Planned Parenthood – early medieval style

It is amazing where researches for a book take you. Regular readers will know that I am embarking upon my first historical novel – and that it is set in early medieval times – late AD600s to be precise.

So my wise-woman is going to help a female Saxon slave to ensure she doesn’t conceive. Umm – and how does she do that? The male in question is not going to be party to any care that needs taking – so off into the depths of the internet I go – following one thread after another until I find some answers – and other interesting facts…siphium

One thread took me back so far that the herb in question had become extinct even before the years I was looking at! But was fascinating anyway. A herb that was the making of Cyrene – wanted for so many reasons apart from that of being the most effective contraceptive potion available. The plant was known as Silphium and it featured on the coins of the country – that’s how important it was! It appears to have been only able to grow in a narrow strip of land – and, despite many attempts, could not be propagated anywhere else. Seeds simply did not grow, roots or cuttings did not work elsewhere.

Silphium had properties that also made it a go-to culinary condiment and ingredient, where leaves, stems and roots were used – as well as making the meat of sheep grazed on it most wonderfully tender. It was used to treat a wide range of maladies – and then there was its powerful contraceptive properties.  It was so valuable that Julius Caesar had a cache (1,500lbs or 680kg) stored in the official treasury. Ultimately it was harvested (or eaten by the sheep) into extinction!

Medical Texts from ancient Greece and Rome

In many medical texts available at the time, there were lists of mixtures designed to ‘hurry the menses or cleanse the womb’, therefore these mixtures were usable to end an unwanted pregnancy, especially very early or before it had begun! One version of the Antidotarium has several recipes for ‘quickening the menses’ utilizing a number of herbs including arum, birthwort, artemisia, century plant, lupine, pepper, Queen Anne’s Lace, myrrh, licorice, pennyroyal, rue, peony, parsley, and cypress.

Did they work?  Well, I’m not sure about pepper but pennyroyal, parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace for instance, are so effective that modern women are recommended to avoid them if they want to become pregnant. In fact, for many of them to work, the concentration had to be so high as to be dangerous to the women themselves. (Yes, I’ve looked a lot of these up – and many are on the Poisonous plants list!) oueen-annes-lace

Herbs could also be used as physical barriers for conception or as pessaries, pulped and often mixed with pungent oils, honey or even animal dung. Ewww!

I need something that would be growing in Ireland at the correct time, and so far have settled on Queen Anne’s Lace – the wild carrot. Modern day use of this as a contraceptive suggests a number of ways, but chewing the seeds for a number of days after intercourse looks like a method that could have been used in Eire in that time, and would be a safer alternative. Apparently it works because chemicals in the seeds block progesterone synthesis, thus disrupting implantation thus preventing pregnancy.  I wonder – how did they find that out in the first place!?

Now to find out if the plant grew there, then! Harder than you might imagine as it will only be if it has been traced by pollen in samples or if a book written, at the correct time in Eire, mentions it, even though it is described as a native plant nowadays – I have discovered this does not necessarily mean it grew there in AD 600.

Do you end up down the rabbit tunnels of the internet – just because you looked up one thing?

Have you ever wondered how they managed these things back in deepest history? – when being pregnant was a very dangerous condition – resulting in death more times than we like to think about.

Do share your thoughts – as always I am fascinated to learn

X    Ann

 

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Mud & Poetry – Port Eliot Festival 2017

All the Arty stuff seems to come together for me – first it was the belly dancing – then the Poetry.

This time we were back at the Port Eliot Festival – yes I’ve written about being there before – but this year was different – in a couple of ways.

To begin with it had been raining – and I mean seriously raining (should have known that a dry weekend for Glastonbury would have to mean a wet one later on!)

I normally wear only sandals – nearly all the year – though I will wear boots in winter when the rain makes my feet too cold, but not if it is dry and cold. This year, middle of the summer, I wore my sandals but packed my glittery canvas slip-ons and my common green garden wellies. Thank goodness I did.

‘Is it really bad down there?’ I asked at the gate. I have seen falsified reports of mud on the TV on previous years where they must have persuaded the lithesome girls to paddle in the mud at the edge of the river to ‘make a story’ out of what were a few puddles here and there. The guy grinned, and said, ”tis a bit’.

