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Apricots and Wolfsbane

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Synopsis of Apricots and Wolfsbane

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Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies, to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Her morbid desires are balanced with faith since she believes confession erases the sin of murder, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge against her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.

With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder, but the betrayals are just beginning.

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Read reviews from other readers and on Goodreads or read an excerpt below.


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Excerpt

The violent display of convulsions lasted longer than I anticipated.

With my boots propped on the table, I remember watching beads of wax roll down the candle, marking time between my victim’s spasms. The brothel room was sparse, and the bed in the corner remained undisturbed. I had assumed the role of temptress that evening, but delivered a different climax.

I savored the fear on my victim’s face as much as my own unlaced mead. The sweetness of both danced on my palate. His repulsive gagging, however, I endured with patience.

My target focused upon me. His hand shook, reaching out in a misplaced plea for aid. Instead, I raised my goblet in a final toast while he turned purple. He glanced towards his spilled glass, and then studied my face with new understanding. With his last remnants of life, he pieced together what I had done. Those little moments made the act so delicious. And as his body collapsed upon the floor, I added one more success to my mental tally.

Murder just never got old.

The scratching of my chair sliding across the uneven floor broke the sudden, serene silence of the room. Driven by curiosity, my boots echoed with each step towards my victim.

The man’s eyes contained a lingering remnant of vibrancy despite the departure of the soul they once served. White froth percolated from his open mouth, overflowing the orifice to trail down his neck. It was not an honorable death, but my client had paid for certainty, not dignity.

Curious, I examined the large ruby on the victim’s pointer finger which matched the client’s description — an ornate setting with a coat of arms on one side of the gem and a mare’s head on the opposite. The worked piece of silver did not seem important enough to procure my service, but as a professional, I had not asked for justification, only payment. Material significance so often motivated patrons to fill my coffers. I recognized the inherent sin, but I never judged a client’s reason. I was not qualified to cast the first stone.

I did admire my victim. After all, he was a fellow criminal. I believed his talents as a thief must have been remarkable to pilfer the ring unnoticed from the finger of its owner. I often boasted of my own sleight of hand, but admittedly, I could not accomplish such a feat. Though in my defense, assassin clearly trumped thief.

After donning the black leather gloves concealed within the lacings of my bodice, I returned to business. I pushed the tipped chair out of the way and pulled on the ring, but my motion abruptly halted.

Caught at the knuckle, the gem did not budge.

I stared at his limp hand, dumbfounded, before a flame of focus burst through my body. How I craved and savored that rush. That high, and the feeling of power, motivated my ghastly craft all those years. Despite the stress, I never lost control of my emotions on the job. No matter the circumstance, I learned to remain calm and reason through any dilemma. That night was no different.

Grabbing the corpse’s wrist in one hand, I pulled on the metal band with all my strength. Still, the damn ring did not move, even with my heel braced against his chest. But through the sound of my grunting, the unexpected scratching of a nearby rat interrupted my efforts.

The rodent stood tall on his hind legs, observing the entertainment outside his hole in the floorboard. What else could I do except laugh in amusement? There was something poetic about the meager creature being the singular witness to the growing farce, while beyond the chamber door, an entire brothel remained unaware.

But their ignorance would not last for long.

By God’s nails, I was not going to degrade myself to play tug of war with a corpse, nor disgrace my spit to serve as lubrication. I retrieved the dagger from my boot and sawed through the bone of the blasted digit. In contrast, his purse strings cut with ease and the contained sum gave me confidence the proprietor would retain his promised discretion. Eager to depart, I cleansed the ring with the pure decanter of mead and left the contaminated gloves on the table.

I threw the finger to the rat.


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Guest Blog

Guest Blog: “Nice to Meet You” – Insight into the writing process of Katherine Hastings, historical romance author

Today I’m thrilled to be hosting a guest blog by fellow Wisconsinite Katherine Hastings, author of the new historical romance, In the Assassin’s ArmsI am a plotter to the extreme for many of the same reasons Katherine discusses below. Check out her tips, read an excerpt of her new book, and enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift card in the link below!


