Tag Archives: A Wasted Land

Success! Progress bars, a new blog design, and an excerpt

I decided I was not going to post today until I got the blog design and progress bars figured out, and I did! There’s obviously still some tweaking to do. I don’t understand what the thing is with the big white patch in the upper right hand corner, frex, since the header tool cut my image to the size it is now. I may just need a much larger image, something I will have to mess with. (*Figured it out, I think — looks good on my browser now. Please let me know in the comments if you still have any issues!) But not today. That’s enough formatting for one day. After this, I want to get some writing done.

Speaking of writing, my word count last week was down a bit from the week before, but with a total of 4300 words for the week, I’m still happy with it. I also got the first draft of the new Mars cover made with my daughter, and got good feedback on that — which means I’m closer to uploading to Amazon and making it free.

I did skip posting anything for “Starting Out as an Indie Author” this week. I really needed that time to get a few other things off my to-do list. Besides, while the series is getting me a lot of traffic to my blog, it isn’t doing anything for my sales. As a result, I think I will switch to a bi-weekly schedule with the series, so that I will have more time for actually working on marketing my books.

As to the progress bars, I got the link from Critique Circle, as someone suggested in the comments of one of my previous posts. Thanks! For those who are interested, here’s what the code maker looks like:

Progress bar code maker

Once I had my base code, I made a Text widget in WordPress, replaced my word count with the code, and copied the list into the text box. And now I have my progress bars! 🙂

With progress and progress bars out of the way, I can move on to WIPpet Wednesday. The excerpt I’m offering today comes again from A Wasted Land, a little after the one I gave you last week. After a confrontation with Celemon, Kustennin has headed to the town at the foot of the hill-fort of Sarum in search of Bedwyr. My math for 9/3 is to take the 3 from the 9, leaving me with 6 paragraphs:

The town at the foot of the hill-fort was not laid out in a grid of straight lines like the cities planned by the Romans. Instead, it hugged the base of the hill, the roads curving with the landscape — aside from the Roman cross roads, that is, around which the town had sprung up. There was no forum or principia or amphitheater, although there was a private bath house, catering to travelers, more modest than the Roman baths of Caer Leon or Isca, but more than one might find elsewhere on the road in Britain. Despite the organic layout of the town, the houses were built in the Roman style, although many of them were of wood rather than stone and stucco.
The house of the magistrate, which held both living quarters and administrative center, stood near the junction, and Kustennin followed the curving road away from the river toward the center of town. Here, on the outskirts just below the hill-fort, a number of tents had sprung up — the inevitable camp followers that seemed to know where troops would be before the leaders knew themselves. Kustennin had only brought a force of twenty warriors with him to inspect the sites on the borders to Cerdic’s lands, doubling the number of soldiers in residence at Sarum, and yet there were over a dozen tents here.
He was reminded of Celemon’s words, of how many men had been lost in the recent wars — and how many women would never be able to found a family as a result.
A woman with long, wheat-blond hair, sitting in front of one of the tents and darning a woven blanket spread out across her lap, looked up at his approach. As his eyes met hers, she rose, laying blanket, needle and yarn aside. He saw that she was tall, like Celemon, probably almost of a height with Kustennin.
Slowly, she walked towards the road in the same direction as Kustennin, at an angle and pace calculated for them to meet. He found himself anticipating the moment their paths would cross, knowing what would come of it. Briefly, he thought of what his foster father Cador said about casual sexual encounters, that they were not worth the complications involved if the woman got with child — and there were many women who would be happy to bear the bastard of a king. But even as he recalled Cador’s words, he turned and began walking to meet the camp follower.
This woman promised much better distraction than discussing travel plans with Bedwyr.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

Slowly increasing word counts, and another #WIPpet for Wednesday

As you can see visiting my blog, I still have not gotten around to redesigning and adding progress bars. As I talked about in my last post, it took me way too long to just get my free incentive to join my mailing list set up. So be it.

