The Glass Floor of Provost Skene’s House

Provost Skene's House in Aberdeen

Provost Skene’s House nestles between the new buildings and giant plant pots of Aberdeen.

It’s been a long time since I’ve visited the 16th century townhouse. In fact, it’s been a very long time since I’ve been in the city centre. In recent years trips to Aberdeen have been illness or hospital related.

There have been a few changes.

Marischal College

The fountains in front of Marischal College are new:

Fountains in front of Marischal College, Aberdeen

My father worked in the building when I was a child, and there were regular family trips to the Anthropological Museum there. This was later called the Marischal Museum, and it’s no longer open to the public. You can, however, browse online exhibitions.

Provost Skene’s House

Provost Skene’s House door

History

Dating from 1545, the house has been lived in by a variety of people over the centuries. Provost Skene owned it in the 17th century, and Hanoverian troops used it during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The Duke of Cumberland stayed there on his way to Culloden. It’s been a museum since 1953. See a more thorough history of the house here.

Museum

The museum used to be set up with rooms furnished in different eras: Edwardian bedrooms and Victorian sitting rooms, that sort of thing. It now houses an exhibition of noteworthy people from Aberdeen, and many of the displays are digitised. I rather miss the harpsichords and harps of the previous arrangement.

The Glass Floor

The glass floor in the cellar is still there, and I’m glad about that. The room was previously a coffee shop, and walking over the floor was a highlight for me as a child. I may not have been frightened when locked in a witch’s hoosie, but this floor scared me in an exhilarating sort of way.

I put the scary floor into the castle of my books. The quote below is from Fouetté, the third and final title of the forthcoming series, A Dancer’s Journey, and it describes how the glass used to look in Provost Skene’s House.

Eerie green light still shone up from below the glass, showcasing the museum pieces in the floor: barrels, bottles, various metal implements, a cauldron. The glass had been replaced, of course, and part of it given proper hinges, not like back then when…

I had to cut the quote short there, because: spoilers. The floor is no longer lit up.

Glass floor in Provost Skene's House

The Painted Gallery

The highlight of the house for me now is the Painted Gallery. It has not changed, apart from the removal of the Mouseman benches.

Like the Wine Tower in Fraserburgh, this is a place that may have been used as a post-Reformation Catholic chapel.

Provost Skene's House Chapel

The ceiling depicts the life of Christ. Below is the Entombment, with a kilted gentleman standing to the right.

The Entombment of Christ, Provost Skene's House

Something else that has not changed is the smell of Provost Skene’s House. It’s quite strong and distinctive. I think it might be caused by the use of some sort of speciality wood preserver or furniture polish.

door in Provost Skene's House

I walk across the flagstone floor of Provost Skene’s.

flagstone floor

And then stroll between the old and the new.

old and new

I prefer the old.

Old and new: Provost Skene's House

The Angry Man

Let’s finish with an angry man. He was originally situated on the wall of a 19th century bakery in the city. It was shut down due to its close proximity to a sewer; the baker blamed his neighbours for the closure, and pointed his angry face at them. He now glares at everyone as they walk past Provost Skene’s House.

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodivergent main character and some rather complicated romance…

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

“Ethereal and spellbinding…” Historical Novel Society

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

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The Ancient Sound of the Carnyx at Midsummer

misty morning at Midsummer
A misty Midsummer morning.

It’s Midsummer, and I’m in celebratory mode and sounding my (imaginary) carnyx, a wind instrument of the Iron Age Celts.

Writing Update

All major edits have been completed on all three books of A Dancer’s Journey. There’s still a couple of smaller edits and proofing to be done, but great progress has been made. I’m not announcing publication dates just yet, in case autoimmunity causes delays, but I am delighted to have come so far with what is really rather a personal magnum opus! Edit: Amazon!

Sound of the Carnyx

In the video below, a musician plays a reconstruction of the Deskford Carnyx. The original was discovered in this area of Scotland and dates from the time of my Iron Age novel, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD.

SISTERS

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodivergent main character and some rather complicated romance…

Midsummer, or High Summer, is important to the people of the book. There’s dancing, singing, storytelling and other, naughtier, activities in the stone circle. There’s also feasting and fighting, and the sound of a newly constructed carnyx.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

“Ethereal and spellbinding…” Historical Novel Society

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, featuring a carnyx.

