Sunday, 19 August 2018

Newsletter follow up

A little over an hour ago my first Mailchimp newsletter went out. I hope it doesn't annoy or antagonise anyone! The Mailchimp site I find rather complex, so I am feeling my way with it and have a very slow rate of progress. As I get to know how to use it, I shall improve my news
letter, but this is a start!

The sign-up place is (at the moment) to the right of Tim's ear as you look at his picture, but of course it will move as I add more posts. Top right of the side bar at that point. I hope you will sign up and I shall be interested to see what happens at my end when you do. Evidently it is a legal obligation to have people's permission to send newsletters to them, so if you don't sign up I'll be very sorry but I won't be able to continue sending them.

Tim  slept through it all. Well, most of it.

Friday, 17 August 2018


Memories of France

Trying something new at the moment. The internet seems inundated at the moment with “experts” telling us aspiring authors how to sell more books. I followed Mark Dawson’s posts but decided I could not justify spending roughly £600 on an online course even if the information I learned would jump up my sales by x percent. Cynic that I am, I thought that if everyone followed his advice, then every indie author in the land would be earning thousands every day. Now that just isn’t going to be true, is it?

Seems to me that if it works for one or two authors, that’s great, but don’t expect the same result for everyone who tries the same methods. However – takes deep breath – there is some logic in what he says, so I am cautiously dipping my toe in the pool of newsletters. Sent out an exploratory e-mail to everyone I know whose email address I have on hand. You would think I’d have more than I collected together, but in my na├»ve days I didn’t keep back-ups and through a PC crash and my natural instinct for paper-tidiness and throwing away anything old (I inherited that trait from my mother; she was a devil for throwing things out. I lost several favourite books that way.) I have only a small number. In a way that is good, for I can build up slowly. It would be soul-destroying to discover that half of the emails were “dead links” or that people didn’t want to know me or my newsletter.

So the introductory has gone out, with no rude replies so far. Now I am exploring Mailchimp on advice from family and friends who all seem to think it is great. It probably is, once I’ve worked my way through it, but right now, it seems so complex it is making my brain ache.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

More about Locations

I discovered a fabulous website for maps held at the National Library of Scotland: I used it for the historical novels set in Edinburgh and Stirling in the mid 1540s. The magnification on most of the maps allowed me to see individual buildings on the old High Street most clearly.

Right now I am going through a third or fourth edit - yes, I've lost count - of my FOURTH book about Matho Spirston. I really did not know that the lowly guard captain who helps the hero escape death in FAIR BORDER BRIDE would stay with me as long as he has, but once I'd finished writing FBB, the critique group I belonged to suggested that Matho was character with potential and why didn't I make him the focus of my next book. So I did.

Since then he has survived being captured during a kidnap attempt on the infant Mary Queen of Scots in ABDUCTION and started a new career as courier to Sir Thomas Wharton in QUEEN'S COURIER. By the end of the book, the Dowager Queen, has decided he can be of value to her.

At the present time he is riding through France with two young people he has befriended, trying to discover who has disrupted the Dowager's correspondence and how he can put it right for her. So far, the title is COURIER EN FRANCE, but that may very well change. Will he stay with me? I have no idea; but there are times when I begin to think he was a real 16th century person. There was a Matho Spirston – the name appears in the rotas for guard duty in Corbridge when Scots attacks were expected daily, or rather, nightly; but I never found anything more than the name. So in a way, he was real.

Apologies to anyone who tried to read this  and found the formatting somewhat crazy. I only discovered how odd it looked by chance, and have now re-loaded it. Hope it reads OK now!

Sunday, 12 August 2018


Setting Far After Gold in the north west of Scotland was both better, because I had spent many holidays there, and worse because there wasn’t an equivalent large settlement like Dublin. is a starting point for the history of the area and the latest large scale maps show where the settlements and brochs, rivers and fords once were and sometimes, but not always, still are.

 I could describe the landscape because I’d seen it, as long as I made allowances for the changes that have taken place. Forests were much larger around the eleventh century and land was undrained and often swampy. Fords and known tracks were important for travellers and travel by sea was deemed much easier than travel overland. I had experienced the weather of the north west in the summer months and late October, early November; research told me which animals once lived there. We no longer have wolves in Scotland, but wolves and bears were certainly present back then.