At least my output is slowly increasing again, as I try to develop better habits — which mostly involves spending less time frittering around on the Internet, far too easy to do, I fear. My word count for last week came to 4600. And I largely finished putting together the text and photos for my book on our Hurtigruten trip, Life in the Fjord Lane. Here’s the photo I’m thinking of using for the cover:

Hurtigruten cruise

It was taken at dusk without flash in the Lofoten Islands, and I love the colors. What do you guys think?

In the continued absence of progress bars, here’s my list of WIPs and where they’re at right now:

A Wasted Land
44,300 of 70,000 estimated

Sooper sekrit project
12,600 of 60,000 estimated

Sooper sekrit project II
2900 of 30,000 estimated

Life in the Fjord Lane
2300 — word count mostly done now, still need to check photos, compile PDF and test for CreateSpace

Killing Twilight (short story / shared world)
500 of 7,000 estimated

Facets of Glass (YA novella)
2600 of 25,000 estimated

Starting out as an Indie Author (non-fiction)
8600 (no estimate)

On to WIPpet Wednesday! I’m still posting from A Wasted Land, since Facets of Glass is not yet ready to go public, consisting mostly of notes to myself combined with a smattering of dialog here and there. As I begin to flesh it out more, I’ll probably start posting from that for a while.

This scene comes right on the heels of last week’s scene and explains Kustennin’s angry response — which most of you guys had spot on. *g* Today I give you 8 sentences for the 8th month — plus 2 for reasons of inner snippet logic:

Kustennin didn’t know why he was running away. Wouldn’t Celemon’s complaints of never being able to have a family of her own be the perfect opportunity to tell her she had a potential husband standing right next to her? That he had long thought of her as more than a foster sister? But Celemon had confessed her resignation and disappointment to a friend. She never would have said such things to a man she felt attracted to — she did not see him in that light at all. Which on one level was excellent, since they were such good companions and could talk of so many things.
On the other hand, it made it very difficult for Kustennin to court her. Under the circumstances, how was he to get her to see him differently, as something more than the youth with whom she’d spent many of her childhood years? He could hardly blurt out, “I for one would marry you!”
At least not until she began to see him as a man rather than a foster brother.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

Getting closer to progress bars, and more from A Wasted Land

I want to thank you all for the tips on getting progress bars set up on my blog. I’m hoping to experiment with that in the next couple of days, and do some other tweaking to my blog as well. Hopefully you will see some changes by next week!

Progress on my various projects continues to be slow but steady. Last week, I wrote about 3200 new words. I haven’t made much progress on getting back into the marketing swing of things, however. My Mondays are largely spent writing the blog posts for “Starting out as an indie author.” I may have to take a break from that for a week or two to get the marketing machine rolling again. Besides, if I’m not selling anymore, how can I write about how to sell your ebooks? I have to figure out how it works, in this new marketing environment (which in a few months will probably be completely different). Oh, isn’t life fun in this brave new world we’re living in? 🙂

Another thing I’ll be taking a break from is working on A Wasted Land. I don’t want to publish the ebook of Island of Glass until I at least have the rough draft of Facets of Glass finished — and as you can see from my word counts below, I am very far from that yet. I may, however, continue posting from AWL on Wippet Wednesday, since I still have quite a few words you guys haven’t seen yet.

Anyway, here’s how my ongoing projects stand now:

A Wasted Land
44,200 of 70,000 estimated

Sooper sekrit project
12,600 of 60,000 estimated

Life in the Fjord Lane
1500 of 3000 estimated (travel, mostly pictures with little text; work largely formatting)

Killing Twilight (short story / shared world)
500 of 7,000 estimated

Facets of Glass (YA novella)
1200 of 25,000 estimated

Starting out as an Indie Author (non-fiction)
7600 (no estimate)

