Saturday, 14 January 2017

Solway Moss

Battle of Solway Moss 24th November 1542

On the 18th November Sir Thomas Wharton, Deputy Warden of the English West March and Captain of Carlisle, called out the gentlemen resident within the West March to be at Carlisle with bows and spears by sunset on 22nd November. He planned a raid on Middlebie and Langholm with the aim of both annoying and confusing the Scots who were massing at Langholm.

He returned after supper on 23rd to the news from the Lord Warden, then Lord Hertford in Alnwick almost on the east coast that a great force of Scots, estimated at between 17,000 and 19,000 men, would descend on the West March on 23rd or 24th November.

Wharton had his deputies and commanders either with him or waiting for him at Carlisle and his spies were reporting almost hourly on Scottish movements from Langholm south toward the rivers Esk and the Leven. His forces, estimated at between 300 and 3,000 men plus 100 light horse, sometimes called “prickers” seemed like no match for the opposing Scots. However, the prickers, called into existence by the eternal forays of the Scottish Border, were probably the best light cavalry in Europe.

There are five contemporary reports on the battle: original letters from Sir Thomas Wharton, (written on 23rd and 25th November) plus one from Sir William Musgrave. Two more are “reports of reports” (Lisle and Tunstall (6th Dec) and Edward Hall’s “Chronicles,” published 1548. Lisle had taken over the Wardenship from Hertford on 1st December that year and might therefore be forgiven for not having a full grasp of the battle.

Communication was not easy in the sixteenth century. Wharton gives excellent detail of the entire battle, probably because he had his clerk with him to take notes.

A smaller battle took place at Akeshawhill, one mile east of Netherby, where Jac Musgrave, a captain under his brother Sir William Musgrave, led the company and later wrote notes which were later taken up by Lisle and Tunstall, who seemed mistakenly to believe that the skirmish was the main thrust of the battle. Lisle’s report to Henry’s Privy Council omitted all mention of Wharton.

On 24th November Wharton rode out with 2,000 foot and 1,200 horse to West Linton and observed Scots riders burning Oakshawhill. Lack of a guide, November weather and the notorious Solway Bore, often up to ten feet in height, dissuaded Lord Maxwell from bringing his Scots across the shifting quicksand of the Solway to Burgh on the English coast. Instead he chose to advance via the Esk Ford at Arthuret. Wharton and his prickers met them there.

Scots horse retreated to Arthuret Holme to warn the main body of the Scots army. The Border Horse pricked at Maxwell’s rear during their retreat.
The Grames chased Scots raiders from Oakshawhill to Arthuret and from Lyne to beyond Hopesikehill. Wharton advanced and set up his six standards in a flying formation ie with wings outspread to look as imposing as possible, on Hopesykehill.

As the Scots advanced, Wharton’s two hundred archers loosed off a volley of arrows. A trained longbow man can send off 10-12 arrows a minute, so the Scots advancing uphill faced a deluge of approximately 2,000 deadly arrows followed by a charge of the notorious prickers. Disorganised and believing themselves to be facing a much larger force, the Scots retreated.

Wharton overran the Scots foot at Hopesykehill and advanced to Howse to watch the Scots army floundering at the Myln dam. They attempted to regroup and fired light ordinance at the English. Maxwell dismounted at Sandyforde and attempted to rally the main army and protect the river crossing.

Wharton sent in prickers to harry floundering Scots who panicked and ran back to the river. The Scots retreated, ran from the battle, only to be harried by Liddesdale reivers. King James escaped capture by riding hard to Stirling and then on to Falkland where he died a few days later. A few days after that, his wife, Marie de Guise, gave birth to a daughter, Mary, on 8th December 1542. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

New tasks

The New Year is a good time to turn over a new leaf. (Isn’t it easy to fall into clich├ęs?) I mean that I want to set up a good regime of work again, because if the Christmas holidays do nothing else, they seem to butt into everyone’s working habits. I’ve done virtually nothing for a fortnight now, but from today – things will be different!

So much to do. I’m learning all the time, and there are so many changes coming along that it is hard to keep up. This month my long time independent publisher Write Words, Inc will close its doors after 17 years and leave two of my titles homeless. 
I’m deciding whether to publish myself or canvas for a publisher for Banners of Alba and Dark Pool. How much do I want to re-edit them? They were my first books published, and I could probably improve them. Dark Pool in particular has never had much success, so perhaps a change of title and a new cover is in order there.

