Friday, December 13, 2013

A dearth of evidence can be overcome! Guest post by Nancy Jardine

"Ravaged by war
…AD 71. After the battle at Whorl, Brennus of Garrigill is irrevocably changed. 

Returning to Marske, Ineda finds her grandmother dead, though Brennus is not. Snared by a Roman patrol, they are marched to Witton where he is forced to labour for the Roman IX Legion. 

Embracing his new identity as Bran, Brennus vows to avert Roman occupation of northernmost Brigantia. Ineda becomes his doughty spying accomplice, though sometimes she’s too impetuous. Trading with the Romans lends excellent opportunities for information gathering. Over time, Bran’s feelings for Ineda mar
with  his loyalty to Ineda’s father. 

When she disappears, and cannot be found, Bran enters direct service with Venutius, King of the Brigantes. "


Today I'd like to welcome guest blogger Nancy Jardine, who is celebrating the launch of her new novel, After Whorl-Bran Reborn, the second book in her Celtic Fervour series.   The Beltane Choice, first in the trilogy, has received enthusiastic reviews, including such comments as "powerfully sensual," "authentic and original and rooted thoroughly in the past," and "a stunning and truly believable evocation of life as it is likely to have been lived in Northern Britain in 71 A.D." (this last by archaeologist Mark Patton). 

How does one research such a long-ago, minimally-documented period?  I was curious, so I invited Nancy to talk about her research here.  I think you'll find her explanation as fascinating as I did.  Here's Nancy:

Nancy Jardine

A dearth of evidence can be overcome!

Researching the era of AD 71-84 in northern Britannia.

Imagine this scenario. You’ve managed to get a day pass to the best possible library for a historical project that you’re researching.

“If you require more help, please ask.”

Distracted by the voice of the librarian you become aware that you’ve stopped at an almost clear desk that’s been allocated for your study: three books resting upon it. Only three books?

That hollow feeling engulfed me some time ago when I realised just how few written prime sources exist for researching the northern territory of Roman Britain, during the period of AD 71- 84, the target time slot for my Celtic Fervour series of historical romantic adventures. Images from the period are very rare in sculpture and metalwork. A few texts in Latin exist, written by Roman historians, but since I don’t read Latin, I have to rely heavily on translations. Interpretations of very ancient material can differ greatly and can sometimes lead to confusion in the ‘hobby historian’ like me. (My University degree is history based, though I would never name myself an historian)

The lack of sources made me feel a bit daunted, but it didn’t stop me writing my fictional tales of northern Britannia because my Celtic novels burned to be written!

Though, what exactly got me interested in the period in the first place? I’m an ex- primary teacher and loved to teach history at my school in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. In particular, I loved teaching ‘Celts and Romans’ of the northern climes of Britannia, my first foray teaching this era during the late 1990s.

A lot of the Celtic/Roman sources I used for my adult background knowledge had been compiled by historians during the late Victorian period and into the twentieth century. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t easily lay hands on the newest interpretative evidence- the internet not as available as it is now. I could get currently published non-fiction texts for children, which were beautifully illustrated and which gave me a very nice image to base work on for class work, yet I found it very difficult to find concrete references for those interpretations in historical tomes. Data from the aerial surveys taken across the UK during the very dry summers of the 1970s seemed to be in University publications, but not available to me. At times, it was frustrating since I felt they could reveal more of what had happened in north-eastern Scotland, but my teaching meant limited research time- too many other subjects to currently deal with. Yet, I’d found enough information to keep my interest levels high.

There’s a lot more evidence for the Roman Empire in general, though, which meant that it was easier to formulate class work based on the Roman tradition which seemed to vary very little across the Imperial Roman occupation of mainland Europe. Changing the situations slightly to take account of the different topography and probable climate of Aberdeenshire, two thousand years ago, took a little effort and was tempered with some degree of imagination. Celtic sources likewise were hypothesised from scant evidence unearthed at ‘digs’ across Europe.

