Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sometimes I wonder...

My 14 year-old mini is going into the garage today for a new exhaust, so now I am grounded for the day. Will probably get lots of work done, and it is a good day to stay indoors because according to the Met office, storm Doris is on her way. (Haven't seen any signs of it yet at 9.09am)

Checked through a few magazines at the hairdressers yesterday and was disappointed to see so much female flesh on display. It is the same on the internet - small town celebs competing with each other to show as much flesh as they can before the censor clicks in. Pop concerts  with girls (supposedly) singing while wearing very little and edging dangerously close to the pornographic flashed across my tv screen while I had breakfast this morning. I wonder why it is? Surely this isn't what feminism is all about? How will women ever be deemed equal if they prance about in a state of undress and expect to be paid for it? What is it in women that makes them so keen to flaunt themselves as sexual beings? The local high school has hordes of girls who wear skirts no longer than their knickers (and sometimes shorter than their blazers) strolling through the streets - in this weather they must be freezing!

Not that I wholly support feminism either. Certainly not the kind that demands that I conform to their stereotype of what a woman must be. I sometimes wonder if the world would be a better place if mums stayed at home with the kids and settled for a life without two cars, three holidays a year and a tv in every room. Would so many children be deemed depressed, lonely, unsure of their sexuality if mum was there to come home to after school every day? Would they be bullied so easily, turn to self-harm and drugs so readily? It was one of the absolute certainties of my school life that she would be there whether I'd had a good or a bad day and I could tell her all about it. (If I wanted to - naturally.) I did not realise then how much I relied on her being there, but I do now.


Every person has the right to decide what they do with their life. Of course they do. But that doesn't stop me wondering why things happen, or wondering if things are the best they've ever been or if we're all caught in an illusion that it is better.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

New beginnings

After a few days of not working on a book, I'm now back in the groove. I amused myself by checking through all the photographs I've taken in the last  few years, and deleted all the ones that were not worth keeping. That freed up a lot of space! Then I began to look at writing again. Started slow, by opening up a copy of my first book Banners of Alba in a word document. (The publisher closed, so I have my rights back and plan to re-publish it myself.) It needs some work, because I've learned a lot in the last ten years. 

First of all, I changed the font to Bookman Old School, and the Language from US English to UK English. I fully justified the document. Then I checked all the chapter headings and decided I wanted just Eleven instead of Chapter Eleven. (That must save a lot of words....). Next I looked at the scene breaks, decided on a particular style and ensured they were all the same.  I've set up Styles for these things. 

We're on a roll now.  I began with the first chapter and read through it. I made changes. Couldn't stop myself. Not to the storyline, but cutting out unneeded words, where I'd over-egged the cake and/or repeated myself. Sometimes simply explaining things more concisely.
Like I said, I've been learning  a  things these last few years. Pity I didn't start writing much, much sooner!

Friday, 17 February 2017

The Matfen Affair

 The Matfen Affair is now published on Amazon Kindle and I wish it God speed. February 16th was my dad's birthday, so hopefully that publication date will bring me luck as I announce my new book!

 This one was fun to write. Leigh Fenwick lives in Northumberland, far away from Lady Jersey and her London Society cronies, but a wedding is still a big day in any girl's life. Visiting Matfen Grange as bridesmaid to her cousin Lucy, Leigh is sidetracked by a wayward ghost, the bridegroom is injured on his journey from Cumberland and the bride returns home after only one day of marriage. Cousin Bertram decides Leigh is exactly the girl for him, but Leigh is focused on someone else....

There is a Matfen Hall  close by the village of Matfen in the Tyne Valley in Northumberland, but as far as I know, the hall has no family or history such as I have described within these pages.


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Questions, oh questions

I don't know if I should believe Stat Counter.
Today it tells me that some two hundred  people have viewed my blog yesterday, yet when I look at the behind pages, they record only 65. So what exactly is going on?

I've often wondered if the views each post gets on Facebook are recorded. If they are, that might account for the difference. If anyone knows the answer, please tell me - it would be good to know for sure.