“Nice to Meet You”

by Katherine Hastings

The writing world is divided between two types of writers… plotters and pantsers. Plotters plan out their entire story before ever typing a word. Pantsers crack their knuckles and let their fingers go wild, discovering the story as they go. Both ways can turn out incredible stories, and I’ve actually tried both. In the end, this writer turned out to be a plotter. I found that by having my entire story sorted out before I start writing allows me to write efficiently and without having to do much editing to the plot when I’m done. All the plot holes and problems are figured out long before my fingers hit the keyboard and I can write without getting hung up as I go.

However, there is one big difference between myself and much of the plotter world. Even though every novel I write is thoughtfully outlined and structured before I type the first word, the one thing I let expand naturally in my writing is the characters. Other than a few basic details about them like their name, appearance, and where they’re from, I tend to leave the rest open to discovery as my story unfolds. When I’m writing my novels, I’m discovering things about my characters the same way my readers do. Like peeling an onion, I learn more about them one layer at a time.

In a recent novel I wrote there is a supporting character who was barely a thought before I started typing. He didn’t even have a name when he entered that first chapter. The only thing I knew about him was that he was going to be a friend to my heroine and a person for her to confide in throughout the novel. When I started typing out his first scene, I closed my eyes and pictured him walking up. I could see him parting the crowd while my heroine discovered him too. When he introduced himself to her, I felt like he was introducing himself to me as well.

Hello, Mark. Nice to meet you, I thought while I examined him closely wondering how he would play out in my novel. As the chapters went on and he developed, I found myself more and more drawn to him and soon he was playing a starring role in my book. While most of my dialogue comes out without much planning or thought on my part, this particular character had a way of speaking and behaving that had me laughing out loud at the crazy things he did and said. Then I laughed harder realizing I was writing him, and yet he someone found a way to surprise me every time he opened his mouth. It’s a bizarre feeling being shocked by something you typed after you typed it. There may have been a few moments when I saw my husband peering over at me with an arched brow while I rolled in laughter at my computer.

“Aren’t you quite entertained with yourself?” he asked one night.

I shook my head. “It’s not me. It’s Mark. He’s hilarious!” I answered, as if the man I was creating on the page was an actual person I had no control over. However, with this character especially, that is exactly how it felt. He just ran around doing stuff and saying things that kept me giggling away while I hustled around behind him trying to write it all down.

Each character of mine has a mind of their own and I love when they take control of my fingers and tell the story the way only they can. As much as I enjoy planning my novels, and as much as I love how easy it makes writing the story, pantsing my characters is one of the greatest joys of writing for me. It allows me to be surprised and excited while I write, waiting to discover more about them and the things they do and say, the secrets that haunt their pasts, and the desires that drive them on. Every time I start typing a new book, I get excited when my character enters a scene and I can smile and say, “Nice to meet you!”


About the Author:

KatherineKatherine Hastings loves love. It’s why she writes romance novels. Getting lost writing a romantic adventure is one of her favorite pastimes. When she’s not on an adventure in her mind with her characters, she can be found at her home in Wisconsin snuggling her husband, two Boston Terriers, and the world’s naughtiest cat. Two things make Katherine want to leave her happy home these days… going for rides on her dressage pony or floating at the beach in her big inflatable raft. Writing her novels while floating in the lake is one of her ultimate pleasures… that and Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, of course.

Website: http://www.katherinehastings.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/katherinehastingsauthor

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/khastingsauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/katherinehastingsauthor/


Synopsis of In the Assassin’s Arms

IntheAssassinsArmsJohn Douglas may be a well-trained political assassin, but he has met his match in the woman he once called a friend. When his childhood playmate reenters his life, she’s not looking to rekindle their friendship… she’s out for blood.

