Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall at sunset

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

To my friends and family on this Christmas Eve 2010:

Amidst the bustle and gaiety of this season, I pray that above all you would know the peace of Christ that passes understanding, remembering that He died for us while we were yet still hostile to Him.

He gave everything to redeem us from the pit and place our feet on the rock of His salvation.

In the words of my husband, "If He never did another thing for me, He's already done enough."

May you know the peace and comfort of His unconditional love this Christmas.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Waiting. Hope. And Expectation.

Some general advice about blogging is not to blog if you don't have anything to say. Today I have something to say.

When I started this blog in 2009 I wanted to write about history and archaeology and my thoughts on the Christian life. The last couple blog posts I wrote felt uninspired. 2010 has been a rough and tough year for my husband and I.

I was praying yesterday morning, giving everything over to the Lord - a job for my husband, a job for my son, strength for my daughter. Trying to concentrate on all the blessings the Lord has given me and remembering His sovereignty, in which I take great comfort.

At the very end I gave to the Lord (for the thousandth time) my writing "career", the two manuscripts I have written, the difficulty of finding an agent and a publisher.

A few months ago in October, I had an email from a friend. She told me that she had asked a friend of hers who is an acquisitions author at a Christian publisher, to take a look at the two excerpts from my  manuscripts that are published on my website. This woman did take a look and emailed my friend that she was going to ask me to send the full manuscript for one of the books.

When I read this, my heart leapt within me. Talking with the Lord yesterday, I was telling Him how hard it was in those weeks afterward. My expectation was so high. Being a nurse, I saw it like an EKG strip or a stock market graph - a surge of energy, a "spike" of expectation. I was so excited! Maybe this was it! I checked my email a million times in the days that followed.

But gradually, as the request for the manuscript never materialized, that expectation fell back to the baseline of difficult waiting and trying to continue to believe that at some point, my stories will be published. I fought the discouragement, and yesterday morning I once again laid all my disappointment at the Lord's feet.

Then, when I wasn't expecting anything, the Lord dropped a thought and a picture into my head. Joseph, in prison. Just after he interpreted the dream for the chief baker and the chief butler to Pharaoh. Joseph asked the butler to remember him to Pharaoh.

Joseph waited in high hope for Pharaoh to remember him. Surely he had just such a spike of expectation. And then, nothing happened. He waited. And waited some more.

Then, in Genesis 41:1, it states "...then it came to pass, at the end of two full years, Pharaoh had a dream..." No one could interpret it for Pharaoh. And only then did the chief butler remember Joseph, who was then called, interpreted the dream, and was restored to a place of high responsibility  by Pharaoh.

I said, "you know, Lord, it might not be such a good idea to give me such an explicit word like 'two years'. You know how anal I can be."

Do I think it will be two years? No. I've known the Lord long enough not to take the word He gave me that literally. The important thing is that He spoke to me and encouraged me. And it will happen. I just don't know when. And that's OK. My job is to continue to listen, to write, to pray, and be expectant.

So that's what I'm going to do.

Thank you, Lord.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of a group of three pyramids situated in the Giza Necropolis of Egypt near Cairo.

It's also called Khufu's Pyramid or the Pyramid of Cheops (Greek for Khufu), and it was built for the Fourth Dynasty pharaoh about 2560 BC.

The Great Pyramid is the main structure of complex that includes two mortuary temples and smaller pyramids for Khufu's wives.

I've written about this pyramid in an earlier post  - the photograph of the Grand Gallery in the tomb fascinates me. There are three known chambers inside: the King's chamber, the Queen's chamber, and an unfinished chamber.

The features of the Great Pyramid are so large they can be seen from the moon!

One of these day I'm going to see it in person.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


The Random House dictionary defines a muse as "the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker, or the like".

The original definition of a muse referred to a number of Greek sister goddesses who presided over the arts, such as Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), and Thalia (comedy).

In time, a muse came to be generally known by the first definition.

Do I have a muse? This question came up in a recent conversation. I personally have been inspired by two very different authors: Francine Rivers and Diana Gabaldon.

