Monday, 30 March 2015

Fascinating Facts: Edward III

Fascinating facts: Edward III [1327-1377]

  • When he was crowned, at 14, his father was still alive, and his mother Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer ruled as Regents.
  • He was tall and handsome, with red-blonde hair. He was the ideal knight, strong, aggressive and skilled at feats of arms.
  • He liked magnificence in dress and kept an opulent court.
  • Edward had no instruction in kingship but learned from the Regents what not to do, and read widely in English history.
  • He fought the Scots and the French, including the famous battle at Crécy in August 1346. Edward put heart into his troops, riding up and down their ranks on a warhorse, and the battle was won.
  • He had such a splendid court, and was so lavish, that he was compared to King Arthur, and in the manner of the Round Table, in 1348 he inaugurated the Order of the Garter.
  • At the moment of his greatest success, the kingdom was struck by the Black Death. One third of the population died including two of his children.
  • When the plague was over, Edward and his grown sons fought in France again, and eventually gained Aquitaine in return for renouncing his claim to the French throne.
  • Edward had the misfortune to outlive his glory. In his last years, weak and feeble-minded, he fell under the control of his Chamberlain and Steward, who enriched themselves at his expense and tarnished the high reputation of the court.
  • When he died he was alone. His mistress Alice Peres came, not to comfort him, but to steal the rings from his fingers.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Meet Tabitha Enns, Trainee on the Kestrel

Today I'm continuing my series introducing the main characters from my science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel.

Tabitha Enns is a young woman from the first Earth colony, Alpha. The gravity there is twice that of Earth, so the first colonists had to wear powered exo-skeletons, but over the generations their bodies have adapted by becoming short and stocky. This means they are fast and strong in Earth-normal gravity. Over the years the colony has become insular, having little to do with other humans or alien races.

Tabitha always wanted to see the rest of the galaxy, but it took a long time to persuade her father to let her apply to PACT. Her mother never agreed. She joined the PACT Training School on Alpha and her enthusiasm quickly took her to the top of the class. She was about to transfer to the main training facility on Earth to do her last year of advanced training, when the Kestrel arrived at Alpha looking for a top student as an emergency replacement crewman.

Before she knew it, she was on board, excited but scared stiff she would do something wrong. She was initially appalled at having to share a cabin with a man, but Andrew Chambers took her under his wing. Apart from an initial bout of space sickness caused by lack of training to acclimatise her to the lighter gravity, she settled in very well and proved to be a useful addition to the crew.

Through her, we get to know the various characters in the book, especially the alien representatives who join the mission. To keep them busy, they are asked to teach her about their race and culture, and pass on their area of expertise.

All is not plain sailing, however, since Roy Stubbs, the assistant engineer, takes a shine to her. His advances are not welcome, but she doesn't know how to discourage him without being rude. She wishes she had been allowed to have boyfriends so she had some experience of how to handle men.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Fascinating Facts: Edward II

This is a king I'm very familiar with, and so will be anyone who has read my book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. Edward II is the king that caused all the trouble for Alina, by being so weak and allowing Hugh le Despenser to wrap him round his little finger.

Fascinating Facts: Edward II [1307-1327]

Monday, 16 March 2015

Kidwelly Castle Outing

To make a change from all these posts full of history facts, I thought I would share some photos of Kidwelly Castle I took today.

My husband is from Kidwelly and we went to his mother's grave with flowers for Mothers Day yesterday. We called in at the Gatehouse Cafe for drinks and cake on the way back, and went for a little walk by the castle.

The Gatehouse Cafe - outside the gatehouse
Unfortunately it is shut this week for maintenance, but I usually see it from the inside, so it was interesting to go down by the River Gwendraeth and see it from outside for a change.

The castle from the river bank
When you look up at it you can see why it was so daunting for prospective attackers, and what a great position it commands over the river. The river was wide and deep enough to allow a range of ships to bring supplies and trade right up to the castle and so to the town of Kidwelly.

The town used to be a bustling, busy place but is now very quiet. Just a stop on the way between Llanelli and Carmarthen. Below the castle was a watermill, now an antiques shop, and across the river is St Mary's Church. Like most places there is a legend of a tunnel between the church and the castle, but it would have to be a very deep tunnel to get under the river. I have my doubts.