So wellies on, and feeling a bit weird, I ventured down. No sooner than I was though the gate and I could see the main route down was mud. (DOWN being the operative word, a steepish sloping field) I picked my way carefully down, thinking I really didn’t want to stand up before an audience plastered top to toe in mud. It was a real possibility! wp_20170730_12_49_16_prowp_20170730_12_49_53_prowp_20170730_12_50_22_pro

At the bottom, the two main tents, Park Stage and The Ace of Clubs stage tent, were marooned in a veritable SEA of MUD! Squelching through carefully this I stepped over the temporary bridge over the HaHa – wp_20170730_12_51_11_proto a relatively clean and well-drained wp_20170730_15_50_07_proarea that surrounded the main house – like a different world!

 

From here up the hill the other side, via the gravelled tracks, to the walled garden, where some areas were thick with mud, while others relatively unscathed. Here the Liskeard Poets were to give the first show of the day in the Tiddy Tent. Thankfully, this year a tent that held not just the electrical equipment, but one that was also was big enough for performers and a decent-sized audience, all undercover, with overspill space to the side.wp_20170730_10_35_28_pro

Even though we were on quite early for the last day of a festival – we had a significant audience, which grew as passing people heard and joined those listening.

Then off to look around and listen in to other poets, music, comedians, and dance to the great music in the Ace of Clubs – until it was the turn of a few of us to try our hand on that same stage. I watched as they scraped a layer of mud off of what was, beneath, a green ground mat, then scattered straw all over it. The effect of this was to gather a lovely halo of straw around your wellies as you walked across the inside of the tent. This was going to be weird – I would prefer to be barefoot while reading poetry (if you gave me a choice) but to stand there with wellies with a muddy-straw fringe – well!

The first three of us up took to the stage between the music acts, pop-up poets were designed to entertain while those behind removed or placed equipment. We performed against this – and to an audience who weren’t really expecting poetry at all – and a full bar operating in the background. A challenge we all rose to – belting it out! Here’s my ‘The Novelist’

The second pop-up poets slot we did was slightly more challenging – in that this time we followed a Pole-dancing demonstration and had to stand part way behind them as they dismantled their poles!

I spent quite a bit of time listening the poets in the more refined space of the new Poetry Tent between and afterwards and wondered how well some of them would have got on in the Ace of Clubs!  Port Eliot is always a fabulous festival – but this year was more memorable than most!

Are you into going to festivals?

Do you like the variety – the wildness – the camping?

Do Share – you know I love to hear from you

ps  if reading this on email to see the video you need to click into the blog post title at the top of the page 🙂

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Lost in Time – researching for Dominica!

I’ve been gone one thousand, three hundred and twenty-eight years – back in time … to an era we call ‘The Dark Ages’. The Roman garrisons have gone – left these isles to tend to their problems closer to Rome with a farewell letter to the Romano-British from the Emperor Honorius, in AD410, to see to their own protection  – even as they called for aid to fend off the raiding Saxons. However, by the date I’ve been visiting, AD689, the Angles, Jutes and Saxons are well ensconced in the majority of what will become England, but the Vikings are not yet attacking.

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Can you see the river Tamar, just behind the trees – and further beyond?

I am in Cornwall, here, just over the border – the river Tamar. Though, in AD689 Cornwall is not Cornwall – as such, it is part of Dumnonia, roughly Devon and Cornwall and part of Somerset and Dorset, and it is a different place culturally to the rest of ‘England’. The West Saxons (those being the closest – Wessex) have not overtaken the people of Dumnonia yet – in fact – even the Romans had made little impact here, this side of the river, either … a few forts only – no fancy towns all laid out Roman style with villas and influence over the local Kings* here. (*or ‘big-man’ as the system seemed to be in Cornwall in the pre-Roman times … and probably was even at the end of the AD600s.)