The writing of Francine Rivers made me realize that I could write historical fiction. And Diana Gabaldon inspired me when I read an interview with her in which she described her writing process: she has an idea and she writes that scene and many more scenes and then she "glues" them all together. That was my Eureka! moment. I didn't have to start on page one.

Since then I have taken writing courses and workshops and read many other author blogs and I have come to understand that everyone has their own writing process and there is no "right" one. The important thing is that you have an IDEA and see the story in your head and then you get it down on paper.

Why am I thinking about muses today? Because for the longest time I have been trying to work on a more recent historical - set in 1848 - on the suggestion of a friend who is an acquisitions editor at a major publisher. If I write it, she will read it - even though I don't have an agent.

So what do I do? I have 11, 000 words - about 13% of a book (Yes, I think in those terms!) I can't seem to get past that point. Instead, the last few days I've been thinking about the characters from my first manuscript, Ciara and  Aedan. I'm realizing that I want to return to their story and see where it leads.

Isn't that crazy? Here I have a friend in the publishing industry who will read a manuscript that is more recent history but I can't seem to stop thinking about the ancient history periods that fascinate me. I beat myself up thinking that if I had just tried hard enough I could have had that recent historical finished by now, but I realize my true love is those earlier time periods. And for the most part, they don't sell well.

So what is an author to do?

I think I've answered my own question. I am going to start working on manuscript #3.

I'm not saying I won't finish the "recent historical". I already have an affection for my main character in that work. I chose the name Bernadine Devane, after my sister, and I call my character "Deanie". Deanie Devane. It has a nice ring to it.

But I think Deanie's story will have be told later. Right now I'm returning to the 5th Century.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are another wonder of the ancient world, built by King Nebuchadnezzar about 600 BC. His wife, Amytis, daughter of the king of Medes, was depressed by the brown sun-baked plains of Mesopotamia and longed for the green hills and fragrant plants of her homeland.

A series of tiers were built, with terraces on every level. The gardens probably didn't actually "hang" but the walls were overhung with cascading vines and plants.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are the only ancient wonder that has not been verified through archaeological means. It is thought that the gardens were destroyed by an earthquake in the second century BC.

I wonder if Amytis was comforted by the site of this artificial green mountain rising from the flat plains?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Old Cemeteries, Interesting Epitaphs, Touching Stories

Have you ever listened to Car Talk on NPR radio on Saturday mornings?

At the end of the show, Tom & Ray Magliazzi always say "Well, you've wasted another perfectly good hour listening to us."

I just spent way more than an hour cruising through some interesting online sites. And I know I'm not the only person out there who finds old cemeteries interesting.

Check out www.findagrave.com. Click on "Interesting Monuments" and check out a few. There are some fascinating stories to be found there. I mostly look at the earlier dates, especially the young women and children.

Look up the following names for starters:

Merchant, Christian B.
Poulson, Agnes F.
Warner, William Jr.

Christian Merchant's gravestone has a rather creepy tale that goes along with it. After you check it out on the Find A Grave site, go to www.ghosttoghost.com/htm and read how Ripley's Believe It Or Not featured the story on one of their shows.

The photo above is of Georges Rodenbach's gravestone in Paris, France. It was considered an excellent example of Victorian funerary art at the time. Imagine walking by that one October night when the leaves are falling. I don't know for sure but it must illustrate his belief in an afterlife. Rising from the grave? If you click on the picture you can get an even closer view.

On the Ghost To Ghost site you can read through some of the "Interesting Epitaphs". And I guarantee you will be amused and touched. I especially like the epitaph for Jonathan Pease.

Starting next week, I am going to do a series on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I've always wondered about them (Pardon the pun!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Pyramids

I'm writing about the Pyramids today because I need some inspiration and Egyptian archaeology always animates me.

The Pyramids have held a deep fascination for me since childhood, when my Dad brought a home a vividly illustrated coffee table book on the discovery of Tutankhamen's intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

That became my very first blog post. The photo of Tutankhamen's gold and jewel-encrusted burial mask has become an iconic representation of Egypt and is said to equal the worth of England's crown jewels.

