Wednesday, January 22, 2014

5 Secrets (What No One Knows About My Book)

Our guest author today is Anna Markland, who is going to share some tidbits about the writing of her book that no one knows--until today.

Anna Markland is a Canadian author with a keen interest in genealogy. She writes medieval romance about family honour, ancestry and roots. Her novels are intimate love stories full of passion and adventure. Following a successful career in teaching, Anna transformed her love of writing and history into engaging works of fiction. Prior to becoming a fiction author, she published numerous family histories. One of the things she enjoys most about writing historical romance is the in-depth research required to provide the reader with an authentic medieval experience.



Thanks for having me as your guest, Beverley. I’m writing today about five secrets/things readers may not know about Dance of Love.
1. Unusual Setting
This book differs from my other historical romances, most of which are set in Normandy and England. This story wanders into the history of Aragon, which in medieval times was a separate kingdom.
So where the heck is Aragon? Mention the name and most people think of the Queen divorced by Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon.
In the Middle Ages, Aragon was a kingdom in the northeastern part of Spain. It included what is now Catalonia. A large part of Spain was still dominated by Muslim peoples. The struggle by the Christian kings of Spain to reconquer Spain went on for hundreds of years, and is also part of the plot of my book, set in 1107.
In modern times, Aragon is a region of Spain that does not extend to the coast.
My hero and heroine cross the Pyrenees Mountains into Aragon from France. It is a land of castles, monasteries and magnificent scenery.
2. Unusual Weapon
A weapon you might not be familiar with plays a central role in the story. A Shamshir is a type of sabre with a curve that is considered radical for a sword: 5 to 15 degrees from tip to tip. The name is derived from Persian shamshīr, which means "sword" (in general). The radically curved sword family includes the shamshir, scimitar, and others.
The shamshir is a one-handed, curved sword featuring a slim blade that has almost no taper until the very tip. Instead of being worn upright (hilt-high), it is worn horizontally, with the hilt and tip pointing up. It was normally used for slashing unarmored opponents either on foot or mounted. The tip could be used for thrusting.
Izzy de Montbryce, the hero of Dance of Love, suffers from debilitating arthritis in his hands. Imagine a warrior unable to wield a sword.
Enter the heroine, Farah, who has travelled from Jerusalem with a shamshir. She is a dancer who uses the blade in her performance of the Sword Dance. The weapon proves much easier for Izzy to use, but for Farah it is a treasure whose value goes far beyond the material. It is a link to her past. Can she part with it when she has to leave Izzy to continue the journey to her destiny?
3. Medieval medicine
Readers might be unaware that medieval Islamic physicians concocted many recipes for the treatment of afflictions such as arthritis. Fortunately, Farah has studied medicine in the east, particularly the treatises of a physician known as Al-Kindi. Abu Yusuf Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi was born in Basra three hundred years before my story, which is set in 1107 AD. His father was the emir of Kufa. He was highly revered as a great physician by Muslim peoples.

Farah compounds one of Al-Kindi’s recipes for easing the pain of arthritis. Here is the medieval recipe for Drug for the Spirits:
(modern weight equivalents included)
Colchicum 12 mithqals 53.53 grams
Leaf of Meccan Henna 1 mithqal 4.46 grams
Caper leaf 1 mithqal 4.46 grams
Pepper 1 mithqal 4.46 grams
Long pepper 1 mithqal 4.46 grams
Cinnamon 1 mithqal 4.46 grams
Indian cumin 1 mithqal 4.46 grams
Ginger 1 mithqal 4.46 grams
Dry Storax ¼ mithqal 4.46 grams
Cuttlefish bone ¼ mithqal 1.115 grams
Sal ammoniac (fossil salt) ¼ mithqal 1.115 grams
Salt ¼ mithqal 1.115 grams
The ingredients of this recipe are pulverized and kneaded with honey. One dose is 5 dirhams (15.625 grams), which is taken with food.
4. Unusual Monastery
While researching the monasteries of Spain for Dance of Love, I found this gem. The monastery of San Juan de la Peña is a religious complex south west of Jaca, in the province of Huesca, Spain. It was one of the most important monasteries in Aragón in the Middle Ages. The monastery is built in a natural cavern beneath a huge rock. Its two-level church is partially carved into the stone of the great cliff that overhangs the foundation. San Juan de la Peña means "Saint John of the Rock".
The second floor contains a royal pantheon of kings of Aragon and Navarre. It’s the resting place of the following kings of Aragón: Ramiro I, Sancho Ramírez, and Peter I of Aragon and Navarre. Sancho Ramirez is the one we are interested in for Dance of Love.
Legend had it that the chalice of the Last Supper (Holy Grail) was sent to the monastery for protection and prevention from being captured by the Muslim invaders.
The background of the book’s cover is the interior of the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña.
5. Well Known Pilgrimage Route
Izzy isn’t the only character with an affliction. Farah herself bears a hideous facial scar. They are forced to embark on a pilgrimage by King Alfonso of Aragon, Farah’s half- brother. The two set off on a route still followed by pilgrims today, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
The Way of St. James has existed for over a thousand years. It was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times. Legend holds that St. James's remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The scallop shell, often found on the shores of Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythical, metaphorical and practical meanings, even if its relevance may actually derive from the desire of pilgrims to take home a souvenir.
The scallop shell also served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. The shell was the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl. It gave them privileges to sleep in churches and ask for free meals, but also warded off thieves who dared not attack devoted pilgrims.


