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Sunday, 15 December 2013

What’s your perspective on love?

One of the best things about picking up a book by a romance author you’ve never read before, is discovering a different perspective on love. The plot-lines of romances are deceptively simple, in that they are all about a couple that fall in love. However, it is the complexity of the developing relationship between the main characters, and the uniqueness of their love, chemistry and story, which makes romance such a well-loved genre.

Each romance author focuses on different aspects of love. For some, the ‘getting together part’ happens early on in the story, as deepening the relationship is the part these writers enjoy focusing on. Kathryn Le Veque (who writes epic medieval romances) does an excellent job of this. Others write ‘love heals all’ novels, in which our couple leave painful pasts behind with the assistance of their newfound love. Then there are those where the main characters learn to accept who they are through love; and others where the lovers must grow as people before they can truly be happy together.

Each reader also has their favourite approach to the telling of a love story. I particularly enjoy the ‘calm at the end of the storm’ approach to romance. The whole book is a whirlwind, an adventure, before our lovers are finally able to be together. It’s for this reason that I read – and write historical romance.

If you're a historical romance writer, what perspective do you take on love? It might be something you've taken for granted; it's only when we step back from our own work that we notice there is, indeed, a pattern to the themes we write about and approaches we take.

The period I write in (7th Century, Anglo-Saxon Britannia), lends itself to ‘love through adversity’ tales. Life was hard in Anglo-Saxon England – only the strong survived! Men were tough, and even the gentle ones had to be warriors. In this period, war, feuding and the hardship of getting through one winter to the next, made even daily life a challenge. This said, it was a magical era; the age that brought us epic poems like Beowulf, a culture that inspired writers such as Tolkien.

My romances are about strong men and women, kept apart by circumstance. In many cases, they start off with plenty of reasons to hate each other, but it’s the setting that provides their greatest obstacle. Conflicts such as blood-feud, slavery and arranged marriage play huge roles in my Kingdom of the East Angles Series.


The beauty of setting a novel in such a distinctive period is being able to completely immerse yourself in a unique world. It’s more than just researching the history, customs and clothing of the period – but about creating conflicts and characters that could never exist out of that time and place. 

My perspective on love, and one that I share through my writing, is that it’s an adventure – a journey rather than just a destination – what’s yours?

Monday, 25 November 2013

Anglo-Saxon Yule treats - golden, round and hot like the sun!



In pagan Anglo-Saxon England, Yule marked the Winter Solstice. A bright light in the dark of winter - this festival represented the turning of the sun back towards the south, and the return of life, light and warmth. Once Yule passes, the days grow longer and the nights shorter. 

Yule begins on 'Mother Night' and ends twelve days later - hence the origin of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas'. The Winter Solstice is a solar festival, and it was on this night that a Yule Log, or a bonfire would be burned, to entice heat back into the world. 

Traditionally, the Anglo-Saxons baked any food that was round, golden, or hot like the sun, for the Yule celebrations.

Ingredients in Anglo-Saxon times were limited to those things in season, or food-stuffs that could be stored or dried. As such, nuts, seeds, honey, dried plums, apples and eggs were used in Yule baking. The spices, oranges and lemons, that we now associate with Christmas, came later.

With the simplicity of Anglo-Saxon Yule sweets in mind, here are two simple, but delicious recipes, inspired by this age:

Honey Shortbread
This shortbread is delicious, simple and very easy to make!

Ingredients
250g spelt flour
175g soft butter 
125g creamed honey 

1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the honey and butter and  mix with a wooden spoon until a ball of dough forms.
2. Transfer mixture to greased baking tray or swiss roll tin and press it down well. Prick with a fork.

Bake at 325F/160C for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool for a few minutes then cut into fingers while still warm and serve when cold.

Anglo-Saxon Yule Pudding
This pudding uses only ingredients that would have been available during the Anglo-Saxon period - but don't think that detracts from the flavour!