Above is the Grand Gallery inside the tomb of Cheops, also called the Great Pyramid of Giza. It leads to the King's burial chamber. Just look at that mysterious staircase, built thousands of years ago. I want to be there!

On a tour to Israel in 1978, our group was to have a day in Egypt. But because we had entered Israel first, the immigration officials wouldn't allow us into Egypt. Instead we had a day in Rome (fabulous!). You might think that one day isn't enough time to see much but believe me, you can pack a lot into one day if you're motivated.

Still, I was disappointed at not getting into Egypt. I have a friend who thinks that we will be in Egypt together one day. Maybe on a dig? Perhaps to promote a book? Hmmm. Sounds good to me!

According to new Flickr.com rules, I need to give photo credits.

The top photo, "Pyramid of Khafre", Adrian Testa Photography.
3rd photo, "Grand Gallery of Cheops", by Templar1307.
Bottom photo, "Dusty Sunset at the Pyramids", by Matt Champlin.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ancient Medicine: Lamb's Ear

We know Lamb's Ear as the soft, silvery-green leaves in a flower garden that are fun to pick and are especially good for children to "pet".

But once upon a time, Lamb's Ear was also known as Woundwort, because the leaves were believed to have healing properties. The fuzzy leaves were used as bandages during the Civil War.

I found another old reference to Lamb's Ear being used as a washcloth. Perhaps for a baby or child? They certainly are soft enough.

And what did people do before the invention of bandaids?

A single Lamb's Ear leaf is perfect to roll around a finger. A long blade of grass or a pine needle could be used as a fastener.

In my first novel, Ciara's Tale, Ciara uses Lamb's Ear to soothe a child's burned finger. Wouldn't that be a novel way to bandage a child's boo boo?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dioscorides - Father of Modern Pharmacology

Pedanius Dioscorides was a Greek physician, born about 30 AD in Asia Minor (now modern Turkey). Two thousand years after his birth he is still remembered for the major contribution he made to medicine and pharmacology.

Dioscorides was attached to the Roman Empire armies of Nero, and in this capacity he traveled extensively throughout Italy, Gaul (France), Spain and North Africa. Everywhere he went, he observed plants in their natural habitat and noted how the local folk used them.

He personally researched each plant and its uses. About 65 AD, he wrote De Materia Medica, "Regarding Medical Matters",on the "preparation, properties, and testing of drugs."  The result was a five volume book on the uses of over 1,000 plants and minerals.

Unlike previous herbals, Dioscorides instead organised his material into therapeutic groupings based on similarities of medicinal action. Originally written in Greek, it was later transcribed into Latin and Arabic.

For nearly 1500 years, De Materia Medica was the supreme authority on medicine and pharmacology in western civilization. No original copy of Diosccorides' work remains, but several copies published in the 16th century are in museums today.

The oldest and most famous copy is an illuminated Byzantine manuscript produced about 1512 for Anicia Juliana, daughter of Flavius Anicius Olybrius, who had been emperor of the western empire in 472 AD. The page above is taken from this manuscript and you can see some annotations in Arabic.

Dioscorides also included some recipes for making perfume in his De Materia Medica. Perfumes in ancient history weren't the liquid perfumes we know today, but instead were manufactured in an oily or buttery waxy base. In my second manuscript, I used Dioscorides' recipe for perfume using yellow flag (iris) root, myrrh, balsam and honey.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ancient Medicine: Comfrey

You may have known that honey could be used as a dressing for wounds, and some of you out there perhaps knew that willow bark contained the main ingredient in aspirin, but I dare say not too many people know the uses of Comfrey.

Comfrey has had lots of other names over the course of history: Blackwort, Knitbone, and Boneset among others. The last 2 names give a hint as to one of the major uses of comfrey in ancient medicine.

The leaves would be ground to make a vivid green poultice for bruises and sprains. For broken bones, the fresh roots would be grated onto a clean cloth and applied over a broken bone. This root poultice would become rock hard and be left over the fracture until the bones had "knit."

