Things I collect…

What obsess—er, collections do you have? I am quite purposeful in my collecting, though I don’t look to collect things with an aim to leave fabulous treasures or wealth to my heirs. (Sorry, kids.) I collect items that make me smile, bring back a memory. Things that can be used or played with.

I have keychains…

2014 keychains SW 2014 keychains ukand coffee mugs…

2014 mugs uk 2014 mugsand Fetts and R2-D2s…

2014 boba collection 2014 R2D2sDid I make you smile? :)

Posted in life | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Reading non-fiction for my fiction…

books for my researchIt was great to read Patricia Bracewell’s articles on early Roman roads in England on English Historical Fiction Authors (EHFA) – very timely given that in the upcoming sequel to Men of the Cross, Henry de Grey’s fictional manor lies about one mile west of Ermine Street in Lincolnshire. It was also heartening to see Patricia’s note on her own blog: “Whenever I put together a history-related blog post, it’s not something I’m writing off the top of my head even if the material springs from research I’ve been doing for the past nine years.”

I have spent extra time the last 2-3 weeks reviewing primary resources for my upcoming post about Messina on EHFA. And you may recall my search for information on the siege at Wallingford here.  Writing a Third Crusade novel meant knowing about medieval warfare as well as the events, major players, and politics of the time. The second book in my Battle Scars series takes place in the year following the Crusade, 1193-1194, and gives me the opportunity to learn more about social life and living conditions specifically in 12th century England. My background research includes topics such as:

  • medieval houses – sizes, materials used to build, layout
  • life on the manor
  • crops, trees, animals
  • Forests (with a capital “F”) and woodlands and fens

Here are a few of the books I’m using:

Land and people in medieval Lincolnshire
Power and profit: the merchant in medieval Europe
The English Mediaeval House
A social history of England, 900-1200

(See the complete citations on my Reference Resources page.)

I wish I could read something once and commit it to memory, but no – I find myself going back to review time and again. Are you one of those lucky writers with a brain that traps every word for future use?


ignore the enemy

My novel, Men of the Cross, is available in print and for Kindle
on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide,
for Nook via Barnes & Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.

Posted in historical fiction, research, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Faced with a scene that just isn’t working? What’s a writer to do?


Lincoln Castle

Battle Scars Book 2, For King and Country, centers on events in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire from April 1193 until Richard the Lionheart’s return from captivity and the subsequent siege of Nottingham Castle in 1194.

I am about 2/3rds through edits on my first draft, and approaching a mini-climax that I have been stewing over for weeks. I had laid the basics of the scene in my rough draft, but the concept left me wanting.

When I know the end result of a scene, I’ll often work backwards to determine how that scene needs to unfold. Have you ever found yourself doing this? I’ll ask the ‘what if?’ questions. What are all the possible options? What characters need to be on stage?

I knew a character was going to die. (Oh no!) The death seemed meaningless the way I’d written the original draft. Oh sure, it was sad. But predictable? An easy solution? Ugh. I wanted and needed a meaningful death, a heroic death. Will this doomed character be revealed as friend? Or as foe? The scene must explode on the paper (er, computer screen). It needs to leave the readers’ hearts racing. Henry de Grey’s family lives near Lincoln. Lincoln Castle kept looming in my thoughts. Underlying political intrigue. Conflict.

The ideas came together on Sunday morning. I jotted down a dozen ‘what ifs’ and suddenly everything jelled. Gotta love those Eureka! moments. The first 550 words are written. Onwards…

On a slightly unrelated note, Joel Friedlander, the Book Designer, commented on the design of Men of the Cross in his monthly e-Book Cover Design Award post: “A strong and attractive cover that implies enough to get us interested. Not sure you really need the red sash but, overall, a very nice job.”


Image attribution:  “A view of the observatory tower of Lincoln Castle” by LysNanna – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons


tweet pic2

My novel, Men of the Cross, is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes & Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.

