Monday, October 11, 2010


Apologies dear followers, contributors and general readers, but I am suspending this Blog as of today, October 11th 2010. Hell no, I hear the world cry, how can we live without those Who Am I?/Where Am I? historical fiction excerpts? 

The fact is, I've just realised that even if I write 1000 words a day of my third novel, every day, it will be Christmas before I finish the first draft. On top of that, there's still so much research I must do. Everything else, including world travel, trainspotting and camel-racing, must now play second fiddle or more accurately, no fiddle at all. 
(The exception is rugby and the Ashes cricket tour to Australia of course, let's not be silly here).

But the Blog has to go. By that I mean all the effort of sourcing material and posting. I'll leave it 'live' just in case anyone wants to send me a contribution, either from a novel they've read or one they've written -- find me via my website contact page or email me direct. All posts here are still open for comment of course.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed - your books remain available for purchase on this page. And the free ebook offer for Libertas and Goliath remains open to all visitors for now.

See you in Jan 2011!
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Friday, October 1, 2010


Or more to the point, who am I referring to? Of whom is Saladin speaking in this passage from Chapter 8 of The Swords of Faith, a novel about the Third Crusade by Richard Warren Field?
September 19, 1187
The Road from Ascalon to Jerusalem
Mid Morning

“He is asking my permission to violate his oath,” Saladin said. He was smiling as he shook his head.
Saladin and his entourage of guards and top command leaders had halted in the midst of a large column of soldiers. Support personnel with supplies, including catapults and large wooden components for siege engines, marched with the column. The column moved at a comfortable travel speed across a gently rolling, brownish-green terrain, through a mild, late summer climate. Saladin’s entourage remained mounted.
Saladin held up a letter he had just finished reading. “He says the people of Jerusalem have taken him into custody and demand he organize the defense of the city.” 
Taqi al-Din frowned with an “I-told-you-so” expression, then snorted in disgust. “Why do we ever accept the oaths of these Franks?” 
“At least he asks permission to violate the oath,” al-Adil said. “Usually the Franks just get one of their priests to release them from the oath, on the grounds that an oath to a non-Christian is not binding.” 
Saladin studied the letter. “We keep hoping to teach our opponents … something of honor.” He grinned. “XXXX writes me in perfect Arabic, respectfully, as if I am his sultan.” 
Taqi al-Din shrugged. 
“He’ll violate his oath. We know that,” al-Fadil said. “Make him squirm. Deny him permission.” 
Saladin shook his head. “Since we know he will violate the oath regardless of what we say, it costs us nothing to be magnanimous. We have yet another opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of our faith.” 
Al-Adil nodded. Taqi al-Din grinned. Al-Fadil shrugged. 
“In fact, we’ll take it a step further.” Saladin looked at Imad al-Din.
“Prepare our reply. Release XXXX from his oath.” He turned to his guards. 
“Take a squad. Tell XXXX we will escort his wife and children to Tyre, their safety guaranteed by my orders.” 
“What if XXXX believes this is a trick to take his wife and children hostage?” al-Fadil asked. 
Taqi al-Din laughed out loud. 
“They know our sultan,” al-Adil said. “They’ll know it’s no trick.” 
Saladin smiled. His brother’s observation was the greatest compliment possible. Even his enemies could count on his reputation of honor. Adherence to the principles of Islam—the world knew this was the source of that reputation. 
“In the meantime,” Taqi al-Din said, “we have reports from our advance scouts that Franks from Jerusalem are gathering all the supplies they can find to prepare for our attack. We have posted advance guards around the water supplies.” 
“We will be in position outside the Holy City before the sun sets tomorrow. That will end their runs for supplies.” Saladin looked at Taqi al-Din. “Don’t despair of our gesture of generosity to XXXX. The Holy City’s days of captivity will be ended by fire and sword as I have sworn. XXXX may yet curse his presence there to witness our triumph. Within the next four Fridays, we will have Friday prayers in the Holy City.” 
Taqi al-Din nodded and smiled.
Click comment below to post your answer. Even if only to have an educated guess, or just a stab in the dark. Here's a clue: If you saw the movie “Kingdom of  Heaven,” you may have an advantage.

1.    King Guy/Guy of Lusignan
2.    Conrad of Montferrat
3.    Balian of Ibelin
4.    Richard the Lionheart

When a few answers have rolled in, I'll give more details about this event in history included what each of the above were up to at this time. Meanwhile, you can find out more at Richard's website.

Read More... WHO AM I?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes"
Which medieval scholar said that? Clue: he was born in Rotterdam.

A. Thomas Aquinas
B. Desiderius Erasmus
C. Venerable Bede

Click 'comment' below to leave your answer.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010


I'm breaking my own rules. Here's a passage from Libertas, a tale of bravery, love and hope set in Spain and the Mediterranean in the closing stages of Julius Caesar's civil war. The sort of book that ought to be romping up the historical fiction charts but has just about got a toe-hold thus far. Written by me, Alistair Forrest. Nuff said. First, read this excerpt and answer the simple question below. Then, buy the book (UK and European readers scroll down to 'featured books' below left, US readers see the panel in this post). Sitting comfortably..?

