Monday, 23 March 2015

Cutting losses

After much thinking I've decided to cut my losses on Viking Magic. It received one one-star review and once the review went up, sales dried up and never recovered. Amazon won't remove the review, so I am removing the book. It isn't easy to "unpublish" something, but we'll see how it goes. Onward and upward, as every writer learns to say.

Thankfully my latest wip is going well and should be ready soon. It is nothing to do with Vikings, but set in late Victorian Northumberland and London where manners count and ladies didn't dare attempt a career if they wished to marry and raise a family.

All I need now is a title, a cover and a final, final edit!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Riveting reads

Currently reading JoJo Moyes. Enjoyed Me Before You a couple of years ago, and  bought a couple of her titles at the supermarket last week expecting a good read. Sheltering Rain and Ship of Brides. Galloped through SR and enjoyed it but for feeling that the Kate character was a bit wet - but then, aren't we all from time to time? Loved the leaky old house, the old woman and her horse, and Sabine, the rebellious teenager.

But SofB is a different story. (Sorry, pun unintended) I cannot find an interest in any of the characters. It may be a true story, or a fictionalised version of a true story, but that doesn't make it a riveting read for me. Others may well think it's great, especially if grandparents turned out to be one of the Aussie war brides.

Strange how one tale grips and another doesn't. Same author, same writing style, format and price. Content is the thing that matters here, and it is an interesting pointer for all authors. As a reader I'm disappointed in my purchase; as a writer, I'm experiencing first hand why one title takes off and another flops. I have to say, knowing that someone as popular as Moyes can have a book I don't like much, is quite uplifting. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is. What it says to me is that it  can happen to anyone, and that is comforting to me.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Historical romance v Historical novel

Nicola Cornick has recently written an interesting blog piece about historical romance versus historical novels.

Her lovely blog stimulated me to sort out my views on the subject.
I think both extreme ends of the range of books set in a historical period are easily recognised and acknowledged by all, but it is the section in the middle where controversy rages.

On the far left we have category romance, where the romance is the only thing the author and the reader, presumably, is interested in. Category romance specifically does not want sub-plots and sub-characters running off and doing interesting things, taking interest away from the hero and heroine. The author must focus on the couple in question. These days, interest does not stop at the bedroom door. More and more blow-by-blow encounters are detailed inside the bedroom - or the equivalent. It must be an age thing, but four and five pages of these encounters often have me skipping over them. But I digress. My taste in sex scenes may be a little less graphic, but that isn't what the post is about.

The other extreme is of course the literary end. These books are often three and four times longer and detail all sorts of other things beside the central romance - if there is one. C J Sansom manages to write almost 450 pages without a central romance featuring at all and I love his books. Cornwell's Sharpe has a few stabs at romance but there is so much more about daring-do, war and skullduggery. Writers like Forester, Clements, Winston Graham, Mitchell, Gabaldon and Parrish follow a similar pattern as we head towards the more middle of the range works.

This where the lines blur. Readers will put authors  in differing places on the line. Some will say Gabaldon is literary because she has great swathes about the American War of Independence in her Outlander series. So did Mitchell in Gone with the Wind, but in both those books, the central theme is the love affair between Claire and Jamie, and Scarlett and Rhett. We could be very analytical about it and put every title on a sliding scale of romance v literary-ness, but who has the time? Certainly not me! It is a task for each reader according to their personal taste, should they chose to do it.

The other thing that affects the argument is the male-female reading bias. In general terms, though not everyone fits into these divisions, men like action, women like romance. Men like tighter writing, women want feelings explained. Men's reviews still  seem to have more kudos than those written by women. Men, of course, review the Sansom, Forester, Cornwell "serious" type of historical novel. Perhaps they write better reviews? I don't think I've seen this type of historical novel reviewed by a woman, but they must, surely? If not, they ought to.