Julius Agricola

In my favour, Victorian scholars had identified a stretch of land behind the school building in Kintore, Aberdeenshire, where there had been a Roman Marching Camp. Kintore was the school I taught in, and the village in which I still live. The marching camp was thought to be Agricolan (approximately AD 73/74), possibly harbouring some 4000 Roman soldiers, approximately a legion’s worth. That was a great start to our studies. I had great fun with my classes as we investigated what it would have been like for them as Ancient Celts living in Kintore when the Romans invaded the area. We built wattle and daub walls for roundhouses on the grass outside my mobile classroom (pretty messy, but very good for summer-term outside activities) having collected the willow twigs, mosses and mud from local woods. We made small scale Celtic villages and dyed cloth and wool – all from plant materials. We marched Roman style across the playing field, under which lay the Roman Marching Camp. We did many other fun-filled activities like a re-enactment of the Battle of Mons Graupius - between the Roman Empire and the warriors of the Celtic chief named Calgacus (the Roman historian, Tacitus, having been largely responsible for this information). Naturally our cardboard swords meant zero blood loss- health and safety rules applying during all outside activities even back then. I was hooked on Celtic/Roman Britain history – and I truly believe those kids were too!

Kintore dig

By 2002, our Victorian built school was too small and a new school was planned, to be built on that very field where we had made battle. No new building could occur till a fairly large scale archaeological excavation was undertaken, and between 2002 and 2004 the results of the dig were astonishing. Technology had made sufficient advances and the conclusions were that the site had likely been occupied on at least three occasions by the Roman Army. The Agricolan camp might have sheltered as many as 10,000 soldiers, according to the new parameters found for the rampart ditch walls. The two hundred and fifty plus Roman bread ovens that were uncovered (dendrochronology only one technique used) were also substantial corroboration for the increase in the number of soldiers harboured at the camp. Only a part of the site was available for the dig and the estimate based on that: an oven pit thought to have been created for a contubernium squad of eight to ten men.

All classes at the school were invited over to the dig during the excavation period and were briefly updated. My class of 2004, 11-12 year olds, wrote such fabulous stories of the Roman invasion of the area. If they could do such wonderful work, then so could I - was my thought at the beginning of the long school summer holiday. I spent virtually the whole six week break writing the basis of what is my time-travel novel for early teens. Since then it has undergone many changes, though. Initially set in the Agricolan period (AD 84) I later changed it to be in the Severan era of AD 210: that made it during the very last large scale Roman campaign in north-east Scotland. (A Severan camp is also thought to have been at the same site at Kintore)

Septimius Severus

My reason for changing the time period was that during yet another vacation I wrote the first draft of what eventually became The Beltane Choice, the first novel in my Celtic Fervour series. I had no wish to use the same location and time period in my romantic adventure that I had used for my early teen novel, so I set The Beltane Choice in northern Brigantia in AD 71 (currently the north of England). That location was particularly chosen since the Roman Governor of the time, Quintus Petilius Cerialis Caesius Rufus, was making huge advances northwards in Britannia.

Cerialis is documented as …“having at once struck terror into their hearts by invading the commonwealth of the Brigantes, which is said to be the most numerous tribe of the whole province: many battles were fought, sometimes bloody battles, and by permanent conquest or by forays he annexed a large portion of the Brigantes.” (translation from the Annals of Tacitus)

It took a number of drafts (those summer holidays again) and occasional forays of new research on the era in northern Britain to ensure the facts I used about the period were as accurate as possible-still a challenge given the dearth of resources. After I ceased full-time teaching in 2008, I submitted The Beltane Choice to publishers. On the third try, it was eventually published in August 2012 by Crooked Cat Publishing.

When I set myself to write a sequel to it in late 2012, I wanted to focus a bit more on Roman aspects since The Beltane Choice is heavy on the Celtic bias. I went back to Library sources again to find out more specific details about fort and signal tower building in northern Brigantia. I revisited the sources written specifically on the Governorships in Britannia of Cerialis, Frontinus and Agricola – approximately the period between AD 69 and AD 85.

I used the Inter-Library Loan Services and borrowed text material from The British Library: accessing sources suggested to me by Dr. Mark Patton, a fellow Crooked Cat author who is also an archaeologist. My main text to refer back to again and again, tended to be Sheppard Frere’s Britannia, A History of Roman Britain (though dated, as it was written pre 1980s, it still held relevant information). I dipped into Patrick Ottaway’s Roman York to learn about the earliest fort at Eboracum (just sufficient about the original wooden fort to satisfy me). I scoured translations of the Annals of Tacitus and of the few other Roman and Greeks historians who made brief mentions of Roman campaigns in northern Britannia.