On to Wippet Wednesday. This snippet follows immediately after the excerpt from last week. Celemon and Kustennin are examining the hill-fort of Sarum. Celemon has just thanked him for giving her a new purpose in life as Master of Horse, since she’s certain she will never marry now — to which he reacts very strangely. I give you 20 sentences for the twentieth day of the month:

Celemon shrugged. “I would not want to be a dependent in my brother’s family, and I see little chance for me anymore of starting my own.”
“No!” He pulled his hand away and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “You are talking as if you no longer have any chance of finding a husband. I do not believe it!”
At Kustennin’s brotherly defense of her, Celemon was tempted to smile, but given Kustennin’s wrought up mood, she suppressed the impulse. “Kustennin, I am over twenty,” she said instead, reasoning with him. “My father, who had much influence over Arthur, once the most powerful man in Britain, is dead. Without that influence, there is little reason for anyone to ally themselves with the sister of the man holding the modest fortress of Caer Gai. Not to mention that so many men died in the recent wars, there are many women in my generation who will be left without husbands. But at least I am not left without a task, and I have you to thank for that.”
“You value yourself too little,” he said, his voice sounding strangely angry. “Not only are you an excellent horsewoman, with a knowledge of the training and breeding of horses that is itself a prize, you are young and comely. You could surely have your choice of men. If you were to leave my service and start stables of your own, you would have customers the length and breadth of Britain. Do not let Aurelius’s disloyalty define your image of yourself. Think on it.” With those words, he turned on his heel and stormed away in the direction of the inner defenses of Sarum.
Celemon gazed after him, disturbed and flattered at the same time. But where did his anger come from?

And since last week I shared the cover art, this week I give you the cover:

Cover for A Wasted Land

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

Progress but no progress bars, and #WIPpet Wednesday

My writing goals got a little waylaid again last week, but I’ve mostly managed to catch up with myself again. My total word count for the week was 3100 words. I posted the latest installment of “Starting out as an indie author” a day late, but at least I didn’t give in to temptation and put it off even longer. (*patting myself on the back*)

In my continued battle to keep myself honest, I also looked into adding progress bars to my blog, but I couldn’t figure it out without spending sh*tloads of time on it. If anyone has done it before and has tips for me, do leave me a note in the comments!

In lieu of progress bars, I have put together a list of my works in progress, word counts, and estimates (I *hate* estimates! *g*):

A Wasted Land
43,700 of 70,000 estimated

Sooper sekrit project
10,600 of 60,000 estimated

Life in the Fjord Lane (travel, mostly pictures with little text; work largely formatting)
1100 of 3000 estimated

Facets of Glass (YA novella)
1200 of 25,000 estimated

Starting out as an Indie Author
6500 (no estimate)

I will keep posting the list until the day, when and if, I learn how to add progress bars to my blog. 🙂

On to Wippet Wednesday. The day’s math: 8 + 13 = 22 — 22 short sentences from A Wasted Land. In this snippet, I am returning to where I was two weeks ago, before I wrote last week’s scene of loss to deal with loss of my own. Kustennin and Celemon are inspecting disused military sites on the border to Cerdic’s lands with an eye to setting up a new base of operations:

A gust of wind tugged strands of hair out of her thick braid, and she pulled them back with one hand as she turned to her childhood friend. “Have I told you yet how grateful I am that you appointed me Master of Horse?”
“There is no need to be grateful –“
She held up her free hand, stopping him with a gesture. “Yes, there is. You redefined the role in such a way that I, a woman with little knowledge of warfare other than what I hear and experience from a distance, could take the position.”
“I have many men who can lead a cavalry unit,” Kustennin said. “But no one who can see to the purchase and the breeding of the horses needed besides you — at least no one with your knowledge of horseflesh.”
Celemon did her best to tuck the loose strands of hair behind her ears. “Except your step-father.”
“Who begged me to find someone else as Master of Horse,” he reminded her.
“Nonetheless, please be graceful enough to accept my thanks, Kustennin.”
He smiled at that and inclined his head in acknowledgment. “A hit. You are welcome.”
She smiled back. “I feel I’ve done little so far, but I love the work.” She laid a hand on his forearm on the balustrade near her. “Besides, I do not know what I would have done with myself after Aurelius married Bethan — I no longer have a father whose household I could run, and my brother will surely soon marry and start a family of his own.”
Kustennin shook his head, the smile slowly vanishing from his face. “What are you talking about?”