PS ~ Perhaps Byron had the answer when he said "Man's love is of man's life a part; it is a woman's whole existence." Follow that through and you have an answer to the basic question, though you may not like it.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Remarkable Poldark

The new version of Poldark aired on Sunday night. Facebook is full of people's reactions, mostly in favour of the new version, but with a minority who insist the older version was better.
 I have to admit I can barely remember the original version, though I know I admired Robin Ellis. I spent a lot of holidays in Cornwall and the scenery was a draw. The costumes were romantic, too. I was never certain about Rees as Demelza. Entertaining she undoubtedly was but she never looked like a heroine to me. Too small, always dwarfed by that silly floppy cap she used to wear. In the new version, I'm still not happy with Demelza. This girl is too big - oh, I know, I'm never happy! - but really, she is almost taller than Ross. If they stood side by side, she probably would be. She also looks like a mature woman from her first scenes - and yet Ross calls her a child. In the book she was thirteen. I once sent a story to an American publisher and was told they wouldn't take it because the heroine was too young at fourteen for the sexier aspects of the story. So far, Demelza's age hasn't been mentioned in the tv production, but she looks about eighteen. Yet Ross thinks she's a child. Credibility gap?

I love Aidan Turner in most things, and think he is fine in this. I like his sudden irritation with Elizabeth when she says he must forget her as she will marry Francis, then asks if they can be friends. He turns on her with a roar of pain and fury. But I keep looking at that scar - surely they could have done it with more skill? His costume changes are interesting - he has finery for weddings, but often wears faded coats and shirts and neck ties that look as if they've been worn for days on end - and probably have! Costumes have improved so much these days. Demelza, on the other hand, never gets out of her brother's rags during the entire first episode! She and Elizabeth soldered together might make one nicely rounded woman. Both actresses are stick thin.

I wondered if they would keep Jud's way of speaking -  "tisn't fair, tisn't right, tisn't decent. tisn't nice" - and they have! Prudie did so very well to run all the way to the big house while Carne battered Ross into the floor. She should enter for the Olympics - Ross needed a horse to get home from Trenwith to Nampara on his first night home. Prudie got there before the fighting finished. A truly remarkable athlete in spite of her size.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Best sellers of 2014

Here's the list of best selling books of 2014
Top Five Books of 2014 (e-book sales, print, and combined sales)

1 The Fault in Our Stars Green, John Penguin May-12 392,522 871,815 1,264,337
2 Gone Girl Flynn, Gillian Phoenix May-12 409,113 529,602 938,715
3 Awful Auntie Walliams, David HarperCollins Children's Sep-14 19,493 553,921 573,414
4 Minecraft: The Official Construction Handbook Egmont Mar-14 0 548,017 548,017
5 The One You Really Want Mansell, Jill Review Feb-08 540,648 39 540,687

Top Five Books of 2013 (e-book sales, print, and combined sales)

1 Gone Girl Flynn, Gillian Phoenix May-12 411,163 627,097 1,038,260
print.2 Inferno Brown, Dan Transworld May-13 328,960 640,676 969,636
3 My Autobiography Ferguson, Alex Hodder & Stoughton Oct-13 44,292 803,084 847,376
4 The Hundred-Year-Old Man... Jonasson, Jonas Hesperus Jul-12 462,608 223,966 686,574
5 The Fast Diet Mosley & Spencer Short Books Jan-13 174,129 497,200 671,329

John Green's The Fault in Our Stars sold 392,522 copies in e-book and 871,815 across all editions in print. That's a combined sale of 1.26m. what's worrying is that I've never heard of it. 
Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl sold 939k. This one Iread and enjoyed. Excellent premise.

Both Green and Flynn's titles, both published in May 2012, benefited from popular film adaptations released during 2014.
Jill Mansell's The One You Really Want and Harlan Coben's The Woods make the combined chart's top 10 with scarcely any print numbers.

