Recent Reads

The Crossing Places

From the Blurb:

“Dr Ruth Galloway is called in when a child’s bones are discovered near the site of a prehistoric henge on the north Norfolk salt marshes. Are they the remains of a local girl who disappeared ten years earlier – or are the bones much older?

DCI Harry Nelson refuses to give up the hunt for the missing girl. Since she vanished, someone has been sending him bizarre anonymous notes about ritual sacrifice, quoting Shakespeare and the Bible. He knows that Ruth’s expertise and experience could help him finally to put this case to rest. But when a second child goes missing, Ruth finds herself in danger from a killer who knows she’s getting ever closer to the truth…”

My Review:

The Crossing Places (Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries, #1) by UK author Elly Griffiths is a crime thriller with a considerable difference. The protagonist is slightly awkward, overweight, nearing middle-aged female forensic archaeologist, Dr Ruth Galloway who’s primary role is teaching and researching in Archaeology in the new university of North Norfolk, United Kingdom. The discovery of a body ritually displayed on the remote salt marshes near where Ruth lives soon brings local police detective Harry Nelson into Ruth’s sphere of work and life and his desperate search for the body of a child missing ten years, the case he cannot forget nor forgive himself for not solving.

The following events involve a series of archaeological investigations into the ritualised burial and likely sacrifice of the young girl whose remains Ruth discovers are not recent but from an Iron Age civilisation that built hedge sites and other ritual structures in the North Norfolk area during the Iron Age. For detective Harry Nelson, Ruth’s academic excitement in the Iron Age burial only saddens and frustrates him in the callousness of human nature, that centuries before, young girls were being ritually killed on the salt marshes. It seems Ruth and Harry have little in common except an interest to discover the fate of the respective young girls, one more recent, another from the Iron Age. But events quickly escalate with the new discovery of the Iron Age burial linking to a series of antagonistic letters detective Nelson has received over the ten years from the suspected killer, which now begin again in earnest along with another child abduction. When another child burial is found, Harry Nelson recruits Ruth to excavate and to provide her expertise on ritual sacrifices and Iron Age culture near the salt marshes. It is the beginning of a partnership and a case that focuses on the importance of the ‘crossing places’ to Iron Age belief systems, the role of landscapes which are neither shore nor sea, sky nor land.

Final Thoughts:

The Crossing Places was an enjoyable crime mystery, the combination of unlikely but personable characters, the depth of research into archaeological techniques and academic institutions gave the plot a sense of reality. The detailed research into Iron Age belief systems of ‘crossing places’, the importance of these liminal landscapes within our natural landscapes of land and sea contributed to a fascinating read.

My Conclusion?

A highly-recommended read for anyone who enjoys ancient history, crime or mystery, quirky and complex characters and archaeology.

research

Iceland’s Yule Trolls

In Icelandic tradition, the Yule lads are thirteen trolls who arrive, one one each of the 13 days before Christmas then depart in the order they arrived, on the subsequent days following Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, the troll witch Gryla, leaves the mountains to enter the city, seeking any children who had been ill-behaved or were without the protection of their parents. These she would take back to her mountain dwelling, cook them into a stew for her lazy troll husband.


The thirteen Icelandic Yule Lads are names for the acts they are most famously known for, often tormenting human communities. More can be found at the Smithsonian Magazine here.

Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds
Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk
Stubby: He’s short and steals food from frying pans
Spoon Licker: He licks spoons
Pot Scraper: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean
Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed (back in the old days, Icelanders used to sometimes store bowls of food there – convenient for midnight snacking?)
Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake
Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)
Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages
Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside
Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods
Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb

Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland


Since 1746, the Yule lads became less scary, depicted as mischievous, trickster characters illustrated as jolly ‘Santa Claus-like figures’ who left gifts for the well-behaved children in their shoes and potatoes for the ill-behaved ones. In earlier times, the Yule lads were emaciated and clothed in rags. There is a current movement in Iceland to return the Yule lads to their more traditional vagabond nature, the desperate orphans who accompanied Gryla.

events, Writing

Tick Tock Anthology Release


I am thrilled to announce the release on December 15th, 2020 of Time Travel anthology Tick Tock (Five Hundred Fiction, #1) published by Black Hare Press.

Tick Tock features 500 word flash fiction including my story “Second Chances” a desperate escape from World War II ravaged Europe into the Neolithic through a standing stone circle. You can read about writing “Second Chances” here.

Interested in purchasing an ebook or paperback of Tick Tock? More details here.

Recent Reads

Mexican Gothic

From the Blurb:

“After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.”

