Monday, 25 August 2014

Castle Dounie

The walk was listed as a three-hour walk and we did it in three hours ten minutes - and that included a lot of short stops to enjoy views. The first hour was all uphill, zig-zagging up the hillside through ancient woodland with the sound of water in our ears and every shade of green around us.

The gravel track soon became a grass track interspersed with boulders, and the trees towered over us. Every so often a curve in the path would offer a spectacular window-view through the trees.

We made it to Castle Dounie on the lower summit of Creag Mhor along a wonderful path with heather billowing beside us on the last narrow path to the fort. There were no bees to be seen, which is a little worrying.

Right on the top of the hillare the stones of an Iron Age Fort. To me they looked like a cairn, but if you were an enthusiastic archeologist well versed in prehistoric structures, then you might be able to make out wall lines and such like. It was very small, and I kept on wondering if the people walked up to it or if they took their sure-footed garrons all the way to the castle.

 There are terrific views towards Jura and Mull, and they say you can see the notorious Corryvreckan whirlpool and even Ben Nevis to the north on a clear day. I suspect you have to be looking at just the right state of the tide to see anything of the whirlpool. I have seen film of it and watched documentaries that explain it and I have no urge to go out in a small boat and peer over the side knowing what is beneath me.

You can see a little white house on the hillside of Jura.  I think they must paint  Barnhill gleaming white every season because it stands out like a beacon. George Orwell lived there when he wrote his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. I could see Barnhill from many points during my stay in Crinan, and acknowledged a certain wish to be there, concentrating on writing to the exclusion of everything else. I know it will never happen - the mere idea would horrify dh and the midgies would be a torment in summer.

The walk is full of interest, varying terrain and returns by way of the same path this time plunging down the hill - and believe me, sustained walking down a steep slope is just as tiring to muscles not often used as going up. When we reached the path across the beach at Crinan Harbour we found a large rock each and sat in the sunshine and watched the little waves roll in. Their gentle splash mingled with the tapping of steel rigging on the yachts moored not far away. There is happiness in such simple things.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Beauties of Argyll

Just back from a couple of days away at Crinan Hotel. We were expecting cold rainy weather - so the forecasters said - and actually had brilliant sunny weather. It is amazing how variable weather can be in this little island of ours. Got well and truly bitten by the notorious Scottish midgie, too.
We stopped at Dunardy halfway along the Crinan Canal to give Tim a walk. We had a lovely saunter through Foresty Commisssion woods and finally broke out of the trees and were rewarded with an ever expanding view. The higher we climbed, the better the view, so we kept on climbing! It was a gentle, curving climb. I don't want to give the impression I climbed something like Mt Everest, but it certainly had us breathing more deeply than usual.

In the bar that night we sat quietly eating our meal and could not help but hear the conversation at the next table. "It's going to rain all day tomorrow, but that might flatten the sea!"
I remembered that Crinan is basically a sailing community, and then the comment made sense.  Still it didn't raise our spirits, I can tell you, and we wondered what we would do if  the prophecy came true. Next morning when we looked out of our bedroom window, the view of the loch didn't inspire. 

It had obviously been raining hard overnight, Still we decided to do the walk we'd planned, and drove the mile or so up the hill, took the right fork down the hill and into Crinan Harbour proper. For all our visits here, we'd never thought to do this bit, and it is very pretty. This is the natural harbour for Crinan, where all the sailing yachts hide away. 
We parked up and set off along the rocky sea shore. The path is sometimes under water at high tide, but the only water was from overnight rain. Then, as expected, the path turned left and uphill. It went on uphill for the next hour, with us taking brief respites after a particularly steep section. We met the forestry road and set off on a level path - well, it swooped up and down but was comparatively flat to the hillside we'd just climbed. Way markers kept us on the trail and took us through a variety of trails, grassy tracks, through woods until we finally climbed Creg Mhor to visit the remains of iron-age Castle Dounie. We sat at the top for quite a while, gazing out over Loch Crinan bathed in brilliant sunshine.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Current work

This Scottish Independence thing is taking on  a looming presence. DH threatens he won't go to Scotland ever again if they vote Yes. I can go, he says generously, but he will stay home.  I suspect the hard-headed Scots are going to vote No, but we'll see. I may well be holidaying alone in the future!