Hence the name Boneset or Knitbone. Comfrey contains several different vitamins and minerals, allantoin (aids cell growth) and 18 amino acids. Dioscorides of ancient Greece mentions comfrey in his 1st Century writings. He is quite an interesting character, Dioscorides, and is considered to be one of the fathers of modern pharmacology. I think I will have to do a post on him!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ancient Medicine: The Water-Loving Willow

Another staple of ancient medicine was the water-loving willow tree. The use of willow bark dates back to Hippocrates in 400 BC.

American Indians chewed willow bark to relieve fever and inflammation. Willow bark contains a substance called salicin. Salicin is used to create acetylsalicylic acid. Its better known name is aspirin.

In ancient Greece, the priests of Aesclepius would place willow branches in the beds of infertile women.

The ancient Celts would simmer willow bark, then let it steep and drink the resulting tea. They also believed that the spirit of the dead person would rise up through a willow sapling planted over a grave and retain the essence of the departed one.

In the cold, damp areas of Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, the magical willow-bark tea must have been a precious commodity for people who suffered from rheumatism and arthritis!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ancient Medicine: Honey

Ancient medicine and the use of herbal potions and tinctures play a role in my first 2 books. I gave my character, Ciara, an intuitive interest in the practice of medicine and the curative uses of herbs, roots, and berries. And honey.

Honey has been used for at least 2,000 years as a dressing for wounds and burns. The ancients didn't know that honey has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties but they knew that it worked.

The use of honey reduced healing time and decreased scar formation. Plus it smells good!

When antibiotics came upon the medical scene in the 1940's, the use of honey declined. Now seventy years later, at a time when the overuse of antibiotics has resulted in scary infections resistant to drugs, the use of honey is once again current.

I recently read about a 15 year old boy who contracted meningococcal septicemia. He developed peripheral necrosis (tissue death) of his hands and feet. He had to have bilateral amputations of both legs mid-tibia (shin bone), and also lost most of his fingers. His hands healed well but he had many unsuccessful skin grafts to his legs. The pain was so intense that his dressing changes had to be done under anesthesia.

Finally honey dressings were tried. Within a few days the skin on his legs began to improve. In ten weeks his wounds had healed and he went on to successful rehabilitation.

Something to think about the next time you stir a teaspoon of honey into your tea or sweeten your oatmeal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Another ancient instrument which dates back to the Stone Age and is still used today is the bodhran, or Irish drum.

The bodhran has a narrow wooden frame with an animal skin stretched taut across one side.

Variations of this type of frame drum appear in other ancient civilizations such as Egypt, China and Africa.

The Irish bodhran has one important difference, and that is the way in which it is played. Most methods of playing a drum consist of a stick or a hand beating the skin frame.

A Irish musician playing the bodhran bends their rhythm hand so that the back of the fingers are presented to the skin of the drum. The player swings his hand up and down and uses the middle finger as a beater.

The other hand is inside the drum and is used to alternate or damp the tone of the drum. A two-headed stick is also used to play the bodhran as illustrated in the photos below.

 If you've never heard a Celtic band, you owe it to yourself to hit an Irish pub, have a beer, and enjoy the music.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Another ancient musical instrument  that dates to the Bronze Age was the crotal. This was a type of bell shaped liked the testicles of a bull.

The bronze crotal was hollow inside and would contain a stone or pebble that would produce a sound when the index finger was inserted through the ring at the top and then thrust forward from the hand.

Variations of sound could be produced by tapping the bell while lifting some of the fingers holding it.

Most of the crotals known today were found in a single hoard in County Offaly in Ireland. So if you'd like to try something different, maybe a crotal (or two) would suit you!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prehistoric Music

I have been feverishly revising my 1st manuscript after the writer's conference I attended last week. It's been fun reading and experiencing my very first story again and I had several thoughts to blog about.

Writing historical fiction is fascinating because I learn so much doing the research. Re-creating an ancient world means learning about everything from medicine to music, clothing, architecture, weapons, food, and more.

In my first manuscript, set in 5th Century Ireland, one character is a blacksmith and a bronzesmith. A bronzesmith would have created the instrument called a carnyx.

A carnyx was a massive rolled tube of bronze in a sort of reverse "S" shape, as pictured in the photo. It would have been heavy and it would have required a strong man to carry and play it.

