Strongholds, Sea, Sand. And Swordmakers

Sarah opens up on the tortuous route of the author’s imagination…towards swordmakers


Every author needs it. Something that sparks the imagination and begins the tortuous route that leads to a full novel. It might take months, or even years, but we all have to start somewhere.

For every book.

This is the story of one such route to inspiration

It started with a castle. This castle to be exact. Dunstanburgh, standing proud on a windy, sea-battered promontory on the Northumberland coast.

Dunstanburgh Castle and rolling waves

Northumberland is thick with castles and one autumn, years ago, I went on a castle hunting holiday. I  had seen Alnwick, Bambrugh, Warkworth, several pele towers and one or two hill forts, but it was Dunstanburgh that caught my heart and my imagination.

Dunstanburgh Castle, sea and sand

We started from Embleton and walked the long, sandy beach with the white-crested breakers rolling in.

Sea, sand, scope for galloping hero

Imagine hero, booted and spurred, galloping…

It was cold as only the coast can be, but warm coats, sunshine and the enticing ruins ahead kept us going. I was already imagining my hero galloping across the sand.

John of Gaunt Attr. de Kock (1495-1552)

John of Gaunt
Attr. de Kock (1495-1552)




Having read the history, I knew the castle had been built by Thomas of Lancaster in the early 14th century on the site of an iron age fort. It was improved at the end of the century by John of Gaunt.

A route to inspiration for poets and painters…

The castle changed hands several times during the Wars of the Roses, but the sieges it had undergone left their mark and by the 16th century it was already a ruin. It was owned by the Grey family and became popular as a romantic ruin in the 18th century, painted by Thomas Girton and J.M.W. Turner.

It also inspired a poem by Matthew Lewis (author of the notorious gothic novel, The Monk), called Sir Guy the Seeker.ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle from the land side

Raised high on a mound that castle frowned
In ruined pagean-trie;
And where to the north did rocks jut forth,
In towers hung o’er the sea.

Proud they stood, and darkened the flood
For the cliffs were so rugged and steep,
Had a plummet been dropt from their summit, unstopped
That plummet had reached the deep.

Dunstanburgh Castle's sheer drop to the sea

The drop to the sea

Route to inspiration continues…

Gatehouse of Dunstanburgh CastleWe left the beach and cut inland around the base of the castle to enter by what was left of the gatehouse. Still pretty impressive, I think.

Now all this medieval majesty could have inspired me to write a novel of knights and maidens in distress, but my thoughts were turning more to my favoured period, the 18th century.

view from battlements of Dunstanburgh

I spy strangers approaching the gates!



As we walked around what is left of the castle, I could imagine a party of riders riding up to the approach, and guards watching from the battlements.

interior of Dunstanburgh

A little DIY and it would be as good as new!



In my mind I rebuilt the castle into a stronghold for my villain, making use of the existing stone building and of course adding wooden ones into the bailey for minions, etc.

Melinda Hammond sits in window of Dunstanburgh

I also found a window from which my embattled heroine might look out for her hero — not a knight in shining armour, but a Georgian gentleman complete with tricorne hat and a sword at his side!

But here my imagination stopped. I enjoyed wandering around the castle, mentally repairing walls, building stables, checking out the towers and generally setting the scene but the story was not yet written. In fact I had no idea what the actual story was going to be.silhouette of 18th century unknown hero

And I had no hero. Who was he, what was he?

That had to wait until my next visit.

The following spring, we visited a quiet, leafy little spot in County Durham. Shotley Bridge is a small village beside the River Derwent.

Shotley Bridge, home of 17th century swordmakers

Shotley Bridge


River DerwentIn the 17th century a group of swordmakers left Solingen in Germany, to avoid religious persecution, and settled there. The area had good quality ironstone and a wonderful source of water. (The Derwent provides very soft water, good for tempering steel.)

18th and 19th century swords

18th & 19th century swords

Very soon these swordmakers were making the highest quality swords, rivalling both Toledo and Damascus steel. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, their swords were much sought after.

This was the site of one of the earlier factories for steel making but unfortunately, after the industrial revolution they could not compete with Sheffield. The sword works closed in 1840.

Late 18th century cavalry sword (officer)

Late 18th century cavalry sword (officer)



The very last of the swordmakers of Shotley Bridge, Joseph Otley, died in 1896, aged 90.

