Saturday, 30 August 2008

Changes and Jane Eyre

I've made some changes so visitors should be able to comment much more easily now. I've been playing around with colours, too, so if you find anything a struggle to read because of the colour, let me know. I'm a wee bit doubtful about the list of my favourite reads - I love the violet shade, but how 's the legibility?
Tonight BBC4 shows the second half of Jane Eyre. I'm looking forward to it. Toby Stephens (left) makes a fascinating Mr Rochester. Not classically handsome, perhaps, but with a charm and carisma all his own. Works for me!


His Jane is an actress called Ruth Wilson, shown on the right. Not a name I'm familiar with, but she held my attention all the way through the first half. Tonight she will go and visit her dying aunt, the hard-hearted Mrs Reid, and if memory serves, she is informed that she has inherited a good deal of money. Also showing tonight on a different channel is Bride and Prejudice, at which I may take a peek. I can't imagine Lizzie Bennet in a sari, so I must have a look even if I don't watch it. I have a suspicion they will burst out into one of those wonderful Indian dance sequences with bare midriffs and gold nose rings!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Black Bull has a face lift



This old pub in Corbridge has been given a going over recently. A couple of weeks ago workmen were causing traffic jams and chaos by knocking hell out of the building. The street is only one car width - in fact I was stood with my back pressed against the opposite wall to take the picture - and the scaffolding and the big transit van they had parked outside blocked both the pavement and the road. The local bus goes down that lane every half hour and what a dreadful squeeze that was!

But this week all was calm. Beautiful hanging baskets adorn the newly painted front and all is well. But what caught my curiosity was this - take a close look at the lintel over the door - click on the pic if you wish -
- has some American visitor carved initials in the wet plaster? And did they do it as long ago as 1755?
Anyone with a guilty conscience own up now!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Reviews

I added a comment to Ginger Simpson's blog yesterday along these lines: I have a suspicion that there are people who offer to review via websites because it ensures them a free supply of reading material. Is that so strange?"
After thinking overnight I see nothing wrong in that. Books are expensive things these days. I remembered the few weeks when I offered to review for a well known website. After a test review, I was accepted, and it gave me an astonishing insight into the e-books published today, which is partly what I wanted. I also learned how difficult it is to phrase a review about a book that was not, shall we say, my normal choice of reading material. I got my eyes opened a few time along the way!
Not everyone wants to spend hours reading a book critically enough to be able to put their views up for public consumption afterwards. Thank goodness someone wants to do it, for there are never enough reviewers for the number of books published.
"But they can be a tiny bit biased to their favourite authors and their particular reading tastes." This was always true! Why should it be any different now? I and everyone else I know is biased towards their favourite authors.

"They are not trained to review and evaluate as I hope the reviewers of big nationals are." On reflection, I doubt anyone ever trained to review and evaluate fiction. We all do it at some level, otherwise we would never know what we like and dislike, or where our boundaries lie. The skill comes in being able to express clearly, in 500 words or less, an appraisal of the book without simply saying "I love this book!" Readers want to know why the reviewer loved it. Or hated it.

"So then publishers seek reviewers who will be kind - but is that any better?" At first sight it smacks of authors getting into cliques and giving each other favourable reviews. But it is part of a very professional strategy. Who would deliberately send something to a reviewer who is known to dislike the particular genre? Do that and the book will be ignored, or the review will be painful to read. Every publisher and author hopes to receive a favourable review, and searches for a reviwer who likes their particular genre. Who better than someone who writes in the same genre to understand what's been accomplished?

Reviewing is a strange game. It is possible to have two reviewers give opposing views on the same book, and if they're good at what they do, both will hold nuggets of truth. Authors can learn from good, constructive reviews. On the downside, authors can be incredibly hurt by a negative one. But to be fair to reviewers, it is not their job to tell an author how to restructure the book to make it a winner.

Personally I'm not in favour of anonymous reviews. Someone marked both my titles on Fictionwise as OK, and yet I have glowing reviews of both books.
Who, I wonder was that anonymous person who has forever labelled me as OK?
I'm tempted to bribe a friend to buy a copy just so they have a chance to up the rating! I wonder how many authors do that? Is it allowed to buy your own and put in the rating you want? I must investigate!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Quaestor2000


I have added three new names to my list of links today. One for Quaestor, my new publisher, and two gentleman who have also been signed up with me. Brian and Alistair write historicals - in fact Quaestor publish only historical novels in their fiction range. At last - a publisher who actively seeks to publish historical fiction!
I was in Corbridge yesterday enjoying a brief spell of sunshine in between the rain showers, and spotted this bold yellow beauty growing through a wall. I've no idea how thick the wall is, but it is about eight feet high, and certainly no crumbling, disintegrating structure. Yet here was this flower pushing its way though the stone and cement, reaching for the sun. If that isn't Persistance, then I don't know what is. It could be an icon for all struggling authors - keep going through the darkness - you never know when you'll see the sun!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Rain, rain and more rain

We drove to Rothbury yesterday to meet family, and hoped for good weather.
Why was I not surprised to find drowned landscapes and misty hillsides? Because that seems to be all this summer has to offer. This is a sweep of the

view from the car as we drove north, looking west. Not very appealing, is it? Yet on a sunny day it looks wonderful. We had thunderstorms and torrential rain this afternoon. The land is already sodden, the river is high, and when the water comes down from Alston and Kielder there may well be flooding along the Tyne.