Orkney is another of those places where research pays dividends. I’ve never been, but archaeology provides a great deal of information about dwellings, artefacts used, crops grown and where settlements were. Google Earth is fantastic for giving an author a feeling for the size of a place and the geography around it. The satellite imagery will give a very good idea of where you might beach a ship or find a way through the mountains and contour lines of maps will suggest whether you might end up in a bog or fall over a cliff face.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Locations (for writers)

I like researching locations for my stories. Contemporary stories in a foreign location are easily researched with tour guides, travel books and all the resources of the internet, but set the story in the past, and it’s a little bit harder to visualise. Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian locations are not too hard here in England as many of the streets and buildings are still extant, but when I made a 4 day trip to Dublin and found that the street I had set my heroine’s home on was still there I was surprised and delighted that I could walk up and down it. 

Why was I surprised? Because I had set my story in the eleventh century – almost a thousand years ago. (The fact that the street looked nothing like the scene I had envisaged didn’t spoil things for me. There might be fairly ordinary brick buildings there now, but the shape of the street was the same, I could see how steep it was, whether I could see the river or the sea from there, and it led to the cathedral that was being built at the time.)

Dublin was a famous Viking stronghold and an ancient settlement even when the Vikings arrived, so maps of the place in those days were easy to find online and print out thanks to archaeological studies. I could really get to know the layout of the Viking town from the maps and they showed the development from the earliest settlement to the 1200s, which covered my period of interest. Visiting the place showed me how narrow the river is now compared to how much shallower and wider it had once been before Lord Sitric confined it and reclaimed what had been swampy, tidal land.

All this came in useful when I wrote VIKING SUMMER published this year, and MAGICIAN'S BRIDE. 

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Improving covers

Some of my books have new covers. I'm doing them myself. 
I know  the word is that a professional cover is 
an absolute necessity, but all I can say is the covers I've had done for me have sold less than the covers I've done myself. One I paid quite a hefty sum, too. The other thing that is an absolute must these days for indie authors is editing. One must be edited. 
All this is is fine if the graphic artist and the editor comes courtesy of a traditional publisher. There are so many choices these days. Editors and covers artists  spring up on the internet in their hundreds, and who knows what their track record is like? 

I gather from a little ferreting around that the average price for editing a decent length novel by a reputable person is around £5 or £600. Add another £100 for a cover, and you have a £700 deficit against your book before you try and sell it. How many indie authors make that back in a year? In two years? Not many, is my guess.

So until I have an L J Ross type hit on my hands, which isn't likely since I don't write crime, I'll keep on trying to improve my own skills. Some of my first efforts were lame, I am the first to admit it; but I think I'm improving. 

Thursday, 2 August 2018


2 August 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Viking Summer by Jen Black


Vikings 11th Century

Ms Black has a thing about the interaction between the Norsemen and the Gaelic people in the 11th century. Just as in her previous books set in this period, she delivers a well-researched and gripping tale, featuring a young female protagonist, Eilidh.

Due to her brother’s lawlessness, Eilidh has been taken hostage by Finlay of Alba, obliged to remain at his court until her brother pays a substantial fine. But Eilidh grows impatient and when her brother fails to show up on the set date she convinces two young men to help her “escape” Finlay’s court and return home. I must admit to finding this a little implausible as no well-bred woman of this century would ride off unchaperoned with two hot-bloods, and as to the two young men, Finlay is their king and they owe him obedience. However, Eilidh’s act of rebelliousness will come at a very heavy price as the little party of three is attacked by marauding Norsemen.

Soon enough, Eilidh finds herself in Dublin, there to marry the somewhat unstable Kimi Torkillson. Not that Eilidh wants to: no girl in her right mind wants to marry this young man who seems to enjoy hurting people. However, it is marry Kimi or be sold as a slave, so Eilidh is trapped between a rock and a hard place.

Leaving aside my concerns regarding the plot device that leads to Eilidh’s abduction, Viking Summer is a fast-paced and well-written story. Against the background of a vividly depicted 11th century Dublin, Eilidh’s new life takes a turn for the very exciting, even more so when Finlay and her brother show up, determined to somehow find her and free her.

I particularly like how Ms Black describes the religious ambiguity of the era. At times pagan, at other times more than willing to pray to St Patrick and other Christian saints, the Norsemen who have made Dublin their home are pragmatic in their relationship to the gods. They are also cunning traders and brave fighters, more than ready to die on behalf of their lord. Their world is at times very simple, more black and white than grey, but the Norsemen as Ms Black portrays them are no fools, as adept at playing the political game as they are at wielding their swords.

At times, Ms Black’s obvious love and knowledge of the period results in a little too much detailed information which does not move the story forward, however, she does present us with a nicely convoluted plot and a cast of well-developed characters, foremost among which Finlay of Alba makes a lasting impression.

For those in love with the Viking period, this is an excellent read, offering insight into the everyday life of a culture that is often depicted as merely violent but which was much more than that.

