Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Templar's Cross: a snippet

Templar's Cross will be out soon. It goes to my editor next week, so the snippet is not yet edited and takes up about when the last snippet ended.

On the way out of the tavern, Law sat down next to Cormac who had his harp in his lap tuning it. “Do me a favor?”

Cormac raised an eyebrow. “Aye, if I can.”

“Go to the blindman’s tavern and ask quietly if they’ve seen someone with hair so light it is almost white.” He slipped Cormac a merk. “I dinnae have time to go there myself.”

Rain dribbled down Law’s leather cloak, and cold water soaked through the seams of his boots. He turned west on Northgate and sloshed through the gate of North Gate Port where the road became rutted dirt that sucked at his boots as he slogged toward the Whitefriars Abbey. He wasn’t sure if they had a women’s hall since it was smaller than Blackfriars, but he knew it had a men’s guest hall for Duncan had stayed there when they first arrived at Perth. It was a long trek.

The dark hills loomed before him and soon the tree branches met and mingled overhead plunging the path into shadows as though he were passing through a long dark tunnel. The day smelt of rain and mud, and the wind carried a hint of a peat fire somewhere in the distance.  

When he stepped out from under the trees the the stone monastery and its high stone spire stood before him, surrounded by wooden buildings, guest houses, barns and fields of crops and cattle. Between knee-high rows of kale, two friars in brown robes with leather girdles with hoes over their shoulders trudged toward through the mist. There should have been a porter at the gate, but no one answered when he tugged on the bell.

He pushed open the gate and walked to the front door of the church, stamped the mud from his feet, and shook out his cloak. As he had hoped, bells for None, the midafternoon prayers, had not yet rung. Inside, a heavily veiled woman knelt before a statue of the Virgin Mary and another at the altar rail muttered a despairing prayer interspersed with sobs. A gray-haired, tonsured lay brother was polishing a silver reliquary.  Law cleared his throat and the friar looked up at him, allowing Law to catch his eye. The man, hands tucked into his sleeves, made his way to the nave where Law waited.

“Can I help you, my son?” he asked.

“Brother,” Law said with a nod of his head, “Mayhap. I recently returned from the war in France and seek to locate an old friend. I think he may bide in your guesthouse.”

The friar shook his head. “It isn’t the season for pilgrims, so we haven’t any guests with us the now.”

“He’s middling height and his yellow hair is so light it is almost white. Has anyone like that been here in the past weeks?” At the friar’s raised eyebrows, Law explained, “Mayhap I waste my time seeking him, but I’ve few friends left since—” He swallowed. “I was at the Battle of Verneuil, you see. So I am eager to find my one friend.” He knew putting one truth about his past in a tangle of lies made Law would make the story more believable.

The friar quickly crossed himself. “It was a sad day when we heard that news. The king ordered prayers for all lost there, especially the earls. I wish I could help, but no one like that has stayed in our guesthouse.”

“You are certain you’ve not seen anyone of that description?”

Rocking backward and forward on his feet, the friar stared into the distance. “Aye,” he said at thoughtfully, “I did see a stranger similar to what you mentioned not long past, two days ago it was. He was speaking to another man when I was carrying alms to the leper house. But he never abided here, so I fear it is no help to you.”

“No, brother, learning he has been in Perth and may yet be here does indeed help me.”

A bell began to toll above them. “I need to go,” the friar said hastily. “But I wish you well in finding your friend.”

Law pulled his cloak around himself when he went out into the dusk, but the rain had finally stopped. He picked his way along the path, back through the port into the dank streets of the burgh. Blackfriars was on the far north side of the city, and he preferred it was full dark when he met Duncan so he took his time as he walked.

A fog, thin and clammy, blurred the buildings as he passed. The crisp scent of autumn was quickly overlaid with the stench of blood and offal from slaughtering that was done in this part of Perth. His throat closed and he choked on the smell. Shutters were banging closed as he passed the tightly clustered buildings with jetties that thrust out above the street turning it into little more than a warren.  

He passed shadowy shops as the sun sank below the high city walls, shops with bloody beef carcasses stood next to poulterers where dark, motionless lines of birds hung, blighted, as far as he could see into their shadowy depths. The last of sunset’s light faded into black night.

In an open doorway a burly man stood silhouetted in lamplight, a pig’s carcass over his shoulder dripping gore down his apron. “Beannachd leat,” he called out to Law congenially.

Law had never had Gaelic but even he knew a civil good night so he replied, “Mar sin leat,” with a brisk wave.

Blackfriars was out of Perth and into a suburb at the far end of past the Red Brig Port. The street narrowed once through the port and his boots squelched in icy muddy of the roadway. A wing moaned through the pines setting branches to scraping and groaning. A fragment of moon slithered from behind clouds only to hide again. He grunted when he stumbled in a pothole.

Finally, he heard a mournful chant of vespers prayers roll from the monastery: Deus, in adiutorium meum intende. Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina. O Lord, make haste to aid me indeed, Law thought, and snorted softly at his foolishness. If he needed help he’d do better to depend upon his good sword arm for God, if the priests weren’t lying about there being one, did not seem eager to aid him.

Behind the monastery’s high stone walls, beams of light from the windows of the monastery broke the thick darkness or Law might have missed the alley were he was to meet Duncan. Fences on both sides formed a dark passageway.  He peered in and took a step into the narrow path. He didn’t want to call out but apparently Duncan had hidden himself well. Or perhaps he’d given up and gone back to the room he rented above a bakster. The faint chanting from the monastery ceased.

