Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Paine's 18th century bridge

Here we have a picture of the attractive little bridge Paine built around 1750 to cross the river Wansbeck on the Wallington estate. There's a second picture further down the page with a vehicle going across to give some sense of scale.

It is definitely only wide enough for one car at a time. Though the river looks nothing more than an ambling stream, which it is, mostly, this is the river than devastated Morpeth a few months ago.




The public library, inundated and out of action for such a long time, is only now getting back to normal.
I spotted TheRichList yesterday, and sad to say there are few authors listed.
The numbers refer to the Rank in the list this year, followed by rank last year, then the name, the current wealth and the losses suffered due to this year's credit crunch:


101 (144) Joanne Rowling £499m Fall £61m Novels, Films
344 (510) Barbara Taylor Bradford £166m £7m Novels
600 (879) Jackie Collins £90m no change Novels
863 Lord Archer £65m £7m Novels
1077 Jack Higgins £50m £10m Novels
1348 Sir Terry Pratchett £40m no change Novels
1771 Katie Price £30m -Fashion

Not exactly inspiring, is it? Just as a comparison, here is the Queen:
244 (260) The Queen 270m Fall of £50m

Dick Francis and POV


I've noticed that Dick Francis writes in the first person, too. He doesn't use the I word very much but it is definitely First Person. Here's the opening lines of Under Orders:
"Sadly, death at the races is not uncommon.
However, three in a single afternoon was sufficiently unusual to raise more than an eyebrow. That only one of the deaths was of a horse was more than enough to bring the local constabulary hotfoot to the track."
He's good on first paragraphs, isn't he? It is only in the middle of the second paragraph that the I word comes into play. Now that I think back over the titles I've read over the years, I think most of them have been First Person - and yet I never really clocked it.
It's raining today, but I've been out on my bike anyway. I have to get fitter somehow, and it always seems that I do about a week of walking or cycling and then the good weather vanishes and I find myself staying indoors, lounging around, and by the time the good weather reappears, I've lost that little bit of fitness and have to start again. Stupid really. I've also done the grocery shopping and so can sit down to do some work feeling virtuous.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Spring at last

I promised lambs and daffodils to celebrate Spring, so here are the lambs...carefully marched away from us by anxious mum.


We attended our first BBQ last night. Invitation arrived in brilliant sunshine at 2pm. By 3.30pm the skies darkened and the rain slashed down and we gave up all hope. By 8.00 it was fine and bright again, so off we went, and stood under huge umbrellas when it rained again. It could only happen in England - but it was a fun evening.

Now that I'm re-working the old story that was once published by Triskelion, I find it is growing and changing out of all recognition and I shall gave it a new title. I hope that is legal. The story side of it is fine, but I cannot shake off the formatting imposed by Trisk, so I've decided to start again in a whole new blank document, which is just as well as so much of it is changing.
I've also been trying to make Document Map work for me after someone sang its praises but I think the instructions I have must be for a later version of Word than I have, for I didn't achieve anything helpful.

After a day of exasperation and wasted time, we sneaked off for a day out on Friday and walked at Wallington. The magnolias are coming into bloom in the walled garden, and the blossom on the wild cherry and rhododendrons was a welcome sight. Makes me feel good on the inside.

I checked today and saw that Far After Gold is listed by both Gardners and Bertrams, major book distribution centres in the UK, which means that Waterstones and other bookshops can order it as a stock line for their shelves. Perhaps it is time I introduced myself to the local bookshops....and if anyone has been disappointed that they couldn't find it anywhere but Amazon, take hope. One day you might find my books sitting on your local Wasterstones' shelf. And if you ask, they should certainly get it for you.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

An old favourite

I've been wallowing in edits for a month, but the job is done now, so now I can breathe more freely, look around me and see what has been happening. True to form, I immediately plunged back into another story that needs work. At the same time I started reading Writing Romance by Vanessa Grant for the second time this month and made copious notes.
Reading it has sparked off so many ideas that I now need to begin a third edit of this unfortunate book! Now I'm investigating Document Maps and Templates on my laptop and debating buying a book on Word - if only I could remember which version of Word I have. Ms Grant tells me that it is so much easier to keep a character template alongside the ms and I believe her. I've never attempted it previously because I was always half-way through something when the idea occurred. Starting afresh, this could be the time for Templates!

