Shadows in the Ashes

Christina here, and I’m very excited because tomorrow it’s publication day at last for my new dual time novel SHADOWS IN THE ASHES! It is set partly in Roman times, in Pompeii 79 AD, just before and during the fateful eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This event really fired my imagination and I’ve wanted to use it in a story for quite some time. It was also a great excuse to finally visit the ruins of the city and the surrounding area in the Bay of Naples – you can read my blog post about that here if you haven’t seen it already.

I’ve been writing about Vikings for quite a while now, so it was great fun to switch to another era for a while. But I didn’t go completely Roman as Raedwald, the hero of the story, is a ‘barbarian’ from Frisia (north-western Netherlands), who has been captured and enslaved. He eventually ends up as a gladiator, and is plotting to regain his freedom, as well as revenge on the younger half-brother and step-mother who betrayed him. Was it possible for slaves to escape? Ordinarily, it would have been very difficult, but with a volcano covering your tracks – quite literally – I figured anything could happen!

The heroine in the present also longs to escape, but in a different way. She’s trapped in an abusive marriage, held hostage by the fact that she has a three-year-old daughter whom her husband wouldn’t hesitate to use as leverage against her. Domestic abuse, both mental and physical, is unfortunately all too common, and it was a subject I wanted to highlight. It takes great courage and determination to break free from a relationship like that!

Here’s the blurb to tell you what SHADOWS IN THE ASHES is about:-

Can you forge a new path from the ashes of your old life?

Present Day – Finally escaping an abusive marriage, Caterina Rossi takes her three-year-old daughter and flees to Italy. There she’s drawn to research scientist Connor, who needs her translation help for his work on volcanology. Together they visit the ruins of Pompeii and, standing where Mount Vesuvius unleashed its fire on the city centuries before, Cat begins to see startling visions. Visions that appear to come from the antique bracelet handed down through her family’s generations…

AD 79 – Sold by his half-brother and enslaved as a gladiator in Roman Pompeii, Raedwald dreams only of surviving each fight, making the coin needed to return to his homeland and taking his revenge. That is, until he is hired to guard beautiful Aemilia. As their forbidden love grows, Raedwald’s dreams shift like the ever more violent tremors of the earth beneath his feet.

The present starts eerily to mirror the past as Cat must fight to protect her safety, and to forge a new path from the ashes of her old life…

And here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story when the heroine in the present begins to realise that perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for her on the horizon:-

North London, 10 April 2022

‘You really should leave him, you know.’

The quiet voice coming from across the hedge made Cat jump, and she forgot to cover her face as she swung round to see who was talking to her. Her neighbour, Suzanne, a woman in her late fifties or early sixties, was peering over the clipped yew. Her expression of quiet compassion turned into one of concern when she caught sight of Cat’s rapidly swelling eye and cheek.

‘The utter bastard!’ she hissed. ‘Honestly, what is it that makes some men think they can act however they like?’

‘No, no, I . . . tripped. It was my own fault,’ Cat whispered, putting up a hand to protect her face from view. ‘Really, it was nothing.’

She’d had worse, but she’d never admit that, especially not to the only person in the neighbourhood who ever talked to her. They’d chatted occasionally across the fence, just small talk about the weather and such, but it made Cat feel slightly less isolated.

‘Hmm.’ The non-committal noise conveyed the woman’s scepticism, and Cat cringed inwardly.

How had it come to this? Why was she lying to protect a man who mistreated her? But she had no choice if she wanted to keep Bella from harm. If she wanted to keep her, full stop. So far, he had never hurt their daughter, but should she try to divorce him, he would be given shared custody of the little girl. Knowing him, he would use that to torment Cat endlessly. Perhaps even turn the child against her through bribery and lies as she grew up. She simply couldn’t risk it.

‘I’d better go inside. If I put some ice on it, the swelling will soon go down.’ She turned away, wanting nothing more than to escape now. The embarrassment of being caught looking like this was more than she could bear.

‘No, wait! Please, let me take a photo. It might help … one day, when you’re ready to walk away. And I’d be happy to testify on your behalf any time you need me.’ Suzanne shrugged and gesticulated towards their adjoining semi-detached properties, modern and purpose-built. ‘These houses weren’t made with thick walls, so I’m afraid I hear a thing or two …’

Cat swallowed hard. This was getting worse and worse. ‘Oh God,’ she muttered, but then a small spark of defiance lit up inside her and she turned back towards Suzanne, lifting her chin a fraction.

‘OK, then, take a photo if you want, but I doubt I’ll use it. I can’t. My daughter …’

Suzanne snapped a couple of quick pictures with her phone camera and nodded in sympathy. ‘I understand. What’s her name again? I’ve seen you with her in the garden, of course.’

‘Isabel, but we call her Bella. She’s, um, named after her grandmother, so we don’t want to confuse the two.’

She shuddered at the thought, and sincerely hoped her daughter would be nothing like her mother-in-law when she grew up. The woman was as cold as a hoar frost; a control freak who had raised her son with an iron fist. It was no wonder Derek thought violence was acceptable, really, although it was still no excuse. From what Cat had gathered, he’d been subjected to corporal punishment from an early age. He had been just ten when his father had died, and from that moment on his mother had expected him to ‘be a man’. No excessive emotions allowed. No weakness either. In fact, she’d done a fine job of turning him into an insensitive brute. It was a shame Cat hadn’t realised that until it was too late.