About Page

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The Red Well, a Witch’s Hoosie by Whitehills

the red well and the sea
the red well near Whitehills in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The Red Well

The Red Well by Whitehills in Aberdeenshire is protected by an unusual building. On the autumn equinox, at sunrise, a beam of light shines through the doorway of this beehive-shaped shelter and illuminates the well within. This happens on the spring equinox too. The well, and the building, are said to date from Roman times.

the red well by whitehills

A Witch’s Hoosie

the red well by Whitehills

When I was a small child, I lived with my grandparents in Whitehills for a while. One day, playing with my cousins, I was locked in that building to see if the witch would get me. The place was referred to as the ‘witch’s hoosie’ back then, by children at least. There were scary stories of an old lady witch ghost. I was quite interested to see if she would show up. She didn’t, and I was eventually freed, my lack of fear having disappointed my companions somewhat.

The door is kept locked now.

Since then, I’ve always viewed the well as rather a magical place, and keenly look out for the quick glimpse of it in the landscape that you get when driving along the main Banff to Portsoy road.

thistles by the well
Thistles by the well

It’s in a particularly beautiful spot, the Red Well. The town of Banff can just be seen in the distance below.

the red well by the sea

A Book Set in Roman Times

I included the Red Well in SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD.

Sisters at the Edge of the World by Ailish Sinclair

It was seven years in the making, this book. Both the novel and I went through a lot as the story developed: severe editing, hospitalisations, deleting, pain, rewriting, crying and being monstrous.

See the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

Paperback and Kindle:

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

It’s on Kindle Unlimited too so can be read for free (there’s a 30 day free trial).

sisters at the edge of the world

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Go here to sign up for my occasional emails that always include exclusive photos and news of my writing and life. They’re a more intimate space than the blog. If you would rather just hear about new books and offers, you can follow my Amazon author page.

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Ailish Sinclair in a tree...

Read all about little old me here

Writer’s Tip Jar

Working Girl: a WordPress Prompt Goes Dark

wordpress prompt

What jobs have you had?

A WordPress Prompt

Well, WordPress prompt, when I was fifteen, I took over my ballet teacher’s school for a few months before going to college.

Despite being far too young for such a responsibility, I loved it, and it paid for all the dancewear and equipment I needed for my studies.

ballet teacher: wordpress prompt

In my second year of dance school, I got a job in a shop in Covent Garden. It was a very nice shop. I had more money. No more choosing between food and decent pointe shoes.

shop assistant: wordpress prompt

But here is where things go a bit darker than the WordPress prompt probably intended. I knew really, that working both Saturday and Sunday, after a hard week of dance training, was a bit foolhardy. My sensible friend, Suzette, who would have counselled against this, had returned to Mauritius. More about Suzette and dance training here

So, I became exhausted. There was dance injury after dance injury. I developed a chest infection that lasted five months.

The shop sacked me for being ill. This left me even more vulnerable than I had already been, at seventeen, alone in London.

There was a violent predator.

There was an incident from which I was lucky to escape with my life.

Fast forward to the present, skipping several other jobs…

writer: wordpress prompt

And my writing is influenced by my past. This is most evident in my contemporary work. There is a dark event in TENDU, the first book of A Dancer’s Journey, that I knew how to write because of my own experience. Not that it’s exactly the same, of course. In fact, it’s quite different. Fiction has to be more dramatic than reality, and more interesting. Far more interesting…

And have an infinitely more exciting setting…

These books have dark moments, but they are actually quite fun, overall, I think. And naughty. Like life, if you’re lucky!

Update: the whole series is out now!

Series on Amazon UK

Series on Amazon worldwide

Series on Goodreads

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Dance and Despair: Writing What You Know on Women Writers, Women[‘s] Books.

Diabolical reading

More on the series

Historical Fiction

Ethereal and spellbinding... says the Historical Novel Society of SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

Set in 1st century Scotland, and featuring the cliffs and caves of Cullykhan Bay, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodivergent main character and some rather complicated romance…

“Ethereal and spellbinding…” Historical Novel Society

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

See the press release here

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

Taking place mainly in a fictional castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children and young people of Aberdeen. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

See the publisher’s Press Release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

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Cullykhan Bay: Exploring and Writing

I love Cullykhan Bay

Near the village of Pennan in Aberdeenshire, Cullykhan is a place that has long been appreciated by people, so it has a rich history. To the left of the sandy and sheltered beach lies an impressive promontory.

