Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last Day of UK Kindle Deal

If you use Amazon UK, don't miss your last chance to get Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen for only 99p! My Elizabeth has enjoyed a wonderful December as an Amazon Monthly Kindle Deal. She is currently at #1 for biographical historical fiction and rose as high as #66 in the Kindle store OVERALL! I couldn't be happier that so many people are enjoying the story of Elizabeth of York.

Get it today, before this deal ends as the new year begins.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Historic Places: Stonehenge

We are going to head out of London for now and return there at the end of our virtual tour. As I did while I was in England, we will travel west toward the storybook city of Bath. That is a stop worth looking forward to! For today, we visit the ancient and mysterious monument known as Stonehenge.

Stonehenge is located in Wiltshire, but all you will see from this English Heritage site is fields and sheep. If you're planning your day right, you will coordinate this stop with a trip into nearby Salisbury to see the breathtaking cathedral. Unfortunately, we were on a guided tour that did not include the Salisbury side-trip, so I will stick to Stonehenge for this post. (If you have visited Salisbury, I would love to hear about it and see pictures in the comments below.)

Visitors to Stonehenge vary from those who are intensely excited about the possibilities that exist in the location's mysterious past to those who wonder why so many people get excited about a circle of large stones. If you love the opportunity to investigate history and determine what really happened centuries ago, you will appreciate the model village, museum, and walking tour of Stonehenge.

Arriving at Stonehenge actually places you at the visitors' center with an additional mile to walk or ride the bus to the monument itself. At the visitors' center, you may stroll through the museum displays, grab a snack at the cafe, or try your strength at pulling a stone into place in the model Neolithic village. The museum is rather small and contains artifacts that fit nicely into the various theories that you will hear about on the audio tour. My favorite part of this building was the 'Wish You Were Here' exhibit. This is a circle shaped room with images projected on the walls to place visitors at the center of the Stone Circle throughout the ages. Witness Stonehenge being built, used, and weathered by time in the course of a few moments.

When you make your way out to the Stone Circle, an audio tour points out a variety of facts, theories, and views that you'll want to take advantage of. Stonehenge was built approximately 5000 years ago using simple tools to bring stones weighing up to 30 tons into place from distances believed to reach into Wales. Why go through this much work? Well, that's where it becomes a bit of a treasure hunt.

My husband theorized during our visit that the entire area was simply half built at the commands of a petulant prince who got bored before it was complete. The audio tour and museum offer more sophisticated explanations.  ;-)

There was originally more to the Stone Circle than we currently see, as several displays will show you. It is known that the area was used as a cemetery for centuries, but the extent of religious ceremonies that may have taken place is less certain.
The stones have been shaped to be more finished and aesthetically pleasing from the north-east, giving the circle a definite 'front' and 'back.' While some stones are carefully smoothed and shaped, others are left unfinished for unknown reasons.

Uses for the Stone Circle likely evolved over time, possibly being used as a seasonal clock, gathering place, and religious center. There is no question that the enormous stones were carefully placed to align with the movement of the sun through annual solar events. But why? Was it used to predict and track seasons or was this simply a pleasing design for a king's coronation? These are questions that the enthusiasts of Stonehenge continue to discuss and investigate.

A surprising amount of the Stonehenge area has not been excavated by archaeologists, so possibilities of new discoveries are very real. Ongoing research will continue to answer the questions that people have been asking for hundreds of years about Stonehenge, but with each new discovery more questions arise. Will we ever know the complete history of Stonehenge? Probably not, but that's the fun of it, isn't it?

 For more information on Stonehenge, visit the UK's English Heritage website.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Interview and End of Year News

Merry Christmas and many thanks to everyone who has supported me during 2015!

It has been a wonderful year with my Elizabeth reaching Amazon UK's Top 100 Kindle Best Sellers List and resting at #1 in Biographical Historical Fiction for quite some time. If you are a UK reader - Thank You! You can still snatch Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen for only 99p until the end of the year.

I know that US readers have been waiting for their own sale. While Amazon does not have one planned so far as I know, I will be giving my fellow Americans a chance to take advantage of a Kindle deal soon. Keep an eye on this page to make sure you don't miss it!

In the meantime, BookGoodies has published a short interview with me that you can find here.

The only other thing I can ask of my dear readers is that you take a moment to write a review. It really is the most important action you can take (besides buying books) to support independent writers, and I appreciate it more than you can imagine. Whether you are on Amazon, Goodreads, Booklikes, or your own personal blog, every review is important to me. Already written a review? I appreciate it and would love to read it. Share a link in the comments below.

Thanks again and have a spectacular 2016!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Historic Places: Tower of London

My readers are probably not surprised to hear that the Tower was my most anticipated stop while we were in London. So much history has been witnessed by these stone walls that I wish I could hear them whisper their story. The Tower is a significant setting in my most recent novel as the place where Elizabeth's brothers disappear and she dies after delivering her last child.

If you have not visited the Tower or other castles, you may not realize that the setting is much more like an enclosed village than a single tower. Our romanticized vision of a castle more closely resembles a standard castle keep than the entire complex.

