Celebrating Thanksgiving

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We are eating a classic, American Thanksgiving today, with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, yams, ‘apples ‘n’ onions’, which was Almanzo Wilder’s favorite dish, peas, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pie (chocolate is ‘new world’, right?).

A feast in the Middle Ages might have included:  fowl, such as geese, capons, geese, chicken and quail; meats such as beef, lamb, and pork; fish such as herring, salmon, eels,  oysters steamed in almond milk, and fresh water fish. Cheese, butter and other dairy products were also served, along with cream sauces for all these dishes.

Old world fruits and vegies included:  beets, brocolli, carrots, eggplant, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, and turnips.  They also include olives, dates, grapes, figs, blackcurrent, and apples.  Alternatively, beans, corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, squashes and pumpkins are all new world.   And chocolate, as I said.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving officially celebrates the ‘first Thanksgiving’, after the pilgrims who had survived that first winter in Plymouth invited their Indian neighbors to dine.  Or so the story goes. The winter harvest is celebrated worldwide, including on November first in Wales, where it is known as Calan Gaeaf.

An audio discussion is available here:

massachusetts map“The people who comprised the Plymouth Colony were a group of English Protestants who wanted to break away from the Church of England. These ‘separatists’ initially moved to Holland and after 12 years of financial problems, they received funding from English merchants to sail across the Atlantic to settle in a ‘New World.’ A ship full of 101 men, women and children spent 66 days traveling the Atlantic Ocean, intending to land where New York City is now located. Due to the windy conditions, the group had to cut their trip short and settle on what is now called Cape Cod.

Settling and Exploring
The Puritans knew that winter was coming and decided to gather provisions. They took anything they could find, including Wampanoag supplies. The Wampanoag kept a close watch on them and thought they were a disrespectful bunch for stealing all their goods.

One day, the settlers had a visit from Samoset, a leader from the Abenaki people, who brought Tisquantum (better known as Squanto) with him. Squanto was a Wampanoag man who had experience with other settlers and knew English. Squanto helped the settlers grow corn and use fish to fertilize their fields. After several meetings, a formal agreement was made between the English and the native people and they joined together to protect each other from other tribes in March of 1621.

The Celebration
One day that fall, four settlers were sent to hunt for food for a harvest celebration. The Wampanoag people heard their gunshots and alerted their leader, Massasoit, who thought the English might be preparing for war. Massasoit visited the English settlement with 90 of his men to see if the war rumor was true. Soon after their visit, the Native Americans realized the gunshots were harmless and that the English were only hunting for the harvest celebration. Massasoit sent some of his own men to hunt deer for the feast and for three days, the English and native men, women and children ate together. The meal consisted of deer, corn, shellfish, and roasted meat …”

I heard a rumor from my mom that we have an ancestor who was on the Mayflower. Will inquire of my cousin and report back!


Footsteps in Time part of Storybundle deal!

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All Covers LargeCurated by Charlotte E. English

History is made up of stories, and those stories are vast, and varied beyond compare. The Historical Fiction bundle comprises a total of ten terrific titles by top-notch authors, together representing exactly this breadth and variety of experience. These stories blend real-world historical settings with romance, adventure, fantasy and mystery to bring you whole worlds of fun! You’ll visit ancient Egypt, the Americas, the Caribbean, Great Britain and Japan; you’ll meet pirates and warriors, witches and princesses, detectives, time-travellers and more.

  1. Lousia Locke offers a trip to Victorian San Francisco with her terrific Annie Fuller mystery novels. If you’re a subscriber to the StoryBundle newsletter, you’ll get the first title, Maids of Misfortune, for free! The second book, Uneasy Spirits,is part of our basic bundle, along with four other fantastic titles. Take a walk through ancient Egypt with Libbie Hawker’s House of Rejoicing, the first part of a captivating series featuring the famous Nefertiti. Travis Heermann will spirit you away to 13th-century Japan in Sword of the Ronin, an intricate novel blending the tale of a lone warrior with myth and fantasy. You’ll go on a thrilling pirate adventure with Helen Hollick in Sea Witch! Here be pirates! And magic, and romance, and combat upon the high seas! And I’ll introduce you to a re-imagined Regency England in Miss Landon and Aubranael, which mixes a refined tale of life among the gentry with fairytales, magic and folklore.