“Duncan, where in Hades are you?” Law called softly.

Running his hand along the damp wooden fence, Law walked into the dark pathway. A blackbird burst out of hiding almost at his feet with a clatter of feathers and a harsh squawk. The waving, pewter moonlight seeped through the clouds to make strange passing shapes on the ground over a dark lump against the dyer’s fence. Then through a break in the clouds a passing gleam of the moonlight reflected in wide-open eyes. The stench of blood and urine and shit mixed with hit Law’s nostrils. He stood frozen, hand on his hilt and then turned in a slow circle searching the shadows. Nothing moved, so he squatted beside the body...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Another snippet from my upcoming historical mystery

To be titled The Templar's Cross this is at an assize the day after the discovery of two dead bodies and Law Cullen, my main character, has been called to testify. Please keep in mind, it is unedited and a first draft:

Sir William’s scowl deepened. “Those clothes would have been worth coin and in the dark at least his cloak would have been easily taken.” He looked at the serjeant. “There is surely no possibility he would have been killed before nightfall.”

The serjeant, who Law was beginning to think might have at least a few more brains than he looked like, shook his head. “Someone would have seen him. It’s likely the stiffness would have started to pass had he been dead sae long.”

The assizer at the front of the group demanded, looking at Law, “You dinnae ken this one? You’re sure of it?”

“I’m sure of it. He does not look like a Scot to me. I never saw a Scot with that color hair.” He chewed his lower lip as he decided how much he should tell as Sir William grunted in agreement. “Mayhap it would be worth asking at the inns and monastery guest houses if they’ve had a guest by his description. There cannae be very many such hereabout.”

 “Yet you have been out of Scotland so you could have met such.”

“He could be English,” one of the assizers with the heavy shoulders of a master of the smith’s guild said.

Law made his face blank with boredom. “No. I never saw this one there, and I’d never take him for a knight or soldier, not even a cleric in those clothes.” Law thrust his chin at the stack of velvet at the foot of the table. “It seems to me the first thing is to find out if anyone has seen him about Perth. Someone must have.”

“Guesses achieve nothing,” Sir William said. “Does anyone have any knowledge to put forward?” When there was a nervous silence to his question, he turned his head to the assize. “Do any of you have any questions to put?”

“When did you agree to tryst for a drink with that one?” The hammersmith pointed toward Duncan. “Did anyone see the two of you to say you were not quarreling?”

“He came up to my room above Cullen’s inn before the none bell. I suppose Wulle Cullen might be able to tell you…?”

The innkeeper crossed his arms and nodded thoughtfully. “Aye, the man had been in my inn a handful of times. I cannae say I kent his name. I recall that he went up to yon Sir Law’s room yesterday and it might have been aboot the time he said. When the man came down he had a bowl of my goodwoman’s broth and left. If anything, he seemed more cheerful than before.”

“There is still fighting in France. Would it not have been easier to find a new lord there?” the same man asked.

Law examined the man’s face and wondered what answer would satisfy him. After a moment, he settled on the truth. “I followed my lord there. After he was killed, I had no desire to follow a Frenchman. And...it was time to come home.”

The man nodded, and when Sir William asked there were no more questions. Sir William took a seat in the large chair on the dais that could serve as a throne if the king were in attendance. The serjeant along with one of his men escorted the assizers out of their encloser through a rear door to a jury chamber.

Wulle Cullen wove his way through the crowd to Law. Shrugging, Cormac sauntered in the innkeeper’s wake. He shook his head. “Not oft we see two murders in one day.”

Law grunted. “I suppose not.”

Cormac muttered, “Even less often the murderer doesn’t dump the body in the Tay.”

“Wheest, Cormac, mind your place” Wulle scolded and got a glare for his trouble. “I wonder if they will take long. You’d think they wouldn’t have much to consider.”

“I suppose they must consider if it was I who did the deed.” He breathed a soft laugh through his nose. “I’ve killed more than a few in battles, but I’m no murderer.”

“Och, with so many of our men the fighting with the English in France, more than a few have done that.” The innkeeper slapped Law’s shoulder. “This testifying is thirsty work. I’ll draw you a mug of ale when we bide at home and no charge to you.”

“That’s kind of you,” Law said.

A thin, undersized man, his dark, stringy hair hanging over his small eyes in greasy locks, sidled close.

“Get away,” Wulle barked.

As Law stared after him, the man darted back into the onlookers.  “Who was that?” he asked the other two men.

Cormac shrugged. “What? No ale for me? You’re a tight-fisted bugger, Wulle.”

Ignoring the minstrel, Wulle said, “Dave Tailor, he’s called. Mayhap he tailors his clothes from the rats he catches.” Wulle snickered but his face straightened as he pointed at a door that a guard had pulled open. “Here comes the assize. I thought t’would not take them long.”

The fifteen men of the assize filed through the door held open by the serjeant and proceeded solemnly to the enclosure. A buzz of speculation went through the chamber. Sir William roused himself from dozing and stood. Once the serjeant climbed the steps to the dias and shouted for silence. Sir William briefly reminded the assize of the verdicts they were expected to bring and asked who would speak for them.

