Sunday, 17 June 2018

Spiders, wasps and the rest!

Sunday  17th June
Several grey days with little breaks of sunshine now and then have passed slowly by. We have had rain, but not too much, so the tractor came out yesterday and cut the drive, the “garden” and a trackway around the lake that does a big loop because DH refuses to take a new tractor across the boggy patch where the spring runs down. He remembers two eight wheel diggers vanishing into the mud never to be seen again when the M1 was built between Durham and Darlington. So the slope up to the house remains uncut and looks gloriously wild.

I put on an apron yesterday (to avoid splashing my clean top) to cook dinner and discovered several little cylindrical shaped things attached to the right breast – just like a brooch. Made out of mud, obviously the work of some insect or spider, I called DH and they were hastily despatched to oblivion. Sitting on the bolly later I looked up and saw two wasps upside down on the oak beam doing something that could have been mating. 

DH has better eyesight than me (I need new glasses) and said they had started building a nest and he wasn’t having that over his head while he was eating, so once they flew away, he got hold of a broom and knocked it down. Inside were little golden ball things, which I took to be some kind of tree flower or berry. Huh! Later I spied one of the golden balls under the chair and curiosity got the better of me; I scooped it up on a piece of kitchen paper and put it on the table and really looked at it. Quelle horreur! It was a tiny golden spider with six almost translucent legs and a red spot on its body. I have no idea what kind of a wasp turns into a spider, or vice versa, but it was soon got rid of into the long grass. (It was already dead; I didn’t kill it.) The wasps came back, couldn’t find their nest and haven’t returned.

Doing some washing yesterday, I stuck my hand into a plastic bag of Persil non-bio capsules and found a sticky soggy mass. Ugh! Withdrew hand rather swiftly and saw fingers covered in blue goo. One or more of the capsules had burst, and instead of being tight and hard, the rest of them were limp, squidgy things that degenerated into blue goo as I watched. I don’t know if one had accidently been burst, or the heat had been too much, or they had simply been there too long, but something had caused them to degenerate. Maybe they froze in the winter? I know it can get pretty cold, as low as minus 12 degrees C. I suppose if they froze they would expand and burst the bags? Anyway, washing powder is now on the list for our next shop.

Thursday, 14 June 2018


Here we are in France again. Although we had no hold ups or hiccups of any kind I found the journey tedious this year. Newcastle to Folkstone, with a break at Hatfield Forest (NT) near Stansted airport, is around 300 miles. We had booked into the Ibis at Abbeville where we had dinner and Tim behaved like an angel. Next morning we gave him a good 7.30am walk in the parc, then set off for another 450 miles with several short stops for him and us to stretch out legs.

Getting near our destination, We stopped at the local Intermarché and bought a few essentials so that DH would not have to get the car out on the road again the very next day. Once we left the main road for the almost single track leafy lane that led down into our valley, the sun came out and the world changed. I forgot the journey and started enjoying the greenery around me. It was 5.30 in the evening so we did little more than unload the car, eat pizza and drink a couple of glasses of wine while we enjoyed the view over green fields sitting on the balcony in the sunshine.

The fun came later. We had purchased a netting mosquito tent to save us from being bitten as we sleep, and we struggled to put it up. It sort of “pops up,” supported by four bendy canes placed one at each corner. They are an integral part of the structure, so no sliding in canes or anything that might bring back memories of putting up a tent when camping in the great outdoors. For a few seconds we had our structure up, and then one “leg” bent and sagged. It took us a good half hour of snapping the poles rigid and trying to hold them all in situ before we finally got it right. We unzipped and climbed inside and then realised we couldn’t put out the light! Worse still, we thought of trying to leave the tent for any reason in the dark and even worse than that, trying to get back in.

