Book Review: King’s Gold by Michael Jecks

King's Gold (Knights Templar, #30)King’s Gold by Michael Jecks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well researched: a story well told.

Historical fiction has always been my favourite genre since I first read Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff when I was eight years old. I have my favourite authors in this genre and Michael Jecks has just added his name to my list.

He is a true master of historical fiction. And, having met the man, I can report that he is a modest master. He took the time to speak to me, as an equal, although I know that I am not, while we were both attending the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in 2016. That encounter has not influenced this review.

There are many murders in this gory story, yet it all seems very authentic and realistic. It is certainly very well researched. The author has put a lot of effort into getting it right.
Initially, it is difficult to get to grips with all the characters and their inter-relationships. There is political wrangling and, as per the modern day, the banks are very powerful. Even within the family-run bank, there is internal conflict.

True to history, King Edward II has recently been forced to abdicate in favour of his young son whose regent is his mother, advised by her lover, Sir Roger Mortimer.

Throughout the whole novel, we are set to wonder about the motives of those who seek to rescue Edward of Caernarfon, as the King has become, imprison him, assassinate him, re-install him as King. In the main, it is also difficult to work out who are allies and who are foes. This is deliberate and effective. Almost to the very end, you, the reader, are solving the puzzles.

This is a great read. I highly recommend it to all fans of historical fiction, especially of the medieval era.

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Book Review: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark MatterDark Matter by Michelle Paver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure that I would like this book as I read the first ten pages, but it gradually drew me in until I knew that I could not escape!

The opening is a letter to a journalist from Algernon Carlisle, a survivor of the ill-fated 1937 expedition to the deep Arctic Circle, which denies the existence of Jack Miller’s journal. He admits that Jack wrote a journal during those continuously dark days in the far north, but, although it would probably explain a lot, he knows not what happened to it and requests that the journalist backs off.

Almost the whole of the rest of the book is a transcription of Jack’s mysterious journal.

All the way through, I was wondering if Jack also survived, or if his journal was found next to his lonely, dead body, or of numerous other possibilities. Did Algernon have the journal, and have good reason to hide it? After all, he was now an aspiring post-war politician.

When I was a child at boarding school, we used to try to terrify our friends with our imaginative ghost stories. I therefore regard myself as a bit of an expert in the potency of such stories. Let me tell you that this rates as a powerful ghost story.

It also brings out the beauty and dangers of the cold and hostile frozen north.

I really loved this book, and it was nicely capped off with the author’s notes at the end.

Highly recommended.

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The Challenge Of Describing Scents In Your Writing

Here is a thought-provoking article about the struggle that writers have to describe smells. I would say that the same applies to tastes. I will certainly work harder in the future to stimulate the noses and tongues of my readers.

By the way, I have also been puzzled by the descriptions offered up by wine connoisseurs. Their language is rather pretentious and usually means nothing to me.. They should try harder too!

Nicholas C. Rossis

Scents in writing | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book Image: Pixabay

Of all the human senses, I find smell the hardest to use in writing. And yet, it’s one of the most powerful, as a number of studies have shown it’s hard-wired into our brain, and a shortcut to all sorts of strong emotions. So why is it so hard to find the right word for a smell?

Turns out, I’m hardly the only one in this predicament. As a recent Economist article on scents recently explained, the human sense of smell itself is weak. Scientists suspect this is the result of an evolutionary trade-off in the primate brain in favor of visual procession power. In simple terms, we see great, but we couldn’t smell ourselves out of a perfume factory.

This is of particular interest to humans, as the relative weakness of smell compared with sight extends to language, too. Humans have no difficulty putting names to…

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My Granny was a Lion Tamer

One of Gran’s favourite stories was the Blairgowrie lion.

Blairgowrie is a small town to the north of Perth. It is very famous for being the berry capital of Great Britain. The best raspberries and strawberries in the world are grown in the locale and picked by seasonal travellers who just appear on the scene every summer. It’s second claim to fame, as ar as we kids were concerned, was the best Italian ice cream ever. Whenever we passed through the town, we were lucky to be treated to an amazing ice cream.