Posted in Battle Scars, historical fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

fifty shades of…12th century England

research books

one pile of my 12th century research materials

Forgive the “fifty shades” reference. I almost called this “fifty shades of de Grey” – de Grey being the surname of main character Sir Henry in Men of the Cross, but I thought better of it. :)  I’ve intended this to spark interest/amazement/horror for those who aren’t so familiar with the 12th century, and I’ve included a number of facts related to the Third Crusade. Enjoy these bits of trivia:

  1. Henry I (reigned 1100-1135) named his daughter Matilda (aka Empress Maud) as his successor, but his nobles chose to name Matilda’s cousin Stephen as king on Henry’s death.
  2. The Anarchy, aka “when Christ and his saints slept” (which is a translated quote from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle), lasted from 1135 – 1154 when Matilda (mother of Henry II) and her cousin Stephen fought to reign over England (see #1).
  3. The crown did not automatically pass to the oldest child: Stephan (reigned 1135-1154) passed over his eldest surviving son and named Henry (son of his rival Matilda) as his successor.
  4. Women could inherit property.
  5. The nobility were generally of Norman descent. (Remember William the Conqueror, 1066?)
  6. “Corn” was any cereal grain (not maize, which wasn’t introduced to Europe until the 15th or 16th century). Corn = wheat, barley, rye, etc.
  7. Many manor houses were built of timber. Stone was for the wealthiest landowners and saw increased use after the Norman Conquest as the new Norman rulers built their castles as symbols of their power.
  8. Below the nobility, church officials, and knights, there were some freeman, but a large percentage of the population were villeins, including serfs (slaves), who owed service to the lord of the manor. Service, which varied from place to place, usually included 3 days of work per week (more during harvest) for the right to live & work their own plots of land.
  9. A warhorse (aka destrier) might cost in excess of 50 shillings. Mail for the knight: 100 shillings.
  10. William, Henry, Roger, John and Geoffrey were very popular boys’ names.
  11. William, Henry, Geoffrey, and John were Richard the Lionheart’s brothers; Henry (the II) was his father.
  12. Henry II’s illegitimate sons were also named Geoffrey and William.
  13. Richard I was born in Oxford, England. Neither of his parents were English: Henry II was French from Anjou; Eleanor was from Aquitaine.
  14. Maud, Alice, Margaret, Joan and Isabel were popular women’s names.
  15. Taxes were too high (even back then!)
  16. A baron (like Henry de Grey’s father in Men of the Cross) might owe the crown £100 a year for scuttage, which might be paid in cash, in service and/or in crops/goods.
  17. Ermine Street ran from London to York (via Lincoln); it had been constructed during the Roman occupation hundreds of years earlier. (It was one of 4 major royal roads, which novelist Patricia Bracewell just wrote about on EHFA.)
  18. Traveling 40 miles a day was quite a feat on horseback. Whilst running from Duke Leopold in Austria, Richard I traveled 50 miles a day for 3 days in an attempt to reach the safety of the Moravian border. Imagine an army with hundreds of supply wagons, men on foot, and knights: in the Holy Land, Richard’s army of approximately 15,000 traveled anywhere from 2 – 13 miles per day.
  19. The language of the upper classes was Anglo-Norman, a French dialect.
  20. Peasants spoke what we’d call Old English though the influences of the Norman language led to the transformation to Middle English.
  21. Latin was the language used for official written records.
  22. It was a mortal sin to have sex that was not specifically meant for procreation; however, a trip to the confessional would get you a penance of a few Pater Nosters or a small fine.
  23. It was a mortal sin to have sex in any position except man-on-top/woman-on-bottom (see above for penance).
  24. There were no civil laws on the books against homosexuality in England until the second half of the 13th century. [Note: I've lost my reference for this: if you can point me to it I would appreciate it!].
