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.

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Walking on Wild Air

A haunting story of love lost, and of the healing only time can bring.

wowa publicity pic tablet

At the summit of a bare hill, on a quiet island in the bleak west of the world, a storm was brewing. Lightning flickered and dark clouds glowered over the hilltop, their rain-heavy bases lit from within by sullen flashes.

A bolt split the sky and the rain sheeted down, half hiding the ground with its jumbled boulders and sparse coating of grasses. For a moment the scene flickered, like a jerky film noir, and then a figure could be seen on the hilltop, curled up in the foetal position, unmoving.

Thunder cracked overhead and the man raised his head, hauling his body wearily after it. He climbed to his feet and pressed them against the ground, as if testing its ability to hold him. On one buttock there was a red mark, where a rock had pressed into his side, but as he stood in the rain the mark bruised and faded, leaving no trace.

He squared his shoulders against the deluge as the clouds roiled overhead. A great shaft of lightning hit the hilltop precisely at his position, limning his figure for an instant in a halo of blue and white. He looked down at his fists, unclenched them and regarded his hands as if seeing them for the first time. He put his head back, staring upward as the rain poured over his face, drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and howled a cry of pure anguish.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Walking-Wild-Air-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook/dp/B01AYBRBBU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463930151&sr=8-1&keywords=walking+on+wild+air

https://www.amazon.com/Walking-Wild-Air-Yvonne-Marjot-ebook/dp/B01AYBRBBU?ie=UTF8&keywords=walking%20on%20wild%20air&qid=1463930186&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/610394

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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.

Spring at last, or so the blackbird says

flowering cherry

Over the last few weeks there have been several days when I’ve thought to myself, sun – check; not raining – check; flowers appearing – check; oh, it must finally be spring. Snowdrops have come and gone, daffodils have appeared all over the place and cheered us up with their yellow radiance. There have even been some periods of actual warmth.

But every time I start to think that spring has won the battle against winter, the clouds descend, the temperature drops and we get another blast of it. Two days ago I spent the day off sick from work: curled up on my armchair, clutching a mug of hot lemon drink and a box of paper hankies, wrapped up in a big blanket and shivering. It seemed that every time I glanced out the window, it was snowing again, or sleeting, or snailing, or fleeting – or some other variation on winter precipitation.

Today is different. Okay, it rained a lot during the night, and now it’s grey and cool and drizzly, but there’s a promise of mildness in the air, a new freshness. And when I walked up the hill from the post office this morning everywhere I turned my ears I could hear birdsong.

In my garden it’s not only the usual suspects – chaffinches, tits and blackbirds. When I put my head out the back door I saw that the hedge was crammed full of the little local flock of sparrows, which I’ve hardly seen over the winter. Jenny Wren is back on the fencepost, and there’s a new robin patrolling the lawn (replacing the one my naughty cats ate in February).

Up the hill at the back, an entire army of blackbirds is pulling out the dead, long grass to line their nests, and tits are swooping back and forth in every direction. Even the hooded crows up in the old tree sound a little less mournful now that there’s light in the sky and a sense of warmth behind the clouds.

Out on the roadside there seems to be a nest in every tree, and the battle for territory and mates is hotting up. Bluebell spikes are pushing through (down south I expect they’re already beginning to flower, but here in Bonnie Scotland they are true May denizens) and pussy willows and hazel catkins waft their yellow pollen over everything. Yes, it’s definitely spring. The anti-histamines in my medicine cabinet confirm it, whatever the weather.

And down on the Main Street there’s not a parking space to be had; the cafes are full of damp tourists knocking back Death by Chocolate and giant pieces of gateau, and every house painter on the island is hard at work on one façade or another. We may yet be blessed with another flurry or two of snow, or a run of hard-frost mornings, but the tide has turned. Spring rises, on moontide or storm surge or sun-drenched sea mist, or maybe on a week of sunshine to mark Eastertide. No matter – it comes, regardless, as the blackbirds know. There’s no stopping it now.