It’s been home to an Iron Age fort, now vitrified, and a medieval castle. Excavations have uncovered Neolithic and Roman finds (read more about these on the Canmore site).

From the promontory, you can see the Deil’s Lum (meaning devil’s chimney). This cave shoots sea spray with a roar during stormy weather.

The Deil's Lum, a cave at Cullykhan Bay.

It’s a place – promontory, bay and caves – that I write about quite a lot.

In THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, Isobell, Jasper and Ian have to cross the inside of the Deil’s Lum before following a tunnel to the castle. The tunnel is fictional, and so is my description of the interior of the cave, or rather it’s stolen from just around the corner.

As is my way, in the name of research, I have explored every tunnel and cave that is remotely accessible by land at Cullykhan.

cave entrance at Cullykhan Bay

This one leads to a dark and seagull-filled space… and it’s this space that I made the characters traverse, after slipping and sliding across it myself, of course.

Cave opening at Cullykhan Bay

Isobell, at least, did not enjoy the experience:

The truth was that caves and tunnels were more fun when told of beside a fireside, in dry clothes with a full belly. The reality of them – the cold, the wet, the dripping and the echoing, and the smell of decay – was only startling. The roof looked as if a huge ogre had wielded a knife inside the cliffs, cutting and carving to his heart’s content, but the idea contained no mirth, nor even any interest. And what lay ahead in this new life of ours?

Excerpt from THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR

Climbing to the Cave

Staring at the entrance of the Deil’s Lum from across the divide wasn’t enough for me so, one day, I slid down the hill and climbed up into it. This is foolhardy behaviour, and not recommended, but I made a short video so you can see the cave without risking your own life and limb.

Writing Cullykhan

Cullykhan features heavily in the Iron Age story of SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. I loved writing about this beautiful place, capturing the essence of it in words. I took its great magnificence, and its beauty, and swirled them around, adding terrible, strange and unexpected events into the mix.

Cave opening at Cullykhan
Light and dark at Cullykhan…

I was honoured to appear on two wonderful websites recently: in an interview on Sue’s Musings here, and on Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore.

My Books

Ethereal and spellbinding... says the Historical Novel Society of SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

Set in 1st century Scotland, and featuring the cliffs and caves of Cullykhan Bay, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodivergent main character and some rather complicated romance…

“Ethereal and spellbinding…” Historical Novel Society

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

See the press release here

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

Taking place mainly in a fictional castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children and young people of Aberdeen. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

See the publisher’s Press Release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

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See my About Page here

Newsletter

Go here to sign up for my occasional emails that always include some exclusive photos and news of my writing and life. If you would rather just hear about new books and offers, you can follow my Amazon author page.

Writer’s Tip Jar

Some Depressing Time Travel

time travel with a book

That’s what my son said of my little video attempt below. “Wow, that’s some depressing time travel.”

Romantic Time Travel

I do like those sad stories, though. Not that they’re sad, beginning to end, these books. There’s romance in them all, happy romance, sometimes a little bit naughty too. And one of them has chocolate… No actual time travel, though. None at all.

You can be depressed by them all here in the UK, or for worldwide depression, go here.

Writing with no time travel

I’ve been writing, writing, writing, living in the intense and sexy atmosphere of A Dancer’s Journey. I love it. I don’t want to leave it. It’s fun and romantic, if a little devastating and dramatic in places. But leave it, I will, later this year, when all three books finally get released.

More on the series:

Pink Things

I’ve been enjoying the pink phase of the garden…

pink bench in a time travel post
Pink bench and cherry blossom

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Ailish's feet

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Writer’s Tip Jar

Eilean Donan Castle and Writing Sad Stories

The Sea Gate at Eilean Dinan Castle. Writing sad stories.

That’s the Sea Gate at Eilean Donan Castle, in the Highlands of Scotland, above. It’s two things at once. In the present day, it’s beautiful. But it’s said that people used to be thrown out of it, in acts of punishment or coercion. So, it’s terrible too. Sad, even.