They rode in silence, side by side. Most of their fellow pilgrims were on foot, and of peasant stock, yet they were everywhere greeted with respect and wished Good Journey more times and in more languages than they could count. There were few women among them. It was plain to see many were ill.

While Alfonso’s guide made sure Izzy and Farah were provided with sleeping accommodations that befitted their rank, he suspected most of the pilgrims slept on communal straw mattresses, trying to share warmth, willing to endure the inevitable lice that abounded in such close conditions. Izzy shivered, revolted by the thought of his beloved Farah being subjected to such deprivations.

His anger at Alfonso rose anew in his throat. Farah was too quiet. The journey was taking a great deal out of her and he worried about her health, recalling how ill she had become after the journey across the Perinés. Compostela was still a long way away.

At least they had the means to pay for good food, which he suspected most of the pilgrims did not. Many of them probably drifted off to sleep with less than a full stomach. Food and lodging was supposed to be free for pilgrims, but even well intentioned ecclesiastical orders had a limited ability to provide meals.

Izzy had experienced firsthand the dangers from bandits along the Camino. Peasant pilgrims had no protection from such hazards or from unscrupulous ferrymen, toll collectors and money changers. The so-called safe conduct pass did little to protect them from bad elements.

Potable water was a constant problem and most pilgrims had only shoes, some of them sturdy, some not, a cloak, a staff, a gourd for water, a leather bag, and a wide-brimmed hat. Every one proudly sported the ubiquitous symbol of the pilgrimage, a small scallop shell, around their necks. Izzy refused to wear the token, though Farah wore one tucked into her bodice. She put her hand over it in silent prayer when she thought he was not watching.

Izzy marveled at the resilience of these folk. Travelling the camino on horseback was tiring enough. They had obvious faith in the grueling pilgrimage to the far flung reaches of Spain. Many of them would be away from family, friends, and loved ones for at least a year, if they made it back at all.


TO BUY DANCE OF LOVE go to Amazon; Nook; Kobo; Sony and Smashwords

You can find Anna on these links Social Media

Thanks for checking out Anna and her secrets. If you have any comments or questions, let us know. Anna will be around to answer your questions.

And don’t forget to check back next Thursday to find out even more author secrets.


  1. Anna, I'm blown away by the degree of research you have done for this story. I just bought a copy of this story and can't wait to read it. Thanks so much for sharing your process.

    1. Hi Gemma
      I have a very soft spot for this book. Hope you enjoy it.

  2. Didn't have time to read your post until today, but it is a treasure trove of historical gems. Love to read about your in-depth research and your flawed characters. Thanks for all the info.

  3. Fascinating post. I admire the amount of knowledge and history for this novel. Your books are on my TBR list. Tweeted :)

  4. Wow, the research you've done for this is amazing! I am so looking forward to reading this! Awesome! Tweeted as well!

    1. Hi Lana,
      I enjoy the research almost as much as the writing! That's why I love medievals.

  5. What details you have found out about the period and history of your book. I'm happy that your books follow families and are a series. You've made me want to visit Spain!

    All the best!

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Spain's history is a treasure trove of interesting facts and very different from the rest of Europe. Hope you get to visit.

  6. Anna, Don't you just love the research part of writing historicals? I do. This was fun and interesting to read. I especially like that your heroine has a facial scar--it adds to her 'mystery' as a dancer.

    1. Hi Kaye
      Yes. For a long while she keeps her face veiled, fascinating her hero even more!

  7. Anna: Your historical snippets were fascinating! I just love to read a novel that teaches me some little-known fact about history. I was especially intrigued by the sword, and how you weave its significance into the storyline for a dancer heroine and an arthritic warrior hero. Such a creative -- and unusual - token for two lovers to bond over! Thanks for teaching me something new today. I wish you every success with this fabulous novel!

    1. Thanks, Adrienne,
      It was a pure fluke that I saw a program on TV about the sword just as I was embarking on Dance of Love. I knew immediately it was what I needed to bring the story together.