We walked up some steps cut into the hill, from the river up to the castle gate. I was quite surprised, looking back, that I made it! You can just see the river far below.

I can recommend a visit if you are in Carmarthenshire. Kidwelly Castle is the best preserved castle of its age in the UK. You can go up the towers and down the dungeons and walk along the battlements. You can even stand above the gate and look down through the slot where the portcullis was lowered and through the holes where they poured boiling oil on attackers!

Outside the castle they have set up a stone in memory of Gwenllian. She is not the Gwenllian I wrote about a year ago but you may like to read about it here. This Gwenllian lived in Kidwelly Castle and is famous for leading  the defense of the castle when her husband was away. The stone bears her name and the date 1136. Maybe I'll write about her too one day.

It was a grey spring day, and it started raining on the way home, but I found it quite atmospheric. Maybe we'll go back in the summer and I'll share some photos of the inside in the sunshine.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Meet Mike Holland, First Officer on the Kestrel

Mike Holland is the First Officer of The Kestrel and Captain Darrow's right hand man – but not for long. The unusual thing about the Flight of the Kestrel series is that some of the crew change, during a book or in between books. It is the nature of the work in PACT's Fast Response fleet, that crewmen move between ships and sometimes leave the service and move on to other things. There are enough constant characters to keep readers happy, but it adds to the tension when they don't know who will stay or go.

At the beginning of the Kestrel series, Mike Holland is leaving, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't make an impact. He has been on the Kestrel for 5 years, working with Captain Joseph Darrow. It was Darrow who promoted him to First Officer, and recommended him for his own command.

Holland has the traditional hero looks - tall, dark and handsome. Darrow has used this to advantage on occasion, because when he and Holland stand together, people can easily mistake Holland for the Captain. But Holland is not cocky, he has taken the time to learn all he can from his crewmates.

He has also taken the time to get to know the crew, which can be a double-edged sword. You can't be friends and their commanding officer too. When he leaves, his replacement finds it hard because the crew are used to a softer approach.

He has been promoted to Captain, and due to take over the Falcon, but there is one last mission, and what they discover means he has to take over sooner so the Kestrel can go on a dangerous mission – without him. So we hardly get to know Holland before he is gone.

His leaving puts Captain Darrow in a tricky spot, because there is no one available to replace him. Either he should stay with the Kestrel, or the Kestrel should be withdrawn from patrol until another First Officer is found. But Admiral Keever insists that Holland is needed on the Falcon and Darrow and the Kestrel are needed on this vital mission.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Alina Talk in School

Today I gave a talk to the seven-year-olds in Oystermouth Primary School. It was my first Alina talk to children, and the first time I used my new Powerpoint slides.

I had a great time, and the children seemed to enjoy it. It was strange to hear a chorus of 'Good morning Mrs Thomas.' I also learned a lot. For instance, they liked it that some of the children had the same names as people in the story. I hadn't thought of that. I also learned to be careful of the words I use – I said that Alina's husband was executed, and they didn't know what it meant.

I managed to involve them by getting them to try to say 'Gillaume de Briouze' when I said he changed his name to 'William de Braose' to make it easier to say. Then they had to remember that Hugh le Despenser the Younger was the king's best friend. They were all impressed to find out that Hugh became a pirate and later that Alina was locked up in the Tower of London.

One little boy was very nervous when he heard about Alina's ghost, so I did my best to reassure them. Some people don't believe in ghosts, but if you do, it's just that Alina loved Oystermouth Castle so much and it's where she died, so she doesn't want to leave. I told them she only comes out at night, and only walks around, so she won't even take any notice of you.

I had some odd questions afterwards. One boy wanted to know how people died, and they loved hearing that some people had their heads chopped off and some were hanged. One girl asked how old Alina was when she died, and I didn't know, but guessed about 35 (she was 40). They were horrified so I had to explain people were old in those days when they were 40, because they had such hard lives and no medicine, so they would even die of the 'flu.

The Powerpoint worked OK, but I need a prompt sheet to remind me which slide comes next, which I got wrong several times. I'm going to work on it, and when it's done I'll produce a Slideshare version you can all see.

I didn't charge a fee, but I think I'd like to do more, just for the fun of it, and who knows where the news might spread and lead to more sales?

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Magna Carta Story

A later copy of Magna Carta
My new history book is finished!