So it is a tumultuous time on the border, the threat of invasion by the West Saxons is real, they have made in-roads into Dumnonia … and they have a new battle-cry. By this time the Anglo-Saxons had, by and large, turned from their pagan gods to Christianity, some converted by missionaries from Rome, some by missionaries from Ireland. This had resulted in a clash of Christian doctrines – the Roman church and the Celtic church having different ways to work out the Christian calendar, different tonsures for their monks, and differing rules and ways of worship and a different attitude towards women. Within my time-line comes the decisive synod of Whitby, AD664, that found in favour of the Roman Church and meant that the Celtic churches that would not change were then seen as heretical – and to be wiped out.

The Church in Dumnonia, and especially the ‘Cornish’ ones backed by King Geraint and so rich in Celtic saints from Ireland, refused to change – setting themselves up for the West Saxons to proclaim a ‘religious war’ as a motive to back-up their invasions.

It’s been hard to get back to the here and now – I look at the landscape around me with different eyes – where would have been occupied? Where would have been safe? I read the names of the places I know and refer to my books to see whether I can call the place by its current name – whether the name we know is, in fact, original Celtic (Cornish) or an English name given only after the West Saxons’ invasion, or a blend … and even that has made me look at the landscape again and see things with different eyes as I find the meanings behind the words.

Those who know me in person, know that I am interested in history, mainly local history rather than that of Kings and Queens, but this is something different. To weave a story based on a few scanty legends (Dominica and Indract), set in a time that is poorly recorded (there’s the reason it is called the Dark Ages) and to try to throw myself back into that time and inhabit that landscape and that life is, for me, an extraordinary experience, both thrilling and very scary. It is also totally absorbing and takes me to a place I have never travelled before!

Wish me luck on my time-travels 🙂

Do you go time-travelling?

Do you find yourself inhabiting a different world when visiting ancient houses or estates?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you!

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Looe Literary Festival and an authorly-secret

 

‘Welcome to Looe’ the sign said – indeed – welcome to the Looe Literary Festival 2016, no longer a baby – now a three-year-old and growing and learning every year.

I was honoured, once again, to be invited to present my new book at this festival – the places aren’t unlimited, even though the brave organisers, June and Amelia, try to make space for all.

It was great to see Waterstones, led by Lee (who held my launch of Some Kind of Synchrony in the Plymouth, New George Street, branch) getting involved as the Literary Festival’s main book seller – and it was great to have the pop-up Art Gallery and ‘locals’ book shop at Archies once again (after missing out on it last year.)

The venues had almost all changed as well. Us Local Authors were in the very nice space of the upstairs of The Black Swan. So it was there that a goodly number appeared to hear my talk. Now, without an interviewer this year I planted questions to get me on my way. (*if I do this again, and you happen to come along, you might like to know that if you volunteered to ask me a ‘planted’ question you would be entered for an instant draw – the prize for which, this time, was a signed copy of The Angel Bug.*) – but this isn’t my authorly-secret.

This scheme kept me on track with the main bits I wanted to include – but I also left a gap for random questions from the audience. One that I have never had before was concerning the book that will never be published – the first one I ever wrote. I had pointed out that I was glad that it had not been possible to just pop a book up on Amazon back when I started writing – as I might have been tempted and ruined my writing career before it had begun, whereas I could now see that it was full of the worst ‘first-book’ ‘new author’ errors. (no, this isn’t the authorly-secret either) looe-lit-fest-reading

‘What were these errors?’ I was asked … and I had to admit to ‘purple prose’ – too much description, every flower, every petal described on a walk… type of thing. I also admitted to ‘far too much introspection’ as the protagonist contemplated her lot and agonised over decisions. What eluded me at the time, but I recalled when I returned home, was the lack of real driving storyline. Sure she went from one relationship to another – but she did not exactly grow in the transition – and throughout was beset with angst. I’d called this book, eventually, ‘Windmills’ – after the song title ‘Windmills of your mind’ and had each chapter headed with a different line from the song. (seems that, had I actually published this, I might have ended up in trouble for using the lyrics without permission – who knew! – but this isn’t the authorly-secret either)

As it happens this never-to-be-published book found its way into A Respectable Life. It gets a sideways mention as one of the other books that the book group are reading from the ‘Best-Reads’ short list. It amused me to put it in there but, until now, only I knew! – and that IS my authorly-secret! And now you all know and will recognise it when you read that line!  looe-lit-fest-signing

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and it was SO GOOD to meet some of my readers – especially those who have read my other books and came along specially – if that was you – it was great to meet you!!