Lesser known in Blairgowrie’s history is the episode of the escaped lion. Chipperfield’s Circus once toured the country and included many live animal acts. These days, travelling circuses have a completely different character and the performers are all human. That’s quite right, as, on reflection, the training and use of animals, although spectacular, was cruel.

One day, when the circus was in town, a lioness escaped and wandered around the town. Naturally, everyone was alarmed and retreated behind the closed doors of shops and houses.

My grandmother was unphased, mainly because she had no idea of the danger that the big cat posed. She had no idea that this was a killer. “It was so sweet!”

The streets were deserted, apart from Gran and the lioness. Some of the folk opened doors and windows to shout warnings to Gran. Most looked on in horror, fearing her inevitable demise.

Gran walked, fearlessly, toward the lioness.

“Come on, pretty kitty,” she urged, in her gentle Highland lilt. “Come back to the circus, where you belong.”

The lioness backed into the entrance of the tailor’s shop and meekly lay down, purring loudly.

Gran continued to talk to the peaceful cat until the trainer arrived to take her away.

It was in all the papers and Gran never thought much of it.

At least, that is the story that she told us. My grandfather, shamelessly, supported her account.

The truth of the matter is that a lioness really did escape from Chipperfield’s Circus, but that happened in 1905. Gran wasn’t born until 1910 and she only lived near Blairgowrie for a few years on her migration path between Bonar Bridge and Perth in the 1940s. We think that she must have heard the story while she lived there and adopted it for herself just to entertain us, her grandchildren. As she told it so often, she started to believe her own involvement.

We certainly believed it and it definitely entertained us.

The big bonus for me was that one of the many cuddly toys that Gran made for us was a lion pyjama case, complete with mane. I loved Leo, my cuddly lion, as much as I loved the woman who stitched him together for me. He stayed with me until I was well into my thirties, when he fell apart.


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Granny’s Greatest Embarrassment

My grandmother was a gentle soul. She was a humble Heelan’ lassie with no pretentions. I never heard her raise her voice. She was very kind to me and my sister. She was also very naïve and as pure as the driven snow.

We called her Lollol, or Loll for short. I don’t know where that came from, but her sisters, my great-aunts, called her Polly the Horse. Maybe, as very young children, we misheard ‘Poll’ as ‘Loll.’

Loll had some stories to tell and she often repeated them. My favourite was the one about what she saw as the most embarrassing moment of her life. It was made even more amusing because I knew that it most definitely wasn’t.

One day, before I met Nandy (our family name for my dear grandfather), I was at the croft on my own. Jimmy the Post came up to the croft with a letter for Pops, your great grandfather. He must have knocked on the door and called out several times before he made his way around to the back of the house. He took me completely by surprise, as I hadn’t heard any of his knocking or calling.

It was terrible! He caught me gnawing on a chicken drumstick, holding it with my bare hands! That is not the behaviour that one would expect of a young lady in those days.

I dropped the drumstick on the ground and apologised. Jimmy just chuckled but I could tell that he was almost as embarrassed as I was. I don’t think that I stopped blushing all day.

To make matters worse, when I walked down to Bonar the next day, people were imitating me chewing on that chicken leg, held with bare hands. Jimmy had obviously spread the news, as is a postman’s wont.

Most people, in this day and age, would be amused by Loll’s story and be left wondering why she should be so embarrassed by such an incident. But, as I told you earlier, dear reader, this was definitely not the most embarrassing moment of my grandmother’s life.

When my sister and I were in our early teens, we lived in North Anderson Drive, an gentile suburb of Aberdeen. Our mother and step-father went away for a week, driving around the Highlands in a repeat of their honeymoon. Loll and Nandy came up from Perth to look after us.

At the time, we had a blue point Siamese cat called Susu, Malay for milk.

We have no idea where it came from, but our grandmother got a word into her head which she attached to Susu rather than her correct name. The word was ‘Scrotum!’ Sometimes, she would corrupt this to ‘Scrottie.’

Every time she called the cat, my sister and I would be suppressing our giggles. It was painful.

