Great Summer Reads 1

historical cc for summer 2017

Do you want to travel this summer? Come on a journey without leaving your armchair. No matter what the weather is like, I can take you on a trip around the world to sunny climes, to sinister places, to past times as you’ve never experienced them before.

Journey across Europe on the hunt for lost treasures in Nancy Jardine’s thriller Topaz Eyes. Or relax in sunny Corsica while brave Rachel traces her family history through a cache of love letters (The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman).

What if the story of Romeo and Juliet didn’t end the way we think it did? Travel to medieval Verona to relive the events of the famous play, in Sue Barnard’s The Ghostly Father.

Cathie Dunn takes us to the twelfth century in Dark Deceit, where England and Normandy are being torn apart by a bloody civil war. Young Alleyne de Bellac must decide which of her would-be protectors she can trust – the other is deceiving her for his own gain. Jennifer Wilson’s Kindred Spirit is a light-hearted look at the dead kings and queens of England – Richard III haunts the Tower of London, and he has plenty to say about modern day visitors to his haunted home.

And in Lamplight Olga Swan takes us on a journey across the world at the beginning of the twentieth century – from impoverished Birmingham to the bright lights of New York, David Klein seeks his vocation as a war photographer, finally finding himself recording the rise of Nazism in pre-war Germany.

And my books? The Calgary Chessman and its sequels are contemporary romances, but each has an archaeological theme. The first introduces the early mediaeval Lewis Chessmen, the second involves a dig at a 6th century monastic site, and the third investigates the march of the Roman Empire into eastern Scotland.

These are just a taste of what Crooked Cat has to offer. Why not join our reader community https://www.facebook.com/groups/crookedcat/? We love to hear comments from our readers – and if you’re fascinated by a particular part of the world or period of history, let us know. There might just be someone out there writing about it.

The Calgary Chessman myBook.to/CalgaryChessman

The Ghostly Father http://authl.it/B00IBZ96JC

Topaz Eyes http://getbook.at/buymehere

The House at Zaronza http://getbook.at/Zaronza

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London http://authl.it/B016TRKU2A

Lamplight authl.it/4q0

Dark Deceit http://mybook.to/Dark_Deceit

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do Beautiful Days Hurt the Most?

800px-Temple_wood_2006

Temple Wood cairn in Kilmartin Glen, by Lnolan at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7247430

So… there I was, driving home from family visits in England. I crossed the border early in the morning, with a quick stop at Gretna for coffee and to say ‘hello’ to Scotland. I had errands to run in Glasgow, and ended up mid-afternoon on the last leg of the journey to catch my ferry, pushing on through torrential rain in a queue of cars all possibly heading for the same destination. Due to a road closure, I’d been forced to take the long way round, south from Inveraray to Lochgilphead, and then up the back road to Oban. The rain gradually eased and the sky lightened. I passed through an area of poor radio reception and pressed the CD button.

I hadn’t registered it consciously, but over the last few weeks I’ve become less and less likely to be struck with a sudden wave of unbearable grief, and I’ve got used to driving again. It’s ages since I’ve had to actually pull off the road and curl up around a pain so awful that it feels as though I’m going to stop breathing. The empty hole in my chest is much larger than a heart ought to be – I’m sure it occupies its own mysterious pocket universe, as no matter how much I feel it seems to have an infinite ability to feel more at a moment’s notice. But there we are – I’d hardly thought about it at all for days. I hadn’t considered the way bad weather keeps us at home, or if we go out it makes us keep our heads down, concentrating on the task at hand rather than taking in our surroundings.

I came round a bend in the road just as the CD started up and a shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated the rich green pastures of Kilmartin valley, one of the most beautiful and interesting pre-historic sites in Scotland. The song was Leonard Cohen’s “Ain’t No Cure For Love”, and its haunting saxophone intro hit my ears just as the shaft of sunlight struck the ground, and I remembered that this – this place, these ruins, this history – was one of the places I’d planned to bring Mark to, as soon as we had a chance.

It’s a very beautiful location – lush, rich pastures laid out across the floor of a broad valley, with scattered remains of cairns and standing stones dating from both Neolithic and Bronze Age periods of occupation. I went there with my Dad last October, and I’ve passed through a couple of times on the way to meetings. It’s such a contrast to the rough lands to the north, with their steep slopes and skeletal soils, fit only for forestry or vast swathes of bracken.

Mark had a great love for old places. He wasn’t necessarily compelled to find out the facts about them – he loved to wander into a ruin, perch himself on a pile of stones and pontificate about what life might have been like at the time they were laid down. There are certain abandoned villages on Mull that I can’t visit without breaking down, because his presence there is still so strong. He’d have loved Kilmartin; the place is rich with history: every stone has its story. Under the blade of sunlight lancing down from the heavens, all the brighter for the dark hint of rain behind it, the fields glowed an almost impossible shade of green and Cohen began,

I loved you for a long, long time.

