Sunday, March 14, 2010


About time I brought everyone up to date on my blog book-tour. 

For anyone who hasn’t come across them, they’re something authors do in this electronic age as a form of indirect self-promotion. Instead of trekking round to make personal appearances at bookstores, libraries and other places to promote a new book, they arrange to supply guest blogs on topics related to writing, or to the world of their novels, or aspects of life generally to a succession of blog-sites of other authors in the genre or groups. 

Then the hope is that readers and browsers will tag along from site to site, become a follower and maybe buy your book. It's proving quite hard work but very exciting. Not only the arranging, liaising and writing, there's the extra research sometimes needed and replying to comments (yes, I am getting some).

Here’s the plan so far, if anyone wants to come along for the ride:

12th March: Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso at where my blog on the importance of historical plausibility is now up. There's a competition in front of it, so please scroll down.

18th. March: Kadi Easley's kdwrites at with The Magic of Historical Research.

22nd. March: Julia Buckley's Mysterious Musings - Interview at

24th March: Susan Higginbotham’s Medieval Woman with What Makes a Good Historical Mystery at

31st. March: Sarah Johnson’s Reading the Past with Human Realities Behind the Relics at

8th. April: Nan Hawthorne’s Booking History with Stories behind the Statues at

31 May Dames of Dialogue with Titillating Ancient Tastebuds (ancient Greek cookery with just a flavour of poison) at

An interview on Novel Journey will following later in the year, which will be more about writing and more to be announced all supplemented by stuff on this blog-site where you’ll have seen that my series on ancient crime and criminals has now started.

Of course, I’d like to express my thanks to all these lovely people for being so eager to host me. Have fun.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


As a way of causing death with the hope of not being found out, poisoning seems to have been quite popular in Ancient Athens as it has in many subsequent eras. It was also likely to be suspected in any situation where the cause of death was not clear. This is so in a case where we don’t have the principal names.

Here a young man, who has waited till he is of age to speak in the courts, accuses his stepmother of having contrived the death of his father several years earlier. It appears his father had a lodger, Philomenos, who had a concubine, a slave, who was worried that he had gone off her and would sell her into a brothel. 

The stepmother sympathised and said she too was losing the affections of her husband. A love potion was suggested as the answer to both problems and the concubine was persuaded to give it to the two men in a drink at a dinner well away from the house. 

Francesco Hayez Ulysses at the court of Alcinoo , 1814-16, oil on canvas 380 x 580 cm. Naples, National Gallery of Capodimonte

However, rather than splitting the potion equally, she gave more to Philomenos. He died on the spot, she was immediately suspected, tortured to the point of confession and executed. The father fell ill and died twenty days later. Believing he had been poisoned, he asked his young son to pursue his killer, which he was now doing some years later, using the speech by Antiphon which is our only record.

If the stepmother is guilty, then it was quite a neat piece of work. Her accomplice is dead, having confessed to the poisoning of Philomenos only, possibly because the father, not yet being dead, the officials had not put that question to her during the torturing. 

The accuser brings no evidence of the confession anyway, nor of his stepmother having access to poison nor from the doctor who treated the father that the symptoms were those of poison rather than, say, food poisoning. 

His only hope of a stronger case (and the stepmother’s only danger) is that one or more of the household slaves might have known of the plot and revealed it under torture – for a slave’s testimony was admissible in court only if given after torture. 

Women of Athens
But his stepbrother, who it would seem has control of the estate, has refused this request. Understandable really, for who wants their property (slaves) damaged by torture whatever confession might result – and who doesn’t confess if tortured enough? 

Result: not enough evidence to support his case and she gets away with it, unless the large jury of citizen males is swayed by the fear that Athenian men seem to have had that their wives will betray them. Perhaps that is why he refers to his stepmother as ‘a Clytemnestra’, the queen who murdered her husband Agamemnon. We have no record of the actual verdict.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Well, what does make a character ‘historical’? As opposed to a character with all the concerns of any individual of today in human relationships and survival, that is, who happens to wear a different costume from us, a modern man or woman in fancy dress. Lets look at that.

Demons From The Livre de la vigne nostre Seigneur 1450 - 70
In reality, an ordinary person from the Middle Ages or from many ages in the past could be almost paralysed from any out of the ordinary action by fear of retribution from God, the gods (of which there were many, all looking out for their own interests) and one’s social superiors or of seduction by the Devil and his demons, which made many scared to go to sleep for fear of dreams, which, of course, were the Devil attempting to do just that. 

Life was constantly interrupted by religious observances at different times of the day, by religious festivals and feast days which were compulsory, by the Sabbath when, at certain times, anything resembling work and even travel was not allowed. Questioning the behaviour of one’s social superiors was definitely not a good idea.

Peasants dance at a celebration in a medieval village.
© The Granger Collection, New York
Now that is not very conducive to effective detective work on a timescale that would be acceptable to the normal novel reader. So we historical crime writers have to find ways round it. We either fudge and make our characters say a guilty prayer when they infringe some rule or other or we make sure they have a mandate or dispensation from a monarch or bishop or other high authority. Or we choose one of the more liberal eras or more rule-breaking figures as our detective.

But beyond those extremes, they should ideally think within the mental frame of the age, accepting most of the received wisdom and attitudes to slaves, serfs, servants, women, children, foreigners, people of other religions, lords and ladies, and religious dignitaries. 

Now, if we went all the way with that, especially in our lead characters, they would not be very acceptable to many readers in our politically conscious age. So again, we are likely to fudge and nod in these directions while finding reasons why their attitudes are just that bit more liberal than their fellows.

And often we do this subconsciously because we ourselves have the need to create characters we can empathise with. After all, we have to live with them in our heads for even longer than the reader while each novel is evolving.

PS: I’ll aim to develop these ideas further maybe in some other place and time.

Reminder: My first guestblog goes up at Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterios tomorrow March 5th