Today, Nancy Jardine is joining me on my blog. I’ve recently finished the first in her Celtic Fervour Series, set in Roman Britain, which I loved.
So, Nancy, what first attracted you to the era(s) you’ve written about?
As a young reader, I used to borrow books about ancient history from the local public library that were too difficult for me to properly absorb, but they never put me off wanting to learn more about ancient peoples. In later years, I wanted desperately to know more about the Late Iron Age of Scotland but there wasn’t much information readily available: historical non-fiction textbooks tending to be extremely expensive. I devoured fiction set in pre-historic times, knowing full well that it was someone’s interpretation of the era, though not necessarily accurate. I became even more drawn to the Late Iron Age period, around the late 1990s, when I first taught the era to some primary classes. The preoccupation heightened even more when an archaeological survey was done during 2002-2004 in my village, the ‘dig’ being about 100 yards from my garden. Those excavations improved the knowledge of a Roman Temporary/Marching Camp in Kintore but were also extremely important in the wider context of what occurred in Roman camps throughout The Roman Empire. Finding out that the ramparts of the Roman encampment were so close to my house was incredibly exciting.
What sparked your first foray into historical fiction?
During the time of the above mentioned ‘dig’ my primary class of 11 year olds and I made a study of “Celtic and Roman Scotland” for a whole term. We were invited to view the progress of the ‘dig’ a few times and got first-hand regular updates in school from the archaeologists. At the end of that term, the short stories written by my pupils were so good I joked about writing a longer novel myself which would be set in Roman Scotland. I outlined it as a companion to a Roman/ Celtic class project and a novel which could be read to the class as the term’s study progressed. I started my very first historical draft around then. That draft changed vastly over the next decade—the era morphing from Agricolan 1st century to Sevaran 3rd Century. That story idea eventually became The Taexali Game which I self published at the end of May 2015, though it bears almost no resemblance to the initial version.
During every successive school summer holiday I was writing something—historical and contemporary mystery novels. As well as occasionally working on The Taexali Game (I can’t even remember what it was first called!), I decided to attempt a romantic adventure for the adult market also set in Roman Britain. That story became The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of my Celtic Fervour Series, my first historical novel published by Crooked Cat Publishing in 2012.
Tell me a bit about your research process – are you able to stay focused, or do you find yourself distracted by new, interesting snippets or stories?
Great question! The answer is that I can be focussed sometimes, though I’m also easily distracted by interesting information that may have nothing really to do with the aspects I want to immediately write about. However, it often happens that I’m looking for the information at a later date if it’s general Celtic or Roman topics. I love the research process, following one lead after another. I have a rubbish memory, though, and often know that I’ve read something before but the nice thing is that the details seem fresh all over again. Having transferred files and folders from an old and dying laptop to a brand new one, I also know I’m not great at computer ‘housekeeping’ of my historical files. A dog’s breakfast is to be admired!
Which is your favourite of any real historical characters who have appeared in your writing?
That would be Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britannia between approx 78-84 AD. Though it’s a sort of cheat to say so because I purposely decided NOT to write about a famous character in my stories and Agricola is only referred to by one of his underlings in After Whorl: Bran Reborn and After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, Books 2 &3 of my Celtic Fervour Series.
There are hardly any prime sources from the era I write about, one of the few books being ‘The Agricola’ written by Cornelius Tacitus (Agricola’s son-in-law). I’ve very loosely based my plot for books 2 and 3 of the series around the general information Tacitus gives us of the troop movements of Agricola’s legions during his northern campaigns in Britannia but added some ideas of my own regarding his forays into ‘Scotland’. However, my favourite thing about creating those plots is the confusion I experienced while doing the in-depth studies of the campaigns. I got to know Agricola pretty well and realised that not much of what Tacitus wrote actually makes sense when matched up with the recent archaeological evidence that’s been purported since the beginning of the 21st century. From approx the first 14th century translation of ‘The Agricola’ , Agricola was given credit for being instrumental in ordering the first Roman Invasion of northern Britannia/ ‘Scotland’ but now it’s looking more like it was his two governor predecessors ( Cerialis and Frontinus) who continued north of the Brigante territory (northern England) and into Scotland, especially southern and central Scotland. For some twisted reason the doubt about which Roman governor marched into ‘Scotland’ first probably makes me like Agricola even more!
Have you ever had to include a real historical character you’ve really disliked?
Yes. In The Taexali Game, the Roman Emperor Severus and his beastly son Caracalla both have cameo roles. My research on both of these men made me dislike them a lot- especially Caracalla. Unfortunately, since my intended audience for the book was a good reader above the age of 10, I had to temper what I thought of him as I wrote the chapters he features in. According to the few historical sources about him, he sounds like a complete delinquent with many traits that aren’t to be glorified. Killing his own brother in his mother’s arms wasn’t something which made me admire him —regardless of the actual circumstances which we may never really know.
If you could visit any historical event or period (as a witness only, no changing things!), which would it be, and why?
Till May of this year when I published The Taexali Game, I would probably have said I’d like to have witnessed the Battle of Mons Graupius, mainly to find out exactly where it occurred, and if it actually did take place. I’m very fickle though, because I’m now writing the second book in that time travel series which is set in Victorian Glasgow 1884 and I’d also love to be present at the huge Franchise demonstration which took place there – an event duplicated around the UK prior to further emancipation (for men only).
Finally… You’re allowed a whole afternoon to yourself with anyone from history. Who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
That would be the poet Robert Burns but the discussion would most likely need to be censored since it would be about his life and loves. I’m pretty sure some of those ‘loves’ would be unrequited longings, but he had sufficient offspring to know that some of the detail wouldn’t be able to be shared!
Thank you so much for your time, Nancy.
Thank you for the great questions, Jen, and for inviting me to your blog.
Nancy Jardine writes historical romantic adventures (Celtic Fervour Series); contemporary mystery thrillers (Take Me Now, Monogamy Twist, Topaz Eyes-finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014); & time-travel historical adventures for Teen/ YA readers (Rubidium Time Travel Series). All historical eras are enticing and ancestry research a lovely time-suck. She regularly guest blogs and loves to welcome visitors to her blog. Facebook is a habit she’s trying to keep within reasonable bounds. Grandchild-minding takes up a few (very long) days every week and any time left is for gardening, reading, writing and watching news on TV (if lucky).
Nancy can be found online on a range of platforms – please visit her website, read her blog, or find her on Facebook and Twitter. Most of her novels are available from Barnes and Noble, W.H.Smith, Waterstones, Smashwords, Tesco, Blinkboxbooks and various other ebook stores.