Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Fear of Flying

You have to be over 50 to understand the hooha that went on when Erica Jong published Fear of Flying in 1973. It has sold more than 27 million copies and no doubt a new generation will discover it all over again now the author has given Isadora Wing a new outing in Fear of Dying. It is one of the hottest stories at the London Book Fair and goes some way to proving once again that publishers have their beady eyes on what will sell.

Fear of Dying tells of a woman in her 60s encumbered by dying parents, an ageing husband and a pregnant daughter and who feels the lack of sex as something too valuable to ignore. I am not sure that the majority of women in their sixties would prioritize their lives in quite that way, and thirty-somethings and youngsters probably think that the thought of their parents having sex as gross. Will a theme that sounds so depressing be as popular as publishers think?

There is evidence that publishers are scanning the self-published lists. Meredith Wild landed a 6-figure deal with Transworld in the UK and a 7 figure US cheque for her self-published novels about a young businesswoman's intense relationship with a billionaire. (A familiar theme?) A G Riddle gained a 7 figure deal for his self-published novel Departure, which features a plane from New York crash-landing in the English countryside.

Janet Ellis has won a book deal with a major publisher after submitting her manuscript under a pseudonym. A Little Learning is set in the 18th century, and sees a girl taken advantage of by her tutor. (Oh dear; sounds like sex and abuse; how can it fail?) As a friend of mine once said - Sex Sells.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Yawn time

It has rained all day to day, but to cheer myself up I've uploaded a picture from a better weather day. A day at the beach is in order again soon!

I've been working hard on Photoshop but I plan to start on the final edit of Daisy in a day or two, maybe even tomorrow. Then when I go on holiday I can take my laptop and start something new. That will be fun, for there comes a time when it is easy to get a tad bored with the story I've worked on for so long. When did I start? I can't remember clearly, but if you count the first attempt way back in 2009, then a long time ago. If you count only this last attempt, from about March this year, then not so long.

Writing can be hard slog. The beginning is fun because it is mostly research and pottering about making plans and timelines and then discarding them.Then comes the exciting moment when the first line is typed and then follows all the variations because we all know how important that first opening line is. Eventually it is time to move on and get into the meaty part of the story, and that is part exhilaration and part hard grind, but it has to be done and done on a regular basis as in day by day by day. The alternative is to have a long time gap and then forget the last plot point made, or get in a muddle by doing a different version of it. if you stick with the routine and do your daily quota of words (or something like it) then at last you type the last few words, and feel entitled to sit back with a silly grin on your face.

But it isn't over. You can't relax yet. Oh, no, not by a long shot. There's editing, and editing and final edits. That's where the boredom can creep in, because the story is so familiar there are no more surprises. Excuse me while I yawn.....

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Do It on a Layer!

Have made three possible covers for Daisy. The first one is rubbish, the second is better balanced and the third is better still. I'm on a roll now! The thing to remember - which I keep forgetting - is to do each step on a layer. That way I can rectify mistakes and make improvements. I  should enrol on a course and become more proficient at using Photoshop, but probably won't because I only think about covers once or maybe twice a year.

For my third cover I think I had about eight layers, all containing a tiny fragment of the cover. One for the background, one for the foreground figure, one for the banner, one for the title ... initially I tried to do everything on one layer and soon tied myself in knots. I am constantly in awe of the software which is brilliant. I just need a couple of uninterrupted years to learn how to use everything!

I know professionals in the publishing world sneer at amateurs who do book covers, but I don't mind. They have to protect their professional expertise, after all, and I used to feel the same way about library assistants being called librarians. If and if ever I have a book traditionally published, I'll be happy to have a professional cover. Until then, I'll go on trying and do the best I can in my own bumbling way, mostly because I enjoy it. That's why I write stories, too.