It's thought that these horns were played as tribes were going into battle and they were also used during royal funerals and solemn ritual occasions.

I discovered a site that is devoted to the study and re-creation of ancient music. It has only been in the last few years that musicians figured out how to play these ancient horns. Reproductions were cast and one brilliant person had the thought that the carnyx might be similar to the Australian didgeridoo.

That proved to be the key. A fascinating website you can check out is http://www.prehistoricmusic.com/. I have corresponded with one of the musicians there, and I have one of their CD's. There was one particular song that I listened to repeatedly while I was writing a funeral scene.

You can listen to some of the music if you go to the site. click on "music" and then click on "sounds" for a sample. I promise you it is unearthly! You will be hearing sounds that until recently hadn't been heard on this earth in thousands of years.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


A souterrain is an underground passage, or chamber, found in Ireland, Scotland and other countries such as France.

They could be as small as a closet or they could continue underground for quite a distance. Some archaeologists think they were used for hiding from enemies but the most common explanation is that they were used for food storage.

The underground temperature stays fairly even and in pre-refrigeration days these souterrains would be perfect for salted meat, grain, and wine.

The walls and ceiling of the souterrain were lined with stones.

Here is the entrance to a souterrain in Scotland, placed under a "kerbstone," one of the giant stones at the base of a Neolithic monument.

This is another photo deep inside a souterrain. I found this photo on Flickr and I don't know the man in the picture but he doesn't look very comfortable! Note the water standing in the floor of the souterrain.

Here is another large souterrain. Despite the feeling the photo gives you, souterrains were not usually very deep underground. Those are grass roots hanging down from the ceiling.

A very climactic scene in my first novel, Ciara's Tale, takes place in a souterrain. Doesn't that photo above look creepy? Now just imagine this souterrain by candlight!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sulis Minerva

In Bath, England, lies a great archaeological treasure, the Roman temple of Sulis Minerva or Aquae Sulis, built on the site of hot mineral springs.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that human use of the springs dates back 10,000 years.

Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribes frequented it first, followed by the Celts, who arrived in Britain about 700 BC and built the first shrine.

The Romans arrived in 43 AD and took over the Celtic shrine. "Sul" or "Sol" was a Celtic deity associated with the sun. In time, the Roman goddess Minerva became identified with the shrine, thus the name Sulis Minerva.

The main spring bubbles out of the ground at a rate of a quarter of a million gallons each day and maintains a constant temperature of 120 degrees. It was a sacred site, where man was thought to be able to communicate with the underworld and where people came to worship and seek the goddess for healing.

Archaeological excavations have revealed thousands of objects at the spring's bottom that were sacrificed as votive offerings. It was the custom to sacrifice only a precious and perfect object.

In my first book, one of my characters offers a sword to the gods by ritually breaking it and depositing it into a pool.

More than 12,000 coins were found at the bottom of one of the pools and proves that the custom of tossing a coin into water accompanied by a wish is a very ancient one! Here is one of the Roman altars found at the baths. Offerings of wine and fruit would have been left on the top for the gods.

These stacks of tiles held up the floor of one of the bathing chambers such as the calidarium. Pipes would have run through this area to heat the floor above.

This is one of the original Roman lead pipes that still function today to carry water.

These mirrors are some of the objects found at the bottom of the spring. Most of them have the words "to the goddess Minerva" inscribed on them and the initials of the person offering it. Lead tablets were also deposited into the springs with requests to the goddess.

Bath received its name from the mineral springs associated with it. At least 43 minerals have been identified in the waters.

I haven't yet seen Bath for myself but I hope to one day. Hmmm, maybe a character who finds herself in ancient Bath? Could be fun.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bronze armlets

In my second novel, one of the main characters is Coroticus, a Romano-British chieftain who ruled the area of Strathclyde in what is now western Scotland.

When I am writing a story like this one, set in ancient times, I use my archaeological research to drive part of the story.

When I discovered this pair of bronze armlets, I had Coroticus wear them. They are a massive pair, weighing over 3 lbs. each!

Because of this, some archaeologist have suggested that real people wouldn't have worn them but instead they were perhaps intends for large statues.

