Friday, 30 January 2009

The Big Day

Today is THE day! FAR AFTER GOLD is released into the big, wide world and must now sink or swim on its merits.
Strange to say, not a lot happens on publication day.

I haven't heard from my publisher, but I was most impressed that my local newspaper The Hexham Courant, came up with a feature on me on THE day! The link is here and you can read it for yourself! Three cheers for the gallant Gemma Brown who sat with me for an hour and took down everything I said in shorthand. Thanks also to the photographer whose name I never got to know but who managed to take a pleasing photo in a very short time.

Then along came a review by Carla Nayland. The same review is in two places -
Carla's blog and Historical Fiction Online. It is longer than most of the others, outlines the story and comments on the historical background, so thank you Carla.

I blogged over on Authors and Books tonight (the link is on the sidebar) - mentioned some books I enjoyed lately. Made a pleasant change from talking about myself!

Monday, 26 January 2009

New Look

Apologies to anyone who has had doubts about finding the correct blog over the last month!
I wanted to make the site look different and I've been sampling various new looks and probably made everyone dizzy!
I think I'll rest with this version now. Any comments?

My book and the Australian Open

Since my book is published this Friday I thought I should let everyone know the good news.

This picture is of Ullapool - but not of the Ullapool of today. This is my view of Skuli' Grey Cloak's Steading, the place where Flane takes Emer when he buys her in the Dublin slave market. As the week progresses I'll add my impressions of Emer, Flane and Oli.

I am still immersed in the Australian Tennis Tournament. Today Murray was beaten. I wonder what the headlines will scream tomorrow? The British press can be cruel I think, in the way it pounces on a UK player and lauds them to the skies before they've ever won a Grand Slam. I've watched it happen so often over the years. The players must come to believe a little of the hype, and then the fall must hit very hard. Far better to wait until Murray wins a Grand Slam before touting him as the favourite before players like Djokovic and Federer. Nadal is always polite, and so avoids confrontation. It looks like being a Nadal-Federer final, and I know who I want to win.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Web site hosts and other distractions

Almost a week has slipped away without me calling in here. I have several excuses ready to hand! Good weather demanded that I go out and walk all Wednesday afternoon for we don't get that much sunshine this time of year. Came back footsore but happy. There's tennis from 8.30am relayed from Melbourne in Australia, and I'm following that via the red button technology on our new tv. I wish there was more coverage but Sky sports have bought up the contracts for many of the Grand Slams and because we do not have Sky Sports at £30 per month, we get zilch. Hence the few tournaments that are shown become important.
Social engagement on Thursday with my sister-in-law, an interview with a newspaper person and Romantic Novelists' Association on Friday and there's the week shot.

Midweek I tried to update my website and put all the new reviews on it. Spent an hour Wednesday night and when I tried to upload/publish, found I could not do it. Or rather, the web host and my PC were incommunicado. I had got used to instanteous updating, and loved it. It seems TripodLycos web host is a part of a larger company and research on Google tells me that the non-profitable parts are being shed. So that means I must find a new website host. I've been checking out new hosting sites, but I only wish I understood what all the terms mean. They could be talking double-Dutch (is that a PC remark these days? Probably not!) for all I understand them.

Life is so simple when I can spend the whole week plugging away at my next story. This week, I've got very little done.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The River Tyne and Ovingham Bridge


The Tyne is running where it ought not to be today - snow and rain off the hills. It is certainly putting strain on our 125 year-old single-track Victorian bridge! We were walking today, but when I drive across and the river is like this, I always send up a little prayer - I'm not sure to where, exactly - that the supporting struts won't choose to give way just as I drive over.
Dh always says the Victorians over-engineered everything because they didn't know the strength of the materials they were using. Thank goodness, I say. We saw a truck get jammed between the stone parapets one day - it had to wriggle off and reverse back up the approach road. Perhaps he didn't know his vehicle was more than 6 foot 6 inches wide! Ha!

