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

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Metadate 2

When thinking about the metadata for your book, don't skimp on detail: include all that is necessary - your book's title, subtitle, contributors, your own name, all the normal stuff.

Then we’re off into the realms of category and classification. Amazon gives me 7 keyword slots to fill in and I try to use every single one of them. Firstly I tagged my books as romance, then added historical romance and thought I’d done well; then discovered I should be more specific; not just “romance,” but "adult steampunk fantasy romance." (Not that I ever wrote anything to fit that classification!)
Instead of "historical" something more like "late Victorian Underworld zombie mash-up" seems to be the way to go.

If you don’t feel inspired, type a couple of keywords into Amazon and see what other authors use. Amazon even offers advice and recommends keywords for certain sub-categories. I was aware that BISAC Subject Codes existed – after all, I was a librarian! – but I’d never thought of using them in my self-publishing. BISAC Subject Headings categorize books by content so why not check them and see if their headings inspire you? 

Think about including important story elements such as the occupation of your protagonist, the time period and place in which your book is set. Does it include any specific historic event? If so, work that in.

If you quote reviews in your book description, ask the reviewer if you may include a keyword. He may have written "Best thriller I have ever read!" but "best post-apocalyptic thriller I have ever read!" is even better.

Make excerpts from your book available where you can.

Provide links to your website and social media pages where allowed.

Add your author location if you want to appeal to your local audience.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018


For a long time after I first self-published, I had no idea what Metadata might be.  Then one day I fell across something on the internet that made me feel I had to find out more about this strange sounding word. 
That is when I discovered that Metadata is the information that makes your book searchable. Or put it another way – potential readers can find your book by the Metadata you provide - such as the author name, the category, price, ISBN and title. Enhanced metadata include author bios, blurbs, review quotes and more.
If you are an indie author you will have to list Metadata at every place you publish your book – Nook, Kobo, Amazon etc. Like me, you may not have realised this is what you were doing!
It was about this time that I ran into another puzzle. What was SEO all about? It stands for search engine optimization and guess what? Metadata is the information that search engines look for when someone searches for a book. The advice was to create metadata that fitted my book and matched my target audience. Author name etc was not a problem, I could supply that sort of factual info with ease, but Keywords and Categories proved a different thing altogether. 
My next problem was which Keywords and Categories to choose. Sounds simple, but I’m not sure I’ve got it quite right even now. In my next post I shall run through some of the good advice I’ve discovered.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A final word on Blurbs

You Should:
See if you can get some Quotes from well-known authors. Some  will refuse you, but if one responds it will be worth it. The same applies to famous people reviewing your book because you can add their quotes to your book description. Quoting individual authors instead of publications will give you a much better click-through rate and that is what you want.

If you have won awards for your writing including that too.

Pick the best 5-star review and add that to your description.

You Should Not:-

Never give away the end of the story. In fact, be sparing in your actual description; make the reader curious, but be sure not to give away too much plot.  Avoid clich├ęs and overused phrases like "in a world of..." which always makes me want to add the words "Myth and Magic"....because I heard it so many times while watching Merlin on tv.

Comparing yourself with other author can raise the wrong expectations with your readers. It is not very wise to call  yourself the "new Stephen King" or advertise your book as the 
"next Fifty Shades of Grey." 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Blurbs - the professional way

Further advice on blurb writing - gleaned from various sources: 

Guessing what will work with your readers might do the trick, but actual data might be better. There are various ways and means of accessing data.

Services like Manybooks allow you to test two different descriptions for your book to see which one gets the most downloads. Or you could send different version of your blurb to reviewers and see which version gets you the most responses. Though why reviewers would be bothered to do this beats me.

 Create a poll on your blog or website and ask people to tell you which version they prefer. That might get better results and might be something I would try.