I know this love is real.

It don’t matter how it all went wrong,

That don’t change the way I feel,

And I can’t believe that time is gonna heal

This wound I’m speaking of.

There ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure for love.

I shut my eyes. I was in the middle of traffic, at fifty miles per hour, on a winding country road and I shut my eyes. I couldn’t help myself. It only took seconds to extricate myself from the line of cars and pull into a side road where I could stop. There weren’t any tears – I doubled up over an oh-so-familiar pain and as the sunbeam broadened and the landscape glowed I heard myself making a terrible sound, like an animal with its leg in a trap. Interesting thought – if I could rid myself of this pain by some means analogous to gnawing my own leg off, or even if it was possible to free myself by some simple expedient such as medication (and don’t think it hasn’t been suggested to me) – I don’t believe I’d do it. I’m not ready to let go yet.

Someone asked  the other day – not just me, there was a group of us and it was a pretty general question – if you could bring anyone back from the dead for five minutes, who would it be? God. I would bring him back mouldering and half-skeletal for the pleasure of hearing his voice again. I would bring him back just long enough to get there and tell him I loved him before he was gone again. I’d bring him back simply to be there in that final moment, so that he would know he wasn’t dying alone. God help me I’d bring him back for good even if it ended time and destroyed the universe. Thank goodness it isn’t possible to raise the dead!

Of course I didn’t stop breathing. The song ended, the sun went back behind its cloud, the world became ordinary again. My heart kept beating. I’m sorry, my love. For such a long time I hoped it would stop. After all, it isn’t mine. You gave me your fragile but reliable heart, and I promised to take care of it. You broke mine, so badly that it couldn’t keep you alive any more, and now I have your steady beat in my chest and it won’t let me stop. The sun shines, there are still songs to be sung, and beautiful places are somehow even more beautiful now that I wear my nerves exposed and raw. And I couldn’t give your heart back now, even if I wanted to.

It was Philip Sidney (1554 – 1586) who wrote these lines. They are ours, and they remain true.

My true-love hath my heart and I have his,

By just exchange one for the other given:

I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;

There never was a bargain better driven.

His heart in me keeps me and him in one;

My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:

He loves my heart, for once it was his own;

I cherish his because in me it bides.

His heart his wound received from my sight;

My heart was wounded with his wounded heart;

For as from me on him his hurt did light,

So still, methought, in me his hurt did smart:

Both equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,

My true love hath my heart and I have his.

Broad Thoughts from a Home

Here I am on Sue Barnard’s blogspot, talking about the writing journey, and my new book, The Ashentilly Letters (third in the Calgary Chessman sequence, published 18/11/16).

https://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/letters-patent-interview-with-yvonne.html

The Ashentilly Letters

feel-nature-tal-cover-spread

The third book in the Calgary Chessman sequence is out next week, and I’m really looking forward to the launch day (Friday 18th November 2016, although you can pre-order it now online). The arc begun in The Calgary Chessman, which saw Cas Longmore and her son both begin new chapters in their lives, moved on through the disturbing events of The Book of Lismore, and now reaches a natural closure as Cas returns to her grandparents’ farm in New Zealand, and Sam begins his independent life at university.

Life is full of surprises, though, and both of them have their troubles to face. Like its predecessors, The Ashentilly Letters tells a complete archaeological story, this time with a Roman theme. Just how far north in Scotland did the legions really get? Here’s a taste of the story, to get you going.

The Ashentilly Letters (UK)

The Ashentilly Letters (US)

The Ashentilly Letters (extract)

There was just one trench still open that morning, and only the desire to complete the job motivated the students to continue working on it, even as their supervisors began the task of closing down the site. Mid-morning, the pair of girls currently scraping the next layer off the trench shouted for help. Niall had been closest, and he and Sam strolled over to see what the students had found: small lumps of rusted metal, several of them clustered together at one end of the trench. The girls. Rachel and Sarah, scrambled out to let Niall take a closer look. He squatted, careful not to disturb the remainder of the trench, and examined the lumps more closely, before standing and turning to Sam.

“Go for Tim, please. We need him straight away.”

Sam went without question, and was soon back with the dig leader.

“What have you found, Niall?” Tim’s voice was calm. The chances of finding anything really exciting at this late stage of the dig were pretty low.

“Hobnails.”

“Really?” Tim knelt at the edge of the trench and thrust his face into its depths.

Niall fished the head torch out of his pocket and turned it on. The narrow beam played over the cluster of finds.

“I agree. Given what we’ve already uncovered this week, they may be Roman. We can’t walk away from this – it could potentially be the evidence we need to pull the site into perspective. Go for it. But we have to do it today: the permit runs out at midnight, and the weather is on the turn. We won’t get another chance.”