And it’s the same with writing stories. Yes, they can be sad, and dark, and terrible. But they’re not only that. Or they don’t have to be. As with many things, in writing or life, it’s all about how it’s done.

Another view from Eilean Donan Castle

view from Eilean Donan Castle

Writing Sad Stories

It was a recent review of FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE that got me thinking about this. Here’s the pertinent part of what the reviewer said:

I was somewhat hesitant to read this novel as I thought it would be too sad, but was glad to have chosen to read it as Sinclair did not disappoint with the telling of an exceptionally satisfying tale.

I felt the exact same hesitancy about writing the book. It was while researching local history for THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR that I stumbled across the information that 600 children and young people had been kidnapped from Aberdeen during the 1740s. They’d then been transported to the American colonies where they were sold into indentured servitude. It was terrible. It was sad. And, almost totally, overlooked. It wasn’t history that got talked about much. In fact, most people knew nothing about it. So, it was precisely the sort of story, sad or otherwise, that I liked to tell.

scenery on the way to Eilean Donan Castle
A photo taken somewhere between Glen Shiel and Eilean Donan Castle

Making Historical Characters Relatable

I wanted to bring those people from the past to life, to make them human and relatable. But, wouldn’t it be too depressing to open the door to those particular historical events?

Eilean Donan Castle door
The castle door…

The answer is: no. I don’t think so, anyway. I found the book great fun to write. In fact, I think it’s the least dark of my novels. The main character, Elizabeth, is so determined, and so easily enraged. She kicks sadness to the side. Mostly. She does have some despairing moments. I wrote about one of those times in response to a question on the Wee Writing Lassie Blog (see the whole interview here):

A young girl was found dead in First Mate Alexander Young’s bunk during the voyage from Aberdeen to America. History has not recorded her name so I called her Maggie, and her death has a deep impact on Elizabeth in several ways. It causes her terrible grief, informs her opinions of what ‘fine gentlemen’ can actually be, and provides a specific awareness of how much danger she and other women and girls are in at times.

The publisher had this to say about Elizabeth, or Beth as she becomes, in their press release:

Fiery and forthright, Elizabeth isn’t someone to be argued with. She knows her own mind, and isn’t afraid to speak it. Through her experiences, the reader sees her grow from a girl, into a woman with a powerful voice… a woman of her time, but very much of ours too.

The sun comes out over Eilean Donan Castle
The sun comes out over Eilean Donan Castle

Learn More

You can learn more about Eilean Donan Castle on the offical website here.

And more about FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE on the book info page here or on the links below:

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Review from the Historical Novel Society

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children and young people of Aberdeen. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair

Newsletter

Go here to sign up for my (roughly monthly) newsletter. It’s a more intimate space than the blog and always includes some exclusive photos. If you would rather just hear about new books and offers, you can follow my Amazon author page.

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Eilean Donan Castle
A final, more iconic, image of the castle

Writer’s Tip Jar

Pointe Work and a Red Leotard

pointe work and a red leotard
Photographer: Darian Volkova

Would a strappy red leotard distract the eye from my puffer-fish face or accentuate it? The many thin straps of the garment crisscrossed my back in a pleasing design. It was different. It was daring. I wore it.

The above quote is from TENDU, the first book of A Dancer’s Journey, a romantic-suspense series. The main character, Amalphia, has just been through some relationship turmoil, again, and is returning to class after injury caused by an inappropriate level of pointe work. The red leotard gets her into a surprising amount of trouble.

Her injury came from being asked to perform every exercise in class en pointe. This is something that I took from my own life.

pointe work

Memories of Pointe Work

One week at college, our usual morning-class teacher – the late great Imogen Claire – was absent and a substitute put in place. This new teacher decided I needed to be stretched and pushed, and had me do everything en pointe. Just me. Nobody else. This singling-out drew a few nasty looks from the other dancers. But really, there was nothing to be jealous about.

Because it really was everything. Every bend. Every jump. I love jumping en pointe. I still do it sometimes. But as a training method in morning class, this excessive pointe work made no sense. It removed the benefit of many of the exercises, and I limped off to the other lessons of the day improperly warmed-up.

