Wednesday, October 8, 2014

 Finding hidden gold: the Celts beneath our feet

Archaeology can bring historical fiction writers the best stories. This one will fit in nicely as I write the second book of Spiral in Time. A working title is Spiral: Shaman's Mask, which continues the story of archaeologist Germaine O'Neill and her incredible voyage into the 5th Century BC and the life of her ancestor, Sabrann ap Durot.

The mass burial described in the link features nameless Celts, but it is still the kind of newly found gold historical fiction writers love to find. I can imagine stories to speak for these long-dead bones. It is a burial, however hastily made, and rituals surrounding burials change over time. The most informative are graves where symbolic or actual objects are included. Grave goods breath life into nameless people and teach us what they valued. This gorgeous gold necklace might have been found in the burial chamber full of rich artifacts in the first  book of Spiral and would not have been unusual to accompany a high status queen on her journey to the Otherworld.

Historical fiction writing always includes the verifiable archaeological artifacts and locations, but in the deep past there is plenty of room for some educated  guesses - especially in a prehistoric  society. Reliant on archaeology, great gaps exhist that even the most knowedgeable cannot fill.

My interest sprang to life when I read about this strange grave finding in France. Was it a plague, a massacre? There is still a big question mark in my mind as my work in progress develops. But it's nice to have some open-ended situations to add to the book.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Finding the Celts: A Writer's Periplus


Finding the Celts: A Writer’s Periplus


Voyage underway!  



Well, I couldn’t go to Russia after all. A few months before my grand adventure, triple bypass heart surgery and then 2 more years of surgery stopped all plans of going to a rough, primitive archaeological dig, 300 miles from the nearest basic medical facility that only offered bandages and aspirins as treatment options.

My life-long dreams needed to change direction, adapt to the new direction of the wind.   

Yet as I healed and contemplated new directions in my life, I could not stop thinking about the Caucasian, tartan-clad Celtic girl in the Taklamakan desert—how on earth did she get there? 
I  renewed my commitment to write her story. I loved reading historical fiction (which helped me heal! But that story is for another time), and I vowed my story would be as accurate as I could make it. Obsessive to a fault, I  would start at the beginning, determined to learn everything I could about these mysterious people, these Celts.

I had a lot to learn, beginning with the name. What exactly was a Celt?
And where did they come from?
Since antiquity many had made comments about those legendary barbarians:  Hecataeus of Miletus, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, Plato, Aristotle, Strabo, Cicero, Livy and Pliny the elder, just to name a few. But they were not very informative and often contradictory. Herodotus gives us the most reliable information, that is until we come to the one source that reigns head and shoulders above all the others: Gaius Julius Caesar. For Caesar wrote from first person observation, which trumps all the others who did not.

Admittedly written by a politically ambitious Roman general, Julius Caesar gives us almost all the sparse array of facts known about the Celts, beginning with their name. Often referred to by a variety of names in the classical sources: Galli, Galatae, Keltoi, and Celtae, Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (about the inhabitants of Central Gaul) specifically says: ‘we call them Gauls, although in their own language they are called Celts.’

Julius Caesar in Gaul

Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar
Lionel-Noel Roger 1899

Finally! And Celts they remained. 

Ephorus, writing in the fourth century BC had classed the Keltoi/Celts as one of the four great barbarian peoples (and we are not sure what he based this on). This implies they were a distinctive people. The Celtic archaeologist and scholar, Anne Ross states “No matter how insubstantial their political unity may have been they had a common language, and traditions, a distinctive material culture, and closely related religious ideas.”And this covers wide areas of Europe.

In the beginning 800-400BC
No one knows for sure where they originated, but there is one place commonly stated as most probable: Hallstatt in Germany. Our knowledge then grew to include the discoveries of the La Tene (Celtic) culture. From this area, it is hypothesized the Celts spread in many directions. 


 An overview of the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures. The core Hallstatt territory (800 BC) is shown in solid yellow, the area of influence by 500 BC  in light yellow. The core territory of the La Tène culture (450 BC) is shown in solid green, the eventual area of La Tène influence by 50 BC in light green. The territories of some major Celtic tribes are labelled. Map drawn after Atlas of the Celtic World, by John Haywood (2001: 30–37).Wikipedia.