Ingredients
200g of prunes, cut into pieces
70g of walnut pieces
100g spelt flour
150g suet
125 grams of bread crumbs
4 large eggs
4 heaped Tbsp of honey
4 cooking apples, peeled and grated
1 and a half cups of apple wine or strong cider

1. Soak the prunes and walnuts in the apple wine or cider for up to a week.
2. In a large bowl add flour, suet, breadcrumbs and grated apple.
3. Add honey and beaten eggs to the dry ingredients before mixing in the fruit and nuts that have been soaking in the apple wine - more in the wine too (unless there is A LOT of liquid - in this case, hold some back). 
4. Grease a pudding basin really well and pack the pudding mixture in. 
5. Wrap the basin in at least 3 layers of foil and steam in a pot for 5 hours. 
6. Once 5 hours have passed, remove from the pot, leave to cool and store (for up to 6 weeks) for Yule!

Do you have any Anglo-Saxon-inspired sweets to share?



Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Deepening Night - the new book of the Kingdom of the East Angles is underway

Starting on a new book is always an exciting moment for any author. It's the rewriting, editing and polishing process that gives one grey hairs, and makes you wonder why you put yourself through it.

Of course, you know exactly why you do it - to be able to see your story come to life, and for others to read and enjoy the novel once its finished. At least, that's why I write. I love sharing my stories with others.

The Kingdom of the East Angles series has, in many ways, been very easy to write. These days, I plan and research meticulously before I ever sit down to write. I employ a far more 'businesslike' attitude to my writing. I schedule writing time, and I stick to it. I also keep records of my writing, so that I can get a sense of when, where and how I'm most productive. Plus, it helps that these stories are gritty, romantic adventures set in my favorite era - they're great fun to write!

I'm very excited about my new project - the last of The Kingdom of the East Angles series - The Deepening Night.

The Kingdom of the East Angles is a series of historical romance novels set in Anglo-Saxon East Anglia. These are stand-alone novels set around the lives of actual East Anglian Kings: Raedwald, Sigeberht and Annan, and spanning eight years, from 624-631 A.D - at a time when the East Anglian kingdom's power was beginning to wane under the threat of Mercia.

Dark Under the Cover of Night, the first story in the series, begins in 624 A.DThe novel takes place at the end of King Raedwald reign (the king thought to be buried in the Sutton Hoo longship), and is the story of Raedwyn and Caelin: lovers who are kept apart by feuding fathers. The second novel in this series 

Nightfall till Daybreak, takes place five years after the first story. This novel is centered around King Raedwald's stepson, Sigeberht, who returns to Britannia from exile in Gaul to take back the East Anglia throne for the Wuffinga family. This is the tale of Freya and Aidan, a slave and a warrior, and of the king who rules their fates. 

The Deepening Night is the third, and final, story in this series. This tale begins in the spring of 630 A.D., and is the story of Annan - the proud East Anglian king who must 'bend the knee' to Mercia - and Saewara, the sister of Annan's enemy. 

Here's a sneak peak at the cover art for the novel. Click on the image to find out more about Annan and Saewara's story.

Right - back to writing!



Saturday, 21 September 2013

Two famous quotes from Anglo-Saxon England

I love Old English - the language of Anglo-Saxon England. In many ways, I wish we still spoke it!

I couldn't resist using two famous quotes, one from The Wanderer and the other from Beowulf in my historical romances set in this era.

I based the title of Dark Under the Cover of Night, and the idea of the end of a reign of a great king, on this quote from The Wanderer.

I based the character of my hero in Nightfall till Daybreak on this quote from Beowulf.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Goodreads Giveaway - Nightfall till Daybreak

Enter to win one of three paperback copies of Nightfall till Daybreak in this Goodreads Giveaway!

A slave, a soldier and a king at war with his conscience...

Nightfall till Daybreak is a tale of duty, love and courage in Anglo-Saxon England.

It is the spring of 629 A.D. and the Kingdom of the East Angles is in turmoil. Ricberht the Usurper has killed the king and taken the throne - an act that will change the lives of three individuals forever.

The slave: Freya, red-haired and wild, meets an arrogant young man on the East Anglian shore. Days later, she finds herself torn from her old life and turned into a king's slave.

The soldier: Aidan of Connacht leads an army across the water to take the throne for his lord. It is a journey that will test more than his courage.

The king: Sigeberht, the exiled stepson of King Raedwald of the East Angles returns to Britannia for vengeance - but discovers that reckoning comes at a price.

In a world dominated by bloodshed and war, will any of them find peace?


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Nightfall till Daybreak by Jayne Castel

Nightfall till Daybreak

by Jayne Castel

Giveaway ends July 05, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Thursday, 6 June 2013

BOOK LAUNCH: 'Nightfall till Daybreak' now available on Amazon Kindle


Wes hāl! Greetings! (in Old English).