In the evening, Loll would stand outside our back door, in that almost silent, posh suburb of Aberdeen, calling shrilly, “Scrotum! Scrotum! Come on little Scrottie! Where are you? Scrotum! Scotum! Time for tea, Scrottie.”

We wondered what our neighbours would be thinking. On one side of us lived a consultant surgeon who was also a professor at the university. On the other side lived a very famous Scottish singer who often appeared on television and performed in concert halls all over Europe.

Eventually, our parents returned and our grandparents departed on the road south. As soon as their car had disappeared around the King’s Cross roundabout just to the south of our house, the esteemed surgeon came running into the driveway.

He tears of laughter flowed as he reported Loll’s behaviour to my startled mother.

From that day on, whenever our grandmother related the story of her ‘most embarrassing moment,’ my sister and I would exchange glances and supress our laughter. To the day she died, we never told her that she actually had a moment which should have been much more embarrassing.

I love that woman more than any other.

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Granny’s Wealth

When my grandmother moved to the Fair City of Perth, she believed that she’d arrived in some great metropolis. Any reader who knows Perth in Scotland will be puzzled by this statement, as they will know that we are speaking about a very small city. However, you must understand that my grandmother came from a small croft in the Highlands, near to the town of Bonar Bridge, about forty miles north of Inverness.

The bustling life of Perth was quite befuddling for her.

Her first shopping trip to the High Street, with her wicker basket over her arm, ended with some purchases from the butcher’s shop. When she emerged onto the pavement, she spent thirty minutes waving at passing buses. The drivers either ignored her, waved back, or gave her a thumbs-up and a wide smile.

Eventually, the butcher, who had been puzzled by her strange actions, left his shop ad approached her.

“Excuse me, Madam. Are you trying to catch a bus?”

“Yes. But none of them will stop for me.”

“That’s because you have to stand at a bus stop.”

“I don’t know what you mean. What is a bus . . . stop?”

He pointed. “Those poles over there. And you have to be standing at the correct one.”

 “How do I know which is the correct one?”

“Where are you going?”


He smiled.

“Where do you live”

“33 Needless Road.”

“Ah! You need to be on the other side of the street. That middle bus stop is the one for you. When you see a number ten bus coming, just hold out your hand and it will stop for you. It goes up Glasgow Road. Tell the driver that you want to get off at the top of Needless Road. He’ll let you know when you reach your stop.”

My gran was worried.

“Won’t he take me down to my house.”

The jolly butcher laughed. “No! He has to stick to his route.”

“But I’ve got a heavy basket of shopping. Where I come from, the bus driver, who is also the postman, would take me home if I had a heavy basket of shopping.”

“That doesn’t happen here in Perth, I’m afraid,” chuckled the butcher.

The point that I am trying to make to you is that my gran was an incredibly naïve woman. Despite this, she was also an incredibly insightful woman. There was a day when she inspired me with one of the wisest pieces of wisdom that I have ever heard. She imparted the true meaning and origin of the word ‘wealth.’

It was on a day when I was bemoaning the unfairness of how much wealthier some people were than others. She was unimpressed by my undisguised envy.

“Do you know the real meaning of the word, ‘wealth’?”

“Yes. Of course! A wealthy person is one who has many expensive possessions and lots of money.”

“No, Lance. You couldn’t be more wrong. The word is a combination of ‘well-being’ and ‘good health.’ If you are not healthy and you aren’t happy with your life, it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how many possessions you own, you cannot be wealthy.”

When you think about it. This is very true.

My gran had hardly any money. She had the same carpet on her sitting room floor for forty years. Yet she was probably the wealthiest woman I ever knew. And, in my humble opinion, she was definitely the loveliest woman who ever walked this Earth.

I will always love my very wealthy grandmother. 

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Even big businesses are going beyond GDP

At last, the World Economic Forum have recognised that GDP and endless, continuous growth is not the answer to everything. But that doesn’t go far enough.

Read this article for more.

What do YOU think?

Original article by Emily Benson of Green Economy Coalition – 1st February 2018


Photo by Alex Shutin on Unsplash

Fifty years after his death, Bobby Kennedy’s ghost loomed large in the corridors of Davos last month. In a campaign speech shortly before his assassination, Senator Kennedy said that GDP ‘measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile’. Half a century later, the world’s most powerful business leaders have reached the same conclusion.