We managed, though we had the lights on again at one in the morning. Since we’d retired at something like half nine, that wasn’t at all bad, and we weren’t bitten. We woke at first light, around half five, and decided to get up. All in all we’d slept well, even if the tent was sagging in one corner.
Since the day is grey with only fleeting bursts of sun and much more frequent threats of rain, we have confined ourselves to snipping the greenery around the house, saving a lizard trapped in a pot it couldn't get out of and a frog that  appeared on the bolly - we had to stop Tim attacking it. Everything is hugely overgrown due to all the recent rain, the stream is full and the corner near the water is waterlogged. We can hear the weir from the drive, but it would take a machete to reach it and see what it looks like. Tim is having a grand time rushing through the grass, running in circles for the sheer joy of it, and we’ve spotted some big fish in the lake. So the coypu hasn’t got them all.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Big Trip

Took our walk early this morning and though I avoided coming back home to get changed because of
the heat, I didn't manage to avoid the pollen. Itchy nose, and sneezing or wanting to sneeze. Not good.  We hosed Tim down with running water to get the pollen off him, because he is running through tunnels of grass higher than he is. In some area, the flowers are chest high on me - those white ones - cow parsley? and shake the grasses and dust clouds of pollen fly up. Still it is pretty and lush in the old sense of the word - abundant, succulent, voluptuous and we had it all to ourselves.

The blackbird chicks have fledged. The cuckoo abandoned its nest in the blue cedar, but the blackbird continued to fly in and out of the ivy trellis by our patio window, almost zonking us in the face as it whizzed by. Now the nest seems to be empty, but there is loud cheeping coming from the undergrowth and Tim finds something in there most interesting. We're keepng him away as best we can, though the poor dog has to go out and pee!

We are slowly gearing up for going off to France and our wellies are the first things going into the car. The rain clouds over the Dordogne have been almost constant for the last three weeks, so the stream is going to be full and the fields soggy. The stream under the mill might be running higher than usual. Still the temperature has been in the low twenties, and that is forecast to continue, so we won't be cold when we're outside. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Amazon Author Academy

Amazon held an event in Newcastle yesterday in the newly built Crown Plaze Hotel in what is fondly named the Stephenson Quarter. (Because of the railway Stephenson, I presume, since the hotel is very close to the railway tracks. Behind it, in fact.)

Scheduled as 9am-3pm, I arrived at 8.50 and spent 40 minutes kicking my heels until the event began at 9.45. I saw no one I knew in the milling crowds, almost too many for the space allocated and I kept moving around the halls and corridors as I knew I would be sitting for a long time.

Darren (I never knew his surname) kicked off and introduced panelists - Louise Ross, David Leadbeater, Paul Teague and Margaret Skea.
Paul represented The Alliance of Independent Authors and Margaret the Society of Authors. David and Lousie represented highly successful authors to tell us "how they did it."

Entertaining, informative and interesting. A lot of people were already published but many were not. I met some people I know at the coffee and lunch breaks, observed far more men in the audience than I expected and happened to be sitting next to someone for 5 hours who never volunteered a word, never shifted from her seat and made copious notes in miniscule writing on a clip board. Some authors are just loners. I first saw her sitting  on the floor in a corner, writing on her clipboard and that was at 9am while everyone else milled about talking and scoffing breakfast.

It seems that to be mega successful a writer also needs to ne a technical wizard these days, or be prepared to pay lots of money for outsourcing. £800 pounds sounds a lot of money to me for editing, and I hate to think what might be paid out for designing and establishing websites. There seems to be an industry following indie writers now. Cover artists, web designers,  societies that charge a joining fee; ISBNs, formatting charges to convert an ms into a Kindle book; some people claim several different kinds of editing are required, all at a cost.There are pitfalls, too. Some editors charge £200 and are not good at what they do. I suspect that cost is as much a gatekeeper these days as agents ever were. Not everyone can afford such costs when there are no guarantees a book will ever sell.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Promote your title

Amazon are putting on a day in Newcastle and have offered me a free ticket. Naturally, I shall attend, but I cannot help wondering what it is all going to be about. 

I've been with them since my first venture in self-publishing way back in 2011 when I put Fair Border Bride with them. I had four books published by then, but for different reasons each of the two American publishers closed their doors and disappeared. Having got my rights back for the four titles, it seemed silly not to try and get them onto Amazon Kindle. How hard could it be? I seem to remember a steep learning curve, but I achieved my goal and since then the process has certainly become easier.