Today there is a pedestrian walkway right beside the old bridge with the stone parapets that still bear the marks where the lanterns used to be at either end. There's a 10 mph speed limit and a 3 ton weight limit on it, yet people of all ages drive over at amazingly high speeds. When the level crossing gates go down to let a train roar through at the Prudhoe end, then the stream of cars backs up onto the bridge. If I have to sit there above the middle of the river, unable to move, I'm calculating the weight of metal and rubber parked on the bridge and sending up another of those little prayers.
However, life goes on. I am sad to report that the latest agent said no, but she only took 4 days to get back to me and it was an e-mail submission, which isn't such hard work as a paper submission.
The latest work is going well - 3,000 words yesterday in a marathon sprint and all because I'd taken my notebook on holiday with me - as well as my new Sony e-reader - and worked out what I wanted to happen in Chapter 17 while I was on the plane en route to Geneva. Preparation pays off! Perhaps I'll do it again.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Reviews

"In Far After Gold, Jen Black brings history to vivid and passionate life. The book gripped me from the very first page and drew me in. The writing is lovely, fluent, powerful and evocative. The exploration of the clash between the Viking and early Christian cultures adds layers to the conflict. But it is the characters and their love story that compels the reader’s attention.

Emer is a wonderful heroine, sympathetic and engaging. Even when she is in desperate straits she displays dignity, strength and generosity of spirit. She draws others to her through her kindness and warmth. Flane is a hero to match her, courageous and strong. The chemistry between them is scorching hot and the love story both seductive and tender. Watching these two characters change and grow throughout the book is a delight. Well-drawn secondary characters also add depth and charm to a compelling love story. This book lived on in my imagination long after I had finished it."

Nicola Cornick

As might be imagined, I was up in the air with this review.

Yesterday I found another one from the Northern Echo . This is the one in which the last line is "Don't be put off by the hippy-style book cover. All in all it's not a bad effort for a relatively new writer."

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Ice grotto


I found the picture of the cable car amongst those taken by Paul, so I hope he won't mind if I put three of his up here. You may need to look closely but there is a cable car holding about 40 people packed like sardines swinging in the gap. If you look even closer you can see the lines leading up to the peak where the car enters the rock.

Once inside, the delights of the ice grotto await. Figures carved out of ice loom up out of the darkness, and everything you touch, walk on, look at, is ice. Fissures open up in the ceiling, cracks and holes loom up beyond the guide ropes and it is surprisingly dark. Sometimes the ceiling looked like quartz crystals glittering in the lamplight, at other points it looked and felt like glass. I'd been once before but because the glacier constantly moves - not that you'd notice, I assure you! - everything had changed. No creaks and groans as the ice shifted but perhaps that was because there were six people in there, all moving, talking, taking pictures. On my previous visit it was just dh and I, and we stood still and listened.
The ice goats were not life size, but easily three feet high.
Here is a picture of moi, poleing across a fairly flat section, anxious to get back in the sunlight and out of the cold. It's a tedious and exhausting business when the slope flattens out and the skier loses momentum, but it sure is good for the stomach muscles. Fit young things "skate" across the snow, of course, but yours truly usually manages to get her skis tangled up and judders off balance when trying it. I often think longer legs would help.
Memories of holidays are good, but everyday things are now taking up my time. I must promote my new book, work on the one I'm writing, and try and convince an agent to take me on. Yes, I'm trying that again. Lets hope I have more success this time. I had a review in the Hexham Courant just before I went on holiday and you can read it HERE. That reminds me that I must go Google myself and see if anymore have turned up. Newspapers don't always let you know that something is about to be published, and I'd hate to miss one.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Matterhorn


This is a view along the river that zips through Zermatt. It starts in one of the glaciers - if I had my ski map I could tell you which one but until I unpack completely I haven't a clue where anything is - so I'll just say there are at least three major glaciers and I think this stream comes from the Matterhorn glacier. It had snowed before we got there, so everything was pristine, white and smooth.


Easily ten thousand feet up, this shot is taken from the Kleine Matterhorn and stares straight down the valley into Zermatt. Remember you can click to enlarge the picture! Sunshine is glorious at this altitude because it keeps you warm, and enhances the whole world. There's nothing quite like a deep blue sky circling the mountain peaks and a white snowfield that feels like icing sugar beneath the skiis when you ski across it.

There are many crosses spattered around the mountains, and this one is right on the very top of the Kleine Matterhorn. It has a stark beauty against the deep blue of the sky, perched up there in the freezing cold and often howling winds at twelve thousand feet. The miracle of engineering that allows it is worth mentioning, too. Engineers have tunnelled half a mile through solid rock at the peak of the mountain to allow cable car access. After a nerve tingling ride across the glacier and a 90 degree ascent up the sheer north face of the mountain, the intrepid skier exits the cable car, walks through the tunnel and emerges blinking in the sunshine on the south side. (There is an ice grotto inside the glacier - more on that tomorrow.)