As you can see from the first picture, some of the stone shows its age more than others. The famous White Tower, built by William the Conqueror from stone that he had transported from Normandy looks amazing for being almost a millennium old. The White Tower is the central stone keep of the fortress, built by the first of England's Norman kings to establish his dominance in the capital of his new kingdom. The rest of the castle grounds would grow up around this impressive, white-washed stronghold. Through the centuries since William's 1066 invasion, this tower has served primarily as a stronghold but also as a prison and storage facility.

The White Tower was an archaeological wonder of its day at a height of 90' with walls that are 25' thick at their base.

Plantagenet kings of medieval times continued to increase the sprawling fortress' size and uses. The 12th-14th centuries saw the Tower of London become much of the structure that is seen today surrounding the White Tower. During the reign of Edward I, the Tower was recognized as an ideally secure place to store jewels, records, and the royal mint.

During the 15th century Wars of the Roses, possession of the Tower was a strong indication of possession of the kingdom. A strange combination of a palace and a prison, the Tower was where monarchs spent the night before their coronation, but it was also where they housed their worst enemies - just not in the same tower.

Though the castle is known as the Tower of London, it is truly made up of several towers, which may lead to some confusion. We have already discussed the original White Tower which stands at the center of the castles concentric design. Smaller towers surround it, including the Beauchamp Tower, famous for housing Tudor era criminals. The Bloody Tower is a relatively small tower where the sons of Edward IV were staying when they famously disappeared...were murdered? That's a discussion for another day.

Inside any of these towers, you can feel the atmosphere of history prickling at your senses. I could not resist running my fingers along the stone walls within the narrow staircases, hoping that I just might find a spot that Elizabeth's hand touched over 500 years ago. Admittedly, the feeling is somewhat reduced by the rather modern radiators that give the structure warmth while the large fireplaces lie dormant, but I did not mind as much that there were wooden stairs outside to save me from climbing a ladder.

Strolling through the Tower Green, the architecture and beauty of the place can almost make one forget that the grass has been fed with much blood. It is a beautiful setting filled with smiling tourists and friendly Yeoman Warders.
Within the ring made up by these and several other towers, visitors could easily walk by the Execution Site without realizing what it is. Memorializing multiple political prisoners of the crown, the spot is now home to a frosted glass and granite monument in place of the bloody scaffold. At this site, three of England's queens were beheaded. Each has their name etched into the edge of the glass: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey. Others who had their last view of the Tower from this spot include Margaret Pole, William Lord Hastings, Jane Boleyn, and Robert Devereux. Each of these deaths demonstrate just how quickly fortune's wheel could turn in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Thankfully, Henry VIII did more than execute people at the Tower, though he did plenty of that. To walk through the Tower gift shop, one would think that he was the only king England had ever had, but I digress.

Henry enjoyed building projects almost as much as the hunt for a new wife. His contribution to the Tower grounds, besides noble blood, includes the timber structure - very recognizable as Tudor era - that was designed as a royal residence for Anne Boleyn.

One of the most popular exhibits at the Tower is the Crown Jewels. This includes an education on the English Civil War of the 17th century, a time when the crown jewels were melted down and torn apart. Sometimes for their value, sometimes out of spite. There is a vast amount of elaborate jewelry and accessories to be viewed, but they cannot be photographed.

The 19th century saw the Tower's evolution from a practical fortress to a historical monument. With the moat drained and the mint removed to another location, the Tower began to enjoy a peaceful retirement. It was not completely out of commission until after Britain's involvement in the World Wars. The last executions to take place on Tower ground were those of World War I & II spies.

One element remains constant as the Tower has become a tourist destination rather than a place to inspire the kind of fear that made Anne Boleyn collapse and cry out as she was escorted through Traitor's Gate. It is the ravens. According to legend, "If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall." In the interest of the empire, the Tower is home to ravens with clipped wings and luxurious lodgings. The Yeomen Warders have little else to guard these days than their black feathered friends.

During our visit, the White Tower was home to a special 600th anniversary exhibit for the Battle of Agincourt. A large battle map was set up in the center of one room. As we approached it, my husband said, "So, tell me what is going on here." Ah, to have someone request to be regaled with medieval knowledge! It was great fun, and we enjoyed each of the informative displays that are located throughout the various buildings and towers.

Have you visited the Tower of London? There is so much to see within this single stop! What did you enjoy the most?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Historic Places: St. Paul's Cathedral

The next stop in the Historical Places blog series is St. Paul's Cathedral. A pleasant walk along the Thames from our previous stop, Big Ben and Westminster, will take us to Christopher Wren's most famous creation. St. Paul's is a rather modern design compared to other cathedrals in England. This is due to the fact that, like much of London, it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The history of St. Paul's Cathedral goes back much further, finding its roots in the Christian movements of the early middle ages. The highest point in the city was chosen as the location for the center of Christianity in London in 604. A substantial structure was not built until somewhat later, after the fear of destruction from invading Danes had abated.

