York Castle in the 12th century

Clifford's Tower

Clifford’s Tower

Somewhere in the midst of plotting Book II of Battle Scars, For King and Country, I had a brilliant idea: Stephan l’Aigle must deliver a message to the Sheriff of York.

If you’ve been to York, you’ll recognize Clifford’s Tower. It is one of the few visible remains of York Castle.

A menacing keep on a motte overlooking the city – great for scene-setting, right? From my 2010 visit there and earlier research, I knew the Tower’s significance to Richard I’s reign. But I didn’t recall specifics about the dates of construction of the structure, so I put my research hat back on to hunt down the facts.

Like the gatehouse at Nottingham Castle, which I’d posted about last year, I discovered the current stone structure we know as Clifford’s Tower wasn’t built until the second half of the 1200s. In the summer of 1193, Stephan would have seen a timber keep called King’s Tower atop the motte. In fact, most of York Castle would have been timber. Surrounded by a moat on all sides, the motte and its castle were built by William the Conqueror in 1068-69, destroyed during an attack by the Danes and rebellious Northumbrians in 1069, and then rebuilt by William.

But Stephan wouldn’t have seen the keep built during William’s reign. He’d have seen newer construction. Over £207 in expenditures were recorded in the Pipe Rolls for 1191 to cover costs to replace the earlier keep and other buildings. They’d been set ablaze during the massacre of Jews there in March 1190. Excavations of the site in 1903 uncovered charred remains of the fire and revealed the artificially-created motte had been raised to its present level (approx. 50 feet high) when Henry III ordered the construction of the stone keep. Over £2000 were expended in that thirteen-year project between 1245-46 and 1258-59.

For a model of 14th century York Castle, see http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:York_Castle_diorama.JPG


Clifford’s Tower photo taken by me in 2010.

Cooper, T.P. (1911). The History of the Castle of York. London: Elliot Stock.

York Castle. on Wikipedia.

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One more step… one more word…

2012.02.26 end of the road lava flows (49)

At times, the way ahead looks desolate, insurmountable, and foreboding.
We place one foot in front of the other
– or in the case of a writer –
we add one word after another.
We stumble.
We look at the blank page
and the page after that and wonder what words will fill them.
We look back over our shoulder and
wonder if the road ahead is worth the effort.
But we dream,
and the dreams drive us forward.
One more step.
One more word…


photo by me: ‘end of the road’ lava flow
Volcanoes Nat’l Park, Hawaii
text originally posted Jan. 2013

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My writing retreat

typewriter keysI have always dreamed of going to a writing retreat. Give me a place with a view – nestled somewhere in the mountains or on the Cornish coast. (See my blog header – I’ll take a little room in one of those old fishermens’ cottages in St. Ives.) Even a small attic room looking out into a garden would be lovely. Well, I didn’t get to go to any of those locations over the holidays, but I did have a writing retreat of sorts. I spent 8 days house- & cat- sitting. Huge house. Just me & the cat.

This wasn’t a typical vacation where I spent a day on a plane or in a car, did lots of sightseeing, visited family and friends, tried to squeeze in some writing, and then fell onto the sofa exhausted each evening. This was writing time!

My body doesn’t know the meaning of ‘sleeping late,’ so the coffee was brewing by 6am most mornings and I was writing – editing – by 6:45 or 7. I worked until noon. On 2 mornings, I went to a local coffee shop and had breakfast and edited. I spent more time on the manuscript some afternoons, though not every day. I started reading 2 new books: Knight of Jerusalem by Helena Schrader and A Rip in the Veil by Anna Belfrage. I had intended to get more non-fiction research done (reading Ward’s English noblewomen in the later Middle Ages), but didn’t do too well on that front. I escaped the house and saw 3 movies (Hobbit #3, Night at the Museum #3, and The Imitation Game) and went shopping. I highly recommend all 3 movies.

2014.12 oreo2I generally stayed away from social media except to check in with a few friends. I did little to no marketing or networking. It was a lovely break.

I could have taken the time off work and just stayed home. But it was nice not to be in familiar surroundings. There are too many distractions at home. I didn’t have to think about dusting, laundry or the mess I left on the kitchen table. I had cable tv (which I don’t have at home) and my usual Netflix & Amazon for streaming in the evenings and, by the end of the week, a lap (or sink?) kitty.

And, best of all, I made great progress on revisions to Book 2 of Battle Scars, For King and Country:

  • cut another 2,500 words
  • 38% through round 2 of edits (I was at 12% on Dec. 17.)
  • sent specifications for a map to my mapmaker Dennis, who did great work for Men of the Cross

Now I’m back to my regular work schedule, which means I get 1-2 hours of editing/writing time a day (except on the weekends). Sigh. I won’t even predict when I’ll finish this round. But when it’s done, I’ll ship it off to a few beta readers and get their input. You know the routine… lather, rinse, repeat.

Have you been to a writers retreat? Do you have a favorite place to write, or what would be your ideal writing spot?

Typewriter keys photo by Steven Depolo used under CC-BY 2.0.