© Anna Belfrage

Sunday, 29 July 2018


Holidays are over and it is back to the usual preoccupations. I've actually lost count of the number of edits I've done on the wip. Possibly the fourth? I'm printing it out for the second time as I complete each chapter, because I am still making changes to the storyline, which makes me think this may be the third edit rther than the fourth. There was such a long gap between writing the first chunk of itan, then abdoning it and coming back to it a couple of years later that I can see where changes are needed, particularly at the latter end of the story.

I have lots of plans for the autumn season. Finish the wip,  of course, but also to renew the covers on my earlier stories, and to do a lot more promotion of them. I was surprised to notice that KENP figures are showing up for the weeks I have been away - and I have done not a jot of PR to earn them! The  Amazon Conference I attended in Newcastle  a few days before going to France made me think about it more closely, and e-mails  received from Mark Dawson have inspired me to try different methods. I can't bring myself to pay his price for the course, though I might have done if I were in my twenties, in full time employment and hoping to make writing my future career, but his ideas are wrth trying.

I spent nearly the whole day yesterday attempting to download a free trial of Adobe Premier Elements yesterday and got so frustrated with it that in the end I uninstalled it. It was a sstruggle to register, took fifteen minutes or so to download and then refused to "play." Kept reverting to passwords time after time. It did not encourage me to buy the product, I must say! So I kept my old software and managed to produce a cover - a supposedly ghost Viking ship to represent the Viking magician who pursues a young girl because her power, aligned to his, will make him enornmously powerful.

Friday, 27 July 2018


Friday 20th July, 2018

Tim stumbled as he bolted down the steps the other day and caught himself on the corner wall concealed by the shrubs; yesterday and today we’ve noticed that he is limping, not because his foot hurts, which was our first thought, but because he is favouring the shoulder. It is worst when he first gets up from sleep; he’s like me, a bit creaky until we’ve moved around a bit. We’ll give him another easy day with only light exercise and hope it clears up soon.
Everything else is fine. The weather is cool enough to allow gardening and walking – typical, isn’t it? Now that Tim is limping and needs rest, we could have gone out and done the circuit: Gite Rural, Peyrouse, down the hill to Saint Maurice and back home along the straight road to the bridges.

Saturday 21st July, 2018
Cloudy and cool, with a threat of rain this morning. Tim still limping. Paws checked, nothing found. No lumps, bumps, and he doesn’t seem to feel pain when we try to find a sore spot.

Today, 27th July, 2018
Shortly after my last post we lost the internet connection, which we had been expecting. We're now home after a visit to the vet to get Tim cleared as fit to travel, then next day we set off up the country on Tuesday, no problems at Eurotunnel and up England to Newcastle around 4pm on Wednesday. Tim behaved very well, but he is still limping and we still can't find any reason for it. Hopefully it is bruising that will fade in time. So glad we cleared Eurotunnel when we did. I have every sympathy for those who are stuck there.

Monday, 16 July 2018

South of La Dordogne

Monday 16th July, 2018

More thunderstorms, one yesterday morning and one this morning. Lightning and thunder reverberating around the valley, lots of rain but no high winds, thank goodness. And all between four and five in the morning, guaranteed to wake a person from a sound sleep, which means a very slow start when morning actually arrives. But the air is somewhat cooler today, which is a relief. And now we know why the local farmer was working so hard and so late to get his crop in before the deluge.

Yesterday we discovered the gas bottle which runs the bbq was empty so we drove down to the Jardinelle in Bergerac to have it recharged. Because it was Sunday and opening hours were later than normal, we drove south from the last roundabout in order to locate the turn-off for the airport and fill in a little time. The countryside seems quite different south of La Dordogne – smooth green hills filled with vineyards and with the most surprising chateaux dotted around. Well worth exploring – or going to visit the caves to sample the wine – though perhaps not the best idea when driving!

My impression of this small portion of France is that there are not many tourists about. Oh, they are here; but not in the numbers that we’ve seen in previous years. Is that because of Brexit, I wonder? The general economic climate? Prices in France are very much on a par with England these days, so the days of a cheap holiday are long gone. Makes it easy to calculate the euro-pound sterling exchange rate, which for me is good news.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

It's the little things....

Saturday 12th July, 2018

Doing the grocery shopping in Vergt is dh’s task, mainly because I am cowardly about driving the big car through the narrow little lanes around here, not to mention parking it in the congested car park once I get there. In my trusty 14 year-old mini Cooper I'd have no probs, but dh’s car is so much bigger and it is automatic AND it has all the latest computerised gizmos and gadgets. 