Our good weather has vanished, and we're back to wind and rain though not quite so violent or so cold as last month. I have a date with the dentist for a small filling this afternoon, so may not get a lot of work done today.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Fire lunatics

Going cross-eyed at the moment using Adobe Photoshop to work on a cover for Daisy. Not Adobe's fault, I hasten to add. The things the software will do are  amazing, but my knowledge of it is tentative to say the least. I use it so infrequently that all I learn in a few sessions is lost when I complete the task in hand and forget about Adobe for several months on end. I think if I was leaving school now I'd like to move into graphic art but it was just another unavailable option when I was at that stage. Unavailable? It was almost unheard of except for people who went to work for Walt Disney and that was all about working in cinema rather than computers.

We have some undesirables in the woods where I walk my dog. They think it amusing to set fire to to the resin that leaks from pine trees, and this is the result. They are pyromaniacs in the making, if not already there, for I see the remains of camp fires all over the countryside. One was still burning when I found it but the lads had long gone. These, I suppose, are the idiots who start forest fires.

It is horrid to see the trees like this or literally hacked to bits to provide fuel for a fire. There's plenty of dead wood in the woods without hacking at living trees.

The primroses hang on in damp shady spots, wood anemones are in full bloom and the bluebells are unfurling. Soon the woods will be a sea of hazy blue. The endless mud has dried and gone now, thank the lord. I was lucky I didn't slip on my backside sometimes, and both Tim and I got tired of coming home and having to wash him down. Heaven help the poor folk who own long-haired dogs.

The lambs are out in the fields, tiny and sprightly and I saw a fox, running across a field, in full daylight the other day. Tim watched and then gave chase, but he was nearly half a mile away so I wasn't worried he would catch Monsieur Reynard!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A day at the seaside

Yesterday was beautifully warm, even hot, and when today turned out to be the same - you can never be sure in England - we headed out to the beach with a sandwich and a bottle of water.

The weather has been amazingly good so far this year. There wasn't really much of a winter. It was wet and rainy, with mud everywhere, but never really cold. We've had several really lovely days so far and it is only April.

Apart from the fact that we had to almost strangle Tim to stop him dragging us out of the car and onto the beach, it was wonderful. Sunshine, not enough wind to even call it a breeze, but not the stupifying hot days we sometimes get in July and August. Not too many people on the beach, but enough to make it interesting. Most had a dog - if they didn't they had a metal detector. There seems to be a sudden enthusiasm for detectors. We saw four this morning, all on the beach. They may turn up modern coins, but I can't imagine them finding much in the way of ancient artefacts. There has been a series on "detectorists" on tv recently, and it seems to have inspired men to try it. I passed a man with one beeping away in the woods near the castle not so long ago, and asked him if he'd found anything. A few modern coins, he said with a grin. "And some tin cans."

I love taking wellies to the beach as that means I can splodge in the shallows without my feet turning blue or getting wet. It also keeps the sand out of shoes. One thing I remember well from childhood is Clarke's sandals, so hopeless on beaches. Two paces, and the sand seeped in and made lumps and bumps beneath your feet.So uncomfortable you had to stop and empty the sand out, and then start again. The only answer was to take the wretched things off, and then - you've guessed it  - your feet slowly turned blue with cold.
  Tim ran in and out trying to eat the waves but disliking the taste and soon got wet. Didn't deter him though. We walked for a good two hours with a short pause to eat the sandwich I'd made and then turned for home. Now I'm happy to sit at my computer and so dome work, and Tim is asleep behind me. Peace!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Craigsmuir Affair

A busy week over - appointments made and kept with Dentist, Optician, Medical practice and we've had the kitchen re-vinyled, and the living room and stair-plus-landing re-carpeted. We're looking spick and span, smell of new carpets and we're good for another twenty years now.

With the help of my friends in the critique group I've finally hit on a title for my story about Daisy - wait for it - THE CRAIGSMUIR AFFAIR.
Here's the first page to hopefully whet your appetite:

Setting and period: Clennell Castle, Northumberland, 1893

Daisy Charlton swept the sheaf of papers into her arms, cast a final glance around the small room that had been her work place for the last week and then closed the door behind her. She hurried along the gallery toward the stairs, swung one-handed around the newel post and scampered down the first steps to the main body of the library.

Someone below snapped a newspaper straight.