I've got out of the habit of approaching agents and publishers, but lately I've begun to wonder if it wouldn't be easier to let someone else take the strain of publication and marketing. My good friend Shirley Dickson has got a contract with Bookouture this week, and all congratulations to her, for I know she has worked hard on her two stories for such a long time. Obviously, her success stirred my thoughts on the subject. One hears that promo is down to the author these days unless you are one of the very top level authors - who probably don't need much promotion! 

The only way I know is using Twitter and Facebook, but those  seem to be in a process of change. Perhaps the Amazon day will tell me what I should be doing.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Boring Facebook

Disheartening to see how boring Facebook is these days. Old posts are being recycled so most of what comes up I've seen before and have no wish to see again. The link between Twitter and Facebook seems to have gone awry - or possibly it is me that gone awry!

 Most of twitter is adverts for books unless the hashtag topics are investigated and then interesting conversations can be found among the garbage. I wonder what is going to happen in the next few weeks. Will Fb/Twitter recover their
verve, or simpy dwindle into nothingness?

Just read the first Peter May Enzo files book, got right to the end and remembered I'd read it before. I think the only one I have not read is the third one, but if I read them in order, the whole plot might become clearer in my mind. So it is on to nmber 2.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Everyday things

Tomorrow Roland Garros starts in Paris so I'll be watching that as long as Rafa continues to play. I'm also concentrating on finishing a first draft of my wip, the fourth part of what has turned out to be a quartet featuring Matho Spirston, humble man of the land turned courier to a Scottish queen.

 I wrote the first half two or three years ago and then lost steam and deviated onto the Affair series.(The Gybford Affair The Craigsmuir Affair, The Matfen Affair.) This spring I picked up where I left off and continued writing, hoping to complete the draft, print it out and take it to France with me. I think I shall manage to achieve it. The writing is going faster now, because I'm not editing, as I was with the stuff I'd written previously.

Last night I went a bit beserk and downloaded half a dozen titles for my Kindle in anticipation of having something to read in France. I shall also take Sarah Dunant's latest paperback, because I'm struggling with it. Lack of Interest, basically, which allows me time to admire her writing style. I may well leave the book there for Jenny to read. She might enjoy it.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Book Cover Blues

Received wisdom  among many authors on the internet is that  a new cover on a book can rejuvenate sales. Perhaps rejuvenate is the wrong word; they say a "better" cover will enable the book to sell better than a mediocre one. This applies  mainly to self-publishing authors like me, since those who have contracts with publishing houses will follow the dictates of the said houses. Authors tell stories of trying three or four covers until the "right" one catches and sales follow. Since I can decide for myself if I want to do a new cover, I thought I would try it.

My book Far After Gold has been out in the world a while, firstly as a paperback with Quaestor 2000 in 2009 and a fairly run of the mill cover taken from one of my photographs od Sandwood Bay in NW Scotland; when Quaestor ceased trading, I re-edited and published on Amazon Kindle in 2012, again with a cover I'd created.

It did fairly well for me, but with the recent drop in Kindle sales across the market (they say everyone is going back to "real" books!) I thought the time was right to experiment. It is hard to define exactly what sort of cover would describe the content of the book; pagan Viking male and Christian girl as slave - will they find happiness? so I centred on the girl's feeling of loneliness and desolation in being taken by marauding Vikings and sold as a slave in Dublin market and came up with the first cover: 

I wasn't entirely happy with it, and among the good comments came the criticisms, so I had a second attempt. Looking at them both side by side like this, I can feel a third attempt coming on!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

A Great Day Out!

I thought I was doing particularly well on my blog yesterday when I saw 495 visits recorded. Something to do with the royal wedding, perhaps? I checked clustermaps for more info and found most of the those visits came from Ashburn in Virginia. Apparently there is an Amazon/Google centre in Ashburn, but why my blog should interest them I really don't know. I think it must be an electronic glitch because all the vists to my home page came between 6.42 and 6.44 on the same day. No human can move that fast, but a computer can. Something in Ashburn needs checking over. Does this happen on your blog? Have you checked? You may be surprised!