In 2014, e-books weighed in at 6.8m, claiming 36% of the chart's overall volume of 18.8m units. In 2013, e-books claimed 30% of the overall volume of 18.2m. That's a growth of 22% in digital over print, which sounds good since most of my stuff is available in e-format.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Baronetage

A baronet is not a peer. The title is a hereditary honour descending from father to son. Thus Thomas Wharton was given the honour by Henry VIII and thereafter stuck Sir in front of his name and Bt after it, If he had no son, the title would become extinct. If a later holder of the title sires no son, the title descends to the nearest male descendant of a former holder.

 A baronet's wife takes the title Lady with her surname, thus Lady Wharton. She is not entitles to be called The Lady Wharton. The is not generally used now, but was once in general use - historical authors take note!

A baronet is addressed by his title and forename ie Sir Thomas. In writing you would address him as Sir, and his wife as Madam. The envelope would be  formally addressed to Sir Thomas Wharton,bt and for his wife: Lady Wharton.

Widows  retain the style until the succeeding baronet marries. The new wife takes the title and the  widow adopts The Dowager Lady Wharton. If she marries again, she takes the same status as her new husband. In other words, if she marries a commoner, then she becomes Mrs Jane Harris or whatever. Until re-marriage they are addressed  by forename and title. Children of baronets have no titles. They are plain Mr and Miss.

Went up the hill for a walk today and almost blew away. Beautiful and bright, but the wind! Tears ran down my cheeks!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Those titles....

Courtesy Titles can be fun or sheer hell, depending on your Point of View.
Here's a real life example: The 8th Duke of Devonshire died without issue. His heir was the eldest son of his brother, Lord Edward Cavendish, who had predeceased him. As long as the 8th duke lived his heir presumptive (Victor Cavendish) had no title, nor of course had his two brothers. But when Mr Victor Cavendish succeeded to the dukedom, his brothers became Lord Richard and Lord John Cavendish. His mother, however, remained Lady Edward Cavendish.
It is interesting that even though Victor would have inherited had his father, Lord Edward, succeeded to the dukedom, these privileges cannot be claimed as a right. They are given by favour of the Crown and warrants are granted in such cases only upon the recommendation of the Home Secretary.

(I am using capitals as used by Titles and Forms of Address. The use of capitals where royalty and the nobility are concerned in fiction is food for a whole other post.)

I have difficulty with hereditary barons and baronets. Barons and Baronesses make up the fifth and final grade of the peerage, ie the lowest in rank. The confusion possibly comes from the Scottish peerage created in Scotland before the Act of Union in 1707, and the installation of Life Peers; but before we digress,  lets look at English barons.

All of this rank are known as Lord or Lady with the exception of peeresses in their own right who may choose to be called Baroness. The title is sometimes territorial, sometimes a family name and sometimes something made up for the purpose. An example might be Baron West, with a family name of Sunderland. In speech these people are addressed as lord and lady or baroness. In writing I should address them as My Lord, or My Lady. If I know them personally I might  write Dear Lord West or, if I know them really, really well, Dear West.

A dowager baroness is the earliest surviving widow of a peer. If he had a second or even a third wife, they are distinguished by the use of their forename before the title. The former wife of a baron uses her forename before the title. So there is sense in getting it right. If I'm introduced to Lady West, Lady Lavinia West, the Dowager Lady West or Daphne, Dowager Lady West, I ought to be aware of their status within the family.

Enough for one day? I think so.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Those tricky titles

Titles and Forms of Address, 20th edition, is a mine of information for a historical author. It becomes obvious on delving into it that the strange ways of the addressing nobility have a purpose, if not a secret code . Though I shall never be introduced to the Queen, I know that if she speaks to me, I should answer using her title Your Majesty for the first response and subsequently can get away with Ma'am. Should Prince Philip speak to me, I answer with his title Your Royal Highness and subsequently Sir.
If I meet the children of the Queen, the same rule applies - initial response Your Royal Highness and subsequently Sir or Ma'am.
The peerage has five grades - Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts and Barons. A hereditary title descends from father to son or grandfather to grandson. Occasionally descent includes the female line. If a cousin succeeds in an ancient peerage, it is because he is descended from some former holder of the title, not because  the previous peer was his cousin. With newer titles, it gets complicated over who might or might not inherit.