Thank all of you, both at the book launch and after the Looe Lit Fest reading, who also encouraged me to put my poems out in book form too. I am now considering it…

Back to researching and writing now … and working on fermented foods … and researching natural healing … and sorting poems … and …

What are you all getting up to as the days draw in and the cold weather starts?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you

Best – Ann

Please, if you enjoyed a book by an indie-published author, help them gain a wider audience by doing a review on Amazon – doesn’t have to be in depth – just has to be heartfelt. Thank you X

 

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Book Launch in an Imaginary Place

So ‘A Respectable Life’ is out there now … my baby – toddling around in the world – hoping people will like it… and reports suggest they do 🙂

The book launch itself was quite different from the one to launch the paperback of Some Kind of Synchrony. That one was held in Plymouth Waterstones, particularly apt as the very same building had been the Western Morning News building at one time (and the WMN was where I had done my research for that book) and I had a ‘serious’ type interview with Simon Parker, an editor with the WMN who had been a young journalist in that very building.

This time, as the book was set in the Tamar Valley in the imaginary village of Hingsbury sited quite close to St Dominick (where I live) I chose to launch the book from the village hall – BUT the village hall was pretending to be ‘Hingsbury hall’ for the evening, in the throes of the ‘Hingsbury Art Fair’ organised by Cordelia, the ‘owner’ of the respectable life.

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L >R The Artists line up – Anthea Lay, Jo Totterdell, Marion Kemp-Pack, Myself, Sam Margesson and Derek Scofield

Five lovely and talented artists of my close acquaintance (most of whom either live in the parish or close by) exhibited in a pop-up way for the evening. (quite the antithesis of the carefully staged and managed Art Fair Cordelia runs in the book)arl-audienece-med

The evening was well attended – with about fifty people filling the chairs – indeed, more had to be brought out!

I presented a short talk about my writing history and the writing of the book and, after I read a piece I took questions from the audience, finishing with mentioning what I was working on next.arl-launch-cutting-the-cake-of-the-book-med

THEN I cut the cake – a book shaped and Respectable Life decorated cake. Which was the cue for drinks, nibbles, and looking at art or getting books signed.

I had a fabulous time, and I hope everyone who came enjoyed it too – warm thanks to everyone to came along!

However, if you missed out – you can hear me talk about ‘A Respectable Life’ again at the Looe Literary Festival at 2.30pm in The Black Swan on Saturday 12th November. I’d love to see you there. arl-audience-after-med

Here’s a link to the Looe Lit Fest schedule – so may good writers to see, some talk are free, some to be paid for, plus workshops and great fun for children – if you are in the area don’t miss it! {You’ll notice the Liskeard Poets on Saturday morning – I’ll be reading with them too 🙂 }

Have you been to any good book launches?

What do you think an Author MUST do to make a launch go well?

What should an Author avoid?

Do share – I’d love to know your thoughts – Ann

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‘A Respectable Life’ . . . Goes Live

The lead-up to the launch of a novel is always fraught – but here they are ready for this Friday and looking splendid! arl-mass-1

A website that kept freezing, a code that could not be read, a pdf – with embedded fonts – that was somehow rendered with the wrong font in the proofs – these are some of the extra trials in the run up to the launch of A Respectable Life. {up-date – and a whole box of books delivered to the wrong address!}

You will recall the poll I took on the way the words should be placed on the cover (Thank you all for your comments and votes) It was a close-run thing – but both of the main choices had the word ‘respectable’ split up and uneven on the right hand side.

After much discussion the choice was made – with the hint of a shadow added to deepen the font and make it more serious.

All of this carefully placed on Anthea Lay’s painting of Hingsbury so as not to hide any of the main features of Hingsbury village – the pub, The Old Chapel (where Cordelia lives), the Church, the shop and Hideaway Cottage – I wanted all of these visible on the cover.