Review:

One of my Halloween reads for 2020 was the highly acclaimed horror noir novel Mexican Gothic by Mexican-born Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Mexican Gothic is set in 1950s Mexico and follows female protagonist, a wealthy young socialite Noemi Taboada. After a mysterious letter arrives from her cousin, Catalina, newly married a year but moved to her husband’s estate in a remote village in rural Mexico, Noemi goes to check on Catalina as her father’s envoy and hopefully procure permission of Catalina’s husband, Virgil Doyle, to take Catalina back to Mexico City for psychiatric care. But within moments of arriving at High Place, Noemi is uneasy within the old house and near-abandoned village below serves as a brutal reminder of the once flourishing community, now gone. Despite Noemi finding that Catalina seems much improved, now claiming a case of tuberculosis and suffering an odd listlessness and occasional lapses of paranoia. Unsatisfied with this uncharacteristic behaviour of her cousin, Noemi starts visiting the traditional healer once-frequented by Catalina. There she learns the dark and tragic history of murders, epidemics and murder-suicides that have dominated High Place since Virgil’s grandfather first arrived from England. Now aged and dying, Harold Doyle is still the master of High Place, and is a cold, repellent man Noemi cannot abide and also fears.

Certain the aggressive and ever-present house staff are keeping Catalina in a constant drug-induced sleep, Noemi finds Catalina’s husband to be as cold and unpleasant as his grandfather. Virgil’s true character is revealed in his increasingly threatening and lecherous behaviour toward Noemi. Out of options to save her cousin but unwilling to leave Catalina behind at High Place and to the mercy of Virgil, Noemi finds an unlikely ally in Virgil’s younger brother, Francis, a kind, awkwardly shy man who is everything Virgil is not.

Slowly, Noemi’s grasp on reality starts to fade and the haunting atmosphere of High Place begins to affect her just as it did Catalina, dominating her waking fears and nightmares. Noemi becomes sure of a malevolent presence within the house itself and starts seeing apparitions, hearing the voice of the now-dead daughter of Harold Doyle, who committed a murder-suicide, killing her family except for Virgil, Francis and Harold Doyle. In the quickly escalating events, Noemi discovers how Harold Doyle bears the responsibility for cursing his lineage and how his cruel and vile actions gave life to a malevolence within the very fabric of High Place.

My Thoughts:

Mexican Gothic was a dark twist on the disturbing greed of colonial dominated Mexico and the ideals that allowed racism and classism to flourish. The interesting history of anthropological sciences, the history of eugenics provide the foundations for an unusual re-imagining of a haunting, making Mexican Gothic a ghost story in the Lovecraftian fashion of weird fiction.

My Conclusion?

Recommended for anyone who appreciates historical noir fiction, the gothic noir of The Crow Garden and classics like Frankenstein and A Turn of the Screw.

Short Stories, stories

Standing Stones & Time

I recently finished writing a flash fiction story inspired by European Neolithic stone circles and folklore. Common to the folklore of standing stones is an aspect of temporal planes, the shifting of time connecting the Fae to disappearances, madness and re-appearances many years later. In my own short fiction, a liminal temporal plane joins Europe in the 1940s to the Neolithic connected by the standing stones. I explored the effects of warfare on the European landscape where in the present day, traces of that destruction are still in evidence from trench warfare tactics. I was interested in accidental time travel where folklore often links the unintended passage of mortals into the fairy realm often at heightened emotional or astronomical times. The story focused on fleeing pursuit through an unrecognisable landscape scarred by war, the liminal connection between times linked by the standing stones allowing a successful escape into the Neolithic and the newly constructed stone circle.

research, Writing

Iceland: Iceberg Lagoons & Beaches

In early September 2019, I visited Iceland as part of my writing research into Norse mythology, Viking Age history. The role of the landscape has been important in shaping the Icelandic legends and I was fortunate enough to see some of the archaeological and cultural history as well as those in the natural landscape. On a tour of the unique southern Icelandic landscape, I visited iconic waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, glacial lagoons and rode Icelandic horses.


Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon for Breidamerkurjokullon, the tongue of Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull glacier. Jökulsárlón lagoon is located between the southern Icelandic town of Hofn and Skaftafell nature reserve. While visiting Jökulsárlón, I took one of the boat tour of the lagoon (only offered in warmer months) to get a closer look at the icebergs formed from the glacial melt, which creates the lagoon.

The icebergs of Jökulsárlón lagoon are part of the glacier that, as it melts break off into the lagoon and are washed out into the ocean. Within Jökulsárlón are a surprisingly diverse marine life. There were several species of sea birds, gulls and other large water birds who frequented the lagoon outlet where the icebergs flowed swiftly into the ocean. These birds were remarkably savvy at navigating the swift currents to avoid collision with the icebergs. There were also several species of shy seals who avoided the boats but were frequently seen observing our passage from the beneath the shelter of nearby icebergs.

The clear divide between the waters of Jökulsárlón lagoon and the glacier beyond, the waterline of the lagoon contained some larger icebergs that had clustered along the edges.