Apparently the last of the Shotley Bridge steel companies was eventually taken over by the famous makers of Wilkinson Sword.

My hero…

He would be a  man from a sword-making family. He would be taking a consignment of swords to a stronghold in the north of England, a castle held by an opponent of the king (a nod back to the original builder of Dunstanburgh).

Tricorne hate on anonymous face

My hero…

Aaagh — what does he look like?

Well, he’s tall and good-looking (naturally) with very fair hair and blue eyes (the Shotley Bridge swordmakers had those German origins). I leave the rest to the reader’s imagination!

Successful writer has storySo — NOW I had my story!

Well… the bare bones of it. I had real life places for my setting, although I fictionalized them so I could add/remove or rebuild as required.

I threw in a goodly measure of romance (of course) and an added pinch of Jacobite rebellion. It was complete!

All apart from the actual sitting down and writing it, of course.

Snoopy the writer typing

Now, many hours of typing later, the story is written and published as The Bladesmith.

cover of The Bladesmith by Melinda Hammond

So that’s one story put to bed. Now searching for the next one….

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory seeks inspiration

Sarah (aka Melinda Hammond)

Libertà’s Liz Fielding wins Outstanding Achievement Award

Liz Fielding, winner of RNA's Lifetime Achievement Award 2019

Liz Fielding

Libertà author Liz Fielding is to receive the 2019 Outstanding Achievement Award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association at their prestigious award ceremony in London on 4th March 2019.

RNA President, Katie Fforde, said, “Liz Fielding’s books, with their warmth, humour and emotion, have charmed millions of readers. She is a true star of the romantic fiction genre.”

Liz has won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® Award twice; and she also won the RNA’s RoNA Rose Award in 2005.

Liz’s books have sold over 15 million copies, in over 30 overseas markets and in 27 different languages. More info about Liz’s Outstanding Achievement Award here.

Libertà sponsors RNA’s Shorter Romantic Novel Award 2019

We are proud to announce that Libertà is sponsoring the RNA’s Shorter Romantic Novel Award 2019. All the authors in the Libertà hive have strong connections with this genre. Libertà partner, Sophie Weston explained:

Shorter Romantic fiction is as gorgeous as this Fabergé Renaissance egg

Fabergé Renaissance egg
Sadly NOT the winner’s trophy

At its best, short fiction is the Fabergé egg of our genre — intricate, gorgeous and just a little bit magical.
So Libertà is delighted to sponsor this Award, with love and appreciation of the fabulous practitioners of the form — especially those who have done so much for the RNA and are now missing, including Penny Jordan, Sara Craven, Roger Sanderson, Anne Weale, Elizabeth Harrison, Lucilla Andrews and Rosamund Pilcher (in her Jane Fraser incarnation).

Shortlisted books and more information on the Libertà website page here.

Electronic Benefit and Compulsive Micro-editing

boring micro-editing Confession time: I have a problem with compulsive micro-editing;  and I don’t normally believe in electronic benefits.

I am a quintessentially late adopter. Even when I have been pushed through the airtight seal into the orbiting 21st century, I’m not one who expects to find anything much good coming from the new technology at my command.

Mainly, of course, because it’s NOT at my command. It goes its own way. Sometimes it’s too fast for me and whizzes onto the next page, next program. And freezes. Or it’s too slow, so that I lose confidence and try to go back. And it freezes.

This is true of laptops, desktops, tablets, E-readers. The whole boiling. I hate ’em.


Except that they make my writing life just a little bit, well, easier.

Conviction Tiffler Addicted to Micro-editing

Micro-editing, the enemy of the finished bookYou see, I’m a conviction tiffler.

If, like Autocorrect, you don’t recognise the term, I borrowed it from a woman who was once my editor. What she actually said was — in a public restaurant, quite loudly —  “If you don’t stop tiffling with that sodding book, I shall come round with chloroform and forceps and remove it surgically.” Continue reading

A Moving Post (if you’ll excuse the pun) : Liz and Sarah tell all

Moving is never easy

moving day boxesLiz: Moving is a two-way problem. Either you’re upsizing, in which case you don’t have enough furniture, or downsizing, in which case you have too much of everything.

moving van awaits

My Old Man said Follow the Van…




Sarah: To make things worse, I moved twice within twelve months (I know, madness, but we had A Plan… more of that later).