Hallstatt is famous as the site of ancient salt mines that reached down far inside a mountain. Salt being an excellent preservative, archaeologists have found many objects left by the miners that would have disintegrated in some other environment.
miner's shoes circa 800BC
and a scrap of plaid woven material
 In a previous post I mentioned the plaid fabric on the mummy and that a connection was made with fabric from Hallstatt. In her fascinating book, The Mummies of Urumchi, archaeologist Elizabeth Wayland Barber makes the observation "the textiles from one of these Inner Asian sites look astonishingly like the peculiar plaid twill cloths found in the only place in Europe where ancient perishables have survived well, the Bronze Age salt mines at Hallstatt in the Alps in Upper Austria The Austrian plaid twills had been woven by ancestors of the Celts ..."

It was  a remarkable addition to my quest for the Celts and my questions about the strange caucasian- like mummies. Much evidence now exists to support the Celts radiating out frorm Hallstatt across Europe, and further into Turkey. Archaeologists and linguists tracing the Indo-European language tree conclude that the desert settlers of the Taklamakan evolved from their Celtic forebearers. This is a general theory and like much of archaeology has its dissenters. Two  books delving into this  are The Tarim Mummies, by J.P.Mallory and Victor H. Mair and  In Search of the Indo-Europeans , by J.P. Mallory.

Doing research is like offering cat mint to the historical fiction writer, and I was now thoroughly addicted and prowled along every path, book, or resource cited by other writers.

I was an addict and I knew it. And as various story lines about the Celts evolved and consumed my thoughts, I realized I had left my past life behind and would never turn back.  The unexpected turn in my life that I had thought disastrous was, I now realized, a marvelous gift from the universe.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Meet my Main Character (actually two main characters!)

Tinney Heath, author most recently of A Thing Done, set in medieval Florence, that most magical of cities in Italy, has tagged me to play a writerly game of “Meet My Main Character. 
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Since all writers are in love with their characters, I could not resist.
But first, it’s not a simple matter to create a character, much less the main one in your book: it is a lot like how I do research for a book.

It starts with the Big Bang.
The big bang theory or God?That cosmic moment when I first find something, or it finds me, when something happens—a word, a photo in a magazine, an over-heard conversation—and I am caught with an idea, a story. The story begins in a small, cellular form that soon starts growing, amoeba like, and then I am trying to find all the information in the world until I am saturated, about the time (for now I know when it happens), and then the country, the land, and then the tiny historic and unknown people who start jumping out of history books and my imagination, and soon grow into living, breathing creatures with a life of their own.

Then I look up one day and find this person looking out at me from this immense backgound of information, who is as much of her time and place as I can make her and my main character springs to life.

1) What is the name of your character? Is she fictional or a historical person?

 As the main character in my book, Spiral: Book One of the Spiral in Time, Germaine O’Neill is a fictional modern woman of 2006. Being a visual person I thought you might want to see how I imagine her, as portrayed by the great Cate Blanchett.

 Of course she is Germaine, not Elizabeth! But this photo captures some of the essence of Germaine.
But Germaine has a shadow; Sabrann ap Durot, her genetic ancestor in the deep past is also a main character with her own unique story to tell, and Sabrann’s story takes place in the 5th century BC.

Two women, two different lifetimes, but ultimately they are one.

2) When and where is this story set?

Germaine’s story takes place in London and Dorset, England in 2006.

Sabrann’s is set in the prehistoric world of England and Phoenician Carthage in the Mediterranean, in the 5th century BC.

3) What should we know about her?

Germaine is directly linked to her long ago ancestor by their shared mitocondrial DNA. This is only passed on by women to their direct descendants. It is a way modern geneticists can now trace the history of people and discover where they have originated. And, only women’s DNA can tell us this!

Germaine O’Neill is an archaeologist of Celtic history, devoted to her career and advocate for all things Celtic. She is at a crossroads in her life having recently divorced a womanizing husband and rashly clashed with her new department head about the origin of the Celts—so her career is in deep trouble.

