidence from the Inchtuthil Roman Fortress, south of Blairgowrie in Perthshire, points to a withdrawal of Roman troops in that area by A.D. 86/87. Many historians believe this fortress to have been started after the confrontation with the Caledon allies which became known as Mons Graupius c. A.D. 83/ 84. I personally have a gut feeling that Agricola started the fortress before the battle (if a battle actually did take place), his intention being to have a major supply base in Caledonia which would provide for further advances all the way to the northernmost tip of Scotland.

General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola features as one of the main characters in my soon to be published –Agricola’s Bane – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed creating him. It’s been incredibly challenging to get into his head and be with him in the aftermath of the battle with the Caledon allies. I’ve pondered long and hard about what his motives were in invading this part of Scotland in the first instance, and what he actually found when he got there.

I hope this dry summer of 2018 will provide mega amounts of new sites to corroborate the campaigns of General Agricola, even though by then it will be too late to change Book 4!



Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries; historical fiction and time-travel historical adventure.

A member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland and the Historical Novel Society, her work has achieved finalist status in UK competitions.

She lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her husband but life is never quiet or boring since her young grandchildren are her next-door neighbours.

You can find her at these places:

Blog: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk  Website: www.nancyjardineauthor.com/   Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG & http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G

email: nan_jar@btinternet.com Twitter https://twitter.com/nansjar

Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5139590.Nancy_Jardine

Board Games

Here’s a little story I wrote at Meltham Writers a while back.  Why it may sometimes be an advantage to be boring ….


“Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present the report on investments, liabilities and cash flow.” Harold looked around the room, gauging the level of enthusiasm among the assembled directors and executives. He gave a smile that was like the damp biscuit you get with a cup of tea in a supermarket cafe. His hair was bright grey, matching the even deeper greyness of his suit. His tie was blue, but it was the sort of blue that was itching to be grey and was slowly getting there over time.

“Now, if you’d like to turn to Appendix 4a, I will talk you through the figures.” Papers rustled, and an enormous spreadsheet appeared on the projector screen. “As you can see from a quick comparison with last year’s figures, reproduced for convenience at the bottom of the table, overall cash flow has been broadly consistent with recent patterns. However, this overall picture masks one or two interesting trends within the figures ….”

He looked around the room again. He knew what they were feeling: incomprehension, boredom, weariness. Some eyelids were already starting to wobble. Good. That was all as it should be.

“Now, the first theme I would like to highlight is demonstrated by the figures here in column F. As you can see, there has been an increase of 25.7% in payment of outstanding invoices, a very positive development. This has, however, been largely offset by a slight increase in capital investment and increased maintenance costs of ageing capital assets, as shown in columns P and S…”

Harold was speaking in a voice so flat and monotonous that it would have put to sleep a rabid hyena. This was not, as one might – and people did – assume, simply a matter of natural dreariness on his part, but rather a deliberate choice, and the product of patient skill honed over years of trial and error.

Soon, it was clearly having the desired effect. All the eyes around the table were glazing over by now, apart from a couple of pairs that had actually closed. Harold judged that the moment was right.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I will now show you a short video that will expand upon the points I have been discussing.”

He clicked a link on his laptop, and the projector screen filled with an image of a pendulum swinging to and fro.

“You are feeling peaceful and relaxed,” said a soothing voice. “Watch the pendulum.” As it swung, several messages appeared briefly on the screen at intervals of a few seconds: ‘Harold Smith is a brilliant accountant’, ‘Harold Smith deserves a pay rise’, ‘Harold Smith should be our next Finance Director’.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” said Harold, “in three seconds’ time you will hear a bell, and you will return to your normal selves, remembering nothing of the last five minutes.”

A bell sounded on the video clip, then the screen returned to the financial spreadsheet.

“Are there any questions?” said Harold.

“Well,” replied the Chief Executive, “I think I can speak for all of us when I say that you’ve explained everything admirably. I can’t think of anything that is not already perfectly clear.”

There were murmurs of assent around the room.

“Thank you, Mr Smith.”

Harold left the room.

“Well then,” said the CE. “I’m sure we all enjoyed that, as usual, but it’s time now for some more serious business. Agenda item 5: Appointment of a new Finance Director.”

Kindred Spirits

Today I am delighted to welcome back fellow Crooked Cat author Jennifer Wilson, whose latest book, Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey, was published last month.

Welcome, Jennifer!  Tell us all about your latest book.

Hi Tim, and thanks for hosting me on your blog today! Tomorrow will be one month since the third in the Kindred Spirits series, Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey, was released, and it’s been an exciting time.

This time around, as the title suggests, we’re visiting the hallowed ground of Westminster Abbey, where there are a lot of ghosts to be found… We have a tantrum of Tudors (I used that in a tweet, and I like it, so am trying to make it ‘a thing’), plus royals and nobles from across the centuries, along with poets, playwrights, scientists and commoners, making a very interesting little community. It was a daunting challenge to set myself, but I really enjoyed getting to know some of the three thousand potential spirits you could encounter in Westminster Abbey.