As you probably all know, I'm currently editing my book about Matho. I've made a decision - I either self-publish this book this year, or I throw it in the bin. I've been working on it in fits and starts for a long time now but it never seems to be finished. The time period is interesting, because it is 1543 and Scotland is independent, and fighting off Henry VIII's advances. Henry's England is ringed by Catholic princes who want to bring England back into the Catholic fold, and he suspects Scotland will offer the Catholic armies an easy way into England by the back door. His answer? Marry the little Scots Queen to his son and make the two countries one. The trouble is, Scotland doesn't see it that way. The valiant Dowager Queen, Marie de Guise, prefers to marry her daughter into her homeland, France. Many Scots don't want to be a vassal of France either. Difficult situation. For everyone.

How does Matho get involved in this situation? He and Harry Wharton became friends  in my book Fair Border Bride, which some of you may have read. When Henry of England sends out an order to Sir Thomas Wharton, Sir Thomas mentions it to his son. Harry thinks he and Matho can handle the job. Matho has his doubts, but he needs a leg-up in society, so Harry and Matho set off for Stirling with much enthusiasm on Harry's part and much trepidation on Matho's side.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Poldarks revived

Outlander will arrive on our television screens at some point, but may be a while before it reaches the UK. The likelihood is that I shall see and  enjoy the re-make of the Poldark series before then. I loved the books, written in the 40s and 50s - and eagerly devoured the original seven. I don't think I followed up on the remaining five which were about descendants rather than the original characters. I adored the original tv series 1975-77, and so did many others. The series was hugely popular.

Still, that has to be balanced against the fact that when the series was shown, there were only three ( 3! ) television channels. That made life very much simpler and the ratings very much higher than they are today. Television audiences were a little more naive, too. Production values today - well, the techniques at least, are so much better than they were in the seventies. I'm really looking forward to the costumes and the locations. Let's just pray that the gremlins that haunted Bodmin Moor during the last production in Cornwall - Jamaica Inn - have been well and truly exorcised. If the BBC ruins Poldark, they may well be exorcised!

 I've collected together some links to the cast, the locations and general gossip about the series. I shall very likely dip into them from time to time, and you may wish to as well. I'm putting one of my favourite pictures of Aidan Turner up here in his costume as Ross Poldark. I don't know if there are any Poldarks in Cornwall, but if Winstan Graham dreamed up the name, I applaud him for selecting a wonderful name for a hero.

Enjoy the links!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Outlander - first thoughts

Anyone who has read the Gabaldon novels will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the tv series. 16 episodes for the first novel as far as I'm aware, which should be more than enough time. The critics seems to like it - - and from the snippets I've seen, it looks engaging. The pic above is from the website listed and from the Starz press-kit.

One thing puzzles me. Claire's narration is done in a lovely English voice, and the  dialogue is also English. But part-way though the section I saw, she suddenly breaks into American swearing. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ may be Gabaldon's choice of swearword for Claire, but I doubt it would ever be on the lips of a typical English of 1945. Same for "godamm." It just isn't English. So then I got to thinking was the character Claire English or not? 

It's a long time since I read the novels for the first time, but I did re-read Crosstitch (re-named Outlander now) not so very long ago. Somewhere along the line, Claire has metamorphosed into being American in my mind. It isn't something I've ever thought about until now, but there must be something in Gabaldon's depiction of Claire that has drip-fed my understanding that she isn't English, but American.

Which in turn is interesting for all writers. Can we really put ourselves in the skin of another character, particularly when they are from a different country? No matter how hard we try to get it right, something might give us away. Some little thing like curse words, for example.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


When people talk of a book's setting, what do you think they mean? My immediate answer would be Scotland in 1543 for the book I'm currently working on. Is that enough? For a swift answer in a verbal exchange, I think it is. If they want to know more, they'll ask.

If I had to write an article on setting, I would elaborate. Setting is important. I use everything I can to make the reader think "sixteenth century Scotland." After all, life in Stirling Castle has to be vastly different to living in a three bed detached today.

Setting is many things. It's dialect, delicately done, what they wore, how they ate, what they ate and if they did it with their fingers. What kind of plates did they have if they were rich? if they were poor? It's weather and seasons, heat and cold, farm yard smells, perfumes and sweat. Rich tapestries, and straw mattresses. All those things and more. It's how something feels - if you touch a horse, their skin is usually warm, sometimes hot if they're been running. If you see it, can you smell it, taste it, touch it and hear it? Imagine yourself into the pic and tell me if you can smell the pine trees, and hear the wind rustling through the grass. Actually, there was no wind. It was one of those hot, sticky, airless days when the insects are biting. All these thing make up the world of your story. Use them, but use them carefully.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Summer days

Should I believe Stat Counter visits, which are low, or should I believe View Count stats, which are pleasingly high, by Blogger? No idea. The sunshine seems to have gone to everyone's head and even Facebook is quiet. The school holidays have begun here in the UK but still the cul de sac is quiet. It is really quite strange. Perhaps everyone has gone on holiday.