Certainly I shall do nothing with them until I have The Matfen Affair published, but other tasks will probably include trying to get Amazon to remove all traces of the old version, particularly the paperback of Banners – still for sale at the ridiculous price of £33. I’ll need to alter the book page here, too. There’s nothing worse than an out of date book page!

I'm also having another go at mastering Goodreads. In the past I have found it the most difficult website, but I really should have a presence there.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A long holiday...

It has seemed a long holiday this year and I for one am glad to get back to normal life. There were some days when I didn't do any writing at all, didn't check sales, didn't do anything to do with writing. I think the best film I saw over the entire holiday period was "What we did on our holidays" with David Tennant and Billy Connolly. Not only was it set in one of my favourite holiday places, but the children were amazing actors and the story line was at times sad and at others an absolute hoot - the scene where Bullimore is in the supermarket - never to be forgotten!

Ten minutes before the start I noticed that Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) was running from 1pm to almost 6pm on New Year's Day so I immediately sat down and watched a good chunk of that and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I actually bought two paperbacks for Christmas reading. One was The Loving Husband by Christobel Kent and I finished it yesterday morning. I enjoyed and was annoyed by it at the same time. What was going on? So many things the wife didn't know about the husband, who is murdered on page 12. The rest of the book is discovering who killed him. The police characters believe she did it and if I am ever in this kind of trouble, Heaven preserve me from this most unpleasant pair of detectives.  

The story is told from the wide's POV, so what she doesn't know, we don't know and that was confusing at times, as were pronouns used where names would have been better. (I have sworn to be extra careful with my use of pronouns after puzzling over who was doing or saying what to whom in this story.) It was also a tad overlong (in my view) but I still recommend it to those who like crime.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Spring Cleaning

Since the internet is so quiet I took the opportunity to do some spring cleaning - 
early Spring Cleaning. It was prompted by Tim thumping a paw down on my wrist (a friendly gesture, I assure you!) which resulted in me spilling a full mug of coffee over the carpet. It was never the best carpet being only required to do duty in my study-cum-Tim's bedroom, but after twenty years of drips and drops and smudges, a mugful of coffee was the last straw. 

Off we went  to the carpet sale room and found a perfect Berber twist in shades of brown and cream - an offcut almost exactly the size we needed. Brought it home and spent the next two days ferrying books out of the study, laying the carpet and then carrying the books back into the study. When I say books, of course, I include in that files, papers, cds, files, document boxes - you name it, I've got one. The only thing we did not move was the built-in computer desk.

There was also the dust of twenty years in secluded corners that never see the light of day in ordinary circumstances, but now my little study is a haven - so neat, tidy, clean, and it looks bigger because of the lighter shade of the carpet. I am well pleased with our efforts. Don't know what Tim thinks of it now that everything is settled. He followed us everywhere as we dismantled the room and didn't know where to settle. Still, it had its upside - he was absolutely knackered by six o' clock and slept all evening. Perfect peace!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Eve

The wind is howling outside and grey clouds scud across the sky.
 I really would prefer to stay indoors this morning, but I think Tim is going to want his usual walk. No peace for the wicked, then.

So it is here at last. Christmas Eve. We've taken the pork joint out of the freezer and we'll collect some fresh vegetables from the local Co-op which is our closest supermarket, well within walking distance. Then I think we might hunker down until these winds have passed by. These days cold winds make my eyes tear, and I feel such a fool walking around muddy fields with tears streaming down my cheeks. 

What is it about Christmas that brings out the nostalgia? I've just finished re-reading Georgette Heyer's The Civil Contract and thoroughly enjoyed it, though I think if she was writing today she might struggle to persuade the younger half of the population to read her. She has her established fans, I know, but do new readers take to her stories?

I've begun a re-read of The Matfen Affair and in the first two chapters alone I'm astonished at how many changes I've made. Often it is just reversing the order of sentences so that it reads more gracefully, sometimes I see repetition and remove a phrase. Sometimes I'm adding in tiny details that help the picture become more visual or bolster the characterization. So I failed in my aim to get it published for Christmas, but hey! I'd rather have something really good go out a few weeks later than rush what already exists into print.

Monday, 19 December 2016

A two month marathon?

I had three paragraphs of a post written, decided to change the font - and lo and behold, the words I had written disappeared. Now I cannot remember how I began the post. It was something like "Why has Christmas changed from a couple of days to an endurance marathon lasting a couple of months?" 

