Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cover Reveal! Killing the Hydra - Eagles and Dragons Book II

Let the cornu and draconarius sound!

I'm happy to say that Killing the Hydra, Eagles and Dragons Book II, is going to be released in the next few weeks.

It's been a long haul and I'm grateful to those who have hung in there with me. I know many of you who enjoyed Children of Apollo have been more than patient. Thank you for that.

For those of you who have not read Children of Apollo, but are interested, there is going to be a special offer on that around the launch of Killing the Hydra. So stay tuned.

This week I received the final cover designs from artist Derek Murphy at Creativindie. There is a lot going on in this book, so finding the right images to convey the story proved challenging.

I love the process of cover design, and it's always a treat to get that final version in your inbox.

Today, I wanted to share the cover images with you (e-book and paperback). First, here is the story outline:

Killing the Hydra – Eagles and Dragons Book II

In Killing the Hydra, Lucius Metellus Anguis returns to North Africa, determined to investigate the death of his centurion and root out the treason that has infiltrated the ranks of his cohort. With his wife, Adara, safe in Athens, Lucius finds himself alone on a dangerous road back to the legionary base at Lambaesis. Praetorian spies and other unknown enemies are hunting him, and it is only with help from the Empress, a Punic prostitute, and an ancient group of warriors that Lucius is able to survive.

But the Sibyl’s prophecy haunts Lucius’s dreams, and he clings desperately to the hope that he is making the right decisions for his men, for himself, and for his family.

As his world is ravaged by pain on all fronts, Lucius Metellus Anguis must decide whether or not to make his move against the enemies that have plagued his family for far too long, including the most powerful man in the Roman Empire.

How far will the Dragon go to protect his family and avenge the spirits of the dead?

Only the Gods know…

There you have it! For me, as an author, sharing this for the first time is very exciting. It is also nerve-wracking because, in a sense, the die is cast. I'm crossing my Rubicon. 

In the description you'll notice that a lot is happening to Lucius. The Empire is in turmoil and two of the main political forces are the people whose faces you see in the clouds on the book cover - the Empress, Julia Domna, and the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Gaius Fulvius Plautianus. Once again, Lucius is back in Africa to investigate the death of one of his centurions, while his heart is on the other side of the  Middle Sea. 

I won't say anything else because I don't want to spoil things for those of you who have not read Book I. Suffice it to say, that Killing the Hydra will throw you headlong into the passion and pain of the Roman world. 

Prior to launch day, I'll post some short excerpts from the book. In the meantime, if you would like to read an excerpt of Book I, you can do so HERE.

As ever, thank you for reading. Do spread the word about the series, and keep watching this space. There is a lot more coming in 2014!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Faraway Places and Writing Spaces

I’m good with winter.

I don’t mean to say I’m enjoying it. I’ve had enough - the Polar Vortex, the power outages, the shattered trees, the slush, the salt, the strangulation of scarves – all of it.

I suspect many of you might feel the same, unless of course you’re living in Australia, in which case you might say that you’re good with summer, maybe.

At this time of year, I start to daydream more than usual about the faraway places I long to return to. 

Maybe it’s the cold, or the preponderance of warm holiday destination signage all over the subway platforms.

Aegean Chapel
It may be flu season, but for me it’s also the season of my ‘Aegean Blues’. I long for the dry summer heat, the brilliance of Mediterranean colour, the thrum of cicadas and splash of the sea. Yes, I’ve got it bad.

I also miss Britain, the hill walks, the gnarled trees and frosted hedgerows. I miss having history around every corner, of living in a place to which I feel so connected and inspired by the land and its legends.

My idyllic mornings in Somerset included sipping my coffee and staring out the window to the misty levels with the Tor beyond. Of course, my notepad was right next to me, waiting to be filled.

Ideal writing conditions, no?

The Tor and Somerset Levels
from my window
You might imagine that sitting beneath the loggia of a sundrenched café in Radda in Chianti, savouring a bottle of the local Classico, would set the muse on my shoulder to work. Or that looking out over the Sahara from a balcony in Tozeur while the sun washes red into the west would set my pen on fire.

I could go on and on. There are so many moments I’ve cherished in places I’ve lived and travelled, experiences in which I know I’ve been truly blessed.

When I set out to go to those places, I thought that I would return with a finished first draft of one novel or another because I had ideal writing conditions.

I’ve learned that’s not true, not for me at least.

Saharan Sunset
When I did sit down to write in those magical circumstances, especially when the visits were fleeting, I found that I couldn’t write.

There was too much to see, too many sensations to take in. If I was in my head, bent over the pages, I would have been missing out on the view before me, the people walking by. I wouldn’t have taken in nearly as much.

This reminds me of my first year of university. My grades were not fantastic and at one point I realized that I was missing a lot because I was so intent on writing down everything the professor said. Once I stopped taking copious notes and listened more, my marks got a lot better.

Saharan oasis
I’ve taken the pressure off myself when I travel which, granted, doesn’t happen nearly as much these days. But I think it’s important for a writer to absorb everything, to really take in a place. I mean really feel it and see it so that you can remember it as vividly as the time you were there.

Back to wintry, ice-bound Toronto. Blah! Ideal writing conditions?


I’ve found that longing makes the fiction better.

Wallace monument and
the Highlands beyond, Stirling
Whether I’m writing historical fiction set in Celtic Britain, Ancient Greece, Imperial Rome or North Africa, I miss those faraway places so much that I try to dig up every fragment of memory to satisfy my longing.

