Category Archives: Author Guest Posts

BLOG TOUR: Guest post by Anna Belfrage

Lost in time – of those that came before

Time, they say, is relative. It is also the single thing that all of us have as much of – or as little of – as out next door neighbour. Not that everyone agrees with that statement, as it is obvious even to a blind hen that some of us (read “me”) work much more than others (read “you”). In actual fact, though, we are all free to deploy the usage of our time as we please – but we must be prepared to take the consequences. So, if person A finds his/her time well-invested by spending it on the sofa watching TV all day long, chances are person A will soon find himself/herself without either sofa or TV.

Time – or rather the passing of time – is also something of an anxiety attack. As we get older, we become painfully aware of the fact that time is running out, and those endless years that stretched before us when we were sixteen and naïve, seem depressingly finite once we have passed the fifty year mark. This is when bucket lists get written, when previously agnostic people start considering the afterlife, carefully circling the thought that maybe God exists – if nothing else because if He does exist, maybe things won’t end when we draw that last, final breath.

Some become concerned not so much with afterlife but with afterword. What will be said of us once we are dead? Will we have left an indelible impression on this world? Probably not. After all, most of us will pass into the annals of history as the merest of footnotes – as have most of our ancestors before us.

History is not made up of the famous. It isn’t the kings and the queens, it is the rank and file, the people who broke their backs over meagre fields, who span and wove, who cooked and baked, fought and died. People like us, a sea of humanity stretching back into time, most of whom had no ambition beyond surviving and leaving enough of a legacy behind for their children to be slightly better off than they were.

One of my favourite pastimes is to visit old churches. Not the fancy, huge cathedrals, but rather the small, dilapidated churches that so generously dot our continent. The gate to the graveyard might squeak, headstones stand in ordered rows that degenerate to a jumble of fallen, broken stones the further back in time we go. If the inscriptions are decipherable, there will be moments of quiet contemplation as I consider the fate of the poor woman who gave birth seven times and buried six of her boys – all of them named William in one combination or another – before they reached the age of one. Did she curse God? Did she blame herself for not being pious enough, good enough?

Then there’s the church itself. Old pews are worn shiny with use, there’s a tang of dust and candle wax, and in the furthest right hand corner there are remnants of the medieval frescoes that illustrated the Bible stories – frescoes that were whitewashed during the Reformation, proclaimed as unnecessary now that common man could read the Bible for himself. Except that often he couldn’t, because despite the Bible being translated into the vernacular, analphabetism was rife in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. I guess the people missed the frescoes, if nothing else as a feature to fix their eyes on during the increasingly long sermons.

I like sitting down for a while, all alone with the dust motes that dance in the sunlight that falls through the high church windows. Sometimes it seems to me those shimmering particles come together, forming outlines of people. There’s the soft, hushed sound of prayers, in Latin, in the languages of today. Sweeping kirtles, men in gowns and hose, here and there a serving wench with her hair severely tucked out of sight – people from all ages, an endless line of devout believers that clasp their hands and pray. For what? A safe birth? Deliverance from the Black Death? The return of their man, presently fighting at Naseby? There’s weeping and laughter, and once in a while it is as if the whole church hums with this collective prayer from the preceding generations. What did they wish for? Dream of? Probably the same things we wish for; a good life, health, future for our kids.

Recently I have developed a new fascination – old stone walls. It struck me one day as I was admiring the walls that encircle our country house, that these beautiful seventeenth century constructions are the result of very much work. Extremely hard labour, in fact. Since then, I see walls everywhere, features I had previously never taken any notice of. Each and every stone in those long, straight walls is a stone picked from a field, a little piece of rock lifted aside before it broke the precious plough. Until the field was rid of stones, it couldn’t be cultivated, and clearly this was land riddled with stone. Lucky me, I think as I caress my precious walls, and out of the corner of my eye I see a boy in ragged breeches and a filthy linen shirt, and he is crying because his back is hurting something awful, but the master will belt him if he stops shifting the rocks. He looks straight at me, wipes at his snotty nose and fades away. I wonder if the moss-covered stone presently under my hand is one he placed here.

Everywhere we look, we find the traces of the people who lived before us – in the churches and graveyards, in the ruined castle and the rotting barn. Had we met them, I think we would have been struck by how alike we are – well, once over the superficial differences. We live in a brave new world filled with technological wonders the people from long ago couldn’t even begin to imagine. But they started it, with every rock torn out of the ground to give way to cultivated land, with every spire raised to praise the glory of God – and the inventiveness of man.

Ultimately we’re all the same; we’re born, we live, we die. Some of us build cathedrals, some of us make do with a simple little wall. But somehow we all leave a trace, an ephemeral imprint that will dance like glittering fogs over the lands that once were ours.