The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind, but is down to people and the dear old media. Where would we be without the media telling us what to  like, what to wear, what to eat and what to spend our hard-earned cash on? Soon they'll be telling us what we believe and the danger is we'll believe them!

Everybody is "Getting ready for Christmas." The supermarkets are crowded, the roads are horribly busy, towns are jam packed and even Facebook has been reduced to adverts on things we can buy. We inflict all this on ourselves and convince ourselves we love it. "I love the bustle and excitement," people will tell you. People go into debt to "have a good Christmas" and kid themselves it is "for the children." I suspect the adults love it even more than the children because it is a break from (paid) work, a chance to indulge without feeling guilty and to admit you don't like Christmas is as good as saying you don't like chocolate. We are going to like it even more this year now that all the strikes are scheduled to take place before or over the Christmas period. If the TV channels go on strike, we will really be thrown on our own resources!

Once Christmas was a religious festival spread over two or three days. Families were nice to each other, exchanged modest presents and went to church. Now it seems to be an explosion of presents, gluttony, an alcoholic haze and a great big blow-up on EastEnders on Christmas day. I suspect Church rarely gets a look in, but would love to be surprised if the opposite were true.

I know the weather is dark and dismal, and the coloured lights in towns and cities lift the spirits. Christmas trees look pretty in the corner of the living room, but imitation trees this year can cost as much as £150 and the baubles that adorn them are expensive. Trees now have to be "dressed," and believe it or not there are people who have made a career out of dressing Christmas trees.

Gone are the home-made paper chains of the fifties and even the sixties, when parents and children actually sat down together and talked as they made them. I think my Christmas is still very much of the old-fashioned variety, and I do celebrate it, but in my own quiet way.
I'll leave it to Tim to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful Christmas.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Publishing these days

Spotted this article today and saved it here so I can pop back and re-read at my leisure. It may be that other writers missed it, too! and I'm sure they will be interested. It seems author Jane Holland has a blog called 52 ways to write a novel (which I did not know but will now follow) and back in March this year an argument about indie/self publishing sprang up there.

Something I noted this morning - the Historical Novel Society has redefined the way it reviews books. Evidently there are to be no distinctions between traditionally published and self published, but in order to climb out from beneath the piles of submissions, the criteria for earning a review are to be tighter, higher or just more rigorous, depending which word you prefer. I saw this on Facebook this morning, and now - typically - I cannot find the piece! I believe it was Alison Morton who placed the article, which may make it easier to find, but if not then I'm sorry Alison.

Ten minutes later, again in typical Facebook fashion, I fell across Alison's post and hastily copied the link. Here it is:

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Bestsellers of 2016 Amazon

Amazon announced today its list of the best-selling books of 2016.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script topped the list in every category: Best-Selling Book overall, Best-Selling Kid & Teen Book, Most Gifted Book and Most Wished For Book. This year marks the first that a play has made Amazon’s top 20 best-selling list.
The top 20 best-selling books are:
1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
3. The Whistler by John Grisham
4. The Last Mile (Amos Decker series) by David Baldacci
5. Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
6. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
7. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
8. Night School: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child
9. The Black Widow: Book 16 of Gabriel Allon Series by Daniel Silva
10. Diary of a Wimpy Kid # 11: Double Down by Jeff Kinney
11. 15th Affair (Women’s Murder Club) by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
12. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
13. Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben
14. Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill, and How They Operate by Gary J. Byrne
15. The Wrong Side of Goodbye: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly
16. The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines
17. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
18. One with You: Book 5 of A Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day
19. The Obsession by Nora Roberts
20. Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
The top 20 best-selling Kids & Teens books of 2016 overall are:
1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid # 11: Double Down by Jeff Kinney
3. The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
5. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
6. The Last Star: The Final Book of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 2) by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay
8. The Crown (The Selection) by Kiera Cass
9. Empire of Storms: Book 5 of Throne Of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
10. Lady Midnight: Book 1 of The Dark Artifices by Cassandra Clare
11. Take Heart, My Child: A Mother’s Dream by Ainsley Earhardt and Kathryn Cristaldi
12. Glass Sword (Red Queen) by Victoria Aveyard
13. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
14. A Court of Mist and Fury: Book 2 of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
15. Gravity Falls: Journal 3 by Alex Hirsch and Rob Renzetti
16. Calamity (The Reckoners) by Brandon Sanderson
17. Give Please a Chance by Bill O’Reilly and James Patterson
18. Pax by Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen
19. The Thank You Book (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
20. Broken Prince: Book 2 of The Royals Series by Erin Watt

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Six Wives

I watched Lucy Worsley's new venture last night and thought it well done in spite of the fact that I nodded off part way through Catherine of Aragon's story. ( That is more to do with me than the programme. I can't sleep at night and then nod off whenever I sit down to watch tv.)

