Sunday, 20 February 2011

Castles, forts and the Jackson family tree

I was seething into my cornflakes this morning while I was reading this article Mystery of lost Ninth solved in the Mail on Sunday. It's a shameless plug for a new TV show, which itself is shameless piggyback on The Eagle, the second Roman film out this year based on Rosemary Sutcliff's novel Eagle of the Ninth. I've never read so much rubbish about the Romans in my life.

I don't mind any historian jumping onto the back of a movie to publicise himself, but this is about as relevant to history as a Kellogs advert. It's full of stuff we either knew already, has been disproved or is just waffle. Rubbish!

Historian Neil Faulkner, of Channel 4’s Time Team, said: ‘My guess is that the Ninth Legion was destroyed in a carefully executed ambush by northern tribes.'

Well my guess is that they were abducted by aliens and it's based on the same amount of evidence.

It almost makes me pine for Neil Oliver.


On a more pleasant note I spent four hours getting soaked, muddy and freezing while I was down in the Borders at the weekend. I had a walk round Lanton Wood, which covers the hill overlooking Jedburgh from the north. It was an old stamping ground of my dad's who lived on the farm at Monklaw when he was a boy.

It's an eery place full of muddy tracks and old logging trails and I hadn't realised it was quite so extensive. I was looking for what was supposed to be a Roman camp, but among the trees I came across an old hill fort I'd never even heard of. Then on the far side of the hill I noticed Timpendean Tower, which I've only ever seen from the Hawick Jedburgh road in the valley below. It's not much of a ruin, but when I went to investigate I discovered it's actually part of a much larger defended complex. Some of the banks and ditches even put me in mind of the Romans.

The tower is sixteenth century and belonged to the Douglas's, who held extensive lands around Jedburgh, where Sir James, the Black Douglas, had a stronghold at Lintalee. The earthworks are a lot earlier, probably from around just after the Norman conquest, but a Greek coin of the second century BC was found nearby, so the Romans were probably around here at one point. It was burned down numerous times during the Border wars, most notably by the Earl of Hertford in 1545 during the Rough Wooing, but always rebuilt until it was abandoned in the eighteenth century.

I love hanging about places like this, but eventually I had to move back into the forest, because I had something special I needed to find. Every family needs a family tree. The Jackson family tree is in Lanton Wood. In an act of tender environmental vandalism my dad carved the name of each of his grandchildren and great grandchildren in the bark of a beech tree. It was a long time since I'd visited it and I wasn't sure how I'd feel when I saw it. When I reached the part of the wood where I knew it was, I wished I'd brought a knife to carve his name in it. It was only when I finally found it that I discovered one of my brothers had been there before me.

The Jackson family tree
And finally, anyone who has been on my Facebook author site will already have seen this, but this week I got my first look at the front cover if my new thriller, which will be published under the name James Douglas (no connection to the above Black Douglas - my mum had me christened James Douglas Jackson). The subheads will be updated, but I think it's a real winner.

Some people find it odd that I should write across two genres, but the simple answer is that it keeps me fresh and provides a completely different challenge from historical fiction. The Doomsday Testament  is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be published on August 18


Anonymous said...

Great Post Doug and love the bit about the tree.

I'm afraid the likes of Neil Oliver and the chap from Time Team seem to sell their historical souls for wonga as and when its offered.

Mary Schneider said...

Hi Doug,

I agree with Paul. Look what Hollywood did to Braveheart -- and I'm sure there were others who jumped on that bandwagon too.

I loved the bit about the tree too. Brought a lump to my throat.

Good luck with the new book later this year! I will look for it in the local bookshop or pick up a copy when I'm in the UK later this year.

Gabriele C. said...

Every movie magazine refering to the new movie here has some stupid remark along the lines: an entire legion got lost in Caledonia. Grrr.

Well, it can't get any worse than some of the muck the media spread in 2009.

Mari said...

I liked this story better when it happened in Teutoberg Forest.
My favourite professor and I have a theory that the Ninth decided to build a hexareme out of the awesome Caledonian forest, then sailed for Hawaii. It took a while.
Because, why not? ;)
I'm wrestling with my novel, which I have little expectation of anyone other than my friends and family reading, but that makes it no less important to me and frankly, it's inspiring to read your blog. There are so many books I've read which, to be honest, had me thinking 'this got published'? Then you find the wheat amongst the chaff, and it's uplifting purely from my bibliophile POV. So, I'm glad you're taking on another genre. I pre-ordered it too, even though my gestating thriller involves the Nazis and my take on some historical/scientific oddities, and I bet I'll be severely intimidated!
I've never commented, but I really enjoy your blog, thanks for taking all this effort.

Doug said...

Thanks for commenting Mari, the problem with blogging is that you only really know people are interested in what you're saying if they do comment, so every one I get gives me a lift.

Good luck with the writing. When I started Caligula on the train I thought that even if one other person read it and enjoyed it, the effort would have been worthwhile doing