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Wednesday 29 June 2016

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Hickstead The All England Show Jumping Course...

... Or A Mum Worrying....
(scroll down for am & pm twice daily updates)

[UPDATE: videos of Lexie jumping can be found on my Devon Diary Blog - click here

At about 7.45 a.m, my daughter Kathy, husband Adam and two horses, Lexie and Saffie set off for Hickstead, near Brighton in Sussex. It'll be a drive of about four-and-a-half to five hours.  Following behind, loaded with equipment (including horse feed and bedding, camping stuff, and three saddles - one a side saddle) Ashley, family friend and groom for the week.
The main, International, Arena
(Kathy will be jumping in smaller arenas - not this one!) (thank goodness!)
The All England Jumping Course - Hickstead, - was the dream and brain child of one man, Douglas Bunn. Now run by his family, the showground remains one of the premier equestrian venues in the world. Almost every great show jumper, horse and rider, has competed at Hickstead since they first opened the gates in 1960.
Kathy with top show jumper Geoff Billington
 in our kitchen January 2016
The travellers will be gone until Sunday evening, but as I will be off to Nottingham on Sunday  for a conference at the University of Nottingham, I will not see them until I return on Tuesday.
On The Road - the horses in the horsebox
I'm anxious. As mothers always are.
I'm worrying about them getting there safe. Travelling with horses is a hard drive and there are so many idiots on the road.

I'm worrying about the weather. Camping in a field and competing in atrocious downpours is not exactly pleasant. Or safe.
I'm worrying about Kathy competing. Those fences at Hickstead are enormous, and she will be taking part in two classes per day.

Saffie Hickstead 2015
Saffie can get over-excited and is not an easy ride.

For Lexie this will be her first time at Hickstead. Will she cope?

Lexie - Area 16 Sidesaddle champion 2015
I'm worrying about Kathy hurting herself.
I'm worrying about the horses hurting themselves.
I'm worrying about Adam's troublesome back
I'm worrying about Ashley (actually, no idea why, he's not a son or son-in-law! )

Amateur Derby 2001 (Kathy riding El Gaupo)
I've had years of worry because of Hickstead. Kathy started jumping there when she was fifteen (over eighteen years ago!) Hickstead, the Royal International and the Derby Meet would be our annual summer holiday. Camping in the top field above the stable field was usually fairly pleasant. But the walk from the fields down to the showground is not far short of a mile. OK going downhill, torture coming back up, tired - ney, (should that be neigh? Pun) exhausted.

So I am relieved, now that its Adam's turn to be Head Groom for his wife, not me for my daughter as I don't think I could manage that hill, or the camping out, now. All the same. I wish I was going with them. I'm ewxtremely proud of Kathy. We've never been able to afford quality horses, or to compete at the sort of level that would take her to the top - showjumping is a very expensive sport. She's had knocks and disappointments, We've had horses we had high hopes for, but they didn't turn out to be as good as we thought. But like a true trooper Kathy has kept going because she loves the sport, loves her horses and - yes I know she's my daughter, but she's good at it. Which is important as, being severely dyslexic she was regarded (by the education system) as a failure. I pulled her out of school when she was fifteen so she could follow her heart and her horses. She was good with horses. Good at jumping. Costs us a fortune to keep her goingb though. (Thank goodness for my books - buy a book or two and support Kathy's showjumping and the ambition of fulfilling her dreams!)

Keep in mind that those wings are bigger than me - I'm 5ft 3!
Kathy's got hopes for doing well this year - I'll be pleased if she just gets round each cl;ass in one piece. If she knocks every single fence down and comes out with a cricket score, I don't mind. Although a clear round and a place in the line-up would be nice. She came 26th out of about 150 last year. Proud moment! (Believe me, at Hickstead that is a huge achievement!)

Riding Lexie side saddle
On the Sunday she is riding Lexie in a sidesaddle class. Lexie can be an absolute angel and go like a dream - every chance of getting placed in the winner's line-up. Or she can be in a mood and go awful. Which will mean last place. Oh well, that's horses.

I don't care about rosettes and winning, or staying dry, nor getting tired and having sore feet.
Just stay safe all of you. (And have a nice time.)

Information about Hickstead

Call back at the end of each day for any updates and results ......

'Are we there yet?'
The girls waiting to come off the horsebox
Settled into their holiday accommodation
(Lexie just about fits through the door)
The course for Lexie Wedn esday
Class 107 The Hickstead 1m Open
Don't like the look of that blue water tray...
Question is - will Lexie notice it?
Update: 1pm  one worry ticked off: they're all there safe & sound. Course walked for Wednesday a.m.