  25. Bathing was more common in the Middle Ages than in the 19th century: many towns  had public bath houses. It was reported that when King John (reigned 1199-1216) traveled around his kingdom, he took a bathtub with him.
  26. The most dysfunctional family of the 12th century surely must have been Henry II, Eleanor, and their brood.
  27. Henry II imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, from 1173-1189 for her role in his sons’ rebellion.
  28. Eleanor was 9 years older than Henry; they married after her marriage to the king of France was annulled.
  29. John, young Henry, and Geoffrey speaking to their brother Richard: “Mom always liked you best!”
  30. Henry II (reigned 1154-1189) could not read.
  31. Henry II crowned his successor Henry while he still lived. Henry was known as “the young king.” He died in 1183, a victim of dysentery.
  32. Eleanor accompanied her first husband Louis VII of France on the Second Crusade in the 1140s.
  33. Eleanor outlived  8 of her 10 children (2 by 1st marriage to Louis VII; 8 by Henry II; only son John and daughter Eleanor (by Henry) survived her.
  34. Thomas Becket, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry II, was murdered in December 1170 by four of Henry II’s overzealous knights after Henry reputedly said “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (or something along that line dependent on which biography you read).
  35. King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart, ruled 1189-1199) spent only 6 months in England during his reign.
  36. Richard set out for the Holy Land in 1190, marching his army to Marseille to rendezvous with the fleet to sail to the Holy Land in the summer of 1190.
  37. Most of Richard’s fleet failed to meet him in Marseille: they’d been arrested whilst in Portugal for too much wine, women and gambling.
  38. Some legends of Robin Hood place him with Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade.
  39. Whilst the armies of Richard of England and Philip of France wintered in Messina, Sicily in 1190/1191, gambling by ordinary soldiers and sailors was banned except in the presence of their officers.
  40. The price of bread in Messina during the fall & winter of 1190/1191 was fixed by the kings (Richard, Philip, and Tancred) at 1 penny per loaf.
  41. Richard was betrothed to Alais (Alys or Alice), sister of King Philip of France, in 1169; they never tied the knot, Richard claiming his father slept with Alys. She was raised as Henry II’s ward in England from the age of 8 for about 22 years, until Richard married Berengaria of Navarre in May 1191 in Cyprus.
  42. Richard’s fleet finally arrived in the Holy Land in June, laid siege to, and captured Acre by mid-July. Richard insulted Duke Leopold of Austria whilst in Acre by ordering the Duke’s banner removed from the city ramparts. Richard’s men trampled the Duke’s banner. Leopold would not forget this insult.
  43. The Muslim chronicler Baha’ al-Din wrote that Richard was “a man of great courage and spirit.”
  44. The deadliest battle of the Third Crusade was the Battle of Arsuf on 7 Sept 1191 – casualties were estimated at 700 Christians and 7,000 Muslims.
  45. Washer-women were the only women allowed to accompany the army on the march to Jerusalem (August 1191-July 1192). However, Richard did bring his queen Berengaria and his sister Joanna to Jaffa in mid-fall 1191 when that town was secured.
  46. The crusader army came within 12 miles of Jerusalem – twice – but never laid siege to, or re-took, it from Muslim hands.
  47. A 3 year truce was signed between Richard I and Salah al-Din in September 1192. The Christians did maintain control of many coastal cities lost to the Muslims in the 1180s and Christian pilgrims were allowed into the Holy City.
  48. Duke Leopold’s soldiers captured Richard near Vienna, Austria, on 20 December 1192. According to a German chronicler, Richard was caught in the kitchen roasting meat and wearing a magnificent ring, though this tale is disputed by English chroniclers.
  49. Bows of composite wood, horn, and sinew replaced all wood bows; this increased the weapon’s power and range.
  50. John, younger brother of Richard I, plotted with King Philip of France to usurp Richard’s throne whilst he was on Crusade. John and Philip offered the Holy Roman Emperor money to keep Richard imprisoned rather than release him when the ransom of 150,000 marks was paid.