The icebergs that break off the glacier into Jökulsárlón and pass through the lagoon were stunning to behold the clear layers visible to the eye as the boat manoeuvred around them.

The view from near the ocean, looking back along the lagoon outlet from Jökulsárlón with the glacier in the background.


“Diamond beach” is a popular site among many photographers for the iconic images of the icebergs that pass from the lagoon outlet of Jökulsárlón to where they meet the ocean.

The large icebergs were an amazing sight as they were buffeted by the waves coming into shore. It was surreal and beautiful to experience such a unique landscape.

The black sand beach was scattered with icebergs in various stages of melt as the fresh glacial water they are formed from dissolved rapidly in the warmer salty ocean temperatures.

Walking along diamond beach was one of the most spectacular places I had ever visited. It was pleasure to be there and witness such a natural but phenomenal landscape.

research, Writing

Iceland: Reynisfjara Beach

In early September 2019, I visited Iceland as part of my writing research into Norse mythology, Viking Age history. The role of the landscape has been important in shaping the Icelandic legends and I was fortunate enough to see some of the archaeological and cultural history as well as those in the natural landscape. On a tour of the unique southern Icelandic landscape, I visited iconic waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches, glacial lagoons and rode Icelandic horses.


Reynisfjara beach is located southwest of Vik on the southern Icelandic coast. The popular site was busy when I visited despite the incoming autumn storm. Reynisfjara beach has the iconic black volcanic sand of Icelandic beaches and the larger stones frequently washed ashore from volcanic eruptions and subsequent floodwaters carrying debris from the coastline into the ocean. Reynisfjara is also known for the large basalt stone pillars off the coast, remnants of ancient cliffs before sea level changes over millenia have eroded them into current form. These pillars and the nearby cliffs are associated with many Viking Age legends and myths.

The unusual basalt pillar-like formations of the cliffs on Reynisfjara beach are a popular attraction. These distinctive columns have such a uniform appearance that it is hard to remember they are created by natural geological processes and not by human hand.

In many Icelandic legends and folklore, the caves at Reynisfjara beach were thought to be the work of the dark elves (dwarves), and mark the entrance to undergournd passages where the Hidden dwell. Seeing the distinctive cliffs and caverns for myself, I can readily imagine how such caves would be an entrance to Svartalfheim itself.

The Reynisdrangar sea stacks are large basalt pillars located off the shore of Reynisfjara beach. One of the legends surrounding these twin pillars is that they are actually trolls who were wading out into the ocean and caught by the sun’s rays. In Icelandic folklore, trolls are unable to tolerate sunlight and are immediately transformed into stone. These twin stone pillars represent two trolls who failed to return to the sea cave before first sunlight.

On the opposite end of the Reynisfjara beach is another of the unusual sea stacks, this one is furthest from the coastline at the southernmost tip of the Arch of Dyrhólaey. This stone formation has another legend, also about an unlucky troll transformed to stone. In this folktale, the troll was late returning from a sea voyage and has been caught by the sunlight while still hauling his boat onto the shore. Both the boat and the troll have been turned to stone, forever petrified in place.

One of the most striking things about Reynisfjara beach was the unpredictable ocean. For visitors, there are warning signs about the dangers of wave surges onto the shore which are unpredictable and have been known to drag groups of unwary tourists out into the freezing waters which are dangerous with rips and strong currents. On the day I visited, a storm was blowing off the coast and the surge of the waves was unpredictable which only increased the unusual sense of wildness about the place. A magical part of Iceland but one requiring great respect and vigilance.

Short Stories, stories, Writing

Gothic Fiction & Victorian Science

I recently finished writing a short story continuing my fascination with Victorian science. I focused on the anatomical sciences that inspired many gothic and urban folklore of the Victorian era. Some of the most classic Victorian era gothic tales including Frankenstein and Dracula involve the unease in Victorian society about the dead, superstition, burial practices in an era governed by religion but embarking on the Enlightenment period. Into this societal unease came the expansion of the Sciences but also the Industrial Revolution. The challenges to mind, body and physical environment were no doubt confronting. My short story explored some of these concepts from the perspective of an anatomist tasked with examining a set of twisted bones returned from a disastrous archaeological excavation into an ancient limestone quarry purportedly cursed.

Short Stories, stories, Writing

Forthcoming: Time-Travel Anthology

Tick Tock (Five Hundred Fiction, #1) from Black Hare Press is a new collection of flash fiction with each story inspired by the theme of time travel and exactly 500 words.

My flash fiction piece “Second Chances” is about a desperate escape from a battle-ruined future into an ancient past. Time-travel is not restricted to science-fiction with my flash fiction drawing on the folklore and mystery of standing stones and stone circles to transport people to other worlds or times.

Keep an eye out for more updates on release dates for Tick Tock and where to buy ebooks and paperbacks.