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Anna Belfrage is the author of six published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of two people who should never have met. Matthew Graham is a devout Presbyterian, a veteran of the Commonwealth armies and a man who, initially at least, has a tendency to see the world as black and white. Alex Lind is an opinionated modern woman who has the misfortune (or not) of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thereby being dragged three centuries back in time to land concussed and badly singed at an astounded Matthew’s feet.

Anna can be found on amazon and on her website or her blog!

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BLOG TOUR: Author guest post – What was King George III’s illness? by Laura Purcell

George_III_in_Coronation_editFor many years George III was known as the “mad” king of England. But as attitudes and science have progressed, historians and doctors alike have tried to diagnose the illness which haunted George from 1788 to the end of his life.

It is extremely difficult to determine whether he suffered from a psychological disorder, or a disease that caused mental disturbances as part of a larger problem. A recent theory is that George had acute porphyria, a rare inherited condition affecting the enzymes that produce porphyrins and heme. Porphyria has an acute impact on the nervous system causing abdominal pain, vomiting, muscle weakness, seizures, hallucination and paranoia. A high heart rate may also develop. You may have seen the film The Madness of King George, in which the King’s urine is reported to be blue. This was certainly the case through some of his illness, and blue urine can be another sign of porphyria.

However, we cannot lay too much store by this one symptom, as some of the medicines the King was prescribed could well have changed the colour of his urine.The first hint of the King’s condition came in 1765, just five years into his reign. He was feverishness with stitches in the chest and a pulse rate of 120. For a time his life was feared of. The strange episode was referred to merely as a fever, and perhaps it was, but similar symptoms appeared in the onset of George’s great illness twenty three years later.

Before the mental delirium, George experienced violent stomach pains which seized him in the night and rendered him speechless. When under an attack, he found it difficult to breathe. At one time he showed his third daughter, Elizabeth, a rash that had appeared on his arm. She said it looked as if he had been scoured.

These were not the only physical symptoms. Doctors’ reports show shooting pains from side to side in the King’s back, cramp and swelling in the legs, which was thought to be gout. Indeed, for some time the doctors believed George’s manic episodes were caused by gout “travelling up to the brain”.

QUEEN-OF-BEDLAM-copyVisual disturbance also troubled the King. He felt he had a floating mist before his eyes and feared he would go blind. But more curious is the changing colour of the King’s eyes. The whites became yellow and Queen Charlotte described his pupils as “blackcurrant jelly”. In terms of behaviour, George’s illness shows similarity to bipolar syndrome. During manic episodes, he barely slept, speaking continually until the foam ran from his mouth. Sometimes crying, sometimes violent, it was impossible to predict the King’s mood. However, before his illness George was always eccentric, fast-talking and painfully blunt. This makes it hard to decide whether he was truly displaying alternating mania and depression. On the recent BBC documentary Fit to Rule, a leading doctor examined George’s handwriting and found significant changes during bouts of illness. He believes there is enough evidence to prove George was bipolar. Unfortunately, he makes no mention of the physical symptoms such as the mottled skin and swelled veins in George’s face, let alone the bodily cramps.

With a life dominated by duty, an over-bearing mother and the death of his father at a young age, George does seem a likely victim of psychological damage. It is certainly true that the methods used by Doctor Willis – the keeper of an asylum– were the only ones that had an impact on the King’s behaviour. But whether this was science or coincidence, we will perhaps never know.

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BLOG TOUR: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose – Author guest post

Opening quote from The Collector of Dying Breaths:

“It is with irony now, forty years later, to think that if I had not been called a murderer on the most frightening night of my life, there might not be any perfume in Paris today. And that scent—to which I gave my all and which gave me all the power and riches I could have hoped for—is at the heart of why now it is I who call myself a murderer.”

Inspiration for the novel:

Perfume Bottle

“Perfume is … that last and best reserve of the past, the one which when all out tears have run dry, can make us cry again!” ~ Marcel Proust

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Anna Belfrage author guest post

anna belfrage

Anna Belfrage Author of The Graham Saga novels

First of all, may I start by sweeping Lady Kell an appropriately deep curtsey. Thank you for hosting me!

Today I thought we’d talk a bit about manipulation – and how susceptible we all are to being manipulated. Not exactly breaking news, I know. Back in the very good old days, Alexander the Great’s equally great (if somewhat less handsome and definitely much more unpolished) father, Philip of Macedonia, had already established his manipulative tactics; divide and conquer.  This works very well for an emperor / king/ dictator surrounded by ambitious individuals who slaver at the mouth the closer they get to the intoxicating scent of ultimate power. It works less well with sycophants, as chances are all that dividing and conquering will result in an extremely ineptly run empire/kingdom – which of course mostly reflects on the emperor/king himself.

