Spring Has Sprung!

What a shockingly idle blogger I am! Still, the sun’s shining now and spring has sprung, after a fashion, so let’s have some Springy things, starting with this year’s tenant in the nest box that hangs on one of our oak trees. It’s been there for about 15 years and the occupants have been mostly blue tits apart from the year we had nuthatches and last year’s coal tits. Hours of procrastination while you watch the monitor!  Only one egg so far and not easy to make it out in this photo, but there could be up to fifteen in total!oneeggmar2019

We usually have a visiting pheasant every year, dating from the time when the farm down the road used to hold shoots and we’d see dozens of pheasants sitting just outside our fence till it was safe to go home! A few years ago one visiting pheasant was so tame he’d let me feed him peanuts by hand, though I always wore thick leather gloves – that beak looks vicious! Here’s last year’s gentleman visitor with one of his wives, alongside a couple of our other regular visitors, a pair of roe deer:

 

Do you remember the Inspector Wexford series? It was filmed in Romsey, not far away, and this whole area was once described as ‘rural suburbia’ which is pretty accurate, really.

Not far away from us there’s a nature reserve – quite low-key and not very big, but interesting as it’s ancient wetland and in the past the scrub was kept down by grazing cattle (not in the wet bits!) For the last few years a local farmer has been allowed to graze his cattle there so life goes on as it has for centuries and the cows pay little attention to anyone ambling along the stream. At the moment it’s a mass of wild garlic, primroses, celandines and violets, not to mention blackthorn, catkins and evidence of rabbits!    20190326_135621 20190326_135112         So there we are – Spring in Hampshire, and very nice too.

Also very nice are these two beauties, one with its Blue Semi-finalist’s badge for the upcoming Chatelaine Awards at a banquet in Bellingham, in the Pacific North West – I’m hoping to be there! And the other with its shiny new gold Amazon Best Seller sticker. My two most recent book babies are doing well!

Best Seller Sticker!

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Lunch with one’s publisher – in the South of France!

There’s something rather elegant and 1930ish about being able to say, ‘I’m away next week, I’ll be lunching in Carcassonne with my publisher.’ Something you might read in an Evelyn Waugh novel, perhaps, but no – this really did happen to me last week! Picture: Carcassonne by night.

Laurence and Stephanie Patterson, of Crooked Cat Books, decided to set up a one-day brainstorming and discussion session ranging from marketing, to editing to submission. And they chose the elegant 5* Hotel de la Cite in Carcassonne (their home city) for the event. (Pic shows the hotel, not our conference room which was a tad smaller) Ten writers, five Other Halves, two publishers all started with a wine tasting session on the Monday evening, and on Tuesday the other halves did their own thing while we talked, listened, watched presentations, played games, ate cake and biscuits, drank coffee and then had lunch in the hotel: 

It was a brilliant couple of days and great to meet so many fellow writers and to put faces to names. The Resident Engineer and I also had time to explore the old city and one of the many things that fascinated me was the number of drainpipes that ended like this:Naturally we had looked up historic railways so we enjoyed a couple of trips meandering through the French countryside. On the way south we stayed in Sarlat, in the Dordogne for a couple of nights and on the return journey we stopped off at the Chateau de Monbazillac for a look round the castle and to check out their dessert wines. Took me three tasters before deciding on their 2015 vintage!

On our return I discovered that The House at Ladywell has been shortlisted for the Chanticleer Chatelaine award book award for Romance Novels The Chatelaine Awards– this is a US competition for historical and romantic novels. No idea when there’ll be any announcement but I’m delighted to have got so far.

 

Horrible History & A Headless Hound!

Saxon Execution Cemeteries
This might sound a tad gruesome but theme of this blog is History and Mystery after all and this is history and mystery and it’s in Winchester! Simples…so please bear with me.

A couple of weeks ago I attended my first ever Crime Writers’ Association conference, in Southampton just down the road. I’ve been to several other writers’ conferences and enjoyed them all and this one was no exception. It was great to meet many well-known authors, among them Peter Lovesey, Kate Ellis, (I love her books so I gushed embarrassingly at her), and Felix Francis who used to work with his famous father, Dick Francis, and now writes under his own name.

The first talk was by Dr Annia Cherryson, an archaeologist with the Winchester Museum Service. Her topic – Late Saxon Execution Cemeteries in Hampshire. A dig at the Old Dairy site in Harestock, on the edge of Winchester, turned up several decapitated skeletons. There were cut marks on the vertebrae of seven of them and while some skulls were missing, others were placed between the legs. Even allowing for subsequent disturbance, it seems as though at least eleven of the bodies had been decapitated.

The usual Saxon burial method laid the body west to east, flat on the back and with arms at the side and treated with reverence. At the Old Dairy some were simply thrown into the graves, four of the bodies had their hands tied together, three of them behind their backs and the fourth in front. Besides this, fourteen were buried north to south. At the Old Dairy the bodies are mostly male, though it’s not been possible to determine some of them through disturbances over the years. Quite a few were just thrown in the grave, not much reverence there! Young adult males predominate which makes it very different from a ‘normal’ cemetery. Elsewhere in Hampshire are two similar cemeteries. The one at Meon Hill has six decapitations, some of them with bound hands, while the other, at Stockbridge Down, has four decapitations – and a decapitated dog!

Why were they decapitated? Athelstan says (early C10) ‘If anyone swears a false oath…he shall not be buried in consecrated ground’. Later in the same century, Edmund writes: ‘Those in holy orders should observe celibacy. If they fail to do so they shall forfeit burial in consecrated ground’. Could this be the case in Winchester?
I hope my notes were correct. To find out more, take a look at this article: http://www.winchester.gov.uk/NewsArticleL.asp?id=SX9452-A7842969

I found it fascinating. I don’t know much Saxon history, not that a little detail like that stopped me using some Saxon details in my forthcoming book, ‘A Crowded Coffin’. This is the second in my Harriet Quigley series, which will be published next year. If only I’d known earlier about these skeletons, I could have incorporated some lovely gory details in this mystery.

I’m sorry about the teaser in this post’s title though – I still haven’t managed to find out why the poor dog lost his head!