My latest historical romance, Nightfall till Daybreak, is now available on Amazon Kindle - and the paperback will be also be available in a couple of days on Amazon!

This love-story is set in 629 A.D. in Anglo-Saxon England, and is Book #2 of the Kingdom of the East Angles series. These three books are set around the lives of actual East Anglian Kings: Raedwald, Sigeberht and Annan, and spans eight years, from 624-631 A.D. - at a time when the East Anglian kingdom's power was beginning to wane under the threat of Mercia.

Nightfall till Daybreak (which can be read as a standalone novel) takes place five years after the first story, Dark Under the Cover of Night. This story is centered around King Raedwald's stepson, Sigeberht, who returns to Britannia from exile in Gaul to take back the East Anglia throne for the Wuffinga family. This is the tale of Freya and Aidan, a slave and a warrior, and of the king who rules their fates.

Although the lovers: Freya and Aidan are purely figments of my imagination (even if I'd like to think they really did exist), many characters within this novel are based on real historical figures. All of the following 'real people' play an important role in the novel: King Sigeberht; his co-ruler, Ecgric; the monks, Felix of Burgundy and Botulf of Iken; Sigeberht's step-cousin Annan; and the bloodthirsty Mercian King, Penda.

Of course, in the name of telling a good story I have stretched a few facts, embellished events and shortened timelines. Botulf set up his monastery at Iken a few decades later than in this story and Sigeberht actually ruled from 629-634 A.D; but for the purposes of my tale I pack his six-year reign into one eventful year.  

Nightfall till Daybreak is based around Sigeberht's actual life; in fact it was his story that gave me my first inspiration for this novel. The lovers came later - it was Sigeberht who initially caught my attention.

Sigeberht gets a mention in Dark Under the Cover of Night, the first novel in my Kingdom of the East Angles series. He was King Raedwald's stepson, who the king had exiled to Gaul when Sigeberht was still a youth, fearing that the young man might try to claim the throne over one of Raedwald's own sons. Sigeberht lived in Gaul for many years. Nightfall till Daybreak begins after the murder of Sigeberht's step-brother, Eorpwald, the current King of the East Angles. The 'usurper', Ricberht, had taken the throne and Sigeberht sailed across the water to Britannia, to take it back for his family.

Sigeberht killed Ricberht, took back Rendlaesham and was crowned. However, Sigeberht's new life did not sit well with him. In Gaul, he had dedicated himself to religious studies and he eventually left Rendlaesham to set up a monastery and Beodricesworth (now Bury St. Edmunds). He left a relatively unknown individual - Ecgric - to rule in his stead. Sigeberht eventually abdicated, took his vows and dedicated himself to teaching young boys how to read and write Latin - but, unfortunately, he could not throw aside his responsibilities so easily. When the Mercians, led by King Penda, attacked East Anglia, Sigeberht was dragged from his monastery and onto the battlefield. He refused to bear arms and went into battle carrying only a staff. The rest, as they say, is history...

Many years later, Sigeberht was sainted. His feast day is on 29 October.

In all my novels set in the Anglo-Saxon period, I enjoy using actual historical events and figures to drive the story forward. Although these are romances, with the love story as the enduring theme, there is something exciting about reliving (or rewriting) history. This period of British history is shadowy and not particularly well documented. The main source for this period came from Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which was not completed until the 730s, and was written from a religious perspective - however I found this lack of detail freeing rather than constricting. The fate of the lovers, Freya and Aidan, is intertwined with Sigeberht's. Freya is his slave and Aidan is one of his most trusted retainers. Sigeberht's choices directly affect them; either driving Freya and Aidan apart or bringing them together.

Find out more about this story by clicking on the cover image below, or visit my website: www.jaynecastel.com

Book #2 Kingdom of the East Angles

Book #1 - Kingdom of the East Angles


Sunday, 2 June 2013

Coming soon! Book launch in 4 days...




The next book in the Kingdom of the East Angles series, Nightfall till Daybreak, will be available on Amazon Kindle on 7 June 2013. This novel takes place four years after Dark Under the Cover of Night (Book #1), but can be read as a standalone.

 During the research of this novel, I discovered the following fascinating facts about Anglo-Saxon England.