Diverted, she looked down. Sun-browned hands held the newspaper open in such a way that she could see nothing of him but legs clad in riding breeches and knee-high brown leather boots. Her feet tangled in the folds of her long skirt. Her stomach lurched, she stumbled, missed the shallow tread of the stair and turned her ankle on the edge of the next.


She grabbed for the banister, missed and pitched forward. Her precious papers sprang into the air and fluttered around her like a cloud of newly released doves. As her hip and shoulder collided with the shallow tread of the stairs, Daisy yelped, bounced and rolled down the stairs.
‘Good God!’ The sound of crushed newspaper followed the exclamation.

Daisy struck hard, was caught and held. Dazed, she inhaled the mixed scents of smoky sandalwood, starched linen and something spicy like black pepper. A steady, rhythmic thud sounded in her ear. When she opened her eyes, the pin tucks of her white blouse pressed against the fawn moleskin of a gentleman’s waistcoat. Her right hand clutched the rough tweed of his sleeve. Her left, trapped behind her, trailed on the parquet floor.

She drew a deep, shivery breath. The pressure of his hand on her ribcage increased and his upraised knee held her spine at an awkward angle. Uncomfortable and embarrassed, Daisy nudged the pale silk of his cravat with her head. ‘I cannot move.’

‘I beg your pardon.’ His voice was deep and warm. ‘But if I let go, you will fall to the floor.’
She tilted her head and frowned at the lean, handsome face above her. To struggle free would be undignified. ‘I do not know you, sir. What if someone were to come into the library and find us like this?’

‘I suppose I should have to marry you.’ His smile held mischief. ‘Are you sure you have no injuries?’

‘Until you release me I cannot tell.’ The words came out more snappishly than she intended. Heat rose in her cheeks; she bit her lip. For Heaven’s sake! He would think her an idiot, probably laughed at her, but was too kind to show it.

He raised both hands in the air.

As he had predicted, Daisy slid from his upraised knee to the floor. She landed with an undignified grunt. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Writing Style

69 Pages of edit done. Don't know how many more to do, but I'm less than half way through. Interesting to see how many small duplications there are, usually between the end of a chapter  the beginning of the next. Writing the story I tend to write in chapters, and so I have a sort of mental break between ending one and starting the next. That's where the duplication creeps in as I don't recall precisely how I ended the chapter and begin the new without checking. There's a lesson there somewhere!

I'm reading Extraordinary People by Peter May at the moment. It's an Enzo MacLeod story set in France and the story visits Paris, Cahors, and the Correze - all places I've visited, which always adds an extra frisson to a read. But I am astonished at the amount of location description I'm reading. My critique partners would be telling me to cut some of it. They often highlight my use of -ing endings, too, and yet Mr May uses them such a lot. One sentence stopped me dead because he had used two, one following the other. I am enjoying the story and don't mind his writing style. It is just interesting how often a successful writer's style contravenes what the writing gurus on the internet say we should do to achieve success. I think it is a little like a healthy diet - in spite of all the experts telling us to eat this and avoid that, eating everything in moderation is probably the best route. Likewise with gerunds and adjectives.

Spring is beautiful this year. We still have primroses in shady places among the trees, daffodils are dancing in the wind, and the cherry blossom is coming into bloom. Gorse is vibrant with yellow flowers and the leaves are bursting open on the trees and presenting a soft bloom of various shades of green. Garlic is rampant and green among the bluebells, neither of which have produced flowers yet, but it won't be long now.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Take a Break

We've had a week of splendid weather and I've spent a lot of it outdoors, so writing has taken a back seat. Considering it's only April, the weather has been amazing, reaching temperatures of 20 and 21 degrees. I'm so not used to such heat that working at anything was a trial! The forecasters claim the weekend is going to be cold, so I tell myself I'll catch up then.

Sometimes I need a break from working at the computer day after day. I get some relief every day now I have my dog, because he's a high energy type who needs a lot of exercise. He gets three walks every day and he's just impossible if he doesn't get those walks. While I'm out with him I see how much new growth there is on trees and shrubs, even on the meadows as the grass begins to grow again. The range of colours in tree foliage is beautiful and changes day by day. Watching him bound across streams, leap fallen logs and bouncing through mud patches is such a joy.