Cover art for A Wasted Land

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

* Note: I’m exceedingly p*ssed off at WordPress right now, because it seems to have decided it’s smarter than me and won’t do blockquotes where I want them — it kept adding all the info from the list above my snippet, and I’ve had to redo this post four times. Even when I switched from visual to text and redid the code, WordPress still moved the beginning of the blockquote up! So I ended up italicizing my excerpt rather than using blockquotes.

One thing I hate more than anything is software that thinks it knows what I want better than I do … grumble, grumble …

In which I use fiction to deal with reality for #WIPpet Wednesday

After I stumbled upon the news I blogged about in my last post, I wasn’t intending to participate in WIPpet Wednesday today. But I found myself needing to do something with the renewed bout of pain. (This is turning into a really shi*ty summer, sorry.)

So I decided to take the pain and use it to write a scene of loss that I had planned but not yet written. I have no math today — my only math is learning about my friend’s death and using it for the scene I wrote today:

The weanling tossed her head at the unfamiliar halter, and Celemon spoke to her soothingly, stroking her neck. “Whoa, Arantia, it’s all right. Time for you to get used to a lead rope, you know.”
The filly shook her head again, calming down reluctantly.
“That’s the way, girl.” Celemon looped the rope gently around her neck with one hand, the other tight on the lead beneath her chin. Arantia’s golden chestnut coat glinted in the late summer sun, a shade darker than that of her dam, who stood calmly by, providing the safety the skittish filly needed.
Slowly Celemon let out the lead while keeping a loose loop around her neck. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Taliesin leaning on the fence, smiling as he watched.
Then behind the bard, she noticed a horse and rider heading straight for the paddock where she was trying to break Arantia to the halter. The horse’s pace was far too fast for it to be anything other than urgent news.
Celemon unlooped the rope and dropped the lead, hurrying towards the fence. Taliesin straightened and glanced behind him to see what was the matter.
She reached the paddock gate the same time as the rider. He used the fence to help dismount and then knelt in the grass at her feet, panting to catch his breath.
“Come, man, what news?” she rapped out. “Is it Kustennin?”
He drew a deep breath and shook his head. “No, Lady. Caer Gai is taken. Your brother is dead.”
Celemon put her hands to her cheeks. She felt tears streaming down between her fingers, a sudden onrush at the unexpected news. “Taken?” she choked out.
“Maelgwn,” the messenger said. “Garanwyn refused to acknowledge him as High King of Britain, even laughed in his face, it is said. I am so sorry, Lady.”
She felt an arm go around her shoulders and turned to the comfort of a solid chest. Taliesin. She did not sob, but the tears kept coming and coming, a well she hadn’t known she possessed. Since they were children and had gone into fosterage with different relatives, she’d seen so little of her brother. She should have visited him more, or at the very least, written him more often.
Now he was gone, and she would never be able to make good on all her intentions to reforge a family bond with him.

Love you, Ardie.


My eyes hurt.

All the rest of you friends stay alive, ok? I’m getting tired of this mourning business.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

Getting my research into my writing: Old Sarum

Not quite as much progress on the writing front last week as the week before, with a total of 3800 new words. It’s still more than I had been shooting for at the beginning of the round. Besides, my progress is steady, and that’s good. A friend was visiting from out of town on the weekend, and under those circumstances, I don’t even try to make time for writing.

I’ve also finally managed to start tackling some of my marketing goals. I uploaded new versions of Yseult and Shadow of Stone with the maps in the front, and raised the prices in preparation for a new marketing strategy for the series. (I will eventually devote a complete post to that.)