Her ancestor, Sabrann ap Durot, is a clairvoyant Druid, who sees into peoples lives by touching them and is feared by all. She is the “Clan Mother” who starts the long line of women that leads directly to Germaine. Clan Mothers are described in the wonderful book, The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes, which inspired me to write about mitochondrialDNA.
Product Details

4) What is the main conflict?

Germaine takes safety risks at an archaeological site in hopes of finding great discoveries to salvage her endangered career, is injured as the site collapses, and  near death, while in a coma, time travels back to her ancestor’s time.  Germaine becomes  Sabrann ap Durot and lives her ancestor’s life and discovers her current time problems began long ago in the 5th century and now must be resolved in her modern lifetime. How will she reconcile the two lifetimes? What lessons will she learn in her past life?

5) Is there a working title for this novel and can we read more about it?

The title is Spiral: Book One of the Spiral in Time, and was recently published and is available on Amazon. The link  below gives a brief overview of the story and through the “Look Inside” feature you can read the opening, a prologue, where an explosion at a clandestine, modern-day Druid burial sets the stage for Germaine’s hurried excavacation.

I hope you will join me for the story of how the past affects Germaine’s life in the 20th century, and I thank you for visiting.

 To continue this game, I have tagged the following authors to post about their main characters. Please check their blog sites for dates.


Gemini Sasson – who writes contemporary fiction and also historical fiction set in medieval Scotland and England.


R.Ann Lochlann – author of The Child of the Erinyes series, which follows a woman and her two lovers through time, beginning in the Bronze Age and finishing up in the near future.


Juliet Waldron – author of many historical  novels set in different time periods, full of grit and passion.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Where does inspiration come from? 

 Sitting across from me at a kitchen table in Berkeley, sat a woman who had no idea that what she was about to say would change the whole direction of my life.

A noted archaeologist and founder of CSEN, The Center for the Study of the Eurasian nomads, I first met Jeannine Davis-Kimball through the San Francisco chapter of the AIA, the Archaeological Institute of America, where, like a lemming drawn to water, I estatically followed my life-long compulsion to learn about the past. Jeannine and I had been talking about the origins of the various nomadic tribes she studied - a very complex and mysterious subject. 
And, of course, talking about my interest in archaeology. 

Archaeology...My lifelong passion! I yearned to search for hidden things and loved the thought of the vast, unknown historical lands of the past.  Perhaps I was born with some strange latent gene that drove me always to the edges and concealed parts of history. Once, on a 5th grade class trip to the Buffalo Museum of Natural History, I was so curiious about the fascinating (to me!) exhibits that I wandered around behind the dioramas and finally found someone, a man who looked like he belonged there, and asked - How do I get to do this, to find things like those, and I timidly pointed to the exhibit of bones behind me. And true to the time, the mid-fifties, he sternly said it was not something for a girl to do - way too hard, and you needed to spend many years in school.

Crushed, my courage disappeared and I scurried back to my tour group - but never forgot. A shy, secretly adventurous child, with no available role models, I then followed societies norm (marriage children etc.) but my heart remained in love with history and the now forbidden thrill of finding something buried in the earth, from who knows when or how.

But that day in Berkeley I was at a giant crossroads in my life. My youngest child had just entered college. I was already exploring writing as a possible new career through the Romance Writers of America (where I tried and failed miserably as a romance writer), but happilydiscovered historical fiction writers like Diana Gabaldon (time travel!!)and, best of all, the fabulous Dorothy Dunnett. They were called Romance writers then, but were oh so much more to me!
I was also independently studying archaeological illustration as a way to bring together my two lifelong interest of art and archaeology, for at that time in my life getting a degree in archaeology was nigh impossible.  I imagined that my new skill set would take me to exotic digs.

Jeannine knew all this and said "Why don't you come along to Kazakhstan and be our staff artist for the summer dig. It will be good experience."
Wow - would I ever! Jeannine's dig was just across the border from southern Russia, about as exotic a place as I could imagine. And no pet or child required I be present and caring for them. Except for my work with PBS, for the first time in my adult life, I was free from daily responsibilities.