I now have definitions for all those Viewpoint terms and if I become fuzzy on them sometime in the future, I shall look up Third Person Multiple and know exactly what it is. I read on Anita's blog (look on the side-bar) today that she wants to try a story in First Person POV. It seems tempting in spite of the general concensus that First Person is not liked by agents/publishers. Speaking personally, FP always seems old-fashioned, and I get very tired of seeing "I" on the page. So easy to become repetitious, and difficult to get around what is happening to other characters.
And yet, I returned The Persian Boy to the library yesterday and suddenly stopped as I write to consider that surely Bagoas told the story in the FP, and I never really noticed?

Here is the first para:
"Lest anyone should suppose I am the son of nobody, sold off by some peasant father in a drought year, I may say our line is an old one, though it ends with me. My father was Artembares son of Araxis, of the Pasargadai, Kyros' old tribe. Three of our family fought for him, when he set the Persians over the Medes. We held our land for eight generations, in the hills west above Susa. I was ten years old, and learning a warrior's skills, when I was taken away."

That's first person, all right. But then Mary Renault was a first rate author. I picked the book up with some misgivings, wondering how it would stand the test of time. It was written 37 years ago, but I need not have worried. I enjoyed it all over again, and enjoyed her style, so subtly and enjoyably different to the Dan Brown's of this modern world. (And the three enjoyables in that sentence must stand as testament to how well,... enjoyable it was!)
Now I shall look out for her other titles to be re-issued.

Monday, 20 April 2009

We never do this, do we?

Some thoughts for writers here, gleaned from Pat Holt. Now you may have seen this in other places, but it bears repeating, and anyway I want to put it here so I can find it again if I want to in ten months time. Or a year.... Reading it once a month wouldn't hurt. These are the ten most common faults that mark us out as amateurs in the writing game. If you want, click on the link, and read the full piece, with all the examples of the mistakes we make. I just hope one of yours hasn't made it into the quotes! (Additional - I'm told the link doesn't go direct to the piece today, but does take you to the correct blog. Type in The Ten Mistakes in the search box, and the piece will come up)


REPEATS - Just about every writer has a “crutch” word. They're usually unremarkable. That’s why they slip into our writing, but Readers notice them and get irked by them. I know I have a habit of using a word in one sentence and then again in the next paragraph, as if it's stuck in my mind and I can't get rid of it.

FLAT WRITING - Your writing is so flat, it just dies on the page, even for you! A few replacement words won't fix it - you have to give it depth, texture, character.
It is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite. Totally agree with that.

EMPTY ADVERBS - here's a list. Go on, now, own up - how many do you use?
Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally - these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. They suck the meaning out of every sentence.
(When in doubt, try this mantra: Precise and spare; precise and spare; precise and spare.) I have my own version of this - I think Dick Francis, Dick Francis, Dick Francis - a master of spare, taut writing.


PHONY DIALOGUE - One character should never imply or say to the other, “Tell me again, Bruce: What are we doing next?”
Dialogue offers glimpses into character the author can’t provide through description. Hidden wit, thoughtful observations, a shy revelation, a charming aside all come out in dialogue, so the characters *show* us what the author can’t *tell* us. But if dialogue helps the author distinguish each character, it also nails the culprit who’s promoting a hidden agenda by speaking out of character. I strive to do this. Not sure if I do.


NO-GOOD SUFFIXES - Don’t take a perfectly good word and give it a new backside so it functions as something else. Mindlessness, characterlessness, courageousness, statuesqueness, preciousness - you get the idea. You might as well pour marbles into your readers’ mouths. Not all “ness” words are bad - goodness, no - but they are all suspect.
The “ize” words are no better - finalize, conceptualize, fantasize, categorize. The “ize” hooks itself onto words as a short-cut but stays there like a parasite. Cops now say to each other about witnesses they’ve interrogated, “Did you statementize him?” I congratulate myself (and I'm probably wrong) that this is an American trait.