This sounds plausible but no such statues have been found that could wear them. This pair of armlets presently resides in the British Museum.

They were discovered in 1854 over the entrance to a souterrain (a stone-lined underground cellar used for storage.)

A souterrain played a part in my first novel and I will post about that next.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Christ the Lord is risen today!

May the very power that raised Jesus from the dead reside in you.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Historic Boston

Location is just one of the many items I have to research while writing my 3rd novel, set in Boston in 1848.

I have several books of old paintings and photos of Boston that help me know which buildings existed when my character lived there.

Boston, of course, is one of the oldest cities in America. The first settler arrived in 1652 and lived alone on what is now Boston Common.

In 1628, the Cambridge Agreement was signed in England and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony arrived in June of 1630 with John Winthrop as their leader.

Historic alley in Boston.

Another historic alley. Note the cobblestone street.

Townhouses on Beacon Street. My character, Deanie, comes to live with her uncle in one of these.

Another view of a historical street.

Boston Common, the oldest park in America. Cows grazed on the Common until 1830. Public executions on the gallows were held here until 1817. British troops camped here before the American Revolution.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Colt Revolver

In the opening scene of Deanie's Tale, Deanie and her maid, Oonagh, are traveling under cover of night, headed toward Dublin where they will sail to Liverpool, England and from there on to Boston.

Deanie's father needs to carry a gun in one scene, and I loved the idea of a Colt revolver tucked into his belt.

But were Colt revolvers around then? I dig around and find out that Samuel Colt invented the Colt revolver in 1835 and received a patent to manufacture them in 1836. OK so far.

Samuel Colt was something of a boy wonder. While still a teenager, he conceived the idea for the revolver on a voyage to British East India and he whittled a wooden model. In his twenties, after some fits and starts, he built a factory in Connecticut.

After the outbreak of the Mexican War, General Zachary Taylor called for thousands of Colt revolvers and the rest is history.

Above is a great photo of the Colt Baby Dragoon, in its original case with all its accessories. The photo at the top is a photo of a Colt revolver being discharged.

I looked through a lot of information online about the history of firearms in Ireland. I read more on Colt revolvers. I exchanged emails with a gun collector who gave me some very good information.

I narrowed it down to 2 possible firearms, the regular Colt Revolver and the 1848 Pocket pistol, which came to be known as the Colt Baby Dragoon. The Colt revolver was almost 15 inches long, probably too heavy and long to carry tucked into your belt. The barrel alone was 7.5 inches. The Baby Dragoon was shorter and lighter, with a barrel that measured 4 inches and a weight of just 1.5 pounds and it was specifically designed to be carried in a pocket.

So now I have to decide which gun I want my character to carry. Looks like it will have to be the Baby Dragoon. Then again, maybe I will have him carry both. I just love the thought of my character's jacket falling open and the sight of that Colt revolver tucked into his belt. Maybe if I make him tall enough it wouldn't be so outlandish?

Guess I'll have to see!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Historical Research

Along with all the time I actually spend writing my 3rd novel, historical fiction set in Ireland and Boston in 1848, an equal amount of time is spent doing historical research. My first 2 books were set in the 5th century. At first it seemed as if that time period would be difficult because there are very few writings available from that time period for Ireland and Roman Britain.

But I am finding out that writing about the 19th century is even harder. Why? Because there is so much more to know about the 19th century. I am researching fashions using Godey's Ladies Book from 1848. I have to look at Boston in 1848, research what people were eating for dinner then. One difficult area has been trying to find out what kind of banking practices were in operation in 1848 as far as a female immigrant was concerned. What did they use for identification? Etc.

Here is an example of the research I have done this past week just to be able to write a couple lines with accuracy.

The main character in the 3rd novel is Bernadine Devane. I call her Deanie. And the working title of the book is Deanie's Tale. In the beginning of the book she is leaving Ireland. The Great Potato Famine is taking place and Ireland is being decimated by hunger and disease.

She is sailing on the Royal Mail ship, the RMS Cambria, an early Cunard steamship. (THAT was days and weeks of research - learning about the Cunard company.) Her father has left her some gold coins, hidden in the bottom of her portmanteau.