The burly hammersmith who had questions Law took a step forward. “I shall, my lord. Androu Gray, master smith.”

“And what has the assize found on the first death, Androu?”

 “We’re agreed that it is Duncan Kintour, and the death was foul murder by stabbing.”

“Very good. And do you agree to who saw to the death?”

“No, on that we could not. Two thought that it was yon Sir Law but the rest of us held that there was no way to ken who had done the deed.”

A hubbub started up and everyone in the room seemed to turn to mutter about the verdict. Law dropped a hand onto his hilt but most of the crowd seemed to agree.

The serjeant shouted for order. It took several shouts but after a few minutes the din quieted. 

“Keep silent or I’ll clear the room except for the assize,” Sir William said. “Now, Androu, what is the verdict on the second death?”

“We do not ken who is he, but most of us think he is an Englishman. Some have whitish hair like thon. It is obvious how he died, by murder from having his throat slit.” The smith frowned toward the draped corpse. “But it is a different kind of stroke. We thought it was most likely not the same hand that struck the blow.”


Friday, September 19, 2014

Snippet of my work in progress: a historical mystery!

Sadly it doesn't yet have a title. It is my first historical mystery, and here are the first few pages (unedited). Hope you find it at least somewhat interesting

Here goes:

Through a gray curtain of drizzle, Law looked down from his window at the muck of the High Street. Narrow shops where the shutters were closed against the damp chill, under the shadow of out-thrusting overhangs, moldering plaster walls interspersed with graying timber uprights. All of the outlying suburbs of Perth were like this; narrow vendels that lead to a street of drear houses crammed with the leavings of their betters. After spreading his gaze across the rooftops of Perth to the murky ghost-spire of Kirk of St. John the Baptist and the River Tay, he snapped the shutters closed.


A tiny peat fire in a brazier threw fingers of red across Law Kintour’s wobbly table. The room was small, smaller even than his tent in the days when he’d followed the Douglas to war. His narrow pallet bed was against the opposite wall to that he shared with his landlord Wulle Cullen and his wife. The meager bits of furniture were rented with the room. A wooden kist near the door held the few belongings he had salvaged from disaster in France.


Loud voices that nearly drowned out the sound of a minstrel playing a vielle filtered up to Law through the cracks in the wooden floor above Cullen’s tavern. The tavern was jammed between a brewster and a bakster, the daub thin and flaking. The ground floor boasted a barrel of ale on a trestle, stools, a couple of benches and a long trestle table for eating. Bette Cullen could usually be found stirring a pot of broth that hung from a crane over a peat fire on the hearth whilst gray-haired Wulle bustled about tending to the customers.


Law sat and hunched over the mutton broth he’d ordered from downstairs, though it had more of barley, onions and kale with only a hint of meat to it. He quickly ate it since he’d let it get cold, but he sopped the bowl clean with a hunk of oat bannock. When there was a tap on the door, he looked up with a belch.


Frowning, he called out, “Aye?”


Cormac MacEda opened the door. He was a lanky young man whose striped red and cream doublet with crumpled red ribbons at the seams Law always thought regrettable even for a minstrel. But his eyes were blue and playful in a boyish face. He closed the door behind him, lounged against it, and said, “There is a man in the tavern looking for you. Says his name is Erskyn.”


“Looking to hire a man-at-arms?”


“Mayhap. You’ll want to talk to him. He has siller enow to judge by his dress.”


“Send him up, lad,” Law said. “Send him up.”


Cormac opened the door again and took the rickety stairs down to the the inn. Law stood, smoothed his shabby doublet and tugged it down to try to hide the small hole mid-thigh in his hose. He’d dumped out the night-soil bucket this morning. After years in military camps, he didn’t leave his belongings flung about, not that he had many. Poor though he was, he kept his meager room as neat as he could. Hopefully, someone desiring to add a lordless knight to his tail would look for no more.


A harsh, rasping voice on the stairway said, “Aye, I see the way. Leave us the now.”


The door was flung open and a man strode in. He half-turned, scowling down the stairs until Cormac was out of sight. He was a tanned, erect man in his mid-thirties, wiry and medium height, fine looking in spite of the deep lines that scored from his nostrils past his thin mouth. Dark hair curled around his forehead and over the back of his neck. His nose was high-bridged and his eyes oddly bright.


Law had no doubt that the man was accustomed to barking commands and having them obeyed. He looked the man over, trying to assess what lay beneath the confident gaze. His black velvet houppenlande trimmed with marten hung in organ pleats to his knees. It would have been fashionable even in the court of France. A sword with a gem-encrusted hilt and engraved scabbard hung at this belt.


He swept his gaze warily around the room before he locked his eyes upon Law. “Sir Law Cullen?”


“At your service...” Law raised his eyebrows.


“I am Lord Erskyn.”


Law bowed and with a sword-calloused hand indicated the stool he had vacated, the only seating in the room other than his pallet.


The man nodded briskly before scanning the stairway once more and pulling the door firmly shut. He ignored the stool to take a slow turn around the room. The plaintive notes of Cormac’s vielle came through the floor and the sound of a strident, drunken laugh. A ragged spatter of rain clattered against the shutters. The ashes of the dying peat fire in the brazier twitched and flickered. The caller watched them with uneasy eyes.


“What might I do for you, my lord?”