Run Facebook ads simultaneously with different “pick-up lines” in your ad description  and see which ones get the most clicks - though I have doubts about this. Surely the first option will get the most responses? I wouldn't click on five versions of the same thing, and I don't think many people would.
 Providers like Constant ContactGetResponse or AWeber will send your proposed blurbs to your subscribers to see which they prefer. Seems to me that I could set up an e-mail people would click without going to a company which no doubt will charge for doing this for you.

Most of this sounds like something I would not do, but I would send a blurb to a group in which I participate and ask for comments. Usually, the comments all seem to cancel each other out initially, but there is often a clear "winner" and that's the one I would go for.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Writing Blurbs part 2

My research on writing blurbs has gleaned the following hints and tips which I include here to help me when next I come to write a blurb :

To put it simply, start with a situation, introduce a problem and promise a twist. So easy! Show the mood of the story  if you can (and you should be able to do that!) Don't make a romance sound like a thriller - unless it is a thriller with a romance element!

Your first sentence may be the only one read by a potential reader, so aim for the biggest impact in that first sentence. 
Keep it short for the same reason.Make an impact with 100 words - 150 maximum. Also remember that short sentences grab attention. Try using white spacing to separate thoughts, break up blocks of text. 

Introduce your characters by name and characterization: ie actor Steel Collins, murderer Joan Pellow. The trick is to make what you say memorable and stir the readers' curiosity

Add the place and time of your story ie "From his floating island home in medieval France, the wizard....”

Once you have a blurb, print it out to look at in a different format. View it on your phone, ipad, etc etc.

Plan to take your time with it. Begin with a short summary. Write your first version. Read and trim. Try different versions; do at least five and see how they strike you when you look back at your work a few days later. If you start writing your blurb before you finish writing your book, you will have plenty of time for adjustments to the blurb! So start early in the writing process.

The pic of Perigeaux has nothing to do with writing blurbs, but reminds me of a lovely hot day in France - I need it on the wet, dank, miserable rainy day!

Saturday, 7 April 2018


Do you have trouble writing blurbs? I find them almost as difficult as writing a synopsis, so I’m reading around the topic this week. After all, a good blurb should equal good sales and we all want those. Here are some preliminary findings:-
Browsing bestsellers may not be a good idea, as the author’s name already sells the book, so the blurb may not be so terrific; browsing lesser-known but successful authors is a better idea.
A good blurb aims to show the genre (the title and cover should also do this) and entice the reader to look inside.
Highly effective blurbs are CONCISE and arouse the buyer’s CURIOSITY. It is a mistake to think a blurb is a summary, for a summary gives the plot away and answers curiosity. An effective blurb creates questions in the potential readers’ mind.
The Blurb and the Look Inside feature don’t have long to impress anyone, so use some of your best writing in both.
Other vital things to do - Check that your blurb flows well. Spellcheck it. Match your vocabulary to your target audience, because words they don’t understand can scare them away. Research your subject. Ask for opinions on your blurb - this can help you generate buzz before you publish.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Successful authors

Top selling authors on Kindle of all time:

EL James
Lee Child
Stieg Larsson
Suzanne Collins
George RR Martin
Gillian Flynn
Diane Chamberlain
James Patterson
Peter James
Sylvia Day

I saw this on the internet this morning and forgot to copy the reference, but I had simply followed a link on sucessful authors and up it came. There was also a list of the cities in England that read the most and surprisingly London was not included. Nor was Newcastle, I have to admit!

 There are two authors listedthat I have never heard of - Chamberlain and Day. We all know the infamous, possibly notorious, E L James and the other names I know though they may not be among my favourite authors. I could not  hack my way through GAME OF THRONES, and Peter James is good but a little longwinded for me. I read him when I've nothing else handy! (Sorry Peter!)  Stig Larsson could have done with a good edit, especially in the first half of the first book, but that is only my opinion and what do I know? I'm not even in the list!.