Get swept away to the 12th centuryMen of the Cross
Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.

Posted in Battle Scars, life, works in process, writing | 4 Comments

A new year…

Chapter 1, page 1

[This page intentionally blank.
Your 2015 starts here.
You have the power to make the most of it.
Live. Find the positive. Enjoy life.]


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Talking about the book: The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell

7482021Title: The Fifth Knight
Author: E.M. Powell

A tidbit about the author
E.M. is from Ireland, but currently lives in northwest England. Her debut novel, The Fifth Knight, was an Amazon #1 bestseller. She has family ties to Michael Collins, founder of the Irish Free State. Her agent calls her books “car chases with chainmail.”  Check out my interview of E.M.!

The story
When mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket, what begins as a clandestine arrest ends in cold-blooded murder. And when Fitzurse, the knights’ ringleader, kidnaps Theodosia, a beautiful young nun who witnessed the crime, Palmer can sit silently by no longer. He and Theodosia rely only on each other as they race to uncover the motive behind Becket’s murder—and the truth that could destroy a kingdom.
–from the book blurb.

The scene that made you laugh out loud or cheer
This is tough because to tell you the many places I cheered would mean giving away plot points. No spoilers allowed! So…let’s see… I cheered every time Palmer or Theodosia got the better of the bad guys.

One scene that made me laugh out loud is near the end of the book. Palmer has been rewarded for his service to King Henry. He has been presented with a fine stallion and a fancy saddle:

He picked up the ornate saddle and opened the door of the stall. “Definitely made for a king’s arse. Not mine,” he remarked to the horse.

“What’s that about my arse?” Henry’s face popped up over the partition between stalls.

Palmer colored redder than he ever had in his life. “Y-your Grace.” He bowed deeply and lowered the saddle to the floor. “A thousand apologies, sire. I didn’t know you were there.”

Henry snorted with laughter. “Obviously.”

The place where you wanted to throw the book across the room
Palmer can be far too patient with Theodosia. The man is trying to keep her safe and she spouts platitudes at him. She could be quite annoying. As an anchoress, she’d led a secluded existence, which obviously plays a huge part in her reactions to events. Most people choose this life freely, right? Theodosia had been forced into it as a child, and believed the rubbish she’d been fed. Agh! So sad and depressing. Powell created a situation that definitely hit on at extremely emotional level for me.

A memorable line
“I don’t know how saving a life is a sin. But you know far more about sin than I do.”
–Palmer to Theodosia

My verdict:   *****4.5 stars*****
I really enjoyed The Fifth Knight. And I *love* the title of the book. Even before I read the book blurb, I was already intrigued. Four knights murdered Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on the 29th of December 1170. Author Powell gives us a “What if?” scenario – a fifth knight, Benedict Palmer. The story opens with a wild storm on the English Channel. The writing is excellent, fast-paced. This book is a page-turner. Powell throws one obstacle after another in front of her main characters Palmer and Theodosia. Just when you think you can breathe easy, the story takes an unexpected turn. Life in the 12th century is painted vividly, as are the characters, including some of the nastiest villains you will ever meet.  I am looking forward to the sequel, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, available here in the U.S. on January 1, 2015

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“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…”

stockings hungMerry Christmas to All!


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Pirates, shipwreck, and the capture of a king . . . December 1192

Richard the Lionheart

Richard the Lionheart

On this anniversary of the surrender of Richard the Lionheart to Duke Leopold of Austria on December 20 (or the 21st), I thought I would take a look at the events in the Fall of 1192 and other historical background leading up to that day.

The Third Crusade ended with a truce in September. King Richard set sail for home on October 9, 1192.

Enemies – old rivalries, hatred, and politics
To the west, the quickest route to Richard’s realms was via Sicily and Marseille – the route he had taken in 1190/1191 to the Holy Land. But word reached Richard that he’d not find safe harbor in Marseille. Raymond, Count of Toulouse, an old enemy he’d engaged with in border disputes in Aquitaine, planned to seize him there.

There were ports west of Marseille, but Toulouse had conspired with the king of Aragon and Catalonia, cutting Richard’s access to Provence and northern Spain. There were also rumors that Genoese ships had been hired to watch for and intercept Richard. Skirting the north African coast to sail west and through the Straits of Gilbralter into the Atlantic would be far too dangerous. Seafaring men of the 12th century knew the hazards of winter sailing, and the best among them rarely ventured into the Mediterranean after the 1st of November.

Richard weighed his options as he approached Sicily. With the sea routes to the west cut off, his buss, a large galley called the Franche Nef, turned back and sailed into the Adriatic Sea.

Holy Roman Empire MapPirates & Shipwreck?
The Lionheart abandoned his buss in Corfu and, dependent on which history you read, either: 1) had a run-in with pirates; or 2) hired two privateer galleys for 200 marks. With a small group of trusted companions and the 2 galleys,  Richard sailed north from Corfu battered by one storm after another. In early December, the galleys were driven ashore by storms somewhere between Aquileia and Venice.