moving boxes ready to load

Liz: Aargh! I have just downsized from a five bedroom, four reception house to a two bedroom flat. I had too much of everything and what I’d have liked to have kept was mostly the wrong size. Where on earth do you start!

moving preparationsSarah: I know exactly what you mean!  We had a dream of moving to the west coast of Scotland but we had no property in mind when we moved out of our old house, so no idea what we would need to keep. All I knew was that we would not need much Continue reading

On the Beautiful Blue … Nile? Temples, Gods…and Balloons

Listening to the New Year concert from Vienna, and in particular to the lilting Strauss waltz, On the Beautiful Blue Danube, I was struck by a subversive thought: the Danube isn’t BLUE.
Danube at Budapest and text: on the Beautiful Blue Danube?

(The image above isn’t Vienna either, it’s Budapest. But that greeny/brown river is the Danube.)

And I was reminded of a trip on a river that is actually blue and which has inspired many stories over the centuries. This was my subconscious providing the inspiration. Again.

On the Beautiful BLUE … Nile?

Continue reading

Characters In the Shadows

Characters in Shadow - people at airport, in silhouette

As a story-teller, my process begins with a character. It is then my job to bring them out into the light of day.

Sometimes I know him or her well.

Sometimes I’ve just eavesdropped on a conversation or a thought. The whole person is still deep in shadows, waiting to reveal who he really is.Characters in the Shadows + napoleon

Stage Two is when I start to think about the What Ifs.

Sometimes this will be background and setting stuff –  like what if my hero stumbles across Napoleon? Or the Hadron collider? Or an international conspiracy?

But usually it’s more personal. Characters in novels are awkward sods.

What if my character insists on making a different choice from what I expect? Continue reading

Inspiration : writing ideas and the subconscious

Readers are fascinated by writers’ ideas. Where do you get them from? they ask.
Over and over again.gothic fantasy woman candle mist ideas

Sometimes we writers know. And sometimes — to be frank — we don’t.

How many of us have woken up in the morning with clear ideas about a new book and no inkling about how those ideas came to be? How many of us have more ideas jostling about in our brains than we can deal with?ideas light bulb

For most of us the difficulty isn’t finding the ideas, it’s turning them into a coherent story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Here’s a case in point.

Ideas? Silver shreds for starters…

It began quite a long time ago. And it was all the fault of my crit partner, Sophie Weston of this parish… Continue reading

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night party by PhizI am posting this on Twelfth Night. Well, at least, what my family have always called Twelfth Night. That’s the 6th January. It is a family birthday in our house, so it kind of sticks in the memory.

Only — maybe Twelfth Night is 5th January. The Anglican Church think that’s the right date.

SO WHEN is Twelfth Night?

Continue reading

Broken Resolutions : the Libertà Hive Comes Clean

new year fireworks happy new year from libertà message

New Year’s Resolutions. Broken Resolutions?

New Year resolutions about to become broken resolutions?How many of us have resolved to become a better, slimmer, fitter, kinder person in the year to come? And how many of us have broken our resolutions and admitted defeat before a month — possibly a week — is out?

If you haven’t, dear reader, you’re a very special kind of person and a cut above the rest of us 😉

girl in despair as result of broken resolutionsHere in the hive we’re fully prepared to admit our failings.

So our resolution for this year — coming a little early in our Sunday blog, because 1st January occurs on a Tuesday — is to come clean about (at least some of) the broken resolutions from our past.

Asked to confess at least one broken resolution of previous years, this is what the hive members said. Feel free to gloat… Continue reading

Rosie M Banks Interview

Rosie M Banks, mysteryRosie M Banks is a mysterious figure. In theory she is a writer of fiction (romantic) created by another writer of fiction (humorous). She is not even a major character in any of his novels. But she inhabits PGW’s world as solidly as Bertie or Lord Emsworth, albeit at considerably further distance from the reader.

Last week, I looked at her first appearance along with many other romantic novelists who figure in Wodehouse World. Though she stands head and shoulders above the others.

This week, as a Christmas treat – mainly for myself, I admit – I thought I would ask this towering figure of our genre to speak for herself.

Hello from Rosie M Banks

Rosie M Banks romanticRMB  How very kind of you, Sophie. Libertà Books is one of my favourite websites. I’m very honoured to be asked.

SW [you get the feeling she has been interviewed many times before. Many, many times] Our pleasure, Ms Banks. First question, if I may: did you always want to be a romantic novelist? Continue reading