A pair of eagles flew south, not circling on the hunt, but fleeing. Behind them a vast flock of smaller birds blackened the sky, ten thousand tiny wings rending the heavy air. Dogs barked everywhere, while above the clamour the terrified screams of stabled horses announced the dread demons of hell.

Alone in the garden, I sank to my knees, nauseous and sweating as if gripped by sudden fever. The tremor silenced the world, if only for the briefest moment that lasted for an eternity, the blacksmith god stirring from his slumber.

[*****] growled and spat a plume of black and yellow smoke high into the air, and the ground shook as Vulcan fanned his fires. I lay flat on the tilled ground that boiled and heaved, a deafening roar filling my ears, my head, my whole body, pulsating through me with crushing blows as the world convulsed in hideous agony.

As suddenly as it came, all was still.

I lay prone, my mouth filled with gritty soil, my fingers curling into the soft ground. Slowly, I lifted my head against the leaden weight that crushed down upon me, focusing on trembling leaves then further from my worthless world of terror to where dust settled on a pile of rubble that had been a corner of Corban’s house, shrouded as if by an untimely nightfall. Beyond, a pall of hideous smoke lay over Aetna.

But Vulcan was not finished. With a great crack of his hammer, he thrashed his forge and fiery tongues surged upwards; again and again he hammered while frenzied Titans hurled their rocks in confusion and anger and the great Cyclops bellowed its anguish. Huge fissures streaked the yielding slopes of the mountain, pouring forth effusive, crimson torrents as the mountain surrendered to the remorseless spite of the gods.

I tried to call out to Nahalia, but I could only croak pitifully. Hauling my reluctant body to my knees, I fought off another wave of nausea and crawled towards the violated house. A door was swinging timorously from twisted hinges, behind it a swirling blackness and the sound of protesting beams. I pulled myself inside and my eyes adjusted to the gloom. Eventually I found my voice and called for Nahalia; a gentle sob told me she was alive. I found her hiding under our bed, unhurt apart from the same sickness that had overcome me. I held her close, whispering irrelevancies that meant the world to her, then helped her from the house.

We found Corban, or at least a protruding arm, crushed beneath the awful weight of collapsed masonry, still clutching a dead mouse that he had been removing from the house when Vulcan awoke. We tried in vain to recover his broken body, the stones too heavy for us in our weakened condition.

We knelt beside his untidy tomb and Nahalia prayed in a tongue I did not understand, but we shared a common grief for the old man and there, in our fear and his peace, we wept.

QUESTION: Which Mediterranean island are we on? Click comments below and give your answer plus heaps of praise, you know the form!
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Friday, September 3, 2010


Here’s another passage from one of Jen Black's books, Dark Pool. Simple question, where is Lord Sitric's hearth-hall? Last time we ran an excerpt from one of Jen's books we made it far to easy, so no clues this time.
Lord Sitric's hearth-hall was ablaze with light that evening. Hanging lamps lit the centre of the hall and wax and rush candles glowed from each support pillar. Hareth flinched on the threshold. "My eyes hurt," he muttered. "Make them take down the wall hangings."

Finlay glanced around. "It's not the hangings," he said, staring at Sitric's huge personal banner in the middle of the long wall. "He's pinned the sun to the wall. Look."

Hareth squinted up at the huge banner with its silver and gold stitching. It rippled in the up draught of warm air, and reflected the light in a ceaseless dazzle. "How could we have missed that this morning?"

"It certainly comes alive in the light. And here comes our impolite guide from this morning," Finlay said softly, staring across the hall. "I feel I might hit that young man before the night is through."
Click 'comment' below to give your answer.

Jen Black's The Dark Pool is the sequel to Banners of Alba and is available as an e-book from

Jen Black's blog
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Saturday, August 28, 2010


This excerpt is from The Demon's Parchment by Jeri Westerson, part of her Medieval Noir series featuring the "enigmatic, flawed and sexy" disgraced knight turned detective, Crispin Guest. In this passage, it is 1384 and Crispin (called the Tracker) and his apprentice, Jack Tucker, have been hired by a French Jewish physician to track down some stolen parchments. Crispin is none too pleased with having to deal with a Jew in a country that expelled its Jews nearly a century before. He and Jack are going to meet with him in a place where Crispin is no longer welcomed.
The sun bled in streaks of faded color between slashes of heavy gray clouds. Crispin and Jack set out and walked for nearly half an hour down long, snowy lanes toward [X]. As they entered each parish, they heard the echoing timbre of church bells even above the howl of wind, each tower with its own characteristic sound. The deep tones of St. Paul’s, whose shadow hovered over the Shambles, soon dispersed and they entered into the domain of the tinny jangling of St. Bride. A few more streets and then St. Clement Danes’ urgent claxon gave way to Saint Martin-in-the-Fields’ timid pealing before even that sound was finally overshadowed by the rich resonance of the bells of [X].