Step a few yards away from the entrance, enjoy the sun and you become aware of a huge presence on your right shoulder. You turn and there is the Matterhorn, sparkling in the sunshine. You catch your breath at its beauty - or you do if you are me. From the Kleine Matterhorn you ski down the slope with the icy cold air biting the back of your throat until you remember to shut your mouth. Then you feel the hairs in your nose freezing, and the bones of your face ache. The cold becomes terrifying, and then you break out into the sunshine once more, shift your balance and stop in a flurry of snow crystals dazzling in the sunlight as they drift back around you. Magic.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Zermatt and FAR AFTER GOLD







Good snow, good weather, (it only snowed at night!) beautiful food, everything worked according to plan. Hotel better than ever - this was fourth visit. Transit Newcastle to Zermatt accomplished without a hitch, though having to wait an hour for our baggage at Newcastle airport on the return journey kind of spoilt the run of perfection. Ah....superb holiday, now over.

Because we were skiing at between 8 and 10 thousand feet, some days higher than that, I am now a good deal fitter than when I went. The human body, and the way it adapts, is truly amazing. Now I must keep up the good work - and of course the English weather is not appealing - horribly windy, damp and grey. Makes me want to sit at home with a good book.

Returned home to another review for Far After Gold:
"This is a heart-warming romance set in the Hebrides at a time when the ancient Norse religion was being eclipsed by Christianity. Two sets of values, sometimes similar, often contradictory, fight to win men's hearts and minds, much as the hero and heroine struggle towards mutual understanding in the course of the novel.

Jen Black is a writer to watch. Her turn of phrase can be most evocative, and she uses it to best advantage to create a strong sense of place. This is not a romance set in a blank nowhere where the characters are forced to act out their dramas on a stage bare of everything save the most basic of props. In Far After Gold the setting is lovingly described and it lends richness and texture to Emer and Flane's story. There is the odd minor stumble with anachronism, where the choice of vocabulary might be more rigorous, but word choice is a very personal matter and this in no way impedes the flow of the story.

Jen Black knows how to use drama to help with narrative drive, and the conflict between the hero and heroine is kept clear at all times. Towards the end of the book however, there is a sense that the novel might gain more depth if the two main characters and the conflict between them was further evolved. "


So far so good. The last sentence and the next paragraph show me where I might have done better, and I am grateful to Carol Townend for sharing her thoughts on this. I have learned a great deal since I wrote FAG and I'm still learning. Carol goes on to say "Emer's thought processes become a little repetitious; and it would add yet another layer to learn more about Flane's motivations and the way his relationship with Emer highlights his inner conflicts and increases his self-knowledge." I can see exactly what she means, and I agree. I only wish I'd seen it at the time of writing!
She concludes: "Far After Gold is an evocative novel, the characters are appealing and they develop convincingly during the course of the story. I enjoyed very much."

Needless to say I am very pleased!

Friday, 2 January 2009

No pictures today! Instead here's an excerpt from Far After Gold. This is the second half of Chapter One:

