Category Archives: The Flame Before Us

Interview – Labayu

Cover - The Flame Before Us
Cover – The Flame Before Us

Here is the next in the series of character studies from The Flame Before Us, presented in the form of interviews.

Today’s interview is with Labayu, a Kinahny man who grew up in Kephrath, but until recently was living among the northern tribes of the Ibriym, in the Galil region. He has recently moved back to Giybon, largest of the Four Towns.

I had been directed to one of the houses in Giybon, but Labayu was not at home. His wife, Ashtartiy, makes me welcome with mint tea and some raisins, and then settles me outside. The corner of the house shades me from the afternoon sun, and a spreading rose curls above the door lintel. Ashtartiy’s mother is inside, and two children, but it is clear that I am not to join them. Domestic conversation floats intermittently out of the door, and I drift on an autumnal reverie.

Finally I see Labayu approaching from the town gate. He strides up to me, welcomes me enthusiastically, and sits beside me. One of the children runs out to hug him, watching me covertly before dashing in again.

“Have you been here long, sir? I was setting snares along the ridge north from here and forgot the time.”

“Not long, and I have been made welcome.” I remember just in time that in his tradition, the house belongs to Ashtartiy rather than him. “Your lady wife has shown me the hospitality of her home. I was not sure if I would find you here. They told me in Shalem that you were often away from the town for weeks on end.”

“Not so much just now. Until early this year I was living north of here, in Ramath-Galil, west of Kinreth. I led a band of men who protected the northern borders of the Land. The Sons of Anath, they called us.”

“Your family were there as well?”

He nods.

“But Ashtartiy hated it. The Ibriym tribes up there have no respect for our customs, and refused to give her honour as mother of the house. As soon as we heard the first rumours of trouble she came back here to her mother’s house. I persevered and stayed longer, but now here I am, as you see.”

“The trouble you mention: that was when the Sherden and their fighting cousins first came into the land?”

“No, no, it was before then. The king of Hatsor heard news of their approach before we did, and set out to scour the land for men to force into his army. Little good it did him, though, for the newcomers swept his troops away with all the rest. But Ashtartiy left at that early stage, in case I needed to escape in haste out into the wilderness.”

He paused, thinking back. Keen to keep the conversation going, I rush on.

“But when these newcomers arrived you were away from that village, I hear.”

“Yes indeed. The headman, Pedayah was his name, he led his people south to avoid the fight. I stayed there to scout what was happening. And because Abiy’el, the warleader of the Ibriym at that time, he wanted me to see if a covenant treaty might be cut. We had no idea who they were, you see, and we had no idea that they were made up of different tribes themselves.”

“Were you able to make peace?”

“Not then. Not ever, with some of their tribes. But we came to an agreement with the Sherden, after a while.”

He pauses, apparently wondering if he should continue, and then rushes on.

“I was the one who was first able to come to peace with them. It was in Shalem. I had pursued a small group of them there with a handful of my men, thinking that they were the enemy. But the people I met wanted peace, and a place to settle quietly on the other side of the River. I spoke with them, and realised that we could find common ground with them. But as for their distant cousins, who fought the Mitsriy along the Sea Road and settled on the coastal plain: with them I fear there will always be hostility.”

“At the village cistern they told me that your men did not all agree with this treaty.”

“They did not. That covenant cost me the friendship of a man I had known all my life. Shimmigar, he was called. He could not forgive these newcomers for an act of cruelty, and he will not accept that they are not all alike. He has not spoken to me since the day we cut the covenant with the Sherden. He stayed in the north of the land, to carry on the fight. I hope he still lives.”

He falls silent for a while, and his face shows the grief of the broken companionship. I let him reminisce for a while before I speak again.

“Tell me of the Sons of Anath.”

“Oh yes. It was Abiy’el’s idea in the first place. He wanted a band of hunters who would protect his people on the fringes of their settled land. North, south and west towards the sea. Not so much east, as many of his kindred still live there. But so few of the Ibriym had any of the necessary talents to fulfil such a task, and so it fell mostly to Kinahny men who were their allies. He called this band the Sons of Anath, so that we would feel that it was our heritage as well as his. I was a hunter and trapper, and my father before me, and he chose me to lead the men in the north.”

