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Thursday, 28 May 2015

POMPEII'S DISTANT COUSIN - transport yourself back to Ancient Rome

My latest novel, The Unkindest Cut of All, centres on a stage production of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - a play set in ancient Rome.  

As one who has always been fascinated by Roman history, I was thrilled to discover that it is possible to visit the remains of several towns dating back to the heyday of the Roman Empire. Indeed, there can be few people anywhere in Europe who have not heard of Pompeii and its near neighbour Herculaneum (Ercolano) - the two towns on the Bay of Naples which were destroyed in AD79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  These two towns, now painstakingly excavated and carefully preserved, are amongst the most visited sites in the whole of Italy.

But what many people may not know is that Pompeii and Herculaneum also have a distant cousin.  Less well-known, but no less impressive, is the ancient Roman town of Ostia Antica, situated about 16 miles (25km) south-west of Rome.

Ostia is generally believed to date from the second half of the 4th century BC, and was originally built as a military post to control and defend the mouth of the River Tiber.  It takes its name from the Latin ostium, meaning river-mouth.  In its heyday, Ostia was the principal port for the city of Rome and also a thriving commercial centre in its own right, with a population of around 100,000 people.  Its decline began in the 2nd century AD, when much of the commercial traffic was redirected to the newly-built harbour at nearby Portus.  By the 4th century AD the harbour at Ostia was beginning to silt up, and an epidemic of malaria eventually caused the town to be abandoned. 

Ostia might be less spectacular than Pompeii or Herculaneum because it died a gradual rather than a sudden death, but it gives visitors a much more complete picture of life in a Roman town. Streets, forum, capitol, theatre, bathhouses (many still with their original stunning mosaics), temples, market, shops, offices, workshops, warehouses, grain stores and private residences - they are all here, and all remarkably well-preserved.  

Ostia was home to all social classes. The wealthy enjoyed the sumptuous comforts of spacious detached houses (domūs), whilst the working-class people lived in the three- or four-storey apartment blocks (insulae) which varied considerably in their levels of comfort and decoration. One of the smarter ones is the House of Diana, which boats a private bath-house and a central courtyard.

The bar on the ground floor still houses the marble counter where the customers bought drinks and hot food. 

The cosmopolitan nature of the town is reflected in the diversity of its places of worship.  In addition to conventional Roman temples, there are also a number of temples to the Persian god Mithras, as well as a first-century Jewish synagogue and a Christian basilica.

The site museum is home to the many exhibits which have emerged during the excavations of the town.  Sculptures, statues, pottery, jars, amphorae, glass or alabaster bottles – all offer great insight into the everyday lives of Ostia’s inhabitants.  A more recent addition to the site is a modern visitor centre which houses an excellent café.

Ostia is easy to reach from the centre of Rome – the journey takes about half an hour by suburban train.  

The modest admission charge to the excavated site (scavi) is an absolute bargain.  Allow at least half a day for your visit, but you may well find the place so fascinating that you’ll want to stay a lot longer!   


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

THE TAEXALI Game - a guest post by Nancy Jardine

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back friend and fellow-author Nancy Jardine, whose new YA novel The Taexali Game is due out this coming Friday.

Welcome, Nancy!  Over to you...

Thank you, Sue, for opening your blog to me to share the information about my latest novel!

The Taexali Game officially launches on the 22nd May 2015.

The action of The Taexali Game —Book 1 of Nancy Jardine’s  Rubidium Time Travel Series of Adventures for Middle Grade/YA readers (and anyone older who loves a good fast-paced yarn) takes place in ‘Aberdeenshire, Scotland’ in AD 210, during the invasion of the legions of Septimius Severus, Emperor of Rome. The local Taexali Celtic tribes of this far north in Britannia have already had dealings with the soldiers of Rome, back in AD 84, but they haven’t been good subjects. They’ve been causing such a lot of grief to the Governor of Britannia that the Ancient Roman Emperor, Septimius Severus, has come to Britannia to flood the north with his super-trained army to teach the wayward Celts a harsh lesson.

During their adventure, Aran and the twins— Brian and Fianna— are initially in awe of the Roman fighting machine but they find Emperor Severus’ is a horrible man. That’s only till they meet the emperor’s son Caracalla who is even nastier. None of them want to be skewered by a Roman gladius or slapped into Roman slave chains but avoiding that fate is nearly impossible.

As well as uncovering the answer to a local contemporary mystery, the time travellers have a task list to fulfil but how can they when the some of the Celts they encounter are just as deadly wielding their Celtic longswords?