Anthea had an interesting task – to create this fictional village from a sketch map and set it into the landscape where I wanted to plant it – and then to squash everything over onto one side – the front cover! Explaining this to a number of people I was told that they ‘love a map’ – so I have included this in the front of the book too.

SO… the book is ready to launch. What to do? Where to hold it?

Now, you have to know that Cordelia organises the prestigious Hingsbury Art Fair – raising thousands for charity – and it is this backdrop that flows behind the events of A Respectable Life – so the Book launch will be in Hingsbury Art Fair!

OK… so St Dominick Hall will be masquerading as Hingsbury hall – with a Pop-Up Art Fair provided by five local artists, Anthea being one of them! Each of these five artists is very different – there’s oils and acrylics, encaustic wax, gouache and pen and ink, fine botanical paintings and quirky multimedia work as well. Something for everyone. There will be a short talk and Q&A followed by refreshments (& cake) and opportunity to chat – look at the art – or buy (signed)books and art (Think Christmas pressies for special people – or yourself 😉 )

Now, if you are in the area – and you haven’t already received an invitation via facebook, twitter or email – please consider this yours!launch-invite-2(click on picture to enlarge and make clearer!)

And we all look forward to seeing you there …

X Ann

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Win a Druid Heir with our Guest Writer

Yesterday saw me with fellow Pendown author, Sally Newton, at the launch of her latest book at the Bodmin Heritage Festival – today she is guesting on my blog – giving an insight into writing historical fiction and with a draw where YOU could WIN a copy of her latest book – The Druid Heir – and news of a special eBook Offer!

beast, helliers, iron-age warrior and sign for the book-launch
The beast of Bodmin, Helliers, Dru (Iron-Age warrior) and a sign for the book-launch!


IMG_2706Thanks Ann for inviting me to do a guest post on your blog. I’m rather excited this week as my second book, Caradoc:The Druid Heir, was launched yesterday!

Everything moves very fast at this stage but Druid Heir took me a very long time to write. The research alone was a real labour of love for an ex-archaeology student like me. The whole trilogy is told from the point of view of Caradoc, better known to ancient history buffs as Caratacus, who was the British prince who came to lead the resistance to the Roman Empire’s invasion of Britain.

Writing about a real person and genuine events weighs rather heavily on me, in terms of responsibility to try to get things right, but I do also enjoy it. Some of the scenes and characters in my books are inspired by archaeological finds I have read about. For example the chilling sequence towards the end of Druid Heir, when Caradoc and his people search the dead bodies found in a temple, was inspired by this Iron Age temple outline spotted in Savernake forest by ‘lidar’ survey work 

I can also draw upon some historical accounts, such as that of Roman historian Cassius Dio, when I was writing about Caradoc’s battle against the initial Roman invasion force in Druid Heir, tacitusand Tacitus’s account of Caradoc’s later years for the book I am writing now, Rebel King. [Photo – Tacitus -Gaius-Cornelius – courtesy wikimedia commons]

All the research has its own issues, however, so there are times I have to just go for an educated ‘best guess’, and trust that my books are as plausible as they can be whilst also – hopefully – being great stories.

Work progresses on book 3 in the trilogy, Rebel King, but for now the first two books, Defiant Prince and Druid Heir, are available AND from NOW for ONE WEEK we are holding an ONLINE LAUNCH – with a special eBook offer (just as we had for the paperbacks on the launch-day in Bodmin)

Book launch poster y1Firstly – For ONE WEEK ONLY the first book of the Caradoc trilogy ‘The Defiant Prince’ will be available for kindles on Amazon for JUST 99p! (or for other eReaders – from PendownPubishing.co.uk) Please let everybody know! (back to full price on Monday 11th 9pm)

Secondly – you can Enter a DRAW* for a signed paperback* 9781909936218-DRUID HEIR cover blank Perfect_OLcopy* of The Druid Heir by signing up to this blog (see top right – subscribe by email – this so that you will see the notification of results – so if you already follow this blog you’re cool) AND POSTING A COMMENT below this post – no matter how short!