“But here you are back in Giybon.”

He grins, and waves a hand at one of the passing village men.

“And very glad to be here. Ashtartiy grew to hate Ramath-Galil quicker than I, but I was not far behind her. It is no place for a man or woman raised in the Four Towns. But that aside, the Sons of Anath had been Abiy’el’s idea, as I said. Now that he has lost his place as warleader, the Ibriym do not know whether to keep the tradition alive or not. Some say one thing and some another, and until they are of one mind I have returned to my traps and snares. And the home of my wife, which I came to miss very greatly in that time out in the wilderness.”

“Would you do it again, if they asked you?”

He pauses for a long time. His two children bring us each another beaker of mint tea. The sun slips down towards the wooded ridges. I look around, knowing that Shalem is away in the distance ahead of me, but unable to see any part of it.

“I maintain my friendship with the Sherden, you know. It was Towanos who first spoke with me, that day in Shalem. I had gone to that room all ready to be their enemy, and to arouse the king of Shalem against them. My heart was changed there by all that I saw and heard. Towanos was the first of the Sherden to take the time to speak with me. We found that we shared a great deal in common.”

We fall silent again. Finally he returns to my question.

“I think not. I was willing to try it for Abiy’el, because I respected him. And he respected us. But the Ibriym cannot agree amongst themselves just now, and I do not know who will emerge as their warleader. We are their covenant allies, and at need we will fight beside them. But just now, I do not think that I would go out into the wilderness again as I did before. My place is here, I think.”

“So these last few months have changed you?”

“Beyond measure. Beyond anything that I imagined at the time. When I was roaming in the north of the land, looking for these strangers who seemed to be invading our land, then when I was rushing south to find Abiy’el and saw the tents and camps of the Ibriym who had fled their homes, something changed for me. There was one night when we saw the signs of a town on fire, my men and I. It was near to Shalem; we feared it might be our homes here in the Four Towns. In fact it was a small village of Shalem, set alight by desperate Ibriym men, and nothing to do with the newcomers. But after that night I decided that I would not leave my home town again except for the most severe need.”

He glances in to where Ashtartiy had come to the door to watch the two of us.

“I am content here, in a way that I never was before. But see, my wife has finished preparing our meal. You will join us, I hope?”

We get up and go inside the house, ducking under the limbs of the rose, heavy with the season’s hips.

This is the last of the current series of interviews – later in the year I hope to do some more with other characters.

Amazon Countdown Deals

Cover - The Flame Before Us
Cover – The Flame Before Us

I am running an Amazon ‘Countdown’ deal on both The Flame Before Us and Scenes from a Life!

The deal is available on both books from Saturday August 8th up until Thursday August 13th, at whatever time of day Amazon sees fit.

Cover - Scenes from a Life
Cover – Scenes from a Life

In both cases the price starts at £0.99 or $0.99 and increases up to the normal price of £2.39 or $3.25 in increments.

As you would expect, you need to buy earlier in the time period in order to get the books at a cheaper rate.

Meanwhile, if you have enjoyed the series of character interviews (which is not yet finished) then you can have your very own kindle or epub versions, available as free downloads from I will be uploading the mobi and epub versions to other sites in time – for the moment leanpub is the only place they are available.

Interview – Hekanefer

Cover - The Flame Before Us
Cover – The Flame Before Us

Here is the next in the series of character studies from The Flame Before Us, presented in the form of interviews.

Today’s interview is with Hekanefer, formerly a Mitsriy scribe attached to a military unit stationed in Gedjet and part of the army responsible for defending the province. He is now living in Shalem.

I find his house amongst a maze of similar ones, in a street close beside the city wall. He has just arrived there at the end of the day. His hands are spotted with inks of various colours, and after inviting me in he disappears briefly to wash his hands. I look round while waiting for him. The tools of his trade are arranged neatly on a table, topped by a bundle of pens and brushes tied with cord.