With a vendetta to settle, Charlotte Cornewalle isn’t stopping until she finds the man who killed her father. All signs point to Robert Douglas, the leader of the opposing faction of assassins… and John’s father. To get her revenge, no one will stand in her way… not even the boy she once adored.

Fate forces them together as they fight to prove their innocence and right the wrongs they have suffered. Sparks fly from more than just their swords, but will they be able to put the past behind them? Will they be able to find the truth before it destroys them both?


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Excerpt from In the Assassin’s Arms

“John, you’ve got an untreated arrow wound and you were sitting with it exposed in a dank, dirty cell.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“John,” she cautioned.

He rolled his eyes. “Fine.” He grabbed the bottom of his shirt and pulled it up over his head. Charlie tried not to stare but the sight of him illuminated in the warm morning light proved impossible to ignore. His muscles bulged beneath his skin. Chiseled lines marked every hour of training and practice that had carved him into a near ideal specimen. Only a few old scars marred the otherwise perfect physique.

“You just wanted to see me without my shirt on, didn’t you? The whole, ‘I want to treat your wound’ speech was just a ploy?” He had not been unaware of the effect he was having on her.

Clearing her throat, she looked away. “Don’t flatter yourself. If you’re going to fight at my side, I don’t need you dizzy with fever from an infection. Sit over there.” She gestured to the chair while trying to slow the breathing that had quickened from the sight of him.

“As you wish.” He strolled past her. She tried to act casual while she peered from her peripheral vision for another look at him before he sat down.

“Nurse, your patient is waiting,” he said with a smile.

She stood up, walked over to the bucket of water and pulled out the metal ladle, filling the pot with several scoops of water. She placed it on the spit over the fire and hunted around for a piece of rag. John’s eyes followed her everywhere she went.

“Let’s have a look,” Charlie said as she approached.

“My wound is up here,” John teased, following her gaze to his sculpted abs.

“I’m just looking for more wounds,” she lied.

“Likely story.”

“Do you want me to treat you or not?”

“Yes, go ahead. I’ll stop teasing you.”

“Good.” She leaned down and examined the wound closely. The jagged edges were red and weeping. “It looks infected.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” he said, looking down.

Charlie walked over to the fire and used the torn cloth to pull the pot from the flames. She set it on the table beside him and dipped the cloth into the hot water.

“This is going to hurt,” she warned, holding the steaming rag above him.

“Most of the worthwhile things in life sting a bit.”

“Then consider this very worthwhile.” She pressed the hot rag to his skin. He cringed and grimaced as the water seeped into the wound. “Are you all right?”

“Never been better,” he said through gritted teeth.

Charlie laughed and dipped the rag again. She squeezed the water and flushed the wound. John held his breath through the worst of it. After several rounds of washing, she examined the wound once more.

“I think that’s the best we can do for now.” She wiped the area surrounding his wound with the wet cloth. Her hand moved slowly across his chest, wiping away the dirt and exposing his smooth, tanned skin. She watched his chest expand as he breathed, his muscles flexing with each breath. Charlie glanced up to see his green eyes watching her, her own desire reflected back in them.

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Book Review

Book Review: War of the Roses: Stormbird

StormbirdSynopsis
(Adapted from the back cover)

This is the first book in #1 New York Times bestselling author Conn Iggulden’s historical series about two families that plunged England into a devastating, decades-long civil war.

In 1437, the Lancaster king Henry VI ascends the throne of England after years of semi-peaceful regency. Named “The Lamb,” Henry is famed more for his gentle and pious nature than his father’s famous battlefield exploits; already, his dependence on his closest men has stirred whispers of weakness at court.

A secret truce negotiated with France to trade British territories for a royal bride—Margaret of Anjou—sparks revolts across English territory. The rival royal line, the House of York, sees the chaos brought on by Henry’s weakness and with it the opportunity to oust an ineffectual king.