And that’s just the basic bundle! You’ll get all of that for $3. For $12 or more, you’ll receive all five books plus four more terrific titles. The second part to Libbie Hawker’s saga of pharoahs and queens, Storm in the Sky, will be yours, along with the further adventures of Helen Hollick’s pirate hero Jesamiah Acorne in Pirate Code. InMercenary, David Gaughran tells the thrilling (and true!) story of Lee Christmas, an American embroiled in revolution in nineteenth-century Latin America. And on top of all of that, Sarah Woodbury will take you time-travelling back to medieval Wales in Footsteps in Time, an enthralling tale of romance, fantasy and adventure.

It’s a great pleasure to work with StoryBundle in bringing you this world tour in time, and I think you’re going to love these imaginative, adventuresome, intriguing and history-steeped stories! – Charlotte E. English

The initial titles in the Historical Fiction Bundle (minimum $3 to purchase) are:

  • Sea Witch by Helen Hollick
  • Miss Landon & Aubranael by Charlotte E. English
  • House of Rejoicing by Libbie Hawker
  • Sword of the Ronin by Travis Heermann
  • Uneasy Spirits by M. Louisa Locke

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $12, you get all five of the regular titles, plus these outstanding books:

  • Pirate Code by Helen Hollick
  • Mercenary by David Gaughran
  • Storm in the Sky by Libbie Hawker
  • Footsteps in Time by Sarah Woodbury

Also, you can get Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke for free, just for being a StoryBundle newsletter subscriber! Make sure to grab Maids before reading Uneasy Spirits, also found in the Historical Fiction bundle!

Our curator, on the authors and books in this bundle:

Uneasy Spirits and Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke

  1. Lousia Locke was one of the first self-published authors I ever read, and among the first to show me how terrific they can be. Her novels are beautifully researched, and Annie Fuller is one of my favourite lady detectives. It’s a pleasure to be able to include not one but two of these titles in this bundle.

Mercenary by David Gaughran

David Gaughran delights in writing stories set in locations rarely chosen by others, and his novels of Latin America are unusual and packed with adventure. I’m delighted to be able to include Mercenary, which is the only book in this bundle to feature a real-life hero with a true story.

Sea Witch and Pirate Code by Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick is a writer whose books have adorned my shelves for years. Known for her Arthurian trilogyPendragon’s Banner, she has since proved that she has a real flair for adventure and romance on the high seas as well. Jesamiah Acorne’s adventures will delight those who loved Pirates of the Caribbean – and if you enjoy a little magic and witchery as well, all the better!

Sword of the Ronin by Travis Heermann

Travis Heermann’s books are intricate and beautifully researched. They offer an absorbing glimpse into medieval Japanese life, and his Ronin’s story is absorbing and inspiring. I particularly enjoy the delicacy with which he has blended the historical with folklore and fantasy; the result is a rich and exciting story.

Footsteps in Time by Sarah Woodbury

There’s something so enthralling — and intriguing — about the prospect of stepping back in time and experiencing a lost era. Books like Sarah Woodbury’s offer not only an exciting way back but an absorbing view of alternate history, and her vision of medieval Wales is captivating.

House of Rejoicing and Storm in the Sky by Libbie Hawker

Libbie Hawker tackles a period both popular and curiously neglected in historical fiction. The mystique, atmosphere and exoticism of ancient Egypt has fascinated many generations of scholars and dreamers alike. Libbie’s books offer an enthralling tale of royalty, religion and female power, and they feature the ever-fascinating Nefertiti to boot.

Miss Landon & Aubranael by Charlotte E. English

The Regency is among my favourite periods of history. In this book, I’ve blended it with some of my other favourite things – folklore, magic and the fae – to produce an alternate, and magical, vision of England in times past. I’ve also filled it with beautiful illustrations to bring my alternate historical world to life. I love my Regency fairytale, and I hope you will too.

The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $3): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.
  • Receive extra books: If you beat our bonus price, you’re not just getting five books, you’re getting nine, plus an extra one for being a newsletter subscriber!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for and

For more information, visit our website at, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.



Halloween in Wales

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As I sit here munching candy corn (which my 11 year old declares ‘the best candy’–even better than chocolate), I’m thinking about one of the chapters in Daughter of Time. Near the end of the book, Meg experiences Halloween in Wales.  Except that during the Middle Ages, it was called ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, the day before All Saint’s Day, and it was less about candy and more about a belief in actual spirits.

All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, has its roots in an older, pagan tradition, called Nos Calan Gaeaf , Welsh for Samhain, a Gaelic word meaning ‘Summer’s End’.  This is the most well-known Halloween tradition in Wales.  The Welsh translation, interestingly, is ‘the first of winter’.