My garden is waterlogged. The lawn squelches when I walk on it. The water ran down the slope and flooded the patio to the extent that Mr Frog was flushed out of his chosen patch of garden. I took the pic through the window. As soon as I opened the glass door, he calmly removed himself to the other side of the

fence where I couldn't see him. Camera shy, obviously.

All the frogspawn we had in February has gone, some eaten by magpies no doubt, but we have lots of tiny little frogs, about the size of my thumb nail, hopping about.
The one this afternon was a bruiser by comparison, fully four inches from head to rump. I hope all the little ones survived. There are plenty of slugs and snails for them to eat.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Olympics and Sport

The Olympics have dominated life in this household over the last few days, mostly because we have Freeview and can select the sport we want to watch from half a dozen options. Amazing. I've enjoyed watching Rafael Nadal fight his way to the gold, and dh has watched all the rowing and cycling events. We both enjoyed Michael Johnson's comment that Phelp's tremendous haul of gold medals has to be put in perspective - If the athletes could run the 100 yards forwards, backwards and sideways, and win a medal each time, it might come close...
I can remember how handsome we girls thought Mark Spitz all those years ago, and what an astonishing talent he possessed. Numbers may well change before the end, but so far Team GB is doing good on the medal table. There have been years when we've slunk away with hardly a gong to our credit. And how things have changed for Russia now that Belaruss, Ukraine and the like have broken away. China is suddenly coming good, and with 1.2 billion people, there is certainly a big pool of potential talent there. Track events, particularly the sprints, are now dominated by black athletes. Also it seems that if you are of medium height, you need not apply for anything at all. Being small is an advantage in gymnastics, being tall is an advantage in everything else. Medium comes nowhere, except perhaps cycling and even then....
Ah, but I have enjoyed it all.

It will seem an awful long time till London 2012.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

What next?

I've done a swift 48 hour re-run over FAR AFTER GOLD and sent it back to Quaestor.


Found some mistakes, too, even though I thought it was perfect when I sent it off. As I pushed the button that would send it on it's way, my finger lingered...I had the nasty feeling that if I went through it again I'd find even more things to change. But there comes a time when you have to let go. Gulp.


So now I'm thinking about covers. Will it be plain, or with a picture? A headless female in a beautiful costume, or are they old hat now? I've read many of Gregory's but not this one even thought he cover is gorgeous.

Some of the newer historicals do feature the full figure now, though they may be looking at something other than the reader, as in Chadwick's new book, due in October.



Doing the grocery shop in Tesco yesterday I paused by the books section, and the cover that caught my eye was this one - which I hope to read soon.
It is attractive. But I also noticed that many of the books on display had plain covers. In other words, they had plain colours and symbols rather than people or landscapes photographs. I expect the covers I've illustrated are expensive, and perhaps publishers are cutting back on cover costs.

Some research in a big book store is obviously called for, and I shall not resist. It will be a pleasure! Perhaps more importantly, I should be thinking of promotion. I shall. Tomorrow. Honest. I've put a short announcement on Authors and Books blog today, and notified RNA cyber group. That's a start, but I'm sure there's lots more to do. Meanwhile, I've got critiques on one book to attend to, and a rewrite on a second that's gone on hold for a little while. And my friends wonder what it is I do all day apart from watching tennis in the Olympics! Sheesh!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

A new contract!

Picture me happy!
I have just signed and returned a contract for publication with Quaestor2000!

The title in question is Far After Gold - a Viking story I finished almost two years ago. At this moment I know very little, except that the contract is for "book publication in the UK within the next 12 months."
The company is taking up a new strand of their business in publishing historicals, and while it may be a bit of a risk, it is also exciting. Perhaps soon now I'll have an Editor again! How exciting! I wonder if the title will change? I took it from an old saying : A man travels far after gold.

Friday, 8 August 2008

My video and The Making of Me

Well, I've done it. Someone said something, I got curious and the result is I have completed a "video" for Youtube all on my own. You might want to fall apart laughing but here is the link -
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy7QehG-a6c


I've done it, but I'm not sure I could repeat the process! If it gives a flavour of the book, if it makes anyone want to read it, then perhaps I ought to think hard and do more! One for Banners of Alba, and I could prepare others for the books patiently waiting in the pipeline. Except that that might be the kiss of death - perhaps I'll wait until I have a contract!