“I have heard you served the Earl of Douglas in France,” the man said at last. “And were in his confidence.”


James swallowed a protest that his master had been Duke of Touraine when Law followed him into that final battle. “Aye, that is true at least in some degree.”


“Good.” The man nodded sharply, his thin mouth in a tight line. He frowned at the closed door.


Law nodded again. Erskyn was not a lord’s name he had heard before, but he had been away from Scotland more than in it until his lord’s death. Yet he was certain he would have heard if the man was from Perth even in the two months since his return. The thought of his lord’s death and his own reception at the hands of the new earl on his return curdled his belly so he pushed the thought away. For now, he needed a new patron and from the look of it, this man had the siller to afford knights to follow him. “And you heard I was seeking a new patron,” Law prodded.


“Tell me about yourself, Sir Law. If I am to employ you, I believe I have the right to ask.”


“There is little to tell, my lord. I am thirty years old. I was a squire in the Earl Archibald’s household and knighted by his hand. Was with in him France when he was made a Duke.” Law crossed to the window and opened a shutter to peer through the murk. “I was at his side when he fell in battle.”


“Yet lived yourself to tell the tale,” Erskyn said in an acid tone.


“Aye. Some might call it luck that I took a blow to the head. A...fellow knight pulled me out of a pile of bodies, or I might have died there after all.” The new earl had demanded why he hadn’t died defending his lord before he tossed Law a purse with a few gold for the news of his father’s death before he informed Law that he had no use for him in his own tail. Law strode from castle rather than be expelled out by the glaring men-at-arms. “The two of us managed to make our way back home, but…” He shrugged and turned back to find the man studying him with narrowed eyes..


“I am concerned with a secret matter.”


“You have no one in your service, no servant, you would trust?” This seemed odd.


“It would be a tempting piece of tittle-tattle. But you are not kent in Edinburgh to spread it about.”


Law stiffened. “If I give my word to keep silent, that is what I do, my lord.”


“My lady wife has disappeared--” He threw himself down on the stool and leaned his arms on his legs, hands dangling between his knees. “If it were kent, I would be a laughingstock. In the court. Even in the servant’s quarters. They’d snicker behind my back and sneer to my face. Call me a cuckold. She must be found before this scandal is noised about.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A YouTube Video Worth Watching

This speech by Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, goes beyond the normal politics of Democrat vs Republican or Labour vs Tory to tell the truth about the deep corruption within both nations' governments. 


I have no comment beyond what Mr. Murray says although of course he is talking about it in relation to the particular situation in Scotland. Who will I vote for in the US in the next election? I am not sure I can vote for anyone any more. They have all been proven complicit.

Good luck to Scotland in escaping the Westminster/Washington corruption.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Initiate by Tara Maya

Initiate is free everywhere except on Barnes and Noble (where it’s $0.99). You can download a free .epub version via Smashwords.




The Unfinished Song (Book 1): Initiate by Tara Maya

DEADLY INITIATION

A DETERMINED GIRL...

Dindi can't do anything right, maybe because she spends more time dancing with pixies than doing her chores. Her clan hopes to marry her off and settle her down, but she dreams of becoming a Tavaedi, one of the powerful warrior-dancers whose secret magics are revealed only to those who pass a mysterious Test during the Initiation ceremony. The problem? No-one in Dindi's clan has ever passed the Test. Her grandmother died trying. But Dindi has a plan.

AN EXILED WARRIOR...

Kavio is the most powerful warrior-dancer in Faearth, but when he is exiled from the tribehold for a crime he didn't commit, he decides to shed his old life. If roving cannibals and hexers don't kill him first, this is his chance to escape the shadow of his father's wars and his mother's curse. But when he rescues a young Initiate girl, he finds himself drawn into as deadly a plot as any he left behind. He must decide whether to walk away or fight for her... assuming she would even accept the help of an exile.

EXCERPT

Blue-skinned rusalki grappled Dindi under the churning surface of the river. She could feel their claws dig into her arms. Their riverweed-like hair entangled her legs when she tried to kick back to the surface. She only managed to gulp a few breaths of air before they pulled her under again.

She hadn't appreciated how fast and deep the river was. On her second gasp for air, she saw that the current was already dragging her out of sight of the screaming girls on the bank. A whirlpool of froth and fae roiled between two large rocks in the middle of the river. The rusalka and her sisters tugged Dindi toward it. Other water fae joined the rusalki. Long snouted pookas, turtle-like kappas and hairy-armed gwyllions all swam around her, leading her to the whirlpool, where even more fae swirled in the whitewater.

"Join our circle, Dindi!" the fae voices gurgled under the water. "Dance with us forever!"

"No!" She kicked and swam and stole another gasp for air before they snagged her again.

There were so many of them now, all pulling her down, all singing to the tune of the rushing river. She tried to shout, "Dispel!" but swallowed water instead. Her head hit a rock, disorienting her. She sank, this time sure she wouldn't be coming up again.

"Dispel!" It was a man's voice.

Strong arms encircled her and lifted her until her arms and head broke the surface. Her rescuer swam with her toward the shore. He overpowered the current, he shrugged aside the hands of the water faeries stroking his hair and arms. When he reached the shallows, he scooped Dindi into his arms and carried her the rest of the way to the grassy bank. He set her down gently.

She coughed out some water while he supported her back.

"Better?" he asked.