10 a.m.  Lexie, just 4 faults (one pole down) in her first ever class at Hickstead (1 m. Open)

Lexie (Shinglehall Casino)

4pm: Saffie a prize pudding. Got way over-excited, ended up with 12 faults (three fences down). It would help to jump OVER the jumps not THROUGH them.... Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

A relaxing Pimms
Jumped both horses early. Saffie again over excited (very frustrating) 12 faults plus 2 time faults (no ideas how she got those!)

Saffie's Class
Lexie just 4 faults at a wide oxer going into a combination (i.e two fences close together - they require precision) These are big fences and this is Lexie's first ever big jumping show - so far she's been going superb, not even minding the puddles - usually she will NOT get her feet wet! Mind you given the torrential downpour in the South East last night and the fact that Lexie's mstable was more water than bedding maybe spending the night with wet feet has cured her puddle silliness!  Kathy said Lexie had been digging (the stable floors are earth - temporary wooden stabling in a field) so it looked like Lexie had dug a moat. Adam went to check them at 3am because of the storm Gave them an apple & a hug. All OK. Not sure about Assistant Groom Ashley in his tent - maybe get him a boat?
So, now we wait to see how they do tomorrow. Wish we knew how to solve the Saffie problem :-(

Saffie much calmer, just 4 faults (one down) but dreadfully muddy conditions!
Lexie got clear and through to jump off - just four faults at the very last - but YAY we got through to jump off!!!

and its not ALL jumping (or getting wet in a thunderstorm)

Amateur Derby - all the same fences as THE Derby, but at a lower height (1.15)
Kathy had 24 faults (6 poles down) but there's 15 jumps - a long course - and Saffie is not the easiest horse to ride. Point is Kathy finished the round (in one piece) so who cares about a few poles down?

Monday 13 June 2016

How to Clothe a Character

... Concubines, matrons and prostitutes in Rome
By Elisabeth Storrs

Creating a character in an historical novel can lead to unexpected quandaries. Dressing them in appropriate clothes would seem a simple matter. However, introducing a Roman tomb whore into the Tales of Rome Saga opened an unexpected can of worms when determining what she would wear.
Pinna is the daughter of a Roman soldier who was reduced to bondage resulting in her being forced into prostitution. Lack of funds means she starts her life as an unregistered whore (worse still as a tomb whore - the lowest in the pecking order). As a result, she permanently surrenders her rights to citizenship. By the time of the events in my most recent book, Call to Juno, she has clawed her way through coercion to become the concubine of a general but harbours dreams of gaining citizenship again as a Roman matron and wife.

As the saga is set in the very early days of the Republic it was difficult to find reliable primary sources to provide a definitive view of this period. I was forced to depend on non-contemporaneous sources. Much of what is understood about Roman women in early classical times is often deduced from legislation that was enacted centuries later in the Augustan period. Rome valued monogamy, and the concepts of culpability for adultery and “stuprum” (extramarital sex) were applied when classifying a woman’s status. The propriety expected of a Roman matron was the standard by which women were judged. The two ends of the spectrum were the respectable wife versus the dissolute whore. One was lauded as a virtuous citizen who must be faithful to her husband; the other was so corrupted that she lost all claim to moral or legal rights. The greater the degree of promiscuity, reward for sex and lack of emotional attachment, the more tainted the woman became. However, given a prostitute was irrevocably stained, she could not be punished for committing adultery. That crime was reserved for a wife alone.

Prostitution was heavily regulated in Rome in the late Republic and imperial times. There is considerable commentary about this period but, alas, no certainty as to the rules relating to the “oldest profession” at the time I set my books. Nevertheless, I based Pinna’s circumstances on the assumption that imperial laws enshrined what had been customary practice throughout Republican times.

There were many different categories of prostitutes, all of whom were known by colorful names. The “lupae” (she wolves), who serviced clients in “lupanariae”, were reputedly called this because they were as rapacious as wolves. The inspiration for Pinna came from reading about the unregistered “noctiluae” (night walkers), who were colloquially known as “night moths”, including the “busturiae” who doubled as hired mourners and plied their trade amid the tombs.

A concubine was seen as a mixture between a matron and a harlot. Her status was ambiguous and has been described as “safe and schizophrenic”. These de facto wives were denied the status of a matron because they had committed stuprum (and, it appears, were not subject to the laws of adultery either), yet they were considered respectable enough to be accepted by society. They were usually slaves or freedwomen, although there is evidence that lower class freeborn citizens also chose to enter into such relationships. Often widowers chose de facto wives to avoid complications with the inheritances of their legitimate children when remarrying. Concubines were also commonly taken by young noblemen before the men reached an age to enter political life and were expected to officially wed.