Though there was still not very much to go on, I allowed my imagination to lead me into book two of the series which I named After Whorl: Bran Reborn. Many small forts, and some even larger fortresses, seem to have been built (or rebuilt since wooden structures had a limited ‘shelf life’) during the governorship of Cerialis. I focused on that aspect, and on the lines of communication set up by both Romans and Celts in the territory of northern Brigantia.

My male Celtic protagonist, Brennus of Garrigill from The Beltane Choice, does a little bit of spying on Roman troop movements and fort building – a core element of the novel. Aided by Ineda of Marske they send on information to the Brigante King Venutius, till something rather unfortunate happens.

The writing was going well till I realised my time-lines didn’t really match up as my Brigante spies moved further north into the lands of the Selgovae (present day southern Scotland). I spent many hours trawling the internet to access the most recent information on fort excavations and was delighted to find that my own timeline (chosen to match incidents in my fictitious tale) was matching most recent data but not that of the 1970s scholars. Quite enervated, and definitely relieved, I continued to write and write. After a while, I realised that my follow-on story to The Beltane Choice had developed into two stories. After Whorl-Bran Reborn will be published on 16th December 2013 by Crooked Cat Publishing, the second book of the series. After Whorl-Donning Double Cloaks will be published in the spring of 2014 as the third book- the stories continuing.

By the end of book three, After Whorl-Donning Double Cloaks, I’ve taken my Garrigill Brigantes from Brigantia all the way up to the Bennachie, only nine miles from my home area of Aberdeenshire. The range of hills named Bennachie is one of the most likely sites in northern Scotland for the great battle referred to in The Annals of Tacitus where the Roman Empire’s army battled against the Celtic leader named Calgacus. In my Battle of Mons Graupius (the name coined by scholars during the nineteenth century), Rome makes battle with Calgach, my name for the Celtic leader a more Gaelic sounding form.

So, given the difficulties of researching in a dearth of prime source information, I have great hopes that the readers of my Celtic Fervour series enjoy my fictitious tales set in as sound a historical background as I can possibly make it.

Than you for inviting me today, Tinney, on my little blog tour to launch After Whorl-Bran Reborn.

Some additional information:

After Whorl: Bran Reborn is available for pre-order in paperback from Amazon UK (

Facebook Launch Party **Giveaways**
For a chance to enter the draw for a ‘triquetra’ necklace and other prizes join Nancy’s Facebook Launch party and look for details of how to win the prizes on offer.

Blog launch Tour **Special Prize**
A special Blog Tour ‘friend’ will WIN a mystery gift for the most commented visits to blogs during the launch tour for After Whorl: Bran Reborn. (i.e. most comments between 9th Dec and 18th Dec wins the prize) To be sure you don’t miss any blog posts check Nancy’s Blog regularly between the 9th Dec and the 17th Dec.

Nancy Jardine lives in the fantastic ‘castle country’ of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her husband. She spends her week making creative excuses for her neglected large garden; doesn’t manage as much writing as she always plans to do since she’s on Facebook too often, but she does have a thoroughly great time playing with her toddler granddaughter when she’s just supposed to be ‘just’ childminding her twice a week.

A lover of all things historical it sneaks into most of her writing along with many of the fantastic world locations she has been fortunate to visit. Her published work to date has been two non fiction history related projects; two contemporary ancestral mysteries; one light-hearted contemporary romance mystery and a historical novel. She has been published by The Wild Rose Press and Crooked Cat Publishing.
You’ll find Nancy at the following places: Amazon UK author page    Amazon US author page   Blog  Website   Facebook Goodreads   About Me   LinkedIn  Twitter @nansjar  Google+ 
I'd like to thank Nancy for sharing this post with us, and I know we all wish her all the best with her book launch.  

Nancy Jardine holds copyright to the images in this post, with the exception of the photos of the statues of Septimius Severus and Julius Agricola, which are in the public domain.


Nancy Jardine said...

Thank you for presenting my post so beautifully, Tinney. It's a pleasure to visit you on my launch tour.

Tony-Paul said...

An interesting blog, Nancy.It's really a challenge when you have so little facts to go on, isn't it?

Nancy Jardine said...

I totally agree, Tony Paul, but it doesn't put me off. However, when imagination kicks in I still want it to 'seem' realistic.