From the National Museum of Wales:  “A pagan holiday dating back to the Iron Age Celts, Samhain was considered to be the Celtic New Year. It was adopted by the Romans as their own festival when they invaded Britain. Many parts of this festival are echoed in our modern Halloween parties.

Jack O lanterns were originally made from turnips and used to guide the dead back to earth, and the Celts also dressed in costumes much as we do today, but they would use animal skins!  The Romans believed that monsters, gods and magic spells were all around them.”

“November 1 was considered the end of the summer period, the date on which the herds were returned from pasture and land tenures were renewed. It was also a time when the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in these ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The period was also thought to be favourable for divination on matters such as marriage, health, and death. When the Romans conquered the Celts in the 1st century ad, they added their own festivals of Feralia, commemorating the passing of the dead, and of Pomona, the goddess of the harvest.”

“November was also the month of death in the Celtic calendar, where animals were slaughtered to provide meat for winter. Indeed, the Modern Welsh for November Tachwedd literally means ‘The Month of Slaughter’. This often began with a feast on November 1st where pigs were slaughtered (part of this folklore is preserved in the Cymric (Welsh) legend of Arawn and Hafgan, as told in the Mabinogi of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed.”

With the coming of Christianity, these traditions were converted to blend in more with the Christian calendar and Christian sensibilities. “In 601AD, Pope Gregory made an important directive. He announced that Christian missionaries were to take a new tack when attempting to convert pagans to the Christian religion. Christian missionaries he said, where possible, should incorporate the beliefs, festivals and sacred sites of pagan beliefs into the Christian religion. This directive meant that the important Celtic festival of Samhain had to be marked in a Christian manner.

In the year 609 AD, All Saints Day was officially designated a Church feast, which was celebrated in May and was later moved to November by Pope Gregory in 835 AD. The Christian Church may have intended that people would spend their time praying for the souls of the dead on an important holy day. However, the fact that this was a day off from work gave many people even more of an excuse to celebrate Halloween with more excitement and excess than ever.

In the eleventh century, a further festival was added to the church calendar; All Souls Day on 2 November. The three festivals of All-Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls were together known as Hallowmas.”

“Despite the Church’s success in establishing a Christian foundation for the autumn celebrations, many of the ancient customs and traditions associated with them were still practiced by the population. The carving of gourds and the wearing of costumes and masks to scare away malevolent spirits are typical of the superstitions carried over from these celebrations into the All Hallows Eve observance.

The custom of “trick-or-treating” has its origins in a ritual wherein the elders of a village or town would go from house to house and receive offerings of food and gifts for the souls of dead friends and relatives thought to visit on this night. This practice evolved during the Middle Ages, when beggars would travel from village to village and beg for “soul cakes”. Villagers would offer prayers along with the cakes to those who had died in the past year for their transition to heaven.”


The Renegade Merchant

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TRM blogOne of the best parts about writing historical fiction is reading about historical events and weaving them into the story. One of the worst things about writing historical events is having to adhere to what happened in history, especially when a beloved character dies. I had to include the death of a prince of Gwynedd, Rhun, in The Lost Brother, the prior book in the, and the death was as traumatic for me as for my readers.

In the end of that year died Rhun, son of Owain, being the most praiseworthy young man of the British nation, whom his noble parents had honourably reared. For he was fair of form and aspect, kind in conversation, and affable to all; seen foremost in gifts; courteous among his family; high bearing among strangers, and fierce towards his enemies; entertaining to his friends; tall of stature, and fair of complexion, with curly yellow hair, long countenance; with eyes somewhat blue, full and playful; he had a long and thick neck, broad breast, long waist, large thighs, long legs, which were slender above his feet; his feet were long, and his toes were straight. When the report of his lamentable death came to his father Owain, he was afflicted and dejected so much, that, nothing could cheer him, neither the splendour of a kingdom, nor amusement, nor the sprightly converse of good men, nor the exhibition of valuable things; but God, Who foreseeth all things in His accustomed manner, commiserated the British nation, lest it should perish like a ship without a pilot, and preserved Owain as a prince over it. For before insufferable sorrow had affected the mind of the prince, he was restored to sudden joy, through the providence of God.