The costumes were superb and the actress who played Catherine had me believing her and her speeches were moving. She's the best I've seen since Irene Papas played her so many years ago. It was clever to have someone walk in front of costumed Lucy and reappear as herself in modern dress. I enjoyed that little sleight of camera. Henry looked like a pouting youth straight out of the schoolroom. Yes, I know he was barely eighteen when he and Catherine married but by the time he wanted to annul the marriage he was in his thirties. Is there such a dearth of Henry types in the acting fraternity?

Loved looking at the backgrounds, the scene setting, the beds, the floors. Candlestands, even. I have it all recorded so I can watch again whenever I want a Tudor fix.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Making it big

There are few authors in the world who ever reach the dizzy heights of Forbes billionaires list, but one or two manage it.

We can all dream big, and we don't want to  be faced with questions about how to manage our money once we make it, so hearing about others who have made it can be illuminating. Some do it better than others. Some have a talent for it, and others mismanage it, but reading how one famous author has done it is illuminating.

Try reading this article by James B Stewart: and join those who wonder how much money J K Rowling has made and what she has done with it. If it is any of our business!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Filming Dunnett

Something I saw recently on Twitter claimed that someone is going to film the Lymond series of Dorothy Dunnett novels. I hope it is true - and I hope it is not true as well. I probably won't like their choice of actor for the hero, though I will be delighted if they choose Aidan Turner for Jerott. 

When I read a book, I have an image of the characters in my head. Call me odd if you like, but that image sticks with me through thick and thin and so often the stars the film production companies choose are so wrong compared to the image in my head. I suspect they are chosen for their "bankability" rather than their acting ability or their rightness for the part. 

Book groups never agree when they start on the right actor to play Lymond. They never have and they never will. Americans select actors the UK has never heard of, and no doubt we do the same in reverse. Very few actors are equally well known in both countries and very few of those can really act. I suppose the current popular choice would be Eddie Redmayne for the sometimes androgynous Lymond. I'll have to think about that. Will he do? Perhaps. Can he act? I think so but I've never actually seen him in anything.

On the other hand, I think Russell Crowe might do very well for Richard and I'd love Sam Neill to play Lord Wharton.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Least favourite things

I’ve known I’m getting old for some time because a lot of what is shown on tv disturbs me. I am reminded of my parents, who sniffed in disgust at various things back in their day. Now I find myself doing the same. What sort of things am I thinking of?

So many comedians who are not funny. 

Celebrities who vie with each other to wear the least clothing in public and then put the photograph on social media. 

Reality programmes that use nastiness of one kind or another to grab an audience. 
The way the media supports anyone who knocks the Conservatives but rarely manages to catch anything derogatory or rude about Labour supporters. 

The way someone’s views are routinely shouted down, mocked, talked over or cut off in most tv interviews these days. 

The cowardly people who use Twitter to annoy, vilify and abuse others. 

The obscene amount of money that is bandied around in football and most other sports today. 

Advertising on tv – and anywhere, for that matter - that tempts people in gambling.

The focus on food adverts when the nation already obese. 

The endless cookery competitions where food is wasted and living creatures are killed – there will be a dearth of lobsters soon since so many are  used in cookery competitions.

Blogger thinking I have spelling errors when I am using British English!

Just a few of my least favourite things. Have I mentioned anything that annoys you these days? There must be something!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Romance Really Rocks!

Today I took part in a reading at Newcastle City Library. With five other authors from my local romance writers group. I read a passage from one of my books to an audience who had paid the vast sum of £3 to be present. Perhaps Romance Really Rocks! wasn't quite the best title, for though most of the books had a romance thread in them, they were by no means category romances or, to put it a better way, the romance was not the main thrust of the book.

