Thoughts on the wild, the weird, and the romantic from author Joy Nash

My Photo
Location: United States

Joy Nash is a USA Today Bestselling Author and RITA Award Finalist applauded by Booklist for her "tart wit, superbly crafted characters, and sexy, magic-steeped plots."

» Thursday, September 28, 2006

Into the books: Day 10, Bath, England

***Joy's Book Link***

No book link today!

We left Wales and headed down to Bath, England. Let me tell you, traffic around that town in horrendous. The city is surrounded by a sort of ravine, and there are only a few ways across it. We parked in a huge tourist lot on the edge of town and set off to find the ancient Roman Baths. The map we bought in a pay machine was extremely confusing, since rather than just being a simple street map, it had 3-D pictures of important buildings superimposed on the streets, hiding some of them. Also, it seems like streets change name every block in Bath. The locals know how clueless the tourists are, and how hard it is to get around their city, or maybe how bad the tourist maps are, and I must say they are very nice about it. We had no fewer than three sets of strangers stop and ask us if we needed help. One group in a car actually pulled over to the curb and rolled down the window and asked if they could help us get to where we wanted to go. And it wasn't like we'd flagged them down or anything. Geez, if that happened in a US city, I think I would faint from shock.

Bath gets its name from Roman times, when it was an important market town and contained an elaborate bathing house built over a hot spring that was sacred to the Celtic goddess Sulis. The Roman name for the town was Aquae Sulis, or "Waters of Sulis." I haven't ventured into Aquae Sulis in one of my historical novels yet, but who knows, it might appear in a future novel in the Druids of Avalon series. It's certainly in the vicinity.

The Roman baths excavations are all underground. On top is the Regency-era bathing house that was built on top of the Roman ones. Bath is the locale for many of Jane Austen's books. We got a look at the Pump Room, a restaurant that was once frequented by Bath's aristocracy. On the edge of town are the Assembly Rooms, the site of many high society functions.

Here's a picture of me inside the baths! The water is very warm, but no, you can't jump in and swim.

Next up: The Caves at Cheddar Gorge, and Glastonbury: The Chalice Well and The Tor (aka the Isle of Avalon)



» Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Into the books: Day 9: Caerleon, Wales: The Roman Fortress at Isca Silurnam

***Joy's Book Link***

In The Grail King, Clara's father is the legate (commander) of the Roman Fortress at Isca Silurum. The Aquila farm, where Marcus lives with his father and stepmother (Lucius and Rhiannon from Celtic Fire), is in the countryside nearby. A pivotal scene in The Grail King takes place in the Roman amphitheater just outside the fortress walls.

Okay, first off, I've heard from more than one person who thinks I'm still in the UK! Unfortunately, not true, this trip is long over. It started June 23 and ended July 7, 2006. I'm still working in getting the pics and commentary online. I know that's not quite in the spirit of blogging, which is supposed to be real time, but it's the best I can do. My Immortals: The Awakening deadline is fast approaching (Oct 16) but I swear I'm going to get to the end of my vacation pics in the next week or two.

Day Nine was one I'd really been locking forward to. Not only was I going to get to see the location I'd picked for a large part of The Grail King, but as luck would have it, the Roman Museum in Caerleon was having its Living History weekend during our visit! I was beyond thrilled.

The town of Caerleon, Wales, just outside of Newport, is built right on the foundations of the Roman Fortress of Isca Silurum, which was one of the three major Roman fortresses in Britannia. The other two were at Londinium (London) and Eburacum (York). It's the only place in England where you can see excavations of a Roman Army barracks. Only a portion of the fortress and the surrounding wall has been excavated on the edge of town, because you'd have to tear down the entire medieval city to get at the rest of it. Isca Silurnam was a very big fortress. There would have been over 5,000 soldiers stationed there. Probably just as many civilians--tradespeople and families of the soldiers--lived outside the walls. Roman footsoldiers weren't allowed to marry, but many of them had unofficial wives and children that traveled with them to their various posts. In The Grail King, Clara's father was the commander (or legate) of the fortress. She would have lived in a very posh commander's residence (with a courtyard, central heat, running water and private bathing rooms) in the center of the fortress.

Just outside the fortress walls, there was a Roman amphitheater. This would have been used for all sorts of military and civilian functions. The site has been excavated and is used for presentations and shows today. There's a flat grassy area in the center, and a higher oval of grass on top of what used to be the seating area. This is where the living history festival was going on.

The main presenters were The Ermine Street Guard, a London-based Roman Military Re-enactors' Group that is the largest club of this kind in the world. In the US, we have obsessed Civil War re-enactors, in England they have obsessed Roman re-enactors. These guys make their own armor and weapons, cook Roman food, erect Roman tents, and put on a great show. There was a live military presentation complete with cavalry and catapults. Here's a pic of the army in formation:

Set up nearby was a city of tents in which just about every aspect of Roman military and civilian frontier life was presented: food, tools, blacksmithing, leatherworking, medicine, cosmetics, textiles, glassmaking, toys, you name it, they had it there. The men were great and loved talking about their hobby. Several of them had wives and kids along to help with various presentations. They all loved to talk. Two of the soldiers spent some time with me explaining the relative merits and disadvantages of the Auxiliary Troops' chain mail versus the Legionaries' segmented armor. Here's me and a Roman Signifer (standard-bearer). I hope that's not a real wolf on his head!