It seems that independent book publishers are still going to the wall. The latest to close its door is Samhain, one of the bigger names in the US. I had two books with a smaller independent and that closed in January after 17 years in business, so I have two books waiting to be given a new lease of life, but I don't think I shall look for another independent publisher. They all seem to be rather precarious. Better to publish my books myself via Amazon Kindle. That way I know I am in control, but a .curious question came into my head the other day.

 A case in point is Banners of Alba, the paperback version. The rights came back to me when the independent publisher closed, but I see the paperback is still up there on Amazon. Amazon say they keep every edition up as a record and it has a silly price on it, but supposing someone wanted to buy it. With the e-publishing process, Amazon could print a paperback copy of Banners whenever they liked and I would never know. I am not in control of that particular item as Write Words, Inc went ahead with the paperback some years back. Is there a way of getting that paperback title removed from Amazon? another question is - what happens when I die? Assuming that my books would still sell, do Amazon get to keep the royalties? Can I will my rights to someone else?

In the search for a good way to promote, I've been doing banners, like the one above. They're fun to do and don't take a lot of time, and hopefully they avoid the readers response of "oh, not that old ad again."



Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Dabbling in the market

This week, on the 6th to be precise, I lowered the prices on each of my e-books in order to discover if prices had any impact on the lack of sales recently. Out in Facebook land there is a theory that  the cheaper the e-book, the less respect it deserves. I read this so many times from so many different people that I resolved to raise my prices as I was not writing the equivalent of Kiss me Quick stories that would be forgotten two days after closing the book - metaphorically speaking, of course.

My raised prices and subsequent falling sales resulted or coincided with the national decision to vote for leaving the EU, so Brexit had to be to blame. It had frightened everyone into  scrupulous saving, hadn't it? I had no idea, because I had not noted the dated when I raised prices and I didn't do it on all my books at the same time. Scientific about it I was not.

Meanwhile, the KENP pages read continued to do well in the USA, particularly for The Gybford Affair. The UK doesn't produce the same results. Perhaps paying a monthly subscription for as many books as you can read hasn't caught on  in the UK. Or maybe UK readers don't like my books. Who knows?

So this time I decided to take note of what I was doing. On 6th February I lowered  my prices and waited the 72 hours for the changes to kick in. This morning I checked my figures and there were sales in the USA. Not a huge amount yet, and only one in the UK, but it is a start. Now it will be interesting to see how the  rest of the month goes.

I had priced one or two of the more recent e-books at $3.50, and the lowest at £1.99. Now the lowest is $0.99 and the highest $1.99 and I'll be watching to see what happens from now on.

The picture? Oh that is the real Matfen Hall in the Tyne Valley. In my latest story I have a vague outline of it in my mind when I describe Matfen Grange, where Leigh Fenwick has her adventures.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Co-authors

Wilbur Smith’s fans have said that they would like to read his novels faster than he can write them. So a new deal has been dreamed up whereby he uses co-authors. It sounds very similar to ghostwriters, though they usually work on celebrity biogs or novels. In this new venture Smith will hire co-authors to do the hard work of writing to his ideas.

There are some rumblings among literary purists.

However utilising co-authors is not a new concept. Anna Davis, a literary agent with Curtis Brown claims such tactics have been going on for centuries. “Alexander Dumas did it - he had a whole team of authors writing for him all the time. He'd plot things out and have other people do the donkey work."

The practice is used in the film industry and the art world. Damien Hirst uses "apprentices" to produce his works. James Patterson and Tom Clancy regularly hire co-authors. Patterson has become prolific with 14 new titles in one year. He sends out short chapter summaries – and I mean short at four lines long – and receives full length chapters to edit in return.

Naturally he became the highest-earning author. Forbes magazine says he earned an estimated $94m (£58.6m) in one year. No wonder there's not much left for the rest of the authors writing today! It seems the book-buying public cannot tell the difference between Patterson's work and that of an unknown co-author. Is that not a tad worrying?
Something else I've noticed is that  authors are joining together to write a novel, but it goes out under both their names. I assume this is to help spark ideas, share the work load and widen the market for sales. Twice the number of fans must mean twice the sales.