The ascendancy of William the Conqueror saw an explosion of new stone construction in England. A cathedral for St. Paul's was part of the Norman's building plan. Developed over the course of decades, a stunning medieval church rose to tower over the central city of the land. This structure defined the London skyline for centuries.
Medieval St. Paul's by Francis Bond

During the religious turmoil of the Tudor era, St. Paul's remained an important part of Londoner's worship, adjusting to the required services of the time as required. In 1561, the church's spire was struck by lightening and collapsed. Those alive at the time may have wondered if this was God's judgement upon the English wavering over reform versus tradition in religion. Whichever was their preference, the spire was never repaired.

Just over a century later, the entire cathedral was destroyed in the 1666 fire that destroyed much of medieval London. To avoid another disaster like this from occurring again, building restrictions were developed. Thatched roofs had been banned within London city limits since an earlier fire in 1212, but the Rebuilding of London Act of 1666 was more comprehensive. Everything from width of streets, height of buildings, and materials used for construction was considered in the creation of this act. Construction needed to be safe and sanitary but also had to occur quickly for the city to be up and running once again.

Famous architect Christopher Wren presented his plan for a new London which was designed to create a beautiful, classical city modeled on the Garden of Versailles. Although his city plan was too elaborate and expensive to be chosen by city leaders, Wren was given the vital task of rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral. It is his design that we see when we visit St. Paul's today.

The cathedral stands out due to its baroque style architecture which involves curves and columns replacing the straight lines of medieval structures. The most recognizable of these features is the prominent dome that enables visitors to easily identify St. Paul's. It is one of the largest cathedrals in the UK, second only to the Liverpool Cathedral completed in 1978.

Since we visited St. Paul's during worship service, I did not take photos of the interior. It was wonderful to hear the choir voices resonating throughout this beautiful church, and one could spend hours appreciating the intricate details of design throughout each functional area of the cathedral. In the lower level, visitors can enjoy tea at the cafe or select a souvenir from the gift shop. It is up to you to decide what you think of these amenities being located in the crypt. Apparently enough Londoners appreciate the venue because it is even available to be rented out for parties and receptions.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Historic Places: Big Ben

This is the first a planned series on historic locations that I visited during a recent trip. I look forward to sharing each stop with you and hearing about your impressions and experiences of these amazing places.

My trip began with the long flight to London Heathrow. London being too rich and diverse to cover in one post, I've selected the familiar Big Ben to be the first of the historical places we will look at.

Of course, Big Ben isn't really the name of this highly recognized landmark at all. It is more properly known as Elizabeth Tower and is the defining feature of the Palace of Westminster where the British Parliament meets. The large bell named Big Ben has universally become the accepted nick-name for the clock tower in which it is housed. Big Ben, which resonates a rich E-note, deserves its name with a 9 foot diameter and weight of 13.5 tons.

Surrounded by the sprawling city of London, some visitors are likely surprised that the tower is not taller. While it soars by the standards of the mid-19th century, even the limited modernity of London is beginning to dwarf the iconic tower. It's total height is 316 feet, or the equivalent of a 29 story building. One of the great characteristics of London and many other English cities is that new building is restricted in order to coordinate with and not overwhelm the history of the setting. Even with these rules in place, Big Ben is starting to look somewhat overwhelmed. Just across the Thames, the London Eye tops out at 443 feet.

Not to say that the tower is small. The four clocks measure an impressive 23 feet across with hour hands that stretch 9 feet for the time to be clearly visible to anyone with a sight-line to a clock face. The longer minute hands extend 14 feet, and you will climb 340 steps if you wish to reach the belfry.

What the London Eye and other modern structures cannot compete with is the detail and beauty of the Palace of Westminster. What it lacks in height it more than makes up for in a view that takes your breath away. The Gothic Revival style that was utilized in the design makes the structure appear even older than it is. It would be easy for one to spend hours strolling around this sprawling palace and noting the details in the stonework that were expertly formed by the best craftsmen of their day.

A structure has existed on Westminster's strategic location on the Thames since the 8th century. While Edward the Confessor built the cathedral during the 11th century, the palace has undergone more gradual evolution. The Palace of Westminster as we know it, with Big Ben in the clock tower, was not developed until after a fire in 1834 destroyed the previous structure. That is when the palace that people around the globe recognize as London came into being, with over 1,100 rooms, including the chambers designed for the House of Lords and House of Commons.

For locals, some of the romanticism of Westminster may be overshadowed by politics, but visitors can simply lose themselves in the rich history and architectural wonder that is not found on the other side of the pond.

It is clear that I was quite happy to reach this symbol of Britishness. You will see as this blog series progresses, my enthusiasm continues through Bath, Liverpool, Edinburgh, York, and many places in between.

Have you visited Big Ben? What were your impressions?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kindle Monthly Deal

I have great news for my British readers today! Amazon UK has selected Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen to be a Kindle Monthly Deal for December. If you have not already picked up my story of Elizabeth of York, you can get it now for only 99p - just 1/3 of the regular price!

This is a promotion by Amazon and is limited to the UK marketplace, but I may have to consider spoiling my US readers with a Christmas sale as well! You can still get signed paperback copies shipped in time for Christmas by sending me a message.

Thank you to all who have read and reviewed!