Making the Best of Things – Part 1

Here at last, and only a little bit later than planned, is the first instalment in my Christmas story. Come over to https://www.facebook.com/groups/737252102990447/?ref=ts&fref=ts and join us for a season of stories – and read the rest of this one, to be published here and on Facebook on 27th December 2014.

Fliss and Max

Making the Best of Things, or, Five Stay Home for Christmas

Part 1 – 27th November

“Fliss! Fliss! Put that child down and come here.”
“Aww, Missus Matchum, don’t be mean. She’s lovely. I think she might follow me home.”
“From your mouth to God’s ear, son. Fliss’ll follow anyone home, if she thinks there might be food or a cuddle in it. Get over here, ye daft bitch. Heel.” The white bulldog trots reluctantly back to Agatha Matchum’s side as the child runs off down a side street.
“Did you win, then?” Annette is curious. Surely the name issue has already been settled, and not in Aggie’s favour.
“Win what?” Aggie flicks her iron grey bob behind her ears and hauls at the leads, positioning one bull terrier on each side of her. The dogs eye one another round the swing of her tweed skirt and leather boots and elect to behave. For now.
“The Royal versus Fliss argument.”
“Argument? There is no argument. He says, okay, Max is my dog, but the female is his, and he wants to call her Royal. I say: if I’m the one walking her, then I’m the one naming her. She got her shots last week. It says Fliss Matchum on the bill, and I don’t notice him rushing to pay it.” Aggie’s brother Malcolm lives with her, in between stints on the oil rigs. Hardy souls have been known to remark that he’s worked his way through a series of careers, each of which takes him further away from his sister. More charitable (or cynical) types note that he always comes home again.
Aggie puts the dogs in gear and marches forward. Annette’s shepherd bitch, Saf, falls obediently into line and the two women set off uphill towards the bus stop. Annette is dark and plump, and wears her hair in a braid. She’s fond of loose, comfortable clothing in flower prints and bright colours, which conceal her figure and make her look like the ageing flower child she is. She finds Aggie brash and overbearing, and they make an odd couple, but nonetheless they’re best friends. Annette can’t imagine life without her. Ahead of the two women a howling arises, interspersed with yips. The dogs pant and strain at their leashes. Company is waiting.
Near the top of the hill two women are huddled together in the bus shelter, trying to keep out of the wind. In front of the shelter a small, white bundle jumps up and down excitedly, yapping at the top of its voice. Above its head a worn leather lead juts horizontally into the street. One end is attached to the collar of a beautiful samoyed, gleaming white, lovingly brushed and frothing with the effort of pulling against the lead. Inside the shelter Val Collins braces herself against her dog’s pull as she carries on her conversation. Every now and again her voice floats out over the sound of barking.
“Sit, Karma. Sit now, there’s a dear.”
Her voice has no effect on the dog, whose eyes are bulging as it chokes itself against its own collar. Fortunately, Aggie and Annette reach the others just before Karma collapses from asphyxia. The dogs mill round together, sniffing each other’s bottoms and tangling the leads. Karma collapses into a white, hairy pile in the roadway and pants ferociously, saliva dripping from his tongue. Sugar finally ceases yapping and piles into the fray, whining and nipping at the larger dogs. Saf bears her patiently, shouldering her away from time to time, while Max and Fliss ignore her altogether. They are too busy licking up the pools of Karma’s saliva from the gutter.
Eventually, the women get the leads sorted out and start off along the ridge.