He comes back into the room with two beakers of beer and passes me one.

“My thanks for your hospitality.”

“The pleasure is mine, and you honour my house by your visit.”

We both drink. “Is the beer to your liking?”

“It is very good. Your own brew?”

“Surely not. I have no skill at that. My brother Ramose brought it from the Beloved Land recently. I have learned to enjoy the wine of this land, as I cannot usually get good beer. This is now only a rare treat.”

“Your parents sent it?”

“Oh no.” He laughs shortly. “Ramose acquired it somewhere in the sedge lands on his journey here. Neither of my parents has spoken to me since I decided to stay in this province, and broke off the marriage promise they had made for me when I was a youth. Look.”

He points to an irregular scrap of papyrus which he has attached to a wall. There is a very short line of writing near the top, too small to read at this distance.

“They were outraged at my decision. If I do not submit to their will and return by the end of the year, they will deny that I am their son.”

“And will you go?”

“No. Too much is happening here. I will not go back there.”

He stands up again and prowls around the room, full of energy.

“I have joined a group of craftsmen here in the city. Another Mitsriy man leads us. We support each other, train one another with new skills, commend our colleagues’ work to attract new patrons. It is good. It is what my people should be doing all across this land.”

He sits again, leaning in close to me to impress his meaning.

“Look now, take the field of war as example. I was with our soldiers, you know. Our chariots – the best men in our detail, chosen for their skill – were defeated by a gang of youths with javelins. It was the end of a way of life. Now, our great king took the lesson into his heart, and he ordered us to learn to fight in the new way. Do you follow?”

I nod, drawn in to the tale by his intensity.

“When we learned to fight like that, we started to find victory. But some of the men shrank back. They preferred to keep to the old ways and die, rather than reach for the new ways and live.”

He sits back, and his voice returns to its original measured tones.

“Well, my parents still cling to the old ways. They would have me hide away beside the River, marry a dull girl for some minor social advantage, and be head scribe for a local farmer, recording weights of crops and the punishment of slaves. I would have none of that.”

I knew a little of his background already.

“So you left your position as army scribe and settled here in Shalem.”

“I resigned on the day we heard of the battle along the coastal plain between my people and these newcomers. But it was not the battle that persuaded me: it was the treaty settlement which did that. We were abandoning the province, in all but name. My people should be out here, leading and inspiring the lands around, not shrinking back behind the Reeds and waiting to see what happens.”

“Are you happy here?” I gesture around the little house and its contents. “With your work? Your life?”

He gets up again and shows me a sheaf of partially finished items. There is a mixture of papyrus, wood, and clay, and a quick glance shows me that his writing spans several different formal styles.

“My work is appreciated. I am commissioned by the great ones of this city and the towns around – they call them daughter towns out here. My skills are in demand.”

“Tell me what you do?”

He pulls out one after another of the items as he replies.

“This is the written form of an oath granting title to land. This is a route itinerary going from Shalem to the holy mountain Tsaphon. Here, I am particularly proud of this one: it is the family record of one of the noble houses of the city, counting back eight generations and telling the tale of each. You will see that most of these items are written in the Kinahny signs. From time to time I still use the true writing, but not very often now.”

As he sips at his beer, I decide to chance the question.

“And your personal life? Now that you have broken off your family’s arrangement.”

He laughs.

“There is a man and wife who fled from Ikaret, who have a daughter. She is pleasant enough, but the parents make it very difficult for me to be familiar with her. And they insist on delaying matters beyond all reason. She and I have been very secretive, and I am fortunate that she was angry with her parents.”

He waves a hand dismissively.

“Some event or other on their journey here: I do not know the details. I treat the affair as a game; otherwise I would have abandoned the pursuit long since. In any case, this is a city, and I was with soldiers when I first arrived. There are other ways to find entertainment.”

He replaces the work in progress on its table and arranges the pots of ink in a neat row, colour by colour.