As I recall, in an earlier visit you talked about the first book in the series, Kindred Spirits:  The Tower of London – and about Richard III.  Would you like to fill the readers in about what’s been happening in the series since then. 

After the Tower of London, I knew I wanted to write a sequel, and meet a new group of ghosts. I was really tempted by Westminster Abbey, but frankly, got scared, so headed north of the border instead, to one of my favourite cities, Edinburgh. Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile was released in June 2017, and it in, I got to write about another of my historical heroes, a heroine this time, in Mary Queen of Scots. I’ve wanted to write about her for years, as with Richard III, but again, the concept of the ghost story came to the rescue, and I found my way in.

In Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile we meet Mary and her ghostly court as they go about their daily lives, and she tries to resolve both her own problems with her father, and those of her friends. All is going well until her second husband, Lord Darnley, makes an appearance. Edinburgh has so many fascinating tales, such as the man who tried to escape the castle in a rubbish cart (all going well until the rubbish was thrown down a cliff), and Lady Janet Douglas, executed for allegedly attempting to kill James V.

What can you tell us about future books in the series?

I’m currently working on Kindred Spirits: York, and it’s so much fun! The book’s inspired by a scene in Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey, so I won’t give too much away about the first couple of chapters, but my leading men so far include Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, the famous ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ (Richard III’s father), Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes. A real mix, but so far, they’re getting on pretty well.

There’s trouble brewing in the streets of York though, but you’ll have to wait until early 2019 to find out more…

You branched out, albeit still within the historical genre, with The Last Plantagenet. Do you have any plans for further books outside the Kindred Spirits series?

The Last Plantagenet was a really fun project for me. And yes, I already have my next project in mind: The Raided Heart. It’s a more traditional historical romance, with no ghosts and no timeslip, so an interesting direction for me. The outline of the plot was originally written over twenty years ago, and made it into manuscript form during NaNoWriMo 2009. The quality of the writing is currently terrible, but I have faith in the central plot, so I’ll re-researching and rewriting that towards the end of the year. I’ll be releasing this through the lovely Ocelot Press, and hope to be sharing more news soon.

How do you manage to fit your writing around your career as a marine biologist? 

It can certainly be a challenge! But I love writing, so I always do my best to balance things out. I catch up with social media on the commute to/from the office, and use my evenings and weekends to write as much as I can. There are definitely days when dragging myself in front of the computer, having been there all day for work, is just impossible, so on those occasions I try to make notes by hand, or sit and read, so my brain still thinks it’s working!

What else is happening in your life that you’d like to tell us about?

I would love to share the news about Elementary Sisterhood’s new anthology, ‘Sisterhood’, released on 23rd June 2018. This was an idea which came about after a group of friends from Elementary Writers, a group run by Victoria Watson, went out for Christmas, and we decided we wanted to do something positive. The anthology contains stories from each of the women in the group, ten in total, and proceeds go to Newcastle Women’s Aid, which we’re incredibly proud to be involved with.

My story is a Kindred Spirits Short, set in Hampton Court Palace, featuring a certain set of six wives, so if you’d like to know what happens when the ghosts of Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon meet, follow the link above, and help a great cause too!

Finally, what question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

To tell you about the North Tyneside Writers’ Circle.

And what is the answer?

Whilst I do love the writing world, it can at times be a solitary one. So I love going along to Elementary Writers and getting feedback on my work. At the end of 2016, two colleagues and I were asked about hosting a similar group at North Tyneside Libraries, so the North Tyneside Writers’ Circle was born. We have writing prompts, discussions on hot topics, and guest speakers from a range of genres and styles. We’ve also had social events, and in June, our first reading event, with a lot of work written during the actual sessions. I love hosting these events.


About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.

Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her Kindred Spirits novels are published by Crooked Cat Books. In October 2017, she celebrated Richard III’s birthday by releasing her first timeslip novella, The Last Plantagenet?

She can be found online via Facebook, Twitter, her blog, and Instagram.


I’m very pleased to see that my poem ‘Stone’ is featured this week on The Poetry Village.

The Poetry Village


Anvil black on purple sky
aloof, alone:
a picture
buried in forgotten time
a seed sown deep and early
tendrils creeping
binding silently
to bone, roots
put down to rock
strong but elastic
infinitely long
allowing me to roam
unhindered, unaware
of what had grown inside:
not a tether
but a safety line
that dragged me back
when I was lost
and sinking,
here, to this hill
this boulder, home.

Tim lives in Meltham and is involved with Marsden Write Out Loud and Holme Valley Poets. He has published poems in various magazines (e.g. Orbis, The Lake) and collections and won the National Association of Writers Groups Open Poetry prize in 2016. Tim has also published two novels. 


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