There was a certain castle called Gwyddgrug (Mold), which had been frequently attacked, without its falling; and when the liege men of Owain and his family came to fight against it, neither the nature of the place nor its strength could resist them, till the castle was burned and destroyed, after killing some of the garrison, and taking others, and putting them in prison. And when Owain, our prince, heard of that, he became relieved from all pain, and from every sorrowing thought, and recovered his accustomed energy.  Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes of Wales)

The Renegade Merchant was fun to research because the book is full of bits of historical information I didn’t know anything about before a few years ago when I started writing the Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries. For example, I didn’t know that the Danes ruled Dublin for hundreds of years, and I especially did not know that they ran an extensive slave trade out of the Dublin slave markets. Fun tidbit: the phrase beyond the pale refers to the region of land immediately beyond the confines of Dublin, once it was conquered by the English in the twelfth century. It was a safe zone between Dublin and Ireland proper. Thus, to be beyond the pale was to be outside the safety of English law.

Slavery predated the Danes, of course. Slaves were taken in raids through history, and the Romans were huge practitioners of slavery. Before the Danes took Dublin, the Irish raided their neighbors and the Welsh coast for slaves as a means of subduing their enemy. Often these slaves would be ransomed for gold or land. The Danes transformed slavery into an actual trade after they established Dublin. Essentially, the framework of slavery and slave-taking changed from having mostly to do with power relations between lords to being about money.

In The Renegade Merchant, I mention that King Owain’s father, Gruffydd, in the late eleventh century, partially paid for the retaking of Wales with slaves, and he was hardly the only one. But by the twelfth century, slavery was on the wane. Slave-taking became far less common, and since the Normans had made slavery illegal—in large part thanks to the influence of the Church—the Dublin slave market went into decline and then closed altogether.

Slaves and villeins are closely related in the modern mind, and nobody was more surprised than I to discover that while the word villain predates villein. Villain has its origin in villainy from Anglo-French vilanie and Old French vilenie, meaning to be of low character, unworthy act, disgrace, or degradation. This definition dates to a hundred years before its use as villein, meaning a feudal class of half-free peasants (c. 1200 v. c. 1300). I’d always thought the origin was the other way around.

Another subject about which I knew nothing before delving heavily into the twelfth century was the history of prostitution. It is, of course, said to be the oldest profession, and has taken many forms over the millennia. Again, the Romans were proud proponents of it, and the existence of brothels was legal in England (albeit frowned upon by the Church), even to the point that the Bishop of Winchester in 1162 was granted the right to license prostitutes and brothels in London.

Finally, I loved learning about Shrewsbury, a border town in the March of Wales. Much of what I knew about Shrewsbury before starting to do my own research came from Ellis Peters and her wonderful and beautifully written Brother Cadfael books. The Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries have now moved beyond the time in which her books are set, but many elements remain the same, including the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul and its Abbot Radulfus, and the town of Shrewsbury itself.

I would like to take particular note of the wall which surrounds the town in the Brother Cadfael books and in The Renegade Merchant. My research indicates that the town wasn’t given a right to murage (which means to charge a tax to build a town wall) until 1218 when King Henry ordered the town to make itself defensible. That isn’t to say that it didn’t have a town wall earlier—just that there is no mention of it. I chose to harmonize the specifics of the town of Shrewsbury in my book with what Ellis Peter’s described in hers.

The Renegade Merchant released on September 15, 2015 and is available at:

Amazon  Amazon Intl  Nook  iBooks  Kobo  Google Play


Medieval Diseases

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In the Middle Ages, the range of types of diseases was similar to what we experience today, with some exceptions (HIV/AIDS).   Viruses, of course, are no easier to combat now than then, but without vaccines and if the infected person was living in unclean or freezing conditions, or suffering from a poor diet, the disease was made that much worse.  Antibiotics help with some diseases, but then again, more have sprung up in response to them (C-diff).

That said, these are some of the most common diseases people experienced in Europe in the Middle Ages (not including the Black Plague, see:; or leprosy, see:

Dysentary:  Still common in poorer countries today, Dysentary is an infection caused either by bacteria or amoebas, spread through contamination of food and water by infected fecal matter.  Typhoid is another such disease spread through bacteria and fecal matter which was not uncommon in the Middle Ages

“Symptoms: (Bacillary) After 1-6 days incubation, watery stools, fever, cramps, dehydration. In advanced stages, bloody stools, meningitis, conjunctivitis, and arthritis. (Amebic) Acute form: watery, bloody stools, cramps, fever, weakness. Chronic form: intermittent diarrhea, mild abdominal discomfort.  Result: Generally weakened condition.  Note: Endemic in medieval armies and pretty common in cities. Infantile diarrhea was a leading cause of death for infants. After the Black Death, many urban areas instituted public health reforms to improve sanitation and prevent these enteric fevers.”