Status was signified through a dress code. Matrons were entitled to wear a stola overdress, palla shawl, and fillets in their hair as a symbol of both their married standing and their citizenship. In comparison, a prostitute was marked out by wearing a toga and was denied the privilege of covering her head in modesty and wearing outdoor shoes.

So then, what was I to do about Pinna when she became a concubine who hides her secret life as a whore and is believed by those around her to retain her freeborn status?  Alas, I was unable to ascertain whether a freeborn or freedwoman concubine could wear a stola. I assumed the taint of stuprum precluded such a right. Accordingly I also deprived Pinna of the opportunity – a decision that provides an example of the challenge of writing historical fiction. The smallest of details can lead to the deepest research!

 Call to Juno
“Elisabeth Storrs brings Ancient Rome vividly to life; her skill as a writer is equivalent to a time machine – we are there amid the history and the drama, immersed so deep that in calling to Juno we expect her to answer back…” Helen Hollick

Four unforgettable characters are tested during a war between Rome and Etruscan Veii.

Caecilia has long been torn between her birthplace of Rome and her adopted city of Veii. Yet faced with mounting danger to her husband, children, and Etruscan freedoms, will her call to destroy Rome succeed?

Pinna has clawed her way from prostitute to the concubine of the Roman general Camillus. Deeply in love, can she exert her own power to survive the threat of exposure by those who know her sordid past?

Semni, a servant, seeks forgiveness for a past betrayal. Will she redeem herself so she can marry the man she loves?

Marcus, a Roman tribune, is tormented by unrequited love for another soldier. Can he find strength to choose between his cousin Caecilia and his fidelity to Rome?

Who will overcome the treachery of mortals and gods?

Buy links:
Elisabth Storrs has long had a passion for the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. She graduated from University of Sydney in Arts Law, having studied Classics. Elisabeth lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney, Australia, and over the years has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer and corporate governance consultant.
She is one of the founders of the Historical Novel Society Australasia 
Feel free to connect with her through 
her website:  
or Triclinium blog:  .
You can find her on Facebook: 
Twitter: @elisabethstorrs 
and Pinterest:

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Tuesday Talk : Meet a lovely new Devon Author

Michelle Woollacott talks about
Her Top Ten Reading Wish List 2016

My writing journey has led me to meet some fascinating writers over the last few years – most notably in recent months as I have approached publication – so I have compiled a reading list of these inspiring authors and the books I would love to have on my shelves. It was my birthday in May so if any family or friends are reading and still haven't got me a gift... hint, hint…

In fact, I am struggling to condense the list to only ten…

1. SusanHughesA Kiss From France
Acquaintance: I met Sue when she joined our Barnstaple Writers’ Group last year, as was impressed to learn about her book, A Kiss From France, and to see the beautiful cover.

The Author: Susan Hughes was inspired to write A Kiss From France when she found a set of silk postcards hidden in a box in her grandmother’s attic. Her imagination took hold and she began to wonder who had sent these intrinsic cards. Find out more in Susan’s recent postfor Tuesday Talk.

The Book: A Kiss From France follows the lives of two women in WW1 London. Lizzie Fenwick works in an ammunitions factory and conceals a note in a box of weaponry to be sent to the front line. When she receives a reply, the story takes hold. A Kiss From France has everything I am looking for in a good read; romance, drama, intrigue and a real human story.

2. Ben Blake - Troy
Acquaintance: I have known Ben since I first joined the Barnstaple Writers’ Group in 2013. He was also kind enough to proof-read my book and, although I know women’s fiction is not his cup of tea, he was very kind about it…

The Author: Ben Blake writes Historical Fantasy and is a devoted and dedicated writer.

The Book: Ben has written a series called Troy, so I suppose I should start with Book 1,A Brand of Fire. Greeks, action, magic and fantasy… anything could happen.

3. Olli TooleyChildren of The Wise Oak and SimonDawsonPigs in Clover
OK. So I am cheating a bit… I told you I was struggling to condense it to only ten…

Acquaintance: Olli and Simon interviewed me when they co-hosted Baggy’s Book Club on The Voice FM. I had met Olli a week before at a publishing workshop with Helen Hollick and Liz Shakespeare, which both Olli and I found extremely helpful.

The Authors: Simon Dawson is a journalist, author and presenter. He left city life behind to set up a small holding in North Devon, which inspired him to write Pigs in Clover. Ollie Tooley has written series of children’s time travelling books.

The Books: Pigs in Clover by Simon Dawson charters the author’s journey from London to North Devon. I recently became a reluctant farmer’s wife myself, and it takes some adjusting to… Perhaps this book could act as a guide… Children of The Wise Oak by Olli Tooley is a historical fantasy set at the heart of the struggle between the Celts and the Romans. Young Adult too... I can’t wat for it to be published.