I chose to read a passage from Queen's Courier, which is my latest and available now in paperback as well as Amazon Kindle. Being new to this game, when I was told to aim for seven minutes I got out the stop watch, selected a passage and then had to whittle it down when the first run through came in at over seen minutes. Then last week we met and planned the event, had a run through and we were all told the time had been reduced to five minutes. Mine came in a 7 minutes 10 secs, so once again I got out the marker pen and deleted words, lines, passages that I felt could go without destroying the sense of the piece.

Words  I found difficult to read aloud without my teeth getting in the way were also struck out. By Tuesday night I had it down to five minutes five seconds and reading at a faster pace brought it well under the five minutes barrier. Never have I appreciated editing more!

So, to the day itself. We could choose to use a lecture-microphone set up, and I did so because my voice is small and I found it a strain to try and project to the back of the room as we are told we must. We had advance information that twenty tickets had been sold, and more people were expected to walk in on the day.

However, only eight people showed up by the time we started. I had opted to go second, after Janet MacLeod Trotter, who has had, and still has, a very successful writing career. I stepped up to the microphone, and began with a small introduction about what inspired my story. If I tell the truth, I enjoyed the reading. The lighting prevented me from seeing the audience in any detail, but shone on my script so that I could see it perfectly. The microphone took away all the strain and allowed me to modulate my tone to fit what I was reading. By this time I knew the piece so well I could almost do it without the script!

Well, I don't think anyone sold any books, but for me it was huge learning experience. When I stepped out of the Bewick Room I was walking alongside the cafe in the library which seats somewhere in the region of fifty people. It was full of ladies of a certain age drinking tea/coffee and eating scones and cake. Why were they not in the Bewick Room, listening to six great authors?

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Amazon rules, OK?

Amazon has altered its customer review rules. Some revisions appeared in late September and others came in October.

  • ·        “To post a review, customers must spend at least $50.00 using a valid credit or debit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50.00 minimum. Customers in the same household cannot submit a review for the same product.”

  • ·        “We updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews (a review in exchange for a free or discounted product) unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program…The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

  • ·        Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.

  • ·        “A somewhat murky area is the case of reviewers who post reviews both on Amazon and on their own blogs, with links from the blog to Amazon that result in the blogger/reviewer receiving pay if the person clicking on the link then buys the item on Amazon. It’s not entirely clear at this time, but it appears that this scenario can lead to a purge, because it violates the rule that an Amazon reviewer may not post a review on a product in which the reviewer has a financial interest. Until more is known, a blogger who has monetized his/her blog might be better off not reviewing the same product on both the blog and Amazon.”

  • ·        Promotional Reviews – In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.

I don’t know about you, but I will have to read these several times to realise the import. Author Anne Allen talks about the new rules on her blog (see right) and from reading her I understand a good deal more than I once did. Those one star reviews we’ve all suffered over? Evidently some people actually set out to trash competitors by leaving one star reviews. So there you go. The world is stacked against you!

Monday, 14 November 2016

When is a series not a series?

The Matfen Affair word count is almost 50,000 and the end is in sight. Another twenty or thirty thousand should do it. When I published The Craigsmuir Affair I had no idea of a series, but I loved the title, which I thought had so many connotations.

The Gybford story languished with a Canadian independent publisher for a couple of years but I felt  it deserved more attention than it was receiving, so I reclaimed it and then decided to go ahead and publish it on Kindle after an edit, a new cover and a new title.

I was drawn to the simple but effective title The Gybford Affair but the idea of a series still had not really hit home. The characters were different in each title, there was absolutely no link between them. No character in Craigsmuir knew or was related to the characters in Gybford. The settings were actually ninety years apart.

When I began The Matfen Affair, the idea of a series title could not be denied. But I liked it. In fact, I loved it. In each of the titles - Craigsmuir, Gybford and Matfen – it is the place that is the star, or the series link if you want to call it that. That, and the general genre is the only claim to a series.

Choose one of the three and you will find that they are all historical romances with a mystery or an adventure thrown in. With Craigsmuir it is Daisy and her dream of being an artist while getting caught up in a series of art thefts at Craigsmuir and meeting the man with whom she will fall in love. 

In Gybford it is the rich heiress who swears she will stay at her beloved Gybford and not marry again and then gradually falls in love with one man, who  is dedicated to his lost wife, only to be courted and kidnapped by another that she despises.

Matfen is the country house hosting a wedding where Leigh is the bridesmaid who struggles with the house’s ghosts while battling the misadventures of her sister and cousin and finally discovering the man she loves.