Niall climbed out of the trench and gave his orders, pulling together a team of four to begin work under his direct guidance, and later in the day dragging in another four to erect and hold the gazebo as they worked frantically to remove as much of the find as they could before the forecast weather rolled in. There was no delay to wait for the permission of the authorities. The local police sergeant had been on hand all day, fascinated by what the dig had revealed about the pre-history of his territory. A quick phone call was all it took for permission to be given to lift the burial.

For burial it was: no bones remained in the sodden, acidic soil, though stains indicated the probable layout of the skeleton, but throughout the afternoon other artefacts turned up, the last of them proving beyond doubt that their find was Roman. By that time it was Niall and Tim on their knees, with their students crowding round, keeping just far enough back not to collapse the edge of the trench as their tutors worked on into the night.

The gazebo gave up the ghost, ripping down the middle under a single gust of wind, just as Niall raised the final, most precious piece of evidence. Sam felt a burning sense of pride in his friend as the archaeologist wrapped the find in protective plastic and emerged, plastered in mud. One hand cradled it carefully as he gave instructions for filling in and re-turfing, but as he made his way round the end of the trench, the other reached out to wrap round the back of Sam’s head and pull him close for a triumphant kiss. Sam shoved his torch in his pocket and picked up a spade, to join his colleagues in the dirty work of trench filling.

He smiled joyously into the darkness.

Green Jewels on a Velvet Throw

Here I am on the lovely Jane Bwye’s blog. It’s launch day for The Book of Lismore, so it seemed a good time to talk about Scottish islands.

Jane Bwye

A warm welcome to another talented Crooked Cat author today.  I enjoyed Yvonne Marjot’s first novel, and look forward to another trip to the Hebridean Islands, which make me think of Mendelssohn. Over to you, Yvonne. YM author pic at Calgary

“The Isle of Mull, of isles the fairest”, goes the old song (An t’Eilean Muileach, an t’eilean àghmhor…). It certainly is, and as the setting of The Calgary Chessman it introduced readers to one of the many beautiful islands that stud Hebridean waters like green jewels on a velvet throw.

The islands of the Inner Hebrides each have their own character. There’s Skye, where in 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie fled with Flora MacDonald on her bonnie boat ‘like a bird on the wing’. Skye has mountains fiercer than Mull, the Black Cuillins offering a more challenging climbing experience than the gentle slog up Ben More, Mull’s only Munro.

Islay is justifiably famous…

View original post 715 more words

The Calgary Chessman – your perfect excuse to visit this beautiful island.

TCC cover art front Yvonne Marjot

It’s been a glorious day here on the Isle of Mull (14 May 2015. I specify the date because it has rained pretty much non-stop ever since); the kind of day that reminds you to thank your lucky stars you ended up here, in this beautiful place. Most of you won’t get the chance to visit here, and some of those that do will be forced to endure the kind of chilly, rain-drenched, midge-infested holiday that makes you wish you’d just stayed in the office. But most of our visitors can count, at some point during their week, on at least one of those gorgeous, vista-filled, wall-to-wall-sunshine-coated days that remind you how much you want to leave your job, life and responsibilities, and fly away to a Scottish island to spend the rest of your life enjoying the peace and quiet.

It really is as good as that. Of course, there are other aspects. Sometimes the weather is dire, ferries don’t run, the local supermarket runs out of food, tempers fray, everyone wishes they were somewhere else. In the winter, it can be dreich and dismal week in week out, and you’re hardly out of bed in the pre-dawn gloom than you’re walking home from work and it’s starting to get dark again.

But in the summer, when the days are so long that you have trouble getting to sleep, and on crisp, dry nights of winter when the stars are astonishing and the northern lights hang in the sky like nature’s own neon signs – then you remember why you came here. And why you stay.

Cas Longmore didn’t choose to come to Mull. When her marriage ended and she needed a place to stay, she managed to acquire a small, run-down cottage on the island, where she could take refuge; a place where she could re-examine her life and begin to plan for the future again. She walks, day after day, along the beach at Calgary Bay because it takes her out of herself and keeps her busy. She has no idea this habit will lead her to discover The Calgary Chessman, an object so mysterious and fascinating that it distracts her from loneliness for weeks on end.

The Calgary Chessman itself is, of course, akin to the famous Lewis Chessmen, and belongs to the same period of history. Writing about it gave me the opportunity to indulge my fascination with archaeology and early human history, and I hope you’ll also enjoy this aspect of my story. The period of history between the end of Viking raids and the establishment of a full mediaeval society in Scotland, with its kings, nobles, clan chieftains and chiels, resembling (but not identical to) feudal society south of the border, is fascinating. The Calgary Chessman touches on the Lords of the Isles, the Norse occupancy of parts of the Hebrides, and the tension between mainland Scotland and the islands. A work of fiction can only open a hazy window on history, but they were interesting times. It was fun to write about them.