I can drive the mini in my sleep, but just starting and moving off in the new one involves a set of instructions I ought to know and keep forgetting.

I like shopping in France, because the selection is different, obviously, and it is a much more leisurely occupation than back home. That may be to do with the rural location than the French psyche, but you never quite know if that is the answer. After all, I have never grocery shopped in Paris or Lyons! I stood in line at the till with 2 items the other day – bread and two millefeuille – around 11 o’clock and stood there for ages while every housewife in Vergt did her weekly shop and then stood in the queue patiently waiting while the lucky person actually going through the till exchanged pleasantries with the cashier. There were at least six lines and the same was happening at each. When my turn came after about 20 minutes I stepped forward with the usual "Bonjour Madam" and put my two items forward. 

$4.55 she said, in French and I checked the numbers on the screen just to be sure I had them right and then handed her the $5 euros in small change I had laboriously counted out as I waited.

She quickly gave me back about 40cents and I picked up my packages and walked away, glad to get away at last. There was an outcry behind me. 

“Madame, madame MADAME!” Oh God, I thought, what have I done wrong?

It turned out, with much giggling from the young cashier and the ladies in the queue, that I had walked away without “la difference” - my change. All 5 cents of it.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Storm damage

Saturday 7th July, 2018

What a week! We had the night of the thunderstorm on Monday 2nd; violent thunder and lightning all through the night, with power off from about 11pm until about 8am Tuesday morning. On Wednesday 4th, it started rumbling off in the west mid-morning and faded away again. Then late afternoon, back it came with a vengeance – not only thunder and lightning, but torrents of water and a howling roaring wind that thrashed the trees round about the mill in a scary way. The power went off again almost at once.

Dh was downstairs checking the electrics and I was sitting cuddling Tim when there was a bang, a crash and the windows behind me blew open with another crash. The wind had blown open the shutters in the balcony room (they were pulled closed but not fixed and the windows were open because of the heat) The gust of wind slammed the door in the hall and knocked out a small pane of glass and the big windows at the end of the living room banged. I leapt up and ran to secure the shutters and found the floor of the balcony room very wet where the rain had blown in. DH arrived upstairs at the gallop wondering what all the noise had been.

Fortunately the only damage was the small pane of glass from the lovely old hall door. The rest was mopping up and fixing all the shutters properly, which meant we were in semi-darkness, so there was a hasty rummage in cupboards to find candles. Then dh found water pouring through a conduit into the same cupboard as the electrics…. after a hasty mop-up there, we traced that back upstairs and found the downcomers from the roof – and it is a huge roof – had carried all the dust and debris into the drain that runs along the bolly and then plunges down under the house. It was blocked and the water was backing up. So we unblocked it and next morning we spent a good hour cleaning that out.

The storm final moved off, but by then it was too late and dark to do anything. Next morning everything seemed quiet. I took Tim for his early morning trot around the lake and discovered three, maybe four big trees damaged. Two big walnut trees in the garden have lost major branches, the old quince tree by the well has a broken branch and at the far end of the lake by the log store, a huge tree had snapped, fallen and broken another tree in the process. One branch has speared through the log store roof.

None of those will be dealt with until some sort of mechanical power is used. There are hundreds of smaller branches littering the ground and those we can move, we will. There are other, smaller trees that have fallen or partially fallen within the woods but luckily nothing had blocked the drive.

The real problem was no power. Friday morning we made contact with the neighbours and heard that the high tension line that supplied power to the area was down, and no one knew how long it would take to repair. In a way it was a relief to know that it wasn’t only us without electricity, but that didn’t solve the problem. We had several days food supply in the freezer and the fridge and by Friday it was starting to unfreeze.

There was nothing for it but to cook everything on the gas barbecue, and we spent a couple of hours doing that on Friday around 6pm. We braved another cold shower (my second and dh’s third, since he had been unlucky enough not to have had his shower when the power went out on Wednesday!) and retired to the balcony room to read. The pool is filled with leaves and dirt, but there’s no power to clean it. No tv, no computer, and my ipad was down to 19% charged. Things were looking dire. We retreated to bed about 9.30pm while we could still see what we were doing, and suddenly dh saw the electric clock had sprung back into life. 9.40pm and we had power! We could look forward to a cup of coffee and a hot breakfast in the morning!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Wildlife in't mill

Wednesday 4th July, 2018

The thunderstorm should have left the air fresher, but it didn’t. Next day the heat was back, as hot as ever and has continued ever since. By Monday night I was so tired I went to bed in the afternoon and had a real siesta. Slept for an hour, and then slept all night too. Days later we are still hot, hot, hot and getting very little done. We are drinking litres of water and skulking in the shade wherever we can find it.