On to WIPpet Wednesday. This week, we return to Celemon. She and Kustennin are inspecting defensive sites on the border to Cerdic’s lands with an eye to location and infrastructure. The expedition to Venta (Winchester) made it clear that Cerdic is increasing his fighting forces and probably not content with what he has already conquered. This scene takes place in Old Sarum, one of the places I visited on my recent trip to England.

Old Sarum
What Sarum might have looked like at the time of A Wasted Land

Today I give you 7 paragraphs for the 7th month of the year:

“From these ramparts, you can see nearly five miles to the east, the direction from which an attack would most likely come,” Kustennin said. “That would give us time to bring the livestock to safety.”
Celemon inspected the small fort and barracks within the ramparts, many of which stood empty. “How far is it from here to Venta?”
“About half the distance it is to Lindinis. Perhaps a day’s forced march, less on horseback.”
“It’s a wonder Sarum wasn’t taken in the recent wars.”
“Cerdic was more interested in taking rich cities. And Medraut more interested in taking Dumnonia.”
She nodded and turned to gaze out over the plains and rolling hills to the east, in the direction of Venta, now Cerdic’s self-declared capital. How long would it be before speaking of the recent wars no longer hurt so much?
Celemon leaned her forearms on the chest-high wooden defenses at the top of the earthworks, thinking about the father she’d lost, and the future she’d lost soon thereafter, when she’d dissolved her betrothal to Aurelius. She’d never bothered to contemplate the fate of an unmarried woman in their society until that fate had been thrown into her lap. Many women in her position chose a religious life — or at least refuge with the church — but Celemon had never been much prone to study and prayer, preferring fields and creeks to stone walls, and the back of a horse to a humble walk with head bowed. Nor had she ever learned a trade. Women of her status ran households, they did not sell and barter goods at market.

Old Sarum
The view from Old Sarum

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

Questions upon questions for #WIPpet Wednesday

The writing continues to go well, 5200 new words total last week on various projects. I also made some more dents in my goals, and on Monday I started a series of articles on my blog for beginning indie authors. You can read the first one here. In connection with the blog posts about self-publishing, I have also decided to declare Mondays my official marketing day, so that I will finally get back to actually trying to sell my books again. Wish me luck. 🙂

On to WIPpet Wednesday. Today I’m giving you the final section of the scene where Taliesin and Kustennin have been led into Cerdic’s presence, following directly after the excerpt I gave you last week. It’s about 30 sentences, if I counted right, thus 23 + 7 for today’s date:

Kustennin stared at her, wondering where she got her powers. It was clear that Cerdic had none, or else he would not need his daughter’s assistance, so they must come from her Saxon mother. But he knew so little about Saxon religion, magic, culture. He would have to rectify that — it did not do to be ignorant regarding your enemies.
“Are we now free to play our songs in your city, Lord?” Taliesin asked.
Cerdic nodded. “But see to it you sing no more songs of Arthur.”
“I have one of the rebel hero Medraut,” Kustennin said. “Would you like to hear that?”
“You sing songs both of Arthur and Medraut?” Cerdic said, laughing. “Are you not aware they were enemies?”
Taliesin shrugged. “Art is promiscuous. To me they are all stories, Lord.”
Still laughing, Cerdic waved them away. “Go, sing your songs and earn your bread, bard. I think you will find the people of Venta generous.”
“Thank you.” Taliesin bowed, and the rest of them followed suit. “Is there anyone besides Arthur who I should not sing of?”
“No, just Arthur.”
“Very good, Lord.”
They left Cerdic’s hall, and stepped out into the autumn sunshine. Nearby, several city blocks had been cleared of whatever Roman buildings had once stood there, and bearded warriors with Saxon round shields and long spears battled against each other, their grunts and the sounds of their clashing weapons filling the air.
“Do not tarry too long,” Taliesin murmured in his ear.
Kustennin nodded shortly, watching the warriors at practice surreptitiously as he followed the bard with the rest of their party. While part of his mind tallied the number of warriors and analyzed their probable experience and strength, another was still concerned with Nerienda and the mystery of why she had covered for them. Why would she want Kustennin in her debt? Perhaps she had not been a willing pawn in her father’s ambitious schemes after all?