We had a great day out yesterday that had nothing at all to do with that royal wedding that the media have pushed in our faces over the last week to the point of stupifaction. Off we went  on  three hour ride to Dent on the North Yorkshire Cumbria border. We drove slowly because we had Tim in the back, and because  it was a gorgeous day we stopped three or four times on the way over the top, as we call crossing the Pennines, and gave Tim a short run each time. All on lead because of course sheep rule the Pennine hills, but he loved the different smells and peed on almost every blade of grass!

The trees are just coming into leaf. There are not  a great many trees on this high level route, but the valleys - Weardale and Teesdale - were so green and beautiful. In Cumbria we must have hit the high point of bluebell life, because the hedgerows were pretty with a grass and bluebell mix and some of the hillsides behind the road were a mass of them. Even though we drove slowly we only got a fleeting glimpse of them.

This little gully was a surprise.  Tim set off at full stretch and we discovered more gulleys beyond this one, all splattered with tiny blue violets in the green patches among the heather. He unerringly found the dead hare, but since he was on the lead we stopped him getting his teeth on it. So warm in the sun and light breeze, and we could see for miles in every direction. A collection of vintage Triumph cars roared past as we stood there, every one polished to perfection and gleaming in the sun. Motorbike riders were out in force, too. One poor cyclist must have been cursing them because they roared by him and after all his effort climbing the long hill, he would have to breathe their exhaust for the next couple of miles. After our visit was over, we stopped off in Sedburgh and walked around the town which is dominated by Sedburgh School with all its many playing fields. Tim shared our ice creams when we headed back to the car. 
All in all, a great day out. We decided we should do it more often. Somehow we've got out of the habit of going off for the day, but yesterday convinced us we should do more exploring!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

First Review for Viking Summer

15 May 2018
Verified Purchase

This is the first time I’ve read a book by this author and had no idea what to expect. But I quickly found that I was drawn in, immediately involved with the characters, especially the main one, Eilidh, a headstrong young girl, whose story is written in the first person. In fact, I was intrigued by the mixture of first person writing, when we were reading about Eilidh but also there was third-person narrative for the other characters; a very clever way to be able to involve the actions of other characters when not around Eilidh. As a writer myself, I’ve been frustrated when writing in first person, not being able to tell the reader what others are up to unless they are in the sight of the main character. However, to get back to this story, I found that I was reluctant to put it down, so involved was I with Eilidh and worried that when she escapes from one predicament she runs full-tilt into yet another one.

I know nothing of Irish history and so this was something of an education for me and I found it a refreshing change to read about another country in our British Isles.

The writing is very good; the characters fully developed and interesting and the historical setting well researched. The descriptions of the fast games the characters indulged in and the war actions were very well done and true to form. The action was continual and at a good pace. Loved it.

My first review for Viking Summer and I love it! It is available on Amazon Kindle at a very low price!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Series or stand alone?

When I began writing books about Matho and his adventures in the 16th century, I never thought they would stretch into a series,  yet here I am writing the fourth book. Matho features in the first books as a subsidiary character, but with an important part to play plotwise. He also meets and makes friends with Harry Wharton in Fair Border Bride and they were the main charactersin Abduction of the Scots Queen. 

Then Harry took a back seat and Matho went on to operate solo north of the Border and eventually Queen's Courier showed how he came to work for the Dowager Queen of Scotland. I haven't thought of a title for the one I'm writing now,  but I have a good 70,000 words down. 

My question is this: should I rebrand them all with new but linked covers and connect them as a series? Or leave them as stand alone novels? It would mean a fair bit of work, but it can be done over the winter. At this moment in time I am working on the garden pulling weeds like a crazy woman and tomorrow we expect guests from Oz for a few days; not long after that we'll be heading off on holiday.  Nothing will get done about the series until I finish the book I'm working on, but I shall keep thinking about it while all these other things are going on. If you have thoughts on the topic, do let me know!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Missing pics and wildlife

One of the missing pics!
Sometime after 2011 I had a computer die on me. That wasn't so bad, because it was easy enough to replace it ( at great cost, I might add!) but it took a lot of photographs with it and I thought I'd lost them forever. 