I've read all of Lee Child's bar ECHO BURNING and the MIDNIGHT LINE, which will be remedied shortly.What interests me might be the names that are not there - Rankin, Gregory, Gabaldon, Bolton and Nora Roberts to name one or two. Are their books not available in Kindle? I've never checked. If they are, I suspect they are as highly priced as the paperbacks. In the last month or two I have noticed Kindle versions that are priced higher than the paperback and those I'm never going to buy and I hope no one else does either. An author I enjoy is Peter May, another is Robert Goddard, I tried Julian Fellowes BELGRAVIA earlier this year but found the writing rather sketchy; perhaps he is more of a screenwriter than a novelist and there, he excels.

Since it is sleety-snowing here today I've added a grey snowy day picture! 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Rebus fan

I'm a Rebus fan. Not an Ian Rankin fan, but a Rebus fan. Mostly that's because I see Kenn Stott and the actress who plays Siobhan Clarke as I read the pages. I always think she looks far too gentle to be a police detective, and she always surprises me. I found this  piece on Ian Rankin's website and hope he won't mind if I put it on here as a sort of promo for him. It is a lovely reminder of how he started. It is also a wonderful description of the character, which is useful for me. I have a number of Rankin's books on my shelves. I even have some in paperback and one or two in Kindle. Duplication. Sigh. It shouldn't happen to an ex-librarian, should it?

Here's the excerpt:

It’s happened. An idea for a novel that started as one situation and has blossomed into a whole plot. I’ve not written any of it yet, but it’s all there in my head from page one to circa page 250’ (Ian writing in his diary 19th March 1985)

The character of Detective John Rebus – complete with estranged wife, young daughter and fragile sanity – seemed to spring fully formed from young English Literature graduate Ian Rankin as he sat in his bedsit in Arden Street, Edinburgh in March 1985. The book’s title Knots & Crosses came first, with the detective’s name coming out of that ‘picture puzzle’ of knotted rope and matchstick crosses of the title. Oxford had ‘Morse’ – a code, so Edinburgh would have ‘Rebus’ – a puzzle.

Knots & Crosses was not intended to grow into a series. In the first draft Rebus died at the end: but during the editing process Rankin decided to give him a reprieve. This was just as well, as when sales of standalone novels Watchman and Westwind were slow, his publisher suggested he revive the detective, who reappeared in Hide & Seek.

The word ‘curmudgeon’ could have been invented for Rebus. The flawed but humane detective we first meet in Knots & Crosses when he’s aged 40 is pretty much the character we see even in the most recent books when Rebus flirts with retirement before returning to the police force when the rules change. Rebus is a professional misanthrope made more cynical by the job he does. He delights in flouting authority; he smokes and drinks; he doesn’t play by the rules. He is the ultimate maverick cop who prefers ‘old-school’ graft to new-fangled modern-day policing methods. He’s a flawed, pessimistic, multi-layered character, a troubled, brooding soul and a cynical loner who can find no solace in faith, who’s obsessed with work, and happiest when propping up the bar of his favourite pub, The Oxford Bar, a glass of IPA in his hand.

The older Rebus has a bit more flesh on the bones – both literally and metaphorically; he is a little more disillusioned, and fighting a few more demons – and not quoting quite so much Walt Whitman or Dostoevsky.

The Rebus novels are written in real time, so Rebus ages along with each book. As the series progresses we learn more about him. Born in 1947, Rebus grew up in Cardenden, Fife, with his brother Michael, the sons of a stage hypnotist and grandsons of a Polish immigrant. Rebus left school at aged 15 to join the army whilst his brother followed in their father’s footsteps. Rebus served in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, before being selected for the SAS in 1971 where he excelled in training but he left the army shortly afterwards, which brought on a nervous breakdown. Following lobbying from the army, Rebus joined the Lothian and Borders Police in 1973. Rebus has been married, but divorced sometime in the 1980s. His ex-wife, Rhona, and his daughter, Samantha, appear frequently in the early novels.

We first meet Rebus in 1987 in Knots & Crosses when he is a Detective Sergeant working on the case of the Edinburgh Strangler, a serial killer who had been abducting and strangling young girls. He is based at the (fictional) Waverley Road police station where he receives anonymous letters containing knotted rope and matchstick crosses…