All peers have a family name as well as their title. Sometimes they are the same. Sons and daughters of peers use the family name, except in the case of eldest sons of dukes, marquesses and earls. The eldest son takes a courtesy title - in effect he borrows one of his father's lesser titles from the day he is born and uses it as his own.

It is a lot to remember when you are writing an exciting romance. More to come with the next post.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

PR and voting

Been out with dog, inhaled lots of fresh air, tramped about 5,000 steps while he ran maybe three or four times that number, and came home before the rain started. Neat, as they say in slang speak. Also turned the thermostat up while dh wasn't looking. Rain and cold is so depressing, and we don't have a bottle of wine tonight as we're trying to cut down.

Done my PR for the day. I'm about to begin a read through of the Daisy story via print out. I fear there will be lots of little glitches, like heroes ageing two years in one day and heroines forgetting they have brown eyes. Probably lots more as well, but fear not, they will all be smoothed, removed, and brought into line before I attempt publication. I think I also need to up the mystery element of the plot. I've been having such fun with the romance I forgot the thievery.

Someone told me I was an established author the other day. I  can't tell you how that made me feel. Actually, yes I can. Quietly pleased, if still disbelieving; but a nice boost to the ego. Yes!

Writing is only half the story. The other half is promotion. It takes a lot of time and effort and there is often the feeling that it brings little actual reward in terms of sales. I have added to my collection of yahoo groups in the hope of furthering the word out there. I'd like to do more on Goodreads, but just don't seem to get the hang of how the site operates. Facebook is turning more and more to authors plugging their books, and ditto for Twitter.

But the world is strange. I notice people on FB calling on others to vote for Outlander in some competition that's running. Vote again, they cry. Vote anyway, even if you haven't seen it! which seems crazy to me. Imagine it - if one person wished to, they could vote again and again. How many votes could be registered in a day? 1,000? 2,000?  I hope online sites prohibit users from voting more than once, but I have the nasty suspicion they don't, or at least not always. But really - 2,000 votes from one person is/are meaningless, don't you think?

Since I'm on a small rant, I ought to add that I'm so tired of seeing pictures of Jamie Dornan, bearded or not.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Poldark for US

If anyone in the US is an Aidan Turner fan or an avid Winston Graham reader, then here is a link you should follow:

Evidently Turner is contracted to the BBC for five years in order to do the complete series. Sounds like good news to me. No doubt the usual arguments will flare about the tv production following or not following the story line, if certain actors were right for the part - and if the actors are audible and intelligible after the dreadful muddle of Jamaica Inn.

I missed the penultimate part of Wolf Hall last night as I went out to supper with friends in the Pump Room just outside Durham City. (The restaurant is called Oro and the waiters seem to speak only Italian. It is pricey but the food is good, if in portions too small for my appetite. I came home and ate a slice of home made bread, toasted. Must be all this fresh air and dog-walking.) So I shall have to watch the video before next Wednesday. I hope the pace has picked up a little as I struggled to stay awake while watching the video last week. (I fell asleep during the live programme!)

The snowdrops are in full bloom on the riverside, and this year they are not fighting their way up through snow. Not in my part of the world. They are having it easy-peasy with sunshine and temperatures around 4-9 degrees C. Crocus (crocki?) are showing upright yellow spears in the garden but have not opened up yet. I'm trying to keep Tim off the newly sprouted daffodils. Last year he kept eating the flower heads, silly boy.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

50 Shades v Outlander

Interesting to compare the reception of  two different shows that share a major component. The first is 50 Shades of Grey, and the second is Outlander. The major component, if you haven't guessed, is sex. The first few episodes of Outlander aired recently, and the next few are scheduled to begin soon. 50 Shades went on general release yesterday.