She nodded. He was young--only a few years older than she. The aura of confidence and competence he radiated made him seem older. Without knowing quite why, she was certain he was a Tavaedi.

"Good." He had a gorgeous smile. A wisp of his dark bangs dangled over one eye. He brushed his dripping hair back over his head.

Dindi's hand touched skin--he was not wearing any shirt. Both of them were sopping wet. On him, that meant trickles of water coursed over a bedrock of muscle. As for her, the thin white wrap clung transparently to her body like a wet leaf. She blushed.

"It might have been easier to swim if you had let go of that," he teased. He touched her hand, which was closed around something. "What were you holding onto so tightly that it mattered more than drowning?"

LINKS

Tara’s blog
Tara’s Twitter
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
iTunes
Smashwords

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Freedom Come All Ye



The last few weeks have been heartrending. From senseless slaughter in Gaza and Iraq to police violence on the streets of American, freedom from fear and oppression and unjust murder is far, far away. But I wanted to remember the hope expressed in Hamish Henderson's great anti-imperialist folk song. You don't have to understand every word of the Scots language in which it was written to understand the cry for the end to the oppression of all peoples.


Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom...





Saturday, August 9, 2014

Letter to Hachette Publishing

Dear Mr. Michael Pietsch, 
CEO Hachette Publishing,

As an author, although not one signed with Hachette, I want to express my concerns about the Hachette position in this dispute. Hachette has consistently resisted negotiating with Amazon and refused the offers Amazon has made to try to take authors out of the middle of this dispute which should be kept between the two corporations. Instead you are trying to use authors as leverage. Let me point out that there are many authors who support the position of Amazon. You will not achieve your goals by using authors as your tools.

I hope you will decide to negotiate in good faith with Amazon which I do not believe you have done. Your insistence on trying to keep e-book prices artificially high is bad for the entire industry. In the meantime you need to stop trying to use your authors as leverage and accept the Amazon offer to help them for having been caught in the middle of this dispute.

Sincerely,

J. R. Tomlin

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Way it Goes

As you would expect if you know me at all, I am working on a new novel, but this is different from anything I've done before. It is historical fiction but the main character is fictional which is a huge change. It is going to be a historical mystery but I didn't want a monk as is so often the case with this genre and I wanted something just a bit darker. It has been a bit slow going getting started because it is so different from what I've done in the past but I believe it is gradually taking shape. So here is the start, completely unedited so allow for that, just a tiny snippet of what I'm working on:

A tiny peat fire in a brazier threw fingers of red across Law Kintour’s wobbly table. The room was small, smaller even than his tent in the days when he’d followed the duke to war. His narrow pallet bed was against the opposite wall to that he shared with his landlord Wulle Cullen and his wife. A single window overlooked the High street. Rain pattered against the closed shutters now, but when it was opened it looked out across the rooftops of Perth to the spire of St. John’s Kirk beyond the River Tay. The meager bits of furniture were rented with the room. A wooden kist near the door held the few belongings he had salvaged from the disaster in France.

Loud voices that nearly drowned out the sound of a minstrel playing a vielle filtered up to Law through the cracks in the wooden floor above Cullen’s tavern. The tavern was jammed between a brewster and a bakster with grayed timbers, the daub thin and flaking. The ground floor boasted a barrel of ale on a trestle, stools, a couple of benches and a long trestle table for eating. Bette Cullen could usually be found stirring a pot of broth that hung from a crane over a peat fire on the hearth whilst gray-haired Wulle bustled about tending to the customers.

Law hunched over the mutton broth he’d ordered from downstairs, though it had more of barley, onions and turnip and only a hint of meat to it. But he sopped up the rest out of the bowl with a hunk of oat bannock. When there was a tap on the door, he looked up with a belch.

Frowning, he pushed back the stool to step to the door and open it. “Yes?” he said to Cormac MacEda.

Cormac was a lanky man whose red and cream doublet with crumpled red ribbons at the seams Law always thought regrettable even for a minstrel. But his eyes were blue and playful in a boyish face. He closed the door behind him, leaned against it, and said, “There is a man in the tavern looking for you. His surname is Erskyn.”

“Looking to hire?”

“I think so. You’ll want to talk to him. He has enough siller judging by his dress.”

“Send him up, lad,” Law said. “Send him up.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I Stand With Scotland

I rarely discuss politics in my blog but the referendum on Scottish independence happens in only a few weeks, and I want to say how I stand. I have no vote, nor should I, but I do have an opinion.

I stand with an independent, self-governing Scotland.

I stand with the Scots for a:

  • Scotland free of weapons of mass destruction docked within miles of its largest city.
  • Scotland collecting its own taxes and making its own decision how they should be spent.
  • Scotland with a government for which the plurality of the people of Scotland voted.
  • Scotland that has the ability to work toward social justice.
  • Scotland free of the corruption of Westminster.
  • Scotland free of the anti-democratic House of Lords.

I am proud of the Scotland I love where the future of the nation is now in the hands of the people and not an aristocracy, either financial or hereditary. However they vote, this is one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Award Finalist: A King Ensnared

First you might ask what are the Best of the Independent eBook Awards? They are awarded by the eFestival of Words by popular vote from a short listed selection of books in various categories nominated not by the authors but by peers: editors, fellow authors, agents, and publishers. It was announced in January that A King Ensnared was on the long list and I am thrilled that it made it to the short list.