THE “TO BE” WORDS - this is the one that really gets writers steamed up.
Once your eye is attuned to the frequent use of the “to be” words - “am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “be,” “being,” “been” and others - you’ll be appalled at how quickly they flatten prose and slow your pace to a crawl.



LISTS - a lot of writers still do this. I grind my teeth every time I see it, and kid myself that I never do it.
“She was entranced by the roses, hyacinths, impatiens, mums, carnations, pansies, irises, peonies, hollyhocks, daylillies, morning glories, larkspur…” Well, she may be entranced, but our eyes are glazing over.


SHOW, DON’T TELL - Another one that gets writers rolling their eyes.
If you say, “she was stunning and powerful,” you’re *telling* us. But if you say, “I was stunned by her elegant carriage as she strode past the jury - shoulders erect, elbows back, her eyes wide and watchful,” you’re *showing* us. The moment we can visualize the picture you’re trying to paint, you’re showing us, not telling us what we *should* see. It takes a little more work, and sometimes it seems impossible. But I've found that leaving it half a day, a day, even a week - and the better phrase will pop into your mind immediately.


AWKWARD PHRASING
“Mrs. Fletcher’s face pinkened slightly.” “I sat down and ran a finger up the bottom of his foot, and he startled so dramatically …. ” “he startled”? You mean “he started”?
Awkward phrasing makes the reader stop in the midst of reading and ponder the meaning of a word or phrase. It stops me, that I know.



COMMAS
Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases *require* commas. You may find it necessary to break the rules from time to time, but you can’t delete commas just because you don’t like the pause they bring to a sentence or just because you want to add tension.



It really is worth reading the full piece, I promise you.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Strange things


The old Roller drove 55 miles from Brora to Thurso to carry the bride to church, and then drove 55 miles back again, so I thought it deserved an honourable mention!

Speaking of battlefields yesterday made me remember a few other memorable things. I've driven through Glencoe many times, in good weather and bad, and not felt a twinge.

Hermitage Castle is dour on the best of days, and holds terrible stories of boilings in oil and dungeons where people were forgotten. There is no spookiness but I don't think I'd like to be left there overnight. Come to think of it, I wouldn't want to be left overnight in Newcastle Keep, either.

But...I went to Bosworth Field on a glorious warm sunny day and walked down to the stone that marks the spot where Richard died. It is a small grassy corner, surrounded by trees, and a stream nearby. Nothing dramatic, only a stone, for all the world like a smaller version of the Callanish stones, yet ... tears welled and I could not stop them. I think I embarrassed the friend who was with me.


And talking of the Callanish stones reminds me...I visited one of the outlying rings with my sister-in-law and nephew. This was many years ago, when he was about twelve. It was a bright breezy day and we fooled about a bit until I found that one of the stones seemed warm. Only one, and only for me. If I stood close to it, the wind died, and the stone warmed me. I ought to go back one day, and see if it is the same.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Caithness, Culloden and friends

We stayed in the hotel but my sister-in-law and family stayed in Scrabster - perhaps I should say above Scrabster - a lovely house perched on the highest, windiest cliff overlooking the harbour and out across Dunnet Bay. As we drove in and out of Scrabster we looked across the fields towards the Orkneys. It was fascinating because every time we passed by, the quality of the light was different. Sometimes the islands were invisible behind a wall of mist, sometimes they were sharp and clear.

The picture shows a medium clear day.


