Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Chalke Valley History Festival

Well, it's been over 5 weeks since my last post, as my recovery from the fall was complicated by bursitis in my hip, but my husband and I have just had a week's holiday and feel much better for it. I've got a lot to catch up on, but I'm getting back to work.

We've been to the Chalke Valley History Festival near Salisbury, and what a fabulous time we've had at this festival I didn't even know existed until a couple of months ago! This was the ninth year of the festival and there's nothing else like it, certainly in the UK. Huge marquees, lots of quality speakers, bookshop, good range of food stalls, History Tellers, living history and lots more. In addition the volunteers and staff were so friendly and helpful. It made a big difference.

We nearly cancelled the holiday after my fall and the ensuing complications, but I was able to use a mobility scooter free for the first three days. I'm so glad we were able to go, not just because of the quality of the event but because we both so needed a break. The only drawback was that although we stayed only 12 miles away, it was through narrow country lanes with few road signs, and the local council closed the roads in the evening for roadworks, making the journey back twice as far.

In spite of that we had a great time. There wasn't anything about my Medieval period this week, but we did have Anglo Saxons and the Black Death, which come before and afterwards. Both very interesting talks. Did you know the Black Death came into England via Weymouth, and once you showed symptoms you were dead in three days? As much as 70% of the population died and it ended serfdom, because the only way land owners could get the work done was to pay.

I recommend anyone who can get there next year should go. Entry is free Monday to Friday, you only pay for the talks if you want them. There is an entrance fee at the weekend but if you pay for a talk, you get in free. We're definitely going next year.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Slipping Down Stairs

I thought you must be wondering where I’ve gone, as there have been no posts for a couple of weeks. The reason is that I slipped down the stairs at home and sprained my ankle and broke my wrist. Luckily the stroke-affected side, otherwise I wouldn’t have a working hand at all, but that’s about the only good thing about it.

I thought the shock of the fall had aggravated my arthritis, which it may have done, but the pain in my right hip has been getting steadily worse, so I went to the doctor yesterday. It turns out that I sprained the ligaments round my hip when I fell, and my attempts at getting back to exercise and walking have only aggravated it. So I’m on extra pain killers and rest for the next ten days.

You would think with all the extra time on my hands I could get lots of writing done, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. It’s very hard to be creative when you’re in pain. So I have been trying to work on the business side and plan how to serve my readers better and how to nurture new ones.

I’m sure things will get back to normal soon and you’ll see some changes for the better. If you have any suggestions or requests, please get in touch.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Building a Castle: The Bailey

The bailey or ward in a fortification is a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall. In particular, an early type of European castle was known as a motte-and-bailey. Castles can have more than one bailey. Their layout depends both on the local topography and the level of fortification technology employed, ranging from simple enclosures to elaborate concentric defences.

Chepstow Castle (
Baileys can be arranged in sequence along a hill (as in a spur castle), giving an upper bailey and lower bailey. They can also be nested one inside the other, as in a concentric castle, giving an outer bailey and inner bailey. Chepstow Castle, built on a limestone ridge above the River Wye, has three baileys which were added over time along the ridge, rather than inside one another.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Research: Mosquitoes

(getty images)
There is no doubt that mosquitoes are a serious threat to mankind. Their bite carries not only malaria but a host of other diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, West Nile virus, dengue fever, filariasis, Zika virus and other arboviruses. Mosquitoes kill more people than any other animal: over 700,000 each year, many of them children.

The book A Brief History of the Future suggests that in the next 50 years millions of infertile male mosquitoes would be released to reduce the population, and therefore drastically reduce the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.

In addition, by replacing the disease-causing organisms injected by their bites with antivirals, mosquitoes can be used to actually immunise the people they bite against an array of diseases. Thus turning them from killers into life-savers.

It's a great idea, but can it become a reality?

Friday, 26 April 2019

Building a Castle: Concentric Castles

When a child draws a picture of a castle, it tends to be a single building. But castles comprise several buildings, and usually two rings of walls. The value of concentric defences was known long before castles existed, in tribal hill forts. The word ‘concentric’ is a little misleading, as the walls were not circular, merely surrounding the site of the castle.
Belvoir Castle, Jerusalem
The first dateable concentric castle was Belvoir Castle in the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. It was built by Gilbert of Assailly, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, started in 1168. It was built on a high plateau about 20km south of the Sea of Galilea. It overlooks the River Jordan 500m below and was so high and inaccessible that the Muslims called it an eagle’s nest or home of the moon.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Research: Global Warming

Credit: kwest shutterstock
By 2071 A Brief History of the Future suggests that the global temperature had risen by one degree and Greenland's glaciers were collapsing. Sea level had risen by half a metre and many countries were building flood defences and floating homes.
Coastal erosion at Hemsby UK (BBC)
In the real world, in the UK today, local councils are already planning coastal defences in some places and to leave the coast to erode in others. We have seen dramatic pictures on the news of houses topping over eroded cliffs.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Building a Castle: Curtain Wall Defences

The curtain wall was the main defence of the castle, but it wasn't just a wall, it contained defences of its own.

Tower of London
The most obvious are the crenellations, the up-and-down parts on top of the wall. They were named after the gaps from which bowmen could shoot, called crenels. The raised parts, providing cover for the bowmen, were called merlons. The wall walks behind the crenellations provided a high vantage point for lookouts and from which to fire on attackers.