Friday, August 24, 2012

I must be getting famous - Vijaya Schartz

BWL just released today: a special edition bundle of the CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE series, comprising the first three complete novels, PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE, PAGAN QUEEN, and SEDUCING SIGEFROI, into one handy kindle file. And all that for the super-friendly price of $5.99.

So I figured I must be getting famous. The special edition even wears my name rather than the series name. What a hoot!

In any case, this is a great opportunity to get these first three novels together and cheap. Since Book 4, LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, is coming out in late fall, grab the deal now, and you'll be ready for it when Book 4 is released.

Now back to writing. These books don't write themselves, and I don't want to disappoint my loyal readers. Wishing you all a fantastic end of summer.

Oh, and you can still enter my contest to win LADY OF LUXEMBOURG when it releases, by going to my website: and clicking on CONTEST at the top right, then follow the directions on the contest page. 

Now back to writing. These books don't write themselves, and I don't want to disappoint my loyal readers. Wishing you all a fantastic end of summer.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Romance with a Kick

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The madness of historical research - by Vijaya Schartz

What is an author to do when historians of the period do not agree? What could be more frustrating than the main expert on this particular place and time saying: "and here history gets rather confusing" Really? My hero is in a dungeon, suffering from malnutrition, and I can’t even know in which or whose castle along the Marne River he is detained?

That’s what I’m up against with my work in progress: LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, to be published late this year. And that’s what I get for dealing with historical figures. Of course it wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t care so much about historical accuracy. But as an author, I want to be as believable as I can be. I want the good people of Luxembourg, if they happen to pick up this novel, to feel that I did a good job of portraying Sigefroi, their national hero and founding father.
Don’t worry, though, I won’t spoil the story for you. It’s just that sometimes, when dealing with early medieval history, research becomes very difficult. And don’t get me started about Wikipedia or other online sources... Of course, the legends are easier to handle and provide much fodder for all kinds of neat details that make the story intriguing.
But enough venting. Back to writing. Hope you are enjoying the series. The rewards of writing it outweigh the frustrations.

In the meantime, you can read the first three books in the CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE series:

Have a wonderful summer.

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick

Find me on Amazon HERE

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Cult of the ancient Goddess in the early Middle Ages - by Vijaya Schartz

Ste Sarah (Ste Maries de la Mer)
The cult of the Goddess predates Christianity and many of the sites now occupied by churches and cathedrals in Europe were sites of ancient worship, often Druidic. When Christianity was imposed by Charlemagne upon his conquered enemies, churches were built over the old Pagan altars.

Many statues of the Goddess, revered by Pagans, were incorporated into the early Christian faith as representations of the Virgin Mary, sometimes knowingly, sometimes out of ignorance. Whenever a black statue of the Goddess was found, it was dubbed a Black Madonna and incorporated into the Christian church, possibly to prevent Pagans from worshiping old divinities. Even statues now recognized as Pagan by archeologists are still displayed in many churches in central France. One in particular was recently moved from inside the church to outside on the front porch, after it was officially identified as the Pagan Goddess. But it is still sitting in a niche at the church entrance, without inscription or comment.

Isis, Queen of Heaven
Growing up as a Catholic in France, I was told as a child that the cult of the Virgin Mary was the main point of dissension in the early Church and the root of the Protestant separatist movement. In hindsight, it might have been that the Protestants of the time knew the worship of the Virgin Mary was a substitute for the Pagan Goddess and wanted no part of it.

I’ve seen several statues of the Black Madonna, some ancient, others more recent. Some say she came from Africa and that's why she is black. Sometimes she is called the Egyptian, or Kali (the black). In India, Kali is a black feminine deity of chaos and revenge. But the early Celts also were dark-skinned before the Viking invasions, and may have emigrated in ancient times from North Africa or the Middle East. Possibly they brought the cult of the black goddess with them.

Kali, the black mother

Over the centuries, the cult of the Goddess somehow survived hidden among the Christian Faith. The most famous Black Madonna is located at the Ste Maries de la Mer on the French mediteranean coast of Camargue, where she is worshiped by the Gypsies as Sainte Sarah, or Sarah the black, as their patron saint. There are several in Spain and in eastern Europe. Many other black madonnas are mentioned in ancient manuscripts all over Europe but disappeared over the centuries.

Although somewhat of a secret in America, the Black Madonna phenomenon is better known in Europe, where civilization has older, deeper roots, and many traces remain of what existed before Christianity.

Marion Zimmer Bradley in her Mists of Avalon series also alludes to statues of the ancient Goddess worshiped as the Virgin Mary in Christian churches.