Saw a fox the other night, running away from me across the nearest part of the cows’ field. It had been foraging among the irises that grow by the stream, but ran off into the woods. Tim never saw it, but he finds the little piles of poo filled with cherry stones or some dark blue fruit. I scooped a frog from the pool with the long net and dumped it in the wild grass. Currently watching a chick being reared in the rafters of the bolly. We think they are swifts or swallows (we don’t know the difference!) and then there is the large grasshopper that dh picked up somewhere on his way back from shopping in Vergt. It was clinging to the front bumper and seemed unhurt, so we released it into the nearby honeysuckle. Small adventures, all of them, but part of the rural life we like. Oh, and there was the mouse who came galloping in from the hayfields when the farmer was cutting the hay and the kites were flying overhead; it made a beeline for the house door until dh put his foot in the way. Mouse turned sharp right and ran along the house wall back to the fields – but our fields and woods, hopefully.

I also forgot to mention the unmentionables - those pesky biting flies that find every inch of unprotected flesh and leave an itchy red bump that makes us look like plague victims!

Friday, 29 June 2018

Editing and writing - the difference!

Friday 29th June
Sunshine continues to blast out of a clear blue sky, though when I woke yesterday the world was swathed in mist and I was chortling at the thought of a cool day. By 9.10am the mist had vanished and there was the sun again. My swimming is improving to the point of 14 crossings of the pool while dh lounges on the side counting them off on the fingers of both hands. Nothing to write home about for the excellent swimmers out there, but for me, it’s good!

I’m done with the wip but for the last chapter, and I want to sort out some twists in the storyline before I attempt that. Things grow as you write, don’t they, and a few tweaks are needed to get everything in line. All this exceedingly hot weather means I can concentrate on writing, or rather editing. I need to check for single v double quotes, since I first began this story using single ones and then decided I didn’t like them. Much as it grieves me to agree with any reader of the USA who insists on them, I do find them easier on the eye. (Must be my sight deteriorating as I get older, as I never used to mind which type were used.)

Then there are all the repeated or missed words, typos and most of all correcting any errors in names or facts. One instance of Justin has cropped up already in the first two chapters instead of Jehan, which is the name I finally decided to give my Frenchman. Most of all it is smoothing out the writing, making sure pronouns don’t confuse the action and strengthening the verbs. If I can think of a prettier or more interesting way to say something, I’ll use it. There’s so much to look out for that I do only half a dozen pages in one burst and then do something else for a while. Tim benefits, as that often means walking the dog around the fields and lanes!

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Lunch in Lalinde

Tuesday 26th June

Yesterday we went to Lalinde and got hissed at (or Tim did) as we walked past the basin to go on our walk, for a pair of swans had a nest there. We walked by the canal, mostly in the shade of beautiful trees, which was wonderful, since the average temperature was 28 degrees – and seemed hotter in full sun!

All in all it was about 3 kilometres to the bridge and back, and by the time we got back into the town, we were all flagging. It was a little early for lunch so we went and sat by La Dordogne where it was cooler. There was a lot more water flowing fast, more than we remember seeing; the river bed was completely filled with fast flowing water and we could see the river bed and the long streamers of weed. The swans that usually cluster on the opposite bank were nowhere to be seen. We ambled back to the square and chose our seat. The waiter asked if we wanted drinks or food and when I said, “Food,” he said we would have to wait ten or fifteen minutes. “That’s fine,” I said.

We sat in the shade of the large timber and stone building and it was delightful as long as you didn't look up. Strong wire netting prevents the pigeons from roosting in the eaves and thereby dropping little parcels on your table, or worse, on your plate; but the dust of ages has attached itself to the netting and the lamps that are up there for the evening sessions are covered in fluffy dirt. A housewives nightmare and I don't know what the H&SE would say!

Once the magic hour of 12 clicked by, the waiter was all action with his staccato French delivered in gun bursts; three menus for our delectation, a bowl of water for Tim, and a grande Pression for Bill. I chose Salad aux gesiers, which is duck’s liver and walnuts on a bed of lettuce with a tasty dressing. Bill chose confit du canard I think, and devoured the lot plus some of the liver from my plate. Tim got a fair chunk, too, but there was enough for all.

We debated having dessert, but there is a boulangerie/patisserie across the corner and I opted to select two cakes to take home. “Une mille feuille and a tartlette aux fraises, ce tout,” I said in my school-girl French – and was understood! 4.45 Euros I paid.
We drove back with the air con full on and had coffee and the cakes in the cool of the house. Then we fell asleep. A siesta helps get through the heat of the day in a most delightful way.