I think I'm right in claiming that the E L James has sold 100 million copies in the 50 Shades trilogy and Gabaldon 20 million over seven or eight books. Even if the figures are slightly different, it is easy to see which is the most popular. Why then all the brickbats and bashing for 50 Shades and fewer complaints about Outlander?

The biggest complaint about 50 Shades is that it offers and even recommends abuse of women. I don't think this is true. I read the first book and the heroine actually signs a contract to say that she is a willing participant in the relationship which leads her into the pleasures of bondage. At any time she can withdraw, but chooses to stay. The complainers say this leads men of a different type to try and do the same without the willing consent of their partners. We night as well say that crime stories lead people to loot, steal, rob and commit murder, They complain that Grey is a handsome billionaire who makes everything seem romantic. Well, naturally; this is fiction, after all. It wouldn't work if he was a tramp and lived in a dustbin.

Outlander on the other hand, has a story about a modern women stranded in 1745. More imaginative, but even more outlandish, you might say, than the set up of 50 Shades. Claire, the heroine, sees and filters everything through the eyes of someone used to the life of a 1940s woman, It is possible that Claire is more independent than women actually were in the 1940s despite their necessary work during the war years. Claire, I often feel, is as modern and independent as the author, born in 1952 and 39 when she published the first Outlander novel.

There is a good deal of sex in the novels. Claire is threatened with rape so many times in the first few episodes of the Starz production that I lost count, but I think they were present in the book too. It is so long since I read the first one that my memory of it is hazy on certain points..Then comes her relationship with Jamie. The film episode where they marry is devoted to their lovemaking to the exclusion of almost everything else. The difference is, in this production/story, Jamie is a virgin and Claire is the one with sexual experience. I remember thinking how great that Gabaldon had turned the usual man-in-charge-thing on its head in the novel, and cheered. I also noted how many women worked on the Starz production team alongside Gabaldon. I think what we have on film  is a woman's perception of making love.

That is also what we have with Anastasia in 50 Shades. We share her perceptions, not his. The only difference is that in 50 Shades, he is the controller and she the novice, In Outlander, Claire is in control or at least an equal partner in the later novels. And I think that is what makes the difference, why so many women complain about 50 Shades.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Jelly days

Do you ever have those days when it feels like you must walk through jelly? Every step wobbles and there is always the danger of sinking. Today is a bit like that. I ought to get on with my wip, but although I like the way it is shaping up, I cannot summon the energy to get on with it. Probably it's because of too much red wine last night. Alcohol is insidious (stealthy, spreading) - after one glass, it takes away all your good resolutions and a second always seems a good idea. It is also invidious (offensive and invites animosity) in that it will eventually make you feel bad and frequently bad-tempered!

Last night I fell asleep while watching Wolf Hall. I'm surprised at myself, and put it down to the two or three glasses of wine. It is perfectly possible that Wolf Hall was boring, but in order to say that, I'll have to watch it first.

Microsoft Word 2010 annoys me because it won't hold a default setting. Every time I start a new chapter on a new document I have to change the default setting from Calabria 10 font to Times New Roman 12 font. The paragraphs, first lines, spacings all have to be reset as well. Totally, but totally annoying. It must be a glitch in the software. (I always do a new chapter on a new document and send it off for critique. When I've gone through half a dozen critiques, made changes, read it over and finally decided I am satisfied with it, then I will add it to the previous chapters in one long document.)

There shall be no wine tonight. Therefore I shall wake up refreshed and ready to write 2,000 words tomorrow.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Gabaldon and Jamie's charm

My attention has turned to Gabaldon's Written in My Own Heart's Blood now. It was published in 2014 but the waiting list was long at my library and I don't care for the these later novels enough to pay the high price they demand. So I waited, and lo! patience is rewarded.

I remembered that Jamie was thought to be dead at the end of the last book, and that Claire had married Lord John. Then the news came through that Jamie wasn't dead and the book ended. Well, this one starts by trying to kid people that Jamie is still dead. I'm 85 pages in, and Jamie and Claire still haven't re-united. Now some people might argue that this is artful suspense; others might claim this is sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of the author. Keep 'em in suspenders as long as you can!