There are some great books nominated so even if you're not a Historical Fiction fan, I suggest checking it out. Of course, if you enjoyed A King Ensnared, a vote is appreciated.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Snippet from my upcoming sequel to A King Ensnared

Totally unedited at this point so be kind. :)

Joan smoothed the skirt of her gown, the comeliest she had ever owned. Everything she wore was new. Her smock was of fine linen, the under-gown of the finest wool to protect against February's chill. Of a deep sapphire blue as her mother had insisted, it was snug to her hips and then flared to the ground. The outer surcoat, a paler blue, was samite with shimmering gold thread running through; its deep V-neck showed the darker gown beneath.

Queen Catherine was officially helping her to dress, but seemed to look through them as though they weren't there. She turned and wandered to the window. Joan's mother pulled a comb through her hair one last time more and smoothed it down her back to her waist. She made a little smacking sound with her lips and said, "Soon I may never see you again, daughter."

Joan turned and pressed a quick kiss to her mother's cheek, but she had no idea what to say.

"I have no right to be sad." Her mother shook her head and smiled although it looked a bit false. "How many mothers have their daughters with them so long?"

"They tried to convince me to marry enough times. Now I think my uncle may now be glad of my being such the stubborn girl he always called me."

Her mother shook out her veil, silk so fine it seemed no more than a wisp. "Henry was too fond to force you." Her marriage had been fiercely argued since she was fourteen and her betrothed died.  Then Joan swore they'd have to drag her screaming to the altar. She'd thought a few times that Henry might do so, but he'd given way to her entreaties. Joan lowered her head so the veil could be settled over her hair and a narrow gold circlet put on her brow to hold it in place. Her mother kissed her forehead. "Beautiful daughter. They'll love you, but--" her voice broke. "Sending to live with the wild Scots. It is a hard thing."

Leaving behind the civilized ways of the English was frightening enough that when she allowed herself to consider it, her heart beat like mad, but James would be with her. All would be well. She was sure of it.  She held her mother's hand and turned to look into the mirror that her little sister, Margaret, was holding up for her, eyes wide. "You look so elegant, Joan. I hope I look so when I wed."

"You will, Meg." In the mirror, her mouth curved into a smile. Meg was right that she looked elegant. She squeezed her mother's hand. "All will be well. I promise."

She hardly felt the stairs under her feet as she hurried down to the bailey yard. Her father should have been the one to lead her mount to the church but he was long dead and her two elder brothers prisoners in France, so it was her youngest brother Edmund, a rangy boy of eighteen still with a few spots on his sullen face, who lifted her by the waist and seated her in the saddle. The cream-colored mare was a wedding gift from her uncle. It was a beauty and she touched its mane that was braided with sprigs of lily, bishop's lace, and roses

"Ready?" Edmund scowled up at her.

She touched his shoulder. "Don't be so angry." She couldn't help that it had been the Scots who had captured their brothers in France. It seemed unfair for him to blame James, and they had little time left to make peace. "Can't you be happy for me?"

"Are you? Happy?" he said as he took the bridle and led the way through the gate and onto the street.

"I am." She smiled up at the watery February sunlight. The throng that lined the London Bridge was cheering as the mare pranced daintily across. Banners flapped overhead, held up by the men-at-arms, marching in a line on each side of the party; the Queen, her mother and other guests followed. The veil gave made the world look hazy and dream-like.

Beneath the massive square bell tower, the grounds of the Church of St. Mary Overie was bustling with the people of London, happy to cheer for a royal wedding, even that of a Scot.  James stood before the arched doors, shining like a Roman god in his cloth-of-gold doublet beneath a cloak of crimson velvet blazoned with the Lion Rampant of Scotland. Beside him stood her uncle, Henry Beaumont, the bishop. A rushing strange sound in her ears pulsed in a strange counterpoint to the shouts.

His face solemn, James strode forward to meet her as Edmund lifted her down from the saddle. He took her hand to lead her to lead her to the doors where they would be wed, in the open as was custom so the crowd could witness their joining. Everything seemed even hazier and time heaved oddly along while her stomach fluttered as though filled with riotous butterflies. The buzz in her head confused the words of the ceremony. 

She could barely follow what James said in a response to her uncle but then it was her turn. She took a deep, calming breath. She swallowed hard and managed to keep her voice even to say, "I, Joan de Beaufort, take thee, James Stewart, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us depart: according to Gods holy ordinance: And thereto I pledge thee my troth."

The bishop took the ring and said a quick prayer over the gold band with its square emerald.  James retrieved it from him and lifted her left hand. Her head spun and she sucked in a breath. She would not faint at her wedding and have her new husband think her a weak goose.

"With this ring I thee wed: This gold and silver I thee give: with my body I thee worship: and withal my worldly goods I thee endow." He slipped the ring in turn a little way onto each finger saying in turn, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." With the last phrase, he slid it onto her ring finger.

Cheers and whistles nearly drowned out her uncles closing blessing.  People surged forward and a fresh-faced acolyte held up an alms bowl. James slipped his arm around her waist and she welcomed the support as she scooped up a handful of silver pennies. She suddenly felt giddy and a laugh bubbled up. She flung the coins to scatter them into the crowd. They shouted her name and scrambled for the coins. James flung a handful high over the heads of the mob. She grabbed more and tossed them until the bowl was empty. She smiled up at James and through the mist of her veil she saw him look down at her, his large, piercing blue eyes shining.