Some I probably have, but today I was looking for inspiration and checked my blog for 2011 and found I'd written about our trip north to Ullapool and then to friends in Banchory in the Cairngorms. I'd included pictures! There were many of the missing photographs, so I saved them immediately before I lost track of them again!
Such a small thing, but it really made me happy. 

It looks like we're going to have a third day of hot weather  18-20 degrees. One hardly knows what to wear. It was just above freezing last week. One effect is the gardens have sprung into life - everything is green and sprouting, and the birds are dashing about building nests. Unfortunately our thrush gave up on the nest he built in the blue cedar. Maybe we made too much noise, or our neighbour sat too close to the fence (only about a yard from the nest) or one the many neighbourhood cats chose to walk along the fence top and peer into the nest - anyway, he's gone, leaving one abandoned blue egg. We do have a balackbird in the ivy close to the patio windows and can watch him dashing in and out with mud and moss in his beak. We think there's another nest in the leylandii around the side of the house. 

We've had no frogs in the small sink this year, so no tadpoles to watch. There are wasps in the eves. We see mice occasionsally - one is acrobatic enough to shimmy up the six foot pole to reach the bird table and snaffle the peanuts. Another sort of wildlife lives in the gardens though - a neighbour called in the pest control man because she had seen rats running along under the leylandii. It seems our compost bin was the attraction, plus all the bird food that gets put out around here. (Not just us, I hasten to add) Anyway our compost bin is no more and the body of one young, dead rat was found. A short life for him. Seems those neighbourhood cats are not earning their keep!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

To pay or not to pay?

Spotted this article from Jane Friedman this morning and intend to study it closely since I have been wondering about how to increase the number of my reiews - particularly for my latest Viking Summer, which currently has none. I  have looked at Brag Medallions and such like and was shocked - shocked, I tell you - to discover that you paid  to send your work in for a "possible review/award." It has always been the way of the big book prize competitions to charge an entry fee, but I  assumed that the money funded the cash prize that went to the winner. Anyway, I have steered clear of both! 
Jane Friedman says:
Paying for professional book reviews remains a controversial topic that very few authors have practical, unbiased information about. In fact, it’s not even well-known in the author community that paid book reviews exist, and even less is known about the value of such reviews.
Before I discuss the pros and cons of paid reviews, I want to define them (strictly for the purposes of this post).
§  Trade book reviews. Trade publications are those read by booksellers, librarians, and others who work inside the industry (as opposed to readers/consumers). Such publications primarily provide pre-publication reviews of traditionally published books, whether from small or large presses. Typically, these publications have been operating for a long time and have a history of serving publishing professionals. However, with the rise of self-publishing, some trade review outlets have begun paid review programs especially for self-published authors. Examples: Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Reviews.
§  Non-trade book reviews. Because of the increased demand for professional reviews of self-published work, you can now find online publications that specialize in providing such services. These publications or websites may have some reach and visibility to the trade, or they may be reader-facing, or a mix of both. Examples: Indie ReaderBlue Ink ReviewSelf-Publishing Review.
§  Reader (non-professional) reviews. It’s considered unethical to pay for reader reviews posted at Amazon or other sites, and Amazon is actively trying to curb the practice.
This post is focused on the first two types of paid reviews; I recommend you stay away from the third.
Some of you reading this post may be looking for a quick and easy answer to the question of whether you should invest in a paid book review. Here’s what I think in a nutshell, although a lot of people will be unhappy with me saying so:
The majority of authors will not sufficiently benefit from paid book reviews, and should invest their time and money elsewhere.

She has a lot more to say, and a lot of information on the website for those who wish to discover it. I have bookmarked the site and I have no doubt I will learn a lot from it! Find it here:

Monday, 30 April 2018

Lord Lennox

In 1531, Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, aged 15 and feeling threatened by the Hamilton clan headed by Lord Arran, sailed for France and joined the Royal Guard, became a naturalised subject of the French King and changed the spelling of his surname from Stewart to Stuart. 