Ergotism (“St. Anthony’s fire,” “holy fire,” “evil fire,” “devil’s fire,” “saints’ fire”):  Poisoning from a fungal infection of grain, especially rye.

Symptoms: (Convulsive) Degeneration of the nervous system causes anxiety, vertigo, aural/visual hallucinations, and the sensation of being bitten or burned; stupor, convulsions, and psychosis. (Gangrenous) Constriction of the blood vessels causes reddening and blistering of skin, then blackening, with itching and burning, and finally necrosis.  Result: 40% mortality. Lingering symptoms, including mental impairment, among survivors.

Note: Ergotism was known as a rural disease, particularly of marshy areas, and one that followed crop damage or famine; especially after a severe winter and a rainy spring. Children are more susceptible because of their smaller body weight. Because England did not rely on rye as much as populations on the continent, it suffered fewer cases of the convulsive type.”


Sexually Transmitted Diseases (Gonorrhea, Syphilis):

“By the Middle Ages both gonorrhoea and syphilis were widespread. One view, by no means unchallenged, was that syphilis was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus’ sailors on their return from the New World. The differentiation of the 2 diseases from each other was often a matter of medical debate, from the sixteenth up until the nineteenth century, many authors believing that the symptoms of gonorrhoea (clap or gleet) were the early stages of syphilis (the pox). This view was substantiated by the British surgeon John Hunter (1728-93), who undertook heroic self-experimentation by injecting his own penis with material taken from a patient with gonorrhoea. On developing the signs of syphilis he concluded the two infections were the same — little realizing that his patient, like many others, actually suffered from both infections at the same time.
The main orthodox treatment for syphilis from the Middle Ages until the early years of the twentieth century consisted of the application of a mercury ointment, a favourite treatment for skin lesions. But sufferers from the disease were particularly susceptible to the blandishments of quacks and charlatans, and many successful businesses profited during the seventeenth through to the twentieth centuries from selling useless remedies.”
This article details the discovery of medical mercury found in medieval bones.  In these cases, it was used primarily to treat syphilis and leprosy.
New research might indicate that syphilis was actually an new world disease brought to the old world by exploration and conquest (love the irony there). “Not a single report of pre-Columbian syphilis in Europe, they concluded in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, included enough information to confirm a diagnosis of the disease. There is evidence, on the other hand, of the syphilis in the New World dating back at least 7,000 years.”
Diptheria:  “Diphtheria is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening bacterial disease caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. There are two types of diphtheria: respiratory and cutaneous. Respiratory diphtheria involves the nose, throat and tonsils, and cutaneous diphtheria involves the skin . . . Death occurs in approximately five to ten percent of all respiratory cases with higher death rates (of up to 20 percent) among persons younger than five and older than 40 years of age.”

“In the early part of the 14th century there were outbreaks of typhoid fever, dysentery and diphtheria. It has been estimated that in 1316 about 10% of the population died from these three diseases.”


Erase Me Not (The Paradisi Chronicles)

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Announcement! I have written a book!
I realize that isn’t news, but what is news is the book I’ve written, which I have told nobody about until today …

A year ago, seven authors (including me) came together to write individual books set in a shared fictional world. We shared ideas, hammered out a backstory, drew maps, adapted technology, designed cities, and invented new species. Then we wrote stories about the people and places of this new world we’d created. We wrote in different styles, in different genres, and in different forms, In fact, we had so much fun that we have opened up this world to any other author who would like to write their own stories and add to the Paradisi Chronicles canon. (our FB page is here:; our web page is here:

The Paradisi Chronicles:
In the last decades of the twenty-first century, ten families, seeking to escape an increasingly devastated Earth, focus their power and wealth on building spaceships that will allow a select few to leave Earth and colonize the world they call New Eden. Here, on their new home in the Paradisi System, these Founding Families hope to avoid the environmental and political disasters that were destroying Earth. But they find that the world they claim for their own is already inhabited, and the Ddaerans, although human in their appearance, possess abilities that the Founders and their descendants find both intriguing and frightening …

My book is called Erase Me Not, and it’s a sci-fi/fantasy with suspense and romance and adventure and all the usual things I write about except set on New Eden, some two hundred years in the future. There’s even some Welsh thrown in for good measure because, you know, that’s how I roll:

erasemenotcoverblogAs a descendant of one of the Founding Families of the colony of New Eden, Abby has lived a privileged existence–up until the moment she wakes up in a rent-by-the-hour hotel room in the worst sector of New Seattle with no memory of how she got there. Friends and family are suddenly strangers, and the only memories in her head can’t be hers.