4. Vanessa MatthewsThe Doctor’s Daughter
Acquaintance: I read an article on Vanessa’s debut novel in The Western Morning News last year, and her words encouraged me to continue on my journey. I contacted her about coming to talk to our writing group. Alas, we couldn’t make that happen, but I was interested to learn Vanessa runs writing retreats in Cornwall…

The Author: Vanessa Matthews moved to Cornwall from The Midlands, leaving a busy marketing career behind to becoming a novelist.

The Book: Set in Vienna, The Doctor’s Daughter is a dark historical tale of one woman’s fight against oppression to make her name in a man’s world. #womensfiction. I can’t wait to read this.

5. Colin BeazleyOne Day in June
Acquaintance: I met Colin several months ago when he began attending our monthly writers’ group. Colin later spoke at our publishing workshop, drawing on his own experience.

The Author: Colin Beazley has published a range of books including the children’s book, A Tale of Two Elephants, the short story collection, Voices and the historical novel, One Day in June.

The Book: One Day in June follows the life a young RAF navigator during WW11 and how his dangerous missions over France impact his life forever more. A fascinating human story.

6. BD AikenWhite Lies and Black Sheep
Acquaintance: I met Bruce when he joined our writers’ group last year, and we were all fascinated to learn of his intrinsic writing method, plotting chapters on little cards on his desk – let’s hope he keeps the doors closed on windy days…

The Author: Bruce Aiken enjoyed a successful career in publishing before penning his novel, White Lies and Black Sheep.

The Book: White Lies and Black Sheep is a teen drama following the life of young Rachel, who has been taken advantage of and finds herself pregnant. This sounds like my kind of drama.

7. Rozana McGrattanStreet Girl
Acquaintance: I became acquainted with publisher Jody Medland last year at the lunch of his debut novel, The Moors. Since then, I have written an article on him for Oditty magazine and Jody has offered me invaluable advice on my writing and publishing career.

The Author: Rozana McGrattan grew up in Brazil and overcame unimaginable hardships to pen her first memoir, Street Girl.

The Book: Street Girl charts the life of author Rozana McGrattan, and how she overcame a life of torture, violence and poverty to build a successful career. I have been asked to review this book pre-release and can’t wait to get stuck into it. *  now reviewed: click here

8. RuthDownie - Ruso and Rebecca AlexanderA Baby’s Bones
Again, another cheat… I should have called it my top thirteen, but it really didn’t have same ring to it.

Acquaintance: Ruth and Rebecca are both published authors who I met through the Barnstaple writers’ group, and who ran the competition for the short story and poetry collection, Seaglass, which I was lucky enough to win a place in last year.

The Authors: Ruth Downie writes historical fiction charting the adventures of Roman doctor, Russo. Rebecca Alexander writes a series of fantasy novels.

The Books: I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with Ruth Downie’s novels, as she has written seven books in the series about the Roman army doctor… Rebecca Alexander’s upcoming book, A Baby’s Bones, surrounds a mystery linking the present and the past in this chilling fantasy.

9. Veronica HenryHow to Find Love in a Bookshop
Acquaintance: I listened to Veronica speak at Braunton Library last month. A few days later, I saw her at the launch of Libraries Unlimited and was able to thank her for unwittingly showing me how to do it – I spoke at the launch of my debut novel this month…

The Author: Veronica Henry enjoyed an exciting career as a screen-writer, working on a host of popular dramas, before turning her hand to novels.

The Book: How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the tale of Emilia’s struggle to keep her bookshop open. This sounds like a booklover’s book…

10. Liz Shakespeare - Fever and HelenHollickThe Sea Witch
This is the last cheat, I promise…

Acquaintance: Liz Shakespeare and Helen Hollick were guest speakers at a recent publishing workshop I attended. Both ladies provided invaluable insight into the world of books and publishing. I was fortunate enough to thank Helen in person a little while later at the launch of Libraries Unlimited, where she asked me to write this guest post.

The Authors: Liz Shakespeare turned from school teacher to writer – well, with a name like that, she was destined to… Helen has had a string of success, first with medieval historical, and later pirate-based fiction. Helen is also Managing Editor for the Historical Society Indie Reviews.

The Books: Fever by Liz Shakespeare is a historical novel uncovering the gritty reality of nineteenth century rural life in a Devon village. Helen Hollick’s Sea Witch is a pirate adventure – think Pirates of the Caribbean; what’s not to love?

What is the best gift you can give a writer if not a book? Perhaps a stay at a writers’ retreat…

Michelle Woollacott’s debut novel, ALL THAT YOU WANT is a teenage love story, and is available NOW from and other online retailers.