“This life is exhilarating. My heart is content with all that has happened. This time last year I lived in a narrow place, with the rest of my life planned out. All that has changed. I cannot imagine going back to the Beloved Land for many years yet.”

He pours us both another beaker of beer, and he tells me of his home, far away in another land. For all his bold words, the awareness of loss hovers always in the background.

Next time, the interview will be with Labayu, a Kinahny man from Kephrath who was living in the north of the land as the invaders approach.

Interview – Nikleos and Kastiandra

Cover - The Flame Before Us
Cover – The Flame Before Us

Here is the next in the series of character studies from The Flame Before Us, presented in the form of interviews.

Today’s interview is with Nikleos and Kastiandra, members of the Sherden tribe and now living just outside the village of Yabesh, east of the river that forms the boundary of the Kinahny province. I arrive in the late morning of a festival day. I am directed to their home by a lad who is watching a group of cattle grazing in the fields down beside a stream.

The house is made of rough-cut wood with a few courses of stone at ground level. A wagon, dismounted from its wheels, is built into one side. Nikleos, sharpening some tools outside, sees me approach. He calls back into the house, and welcomes me in.

Kastiandra is already sitting on a stool beside a table, with a very pregnant Kinahny woman standing behind her. Alone among the women I have seen in the camp, she wears a kef, a Kinahny headscarf, and her hair is braided into tails underneath it. Forewarned about their customs, I ignore the women and sit where Nikleos indicates.

“My thanks for your hospitality on this feast day.”

“It is one of the festivals of the land we now live in. We are scrupulous about keeping them, so that both the people here and the land itself will accept us.”

“Your own customs must be very different?”

“Oh yes. There was no celebration for this season in the home of my fathers. I am learning to acknowledge new holy days and the gods who are honoured by them.”

“I am told that you make festival in your own way, though.”

“Oh yes.” He laughs, a great booming noise which fills the little room. “I will honour the spirits of this land, and I will respect their proper days, but I will do so with my own hands and my own heart. I negotiate, but I do not submit.”

I had already heard from others how they would celebrate later in the day – martial games of various kinds in the evening, as the light faded, would give way to music, song, and riddle contests. They practiced at aggression and competitiveness in the common land between their houses, in order to keep ready for the field of war.

“And how have you learned the ways of the land?”

“From my son’s wife, for the most part.” He gestures to the Kinahny woman. “Come forward, Dantiy, and speak for yourself.”

She comes and stands at his side, making sure to position herself very slightly behind him.

“This girl took the heart of my son. Took him right away from the daughters of the clan itself, and came into my wagon to be his bride. Her brother negotiated the terms of the arrangement with me. And look at her now. My wife tells me that there is only a single child in her, but she is big enough for twins. It will be a boy, for sure.”

He rubs his hand over her rounded belly in a possessive manner. Dantiy kisses the top of his head and addresses me directly.

“My brother and I took refuge with the Sherden when we fled from Ikaret. They gave us a home and a place of respect: how should we not share all that we know with them?”

My curiosity was aroused.

“But Ikaret was burned by clans which are like cousins to the Sherden. Has this not been difficult for you?”

“Not for me. Nor my brother. The Sherden are not like some of the other clans. And Yasib and I took our personal revenge by killing the Peleset man who led his tribe to Ikaret.”

Nikleos nods vigorously.

“That was a good fight, and a satisfying end for us all.”

Dantiy smiles, full of her own satisfaction, and I shiver inwardly at the ferocity of her maternal features.

Kastiandra leans forward and looks at Nikleos, waiting until he gives permission to speak.

“That was just after we nearly lost Dekseus. He was in one of the raiding parties, at the time when the Mitsriy learned how to defeat us. The severity of that loss turned the clan aside from war, to look for peace here in the land. My son barely escaped with his life, and many of the other women were grieving that day. We halted at that place and burned many of their bodies. But Dekseus lives, and his child will be among us in a few weeks.”

She looks across at a hawk icon, perched on a stand opposite the door, and makes a gesture of supplication.