Did you know that...

  • in Anglo-Saxon England, the main meal of the day was usually at midday. Most meals consisted of pottage - an unappetizing vegetable stew that was most likely cooked for hours in a pot over the fire pit.
  • only noblemen could afford swords, and only freemen were allowed to carry a spear
  • the shield wall was a purely Anglo-Saxon method of warfare, and not used in continental Europe
  • Winterfylleth - Winter Full Moon - was the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Halloween. Folk would burn great bonfires and leave their doorways open to allow the dead to enter. Torches would be placed in doorways, guiding in the good spirits and deterring the evil ones. They would leave jugs of milk, mead or wine, and a offerings of food, on their hearths. Winterfylleth signaled the beginning of Blotmonath, Blood month. The day after the first winter full moon, folk would perform rites to Hela, the Underworld Goddess who raised the dead - and the day after that Woden - the father of the gods - would ride his eight-legged horse through the mortal world
  • Winterfylleth heralded the coming of winter but Beltaine celebrated the spring. Beltaine was a yearly fertility festival dedicated to Bel - god of light, fire and the sun. Folk would sing and dance around the Beltaine bonfire, and would burn the Wicker Man, a giant effigy made from wicker and straw, upon it. Beltaine was the eve of life, fertility and joining, and as such, many couples would go 'green gowning' - running off into the woods to make love.
Nightfall till Daybreak is a tale of duty, love and courage in a world dominated by war.

Find out more on about the story here.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Making a Book Trailer

I enjoy the creative aspect of self-publishing, especially having a go at designing book covers and, more recently, a book trailer. Although, I'm no expert at creating videos, I have to say I enjoyed the whole experience - especially distilling the novel's theme into a clip that runs for just over a minute.

I tried to keep the text and imagery as simple as possible, using AVS Video Editor. I bought the images from www.istockphotos.com and used podsafe, royalty-free music courtesy of www.musicalley.com

Part of the video-making process was having a look at other book trailers out there. Some are wonderful, but have obviously had big budgets - especially those that use customised animation! Mine cost around $50 (the AVS Video Editor license fee and the istock photos). I felt that some of the lower-budget trailers I viewed on YouTube were too long (I really think anything over a minute and half gets boring for the viewer) and were overambitious with the use of fonts and images. Many trailers also try to squeeze in the whole story, whereas I see it more as a taster.

So, here is the trailer for Dark Under the Cover of Night. Bear in mind that it's a first effort, but any comments or suggestions would be welcome! :-)

  video

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Guest blog at Night Owl Reviews

In my guest blog at Night Owl Reviews, I wrote an article about 'Romantic License' in historical romance - blending fact and fiction. Achieving a balance between historical accuracy and romance can be a challenge, especially in an age where life was considerably rougher than now. Like one of those who commented on my blog noted, romance readers don't want to know that people never brushed their teeth, or had a bath once a year! Whereas a main-stream historical novel must be truthful about these things - historical romance can't get away with it!

I've always enjoyed love stories with a bit of grit in them. Although we read romance for escapism, I want the setting to have enough realism that it becomes a protagonist itself in the story. Maybe it's because I also read a lot of fantasy, especially epic fantasy, and enjoy the 'romance' of a character interacting with his/her environment in a way that we never could in modern-day society.

In Anglo-Saxon England (the setting of Dark Under the Cover of Night), I like to show pagan beliefs, and how they impacted on everyday life. Even though Christianity was slowly encroaching at this time, the Anglo-Saxons worshiped their own gods: Woden, Thor and Freya, among others. Their celebrations were linked to the passing of the seasons. Such celebrations included: 'Mother Night' at Yule, Beltaine (May Day), Litha (the summer solstice) and Samhain (to celebrate the 'death of summer' - these days we know it as Halloween). There was something sensual about these celebrations, an earthiness that lends itself to romance. In Dark Under the Cover of Night, our heroine, Raedwyn, takes part in the Yule celebrations. She dances around the great bonfire and helps prepare the honey-seed cakes and other sweets that are round and golden like the sun, to help entice warmth back into the world. Details like these really do cement a story in a time and place.

If you'd like to read more details about blending fact and fiction in historical romance, or would like to enter a content to win a copy of Dark Under the Cover of Night, visit Night Owl Reviews (they are running the contest until 8th February).