Roman wall in Winchester
Part of the Roman wall in Winchester, with the River Itchen in the foreground

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

Post-travel update and more from Taliesin for #WIPpet Wednesday

As a result of a week spent traveling around England, I’m a bit behind in my word count goals for the round so far. I’m shooting for 2500 words a week, and the first two weeks in July only added up to 4000 words total. But I’m confident that I can make make good on those missing words, especially since this week has started out so well — 1600 words total for Monday and Tuesday.

I also completed one of my goals and posted the reports from my trip to my blog. If you missed those and are curious, they begin here.

Now on to WIPpet Wednesday! I will continue where I left off in A Wasted Land two weeks ago, with Taliesin and Kustennin being led into the presence of Cerdic, a British war leader who has allied himself with the Saxons. Since today is the 16th, I give you 16 short paragraphs:

Kustennin tightened his hold on the strap of the drums he carried. That was the last thing they needed, someone who might uncover their magic and see through their illusion. They were relying on their special abilities to get them out of this expedition alive.
But Cerdic still leaned back on his elaborately carved chair several steps above them. Intertwining fantasy beasts competed with each other for dominance on the arm rests and the top of the wooden frame above Cerdic’s head, so different from the streamlined elegance of the furnishings in the villas and hill-forts where Kustennin had grown up.
Cerdic’s lips curled up in a hint of a smile. Despite the magic Taliesin had sensed, it appeared no one had betrayed them to him yet.
“Yes, and who am I?” Cerdic asked.
“The ruler of Venta?”
Laughter broke out in the hall.
“Well deduced, bard.” The near-smile disappeared, and Cerdic leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped. “I ask myself where you have been for the last few years, coming here with the songs you were singing in the market of Venta.”
Taliesin rubbed his chin. “Something tells me this is a trick question. I have been many places, Lord of Venta. For a time I was in the court of Maelgwn of Gwynedd, and that of his uncle, Owain of Rhos. I have also had the honor of playing for Morgan of Powys and his sons. Besides that, our troupe has played at markets all over Britain.”
Kustennin admired the way Taliesin mentioned only kings who had held themselves out of the recent wars and sent no fighting men to support Arthur in his nephew’s rebellion. The bard’s answer gave the lie to his implied claim to be ignorant of politics — on the contrary, it was proof of how well versed he was in the power structures of Britain.
Cerdic motioned to the tall redhead who had spoken to them at the market. “Nerienda, come forward, please.”
Nerienda? The woman was Cerdic’s daughter? Then they were surely lost. Kustennin recalled rumors of Nerienda losing her wits after her husband died fighting against her father. As that obviously was not the case, Kustennin could only presume that her marriage had been part of Cerdic’s plan all along, and she was his accomplice in increasing his power base.
She stepped up to Cerdic’s self-appointed throne. “Yes, father?”
“Does the bard tell truth?”
She bobbed her head. “He tells no lies, my father.”
She is the source of the magic, Taliesin whispered in his mind.
And she had just saved them. But why?
Nerienda turned and looked at him. To have you in my debt.

WIPpet Wednesday is the brain child of K. L. Schwengel. If you’d like to participate, post an excerpt from your WIP on your blog, something that relates to the date in some way. Then add your link here — where you can also read the other excerpts.