“And if you could live through those months again, would you do anything different?”

“I would have trusted Dantiy and Yasib sooner. Perhaps then I would already be holding a grandchild in my arms.”

Dantiy smiles, shakes her head a little, and moves back again to stand beside Kastiandra.

Nikleos laughs again.

“I would change nothing.”

Next time, the interview will be with Hekanefer, a Mitsriy scribe attached to one of the military units charged with defending the province.

Interview – Tadugari and Anilat

Cover - The Flame Before Us
Cover – The Flame Before Us

I thought for my little series of character studies from The Flame Before Us that I would use the interview form. It’s a bit of fun, and something of a departure for me, so let’s see how it works out.

Today’s interview is with Tadugari and Anilat, formerly of Ikaret. It is a warm autumn evening in Shalem, shortly after the Feast of New Wine. They have been living in the city for around half a year. We are relaxing under the shade of some fruit trees, looking west. Nearby, several slaves are gathering fruit, and tending a large bread oven built on to the outside of the house.

Anilat gestures to an open straw basket of flatbread and a pottery juglet of olive oil.

“You must try some, sir. On that long weary journey from Ikaret I craved bread like this.”

I take a piece, so as not to insult my hosts.

“Your life must be very different now.”

They look at each other, and Tadugari answers.

“I am still not accustomed to it, sir. In Ikaret I attended the king every day. The great and the noble of the city came to my house, and in the audience chamber I mediated great decisions and agreements.”

Anilat laughs and rests her hand on his.

“And spied on their secret words when they thought themselves alone in a corner.”

“That too. How else could we negotiate such favourable terms?”

A look of grief crosses his face, and his hands clench. She leans forward, anxious and attentive, obviously keen to avert some habitual emotional plunge.

“Those days will come again, husband. Why, even today you were telling me about the border dispute south of Ayn Shams which you resolved. The king of the city here knows your name, and he has given you a position of trust among his own great ones.”

She turns to me.

“The king’s minister, Abdi-Teshup, is an old friend of my husband’s. On the same day that we arrived he remembered his friendship, and made sure that we had a place to live.”

She gestures around her, at the house and the garden. He snorts.

“How well I know it. Everything we have is his.”

“Not so, husband. It was his provision on that first day for sure, but you have since earned it many times over.”

He nods, his features relaxing again and his voice reverting to its normal measured tones. He stands and looks north.

“But we are exiles, Anilat. You, who are my sweetest love, must live forever in the wilderness and never go back to the verdant plain of Ikaret, nor see the great sweep of the bay that washes it.”

She shrugs, her gaze still on him.

“This is good enough for me. Much better this than to be caught up in the ruin of the city.” She turns back to me. “We both lost so many people who were dear to us in that ruin. Friends and family alike. I consider us fortunate to have escaped with our own children alive.”

He sits again and eyes me shrewdly.

“On good days I look for my former home to rise from the ashes and be restored to greatness. On bad days I think it will never live again, and that the great ships will never drift again into the bay, nor dock at the harbour. It is as my wife says: our home is here, as exiles, needing each day to prove our worth to this city.”

I try to think of a subject that might be less controversial.

“Have your children learned the ways of this city?”

“My daughter, Haleyna, she is pleased with the move.” She looks across at the house. “A Mitsriy scribe, a man we met on that first day here, keeps visiting us. He wants a pledge of marriage, but we have not yet decided. Of course we supervise him: many of the Mitsriy cannot be trusted, and I do not know him well enough to be sure.”

“We already had agreed a lad of Ikaret for her, these last five or six years. But we are almost certain he did not survive. We will wait until the winter for news of him, and we will make this scribe wait for our decision until then. My two sons are being taught war by one of the king’s generals. War has changed since I learned, and the old ways failed us at the city walls. I will have them trained in the new ways.”

“If you had these last few months all over again, what would you do differently?”

He looks down at the table and his voice quavers.