 In 1543 he returned to Scotland and began paying court to Marie de Guise, the Dowager Queen of Scotland. Reported as a handsome, charming and gallant man, or, in the words of the times, "well-proportioned with lusty and manly visage, and carried himself erect and stately, wherefore he was very pleasant in the sight of gentlewomen." She was said to have enjoyed his company, which was not surprising since he spoke her native tongue fluently and was skilled in playing the lute. 
Both she and Cardinal Beaton thought Lennox would support them against the ambitions of Arran, but they discovered him to be unreliable and driven by self-interest, which was understandable when his livings in France were denied him and he had little that brought him money in Scotland. The lands that should have belonged to him had been scattered among the greedy lords when he left for France. Marie refused to marry him, and eventually he defected to the English to see if overtures from Henry VIII would pay off. In return for his support against the Scots, Henry VIII bestowed on him the hand of his niece, Lady Margaret Douglas.

The wedding took place in July 1544 at St James's Palace in London. Born the same year as Lennox, Margaret was the daughter of Henry VIII's elder sister, Margaret Tudor (widow of James IV and grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots) by her second husband, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. She was close enough to the  English throne to be controlled by Henry, and yet he allowed a  marriage between her and Lennox that could only reinforce the dynastic claims of both parties. Of course, at that time Henry had his beloved Prince Edward, and two daughters to follow him in the succession. 
Their marriage seems to have been a love match: he was said to be 'far in love', and in his letters addressed Meg as 'mine own sweet Madge' or 'my Meg', told her she was his 'chiefest comfort', and signed himself 'Your own Matthieu and most loving husband'. 

Margaret was a devout Roman Catholic, so Lennox, who had been reared in the old faith but recently favoured the new religion, tempered his views to please her and also King Henry. Religion was a matter of expediency with him.

Regretably I cannot find a picture of  said Lord Lennox, certainly not one that is listed with certainty as him, so I have included a picture of my own taken on a trip to Stirling Castle on a grey day a couple of years ago. I was there familiarising myself with the place because I was, and still am, writing about Stirling and the Dowager Queen, Lord Lennox and  Meg Douglas. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A review I like!

19 April 2018

AMAZON UK £1.20 £8.99
AMAZON US $1.66 $14.53

Fictional saga
1500s Tudor

Jen Black’s novels are a delight to read, not merely because of the enjoyment of ‘romance’ but because she is adept at diversifying from one period to another with apparent ease. This one is set in that troubling Tudor era where England and Scotland do not see eye-to-eye. Here, the future Mary Queen of Scots has her life mapped out by her mother, Mary of Guise and the English monarch, Henry VIII. But not all maps are reliable or pre-ordained, nor do the map-makers necessarily agree with each others’ marks on the charts they hope to produce.

The Queen’s Courier is a sequel to Abduction of the Scots Queen, where Matho Spirston had kidnapped Mary, an infant, and given her into the care of Margaret Douglas - Meg - the daughter of the Earl of Angus and Henry VIII’s sister, with Meg then being blamed for the deed. But it is not necessary to read this first novel (although I would recommend it!)  

Matthew, Earl of Lennox, champions Meg but he is greedy for power, and as the niece to the English King, Meg herself  is obliged to retain her virginity and follow the King’s permission for marriage. As for the future Mary Queen of Scots, Henry wants her as wife to his son, Edward. Her mother has different plans.

The author, in addition to being able to write delightful novels, is skilled at taking the reader right into the feel of time and place, by painting visual pictures within her narrative. Her research is well done, as is her depiction of the unsettled politics of the period, with all the upheaval of war, intrigue, scandal, plot after counter-plot and the dangers of being an appointed spy where messages had to be taken in utmost secrecy between Scotland, London and France.

Jen Black’s characters are believable, the diplomacy, the scheming, the hopes, dreams, nightmares and dangers all zip along at a good page-turning pace. The only regret I had is knowing the eventual fate of Mary Queen of Scots!

© Ellen Hill