This week the World Economic Forum – the global corporate elite’s annual get-together in the mountains of Switzerland – admitted that the prioritisation of economic growth at the expense of everything else has led to some unexpected problems. “Decades of prioritizing economic growth over social equity has led to historically high levels of wealth and income inequality”, they declared. “Policymakers should not expect higher growth to be a panacea for the social frustrations that have roiled the politics of many countries in recent years.”

WEF argue that a blinkered focus on GDP as the sole measure of progress has distracted policymakers from serious risks building up in our economies – social alienation, climate change, and biodiversity collapse to name a but few. Indeed, diagnosing the economy on GDP alone is like taking a patient’s pulse, but failing to check if they can see, eat or stand up.

“Decades of prioritizing economic growth over social equity has led to historically high levels of wealth and income inequality. Policymakers should not expect higher growth to be a panacea for the social frustrations that have roiled the politics of many countries in recent years.”
World Economic Forum

To address this, WEF has launched its own new index of economic progress – and it’s actually pretty good. Their diagnosis of a healthy economy reaches beyond productivity and earnings alone, to also consider social progress – including the size of the income and wealth gap – and environmental protection, including carbon intensity and the preservation of natural assets. So, in the language of economists, the WEF index looks beyond mere financial capital, to include social and natural capital.

All this marks a big step forward. But, before we sound the trumpets, a note of caution is needed. Because the new WEF index, while a good start, massively underestimates the scale of the problem.

Not all capitals are created equal

In a recent report commissioned by the Green Economy Coalition, a team of Oxford economists found compelling evidence that national wealth, in the broadest sense, may be far more dependent on healthy natural systems than we’d thought. In short, without a flourishing natural capital base (healthy soils, water, air and the rest), neither human or financial value is possible.

But most economic models – including the new WEF metrics – continue to downplay or ignore the interactions between the different capitals. Such models assume that natural capital can easily and indefinitely replaced by man-made value: that technological solutions, for example, can replace our economic dependency on the natural world. This turns out not to be true.

Natural capital metrics are deeply flawed

Second, and more starkly, the economists showed that natural capital is not being accurately measured or valued. When it comes to nature, we simply don’t have much data to guide us, especially in the context of ecological tipping points and thresholds.
In part, this is because it is difficult to model and measure complex ecological systems. But it’s also because things like pollination, clean air, and healthy soils are effectively valued as worthless by most economic models. Since these essential natural capitals are poorly understood and inadequately measured, they are assigned no value in traditional economics. And, as any traditional economist will tell you, things that are priced at zero will be over-consumed.

Despite the best efforts of ecological economists, the real value of natural capital is still being wildly underestimated, if not ignored outright. Our research concludes that while natural capital is essential for our economies, most estimates of the state and value of this most precious asset are deeply flawed. As a result, governments have no way of knowing the status of their most important asset. They are, in effect, flying blind.

Getting practical

WEF’s belated recognition that obsession with GDP has distracted decision makers from far more pressing challenges is welcome, but more needs to be done. Happily, the way forward is clear. Competent economic management depends on decision makers understanding the status of their greatest asset – nature. Measuring, and valuing, the stocks and flows of natural capital must be a top priority. Many countries are already leading the way – from the UK’s Natural Capital Committee, an independent advisory group that reports straight into Treasury, to the proposed Natural Capital Law in Costa Rica.

As countries go “beyond GDP”, it is key that they are guided by common outcomes. For the first time in history, we now have an agreed benchmark of what constitutes a healthy, fair and green economy. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by all nations, should provide the ultimate benchmark by which governments and companies can grade their performance.


Fifty years ago, Robert Kennedy decried GDP figures that were inflated by “air pollution and cigarette advertising… the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl… napalm and nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police.” His words remain grimly prescient. Yet perhaps the news from Davos is a sign that the business elite is finally coming around to a truth Kennedy knew all along: that the single-minded pursuit of economic gain is no basis for a sane, safe, civilised society.

Emily Benson

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