Several centuries later, Niccolo Machiavelli was to write the ultimate handbook of manipulation, The Prince. This is actually a little gem of a book, showing great insight into what makes most of us tick and tock. What comes across quite clearly is that most of us want to be manipulated, told what to believe. The masses prefer not to think – at least not too hard – which was why those ancient Roman Emperors were spot on with their “Bread and Games” policy. Keep people fed and entertained, and most of them will do as you want them to do.

The examples proving the above line themselves up in an interminable line. Hitler tapped into the same oratory, as did the leaders of The French revolution (Games here being replaced with Executions). However, as Serpents in the Garden is not set in 18th century France or 20th century Germany, I would instead like to turn your attention to London in the late 17th century – and a rather unappealing man called Titus Oates.

Let’s make some things clear here; I do not like Titus. The world would have been a better place without him, so it is a pity he didn’t die at birth or was carried off by the whopping cough before he was two. Not to be, sadly. Also, whatever manipulative lies Titus told, they were only believed because people wanted to believe them. People craved his lies, his simplistic view on life. Had someone in authority challenged Titus, torn the can of gigantic fibs he presented as truths wide open, Titus would have been out on his ear so fast no one today would remember his name. Unfortunately, the people with authority rubbed their hands with glee at Titus’ fabrications – just what they needed to further destabilise the political situation.

England at the time was seething with religious unrest – not an uncommon state of affairs during the 17th century. However, in the late 1670’s, things were rapidly coming to a head between the fanatic anti-Catholics and the somewhat more tolerant. The king, Charles II, had no son to take over – at least no legitimate sons – and so the heir to the throne was the Catholic Duke of York. Brrr. A shiver coursed through the limbs of the very Protestant Parliament.

How convenient then, that Titus should pop up and fan the flames of anti-popery even higher by declaring he had proof of a plot to kill Charles II, a terrible, terrible plot which, among others, implicated the king’s Catholic queen. Charles, to his credit, laughed and declared Titus a fraud. Parliament did not. They skipped with joy, clapping their hands at this most fortunate turn of events.

While the king did not believe Titus’ lies, he was somewhat constrained in what he could do to defend the poor Catholics who were now rounded up and accused of one terrible crime after the other. To appear too sympathetic to Catholics could be dangerous for the king, and he had no intention of ending up like his father did – beheaded, to a large extent due to religious issues.

Over a period of xx months, Titus’ unsubstantiated accusations lead to over 15 people being executed – all of them Catholic. The political powers had achieved what they wanted; a headless Catholic party. When Titus was no longer of any use, he was accused of sedition and thrown in jail – a very different existence to that he led some months back, when he had rooms at Whitehall palace and was wined and dined by the peers of the realm.

 When Charles II died, the former Duke of York became king as James II. He had scores to settle with dear old Titus, and so Oates was pilloried, he was brutally whipped – but survived. Three years later, James II was history, replaced by the very Protestant William & Mary. Titus Oates was released from prison and given a generous pension for the rest of his life. I guess the powers that were felt they owed their pet liar for having rid the realm of all those dangerous – and innocent – papists.

Anna Belfrage is the author of The Graham Saga – so far five of the total eight books have been published. Set in seventeenth century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, The Graham Saga tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him.

Other than on her website, www.annabelfrage.com, Anna can mostly be found on her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel.

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BLOG TOUR: To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis – Author guest post

natchezNatchez Trace Walk

The Natchez Trace is a 10,000-year-old road that runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Thousands of years ago, animals used its natural ridge line as a migratory route from points in the Ohio River Valley to the salt licks in Mississippi. It was logical for the first Native Americans to settle along the Trace to follow part of their migrating food supply. When the Kaintucks settled west of the Appalachians, they had to sell their goods at ports in New Orleans or Natchez, but before steam power, they had to walk home. The Trace became one of the busiest roads in North America.

To launch To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, I will be the first person of either sex to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did since the rise of steam power in the 1820′s. March 1, 2014 to April 3, 2014. Fifteen miles a day. Six days a week. One rest day per week. I will spend each night in the modern-day equivalent of stands, places much like Grinder’s Stand, where Meriwether Lewis died from two gunshot wounds on October 11, 1809.

I will take readers into the world of the book. You’ll see the places that inspired scenes and hear the backstories of different characters, with running commentary by my father, who’s tagging along with me.

I’ll also have a daily YouTube segment where I answer reader questions about the book, my walk, my arguments—I mean—interactions with my dad, and whatever readers want to know. Ask me anything at mystories@andrawatkins.com

You might see yourself on this site during my tour.

 

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