Chantelle closes the oven door and straightens, rubbing the small of her back. Steam has condensed on her fringe and it hangs limply in front of her eyes. She pushes it back behind her ears and shouts. “Jared? It’s your turn to walk the dog.”
There’s no response from upstairs, but the rocker on the floor under the kitchen table begins to wail softly. Chantelle reaches out one foot and pushes the rocker into motion again. The baby quiets, while she continues preparing the dinner.
“Jared?” It’s no use. It looks as though she’ll be walking the dog again. Funny how ‘family dog’ inevitably becomes ‘Mum’s dog’ when it comes to exercise. The potatoes come to the boil and she turns them down to simmer. She decants a pile of chopped green beans into the pot with the carrots and pushes the hair out of her eyes again. With luck there’ll be just enough time to change Alice, feed the dog and persuade the twins to lay the table before serving up. Daisy’s walk will have to wait until after bedtime, as usual.
Chantelle sighs. Things seem to be getting harder every day. It’s at times like this that she really misses having another adult around the place – even though he’d been pretty useless when it came to household chores. She misses having someone to keep an eye on the baby while she nips out to get the washing in, or to take the chicken out of the oven when the timer goes (and stop the dog from eating it) while she rounds up the troops.
Sometimes she feels it needs the skills of a Sergeant Major to keep five kids and a dog in line. That was another of Gary’s complaints. “You’re always telling me what to do. You’re so grumpy all the time.”
“You just try keeping a household of seven (plus dog) in order by yourself, Gary MacEwan, she mutters, kicking the table leg. Bloody coward. He’d been fine in the early days – caring and helpful during her pregnancies, patient and loving afterwards – and there’s no doubt at all that he loves the kids, especially Jared once he’d become old enough to be interesting – but somewhere along the line the spark had gone out of their marriage, and he hadn’t cared enough to help her keep it alight.
It’s understandable, she thinks. After all, by the time they had four children she’d been pretty well exhausted, and the work is hard. There isn’t much room for romance in her life. But right now, with ten year old Jared, eight year old Georgie, twins Tim and Luke (six) and the baby, she really can’t do it all on her own.
She smiles down at Alice. She’d been the baby that Chantelle had hoped would restart their marriage, and bond them all together. It hadn’t worked out that way. Instead, by the twenty-week antenatal check she’d been doing it all on her own, while Gary was away across town in his new house, with his new girlfriend and soon enough his brand new baby. Little Molly is a model baby with yellow curls who never cries, or keeps her parents awake all night with colic. To add insult to injury, she is  two weeks older than Alice – a fact that causes Chantelle to fantasize about scratching Gary’s eyes out whenever she remembers it.
The front door opens and closes again, sending a cold draught down the hallway and banging the kitchen door shut. It opens, and a pretty girl with brown hair in braids peers round the doorway.
“Hello Georgie, how was Guides?”
“Really good. I’m nearly ready to sit my First Aid badge.”
“That’s great.” Chantelle unbuckles the baby’s safety strap and lifts her, releasing a distinctive smell of dirty nappy.
“Give her to me, Mum. I know what to do.”
“Georgie, you’re a star. What would I do without you?”
Georgie takes the baby to the bathroom, and Chantelle drags the twins away from their computer game, to screams of anguish as the screen goes black. With identical scowls they stomp around the kitchen, slamming plates down on the table and pretending to stab one another with forks. One stands on Daisy’s paw and she yelps, jumping out from under the table, and taking refuge in the utility room, coincidentally ending up right next to her food bowl. Chantelle takes the hint and feeds her, closing the door to shut the dog away from the family dinner. The chicken ought to be about ready by now.

Here is my interview with Yvonne Marjot

My blog interview with Fiona McVie. Thanks, Fiona.

authorsinterviews

Y Marjot author pic Aug 2014

Name Yvonne Marjot
Age 52
Where are you from? I was born in England but grew up in New Zealand. Now I live on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on an island off the West Coast of Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012 she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published in 2014 by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

She has worked in schools, libraries and…

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…yeez’ll never guess… what do Crooked Cat Publishing, the Middle East, and Tobermory on the Isle of Mull have in common?…

…yeez’ll never guess… what do Crooked Cat Publishing, the Middle East, and Tobermory on the Isle of Mull have in common?….