Half a day later the coastline emerged slowly out of the sea. The ship turned, ran straight into the heart of Alba, and mountains rose up on every side. Peeping over the edge of her blanket, Emer saw high hills fringed with trees, but not a single dwelling. The inlet narrowed and the bustle of the crew announced that landfall was imminent. She rose to her knees and peered over the high gunwale.
The water was browner than the indigo of the open sea, and weed decorating the rocks at the water’s edge indicated that the loch was tidal a long way inland. Steep mountainsides rose to one side, with no breaks for landfall. On the other, mountains backed bright meadows that ran down to the shore, and a smooth shallow headland jutted out, pimpled with a cluster of buildings and bright colours where wives and children waited to welcome their men home from the sea.
The sail rattled down, and oars took the ship in an arc towards the jetty. Fear of the unknown rose and lodged like a lump of dry bread in Emer’s throat. She sank back in her corner, hauled the blanket over her head and ignored the screams of excited children and women. The glad cries of homecoming she could not share, that made her want to weep for what she had lost.
Gangplanks rumbled out and men trundled barrels ashore. When everything grew quiet, she squinted out over the folds of the blanket. The older lord and many of the crew had gone. Flane stood by the mast. She hoped he would forget about her. She closed her eyes and prayed to St Patrick as hard as she had ever prayed in her life.
Emer never heard the soft footsteps, and when a hand yanked the blanket away, she jerked back so fast she banged her head against the stern post. “Ow.”
“Get up.” He was laughing, but his rich voice was firm and authoritative.
She ignored him. When his foot drew back, she guessed his intention and scrambled to her feet rather than be kicked. He was so much taller now that she was close to him. She refused to look up. Her eyes were level with the smooth brown skin of his chest. The laces of the leather jerkin were open and he wore no tunic or undershirt. Muscles and tendons moved and flickered beneath the brown skin only a finger’s width from her nose. The scent of him curled into her nostrils.
“Come with me.”
Emer stood rooted to the deck. Flane reached the gangplank, turned and beckoned.
Emer scowled and did not move.
Flane clicked his fingers. Astounded, Emer lifted her chin, turned her head and stared pointedly out to sea. From the corner of her eye she saw one sailor nudge another and both stopped what they were doing to watch what would happen next. Memories of the overseer and his cane flashed through her mind, and she decided moving might be her wisest choice even though he treated her like his favourite hound. Pride stiffened her spine as she came to a halt before him.
“My name is Flane.” He tapped his chest and repeated the words, as if she were stupid, and then sighed. “Trust me to pick a girl who doesn’t understand the language.” He drew his dagger, and the fierce blade flashed silver in the sunlight.
Emer’s heart leapt into her throat. Would he kill her because she could not speak his language? What other reason could he have? She met his blue glance for an instant even as she took a swift step back, ready to run, heedlessly, in any direction. He caught her wrist and dragged her in close. Her heart thudded wildly at the sudden contact of chest, hip and thigh. Panic stricken, mesmerised by his steady blue gaze, she stood there in the thin sunlight with the sound of water lapping against the ship and the smell of him in her nostrils. She drew a swift, choked breath of air. Her last moment in the world had arrived. She shut her eyes, waiting the bite of cold steel at her throat. Dear Lord, accept my soul this day…
He hooked one finger under her leather slave collar. Surprised, she opened her eyes and flinched at the sight of the steel blade flashing wickedly in the sunlight.
“Steady, steady,” he murmured, as if to a nervous animal. “I thought you’d rather be free of this.” He gave a couple of gentle tugs on the leather collar at her neck, and before she grasped his intention, the blade sliced through the hated thing. She never even felt the coldness of the blade.
He dangled the strip of leather with its attendant piece of rope in front of her. “Do you want to keep it?”
Furious at being frightened and then gentled like a nervous mare, Emer didn’t hesitate. She seized the hated collar and hurled it far out over the loch.
He laughed. “Good for you. Now, come with me.”
A mixture of shame and indignation burned through her as she followed Flane over the heavy timbers that made up the jetty. Head down, dodging coils of rope, empty sacks and closed kegs, Emer decided she would take the removal of her slave collar as the first of many positive things that were about to happen. She did not realise Flane had stopped walking until she almost collided with the pale leather of his jerkin.
“You understand me,” he stated.
She backed off a pace or two, and looked up warily. “Yes.”
The Norsemen first settled the islands two hundred years ago and many islanders now spoke Norse with their neighbours. Dutifully sewing tunics and chemises under her mother’s watchful eye, she had learned the language by listening as her father taught it to her brother. She had picked it up faster than Donald, and teased him about it. Her chin wobbled at the warmth of the memory and she pressed her lips together to keep the tears at bay.
“That’s good. We’ll deal well together.”
Emer doubted it, but did not dispute his statement.
“Your life will not be hard here.”
A tingle of hope ran through her, and she hoped he meant it. But …he was a Viking, and he…owned her. It was her duty to escape if she could. She ventured a question in the new language. “Where is this place?”
“It’s called Skuli’s Steading. It’s about sixty miles from the Alban king’s settlement at Inverness.”
“I do not know Inverness.”
“Sixty miles as the crow might fly would take you to the eastern seaboard and Inverness, but Skuli’s Steading is my home.”
If she concentrated hard, she understood him. “Home!” Emer let out a snatch of bitter laughter. “How far is Skuli’s Steading from my home? From an island called Pabaigh?”
“Pabaigh?” He shook his head, frowning. “Is it close to Skye?”
Emer shrugged. “I don’t know. My aunt is there.”
“Skye lies to the south of here. Maybe someone there will know of your island.”
He never knew the impact of his words. As realisation dawned, tears pricked her eyes and she stared at the sky through a sudden blur. Thank you, Lord. She’d guessed they were sailing north, away from Africa, but fear still gripped her that the ship headed to some distant part of Gotland or Russland. She looked round. This was the destination. Skye was nearby. There would surely be a chance to escape now. Elation streamed through her at the thought she might see home again.
Flane took hold of her arm, and she was very much aware of the warmth of his hand on her skin. His pale brows angled towards his nose, and he drew breath to speak and then changed his mind. They stared at each other in silence.
Stubble pricked through the sunburned skin of his jaw, and sunlight glanced off a single gold earring. The breeze blew a wisp of straw-gold hair across his mouth and in a casual, habitual gesture he hooked the hair behind his ear, but what held her still was the intensity of his eyes.
In a small voice, Emer asked a question. “Why me?”
The smile that grew slowly across his face was confident, knowing. He let go of her arm, lifted his hand to her face, let it hover in the air for some moments before he touched her cheek. The back of his bent fingers glided gently down to her jaw. “You are lovely.”
“You paid silver for me because you like how I look?”
“What else could it be? I saw you huddled against the stockade in the slave market and…I don’t know. I felt that…I wanted to do this.” His palm cupped the back of her head, pulled her forward and his mouth descended on hers. His warm tongue probed her mouth.
With a grunt of shock, Emer recoiled and struggled against his broad chest. He let go of her.
“Don’t tell me you’re shy.” His lazy grin mocked her.
“I do not allow men to handle me.”
“We’ll soon see about that. Why do you think I bought you?” One silver eyebrow tilted up. “How did you get into the slave market?”
Emer took another step away from him, poised to run if he should try and grab her again. “Vikings seized me, dragged me to their ship – I still have the bruises, look – and sold me. Satisfied?”
“Don’t take that tone with me, girl. I didn’t snatch you. I paid out good silver for you and brought you here.” His arm indicated the Steading and the hillsides. “Is this not better than the slave market? You ought to be grateful, so get rid of that pig-headed look. You could have done a lot worse.”
“Pig-headed! Worse? My father is chieftain of Pabaigh!”
He leaned close, blue eyes sparkling. “I have only two words for you.” He spoke slowly and with emphasis. “Moorish Africa.”
Emer recoiled, and then inhaled slowly. She should not let him see he frightened her, even if her heart beat like a mad thing and her knees trembled beneath her gown.
“You may not like where you are, but you would like Africa a lot less. We passed a Moorish galley just as we left the Liffey. You escaped Africa by that much.” He indicated a tiny space between his thumb and forefinger. “I can always sell you on to the Moors if you don’t please me.”
Emer shuddered. No one ever got home from Africa. It was even worse than Russland.
“Well? Will you please me?”
She met the laughing challenge of his blue eyes, and something opened and warmed within her. It was an odd sensation, totally unexpected; as if she stood before a huge glowing fire and the heat reached out and enveloped her. She could not remember any man having such an effect on her.
Perhaps…he was certainly more handsome…better looking than…anyone on Pabaigh. She caught at her thoughts. He should be her husband, not her master. “My father would repay the silver, if you returned me to him.”
He shook his head, grasped her arm and walked her towards a wooden hut built out over the loch.
“Soon everyone will know you belong to me.”
The phrase “belong to me” echoed in her ears as Flane pulled her into a warm, dim interior of the hut, full of dark corners, firelight and steam. Shadowy women in various states of undress clustered around a central hearth. No one seemed unduly disturbed at the interruption, though some discreetly covered themselves.
Flane addressed one of the women. “I brought a girl back from Dublin. She needs to get rid of the lice. I don’t want to be scratching like a dog fox tomorrow.”
Emer glared at him.
He caught her look, and must have interpreted it correctly, for he reached out and held up a strand of her snarled, tangled hair. “It was a slave market. You couldn’t have avoided it.”He left, and Emer stared wide-eyed around the shadowy hut.

The book is released on 30th January. Amazon.com was taking pre-orders but now I see it says it is out of print. Well, hardly. But I suppose computers don't know enough to wait until the publication date at the end of the month!