Overland Routes
Richard’s potential overland routes presented as many hazards as the sea routes. Travel west meant traversing the Kingdom of Italy (ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI), the treacherous passages through the Alps, and the lands of King Philip of France. The northeast route would take the returning crusaders through lands subject to Henry VI, and Leopold, Duke of Austria.

King Philip was no doubt delighted by Toulouse’s actions. Philip – supposedly Richard’s ally in the Holy Land – had returned to France after the fall of Acre in July 1191. He had invaded Richard’s lands in Normandy and stirred rebellion amongst Richard’s barons while Richard marched towards Jerusalem. Richard had also jilted Philip’s sister Alys to marry Berengaria of Navarre in 1191.

Henry VI had no love for Richard. His wife Constance had a strong claim to the throne of Sicily following the death of Richard’s brother-in-law William II. But Richard had supported Tancred’s accession there. Henry had also fought against another of Richard’s brothers-in-law, Henry of Saxony. And he was an ally of Duke Leopold of Austria, whom Richard had insulted after the siege of Acre. Highly offended when Richard ordered the removal of his banners, which had been raised above the city walls, Leopold returned to Austria.

Three hundred miles of enemy territory. Could Richard and his 20 companions make for Bohemia, a country whose ruler was no friend of Henry VI? From there, Richard could go to Saxony where his brother-in-law Henry the Lion ruled. Safe passage to a port on the North Sea would be assured.

Recognizing the higher western range of Alps presented a formidable barrier in the winter, Richard and his companions traveled northeast through the territory of Meinhard II of Gorza, an ally of Henry VI and nephew of Conrad of Montferrat. Montferrat, also cousin to Leopold of Austria, had been a claimant to the throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem whom Richard did not support. Richard had been accused of arranging his murder in the Holy Land.

Traveling Incognito
Richard had disguised himself as a merchant, but acting the part did not come natural. His large retinue spent lavishly and attracted the attention of the locals. And Richard’s reputation and looks – 6’5″ with reddish-gold hair – set him apart from most men. To keep Henry VI and Leopold off his scent, Richard agreed that the majority of his party would stay behind in the town of Friesach.

In the Annals, Roger de Hoveden provides text of a letter to Philip of France wherein Henry VI describes the chase:

“A faithful subject of ours, the Count Maynard of Gortze, and the people of that district, hearing that he [Richard] was in their territory, and calling to mind the treason and treachery and accumulated mischief he had been guilty of in the Land of Promise, pursued him with the intention of making him prisoner. However, the king taking to flight, they captured eight knights of his retinue. Shortly after, the king proceeded to a borough…which is called Frisi, where Frederic de Botesowe took six of his knights…”

The plan had worked, and Richard was long gone with two companions, William de l’Etang and a German-speaking boy he had hired. At one point, they raced almost 150 miles in 3 days. Fifty miles from the safety of the Moravian border, Richard stopped in the Vienna suburb of Erdburg. Ill with fever and exhausted by his ordeals, he was unable to go any further until he rested.

Unfortunately, the German boy raised suspicions when he went out for food on three successive days. His manner and his dress, which included a fine pair of Richard’s gloves, were reported to Henry VI’s secret police. The boy was questioned. Whether he led soldiers to Richard or told them his location under torture is not clear. And the circumstances of Richard’s seizure are also disputed: he was either abed with fever or pretending to be a chef in the kitchen. A chef wearing a large signet ring would have been highly unusual (but it certainly makes for great fiction)!

The contemporary chronicles report that Richard refused to surrender to the soldiers who came for him, and insisted he would give himself up only to Duke Leopold. Leopold imprisoned Richard at Durnstein Castle. Though the Pope had declared safe passage for men who had taken the Cross, that did not deter Richard’s enemies. Philip of France, Henry VI, and Leopold of Austria – their hatred for the King of England must have been intense for them to risk excommunication. Leopold turned Richard over to Henry VI, and reports of machinations between Philip and Henry VI continued over the course of about 13 months. Philip conspired with Richard’s brother John, Count of Mortain, offering Henry more silver to keep Richard imprisoned while John secured his hold on England. Eventually, in February 1194, Richard was released for the ransom of 150,000 marks.

Note: the translation of the Itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi notes December 20 as the date of Richard’s capture; other sources note the 21st.


De Hoveden, R. (1853).  The annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn. (Original work published 1201?) Gillingham, J. (1978).

Richard the Lionheart. New York: Times Books. McLynn, F. (2006).

Lionheart and Lackland: King Richard, King John and the wars of conquest. London: Jonathan Cape.

Nicholson, H., & Stubbs, W., trans. (1997). Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi. Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate.

Painting of Richard the Lionheart by Merry-Joseph Blondel in Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Map of the Holy Roman Empire by Dennis Lukowski as commissioned by the author for Men of the Cross, and used with the artist’s permission.


Get swept away to the 12th centuryMen of the Cross

Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
e-book now on sale now through December 25 for $1.99/£1.31
for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.

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