Thank you, Ann, for inviting me take-over your blog for this week 🙂

***

Thank you Sally for some insights into writing historic novels based on a real person and an opportunity for my readers to win a copy of your new book (Druid Heir) and pick-up the first (Defiant Prince) for just 99p as an ebook!

You can also find Sally on Facebook HERE  and Twitter HERE – she’d be most grateful if you’d LIKE her author page and Follow her on Twitter.

Now tell me, do you like historic fiction?

How accurate does the author have to be – when so little is known about some periods of time?

Curious to know your thoughts 🙂 do share! All comments welcome and create and entry to the draw!

***DRAW RULES*** UK only – if from outside the UK please feel free to enter but an ecopy will be offered instead if you win. Draw opens Sunday 3rd July 2016. Draw will be made 1pm Monday 11th July 2016 using a random number generator. Winner will be notified at comment email address and via this blog. If the prize remains unclaimed for more than 28 days the draw will be re-made.***

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THIS …

THIS is the reason I have been absent from my blog for  so long. 9781909936904-Perfect_FINAL copy

Yes, my father’s book, his first volume of his memories … and it only takes him up to the age of eighteen!

So, why would it be that editing a book for someone else absorbed every last spare minute I had (including my own writing / editing time).

As it happens, and as he will cheerfully admit, he was never given a good formal education but has had a ‘life-education’ in a lot of areas and is self taught in many others. He is also now ninety … so that means his writing is slow and difficult. He has a tendency to write as he speaks, and for the story to ‘just come out of the pen’ as it would come out of his mouth, including running on without a full stop.

AND THEN being the favourite link between what not only had to become sentences, with full punctuation, but then also paragraphs and chapters.

Then, there were the Devon dialect terms he used, not because he knew no different, but because they were used to him and formed part of this fascinating ‘education’ he received. These all had to be checked and, in some cases, explained.

Words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into cohesive chapters with titles that form some kind of sequence of their own and … to keep it all in his words – not to change anything unless the meaning was obscure without some clarification..

This all took a lot longer than was expected … and the deadline was fixed – no fudging this one – His Ninetieth birthday!

So, this had now come and gone – and a successful ‘book launch’ made as he gave copies to the members of the family. After all – that was his only intention originally – to let future generations know ‘where they started from’ – ‘where they’d come from’.

We are rather proud of the finished article (click on the picture to read the blurb on the back)  – it seems to have hit the right spot – it is in his own words – and a fairly easy to follow, great story with lots of insights into social history possibly not recorded elsewhere.

Currently the book is only available from Pendown Publishing but we are wondering whether to make it more widely accessible as those who have been reading it are reporting back as to how much they are enjoying it….

So – it’s welcome back if you have taken he trouble to read this weeks blog – and I’ll be writing again soon, completing that look at gut bacteria and starting out on something new…

And, even though I’ve been absent for so long, I still love to hear from you – so what’s on your mind 🙂

Ann

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The next book is getting restless …

The next book is getting restless – I need to start writing it!

I know, I know… the book I have finished isn’t out yet … and I’m talking about writing the next one.  You see, it isn’t as simple as finishing one altogether; writing, editing, checking and getting it ready for publishing before I start thinking about the next one.

The next one has been brewing for a long, long time, but recently it is as if the stars have become aligned and the book is asking to be written.

When I am not doing anything else (that requires my verbal brain) the words start coming in – I watch the pictures – like watching a movie, and describe it to  myself. Tuesday, as I drove over to Milton Abbot to the climbing centre, a whole scene was revealed… and this keeps happening – too many times – I have to start writing some of it down in case I forget it.

In the meantime I have two projects I must finish before I complete A Respectable Life. One is preparing another person’s book for publishing – and as such is my job so has priority – and the other is preparing the first volume of my father’s autobiography for printing in time for his 90th birthday this summer. So those of you who are waiting for A Respectable Life – I apologise for the delay – but it should be out this summer some time … and I’ll carry on catching the new one as it arrives 🙂

Writing a book is just the beginning … here’s Fascinating Aida’s take on writing a best seller.

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