Get swept away to the 12th century



My novel, Men of the Cross, is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes & Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.



Posted in research | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

moments in Third Crusade history – 7 september 1191 – the Battle of Arsuf

"Schlacht von Arsuf." Licensed under Public domain.

“Schlacht von Arsuf.” Licensed under Public domain.

Richard the Lionheart’s crusader army marched south from Acre on the 22nd day of August. Estimated to be 15,000-20,000 strong, they advanced slowly at first, marching 2 or 3 miles a day. Saladin wasted no time: his cavalry harassed King Richard’s troops every step of the way.

As the men became acclimatized to the heat, their marches began before sunrise to cover 10-13 miles a day. The troops would halt by midday, and they’d often rest a day. Between August 25 – August 30, they covered 36 miles. By the 5th day of September, they’d advanced another 23 miles. The Muslim chronicler Baha al-Din wrote that Saracen drummers and trumpeters played as their troops charged the Franks – a term they used for all European Christians. The Muslims would cry out ‘Allah huwa Akbar’ and fall on the crusaders in one cavalry charge after another. King Richard was wounded slightly during a skirmish on September 3rd, but he fought all the more fiercely. The author of the Itinerarium writes:

“the wound was only a touch and actually incited him to attack the enemy as he was greedy to seek revenge for the pain of the wound.”

holy-land-mapsmallRFears ran high as the army marched through the Forest of Arsuf on 5 September. Rumors spread that the Saracens would set fire to the forest whilst the crusaders passed. Per Ambroise:

The unbelieving black-faced brood,
Had hid themselves in Arsur wood,
Which that day they would set on fire,
Kindling it to a blaze so dire 
And fearsome that ‘twould burn and roast
Our army.

Much to their relief the army marched through the forest without incident. The way was narrow and Saladin’s troops could not shadow them and had skirted further to the east. The crusaders emerged from the forest near the banks of the River Rochetaillie. Saladin’s army was camped on the south side of the river. And there they rested two nights within sight of each other, each watching the other’s campfires burn throughout the night.

At sunrise on 7 September, King Richard ordered his men to move out. He had given the troops strict orders not to break rank no matter what the Saracens did. The crusaders’ baggage train rumbled along the western flank nearest the sea. The infantry lined the eastern flank armed with shields, crossbows, and lances to ward off attacks and to protect the knights’ horses. They had marched three hours when the Saracens attacked the rearguard in what began the fiercest battle of the Third Crusade. An estimated 20,000 Saracens met the crusader army on a 1-2 mile wide plateau that skirted the Mediterranean Sea.

Saladin’s strategy aimed to draw the crusaders out of their tight formation, but King Richard knew that with each attack, Saladin’s men and their horses would grow weaker. Had Saladin been successful and forced a gap between the crusaders’ van- and rearguards, the battle would have played out much differently. The Hospitaller commander Fra’ Garnier de Nablus urged King Richard to order a charge – the infantry had to march backwards to stave off the Saracen attacks. Casualties were mounting. So many horses had succumbed to enemy arrows, de Nablus said they’d not be able to charge when the order did come down. By mid afternoon, Saladin broadened his assaults along the length of the army’s eastern flank. King Richard still would not bend, but men in the rearguard grew desperate. They broke rank and began the charge. There was no turning back. The trumpets blared the signal and the Templars, Poitevins, French, and Bretons joined the Hospitaller charge. The Anglo-Normans held back to guard the royal standard, and as a second line of attack.

Muslim chronicler Bahāʼ al-Dīn writes:

“. . . the sultan [Saladin] was moving between the left wing and the right, urging the men on . . . Several times I encountered him, when he was attended by only two pages with two spare mounts and that was all . . . while the arrow were flying past them both.

The enemy’s situation worsened still more . . . They took their lances and gave a shout as one man. The infantry opened gaps for them and they charged in unison along their whole line . . . Our men gave way before them.”

Surprised by the all-out assault, Saladin’s troops pulled back to avoid being encircled by the crusaders. Regrouping, the Saracens charged a second time. Attack, counter-attack. Several of the contemporary writers note that many of the Muslim cavalry ‘purposely’ dismounted in order to take better aim at the crusaders. King Richard’s order for the full charge thus came as a surprise. Geoffrey de Vinsauf writes: “In truth, the Turks were furious in the assault, and greatly distressed our men, whose blood poured forth in a stream beneath their blows . . . For all that, the king, mounted on a bay Cyprian steed, which had not its match, bounded forward in the direction of the mountains, and scattered those he met on all sides ; for the enemy fled from his sword and gave way. . .”