And then she added the fateful comment, the coup de grace for the rest of my life.

"Oh, and here is something Victor Mair found in Western China that might be of interest," and handed me a magazine. The image of a mummies head filled the cover. Now I never had any great interest in mummies, in fact, I thought them rather macabre. But the magazine flipped open to a picture of a a brtilliantly outfitted woman, a 2,200 year old mummy, splendidly dressed in furs, a tall hat and incredible woven, colorful clothes.

You could see that she had once been beautiful and  the article said her features were clearly Caucasian. What?, Caucasian! And she was probably a Celt. I felt my memory hackles rise up at the word Celt. Celts were found in Germany, in France, in Ireland - not in China!

Other photographs showed finely woven, plaid cloth. The plaid and weaving technique was almost exactly as those found of the same time period in Hallstadt, Germany  - in central Europe.

But this was Xinjiang, China. How did this very Celtic girl get here, so very far from her homeland?

Destiny comes knocking at the door and wears many different guises. I became obsessed with finding out more about these strange, lost Celtic people discovered in the Taklamakan Desert in far western China. And obsession knows no moderate way. I began a path of research and discovery. Elaborate stories formed one after the other about the Celtic girl's adventures, as I marched down a path with no clear end in sight. Where did her life begin? I just wanted to know more. And still more.

My fate was firmly sealed with a Celtic spiral planted firmly on my psyche and I could never turn back. And so began an almost twenty year journey.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A new year, a new Periplus . . .

A Periplus - a  sailing manual of some antiquity - the record of a voyage along a coast, of what was discovered . . .  

January 2014
Although this blog has been neglected for a while by cosmic forces beyond my control -a challenging major move from a longtime home to a new environment -

I hope you will rejoin me this  year as I embark on an exciting journey both professionally and personally: a time of change, of new beginnings and my own voyage of discovery. And an exciting year is ahead as 2014 will see the publication of my historical time travel novel Spiral, due out in February.

Here I will offer thoughts about the worlds of archaeology and Celtic history, of prehistoric England, of the paths I followed and the many (always unexpected!)doors opened to me by my research, and occasionally the nature of time and time travel—all the threads that combined to weave the tapestry that became Spiral, Book One of the Spiral in Time.

The ship shown above that I have commandeered for this post is a reconstruction of a 4th Century BC Greek merchant ship found off the coast of Cyprus. I love the eyes that allegedly protected ancient ships from everything. A hint of more to come in Spiral, this February!

So please stop by often and any comments are always gratefully received.  All my best New Year wishes to you - 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A new day, a new cover !

After wrestling with several technical glitches I am hoping to set this blog back on track. So today is a wonderful time to send out a little post publication notice and give the world a peek at the cover of Spiral.I hope you'll look it over and let me know how you feel about the overall look. We are aiming for a publication date sometime in the last week in September.  Best regards to all.

Sunday, May 5, 2013



In ancient times sailing ships were guided by a Periplus, a sailing manual and compendium of all the information needed to complete an exploratory journey: details about the coastline, landmarks, weather to be expected, the positions of the stars—even the color of the water.

Here you’ll find my personal Periplus, notes on my journey and places of interest I found while writing Spiral, an historical fiction, time-travel novel. Set in the 5th century BC and the contemporary world of 2006 AD, it begins the story of two women whose lives are bound together across time by identical mitochondrial DNA—Sabrann ap Durot, a clairvoyant Druid of the pagan world of Iron Age England, and her descendant, Germaine O’Neill, an archaeologist of Celtic history.

As a writer who loves nothing better than research, I am a student of the total immersion school, and always find far more information than could possibly be included in a work of fiction. It’s a common fault with historical fiction writers!

I hope you’ll join me here as I offer some of my research finds and thoughts about the worlds of archaeology and Celtic history, prehistoric England, and the nature of time and time travel—the many threads that combined to weave the tapestry of Spiral, the opening book in my forthcoming series.

Thank you for stopping by.  


Spiral, Book One in the Spiral in Time will be published 
February, 2014 and available on