TV has gone beserk with the Commonwealth Games. Personally I think its a little too soon after the Olympics in 2012. I've had my fill of watching people run and jump, but more than one TV channel is devoted to nothing but sport. But then, TV programmers are so annoying. I set the video to record the men's final at Roland Garros, and of course I watched it live while in France. Last night I checked the recording and found that by the end of the fourth set, when Nadal had to win one more game to win his 9th championship, the powers in charge flipped channels to give people the news. I remember being very cross in France at the time. I ask you! Four plus hours of tennis and then they switch at literally the last minute. Are these people mad?

I'm not sure how much more sunshine we can take. We've been hiding away indoors in the middle of the day because the sticky heat has been unpleasant. Energy simply drains away, and it is so difficult to sleep. Even the dog has been lolling about, trying to get comfortable. We drove up to Kielder a couple of days ago - Friday, actually - and though it was lovely, it was too hot to walk far. We spent a lot of time sitting under the tall trees overlooking the reservoir, enjoying the shade. Today it seems a little cooler, with a bit of a breeze, which is much more like English weather. I'll take Tim for his long walk now, before the heat builds. I've been going really early, as early as seven in the morning, and though there are always other dog walkers out and about, it is a lot quieter. We know the regulars now, which is nice.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Write for a living?

This blog - link below - is one I shall revisit very soon.
Elle Casey
It's all about what to do if you want to make a living writing books. She is a great advocate of having similar covers for similar types of books, so that readers can latch onto them quickly. I didn't do that with Viking Magic. I went  on a very different  path, and maybe that was a mistake. She also advocates having professional covers done. Quite the opposite to what I was thinking in my last post. (but very much what Catherine's blog was saying, now I come to think of it.) The thing is, am I going to bow down to the perceived wisdom of these two ladies, or am I going to go my own way? We'll see.

The weather has been roastingly hot today, so instead of working, I sat in the garden with friends and drank kirs accompanied by strawberries, pistachios and crisps. A good way to spend a summer afternoon. I hope the good weather lasts until Sunday, as we're invited to a neighbour's garden "do" on Saturday night. It seems to be the season for it. I think I'm getting the feeling  that not a lot of work will get done in the next few days.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Self published covers

Several things get in the way of producing a good cover for a self-published book, according to a blog I've just discovered. The main culprits are Laziness, Lack of skills and/or imagination, Delusion, and Distorted perspective.

Catherine ( writes wittily about the traps of self-delusion we can fall into, and she's right on many points. I don't want to be bothered hunting down cover designers and paying out shedloads of money for a cover I probably won't like. I say this because I cringe at many covers leering at me from the shelves these days. Mostly the digital shelves, I am happy to add. Bookshop shelves here in the the north of England sport some bare-chested warriors who could benefit from a bra, but many publishers still produce delightful covers. I also have delusions that I can produce an attractive cover because I enjoy photography, was deemed good at art in my youth (I know, I know - I'm admitting to the delusion) and enjoy the process of struggling with Adobe Photoshop. I also really like the sense of achievment the finished article gives me.
 I admit covers are important. But I read books that have what I think are unremarkable covers (Burial Rites by Hannah Kent comes to mind. I had to pull it from my shelves because I could not remember what was on the cover. The answer? Almost nothing. A fluffy sort of feather disappearing right off the plain white cover. Some of Lee Child's covers are less than gripping. I enjoyed reading Ian Rankin's Black and Blue and the paperback copy has what I call a non-cover - a plaque bearing the words Oxford Bar. You know my thoughts on the racy romance covers. It occurs to me that cover designers are probably - but not always -  under the age of thirty. It stands to reason that their choice is not going to match my... er, well, more senior perspective.

So what do we do? Stick to our guns or give in and here a cover designer and then argue endlessly.....?
let me know what you think of what might potentially be the cover of my next publication!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Writing? What's that?

I have the strangest feeling. Just can't get interested in writing. Weird. It seems long holidays will do that to you. I don't have ideas for anything new, and I noticed over this last week that I'm thinking up things to do that do not include writing. Maybe I should just give it a rest for a while, and come back to it when I'm ready. Or at least, more ready than I am now.