As storm clouds gather over England, King Henry and his supporters find themselves besieged abroad and at home. Who or what can save the kingdom before it is too late?

My Thoughts

I wanted to love this book which came highly recommended to me by several fans of Tudor historical fiction and perhaps my expectations were too high.

Compared to a history text, this is a vivid recount of the prelude for my favorite period in history. Compared to a fiction novel, the the lack of character development and story line struggled to hold my attention. There is no twist, no foreshadowing, no surprise or tension. I predict a reader’s reaction to this Stormbird is probably dependent upon their expectation at page one.

There are a lot of characters in Stormbird – so many that I’m not sure “character” is the correct description, more name dropping at times. I get it, it’s a complicated historical story, but I still want to be entertained. Because there are so many characters I felt none of them are truly developed. Margaret of Anjou is the closest but she follows a predicable, dull path from naive child to protective queen without significant challenge or conflict. Even though this is a fictional recount of a true story and I knew the ending, I still longed for a character to cheer for or to sneer at. I felt disconnected from everyone which left me unconnected to every event.

That being said, I still finished the book, though I expect that is more due to my love for Tudor history than the writing. Despite being 460 pages (and ~100 pages too long), Stormbird is a fast read. The voice is simple which aids skimming  (which I found myself doing fairly often.)

The Historical Notes at the end were my favorite part. As a historical fiction author I appreciate how Iggulden manipulated history to weave his book and how he reveals what was his imagination and which parts are rooted in historical evidence. The historical notes heightened my appreciate for the piece and left me feeling more satisfied than I expected. It will be a while before I would consider tackling book #2, but I just might…

 

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A Spark of Flash Fiction

The Passage to Publishing; Support for Writers, Editors, and Designers Facebook Group recently hosted a flash fiction challenge to write a 500-word piece inspired by the following photo. I thought I’d share my entry.

(On a side note, that support group is pretty awesome if you’re looking to make some publishing/author friends or want advice.)

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Spirit

Dry grit rubbed between her exposed toes with each shuffled step. Brown dust clung to glistening skin, kissed by the night wind’s song and streaked red with paint from berries. Her rapid breath added to the chorus. A raging heart leading one foot in front of the other, up the hill of her ancestors.

This would be the last pilgrimage. At dawn, she would lead the tribe east towards the rising sun. Towards the promise of fertile soil, herds to hunt, rivers that flowed faster than their horses could run. Towards hope. A flicker of chance. But no assurance.

The dry blades of grass swayed as she summited, beholding the stone arch which had watched over their people for generations. Her black hair swirled in the air, feathers dangling from the locks taking flight once more.

Having reached the peak, her long limbs collapsed to the ground. Longing fingers traced the ornate pattern of rocks embedded into the craving dirt. Tears could not replenish the land, but she let them fall anyways, unable to feign strength any further. Up here she could be weak. Where no one could see her. No one except the elders she came to invoke.

Looking into the sky’s depth, she felt their presence in the twinkling light gleaming down through the black. Each star representing a soul who had faced such trial before. Somewhere her mother was there, and her grandmother, and strong woman before. Someday she would add her own light to the heavens, but not before leaving her mark upon the dust.

And what mark would that be?

Her ears still echoed from cries of resistance. Warriors who shouted uncertainty. Aged women who stayed silent with the fear of leaving home floating in their hollow eyes. But to stay would bring certain death. Their numbers would fade with the fish and bison.

Only the children harbored no opinion. In the plain below, they slept in stick shelters unknowing tomorrow they would leave everything they had known. Yet their hands and backs would bare the greatest burden. The young ones would be counted on to resettle a new land somewhere beyond the horizon. They would bare hardship so their own children might prosper.

And if she was wrong, there would not be a future generation.

“Give me a sign.” Wind lifted the plea. “Show me I do not lead my people to death.”