There will hundreds of fans out there who have no problem with the complex relationships that pepper the series. After so long away, I'm having a hard time fixing who everyone is. The members of the family Fraser aren't so bad; it's the hangers on like Dottie and Rachel who give me problems. Plus which there are new characters no reader will ever have met before. And I see we're still fixed in the American war in 1778. Duh. (I wonder why Americans  like English history so much? I have absolutely no feeling for the American wars of Independence and I assume that unless there are English forebears involved, Americans would feel the same way about English history. But out of the 240 million or whatever the US population is now, only a small percentage will have English roots.)

Gabaldon writes with such detail. Every thought, every wriggle of an eyebrow is recorded. No wonder each book reaches 800 plus pages. Growing bored with it last night I flicked ahead to see what else might be in store and noted two gruesome operations and a time shift section. There are also places where Jamie tells Claire very prettily how much he loves her, and I suspect this is where Jamie's charm lies. Every woman dreams her man will say these things to her!

On the other hand, the writing has a strange page-turning quality I find hard to define. It isn't literary, like Mantel., and not lyrical like Chadwick. Nor is it attention grabbing like Gregory. It is chatty in style, almost as if she were speaking direct to the reader. There is wit in the dialogue, beauty in the description, sound common sense and philosophy mixed. There is also the banal and the commonplace and it does go on at great length, At times I long for the story to move forward. Why haven't Claire and Jamie met yet? I might skip ahead.....

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Wolf Hall Blues

Starting to worry about Wolf Hall - the tv production, that is.

I worried a couple of years ago about the book being such a hit, and now I'm worrying about the tv show. The locations are excellent, the lighting is brilliant, the diction perfectly audible. The costumes are well done - though I'm not so sure about the weird dress Anne Boleyn wore last night. The pattern of the fabric reminded me of flock wallpaper, but I have to admit I have seen similar designs in portraits of the Tudors. The style and colour did not suit the actress who plays Anne. In fact, if I'm honest I'm not convinced by her portrayal, But then I didn't like Anne in the book, so it was to be expected I wouldn't like her in the tv production. Mantel did a hatchet job on Thomas More, too. Even Henry doesn't come out of this too well, and I had high hopes for Damien Lewis's portrayal. he so looked the part. Only Cromwell shines as a man who walks a fine line, knowing who is corrupt and when to make his play. I'm only surprised at the number of ladies who seem ready to throw themselves at him and they include Mary Boleyn. Possibly I'm misreading what is being portrayed. Perhaps they saw Cromwell  as a man on the rise and therefore worth cultivating.

But why am I worried? Because the plotline, for want of a better word, is thin.. We all know what the theme is, and every scene relates to that in some way. The editing is sharp. We move from scene to scene at a rate of knots and to my mind without having a scene finished or completed. Several times last night I was jerked to a fresh set of characters while still expecting more from the previous one. Perhaps I should watch it again and see if that feeling still holds.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Du Maurier and Corstopitum

Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is a classic novel, written in 1938. I read it years ago after hearing people quote the opening line : 'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.' 

I enjoyed it on this re-read, but found the amount of description surprising - of gardens, plants, scents, and the sea .  I didn't even notice them the first time, let alone find it odd.. Today, no doubt thanks to television, cinema and 24 hour news, I wanted less description; I wanted things to move faster. But it isn't a story that moves far or fast, and that is part of the charm. Very little actually happens; it is the threat of something bad about to happen, the sense of being inadequate, knowing that others find you lacking that makes up the story.  Is the threat real, or in the heroine's imagination. Is she even a heroine, for she is nameless and far from heroic. Rebecca is the star of the show and she's been dead a year and a half. A clever concept, and well handled. But would it have been picked for publication today?

Enjoyed a lovely walk on  Sunday afternoon along the Corbridge river bank and then up past the Roman site at Corstopitum 

Brilliant weather for January, and lots of people out walking kids and dogs.