By nightfall the fighting had ended. Seven thousand Saracens had died. The Christian losses were a tenth of that number. A deadly day. A major victory for the crusaders.



Ambroise. (1976). The crusade of Richard Lion-Heart. (Trans. by M.J. Hubert.) New  York: Octagon.

Bohm, H., ed. (2004). Chronicles of the Crusades: contemporary narratives. London: Kegan Paul.

Evans, Mark L. (2001). “Battle of Arsuf: climatic clash of cross and crescent,” in Military History, 18:3.

Ibn al-Athīr, ʻIzz al-Din. (2007). The chronicle of ibn al-athīr for the crusading period from al-kāmil fi’l-ta’rīkh. (Trans by Richards, D. S.) Aldershot ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Ibn Shaddād, Bahāʼ al-Dīn. (2001) . The rare and excellent history of Saladin, or, al-Nawādir al-Sultaniyya wa’l-Mahasin al-Yusufiyya. (Trans by Richards, D. S.) Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate.

Miller, David. (2003). Richard the Lionheart: the mighty crusader. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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

Map of the Holy Land, c2014 Dennis Lukowski, commissioned by the author and used with his permission.

“Schlacht von Arsuf” via Wikimedia Commons.


My novel, Men of the Cross, is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes & Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.

tweet pic2

Posted in research | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

feeling war through a character’s eyes

Let me take you to Outremer with the knights of Richard the Lionheart…

ignore the enemyThe term PTSD  – post-traumatic stress syndrome – was given its name in the 1970s during the Vietnam conflict. Shakespeare has a scene in Henry IV, Part 2¹ (written in 1597) that describes it, though generations have ignored or glossed over it for hundreds of years. During World War I, it was called “shell shock.” While PTSD is commonly associated with the effects of war, any traumatic event can trigger it.

War is a central theme in my novel. War leaves its scars on young Henry de Grey. Henry’s idealism about the mission to take Jerusalem back from Saladin and his naiveté about war fade as he sees brutal acts done in God’s name.

“Midst war atrocity and soldier camaraderie, [the knights] force themselves to question their own stolid values and their relationships. Their life and lifestyle decisions are as hard fought as those of the battlefield. The scars of war cause them to rethink everything about their lives – except loyalty to their King.”
(from a review by Mark Rogers, Fiction House Publishing)

I had to put myself there. See what Henry saw. Feel what he felt. I also had to see Henry through Stephan l’Aigle’s eyes:

[Stephan] had walked through battlefields where men lay sprawled, eyes blank, staring at the sky with lance, bow, or sword at their sides. He’d never really seen those men, never felt their deaths or thought twice of the carnage until he’d met Henry and felt Henry’s pain.

Can a writer who has never been in the thick of battle even come close to imagining what it must be like? The words did not come easily, but I hope you will find that I captured the fear, the exhilaration, and the horrors or war in Men of the Cross.


¹Thank you to Sharon Kay Penman for mentioning the Shakespeare reference in one of her own blog posts.


Men of the Cross is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes & Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.

Posted in Battle Scars, book reviews, historical fiction, research | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

visual inspiration and the writer

Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Castle

As someone who grew up with television, visuals have always been important to me. Can’t you get a sense of time, of place, from those period dramas? Translating that to paper – or to computer screen – is still the most difficult thing for me.

As a writer of historical fiction, I have to be careful. I visited Nottingham in 2010 and took this photo of the gatehouse.

ACTION! Picture knights on the towers, archers, flights of arrows darkening the sky. Hear orders shouted out, the rumble of wagons, the stone throwers slinging huge boulders that smash into the curtain wall.

CUT! This gatehouse did not exist in 1193!

Fortunately, I knew that as I dove into my first draft of the sequel to Men of the Cross. Still, the photo is a wonderful inspiration. I can still have my siege at Nottingham Castle and have wonderful resources to pull upon, including Drage’s Nottingham Castle, a Place Full Royal, Briscoe & Lever’s A concise history of Nottingham Castle, and Foulds’ “The Siege of Nottingham Castle in 1194.”

Writers – where do you find inspiration?

Posted in Battle Scars, historical fiction, research, writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment