Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Writing, Nathan and Bookbag


"There's good reason for this rule to apply -- one of the absolute most important attributes of any successful writer is the ability to scrutinize their own work in order to improve it and make it better. The minute a writer starts thinking what they write is genius is the moment they stop scrutinizing their work for places where it can be improved upon, changed, or, most importantly of all, removed. A healthy skepticism is an essential tool in a writer's arsenal. Also bourbon."

This quote comes from Nathan Bransford's blog and it is so true.

However, it is too late for FAR AFTER GOLD. In exactly one month's time, my book will out in the world for public scrutiny. I cannot improve it now, but believe me, I worked hard on it, and I learned a great deal about writing while revising it. The picture above is my image of Oli, one of the characters in the book. Elaine Dingsdale of Bookbag says in her review: He's a beautifully depicted character who really brings the book to life with his hero worship of Flane and his empathy with Emer, whom he immediately recognises as a kindred spirit and fellow misfit. His maturity and attitude were tremendous and with wisdom beyond his years, I was moved close to tears on several occasions."

This time of year is for reflection on what has gone and what is to come. I'm comfortable with what I've achieved in 2008. I'm not one for making resolutions and even less do I broadcast the ones I think about in my deepest thoughts. What I will do is spend the next month publicising my book whenever and wherever I can. It needs my help. I'm an unknown name and I don't want Quaestor to regret that they took a chance on me.

I'll still be working on KEEP TRUST, which is going well, but I must become a PR person. It doesn't come easily. Those who ask me about my writing must think I don't want to talk about it, because I can never think of anything witty or interesting to say about it. To say creative writing takes up most of my waking hours sounds pretentious and dreadfully snobbish, and unless the person you speak to does it themselves, it is hard to make the subject interesting.

Perhaps when (if, girl, if) I become established, (if ever) I'll have learned how to talk about what and how I write and an interesting and friendly way. I remember how Phillippa Gregory performed so confidently at Bowes Museum and applaud her. At the moment, I feel tongue-tied with embarrassment. And I notice my over use of the word interesting in this piece.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Christmas Battles

Here's one incident I observed over Christmas.

Now I'm not usually this nosy, but...look at this. A heron and a crow. Not a normal sight on our neighbour's roof ridge.


And not just one crow.


Two crows.



Two distinctly aggressive crows.

The battle went on for ten minutes and you may notice the effect it had on the heron by observing the roof...shortly after that, the heron departed.




Our Christmas has been updated almost daily by photographs coming via e-mail. The offspring are travelling, and we received pictures of their various stops as they travelled west to east across America, and north to Tremblant in Canada. The Canadian party of two almost didn't make it as their plane from New York was cancelled due to snow. They got to Montreal and somehow made it to Tremblant where they reported temperatures as low as -40 but I think that was at night. I hope it was at night. Two days later they reported rain washing away all the snow. They were not pleased. I believe a retail therapy trip back to New York was negotiated by one of the party.

The second party of two will be travelling on to France and Switzerland soon, and we shall meet up with them in Zermatt. The other party head back to Oz after New Year.

We have been going for long walks across wet muddy fields, and peering into all the nooks and crannies you can't see in summer for the abundant vegetation. Houses we didn't know existed have suddenly sprung into view now that their shield of leaves has vanished and left them open to the wild winds and my gaze.

I had a couple of days relaxation infront of the tv and I'm still going through the cds that make up the boxed set of Shogun, which I bought to fill the gaps when there was nothing but rubbish on the box. Christmas stuff is usually so sentimental that I can't watch it. Black Beauty, for heaven's sake, drives me out of the room and I dare not switch over to Lassie. Even Johnnie Depp as JM Barrie had me surreptitiously sniffling in my handkerchief.
Then it was back to work. Today I managed 1600 words very easily between Daisy and Rookhope. KEEP TRUST seems to be going very well now I'm concentrating on only one story.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas is almost upon us, so let me take this opportunity to wish anyone who reads this blog a peaceful and happy time, and I hope it continues into 2009.
Some people, like us, don't bother with Chritmas lights. We have no children at home so have no excuse to glitter up the house and garden. Dh no doubt thinks of the money saved on power and I think of helping polar bears stay afloat. I first saw the habit of decorating the outside of one's home when I was in Philadelphia in the late seventies. I was amazed at South Street - I think it was South Street, or was that the market? Anyway, I remember the Italian section of Philly where rows and rows of houses went wild with Christmas decorations - unknown in the UK as far as I knew at that time. Maybe they did it in the decadent south but not in Durham, oh no. In the nineties dh and I drove from Dallas to Steamboat Springs through the Rockies, creeping through a snowstorm behind the snowblower, and then I found the Christmas lights on remote farmhouses reassured me that there was life out there in the howling darkness. I could see why they did it in Colorado.

Now the habit is fully established here, too. Our cul-de-sac has children, so the blinking lights have appeared, day by day, along the eaves. Little electric signs have been stuck into the lawns and twinkle through the evening. One house is a theatre set, with snowman and Rudolph staring up at the sparkling display. and you know what? I love it!

On the corner of the main road not far away, one householder has decided to take full advantage of his prominent position. Last week his house was so ablaze with Santas, reindeer, sledges and a steam train chugging around its walls - a few things I remember from a hasty, wide-eyed view - that I went out in the dark tonight with my camera to take a picture and display it here.

But you know what? He must have known I was coming, for he hadn't switched them on.


Thursday, 18 December 2008

Ghostwriting

"There wasn't a lot of room to work, but that didn't bother me. Of all the human activities, writing is the one for which it is easiest to find excuses not to begin - the desk's too big, the desk's too small, there's too much noise, there's too much quiet, it's too hot, too cold, too early, too late. I had learned over the years to ignore them all, and simply to start. I plugged in my laptop, switched on the Anglepoise, and contemplated the blank screen and its pulsing cursor.

A book unwritten is a delightful universe of infinite possibilities. Set down one word, however, and immediately it becomes earthbound. Set down one sentence and it's halfway to being just like every other bloody book that's ever been written. But the best must never be allowed to drive out the good. In the absence of genius there is always craftsmanship. One can at least try to write something which will arrest the reader's attention - which will encourage them, after reading the first paragraph, to take a look at the second, and then the third. I picked up McAra's manuscript to remind myself of how not to begin a ten-million-dollar autobiography."

Above is a snippet from THE GHOST by Robert Harris, and I thought it would resonate with any writer! I found the story entertaining as a thriller, and recognise that a likeness between the hero Adam Lang and Tony Blair could be claimed by many readers. Leaving that to one side, I enjoyed the discoveries made by the ghostwriter drafted in to take over the hero's memoirs when the first ghostwriter dies in mysterious circumstances. I liked the idea of the sat nav taking the reluctant "ghost" to the last place his predecessor visited, thereby moving the plot several blocks forward almost as much as I enjoyed reading about the life and skills of a ghostwriter.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Christmas...


Hungry little beaks anxious for food. An injured blackbird arrived in our garden a with limp and a dragging wing, unable to fly, about ten days ago, right at the start of the coldest December in the UK for thirty years. I doubted he would survive, but he has. I hope my offerings of brown bread, sultanas and raw bacon helped. He certainly snapped them up.

No word from the Newcastle Journal as yet, but I've received a request from Historical Novel Review to be reviewed and do an interview around the time of publication. Of course I'll do it! No doubt about it. The site is newish still, but doing very well, and I'm delighted to be asked. If you don't know it, pop over and have a peek.

Shopped till I dropped yesterday with a best friend (mates since we were about twelve!) and finally got dh's pressy sorted. Today he is out on a retired-colleagues-reunion-Christmas-drink-thingy, so I got rushed up the street and bought the wrapping paper (we used the last to send stuff to Oz), wrapped it

and now it sits smugly in its tartan wrapping paper with the gold and white flowers for decoration. He's bound to see it next time he walks into my study and I can't decide if I'm going to tease him and make him wait until Christmas or give it him today.


Back to my reading list. I finished The Queen of Sorrow by Suzannah Dunn. Mary Tudor is at the centre of the story, but the tale is told by a Spaniard who arrives with Philip's entourage, supposedly to build a sun-dial for the Queen's pleasure. He is unpaid and unhappy, anxious to return home, but meets the Queen by accident and they like each other for the ten minutes they converse. The story moves along slowly, with lots of small incidents, lots of historically accurate detail of life at the time, but I must admit that from half-way through I wished the tale would hurry up and arrive somewhere. In the last few pages it did, and it makes me shudder every time I think of it.
Since then I've finished my first Tracy Chevalier story - The Lady and the Unicorn. Set in Brussels in the later 1400s it weaves (yes, I know!) a story around the Unicorn tapestries now in the Musee National du Moyen Age in Paris. Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective and it certainly makes for a closely woven (!) and intricate tale that held my interst all the way through. The brief epilogue suggests that all the characters once lived - even Alienor the blind girl, whose tale engaged my sympathy far more than Claude, daughter of the rich man who commissions the tapestries. It is an intriguing thought that the artist drew portraits of Claude, Alienor and their mothers and put them into the tapestries. I enjoyed the story very much.

Now I've begun Robert Harris's The Ghost on my friend's recomendation. Up to page 95 and it's looking good. More on this one later.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Books, reading and christmas shopping

Wallington Lake under ice. Pretty colours, I think. (Remember you can click to enlarge the picture. I've noticed that if I do not crop the pic then it will not enlarge, so now I make an effort...sometimes the pics enlarge to a size bigger than my entire computer screen, but hey - who is perfect? Not me!)

Today we went into Newcastle ON THE BUS, thereby leaving our cars at home and saving our carbon footprint. (I am haunted by dreams of polar bears swimming, swimming as the ice melts beneath them, swimming to exhaustion and no land in sight... )

Visited my favourite hairdresser - my only hairdresser - whom I've visited through thick and thin for over twenty years. He soon smartened me up and I left feeling good about myself and having probably ruined all the carbon saving I'd done with the bus. Still, better than none at all. At least I probably came out equal. The town was busy busy. When is it not? I learned long ago that there is never a quiet day in Newcastle.

But the difference is that there are a lot of men out shopping, both alone and with wives, and that is because Christmas approaches. Some stand there, particularly the older men, hanging onto a counter or a clothes stand, gazing off into the distance while the wife diligently hunts through every garment on the rack just in case she'll find what she wants. Other blokes finger things in a puzzled sort of way, eye the price ticket, purse their lips and let go a soundless whistle. Then they drop the tag and seek something else.

Others - a few, but some - rifle through half a dozen things, seize one with a pleased smirk and head for the cash desk. Usually its underwear they've got hold of, and I don't wait to hear the "How much?" when the assistant announces the cost.

I've got a followers widget on this blog, and today I moved it up to the top of the sidebar. I'm not exactly sure what it does, but I think it makes it easier for readers to read my blog. If anyone knows any different - let me know. I'd hate to invade anyone's privacy or something weird.

I've just finished reading two Adele Geras novels - A Hidden Life and Happy Ever After. Both good, both enjoyable, though A Hidden Life had a lot of confusing characters at the start which meant a lot of flicking back and forth for me - but perhaps I'm just slow at picking things up these days. Happy Ever After is the story of an engagement that slowly disintegrates against the central story of the bride's mother's reluctant infidelity with the groom's step-father. Sounds like heavy stuff and yet it manages to be both tender and funny at the same time. I'll certainly look for more of this author's novels.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to read heavy, hurtful stories. I did not finish The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini even though it was beautifully written, for the brutality inherent in the tale is not what I want as I read myself to sleep at night. I have one of those unfortunate imaginations that translates brutalities into dreams, wakefulness and even, if its very bad, depression that can last for days. So I've learned to close the book and look for something lighter.

Harry Potter is just the thing. Just enough nastiness to make me turn the pages faster, but not bad enough to turn me away. I tried The Tudors: King takes Queen by Elizabeth Massie, based on the Showtimes series but found it irritatingly episodic - short scenes, obviously intended for screening, and gradually lost interest even though it is one of my favourite periods of history. Now I am halfway through Suzannah Dunn's Queen of Sorrow.

Oh, and I should have said days ago but if you go to Authors and Books - check the sidebar - they have been running a giveaway from the 8th until the 14th. Check it out!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Another one gone and now the long wait...



Sent off my Tudor story today to Roger at Quaestor to see what he thinks of it. I'm sure he'll tell me if it's not up to scratch.

I now have two reviews for Far After Gold. I was particularly pleased by this chunk about my hero:

"Flane is an attractive character, cheerful and humorous. He comes over as just a little bit immature at the start of the novel, wanting to have his cake and eat it, acting on impulse without much regard for the consequences, and unwilling to make a difficult decision until he is forced into it. He seems genuinely baffled that Emer doesn’t fall into his bed at the first opportunity, and his willingness to wait for her to do so rather than force her seems to be due in about equal parts to a belief in his own irresistible attractiveness and a desire for a quiet life."

I couldn't have put it better myself! Has the reviewer been reading my character notes? I will post the link to the full review when I know it has been"properly published" but I was so pleased by this excellent appraisal of Flane that I couldn't resist a taster. (Heh, heh - and just for the record, darling Flane has little idea that his easy going world is about to disintegrate!)

The other surprising thing is that the book is up and available on Amazon.co.uk* already - for orders. The release date is 30th January. I must check and see if it's up on .com tomorrow but right now I'm off to bed to finish the Geras story. More on that later.

*One click will take you to amazon and my book. Go on, have a peek!

PS The picture is the corner of Wallington Hall and the ancient yew tree against the winter sunshine. Interesting shapes, I thought...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Loglines and the NJ

I mentioned on here that I joined a new group a few days ago. Now they're helping me sort out the difficult art of writing loglines. I gave my attempts on the last entry. Two members have made helpful suggestions:

Linda: Christian slave Emer, bought as a bedmate, confounds Flane, her Viking owner, when she refuses to sleep with him unless he marries her.

and Joanna: When Christian Emer is kidnapped and sold as a slave to Pagan Viking Flane, she has two options: bed him and risk physical harm from his future wife, or escape.

There was much excitement here yesterday when the Newcastle Journal rang to say they'd like to interview me about my writing. Gulp. So an appointment was made for 5.30pm and I spent the day thinking about the things I wanted to say. Promptly at 5.30 the phone rang and it was the NJ. (Silly me - I'd thought he was actually coming to the house!) I put the phone down about 6.45pm feeling elated. I only hope he made sense of it all. He has to put it all together and get his Editor to OK it for publication, but he'll let me know if and when it will go in the newspaper.

End result? I couldn't sleep! Kept waking up thinking oh I should have said...and that...I should have told him that in the end Flane has to choose between love and power, and...I should have told him that the book cover is from a photograph I took of Sandwood Bay in the far north west of Scotland...and did I mention...

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Northumberland and loglines



I needed two pictures and even then couldn't show the whole of the landscape I could see as I stood there in late afternoon sunshine at minus 2 degrees. Nor could I get this silly blog format to publish them side by side, which is what I wanted. However, this is Northumberland, folks, looking west five or six miles north of the Tyne valley where the land starts to rise to the Border hills. Smack in the middle of the one on the left is some sort of ruin perched on top of a small rounded hill. It is listed on the map as Ancient Homestead and Dovecot, doesn't even have a name. We drove right by it as we continued home from Wallington and these little chaps.


Work continues on Till the Day Go Down. I went through yesterday and added costume detail where I thought it would enhance the scene. Today I'm thinking about landscape, though I think I've layered that in as I went but it wouldn't hurt to check. Anything to make the scene REAL to the reader.

As for loglines....here are my next efforts: "Christian Emer, kidnapped and sold as a slave to Pagan Viking Flane, thinks of nothing but escape and refuses to sleep with him unless he marries her."
Didn't seem right, so tried again:
"Pagan Viking Flane buys Christian Emer as bedmate and then finds he must either rape or marry her before his future wife gets rid of her for good."

H'mmm. More interesting, but not exactly polished. More thought needed.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Squirrels in the snow

We had a dusting of snow yesterday. It was hard to tell if it was a severe frost or snow at times, but it certainly looked pretty and the temperature was minus 1.5C in the sun mid afternoon. We went to Wallington and had the beautiful grounds to our selves. I think we passed only a dozen people in two hours.
We saw this little squirrel foraging like crazy and I have lots of pics of them with heads down and tails up! The National Trust have taken down the feeding stations because they fear they spread the pox that the greys carry, which is good, but it means the little fellows - and they are little - have to work that much harder in this cold hard world.
This is the landscape in which they live. Overnight we've had more snow, and it is snowing as I look out of the window so I'm not going into town for shopping and lunch with a friend as planned. "Half and inch of snow in the UK and chaos ensues on the roads as every one drives as if they are an old-age pensioner" commented someone on the radio this morning, and much as I resent the Old Age Pensioner tag I have to admit it is true.
So it is back to work again. I'm running through Till the Day Go Down (the new title I've given Warden's Bride) before offering it to my publisher. I knew I needed a better title because the heroine never became the bride of a Warden, but it gave me a tag to hang on to until I thought of something better. The next thing is to try my hand at loglines for it. I find it really hard to condense the story down to one sparky sentence. "Confident Harry finds his mission and life endangered when he runs foul of Alina's brutal father. " Doesn't seem like enough, does it?
I have to add that I'm revelling in the ITV3 concentration on historical fiction this week. The Jane Austen films and tv specials are being re-run, and there's a lovely series on Costume Drama running alongside. It is a fascinating compilation of clips from old and new historical dramas from Brideshead to Sharpe via Pride and Prejudice. Wonderful! The only problem is deciding wether to watch The Devil's Whore, a new first showing of the Civil War story about Angelica Fanshaw or Billie Piper's Mansfied Park. What a choice - I opted for Angelica. It's pretty gory in parts, but the cast is good and the story sound.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Reeth and language



Last picture of Reeth.

I don't know if this is of interest to anyone but me, but I've been "thinking aloud" recently about language in historical novels, and quoting one or two authors views as well as giving my own. Lindsey Davis is eloquent on the topic. As she says, we can be pretty sure that people in 1st-century Rome didn't speak like one of Cicero's speeches when they were talking to their friends/arguing with their landlords/chatting up a girl, and ditto people in Anglo-Saxon England didn't talk as if they were declaiming Beowulf, or Norsemen as if they were reciting a saga.

Slang and colloquialisms tend not to be used in the formal records posterity has handed down to us, just as they are not used in formal written records today - but that doesn't mean they didn't exist, and some authors think colloquial modern English gives a much better 'feel' for the people and their world than the stilted dialogue you sometimes see in historical fiction.
I've just been reading a couple of paranormal romances that would have us believe half the clans of Scotland turn into a wolf or a hunting cat at the full moon and while I was prepared to go along with that for a while (They are sold as paranormal romances, after all) what really put me off is the linguistic style - "doesnae, cannae, willnae" in almost every sentence of dialogue. I do wonder how the authors see/hear these words being pronounced in their heads - and I wonder if they pronounce them differently to me!

Anyone got any thoughts, views, opinions on this? I'd love to hear!