Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hidden by the Rose


You  might call me a rose person. As a former professional gardener, and as a resident of a gardener’s hell called Texas, you would think that these would be mutually exclusive. Not so.
There is a type of rose that is sturdy enough to have survived largely unhybridized since the days of the ancient Chinese dynasties. This type of rose is the so-called antique or “China” rose. Here is a rose variety so strong of spirit that it can withstand years of total neglect, droughts, impoverished soil—ah, yes, the very words that reflect my gardening experience in Texas.
So what does this have to do with a book, you may ask? My husband and I are the proud parents of a YA fantasy novel called Hidden by the Rose.  The setting is Britannia in ca. 430 AD. The title is taken from the book, from a passage when the young heroine Caylith hears that she is a “thorn in the side” of some very unpleasant people. She gravely remarks that “a thorn is a weapon, hidden by the rose.”
The symbol of the rose is a central one in this book. The  ancient rose called Rosa canina, the dog-rose, was planted even thousands of years ago around properties in Britannia to keep intruders at bay. Under its light pink, five-petalled clusters of blooms lay half-inch thorns, curved and strong, enough like vicious teeth to have given it the name.
Caylith, too, is a rose person. She is drawn to all plants, and the dog rose is one of her favorites. Its plump hips (seed cases) yield a tea that has a profound effect on her. And its dog-teeth properties are strong enough to help her bring down some evil people.
In a way, of course, the title of this book refers to Caylith herself. Although she is “not tall” (her own words to describe her 5-foot frame), she becomes quite a warrior—in spirit, anyway. Her feisty personality and her determination to win the day are the very thorns that are hidden beneath her attractive appearance. 
All this is a round-about way of inviting you to try our novel series “The Twilight of Magic.”  It is geared at readers from ‘tweens to teens and finally to adults in the final sweet romance. The first in the series, Running Over Rainbows, has won five-star reviews, and of course we'd love you to start with that first book.
This very short excerpt will give you a bit of the flavor of the novel. Caylith finds herself in a magical garden with one whom she had feared, who has revealed himself to be not only a king, but her grandfather.
I  thought about the world I had just escaped.
“Yes, I miss dear Mama. She taught me to be strong of mind and to follow in the old traditions. I am not the best of students, but I have tried. She never had time to teach me about my ancestors before she…left.” The image of a great hungry fire filled my mind. “I will not believe she is really gone. She would have fought like a mother bear to protect what was hers. I am sure she was taken captive by the savage Eire-Landers.”
The king’s eyes seemed to flash dangerously beneath the great wing-like brows. I understood his passion. “Yes, I am sure your blood ran strong in Mama.”
The soothing atmosphere of the garden loosened my tongue. I was starting to release all my pent-up fears and dreams to a complete stranger, but I did not regret it. “I was wrong to think you are like the evil duke. He wants my property only. He does not want me.”
Grandfather uttered what sounded like a sigh within a sob. I looked at him, but his beard was bent so close to his chest that I could not see his face.
I stood then, and the king slowly rose also. We stood close together for a long minute. “Your High—Grandfather…” I said in almost a whisper. His great bearded head bent lower. “Will you ever forgive me for running from you?”
The king’s face began to glow as though a kiln fire ignited from within. Instead of answering, he held out his hand to me, palm up. I placed my diminutive hand inside his, and we walked slowly out of the garden.

Thanks, Celtic Rose friends! ~Bil and Bon Franks 

Children of the Dust  and
Where Wild Ponies Ran from MuseItUp in 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Glorious Twelfth-Inspirational Caithness Buildings

Many writers draw inspiration from the buildings and physical geography of their surroundings.
     In my second novel, The Glorious Twelfth, the Sinclair mausoleum at Ulbster is the model for Sir Ranald's mausoleum. It stands in open farmland near the ruined farmstead of Ulbster Mains to the south of Wick. The weather vane on the top records 1700 as the date of construction. Maps indicate that the site was formerly a chapel dedicated to St Martin and the surrounding graveyard bears testament to the ground being consecrated. An ancient Class II Celtic stone originally stood in the graveyard confering great antiquity on the site. The stone now stands in the Caithness Horizons Museum in Thurso.
     The square building has very pleasing proportions, topped by a complex ogive shaped roof where the tile size varies accoring to the slope. Internal steel bars have been installed to provide further support for the roof. The burial crypt was cleared of remains and filled in some time ago. It had long since been supplanted by a new mausoleum built near Thurso Castle by Sir John Sinclair, the famous agricultural improver, around 1800. 
The second inspirational building is the ruined Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, built by the Sinclairs. A major archaeological project is currently in progress to both understand the history of the building and stabilise it against further deterioration. The latest research suggests that a building stood on the site as early as the thirteenth century. It was heavily fortified and the major administrative centre of its day, but was abandoned as early as 1680. Cycling to this castle was a favourite boyhood outing. We climbed the walls, explored the dungeon, heart in mouth, and went down the passage to the sea. It is the fictional site of the final dig at the end of The Glorious Twelfth.  

 Also by Alan Calder, The Stuart Agenda published by Willowmoon



Friday, March 1, 2013

The Glorious Twelfth by Alan Calder

The Glorious Twelfth is my second novel, set mainly in my native Caithness with forays into France, Italy, Egypt and Poland. The genre is mystery/suspense with a thread of romance running through the story.