She couldn't help softly laughing when James led her into the church.

As quickly as the wedding had passed, the Mass dragged as though time had slowed to a crawl. In the cool darkness of the church, she breathed in the pleasant scent of beeswax candles and frankincense as she tried not to twitch with impatience. Her uncle droned on through the service but her mind wandered to the banquet that awaited them. Was the food sufficiently elegant? Her mother had assured her it was. Had they planned enough minstrels and tumblers? Later, for the first time since France, she and James would at last be alone and the thought made her heart race like a galloping steed. The bedding revels were less to her taste. Poor Queen Catherine had been near tears at the shouts and rude instructions when Henry's companions tossed him into bed with her. Still, it must be borne for what came after.

At one point, her uncle read from the scripture of Ruth: "Do not be against me, as if I would abandon you and go away; for wherever you will go, I will go, and where you will stay, I will stay. Your people are my people…" It jerked Joan's mind back to the present. Ruth had gone to an alien land. Joan was no Bible scholar but that she remembered that much. Ruth had taken strangers as her people.

Suddenly, she felt cold at the thought of a life amongst people she didn't know who might hate her. James must have felt her tremble for he pressed her fingers. She took a deep breath. James's people would be hers. They wouldn't hate her because she was English. James wouldn't let them.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A King Ensnared Nominated for Best of the Independent eBook Awards

I am thrilled to be able to announce that A King Ensnared has been nominated for Best Historical Fiction for 2014 in the eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards. These are peer nominations made by fellow authors as well as publishers, editors, and book reviewers. I am thrilled to have one of my novels on the 'long list' of seven novels. The nominations will be trimmed to a 'short list' and winners announced at the eFestival of Words later this year.

Here are a number other novels nominated in various categories. If you'd like to check out some of the these excellent novels nominated here is a link to the list: eFestival of Words Nominations

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sample: A King Unchanged, coming next month

For those who have been waiting for it, here is the opening, still unedited, of the sequel to A King Ensnared:

On each side of the path to the high peaked doors of Westminster Abbey, a line of priests stood, swinging censors. They intoned the Venite as the solemn train approached. Wisps of smoky incense were whipped away by the sharp November wind.

The voices of the choir seemed to surge through the open west doors. James clasped his hands behind his back as he paced behind knot of nobles who surrounded the queen as they followed the chariot baring the coffin. King Henry’s long funeral cortege, from Vincennes to Rouen, by sea to Dover and at last to Westminster Abbey in London was finally, after months, coming to an end. He allowed a silent breath of relief to escape his lips. Behind him, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was muttering that this could finally be over, and at James's side, his vigilant keeper, Sir William Meryng,  gave a sudden shiver when the wind whipped their cloaks.

Harness rattled and hooves clanked on the stone as massive horses heaved, pulling the heavy cortege bearing the coffin to the high peaked doors of the abbey. Wheels grated with a nerve shivering sound beneath the swell of solemn music. Even in November’s watery sunlight, the silver-gilt effigy atop the coffin shimmered. James craned to glance above. Brilliant ruby and sapphire glass filled the huge windows. The statues of saints set in their niches frowned down upon the long train of nobles who followed the coffin.

Queen Catherine moved rigidly amidst the English royalty, draped in white mourning. The tension between her and the men who would now rule her and the infant king flowed as strongly as the hymns. For a moment, her step faltered and she sagged as she reached the high arched doorway. Joan de Beaufort at her side, also in solemn white mourning garb as well, reached a hand to her elbow. The Duke of Gloucester murmured something to the Queen that James could not make out. A tremble seemed to shake her, but she nodded to her good-brother, and they followed the chariot through the towering doors into the cool darkness of the nave.

The scent of beeswax and incense wrapped him as James followed them in. At least they would be out of the wind though the funeral mass would be long and weary.  When someone barked a complaint when his foot trod on, James turned his head to see Drummond squeezing his way through the press. James raised an eyebrow at his secretary, who he'd not known had returned from his task in Scotland.

Drummond bowed respectfully when he was close, but his eyes darted toward Meryng. "Your Grace," he said in a low voice so as not to disturb the solemnity of the rising chords of the choir. Surrounded by all the bishops of the realm of England, thin and frail Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry Chichele, began to intone the requiem mass. 

"How went your journey?" James asked in an undertone.

"Sire. I knew you would want your letters as soon as I returned." He drew in a breath. "Especially one from one of your close kin, so I decide not to await your return to your chambers--"

James stilled at the surprise of the words. After a long pause, thinking which of his kin might finally decide he was worth their correspondence, he nodded. "You have it on your person?"

At Drummond's quick nod, James moved toward one of the huge columns. In the press of a thousand nobles, it was impossible to have privacy but at least he was out of sight of the alter. "You saw Bishop Wardlaw and the Bishop of Glasgow? Delivered the letters?"

"Aye, Thomas Myrton returned with me for your service at their command, especially to keep in close contact with him and with Bishop Wardlaw."

James held out his hand and Drummond slipped a parchment to him. After glancing quickly around to see that no one was taking note of their quiet conversation, James raised his eyebrows at the seal of the earl of Atholl. Close kin indeed, his half-uncle and full brother to that other murderous uncle, the Duke of Albany, who now moldered in a grave.