Of course there's loads to do after the holiday. The garden is a jungle. I've got caught up on the washing, ironing and mundane jobs like re-stocking the fridge etc. Tim thinks he can still run out when ever he wants and go where he pleases, and he can't. He's forgotten what a dog lead is for. so we're having to re-learn walking on a lead. The weather is good, and walking out is a pleasure. The tadpoles have all gone from the pond, and a neighbour said he had trouble cutting the lawn for us because so many tiny frogs were leaping about. They seem to have dispersed now, thank goodness.

I banked a cheque from Amazon the other day, and that was some encouragement to go on writing. It's about the only recognition that ever comes my way, so it is good to receive. Maybe I'll check out Create- space and see if that will entertain me for a while. It would be nice to see one of my books in print again.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Pet Passports

So let me tell you about taking your dog to France. It all starts with having your dog microchipped. Tim was done when he was still with the breeder, and on his first visit to my vet that number was recorded against his  name. Then in March or thereabouts this year, we spoke to the vet about him going to France. Tim was required to have an injection against rabies and certain other jabs were required - and had already been given as part of the normal routine of caring for our pet. We were advised to use something against fleas and ticks as ticks are pretty nasty in southern France, and the Dordogne is just on the borderline of where the nasties live. Frontline is the standard preparation, but Activyl, we were told, is a more recent and more effective substance.  The vet then issues a Pet Passport with Tim's basic details - breed, sex, age, etc and there is space for a photograph. since the spots of a Dalmatian are very recognisable, I did a "passport picture" and stuck it in! The vet records the necessary medical data, signs it and we were ready to go.

Leaving the UK via the Channel Tunnel was no problem.  Tim had five happy weeks romping around the French countryside, and we made an appointment to see the French vet in Vergt on 8th July. This examination has to be done within a strict time band before you leave France. The practice nurse gave Tim a whopping big Worming tablet and Dr Pennant Olivier checked Tim over and pronounced him "Bonne, bonne." He signed the pet passport and  a certificate to say that Tim was fit to travel back into England, charged us 52.80 euros and we were done.

Next day we drove to Abbeville, and the day after that (10th July)  we arrived at Calais, where we had to visit the Pet Travel Agency within the Tunnel complex. French staff checked Tim's micro chip, his passport and the vet's certificate, and decided everything was in order. So we travelled back into England. On the English
side of the Channel, in Folkstone, we drove straight through and on home.

If you go by overnight  ferry Portsmouth to St Malo or Caen, I'm told you are asked to put the dog in kennels on the same deck as the cars are parked. Some people insist the dog stays in the car, which is better if it is big Range Rover or similar. At least it is familiar with the car, but that deck is so noisy and dark and horrible I don't want to put Tim through that. At least going through the Tunnel he is in the car with us the entire trip.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Home again

We left just as the grass seed was greening up nicely. Now back in England  and home as of 3pm yesterday. Return journey easy-peasy. We relied on sat nav man to get us to Abbeville in France without going through Rouen, which we understand is still in turmoil due to the tunnel repairs. Sat nav took us round the western edge of Paris on an amazing string of roads. We disappeared into a tunnel on the A86 and re-appeared several kilometres and  many minutes later in Nanterre district without any knowledge of how we got there! I felt as if I'd gone down the rabbit hole with Alice.

Tim behaved much better in the car, settled into the hotel in Abbeville like a seasoned traveller and only blotted his copybook by barking at a labrador who had the temerity to walk across the entrance hall in front of him. Up at six in the morning because he wanted to go outside, please. Performed immediately and I soon drove us on our way to Calais where we missed the turn into Le Tunnel sous la Manche again. We've done this before, misled by signs for the car ferry. Soon got ourselves back on track and sought the Pet Transport Office where Tim got his passport stamped, and we were on the 9.20am train and back in England by 10am. It was raining in Calais and pouring down as we went round the M25. (London's equivalent of Le Peripherique in Paris). I suspect the M25 is under a permanent rain cloud - it always rains when we're on it. The fly-over that crosses the Thames at Dartford and was an amazing sight with  three stationary lanes of traffic, all with headlights on against a slate grey sky, backed up as far as we could see - all because there was some bottleneck at the toll booths. They must have had a terrific view from up there while they waited, but I don't suppose they appreciated it! The tail back went on for miles. We skipped through the tunnel and headed north.  As dh said, they never tell you have far it is to The North. We only stopped seeing signs for The North when we reached Darlington, so there you are - that's where The North begins.