When the authorities accuse her of working for the Resistance movement and have evidence to prove it, Abby enlists her only friend, Raman, for help. Their quest takes them into the dark underbelly of the brave new world her family founded and reveals a far-reaching conspiracy which threatens not only Abby’s life, but the very foundations of New Eden.

The book is available for preorder on Amazon  and all Amazon stores (it releases September 1).


The Welsh founders of the United States

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Wales never had an Independence Day, although it has been inching towards more autonomy for the last ten years. Welsh people, however, had a huge impact on the founding of the United States and its revolution. Thomas Jefferson writes in his autobiography:

“The tradition in my father’s family was that their ancestor came to this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowdon, the highest in Gr. Br.”

Other founders with Welsh ancestry (some only rumored) include Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and its religious freedom, William Penn, Sam and John Adams, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, and Benedict Arnold and up to a third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (

Personally, I find this unsurprising, and it explains a great deal about the willingness of the founders of the United States to stand up to England.

One key to whether or not a name originates in Wales is if the last name is a ‘first’ name (e.g. Adam, Madison, Henry, Arnold, Jefferson, Williams). A very common such name in Wales now is “John”. Another less well-known founder, Richard Morris, was dubbed the “Financier of the American Revolution” by George Washington.;

And then, if the Welshness of certain American influenced the American Revolution, according to John Davies, later Welsh-Americans returned the favor. He states:

“Welsh Nationalism was a concept born in Cincinnati, where Michael D. Jones was a Congregational minister in the 1840s. To be Welsh in Wales was to be from Carmarthenshire or Anglesey or Glamorgan or Denbighshire. To be Welsh in America was to be from Wales. Periodicals and newspapers in Wales were local- Y Gwladgarwr serving Aberdare and much of the south, Y Fanerserving Denbigh and much of the north and so on. Welsh periodicals in America served the Welsh in their entirety . . .

And not only were the Welsh as a nation invented in America. So also were almost all the causes that have been central to our endeavor over the last two centuries.

As Gwyn Alf Williams has shown in his brilliant books on Madog and Beulah, late eighteenth century Welsh radicalism, religious as well as political, was largely borrowed from the American Enlightenment. In the early nineteenth century, the temperance and teetotal movements were directly inspired by the American example, and the leaders of the movement to disestablish the Anglican Church in Wales looked to the American separation of church and state as their model.

The victory of the North in the Civil War was interpreted in Wales as the triumph of a democratic people over a decadent landed aristocracy, an inspiration to those who launched an attack upon Welsh landlordism in the 1870s and 1880s.

The 1880s also saw the emergence of a republican movement, much to the distress of Queen Victoria. Thomas Gee, the editor of Baner ac Amerserau Cymru, described republican rallies with enthusiasm. American flags were carried, he noted, and the crowd shouted the names of American Presidents.”


Reading Group Guide to The Good Knight

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Many readers over the years have asked for a reading group guide to my books. I am happy to announce that I now have one to The Good Knight!