But sometimes the three walks a day are not enough and the temptation to abandon the computer becomes too much. So I give in to it, because I know that I won't produce anything worth while until I've refreshed my mind by pulling lots of fresh oxygen into my lungs. There's nowhere better for that than walking in forests.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Do surveys help book sales?

Everyone said it, but I didn't really believe it. Now I think it may be true. The book world is changing. What brought me to this momentous conclusion? I've been looking at Alison Morton's  survey :

and I did not see library or bookshop mentioned anywhere. I shall go back and read again just to be sure I didn't skim over the words. Skim reading is a diabolical habit of mine - so often I miss the important bit and have to go back and find it!

I think I knew the worst about video trailers. Hardly anyone watches them and that is a pity because, like Alison, I enjoy making them. I did the first one six or seven years ago when I knew very little about the process, and didn't own Photoshop software. Off and on over these last few weeks I've been editing photographs in order to make a trailer for Abduction of the Scots Queen - but now I think Why Bother? Then my other side kicks in and argues Why Not? I've done a fair bit of work on the pics so far, and I may as well garner  what I can from what now seems to have been a time-wasting project.

I must take down few video trailers  I have up on You tube. They look so amateurish I cringed when I checked them today! Or maybe I can re-vamp them somehow. Strangely enough the worst one has the largest view count - perhaps people recommended it as what not to do!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Titles are the Worst

Corbridge from the river bank
DH is safely returned from his trip to Oz and has dutifully gone off to restock our fridge and freezer. He has lots of scope as the household was down to bare shelves and empty cupboards. While he was away I imagined I would get lots of writing done, but that was not the case. I had so much more to do! Grocery shopping, empty the dishwasher, fill the dishwasher, cook every night, put the waste bins out, hoover and mop the kitchen floor now and then to keep the dog hair down, gardening - all things dh does. So now he's back, I may have more time for writing!

I have reached the end of Daisy's story - still without a title. There's polishing and editing to do, but essentially, it is finished. In 1893 Daisy dreams of a career as an artist but runs up against the rock that is Adam Grey, who distrusts women and thinks wives should not work outside the home. This immediately means Daisy must decide if she want s love and marriage or to fulfil her dreams. When a valuable painting goes missing in the country house where they are both guests, Adam turns detective and Daisy decides to help him if only to prove that she is not the thief as Adam initially believes.
Corbridge from the bridge

After several misleads and red herrings, they discover the culprit. They may have fallen in love but barriers remain between them. Daisy fights for her right to have a career, and Adam still cannot get over his distrust of women.

Now comes the tricky thing of deciding to publish it myself, or try for a publishing house.
I also need a title, always a problem.
Barriers to Love is a possibility.
Or, The Art of Love. Artistic Circles? Blinded by Love?
 Suggestions on a post card please!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Google and energy

"The energy it takes to conduct ten 
searches on Google could power a 60-Watt light bulb for nearly three minutes. At any one time the energy used by the search engine could power 200,000 homes. Think of that the next time you go searching for sneezing pandas and performing hamsters." (NY Times, 2011)

I haven't actually searched for sneezing hamsters, but I do watch some of these animal videos and I have wondered about the energy used for all these electronic gadgets in use today. I pass people with a phone glued to their ear or busily fingering away on it while walking their dog. The dog does mainly what it likes as the owner's attention is certainly elsewhere. People walk around supermarket shelves talking to someone on the phone, and it's not always a conversation about which brand of cornflakes to buy. It's embarrassing. You try not to listen but the conversation can be heard two aisles away. Who is actually invading whose privacy?

Every home is in the western world has at least one computer, perhaps two or three or seven given the proliferation of laptops and ipads. What happens when the population that currently doesn't own one finally does? How many more millions will search on Google for those elusive sneezing hamsters? Will it mean electronic collapse? All that electricity has to come from somewhere, and at the moment it comes from power stations, themselves powered by fossil fuels which as we all recognise, are finite and dwindling.

Perhaps I won't watch those animal videos any more. They usually make me cry anyway. 

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.