Holding it close, James slid his thumb under the seal and turned to the column to discretely read it and jerked in a sharp breath at the words. His uncle would throw his influence behind forcing Murdoch Stewart, now regent of Scotland, into agreeing to negotiations for James's release from captivity. He folded the letter and slipped it into his sleeve. Leaning a shoulder against the thick marble column, he narrowed his eyes and stared through at a through the wall as though to see that faraway uncle. Atholl… the youngest of the brothers. Atholl had sat by while his older brother committed foul murder and then his nephew allowed Scotland to descend into lawless chaos. But he still was not an ally to be scorned.

Meryng cleared his throat. "Is all well, Lord James?"

James gave the knight a bland smile. "Nae, Sir William. Merely greeting my good secretary after his long journey to and frae Scotland."

When Meryng again turned his face to the high altar, Drummond leaned close. "Myrton carries letters to the English asking safe-conduct for Bishop Lauder as well as John Forrester and the Earl of March to come to Pontefract to negotiate terms of your release."

James peered around the column toward the high altar where Joan stood next to the Queen. As the Archbishop began another prayer, Joan looked toward James and their gazes locked. James allowed a smile to touch his lips. He gave a quick nod. She lowered her eyes but she had seen it.

Oh, James would have a word to say about the negotiations. Beaufort could be won to his cause, and his freedom guaranteed. For James had not yet played his best card.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Always, Always back up your work!

I preach this constantly and then fall down on it myself.

I decided to switch from the online backup service I had previously used to another one but (surprise, surprise, Ms. Procrastination) hadn't gotten around to actually starting the new service. A few days ago I had also backed up to a thumb drive but hadn't done it for the end of the novel I was working on.

So guess whose work computer is having a major failure today, actually found it yesterday. I suspect I sound calmer than I am but I *think* it is a power supply failure not a hard drive failure. I won't know for sure until the repair guy gets here. If I'm right, then my work should still be there. At worst, I only lose a few days work BUT my novel was finished and was supposed to go to the editor today. Because of this, she has to schedule other work and it will have to be pushed back. If there is a large delay I may have to consider finding another editor and having the scheduled editor do my next novel.

OMG! I am so screwed! And this is MY OWN FAULT! *runs around the room screaming*

So it looks like there will be at least a week or two delay in publishing A King Unchained, the sequel to A King Ensnared, but it will not be a lengthy one. I still have all except the last couple of chapters safely on a drive and I am right this second backing THAT up! Double!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Playing on my iPod

I've been lazy about posting whilst I'm writing my next novel, so I thought I'd just share what is playing on my iPod.


It's available on iTunes if you love it Iron Sky as much as I do.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still

There are plans in the UK for celebrating the beginning of Word War I this autumn, a war in which there were more than 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded. It is an odd thing to celebrate, to put it mildly, but I thought I would join in, if a bit early, with a poem by a man who was there. Here are the thoughts of poet Siegfried Sassoon who fought that war in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 

The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still
And I remember things I'd best forget.
For now we've marched to a green, trenchless land
Twelve miles from battering guns: along the grass
Brown lines of tents are hives for snoring men;
Wide, radiant water sways the floating sky
Below dark, shivering trees. And living-clean
Comes back with thoughts of home and hours of sleep.
To-night I smell the battle; miles away
Gun-thunder leaps and thuds along the ridge;
The spouting shells dig pits in fields of death,
And wounded men, are moaning in the woods.
If any friend be there whom I have loved,
God speed him safe to England with a gash.
It's sundown in the camp; some youngster laughs,
Lifting his mug and drinking health to all
Who come unscathed from that unpitying waste:
(Terror and ruin lurk behind his gaze.)
Another sits with tranquil, musing face,
Puffing his pipe and dreaming of the girl
Whose last scrawled letter lies upon his knee.
The sunlight falls, low-ruddy from the west,
Upon their heads. Last week they might have died
And now they stretch their limbs in tired content.
One says 'The bloody Boche has got the knock;
'And soon they'll crumple up and chuck their games.
We've got the beggars on the run at last!'
Then I remembered someone that I'd seen
Dead in a squalid, miserable ditch,
Heedless of toiling feet that trod him down.
He was a Prussian with a decent face,
Young, fresh, and pleasant, so I dare to say.
No doubt he loathed the war and longed for peace,
And cursed our souls because we'd killed his friends.
One night he yawned along a haIf-dug trench
Midnight; and then the British guns began
With heavy shrapnel bursting low, and 'hows'
Whistling to cut the wire with blinding din.
He didn't move; the digging still went on;
Men stooped and shovelled; someone gave a grunt,
And moaned and died with agony in the sludge.
Then the long hiss of shells lifted and stopped.
He stared into the gloom; a rocket curved,
And rifles rattled angrily on the left
Down by the wood, and there was noise of bombs.
Then the damned English loomed in scrambling haste
Out of the dark and struggled through the wire,
And there were shouts and curses; someone screamed
And men began to blunder down the trench
Without their rifles. It was time to go:
He grabbed his coat; stood up, gulping some bread;
Then clutched his head and fell.
I found him there
In the gray morning when the place was held.
His face was in the mud; one arm flung out
As when he crumpled up; his sturdy legs
Were bent beneath his trunk; heels to the skye.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.