Without answer, the stars traversed above, white light painted in the sky by the Gods. She found the large bear, and the salmon. The hunter with his arrow drawn and the great white bird whose wings she longed for. But the figures stayed in the heavens where they were every night, silent. The stars. The one constant as the soil turned to dust. The light which still shone each night as rivers dried.

And the stars would follow their journey. A simple truth that rushed into her soul with realization. No matter where they wandered over the coming months, the stars would be there, overhead each night. Their ancestors, their heritage. The stars would provide continuity and reassurance. She could not see beyond the horizon, but the stars could. She could survive each day and lead her people, knowing the stars would be there at night.

Guest Blog

Germany’s First Female Physician. A Guest Post by Historical Fiction Author P.K. Adams

I’m thrilled to host P.K. Adams’ discussion of the inspiration behind her book, The Greenest Branch, which follows the story of Germany’s first female physician.

Greenest Branch eBook Cover LargeSynopsis of The Greenest Branch

In The Greenest Branch the medieval era comes vividly to life in all its romanticism and splendor, but the societal strictures that prevent women from being able to access education and live independent lives are also on display.

The year is 1115, and Germany is torn apart by a conflict between the Emperor and the Pope over who should have the right to appoint bishops and control the empire’s vast estates. In that atmosphere, young Hildegard is sent to the Abbey of St. Disibod in the Rhineland as her parents’ gift to the Church in accordance with a custom known as the tithe.

Hildegard has a deep love of nature and a knowledge of herbal healing that might make more than one Church official suspicious of witchery, and she hopes to purse medical studies at St. Disibod. But no sooner does she settle into her new life than she finds out that as a girl she will not be allowed to attend the monastic school or use the abbey’s library; instead, she must stay at the women’s convent, isolated from the rest of the community and from the town. It might seem that Hildegard’s dreams have quickly come to an end. Yet she refuses to be sidelined.

Against fierce opposition from Prior Helenger, the hostile head of the monks’ cloister, she finds another way to learn – by securing an apprenticeship with Brother Wigbert who runs the infirmary and is in dire need of a capable assistant. Under his supervision, she begins to train as the abbey’s first female physician and makes rapid progress. When Hildegard’s reputation starts to spread throughout the Rhineland, Helenger’s persecution escalates as he fears losing control over the women’s community. But that is not the only challenge she must grapple with. She has also developed feelings for Volmar, a fellow Benedictine novice, that force Hildegard to re-examine the fundamental assumptions she has made about her life. Is the practice of medicine within the monastic confines her true calling, or is a quiet existence of domestic contentment more desirable?

With the pressures mounting and threatening to derail her carefully-laid plans, Hildegard becomes locked in a struggle that will either earn her an unprecedented freedom or relegate her to irrevocable oblivion.

The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the true story of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician and one of the few women to attain that position in medieval Europe. Set against the backdrop of the lush oak forests and sparkling rivers of the Rhineland, it is a tale of courage, strength, sacrifice, and love that will appeal to fans of Ken Follett, Umberto Eco, Elizabeth Chadwick, Margaret Frazer, Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, and to anyone who enjoys strong female protagonists in historical fiction.


 

The Inspiration Behind The Greenest Branch, an account of Germany’s First Female Physician

Guest post by P.K. Adams

I first heard about Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098-1178) in a history of music class in college. Her chants are sublime, and as I fell in love with them I started to read more about their composer – the first woman in the Western world to do so.

It turns out Hildegard did much more than that – she was a pioneer in many fields thus far reserved as a man’s domain. One such field was medicine. She was a skilled herbalist who applied treatments in a way most medieval physicians did not, namely by observing the outcomes of the cures rather than relying on ancient texts for guidance, irrespective of whether they worked or not.

As I researched Hildegard’s life, two things began to puzzle me in the (admittedly sparse) historical accounts. One is that she was enclosed at a young age (possibly as young as eight or ten) at a very strict women’s convent, where the residents lived in enforced poverty and isolation from the world. In such a place, historians tell us, she lived for the next three decades.