Genesis of the Glorious Twelfth

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown speculates that the Holy Grail lies buried in the filled in crypt of Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh. This mysterious church was built by the Sinclairs in the first half of the fifteenth century, by which time the clan was well established in Caithness where it still holds the Earldom. Caithness, then remote and inaccessible, would have provided a much better hiding place for the Grail than Rosslyn, especially after the Sinclairs began to build a series of heavily fortified castles round the Caithness coast. In Caithness, the Sinclairs also built several mausoleums where many generations of their upper echelons were laid to rest. One of these, an enchanting building with an ogive shaped roof, is built over the remains of an ancient chapel to St Martin and surrounded by a graveyard which once contained a class II Pictish stone, conferring great antiquity on the site.                                             

The Glorious Twelfth- Blurb
The Glorious Twelfth opens as archaeologist Ben Harris finds a Celtic stone and evidence of a medieval shipwreck on the Noster estate of Sir Ranald Sinclair. Careless talk by Ben at a conference in Paris sparks off a robbery at  Sir Ranald’s mausoleum, uncovering a treasure that has been hidden for centuries. The robbery follows the opening day of the grouse season, hence the title of the book. The chief villain, grail fanatic Russian Boris Zadarnov, also abducts Sir Ranald’s wayward daughter, Fran, who is already in love with Ben. American oilman Al Regan, a neighbour of Sir Ranald, leads a rescue party to Paris where Fran is freed and most of the treasure recovered, but the thieves escape with a ruby encrusted chalice.
     For a series of misdemeanours, including failing to spot that the Celtic stone was a fake, Ben is sacked from his university job. He finds consolation in the arms of Fran and moves north to continue treasure hunting, making the discovery of his life near one of the ancient Sinclair castles. Has he found the greatest archaeological prize in Christendom, the Holy Grail? Will he be able to protect it from the malevolent attention of Alexei, younger brother of the deceased Boris?

 The Glorious Twelfth- Opening Excerpt

Ben Harris was examining pottery fragments in the dig tent, already warming up under an August morning sun, when he heard the shout. It was from Angela in the trench on top of the hillock which the locals had always called, The Hill of Peace.

     “Ben, I’ve got something!”

It wasn’t normal to call the field archaeologist for routine finds such as pieces of pottery, so he picked up his trowel and brush and rushed up the path to the dig. In his haste he forgot to put on the wide brimmed kudu skin hat, which normally restrained his longish mop of fair hair and gave him protection from the sun. He was excited by the call, not least because this was his first dig as the boss and the site had certainly looked of interest on the geophysics survey, carried out at Easter by a colleague.

      Angela was on her knees in the metre deep trench, bounded by the foundations of a simple rectangular building, gradually revealed over the previous two weeks. She was carefully prising the compressed soil from a flat stone surface, in the middle of the floor of the building.

     “It’s incised; look there’s a curved line. I don’t think it’s a plough mark.”

     “Not a metre down. I’ll start recording and fetch the laptop just in case.” If it was an important find, he wanted to record the moment as it happened and not have to stage a reconstruction.

     “There’s more, it’s a fish, I’ve got the tail,” she shouted, as he returned with the laptop.

     “Wow, we have got something here.” Looking over her shoulder, Ben could see the fan of the salmon’s tail materialise from the dust. It was about half life-size and pleased him infinitely more than any of the real wild ones he’d caught with rod and line. “Let me check the geophysics.” His mind was racing at the prospect of an undiscovered Pictish stone. 

     “Is it that big anomaly we saw?” Angela asked.

     “Spot on. That’s it.” He perched the laptop on the edge of the trench, allowing her to see the dark shadow on the trace.

     “So, there’s a lot more of it to uncover.”

     As they bent down over the stone again, a shadow covered Ben. He looked up to see the tall slender figure of Fran, daughter of Sir Ranald Sinclair, the proprietor and dig sponsor, on the other side of the trench, blocking out the sun.  She was standing with her arms folded below her breasts, tapping a sandal-covered foot on the edge of the trench, causing a mini-collapse of soil.

     From Ben’s low position in the trench, his first sight was the silhouette of her long legs showing through the thin fabric of her dress. Scanning up further, the sun was neatly eclipsed by her head and sparkled through the outer frizz of her lustrous deep copper coloured hair. It gave her a goddess-like halo, accentuated by the refraction of light through the prisms of her long dangling ear-rings. Her challenging presence made him think of Boudicca, the early Iceni  Queen who took on the Romans.

      Ben narrowed his focus on her face. He got a fleeting impression of self-satisfaction as her eyes left the stone and met his briefly, with the faintest of smiles. She turned sharply on her heel and disappeared into the light without uttering a word. Her departure left him looking into the sun, temporarily blinded, but with the optical memory of her shape still imprinted behind his eyes. Ben shook his head to restore his sight and push her image to the back of his mind. The other students and volunteers on the dig began to assemble round the periphery of the trench, attracted by the allure of the square foot or so of exposed stone.

     “What was that all about?” asked Angela.

     “She seems very interested in the stone,” said Ben.

     “I think she fancies the archaeologist,” said Angela with a hint of menace.

      Ben did not rise to Angela’s bait. He suspected a personal sub-text on her part. She was being very nice to him and always seemed to be hovering within easy reach.

     “I could lift it out for you with the JCB,” said Jay Fuller, an American based on the main platform of the Caithness Shelf oilfield, a few miles offshore. Jay volunteered on his rest days,  a break from the tedium of the production schedule. The other students sniggered at his unprofessional enthusiasm.

     “All in good time, Jay; but you’re right; we will need the JCB for this one.”  Ben gave Fuller a break. He didn’t want to exploit his minor gaffe. He also realised that he would have to rethink the digging plan in the light of the discovery.

     “Is it tea time?” asked the beaming Angela.

     “Okay, let’s take an early tea break and think about what we need to do next.”

     Over the tea break they discussed a new plan to focus on trench three. Ben  would join Angela on the stone and the others would work on fully digging out the rest of the trench. He also called Sir Ranald Sinclair, owner of the Noster Estate to tell him about the find and it was agreed that the proprietor would visit the dig at five p.m.



 Best wishes to all

Alan Calder