tgk cover blogThe Good Knight

By Sarah Woodbury

Reading Group Guide

  1. Gwen is a young woman living in twelfth century Wales, a time nearly eight hundred years before the present. How does Gwen’s behavior play into or defy stereotypes about medieval women? Do you think her portrayal is realistic?  How do you think she would behave differently had she not been raised by an itinerant bard?  Consider her relationship with her family, with her social “superiors” (lords, knights, princes, etc.), and her participation in traditionally “masculine” spheres, such as her intelligence work for Prince Hywel, or her active role in the murder investigation.
  1. Women in this story (and in medieval period in general) are almost unilaterally seen as social inferiors. How then do women gain and exercise power?  Are there avenues of influence accessible to them which are unavailable to men?  Or, are they merely pawns in masculine political games?  Consider the examples of Gwen, Cristina (King Owain’s betrothed), and Elen (Hywel’s and Rhun’s sister).
  1. What is the difference between honor and morality? What does his honor mean to Gareth, and why is it so important him?  Does being honorable make you a good person?  Consider the example of Cadwaladr’s lieutenant, Maredudd (Chapter Twenty-Five).  What does Maredudd’s honor mean to him?  Does it mean something different than it does to Gareth?
  1. Also in Chapter Twenty-Five, Rhun and Hywel each take the life of one of Cadwaladr’s soldiers in cold blood. What does this say about them as princes?  What does this say about them as human beings?  Was it pragmatic? Was it ethical? Did this act make you see them differently?
  1. What does it mean to be a good nobleman in 12th-century Wales? Must one be a good person to be a good noblemen?  Are there times when the two are mutually exclusive? Consider the character of Owain Gwynedd, compared to that of Cadwaladr.  Is Owain a good king?  Why, or why not?   Is there an argument to be made that Cadwaladr is a good nobleman, or at least an effective one?  Is there a difference?
  1. What role does regional prejudice play in the political conflicts portrayed in this book? For instance, what do the Welsh think of the English?  What do the Danes think of the Welsh?  Do you think prejudice exists even within different Welsh regions (e.g. Gwynedd and Deheubarth)?  Is there any difference along class lines in this matter (i.e. do lords share the prejudices of peasants)?
  1. Why do you think the dialogue in this book is written in a colloquial style (meaning familiar)? Does the dialogue remind you of the way you would speak? Why do you think the author chose to eschew the “thee” and “thou” style of speech which is often used in portrayals of medieval speech?
  1. What does this story say about the benefits and problems with the way power is structured in the Middle Ages? Are there problems that arise from the concentration of power into a few hands?  How does someone like Gareth, who gained power through effort and personal valor, use power differently from someone like Owain Gwynedd, who was born to it?
  1. Why does Owain Gwynedd continually forgive his brother, Cadwaladr, and let him off? Do you feel like Cadwaladr consciously abuses this blind spot? What motivation leads Cadwaladr to repeatedly violate his brother’s trust, and why does Owain seem not to care?  What does this say about the importance of family among 12th century lords?
  1. What was Cristina trying to accomplish in telling Cadwaladr that Gwen is carrying Hywel’s child?  Why was it plausible to him?  When Hywel and Gareth hear of this, what do their reactions say about them as people?  Given Hywel’s reputation, do you think Gareth believes Hywel’s denials?



Celtic Life Interview

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Categories: Research

This month’s issue of Celtic Life has an interview with me :)

With two historian parents, author Sarah Woodbury couldn’t help but develop an interest in the past. She began writing historical-romance fiction when the stories in her head overflowed and demanded she let them out. Recently we spoke with her about her passion and profession.

What are your own roots?
My roots are in England, Scotland, and Wales. From Scotland, my most famous ancestor is my multiple great-grandfather, Donald McKay, the Boston Clipper Ship builder. He was a Highland McKay from Thurso, whose father had fought for the British during the American Revolution, but then came home to find that his family lands had been ‘cleared’. He accepted land in Nova Scotia, and then Donald moved to Boston as a young man. From Wales, my ancestors come through—among others—my umpteenth great grandfather, William Woodbury, who self-identified as a Welshman when he arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1628. I am also descended from a host of Morgans, Thomas’, Kemries, Johns, Rhuns etc.  The line I’ve researched most successfully descends from Llywelyn ap Ifor born around 1300.  Six generations later, Sir John Morgan (1448) was knighted. One of my readers kindly researched my ancestry back all the way to the Lord Rhys (d. 1197) and Hywel Dda of Deheubarth. Woodbury is, of course, a very Saxon name, and those roots lie in Somerset.

Why are those roots important to you?
Family history is, in many ways, the stories we tell about ourselves—those key moments in our family’s past that inspire us today. While I can take no credit for the choices of my ancestors, I can both learn from them and be inspired by them.

What inspired you to become a writer?
I had stories in my head that I wanted to tell. It took probably ten years to work up the courage to tell them. I had been a creative child, but around the age of 12, committed myself to the endeavor of school, to the point that I received my Ph.D. in anthropology in 1995 when I was 27. I had four children along the way, and it was really working with them and seeing their creativity that encouraged me to once again tap into my own.

Read the rest here …


Guardians of Time is here!


Categories: Research

GOT blogChristmas 1292. Time travel has meant many things to Meg, David, and Anna over the years, but regardless of the circumstances, it has always been about saving lives: their own, their family members’, their friends’.

This time, it’s a combination of all three.

Guardians of Time is the ninth novel in the After Cilmeri series.

It is available at Amazon US and all Amazon stores, iBooks, Kobo, Google PlaySmashwordsand Nook.