But what would a Roman Amphitheatre be without a gladiator or two? Luckily, there were a whole group of gladiators, members of a troop of Italian gladiator re-enactors from Rome, Italy. These guys were serious athletes who put on a great show, boxing, fighting with swords, or entrapping their victim with trident and net. When a man went down, the audience got to chose whether he lived or died. One poor guy got a very realistic sword in the belly. Don't worry, he walked away from the show unscathed. Here's a pic of the gladiators preparing for action. Can you say HOT???:

And after the show, here are the hotties resting in the shade:

Whoa, baby!

Next up: Bath, England



» Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Into the books: Day 8, Long Meg and her Daughters, and Liverpool and The Beatles Experience

***no Book Link today!***

Today we headed south on the longest one-day drive of our vacation. Taking the A69 west, we hooked up with the M6 at Carlisle. Our first detour from the main road came at Penrith, with a jaunt into the countryside to see a circle of standing stones known as Long Meg and her Daughters.

The road to the circle is a country lane barely wide enough for a car to travel down. If you meet someone going in the opposite direction, either you or he has to back up to the nearest lay-by to allow the other to pass! But I do love standing stones and stone circles, especially the ones off the beaten trail. Long Meg and her Daughters are in the middle of a cow pasture. The place was deserted when we got there. Well, deserted of people, anyway. The cows and the large, dark puddles they like to leave behind were very much in evidence! Here's a pic of me between two of the Daughters, with Long Meg directly behind me. Oh, yeah, and a cow:

This stone circle is the third largest in England, over 300 feet in diameter. There are supposed to be 59 stones, though legend has it no one can count them twice and come up with the same number! Long Meg herself is twelve foot high and a different type of stone from the others. There are spiral markings on the face of the stone, which was erected some 3000-4000 years ago. No one knows much about the ancient people who erected the stone circles in Britain. Local legend speculates that Long Meg and her Daughters were a coven of witches out celebrating in the night. A holy man came along and said a prayer that turned them into stone. Party pooper! Here's a close up pic of Long Meg, where you can see the spirals someone cut into the stone some 4000 years ago. Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

We got back on the highway and headed south. Our next detour was to Liverpool's Albert Docks. I wanted to see an exhibit called The Beatles Story Experience, an award-winning living history exhibit. It's located in the basement of a renovated warehouse district that houses museums, restaurants and shops nestled in the center of Liverpool's busy seaport. The show was a bit on the expensive side, but it was worth every pence! Each person got their own headset, so you could wander and listen at your own pace to narratives tracing the Beatles' history from the first meeting of John and Paul at a village fair, through Beatlemania, Ed Sullivan and the British Invasion, to the big break-up and beyond, including poignant reminders of John Lennon's death and a display honoring Paul McCartney's current work with a Liverpool school for artists.

It took over two hours to walk through all the exhibits and listen to all the commentary. No rush - you move at your own pace and can linger as long as you like in any of the exhibits. Here's a pic of my favorite room, a mock up of the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where the Beatles got their start. You can sit in the audience and listen to a recording of "Twist and Shout" and imagine you were there. Here's a pic:

After that, back in the mini-van (or "people-mover" as they call it in the UK) - on to Wales!

Tomorrow: Caerleon, Wales, aka Isca Silurnam - site of The Grail King


Joy Nash

» Saturday, September 02, 2006

Into the books: Day 7, Vindolanda Roman Fort and Hadrian's Wall

***Joy's Book Link***

Vindolanda Roman Fort is the setting for my 2005 book CELTIC FIRE!

I was so excited when I got up this day! I'd been really looking forward to visiting the Roman Fort Vindolanda, the setting for my 2005 Dorchester book, CELTIC FIRE. I'd looked at so many pictures and poured over so many maps and aerial photos during my research that I felt like I had been there before. The hillside where the ruins of the fort lie is a very beautiful spot. You can see the foundations of the stone fort, which dates from around AD 130. This isn't, strictly speaking, the fort in which Celtic Fire would have taken place, since my story is set in AD 117, at the time of an earlier wooden fort on the same site. But hey, it's close enough for me! There's a wonderful museum display and mock ups of homes, shops, a tower of the wooden fort, and a temple on site. I almost thought I saw Lucius and Rhiannon stealing a kiss in a corner! Here's a pic of the stone fort ruins:

After touring Vindolanda, we went on to the Roman Army Museum a few miles away. A portion of Hadrian's Wall was a short hike from the museum. The Wall was ordered built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the AD 120s, due to increasing unrest among the Celtic tribes in the area. Earlier emperors had expanded the Roman occupation into Caledonia (Scotland) in previous decades, but when Hadrian came to power, he decided the wild tribes in Scotland were too much trouble. So he built a wall across the whole island, about 75 miles, to keep the troublesome tribes out of the civilized area. The wall was built on a natural ridge, making it a lot higher on the Northern side. Here's a pic looking to the northwest from the wall. In CELTIC FIRE, Rhiannon's clan would have lived in the hills in the background:

Next Up: Long Meg and her Daughters, and Liverpool and The Beatles Experience


Joy Nash