3rd October 2014
I had never actually gone off by myself on a research trip until this last month when in Scotland for the referendum I drove my miniscule rental car far up the A9 to a very small town called Portmahomack on the edges of the Moray Firth. This was an ancient stronghold of the Picts, and I am toying with the idea of setting my third book in the Time series here. I checked into a B&B right on the shore and was the only guest, sitting there each morning for my breakfast of "jugged kipper," and "brose porridge," reading the table mat which happened to contain quite a bit of information about times past in Portmahomack, for instance that the early Picts here lived right on the shore in their wattle round houses and ran a kind of trade market, presumably served by travellers along the eastern sea board.
The Picts left a few of these amazingly intricately carved stones around Portmahomack erected by master Pictish stonemasons. This one, the Hilton of Cadboll stone, is my favourite, although as so often happens, it got wheeked away to the National Museum in Edinburgh (not before making a detour to the British Museum in London, of course!) At the top of the stone is a crescent and V-rod Pictish symbol (which I happen to have tattooed on my arm and which I learned on this trip might have connoted woman - cf. the crescent moon, and the broken arrow, which let's hope will be woman's final contribution to our race's story!) Below is a hunting scene featuring a woman riding side-saddle, drawing one to the conclusion that the status of women in this pagan culture was significantly higher than it was to become under Christendom.
This building is what I found on the site of a Pictish settlement just up the hill from the shore. A church, of course, because I have come across this endlessly now in my research: The monks would come in and plonk a church right on an ancient pagan site. By a nice twist of fate, this church has now been turned into a museum to house some of the Pictish finds from the area. One thing the monks didn't count on was that bones speak and have their own dark energy (which is what I plan to call Book 3, Dark Energy.) Now the pagans are speaking to us through the ages in a place where hymns were once sung and misguided monks fought with that other kind of dark energy that lurks beneath the cassock. Oh, I love the irony of it! Perhaps it's just my twisted mind and perhaps the reason I am a writer in the first place.