The Statute of Wales

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King Edward I issued the Statute of Wales (sometimes referred to as the Statute of Rhuddlan) in 1284 as part of his program of subjugating Wales to English law.  For Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, and his people, being able to live under Welsh law had been a primary concern and one of the most compelling reasons to war with England.  Edward, knowing this, saw to it that the Welsh laws were overthrown, and this act was not repealed for centuries.  It was comprehensive and complete–the most comprehensive any King issued during the middle ages  (Bowen 1908).

To download your own copy:

This site states:  “At the Statute of Rhuddlan, 1284, Wales was divided up into English counties; the English court pattern set firmly in place, and for all intents and purposes, Wales ceased to exist as a political unit. The situation seemed permanent when Edward followed up his castle building program by his completion of Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech. In 1300, Edward made his son (born at Caernarfon castle, in that mighty fortress overlooking the Menai Straits in Gwynedd) ‘Prince of Wales.'”

In summary, the Statute instated these laws:

1.  Wales was annexed to the Crown of England

2.  Divided Wales into counties and appointed officers, controlled by the King

3.  Created the office of “Sheriff” and regulated the matter of the courts, abrogating Welsh law in this matter.

4.  Created laws regarding debt, laws, and attorneys, inquests, pleas, trials, and juries, all in accordance with English common law.

5.  Established laws of dower for women (for which there was no formal arrangement under Welsh law)   and inheritance, according to English common law.  He specifically forbade ‘bastards’ to inherit, as had been customary under Welsh law.


The Holy Grail and Dinas Bran


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That King Arthur got mixed up with Jesus Christ can’t be too surprising, given the myth-making that went into the King Arthur story.  Rumor has it that Bran, for whom the castle, Dinas Bran, was named, was Joseph of Arimithea’s son-in-law.  Legend has it that after Jesus’ death, Joseph brought the Cup of Christ from Israel to Britain.  It does seem unlikely, doesn’t it?

But that is what the ‘Holy Grail’ is, that King Arthur’s knights go in search of:  “The Holy Grail of Christian legend is the vessel given by Christ to his disciples to sup from at the Last Supper. Later, it is said to have been given to his grand-uncle, St. Joseph of Arimathea, who used to collect Christ’s blood and sweat whilst he hung upon the Cross.”

Dinas Bran, in turn, is the “site of an ancient Iron-Age hill-fort, believed to have been the home of the Kings of Powys, well into the 8th century. It is particularly associated with King Elisedd of Eliseg’s Pillar fame. The castle is, however, named for King Bran Fendigaid (the Blessed), a Celtic God known from both Welsh and Irish mythology who was later mortalized into a monarch of North Wales.”

“Much of the information available about Bran the Blessed strongly suggests that at least part of his legend entered into later Arthurian romance. His Magic Cauldron is probably that sought by King Arthur in the Welsh poem, the “Spoils of the Annwfn”.  As in Bran’s Irish tale, Arthur travels to the Celtic Otherworld and, like the Welsh tale, only seven men survive. The vessel was later reborn as the Holy Grail, the cup of plenty or cornucopia found in mythology from across the Globe. The wound to Bran’s foot, inflicted by a poisoned spear, which caused his lands to fail is echoed in that of the Arthurian Grail guardian, known as the Grail or Fisher King.

His latter title may be related to Bran’s association with rivers and river-crossings (such as those he encountered in Ireland). His castle was Corbenic or Castell Dinas Bran, both names deriving from the word Raven or Crow. The Fisher King, like Bran’s head, could feast with his followers indefinitely and his forename was said to be Bron (or Brons) in the so-called Didot Perceval: clearly a transformation of Bran. Here, he is given a wife, Anna, the daughter of St. St. Joseph of Arimathea, probably through confusion with his grandmother, Beli Mawr’s wife, Anu. Bran may also be the original of other Arthurian characters like Brandegorre, Bran de Lis, Brandelidelin or Ban of Benoic.”

It was Joseph of Arimathea who gave his tomb to Christ upon his death and (again, legend has it) first brought Christianity to Britain aroun 63 AD, along with the cup.

“During the late 12th century, Joseph became connected with the Arthurian cycle, appearing in them as the first keeper of the Holy Grail This idea first appears in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie, in which Joseph receives the Grail from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain. This theme is elaborated upon in Boron’s sequels and in subsequent Arthurian works penned by others. Later retellings of the story contend that Joseph of Arimathea himself travelled to Britain and became the first Christian bishop in the Isles.”

Glastonbury Tor claims this too, but we know that can’t be true :)

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