“I would have remained firm of heart for Anilat and my children, instead of losing myself in despair. Or if I could not do that, I would have stayed in the city to die. What came over me was worse than death, and I brought us all so close to ruin before I recovered myself.”

“I would never have let my daughter know that I learned how to kill her.”

I must have looked surprised at the starkness of their answers. Anilat took a deep breath. Tadugari remained silent.

“I thought, just as my husband thought, that death would be better than capture and dishonour. My error was in allowing Haleyna to know of my plan. It should have been my own burden, and I made her share it as well.”

She takes his hand, squeezes it.

“But we are here, all of us together. Ikaret is lost to us, but we keep something of her traditions alive in this house. The outside is that of Shalem, but the heart is Ikaret.

He nods sombrely, then pours me another drink with his own hands, waving away a slave who had approached to carry out the task. We turn to easier subjects, and they entertain me with Kinahny stories until the sky darkens and only flickering oil lamps shed light on us.

Next time – Nikleos and Kastiandra of the Sherden people.

New timeline events

Cover - The Flame Before Us
Cover – The Flame Before Us

Over the weekend I spent some happy moments updating the Kephrath timeline page with the events in The Flame Before Us. This proved to be a little more tricky than I had anticipated – the entire action of the book takes place in rather less than two months, so I had the problem of managing a whole lot of overlapping events.

But that is all done now so everything is up to date!

Over the next few weeks I will be doing a short study of each of the four strands contained in the book – Tadugari and Anilat from Ikaret, Nikleos and Kastiandra of the Sherden, the Mitsriy scribe Hekanefer, and Labayu, who originally comes from Kephrath but is living in the town of Ramath Galil, rather to the north of the area he knows. I’m not quite sure of the format yet but as usual there will be a blend of history and fiction!

A quick post

A quick post for today, highlighting a couple of things. First, the Past Horizons blog has reported some interesting archaeological finds recently.

Cover - Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian
Cover – Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian

One concerns the copper mines at Timna which I touched on long ago in my PhD as an example of how Egyptian and Levantine cultures might interact and share cultural values.

Now originally when this was found, there was a theory that these represented “King Solomon’s Mines”, dating from the 10th century BC (Iron Age). But fairly soon it became clear that the original extraction work had gone on much earlier, in the Late Bronze Age, certainly back to the 13th century and possibly 200 years earlier still. So originally the mines were worked during the period of Egyptian control of the Levant, though certainly it carried on into the Israelite monarchy period. So if King Solomon ever exploited these resources, he was continuing a long tradition, not starting a new one.

Temple area at Timna - Past Horizons blog
Temple area at Timna – Past Horizons blog

But the next assumption was that the enterprise was fundamentally run as an Egyptian colonial outpost, with Egyptian overseers directing a local workforce. This assumption has now been challenged by careful exploratory work. It now seems that the Egyptian presence was considerably smaller in scale, and probably represented a trade outreach rather than any kind of direct control. The Hathor temple shows clear signs of reuse of an earlier holy place, and virtually no Egyptian writing has been found. So the new picture is much more nuanced – the endeavour seems to have been a shared activity between different groups, and it is likely that the technical know-how concerning mining was provided by local groups rather than imported from The Beloved Land.

Finally, I have registered both Scenes From a Life and The Flame Before Us with the audiobook auditioning service ACX. The basic idea is that potential readers flock along to the site, select books which they like and are suited for, and audition for you. Any royalties are split between author and reader. It’s a nice idea, so let’s see what happens next. Should you know anybody keen on going in to such a venture, the two project links are Scenes From a Life and The Flame Before Us.

The Bookshop Literary Festival, East Grinstead

Poster for the literary festival
Poster for the literary festival

This coming Saturday, June 13th, I shall be taking part in a literary festival at The Bookshop, East Grinstead, along with a bunch of other authors from various parts of England, mostly though not entirely the south. The Facebook listing for the event is

I guess many readers of this will be way too far away from East Grinstead to get there, but it would be wonderful to meet up with anyone who is able to make the journey. It is rare in these internet-enabled days to get to actually encounter a person with whom one has enjoyed chat and correspondence for a long time. I shall be there with copies of each of In a Milk and Honeyed Land, Scenes from a Life, and The Flame Before Us, and it looks as though there will be book readings from each of the various authors. Sounds great!