Calleva / Silchester

Calleva / Roman Silchester

On Monday, my last day of sightseeing / research before heading off for the wedding festivities, I wasn’t quite sure if I should even attempt to see Calleva (Roman Silchester). The blister on my little toe hurt, and I was not looking forward to the prospect of hiking for miles along country lanes in search of old rocks. Maybe I should just head south to the coast, I thought, take a day off and just enjoy the seaside. I’d already seen plenty of sites for The Pendragon Chronicles, and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to use the setting of post-Roman Calleva in A Wasted Land.

But then, when would the next chance come along for me to try to find Calleva? So off I went to Basingstoke again.

And I am so glad I did. Wandering around in the middle of nowhere, I was a bit worried I’d headed off on a wild goose chase. Instead, I ended up getting a personal tour of an archeological dig. If I’d gotten the train I wanted the day before, my experience of Calleva would have been completely different. The dig only started the day I went, and I would have missed it. Talk about a lucky mistake!

For the average tourist, there isn’t much to see in Calleva, so it probably is no wonder that it’s not a big draw and is so hard to find. Walking from the Mortimer station, it took me longer to get there than Google Maps said — there were no signs anywhere, and I stopped and asked people a few times along the way. Apparently, the way from Bramley is better marked, so that would be the way to go, but Google Maps told me Mortimer was closer, so that’s the way I went.

After over an hour, I found the first sign to Roman Silchester, which led me to the former amphitheater outside of town.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Roman amphitheater of Calleva

From there, I was finally able to find the still impressive remains of the Roman wall.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Roman wall of Calleva

When I got to the path on the top, I could see what looked like a campsite in the opposite corner of the wide field. Other than that, the only residents of the former thriving Romano-British town were a bunch of cows.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Present residents of Calleva

I knew there’d been regular digs at Calleva over the years, and I was pretty sure that was about the only thing the tents could be. I headed over to the site along the top of the Roman walls, and some of the students (I presume) having lunch pointed me in the direction of an makeshift information center set up for visitors. There, a friendly young woman by the name of Zoe, an archeologist working on her Masters at Reading University, asked me if I would like a tour of the dig. Duh!

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Zoe, my wonderful guide through the dig at Calleva

The present digs are in Insula IX and Insula III, and platforms had been set up next to each. Zoe took me to the closest first, Insula IX, and showed me what I was seeing — the remnants of the main road going north and south, postholes for the buildings, bigger holes for the wells, a floor — and explained that here in most places they had already reached the layer of Pre-Roman settlement and were nearly done with what they had set out to do. One of the things they’d been hoping to learn more about was when the town was abandoned and what might have caused it, and she said they’d uncovered evidence that it might be later than originally thought.

Naturally my ears perked up at that. I’ve repeatedly come across such theories in my research for the books of The Pendragon Chronicles, and it’s one of the main historical elements I’ve based my world on.

Anyway, looking at the carefully dug up dirt, Zoe and I had a great conversation about how new information keeps cropping up and theories keep changing. She took me over to Insula III, where I saw a hearth or stove made out of old Roman roofing tiles — most likely evidence that the site was still in use after Roman materials were no longer being manufactured.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Archeological dig at Insula III in Calleva

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Panel explaining the dig

It was more fun than I ever could have imagined. Zoe and I obviously shared a fascination with the mysteries of history. She said her masters thesis was actually on magic and ritual in the archeological record in late medieval times (which sounds absolutely fascinating too!), but she wanted to be at Calleva for the last year of the dig, since she spent several summers working on it while she was an undergraduate.

After I saw the two Insulae and thanked her heartily, I headed for the church that was just within the Roman walls. There, I was lucky enough to walk in on a lecture by the head of the dig for some of the newest students. He mentioned that one of their most significant finds from the previous year was pottery fragments from the sixth to eighth century. In the Q&A session, I asked what he thought that meant for the end of Calleva. He answered that they might have to revise their ideas, that rather than disappearing, perhaps the town shifted to the area around the church. He postulated that the medieval town may have been a victim of the Black Death, since there were references from the 12th century, but little thereafter. (The amphitheater was converted into a medieval hall and King John was recorded as visiting there.)