Suzanne put her phone in her pocket. ‘Now, please, will you do me a favour? Whenever something like this happens, come out here and call for me and I’ll take a photo. I’m usually in the kitchen or living room, so I’ll hear you. I’ll download the photos to my computer and date them, then if you ever want to, er … break free, I’ll send them to you. Deal?’

She held out her hand across the low hedge and Cat felt compelled to shake it. There was something firm and reassuring in Suzanne’s grip, giving her a tiny spark of encouragement. And an even smaller flicker of hope.

‘Deal,’ she whispered.

‘And just in case you were wondering, you’re not alone. I was in a similar situation some years back. It might feel hopeless right now, but it is possible to get away, trust me.’

Cat blinked away a sudden rush of tears. She’d probably never have the courage to leave Derek, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared. Perhaps she could do it. Break free. One day. But not just yet.

‘OK,’ she murmured. ‘Th- thank you, Suzanne.’

I enjoyed switching eras and writing about the Romans. Is there a period in history you would like to learn more about?

Please leave a comment below for a chance to win a giveaway – a signed copy of the book and a small Roman reproduction coin pendant.

(SHADOWS IN THE ASHES buy link:- https://geni.us/STACC )

Italian Inspiration – Part 1

Christina here and as I was lucky enough to go to Italy recently, it’s time for some more armchair travelling. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey as much as I did, albeit vicariously!

VesuviusI was a little girl the first time I heard about Pompeii and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. This tragic event really stuck in my mind and ever since then, I’ve wanted to go there, but I never had the opportunity until two weeks ago when my dream finally came true. Sometimes, when you’ve wished for something for a very long time, it turns out to be a disappointment. Not Pompeii though, or any of the other sites we visited! I was enchanted.

BTW, this wasn’t just a pleasure jaunt, it was for research purposes. For a while now, I’ve had a timeslip/dual time story brewing in my mind set against the backdrop of Vesuvius’ eruption. I’d already done quite a bit of reading on the subject, but there is only so much you can do with facts on a page. Actually visiting a place is invaluable, and so my husband and I set out on our fascinating journey.

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Iceland – In the Footsteps of the Vikings (Part II)

Christina here. Today I continue the tale of my recent journey to Iceland. (You can find Part I here):-

Thingvellir waterfall 2A trip to Iceland would not be complete without a visit to two special places – Thingvellir (Þingvellir) and the Geysers. We drove south east to Thingvellir first, the place where the Vikings held their annual meetings (Alþingi) to dispense justice and decide on laws. It's a natural rock formation, a bit like a canyon with an amazing waterfall – Öxarárfoss – on one side. In a spectacular setting up on a hill overlooking a huge lake nearby, the waterfall came as a complete surprise. It’s hidden away among the rock formations that form two curtain walls, like fortifications on a castle. Views over the surrounding landscape are out of this world. There is a large grassy plateau below, where the Vikings taking part in the Alþingi would have raised their tents and camped out. When we were there, the place was incredibly windy and I nearly froze to death as the rocks acted like a wind tunnel. It was so cold!

Strokkur 3 and a halfThings improved at our next destination, the famous geyser Strokkur which wasn’t all that far away. The whole area smelled like rotten eggs because of the sulphur in the water, but it was fascinating to see the geyser erupt every five to seven minutes without warning. It was the only one at present, as another one nearby is dormant right now. All around were little smoking springs, as if the brown soil itself was smouldering. There were also pools of various sizes, beautiful and very inviting, but at 80-100 degrees extremely dangerous! You can’t even stick your hand in or your skin would burn off. Strokkur was not as big as I had imagined it, but still impressive and I’m so glad I got to see it.

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Iceland – In the Footsteps of the Vikings (Part I)

Christina here. When I planned out my current Viking time travel series a couple of years ago, it seemed like a great idea to have one of them set in Iceland. This massive island in the North Atlantic was more or less empty before the Vikings arrived to settle there around 860-870 AD. As my story took place in 875 AD, it made sense to have my characters be part of those first groups of settlers.

ReykjanesOf course, this would necessitate a research trip to Iceland – I’d wanted to visit for a long time so great excuse, right? Then Covid happened. For 18 months I waited to see if travelling would be possible again, and in the meantime, I had to work on my story using only information gleaned from books, travel blogs and other peoples’ remembrances. Definitely not ideal!

By early June this year, I had less than a month to finalise the edits for the book (TEMPTED BY THE RUNES) when at last the borders opened and travel was allowed! I jumped at the chance and with my husband quickly organised a trip which, despite hassle with paperwork and tests, turned out to be magical, so I thought I’d tell you about our journey. Here’s the first part:-

The main Icelandic airport, Keflavik, is about an hour’s drive away from the capital Reykjavik. First impressions of Iceland were of vast skies and a strange, flat and rather barren landscape with volcanic rock covered in moss, but with mountains in the middle. One of them, Fagradalshraun, recently erupted, but by the time we were there, all you could see was a cloud of smoke in the distance.

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