Charing Cross stood rigid in the icy cold of the crossroads. Its cross and steps were snowcapped and solemn. Jack’s admonishment kept preying on Crispin’s mind: You’re taking money from a Jew? Was he that desperate? The answer came swiftly. His rent was due in a few days and he had no money with which to pay it. Martin Kemp, his landlord, was kind to him and often did not demand the rents on time, unlike his shrewish wife, who enjoyed constantly harrying Crispin on that very point.

Money. It had never been an issue before. Not before his ill-fated decision to join with those conspirators seven years ago, at any rate. There was money aplenty then. Shameless amounts of it. Wasted on trinkets for foolish women and wine with dubious friends. Where were those friends now? And where the women? He had tossed coins so carelessly to bards and beggars. He sunk sackfuls of it on gardeners for his estates in Sheen. His former manor was not far from the royal residence and appearances had to be maintained. If the king wished to stay at the Guest Manor, then it must be as well appointed as the king’s own. He recalled one year when he harassed the tenants for their rents early in order to supply his kitchens for the king and his retinue. There was many a time he had nearly paupered his own household in order to feed and house all of court. But he had not complained, for this had been for the old king, Edward of Windsor, King Richard’s grandfather. For the old king, he would have done anything. Even commit treason so that his son John of Gaunt and not his grandson Richard could sit on the throne.

Alas. Those days were long, long gone. His lands had been taken along with his knighthood, and the loyal tenants on the Guest estates called another man their lord. Crispin knew not who, nor did he care to know.
He glanced down at his own seedy coat and the sturdy cloak that hid its shabby appearance from view. Yes, that was a long time ago.
 Flurries arrived with the waning sun and Crispin quickened his step to keep warm. They followed the Strand now, heading out of [X] toward [X]. The shops and houses did not seem as crowded and the street opened onto a wider avenue where the spindly trees of gardens could be spied beyond the rooftops.

Crispin set his mind to the task at hand. What papers could a Jew value so much that he would seek him out? He must be desperate to venture from court, knowing that he would not be welcomed outside of it. He almost laughed. And to seek a man who was not allowed into court! A fine pair they were.

It was a simple theft, no doubt. Someone inquisitive about the Jew. Perhaps it was stolen as a simple prank. That made one of two possibilities: The papers were long gone, destroyed. Or someone thought them valuable enough to try to sell to a third party. If the latter was the case then they still might yet be recovered. If the former, well, he’d take his money from this Jew and be troubled by him and court no more.

So where are we? Three questions below, click on comment and have a go, even if you can't answer all three...

What city were they leaving?
What city were they entering?
What building were they going to?

Jeri Westerson's website.
Crispin Guest's blog
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Saturday, August 21, 2010


The last post was so easy-peasy. This time you'll have to try harder! This is an excerpt from a book I recently reviewed, An Involuntary King by Nan Hawthorne, which is based on a fictitious kingdom on eighth century England's eastern coast. Made up though this kingdom be, as well as the main characters, you do bump into some real historical figures in some intriguing historical locations. So this conversation between a fleeing queen (rescued by a dark and stormy knight - had to get that phrase in) and a monk named Willihad will give you a location clue. So, where is she?

"So I knew I must flee, to save myself and my children. I could see no other way than to let the mercenary lord help me. I could not simply walk out the gates of the stronghold."

"My lady, I credit that, but what concerns me is what you may have implied to the man in exchange."

Josephine turned hot eyes on the monk. "Forgive me, brother, but I made it quite clear that if he thought that my accepting his succor meant he could have me, he should withdraw his offer. Further, I told him that once we arrived wherever he would take me I would not live with him, not in any fashion." She glared, but something made her stop and think. "Oh," she said contritely. "I see. 'Wherever he would take me'."

Willihad' s eyes were warm with understanding. "That is why, my daughter, I wanted to speak with you. I feared you did not realize your own complicity in the elopement."

"It is not an elopement!"

"My lady, methinks you are the only person who knows that."

Josephine sat and thought about what he was saying. Her heart felt torn between what she believed, what she wanted to believe, and what the reality of her situation was.

"I suggest we pray together on this. Shall we do so at the shrine?"

"St. Cuthbert's shrine? Indeed, I should very much like that. I've not had time yet to visit it."

They gathered up the twins and made their way to the shrine of the holy man.  The Bishop and the boys were at the shrine as well.

"Mama, Cutberp!" Tavish cried.

"I was reading some of my verse about the lives of the saints, daughter. They were keen to see the place where one of them, a most holy saint, is buried."

Peter glanced at his mother. "Mama, when they took him out of his tomb he wasn't all rotted!"

The adults laughed softly. "Will you pray at the shrine with us, my boys?" Willihad asked.

Click comment below for your answer. No multiple choice this time. Told you it would be harder...

(There's an interview with Nan Hawthorne posted Wednesday August 18 2010 on this Blog, about how the author copes with blindness in her writing and book reviewing.)
Read More... WHERE AM I?