The journey through England never fails to make me realise how much traffic there is south of Leeds. It is horrific. The north east clamours for motorway north from Newcastle to Berwick and Edinburgh but really, the traffic volume is not high enough to merit such a cost.
We listened to Radio 2 a lot of the way. In between lots of  music, the presenter was trying to drum up  objections to Baroness Scloss taking part in the enquiry on pedaphilia among Parliamentarians. He kept at it all morning, on the grounds that her brother once advised that a Parliamentary name was not revealed to the public way back in the eighties. I'm glad to say I don't think he was winning.

I also came to the conclusion after many hours of listening that modern pop music is dull. Each song has a different "voice" as we would call it in writing. It catches the attention in the first few bars, but the singers seem to have a range of very few notes and the songs are more chants to a driving beat that at first seems catchy but soon becomes monotonous. The lyrics are beyond banal in most cases. I was not impressed. Can you tell?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

And this too shall pass away...

Where have all those interesting snippets gone from Facebook? There was a time when I saw something every day - at least one thing I didn't know or had never thought about. These days it seems to be all about videos of animals or people sounding off about American politics or politicians or silly "can you think of a city beginning with E and ending with A?" games. Perhaps I have picked up a lot of unintentional  "friends" by accepting "friends" who have 795 "friends." Maybe I should be doing a little judicious weeding, and then I may get some interesting posts again. .

I hope Twitter hasn't gone the same way while I've been on holiday. I haven't been Twittering - its gets too complicated about passwords sometimes to bother with everything. Plus which I haven't been on the internet  all that much - far too much to do out in the fresh air and sunshine. Everything is so small on a laptop! I can't wait to get back to my big screen.

The feeling is growing on me that Blogging is not as ... how shall I say? as interesting as it used to be. More and more people have stopped blogging and readers seem to be fading away too. They've probably all migrated to something else that I've never heard of so far. There is a feeling of change in the air, but is it mega or only the usual drift away for the holiday season? Who knows?

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Last Time

Just returned from a long walk up the hill, along the top of the valley  and down by the La Peyrouse complex. We took a side path to the through the woods too, and it was cool under the trees. Coming back out into the sunshine for the march along the bottom road was hot and sticky work. Never mind; Tim is fast asleep on the rug, so it the exercise has done its job.

We're starting to think in terms of doing things for the last time before we leave on Wednesday. Tomorrow we have an appointment with the vet. to comply with regulations about taking Tim back to England. Then Wednesday morning we'll be off early for the long drive back to Abbeville, our overnight stop.We don't want to go through Rouen so I think we're skirting the extreme western edge of Paris. A tunnel is blocked in Rouen and it led to road closures and  mayhem among the traffic, so we want to avoid all the angst we had on the way south.

The weather weather broke a week ago and since then it has been warm but grey and cloudy with several thunderstorms and lots of rain. After a thunderstorm in the morning and a deluge of rain, the mist rose on the hay field last night and looked very creepy as it advanced on the mill. Today we've had patches of sunshine, but nothing lasting. At least the rain has the virtue of making the grass seed sprout and green over the bare earth the diggers left behind. Sleeping is a trial; the duvet is far too warm, but with only a sheet and a coverlet, I was cod last night. Got out and wriggled into "pyjamas" - a sweatshirt and leggings - and fell asleep right away. All in all, I think it is time to go home.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Rain, accidents and gatehouses

Torrential rain today. To go out is to come back drenched. I could go swim in the pool but it wouldn't be much fun without the sun on my back when I got out. I''ll have to settle for indoor activities. Thank the Lord for the laptop and writing as a hobby.

I dare not smile at anyone because I bit down on a piece of crusty bread and pate yesterday - and the French know how to make wonderful crusty bread and delicious pate - and my front tooth snapped. It was a crown, not a real tooth, but still I'd rather have it than not. The gap  left behind feels a mile wide and now I'm terrified to eat anything that isn't smooth and easy to chew. And  of course, when I smile, which I often do because I forget about the gap, people flinch and look away. I e-mailed my dentist yesterday, but so far she has not replied.

When it is too hot, Tim has to make do with running around the mill grounds, which is not a hardship as they're far larger than our garden at home. But when it is cool we take him for walks on the lead, just to remind him what a lead is in among all this running free, and a couple of days ago we walked past this magnificent resident which has its own little gatehouse on the roadside. It isn't used, and there isn't even a gate there any more, but it is a nice reminder of how things were long ago. Imagine the carriages sweeping in, and the gatekeeper eating his French bread and cheese as he guards the entrance.