Sometimes island life combines with a fascination for history to provide unique opportunities. I’ve had the chance to be involved with two archaeological digs on the Isle of Mull, and both have informed the story I tell in the sequel to The Calgary Chessman. The Book of Lismore takes Cas’s story forward another pace, it tells you more about the life of her son, Sam, and the friends and family who are becoming steadily more important in Cas’s new life. There’s a whole new archaeological mystery, this one set during the monastic period, several hundred years before the era of The Calgary Chessman. And, of course, the problems that Cas is trying to escape have followed her, to the place she thought was her refuge, and she’s forced to confront a situation she thought she’d left in the past.

The Calgary Chessman is available from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Calgary-Chessman-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook/dp/B00MLBQ6SG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431623568&sr=1-1&keywords=the+calgary+chessman

and http://www.amazon.com/Calgary-Chessman-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook/dp/B00MLBQ6SG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1431623613

The Book of Lismore is released by Crooked Cat on 16 July 2015.

This week, https://crookedcatbooks.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/its-thriller-week-at-crooked-cat-books/ is featuring contemporary fiction.

CC cont fiction pic May 2015

The Calgary Chessman – an archaeological romance

TCC cover art front

THE CALGARY CHESSMAN enters the Top #100 Genre Chart on AmazonUK (26 April 2015)! Time for an excerpt…

I quartered the beach, down to the water’s edge and back to
the machair, gradually becoming calmer as I wandered. I kept
my head low, glancing out to sea occasionally when the waves
came close, not focusing beyond the headland where haze on
the horizon prevented me seeing even the closest islands. The
greenish grey of the sea blended imperceptibly into the sky, and
all the colours of the landscape were subdued. For a moment, I
felt disorientated, as if gravity had inverted and I was walking
upside down on a great curved dome, feeling that at any
moment I might fall into the flat, featureless surface above me. I
shook my head and kept my feet moving.
Slowly some memories seeped into my mind; images of a
small boy flickered across my inner vision, like photos in an old
album. It’s easy to forget what treasures are tucked away in
there, behind the grey divide. Sometimes they feel so immediate
that they shock me right into that other world which was once
so real. It’s so much easier to live in the past than to face what is
in front of me.
My foot scuffed against a tuft of grass and I came back to
myself. I’d walked the beach up and down, and fetched up
against the edge of the machair again. Last night’s high tide and
wind had dislodged a whole chunk of cliff edge, and the lump
had slid down the dune-face, exposing a vertical slope of fresh,
white sand. In it was a dark hollow, a deep space about the size
of my fist. I put my hand in to see if it would fit. My knuckle
grazed something hard. Scratchy. Not like the rounded pebbles

and wave-smoothed pieces of driftwood lying on the beach.
I pulled my hand out quickly and shivered, thinking of
sheep bones. Okay to look at, found scattered on the grass
while out walking. Not so nice to touch, unseen. With a faint
hiss, the little hollow collapsed and something rolled out of the
hole and landed at my feet in a damp clump. I bent down to
dig it out. My fingers closed on a pale ivory-coloured handful, a
little darker than the sand, squat and squarish and about eight
centimetres tall. Not a sheep bone. I pulled out my hanky, spat
on it and rubbed the object. I stared at it.
I was holding something like a gnome sitting on a chair;
rather ugly, but with complex, carved clothing and draperies. It
was surprisingly heavy. The figure was vaguely familiar; even
though at the same time I was sure I hadn’t seen anything like it
in my life. I went to drop it back where I’d found it, but
changed my mind at the last moment and put it in my pocket.
After all, I could easily throw it away later.
A superstitious voice in the back of my head muttered about
omens. I’d come out today looking for something to knock me
out of the self-destructive track of my life. Perhaps this was it?
Or maybe it was more bad luck? Either way, picking up litter
should make me feel good, and at least this was more
interesting than the usual plastic bags and empty bottles.
I glanced back up the beach to where the family had set up
camp. The boy was crying; I could hear his voice, piping like
one of the little birds that run along the shoreline. He was in his
father’s arms, being comforted. The woman was down at the
water’s edge. She had rolled up her trousers to paddle, and the
little girl jumped and splashed, clinging tightly to her mother’s
hand. The woman seemed happier, her stance relaxed. Was that
because she was away from the man? Or were they the happy
family they appeared to be? I wondered if I’d ever learn how to
tell the good relationships from the bad, or whether perhaps all
marriages were as secretly miserable as mine had turned out to
be. Her husband walked over and she greeted him with a kiss
and took the boy from his arms. She might have been smiling. I
gave them the benefit of the doubt.