This, to me, is hard to believe. The psychological and intellectual toll such privations would exact on a child would be extremely damaging. Yet Hildegard re-emerges in contemporary chronicles, around the age of forty, as an accomplished physician, writer, and composer, and a diligent student of nature. She is already well-known in the Rhineland, and her theological writings are about to catch the attention of Pope Eugenius III. She is also preparing to leave the abbey of St. Disibod, where she had been enclosed, and start her own foundation.

Clearly, something happened during those decades that allowed her curiosity to be fostered, her intellect to develop, and her creativity to flourish. There is no reliable record of her early life beyond the few basic facts of her provenance and enclosure, and that is what inspired me to imagine what that life may have been like.

The Greenest Branch is a fictionalized account of the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, but it is rooted in what we know about her and the world she inhabited. It is a world, needless to say, that is not conducive to female empowerment. That she managed to accomplish so much is a testament to her fierce intelligence, strength, and determination.

The second book in the series, titled The Column of Burning Spices, traces the second half of Hildegard’s long and eventful life. It will be released in early 2019.

Greenest Branch eBook Cover Large

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Order the The Greenest Branch on Amazon US  and Amazon UK

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“Hauntingly beautiful and meticulously researched. P.K. Adams writes about the Middle Ages like someone who has lived there. Hildegard’s story is inspiring, and her voice feels so real that it’s almost spooky.” – Jessica Cale, author of Tyburn.


PKAdams

About The Author
P.K. Adams is a Boston-based historical fiction author, whose debut novel The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia and a master’s degree in European Studies from Yale. When not reading or writing, she can be found hiking, doing yoga, and drinking tea (though usually not at the same time).

Learn more about P.K. Adams at her website and @pk_adams.


 

Book Review

Book Review: Fifty-One by Chris Barnham

38487634Synopsis:

Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong, stranding Jake in war-ravaged 1944. Jake’s team, including his long-time girlfriend, is desperate to trace him before something else goes wrong.

Stuck in the past, Jake must pull from his training and blend in. He clings to the one familiar face he can find, Amy Jenkins, a war widow whose life he saved during the assignment. Drawn to each other by their loneliness and thrown together amid the terror of war, Jake and Amy look to a future together.

But Jake’s future cannot let him go. And when his bosses finally find him in 1944, Jake faces a terrible choice: risk unraveling the modern world, or let Amy die.

My Thoughts

My biggest pet peeve with fiction is Deus ex machina and coincidences. I was frustrated many times while reading Fifty-One due to apparent coincidences in the plot, but in the end, it turns out they were not coincidences at all. (Wow!!) I usually can predict endings but not for this one, this one blew me away.

Barnham’s attention to detail is impressive and the little nuances through out the time travel plot are delightful. I enjoyed the historical aspects of war-torn London and the evident research that went into the writing.

This story is more a thought exercise than a romance – which I appreciated, though I do wish some key scenes would have been between Amy and Jake instead of through a different POV (I especially would have liked to have seen more of Amy’s reaction to 2040). But that is a small wish considering I couldn’t put down the last half of the book. And that ending…

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About the Author

Chris Barnham worked for two decades for the British government, advising Ministers on education and employment policies. In 2013, he decided it was time to make stuff up for himself. He now combines writing with running a small business, and active involvement in community politics in south London, where he has lived since the 1980s. His short fiction has appeared in a range of magazines, including Compelling Science Fiction, Black Static, the UK’s premier horror magazine, and the late-lamented Pan Books of Horror. His first novel, Among the Living, was published in 2012 (revised 2nd edition, 2017).

Chris lives in London, England, with three tall children and a scary wife. Whenever work allows, he spends as much time as possible out of town with mud on his boots. His latest walking challenge is the 630-mile South West Coast Path, around the Devon and Cornwall coasts. You can follow his (slow) progress on his blog.

https://www.chrisbarnhambooks.com/

https://twitter.com/barnham_chris