This one is not really a story from medieval Gower, but I will be including it in the series, since it came out of my Broken Reed book. I've been talking about it ever since last July, when I first got the idea and pitched it to a publisher – who promptly closed down!

But I was convinced it was a good idea, so I went ahead anyway. I introduced it in October as MagnaCarta Demystified but wasn't happy with the title. I wanted to indicate that it was a popular history, told as a story, but with all the facts correct, like my other books.

It is now called The Magna Carta Story and the blurb calls it 'a layman's guide'. Here you will find the background and the intrigue and the bad behaviour. You will also find a chapter explaining what Magna Carta actually said, with a translation in the Appendix if you really want the actual words.

I've published a couple of extracts. The Introduction was a blog post called Magna CartaDebunked, and part of the chapter on what it actually says was a post called Magna Carta for Free Men.

The text is finished, and the illustrations are found. I'm having it read by a few people to check it for readability and clarity, and then I'll be publishing it. I'm going to have the cover design the same as my other two books, so I have a lovely drawing done by Carrie Francis for the last book which I'll be using. Next week I will be seeing the printer who put my last cover together.

So – watch this space!!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Meet Joseph Darrow, Captain of The Kestrel

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be introducing the crew members of the Kestrel, the spaceship my series of books are about. Work is progressing on the changes needed after a professional edit. I'll keep you posted on developments.

So, let's meet the Kestrel's Captain. In a film, he would be played by Michael Sheen, but without the beard.

If you met Joseph Darrow, you would not think him remarkable. You would probably pass him by in the street. British, with brown curly hair and brown eyes, average height and build, if you didn't see his armband colour, you would think that his First Officer, who is the tall, handsome one, was the Captain. Which he has sometimes used to advantage.

Darrow is in his forties, and married to the job. And he does the job well. There was a girlfriend once, but she wasn't prepared to be left behind for months at a time. His First Officer, Mike Holland, has served with him for 5 years, and when he is promoted, Darrow's old friend Nathaniel Parks steps in temporarily. They are both delighted when he is able to stay on.

He has very strong ethics – fair play, honesty, duty & loyalty - to PACT and to his crew. He is a stickler for rules. Back when he was a Lieutenant, he broke a rule to help a friend, but the friend died. He vowed never to break the rules again – but it doesn't always work out that way.
 Keeping the rules is not always the best course of action. Sometimes right and wrong are not clear-cut.

He is level-headed and responsible, he knows right and wrong, and there is no question what he will do. But some of his standards are challenged. Some of the situations the Kestrel crew has got into could have been pretty nasty if he hadn't been so quick-witted and inventive. So far all his risks have paid off.

He has had few dealings with first contact, until Intruders, the first story. He has a keen interest in mysteries, especially on other worlds. He is the one who puts together the separate incidents which point to the Intruders, after investigating the disappearance of 
quartz at a mining accident. Being sent on a mission to track down the Intruders breaks several rules, and causes him to struggle.

Despite his nondescript appearance, he is strong in command. Understanding, but doesn't stand for any nonsense. When the Kestrel plays host to representatives from six different alien races, in addition to the crew, in a space designed for 11 crew, it is Darrow who keeps it all together, aided by his old friend Parks.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Fascinating Facts: Edward I

Here is the next in my series on the kings of England:

Fascinating Facts: Edward I [1272-1307]

  • He was named after the saintly Edward the Confessor, but took after Richard the Lionheart.
  • He made a political marriage to Eleanor of Castile, but became devoted to her and they had 16 children.
  • At 26, he won a decisive battle in the civil war, and took over the reins of the kingdom, his father King Henry III took a back seat.
  • He went on crusade and operated out of Acre for sixteen months.
  • He became known as 'the greatest lance in the world'.
  • He returned to England nearly two years after the death of his father, to a hero's welcome and a magnificent coronation.
  • At the coronation he removed the crown and vowed never to wear it until he restored all the lands his father had given away.
  • He had the entire country surveyed and brought in new laws on landholding, military recruitment and obligation, and civil and criminal procedure. This was unprecedented, and became the foundation of the British legal system.
  • In 1284 Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was killed and Edward annexed Wales. Edward's fourth son and eventual successor, Edward, was given the title Prince of Wales.
  • William Wallace and Robert Bruce fought against him.