Writing away from those places after falling in love with them is essential.

I’ve referred to the phrase ‘Aegean Blues’ before. It’s not mine, but belongs to the author John Fowles. I like it because it is apt for what I’m talking about.

In his preface to The Magus, which is set in Greece (across from the place I usually visit, and where Fowles lived), the author says this:

A novelist has to enter deeper exile still. In most outward ways the experience was depressive, as many young would-be writers and painters who have ever gone to Greece have discovered. We used to have a nickname for the sense of inadequacy and accidie it produced – the ‘Aegean blues’. One has to be a very complete artist to create good work among the purest and most balanced landscapes on the planet…The Greece of the Islands is Circe still; no place for the artist-voyager to linger long, if he cares for his soul.

Leaving the island of Spetses
where Fowles lived and worked
From my winter cave, the grass definitely seems greener on the other side of the ocean, but in my exile from paradise the words are definitely more numerous and alive than anywhere else.

Thank you for reading.

What are some of your favourite places of inspiration? I'd love to hear about some of your own travels in the comments!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Insula Avalonia - Gog and Magog

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you all had a safe and happy holiday season, and that 2014 is full of promise.

I thought I would start the year off with the next part of In Insula Avalonia. These posts are a real joy to write because I get to revisit this wonder-full place. Last time we visited The Chalice Well with its blood-red waters, lush gardens, and layers of belief.

Today we’re going to visit two very special giants.

They are tall, and broad, and green, and together they have stood the test of time. Their names are Gog and Magog.

Gog and Magog in the
Lord Mayor's Show, London
The names of Gog and Magog will be well-known to Old Testament historians as evil powers to be overcome in the Book of Ezekiel (38-39), and in the New Testament Book of Revelation (20).

Gog and Magog also figure largely in the British foundation myths, mainly in the Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

According to Geoffrey, when Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan Aeneas, came to Britain in around 1130 B.C. his man, Corineus, fought a West Country giant named Gogmagog.

"The contest began. Corineus moved in, so did the giant; each of them caught the other in a hold by twining his arms round him, and the air vibrated with their panting breath. Gogmagog gripped Corienus with all his might and broke three of his ribs, two on the right side and one on the left. Corineus then summoned all his strength, for he was infuriated by what had happened. He heaved Gogmagog up on to his shoulders, and running as fast as he could under the weight, he hurried off to the nearby coast. He clambered up to the top of a mighty cliff, shook himself free and hurled this deadly monster, whom he was carrying on his shoulders, far out into the sea. The giant fell on to a sharp reef of rocks where he was dashed into a thousand fragments and stained the waters with his blood. The place took its name from the fact that the giant was hurled down there and it is called Gogmagog's Leap to this day."
(Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae)

There are many other tales and places around England and Ireland associated with the giants, Gog and Magog.

In Glastonbury it is different.

The giants of which I speak are two ancient oak trees, tucked away In Insula Avalonia.

They are not war, or pain, or suffering. Gog and Magog represent the last of the great oaks of Avalon. They demand nothing of the wanderer, and yet they are revered.

The association with the giants only goes so far as the names of the trees, and their size.

The short walk to the oaks from the middle of Glastonbury town is one of the most beautiful walks in the area.

Cross Chilkwell Street, near the Abbey Barn, and head up Wellhouse Lane between the slopes of the Tor and Chalice Hill. Follow the foot path into the field where you will come to the ancient trail of Paradise Lane. At the bottom of Paradise Lane, you will find Gog and Magog waiting for you.

The Tor from Paradise Lane
These trees are ancient, no doubt. When they come into view, you are drawn to them like to an ancient aged grandparent. You’ll find the odd ribbon tied to a branch, or a sheaf of wheat laid in offering among the sturdy limbs.

These two trees are friends to many in Glastonbury and beyond.

Gog and Magog are all that remain of an avenue of oaks that led to the Tor, and which was used as a processional way by the Druids in ages past.

Sadly, the avenue was cut down for farmland in 1906, and these two giants are all that remain.

Oak trees like Gog and Magog were sacred to worshippers of the Great Mother, and later the Druids. 

Before Rome and mass farming came to Britain, the whole of the south of Britain was covered in forests from Hampshire to Devon.

Oak groves were sacred, the sites of the Goddess’ perpetually burning fires and the rites of the Druids who used oak leaves in their rituals.

The sanctity of the oak is not relegated to Celtic Europe either, but also goes back to ancient Greece. At the sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, priests would glean the will of Zeus from the rustling of the leaves in the sacred oak groves.

A meeting of Druids
At Glastonbury, Gog and Magog would likely have seen many a ritual or procession.

If they could only speak in a way we could understand, I’m sure they would have some fantastic tales to tell.

Taking the walk from town, past the Tor, and down Paradise Lane to see Gog and Magog was always one of my favourite walks. Because there are no roads nearby the sound of cars is absent, and all you can hear is the chirruping of birds and the whisper of the wind as it blows across the Somerset levels.

Someday, I look forward to making that walk again. I imagine the sound of my feet whisking through the dry field grass, or squelching through the mud, until I catch that first glimpse of the two giants.

“It’s good to see you again, after so long…” I might say.

Welcome back, they might reply, if I listen carefully. But you haven’t been gone long at all… will be their answer.

And they would be right. Gog and Magog are over a thousand years old, and I am just another admirer passing beneath their welcoming boughs like so many others before me.

Thank you for reading.