So I have to find out what kind of gold coins she would be carrying. I discover that Ireland didn't have its own money then, so it would have to be British. I learn that it would probably have to be a British sovereign, worth about one pound Sterling. So now I research photos of British sovereigns from that time period. I learn that gold sovereigns didn't last in circulation too long because gold is soft and the figures on the coin would wear away quickly.

Then I must figure out how many gold coins she could logically carry. At first I wanted her to have 800 sovereigns, but then I discovered that 800 sovereigns would weigh about 14 pounds, way too heavy for a girl to be carrying along with all the other stuff she would have in the bag.

So I dropped it to 400 sovereigns, which would weigh about 7 pounds. I also had to think about what 1 gold sovereign would have been worth in 1848. Through more research I learn that a sovereign in today's dollars would be worth about $28.00. So those 400 sovereigns for Deanie would be worth about $11,200 today. A small fortune.

I look at gold sovereigns online from the time period of 1847 and 1848. I learn that Queen Victoria's profile would be on sovereigns produced from 1838 to 1874. These sovereigns used the "Young Head" portrait of Victoria on the obverse (!) and a shield design on the reverse.

OK. Now I can write the scene where Deanie unwraps the coins. Whew!
I sure am learning a lot! I am continually ordering books from Amazon and my library is filling up.

Next I'll tell you about the research I did on the Colt revolver.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian was the Roman emperor who built a wall across what is now the "waist" of Scotland. Hadrian wanted to "separate Romans from barbarians." The Wall marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire.

The Wall was built by Roman legions in the year 122. The wild northern reaches were cold and inhospitable and a far cry from the warmth of Rome.

Originally the Wall would have been 14 feet high. Turrets and milecastles marked it at intervals.

The Picts and Scots who lived north of the Wall would have never seen anything like it. It would have had a psychological effect as well as being a physical wall. In front of the wall, on the "wild side", there would have been a deep vallum, or ditch, as further protection. On the protected side, a paved Roman road was built that would allow 2 chariots to drive side-by-side.

For a lovers of archaeology the Wall is a fascinating place to visit. Much of the Wall remains standing, and many of the Roman forts can be visited today. Discoveries are still being made and digs are ongoing. (Digs - that's archaeology-speak for a site being actively investigated!)

This is the site of a temple to the Roman god, Mithras. Mithras was a particular favorite of soldiers. No women allowed! In my second novel, Eleri's Tale, my character investigates the ruins of a Mithraic temple.

If you're interested in learning more about Hadrian's Wall country, you can check out http://www.roman-britain.org/. Everything you might want to know about Roman Britain is there.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pagan Babies

Several people asked me about pagan babies after my last post.

Most kids who went to Catholic school in the 50's and 60's know about pagan babies.

Each class in each grade collected nickles and dimes to buy a pagan baby. It cost $5.00.

When I entered first grade I remember coming home and telling my my mother about them. I said that when I got mine I was going to take care of it all by myself.

My mother wisely refrained from saying much about it. (She went to Catholic school too, and I don't know if they had pagan babies then but I bet they did.)

Anyway, I was wrong about getting a pagan baby. You didn't buy one with the $5.00. Your class picked out a name for the child and it was baptized with that name into the Catholic Church. The class would get a certificate for each child they named. There was a bit of competition between some of the nuns as to whose class had the most. The certificates were pinned up on a bulletin board.

The photograph at the top is the cover of a book named Pagan Babies, and the container that the coins went into. I don't remember a container like that, though. Mostly we used cigar boxes.

This is a photo of a real Pagan Baby Certificate. You can see that this pagan baby was named Susan.

I went to Catholic grade school at St. Amelia's for 8 years. We must have had at least 5 pagan babies in each class. That's 40 pagan babies right there. I think most of them were in Africa.

Going back for this high school reunion has me thinking about all kinds of things from my Catholic school days, like using Necco wafers to practice First Holy communion. And the time I put together a shoebox with all the items I needed to go and baptize my Jewish friends across the street, Amy and Kenny Wolpin.

But that's another post.