While I ended up with two new blisters for a total of three, it was a thoroughly excellent outing.

Calleva / Roman Silchester
Silchester church just within the Roman walls of Calleva

You can see the rest of my pictures of Calleva here.

Other posts from my trip to England:
Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury
Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral
Old Sarum
Winchester / Venta

Winchester / Venta

Winchester Castle
Winchester Castle

Originally, I was intending to do Calleva on Sunday, but my train was five minutes late into Basingstoke. That is exactly the amount of time I had to change — five minutes — and by the time I got to the track, the train was gone. The next train to Mortimer, the closest stop to the Roman ruins of Silchester, wouldn’t be leaving for another hour. So I checked the train schedules and saw that there would be a train to Winchester in only fifteen minutes. I changed my plans, and soon I was heading south.

It turned out to be a good thing that I didn’t try to do both in one day. Once I’d walked all the way around the old town of Winchester, my feet were killing me, and I was developing a blister on my little toe.

A blister in Winchester

But Winchester was great. The first place I visited was Winchester Castle, on the hill close to the train station. All that remains of the medieval castle is the hall where the famous “Round Table of King Arthur” hangs.

Winchester Castle
The Great Hall in Winchester Castle

Of course, the impressive decoration has nothing to do with fifth and sixth century Britain and the battles that were being fought against the Saxons and other Germanic tribes (and their allies) at that time. That’s the setting of The Pendragon Chronicles, and not the chivalric version of Arthurian myth created by the writers of the middle ages. The Winchester round table has been dated to the thirteenth century. Although it has nothing to do with the historical figure of Arthur (if he even existed), the round table has everything to do with the Arthurian legends and how significant they had become by the high middle ages. By that time, the Normans were in power in England, and even though they fought the Celtic kingdoms on their fringes, they appropriated a Romano-British hero into their mythology of kingship.

After walking all over the city, I’m pretty sure Chris and I skipped it on our England trip a dozen years ago when we did so many of the other sites of Yseult. I walked along the perimeters of the southern and eastern parts of what was once Venta Belgarum, and it certainly gave me an impression of how big the Roman city had been. In the south-eastern corner, there is still a long stretch of the Roman wall. In The Pendragon Chronicles, I refer to the city as Venta rather than by its full Roman name of “Venta Belgarum.” That’s quite a mouthful, after all. I figure that, much in the same way Sorviodunum became Sarum or Londinium became London, Venta Belgarum was probably shortened to Venta. “Venta” was integrated into the Germanic name for the city, Winchester, whereas “Belgarum” has disappeared — except in names of businesses in Winchester.

Roman wall in Winchester
Part of the Roman wall in Winchester

I also visited Wolvesey Castle, the ruins of the former bishop’s seat. I originally intended to have Cerdic’s seat located there in A Wasted Land, but I might change that. The western edge of the former Roman city, where the medieval castle stood, is much higher in elevation than the eastern, which is next to the river. Cerdic strikes me as the kind of guy who would equate elevation with status. I will have to see if anything is known of what might have stood there in Roman times. Seeing as the site has been continuously occupied for millennia, there has been very little archeological work done in Winchester, and only a few Roman buildings have been excavated, prior to modern construction work.

Wolvesey Castle
Wolvesey Castle

Nonetheless, seeing Winchester was great for giving me a feel of the lay of the land for the scene I’ve been posting recently for WIPpet Wednesdays. Perhaps with my new knowledge, I’ll try a rewrite of one of the scenes and repost, just for sh*ts and giggles.

Aside from details pertinent to the WIP, I also saw lots of half-timbered houses, the cathedral, gardens, and the house where Jane Austen lived in the weeks before she died. A very nice day, even if it didn’t turn out quite as planned.

Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral

You can see all of my pictures of Winchester here.

Other posts from my research trip:
Indulging in a research trip to England: Salisbury and Amesbury
Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral
Old Sarum