Don't let the picture fool you. It is recent, and we did have some snow, but it barely lasted the day. Provided pretty colours in the sunshine. Who knew Tim was tall enough to make such a huge shadow?

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Styles of language

Looking back over my posts from 2008 I found this interesting snippet from  Phillippa Gregory. Talking about writing, language and languages, she says:

"In terms of styles of language‚ I deliberately took the choice to use fundamentally modern language‚ but quite pure and quite simple. So I don′t use slang and I don′t use modern idioms. This is to make it acceptable to a wider audience and to write as well as I possibly can without being limited by language. For example‚ if I was to write a novel set in France and there were French people speaking French to each other − I wouldn′t put that on the page in French‚ I′d put it in English − and the reader understands as it′s part of a convention of reading a novel‚ that when someone is speaking Russian or French you don′t get a page of Russian or French − you get it in English.

If someone said to me that the past is a foreign country‚ it seems to me that it speaks a foreign language. So in terms of any notion of thee and thus and thy‚ superfluous words‚ I tend not to use them as it′s so strange to the modern eye. You also gain nothing by using them and the chances of rendering them correctly are very slim.

In the case of early modern society we don′t know how they spoke‚ we know how people have written down Shakespeare plays‚ but we don′t know how people actually spoke or what they sounded like. We do believe however that Anne Boleyn maintained the French accent throughout her life as she believed that it made her a bit special‚ I mention this in the novel. But in terms of how actually people spoke‚ we don′t know‚ so I won′t even make a guess."

This seems sensible to me, and  maybe that is because it is the way i approach writing historicals, too. I allow some of the local Northumbrian dialect I hear around me every day to  filter in where it is appropriate for the character and some Scots that is used today by my neighbours/and or heard on various trips north of the border. This isn't to try and add a historical edge to the story, but to help with characterization. Wander around Newcastle's main shopping street - Northumberland Street - any day of the week and you will hear  refined BBC type accents rubbing shoulders with Geordie and all the stops in between. (Sorry, no pun intended)

Personally I dislike the accent that predominates in Eastenders and the one I find the hardest to "translate" is the Rab Nesbit Glaswegian. I hear echoes of Northern Ireland in Australia, and can hear differences in American speech without know where in the US the speech originates. The whole subject of language is a fascinating one.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Age is just a number

Matfen Hall
Rain this morning, so we won't be going out for a while. There's always a chance the rain will clear away by eleven. So I shall continue with my final edits and hope to finish them today.

It will also be a weekend of tennis. There must be something in the air as we have the finals of the Australian Open this weekend, and in both male and females sides we have competitors who are over 30 years of age. Rafa, of course, is the baby of the group at just 30. Should be amazing to see Rafa and Roger take each other on again. John Lloyd puts it down to modern training methods and diet. Before he played a match he used to have steak and chips, but I gather it is mostly pasta - plain carbohydrates now. Australia is eleven hours ahead of us, so Serena may well have finished her match by now - must go and check!


Monday, 23 January 2017

Too much work!

My post on Solway Moss has done very well, which is why I left it up for a while, but now it is time for something new. Last night I seem to have set up a group on Facebook. Now I won’t scream and run for the hills, but truthfully I clicked on buttons because I wanted to find out more. I thought a group had already been set up, but didn’t see how that could have happened. This morning dh gave me a strange look and asked why I’d set up a group about me?

Well, it need not be about me, or at least, not only me. I’ll have to have a closer look at this new venture and see what I can make of it.


It could have happened at a better time, for I really should give The Matfen Affair its final read before going to Kindle. I’ve heard from DiscoveringDiamonds that I will be receiving a review for The Gybford Affair, and the helpful reviewer suggested that there were one or two little glitches I might wish to correct, so I’m doing that as quickly as I can. 

Before hearing about the glitches, I’d also discovered that I could change a PDF to Word by using Calibre, so I now have a word copy of Banners of Alba waiting to be re-edited. Given that it was my “first book,” certainly the first completed and published twelve years ago, there is a lot I want to alter. Not the storyline, but style. Seems like I shall be busy, busy for quite a while.

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.