This adventure novel is designed as a rollicking good read with the added bonus of being a companion novel to younger readers doing a study of Celtic Roman Britain. There’s a wealth of historical data used in the novel, gleaned from archaeological interpretative information, wrapped up in a fast-paced, readable, adventure mystery quest.

The fantastic cover design is by graphic artist Neil Saddler, who has done a great job to encompass the main aspects of the novel - its impact both local and global. 

The Taexali Game – Blurb

Everyone loves playing advanced interactive computer games, don’t they?

Callum Fraser’s games are totally awesome.  But when his Rubidium Time-Leap flips Aran Bruce and his best friends—Brian and Fianna Fraser—back to AD 210, the reality is incredible. They have a task list to fulfil, which includes solving a local mystery, but it’s a nightmarish business when Ancient Roman Emperor Severus and his legions heap death and destruction on the Taexali Celts of northern Britannia.

Giving help to Celts and Romans alike becomes a lethal assignment—some Celtic chiefs are as foul as Severus and his beastly son Caracalla. Dicing with death becomes the norm for the time-travellers from Kintore, Aberdeenshire.

Will they complete the mission and return to Callum unscathed?

All are welcome to pop into the official Facebook Event that’s on-line to launch the novel on Friday 22nd May. Participate in fun quizzes featuring Celts and Romans and win a novelty prize. The grand prize of a signed paperback of The Taexali Game could be yours, or if you only read on kindle a few review e-copies will also be on offer as prizes.

The novel is available across Amazon in paperback and ebook formats.
Amazon UK  Amazon US   Amazon France   Amazon Canada   Amazon Australia

More about Nancy Jardine
Her Celtic Fervour Series of Historical Romantic Adventures (3 books to date) is set in first century AD northern Roman Britain. Book 3 (AD 84) culminates in a horrendous clashing of Celtic Sword and Roman Gladius on the foothills of Beinn Na Ciche (Bennachie) where the amassed Celtic warriors of the north, led by tribal leader Calgach, take on the mighty Roman legions led by General Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Book 2 of the Celtic Fervour Series was in the long list of books read for THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2014.

Nancy Jardine also writes contemporary mystery romantic fiction which gives her the opportunity to include fabulous world wide locations in her novels—Amsterdam, Vienna, Heidelberg, Barcelona to name only a few. She has also had great fun using her love of ancestry research when creating the family trees for two of her contemporary mysteries. Take Me Now, a humorous mystery/thriller will be re-launched by Crooked Cat Publishing on the 5th June 2015. Topaz Eyes, a mystery /thriller was a Finalist in THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014.

Please contact her/ or find updates on her writing at these author links: and (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email:

Amazon Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:   

Most novels are also available from Barnes and Noble; W. H.;; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other ebook stores.

Guest of Ailsa Abraham

Today I have the great honour of being the guest of my dear friend and fellow Crooked Cat author, the truly lovely Ailsa Abraham​.

Hop over to her blog and see what we have to chat about!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

THE TRUTH ABOUT ELLEN - a guest post by Sarah Louise Smith

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming fellow Crooked Cat author Sarah Louise Smith, whose latest novel, The Truth About Ellen, is released today. 

Welcome, Sarah!  Over to you...

Thank you to Sue for hosting me on your blog today. A big goofy wave to anyone who hasn’t read anything by me before; I’m Sarah Louise Smith and I write chick-lit novels; you know, girl meets boy and has a load of complications. Romantic comedy.

Here’s an extract from my fourth novel, The Truth About Ellen… 

Yesterday Ellen met Tom, a member of the band Four Ape, whom she'd adored when she was a teenager…