After two days of this, my feet were sore. After a week, they were a mess. But then Imogen returned with her no-nonsense approach to teaching and ballet, and I healed.

Imogen Claire and Christopher Biggins in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Imogen looks through her glasses in disapproval (Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975). Christopher Biggins, to the left there, once said very nice things to me while judging my annual assessment at college.

There was no need for extra pointe work, as we were blessed with a specialist teacher for that. At first I was surprised to learn that the class was taught by a man, but Gary Harris was a true expert on the subject, performing all the steps en pointe himself in his soft trainers at the front of the studio.

So, dance-school memories indulged, it’s time to head back into the next manuscripts. There’s a connected series coming…

A Dancer’s Journey Series on Amazon UK

Series on Amazon worldwide

Series on Goodreads

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A Dancer's Journey by Ailish Sinclair

More Posts with Dance Content

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Sisters at the Edge of the World

Ethereal and spellbinding... says the Historical Novel Society of SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

When Morragh speaks to another person for the very first time, she has no idea that he is an invader in her land…

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodivergent main character and some rather complicated romance!

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

My About Page

Ailish's feet

Read my bio and see all the social links and articles here.

Writer’s Tip Jar

Crying While Writing: anyone else do this?

Crying while writing: Star of Bethlehem flowers
Star of Bethlehem in the meadow

Crying while writing. Crying while editing. And even crying while thinking about writing, as the scenes, both happy and sad, play out in my mind. It’s no wonder I’m sometimes dehydrated!

So, am I the only one?

Tell me I’m not.

I can’t be.

Emotive writing is, just that. Springing from emotion. Causing of emotions. If the writer isn’t fully immersed, how can the reader ever be?

crying while writing: Rhododendron flowers on the pink bench
Rhododendron flowers on the pink bench

Marketing

But then, I read other things, sensible things really. Like, when we market our books, they should be regarded as ‘products’ and we should not be emotionally attached to them. This is meant to work well. It makes better ‘business’ sense. And we should write to a ‘market’ and design covers to a genre stereotype. The first one I can maybe manage, at least while marketing, but certainly not while writing. The rest, no. It all flows fast and organically out of me and I have no choice but to go where my heart takes me.

ox eye daisy
Ox Eye Daisy

So. I sob on. The latest line, from SISTERS, to set me off was: In the midst of great loss, the newness of a baby helps.

Floods.

Breathlessness.

I’m welling up just looking at the line now, overcome by all that it references.

Rhoddies. Crying while writing

Editing

This emotional aspect of writing is one of the many reasons good, thorough, even brutal, editing is so important. We, or at least I, need someone less attached, someone who did not write the words and scenes, to look at the work objectively and say: this could be better, this is not clear, were you under the influence of one of your stronger prescription drugs when you wrote this? Because in our, or my, invested blubbering state, we might not see it. We might not know.

The book is on its way back for edit three soon (GWL did spoil me with their three editing process, and I won’t do less now), so all is well there.

It is possible that illness is making me worse, crying-wise. I feel a bit pathetic and vulnerable. But that will pass. I will get stronger again. And you’ll get nice sensible and scenic posts about castles and standing stones 🙂

But for now, I recover – from both medical conditions and writing – in the garden. Among the flowers. With a candle.

crying while writing, a candle outside
Lovely soothing candle from Tilly’s Candle Shop… sniff…

Giveaway

On a happier note, one that doesn’t make me cry anyway: I’m doing a signed book giveaway over on Instagram. See it here. It runs all week (June 19th- 26th 2022) with one of each book up for grabs and it’s a worldwide competition.

book giveaway

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen.

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

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About page updated

Just Some Spring Flowers

spring flowers - crocus in the garden
In the garden

It’s good to see the spring flowers. And the sunshine. As illness recedes a little along with the winter.

SISTERS

Ethereal and spellbinding

Romans + Celts = some rather complicated romance!

Set in 1st century Scotland, the novel features a neurodivergent main character, chosen sisters, fierce warriors and the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

    Newsletter

    Go here to sign up for occasional emails that always include some exclusive photos and news of my writing and life. They’re a more intimate space than the blog. If you would rather just hear about new books and offers, you can follow my Amazon author page.

    My About Page

    castle roof

    Read my bio and see all the social links and articles here.

    Writer’s Tip Jar