First it was John Barrowman, then Colin Jackson and last night Vanessa Mae in a programme called The Making of Me. I find it fascinating, and you might too. It is the old argument of Nature v Nurture. The first programme brought up an interesting theory on why homesexuals are as they are - not genes, not upbringing, but a hormonal imbalance while the infant is in the womb. Too little testosterone for a male, or too much for a female can make the child "different." The theory make sense, but I can see that mothers will not want to feel they are to blame for their child's orientation.

As for Colin, he was born with 25% super fast twitch muscles, way above the level you or I might own. But without all his hard work, perseverance and a supportive family and environment, those muscles would have done very little for him.

Vanessa Mae admits she did not have a normal childhood. Immersed in music from age four, she finally broke loose from her mother at the age of twenty one and has not spoken to her for eight years. As I understood the programme there is nothing Vanessa was born with that has led to her being a maestro and worth 30 million today - except, perhaps, that she has very sensitive hearing. The rest is down to thousands of practice hours, an excessive drive for perfection and an extrovert personality that thrives on risk.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Curse words

Tea break for Viking soldiers - a picture from my collection taken at Bamburgh. It may strike you that the smaller Viking in pale green looks rather feminine - well, yes. She was indeed of the feminine persuasion, but seemed to be having a great time with the warriors.

It is typical that when I find a Re-enactment taking place near me I'm no longer working on Viking stories - though I may come back to them - I probably will come back to them - but for the moment I am knee deep in Regencies and Victorians. I split my time between them, and so far I haven't come unstuck. All my characters are of the social class that speaks in well constructed English sentences, and the great danger, as one critiquer pointed out to me, is that all my Regency characters sound the same.

Argh!

That made me think. If I took out the dialogue and studied them, would I be able to tell them apart? Perhaps not (apart from content) But...they are from the same station in life, and most dialogue takes place in the drawing room rather than the battlefield, so the gentlemen speak politely (for want of a better word). I tried adding little verbal habits early on in my first draft, but several critiquers smartly told me "repetition, repetition - no, no!"

Silly me that I am, I took the verbal mannerisms OUT! when I should have stuck to my guns. So now I am looking with narrowed eyes at my dialogue. Anybody know any really good Regency curse words? Off to the internet to check!


I finished Run Among Thorns this morning and thoroughly enjoyed it. Since I'm proud to say the author is a member as the same Border Reivers Writers' group as me, I thought I could see glimpses of Anna showing through every now and then. She certainly has that mysterious thing called "voice," and a lovely way with landscape descriptions. Anna, I think I went by those grain silos you mention when I went to Bamburgh last weekend! I loved the proverb that gave her the title: A man does not run among thorns for no reason: either he is chasing a snake, or a snake is chasing him.


Saturday, 2 August 2008

Bamburgh

Today we went to Bamburgh Castle. I think it is one of the finest castles in England, perched on a basalt outcrop on the very edge of the North Sea. It is an ancient place, but the castle has been extensively restored, first by Lord Crewe in the 1750's and again in 1893 when the first Lord Armstrong, who made Cragside such a marvellous place, bought it. I'm afraid it is very much a Victorian's idea of a castle, though the central keep is very much as it was. Lord Armstrong intended to turn it into a convalescent home, but died in 1900. The Armstrong family seem not to have had his talent for making money and sold off much of Cragside's treasures and gave the house to the National Trust in 1977, but kept Bamburgh as the family home. The picture above, taken from the website, shows the usual beach side view on a brilliant summer's day.

Today things were a little different.

We had moments of intense sunshine, and many more minutes of furious downpours. My photo is taken from the landward side, and boy, does it look different. They say long ago the sea came up around the basalt crag, and that a harbour existed underneath the clock tower.

The storm blew itself out to sea, but more dark clouds followed.
I had dragged dh an hour and a half north on the tedious A1 because Regia Anglorum were to be in Bamburgh. The group recreate the days of Anglo Saxons and Vikings and for two days they were setting up within the castle grounds. I took lots of photos and peered at tablet weaving, a loom, a Viking bed - very like an IKEA bed! I'm sure I could buy fake wolfskins and bearskins to drape over it if I tried, and if my tastes ran that way. The cookingpots were less to my tast, but I did like the way they had portable hearths. A lipped metal square, on legs, with the fire burning at knee height instead of at ground level. Much easier for cooking.
I took photos of the warriors training, and managed to get shouted at. "Would the lady in the white coat please keep behind the ropes!"
"There isn't one," I shouted back. (And there wasn't! I was in the entrance way, and they'd forgotten to fix the rope across. I had one half of one foot over the imaginary line)
"Imagine there's a white rope there!"
I retreated.
Health & Safety has invaded the warriors' training ground. Whatever next?