Saturday morning, I woke up and wondered where the hell I was. There was no ginger cat next to me, and it was too dark. Even at night, my bedroom at home had light flooding in from the street lamp out- side. Then I remembered. The hotel. Thick heavy curtains.
I turned over and saw a tiny slither of sunlight creeping in between a small gap in the curtains.
Tom. Tom Green.
 Oh wow.
 I sat up in bed. My head hurt. Ouch. How much did I drink? I got out of bed and found my way to the bathroom, then rooted around in my bag for a bottle of water. I took a long drink and sat down on the edge of the bed again.
I’d kissed Tom Green.
And wow, it had been something. Soft at first, but then more rough and firm, and he’d pressed his body up against mine. Then he’d whispered good night and turned and left me outside my hotel room door, feeling confused, disappointed, and horny as hell.
Still, I was pretty sure I’d fallen asleep immediately because I couldn’t remember anything after my head touched the pillow.
I opened the curtains, squinting as the light hurt my eyes.
There he was; just like when I’d met him, lying on his stomach, reading his book, but just a little fur- ther up the embankment, not far from the bench. I couldn’t wait to get out there and join him.
I rushed around getting ready as quickly as my sore head would allow. I wolfed down a cereal bar to calm my hangover-induced carb cravings and pulled on my best, most flattering pair of skinny jeans, a cute black top and a hot pink cardigan. I grabbed my book and was strolling across the grass towards Tom when he sat up and crossed his legs, looking out towards the lake.
He heard me approaching and turned to smile at me. “Good morning,” I said happily.
“Hey,” he said, still smiling.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
“Of course not. I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, patting the space next to him.
I sat and he leaned in and kissed my cheek, sending shivers through my whole body. This was real. I was officially having a weekend fling with Tom from Four Ape. This was happening and it wasn’t just because he’d had a drink. I mean, I assumed he was sober now anyway. He smiled at me.
“Sorry, was that okay?”

“That was very okay,” I said, leaning in and kissing him on the mouth.

“You smell amazing.”

“I was thinking the same about you.”

He grinned and I forced myself to look away from him and out towards the lake.

“What a lovely day,” I said, putting my legs out in front of me and resting back on my elbows.
“Gorgeous isn’t it. Did you sleep well?”

“Very. Went out like a light.”

“Me too.”

“How’s the book?”

“It’s good. You should read some more.”

“I will,” I said, picking up my paperback.
We sat in the sun for a while, reading, talking now and then. Tom ran up to the hotel and brought us both back some orange juice and bacon sandwiches.
“Listen to that,” I said, around mid-morning. “What?”
“The birds. The buzz of a bee. No traffic, no neighbour’s kids. No telephones. Peaceful heaven.”
Sound like your sort of thing? There are more details below. Thanks so much for reading!

The Truth About Ellen

It’s every girl’s dream to date a pop star...

When Ellen starts dating Tom, a member of the band she adored as a teenager, she can’t believe how lucky she is.

She neglects to mention that she's a huge fan because that just wouldn’t be cool, would it?

Ellen also keeps quiet about how she once spent an evening with Tom’s ex-bandmate/ex-best friend Jasper, her long-term celebrity crush. Tom doesn’t need to know about that, it’s all in the past.

That is until Tom and Jasper get back in touch… and the truth threatens to ruin everything Ellen has ever dreamed of...

The Truth About Ellen is available to buy from:

About Sarah Louise Smith

Sarah Louise Smith lives in Milton Keynes, England with her husband, step-daughter, loopy golden retriever and cheeky tortie cat.

Sarah has been writing stories since she can remember and has so far completed four chick-lit novels, all published by Crooked Cat:
Amy & Zach
Izzy’s Cold Feet
Independent Jenny
The Truth About Ellen

Connect with Sarah:


Monday, 18 May 2015

Bookmuse reviews The Ghostly Father

The Ghostly Father has been awarded a Bookmuse Recommended Read medallion!

You can read the full review here.

BREAKING NEWS: The Unkindest Cut of All is now available for pre-order for just 99p!

My latest offering to the world of literature, The Unkindest Cut of All, will be officially released on Tuesday 9th June.

Beware the Ides of March...

Brian Wilmer is God's gift to amateur dramatics - and he knows it.  So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, there is only one man who can play the title role - even though Brian's posturing 'prima donna' attitude has, over the years, won him few friends and many foes.

Rehearsals progress apace, and the production draws ever closer.  But when another member of the cast has to drop out due to illness, local journalist Sarah Carmichael (a stalwart of the Players' backstage crew) suddenly finds herself called upon to step into the breach at the eleventh hour.

Not surprisingly, Sarah finds that Brian is in his egotistical element playing the mighty Caesar.  The fact that the final performance of the play takes place on the infamous Ides of March - the day when, according to tradition, Caesar was fatally stabbed - only adds to the excitement.

But tragedy is waiting in the wings.  And when it strikes, it falls to Sarah - with the help of Brian's personable and fascinating nephew Martin Burns - to uncover the incredible truth about what really happened...

There will be an online launch event on Facebook on the day, with fun, frolics, competitions and prizes.  To join the party, click here.  But in the meantime, you can now pre-order the e-book on Amazon (just click here and you will be taken to the right place) for the extra-special "early bird" price of only 99p!  Order it now, and it will magically appear on your Kindle on launch day.