Curiously enough, a series of recent apparitions prompted a new cult of the Lady, especially in central Europe. Some believe she is the Virgin Mary. Others claim that although divine, she is a separate entity. Could she be the ancient Goddess who prompted our ancestors to worship her?

One of these statues figures prominently in PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE and in PAGAN QUEEN, Books 1 & 2 of the Curse of the Lost Isle series. There will be another Black Madonna in Book 4 of the series, LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, to be released later this year. That one is still visible in the crypt of the cathedral in Chartres, where she is called the black madonna of under the earth.

Please feel free to comment. This could be an interesting discussion.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Romance with a Kick.
Vijaya's books on Amazon:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Little Light on the Dark Ages by Joanna Fulford

The Dark Ages (broadly 500–1000AD) was a period marked by frequent warfare and the virtual disappearance of urban life.  It followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.  When the legions left Britain in 410AD, their absence created an opportunity for invading tribes of Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Friesians who competed for land and power.  It was the era of Bede and Hilda and Cuthbert, and the legendary king called Arthur about whom so much has been written.

The period is described as ‘dark’ because we know relatively little about it.  The surviving evidence is thin on the ground.  And yet what does remain offers a glimpse of something tantalising and at variance with preconceived notions about intellectual darkness and barbarity.

Burial mound

On my recent research trip into Suffolk (see previous blog) one of the places I visited was Sutton Hoo.  It’s a must-see for anyone interested in the early medieval period.  My visit coincided with an anticyclone, but storm winds and driving rain added another dimension to the sombre beauty of this ancient Saxon burial ground.  There are several burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, but the largest and most famous is believed to be that of the mighty East Anglian king called Raedwald who died around 625AD.  Excavation of the grave revealed the outline of a great ship.  The timbers have long since decayed in the region’s acid soil but a host of other artefacts remain.  These range from weapons and armour to coins and cauldrons; cups and gaming pieces.  Most astonishing of all is the beauty and craftsmanship of the jewellery.  The originals are in the British Museum in London, but the exhibition centre at Sutton Hoo has excellent replicas.  As soon as I saw these, a lot of preconceived ideas about ignorant Dark Age barbarians went up in smoke.

Sutton Hoo helmet
belt buckle

There is nothing remotely primitive about these fabulous pieces, and the hand that made them belonged to a master craftsman using techniques that have changed very little since.  The level of sophistication involved is self-evident.  Stunning design is used throughout.  Sword and belt fittings, purse lid and shoulder clasps all reveal it.  Into the glorious gold settings the goldsmith set red stones: rubies brought from India; garnets from Northern Europe.   He cut and shaped them and then set them into miniature cells of gold, each backed with gold foil to reflect the light through the gem.  The stepped interlocking patterns were built up with geometric precision and balance.  In some instances the design is freer and represents interlaced creatures and protective animal, bird and man-like figures depicting a visual language once widely understood in Northern Europe but whose meaning is now obscure.  Each piece is a work of art in its own right and speaks volumes about the power and status of the king for whom it was made.  In modern values, the equivalent cost of recreating the shoulder clasps alone is estimated to be in the region of £100,000 – roughly $156.000.  Yet they were just a small part of Raedwald’s treasure.

Purse lid
The king’s sword had a superb blade forged by a highly skilled pattern welder.  One of the three hanging bowls discovered in the grave carried brightly enamelled and patterned fittings of Celtic design.  Silver dishes, bowls and spoons reveal Roman and Byzantine production.  One of the bowls came from North Africa.  Excavations of cemeteries in central Sweden reveal ship-burial customs and contain helmets and shields very like those from the Sutton Hoo ship.   King Raedwald, and rulers like him, belonged to an international culture in which the sea was not a barrier but a path of communication.

Shoulder clasps
Sutton Hoo has provided valuable insights into the past and has caused me to re-evaluate the Dark Ages.  Certainly the departure of the Roman legions from Britain had a profound effect and, yes, it was a period of warfare and invasion.  However, it seems to me that that isn’t the whole story.  I can’t buy into the idea that Britain and Europe and this time were inhabited solely by mindless barbarians: the existing evidence suggests something very different. 

The Dark Ages continue to fascinate us: I come back to an earlier point about the sheer volume of stories written about Arthurian legend.  Perhaps our love affair with the period is partly concerned with its obscurity; with not knowing for sure; with the continual exercise of the imagination.  Perhaps too it is about those occasional gleams of light when an enthusiast with a metal detector unearths another hoard of ancient treasure and suddenly our understanding of the past alters dramatically.  For the novelist such moments are pure gold.

I’d love to hear about your light-bulb moments. What was it that changed your perception of the past or provided you with fresh insight?