So if you’re able to get the The Bookshop, 22 High Street, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 3AW ( between 10am and 4:30pm on Saturday June 13th, it would be great to see you.

The Bookshop general view
The Bookshop general view

First review of The Flame Before Us

This review appeared last night on the Breakfast With Pandora blog and also on

Cover - The Flame Before Us
Cover – The Flame Before Us
Some extracts…

The time is 1200 BC, and the situation is dire for the established civilizations on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. A large group of marauders invades from the west, destroying Ugarit, the west Syrian metropolis, and threatening the Nile Delta itself, as well as Egyptian vassals in Canaan, including the cities of Gedjet (Gaza) and Shalem (Jerusalem).

These invaders are dubbed the “Sea Peoples” because of their preference for using ships as a means of transportation. Scholars have been divided as to where they come from, but Abbott settles on the hypothesis that they were Greeks. He goes one step farther as well and takes them for the Greeks who attacked and destroyed the legendary city of Troy.

So, ambitious this book is, but in characteristic fashion, Abbott focuses less on sea captains with wind whipping their hair than on what we have come to know after Iraq as “collateral damage:” the ordinary people affected by these events.

To be sure, Abbott can’t resist a scholar’s interest in the Sea Peoples’ ability to defeat conventional chariot-centered warfare. But there are actually zero eye-witness descriptions of large battles. Instead, the on-stage violence, so to speak, is always personal and jarring.

Several threads of characters, two from the sacked city of Ugarit, two from Egypt, two from Canaan, one from Greece, and one of the Ibryhim (Hebrews) form the material for Abbott’s tapestry; there are so many characters, in fact, and the historical situation is so complex, that Abbott helpfully includes extensive explanatory notes at the end of the book.

But despite their number and diversity, each set of personages is distinct and vivid in its own way, and helps to create a full picture of what life must have been like in the uncertain times at the end of the Bronze Age. A surprising tenderness in the face of brutality, loss, and displacement is the emotion that underpins the action.

The reviewer goes on to muse how his favourite character is Hekanefer, the Egyptian scribe attached to one of the Egyptian army units trying to defend the land. I must admit to very much enjoying him myself, especially the different ways he relates to different family members. I have seen several blogs recently doing “meet my character” posts, and this made me think that this would be a good plan for hear. Watch this space…

Kephrath timeline

Some months ago (Timelines and maps, January 2015) I talked about setting up a timeline + map for my Kephrath stories. At that time I was just using some third party pages for which I entered data in some convenient form and then linked to a remote web page. This time around I have done it properly and used a proper Javascript library ( within the context of my own web site – check out for the result. The link is also in the blog menu above…

Some events from In a Milk and Honeyed Land and Scenes from a Life, plus surrounding history
Some events from In a Milk and Honeyed Land and Scenes from a Life, plus surrounding history

Fundamentally this works in exactly the same way as the third party pages, but of course I now have much more direct control over the content and appearance. Basically the source data is supplied in a format called JSON – easy to grasp and prepare, but rather strict and unforgiving about the details of formatting. The JSON data includes not only the events themselves – dates and descriptions – but also the details about colours and layout.

The latest version of Google maps allows you to remove modern artifacts such as roads, country names, and the like, so is ideally suited for me. Or indeed many of my historical fiction co-authors who write about various times in the past.

So far, key events are in place for In a Milk and Honeyed Land, and Scenes from a Life. I am currently in the process of entering the additional data for The Flame Before Us – this book covers only a few months of time, unlike the two earlier books which spanned a considerable number of years. So the dates will be rather squashed together. But of course the beauty of the system is that as I write more books, the new fictional history – and any relevant actual historical events surrounding it – can simply be added in.

The start of The Flame Before Us, plus surrounding events
The start of The Flame Before Us, plus surrounding events

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