The day we drove south towards home was brilliant sunshine, too. We stopped off at Culloden. On the right is a picture of the battlefield, with a view across the Moray Firth to Ben Wyvis with patches of snow still clinging to the slopes. People tell me that the battlefield is a dour, atmospheric place, but on this day, in bright, breezy sunshine it was hard to conjure up any idea of a battle. There were more people in the Visitor Centre buying, eating, viewing the exhibits than doing the battlefield walk. We walked through the Centre and ate a scone and drank coffee on the back terrace, looking south. A farmer was busy ploughing. Seagulls scavened behind him.
On a rainy winter's day it may very well look and feel different.
Or it may be that people's imagination provides the emtional response - or the emotional response provides the atmosphere.
What do I remember of my first visit to Caithness? The flatness, the stone fences, and the wind. Gorse in bloom. Warm, friendly people who claim to be Wickers, ie from Wick, and have no truck with Gaelic and Jacobite woes. These people claim their heritage from the Norsemen, and are proud not to be of any clan.
Touring the delightful Castle of Mey and hearing stories of life as lived by The Queen Mother. Dinner parties that went on so late that she earned the nickname Midnight Moll. Her menu reminders, handwritten in French, propped up at her place at the dinner table, a kitsch Nessie touring around the top of the sixteenth century tapestry in the drawing room. Yes, I'd love the castle to be mine - but could I afford the central heating? Probably not.
Will I return to Caithness? Yes, I think so. We made some friends, have an invitation to go back and the place itself grew on me. So much still to see and explore.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Watery topics and whisky

The Falls, only fifty yards from the hotel. The water sweeps around the house and emerges on the other side looking much calmer as it trundles off down to the sea. It doesn't look big enough to hold some of the salmon that have been caught in the river - there is a carving of one 3 stone monster caught there in 1952 and immortalised over the hearthstone in the bar. And the whisky - double banked rows of bottles of every conceivable name. If you want to curry favour with the locals, then ask for their very own local malt - Old Pulteney, distilled in Wick.


We drove by my own favourite - Dalmore - a long way south on the shores of the Cromarty Firth. It was interesting to keep crossing the firths - the Moray Firth out of Inverness, then the Cromarty Firth and the Dornoch Firth and on up the A9 to Latheron where we branched off onto what used to be the A895 to Thurso.

The Flow country is famous as a haven for wildlife of the kind that enjoys bogs as a habitat - otters and the like, which is just as well since they are scarce in the rest of the UK. There are signs that they are coming back now the rivers are cleaner now we knowthe damage pesticides cause, but it is a slow process of re-colonisation. I have only seen one place that is flatter than the Flow Country and that is East Anglia - also known as the Fen Country. Such flat land makes me a little uneasy, always looking over my shoulder, since I'm used to the rolling hills and valleys of the north. Wind farms proliferate in Caithness and act as markers across the vast flatness.
We walked north along the Forss river until we reached the sea where we found this old ruin boarded up and marked Dangerous - Keep Out.
Many old houses lie around falling gradually into greater and greater disrepair, but I wonder at the wisdom of the person who built this one. I should have taken another picture to show you how close it is to the sea. Walk between the Forss river and the house walls to the seaward side, and you step onto a steep, narrow slope, littered with stones - not pebbles, but stones - a strip perhaps ten feet wide and the sea is lapping at your feet.
Bearing in mind that this is the north coast and bears the brunt of waves whipped in by the wind from the Arctic, the waves must have broken over the house at some point in the winter storms. Two windows and a door, now all bricked up, once stared out on the encroaching sea. Must have been a frightening prospect at times.








Monday, 13 April 2009

Forss Hotel and Gorse





This is the wilderness garden at the front of the Castle of Mey. Lots of wizened looking trees not yet in leaf but strong enough to survive the Arctic winds that blow down on them. At the front right are some of the Caithness flagstones performing a function peculiar to this region - they stand on end and make fences. Square and very strong although only an inch thick, we saw row upon row dividing fields and marvelled at them. They were once exported all over the world to make pavements and for all I know people may still be walking on them in cities like London and Sydney - and then concrete became so much easier...

I recommend the Forss Hotel and not only because the trees look healthier, but because it is a perfect country house hotel with exactly the right atmosphere. Rabbits nibbled the lawn as we sat in the conservatory and ate breakfast. The house sits within the loop of the Forss river, and the waterfall and the riverside walks are very pretty. It is a time-share river, so salmon fishers will want to know about it. If breakfast is anything to go by, dinner would be a very good experience, but of course we were eating the evening meal with family and friends for the two days we were resident.

We walked along the river in brilliant sunshine towards the sea, and out of the reach of the wind.

All the way up the coast from Inverness through Brora and Helmsdale we had driven by hillsides covered in gorse, which looked wonderful against the bright blue sky. The road is twisty and offered very few places to pull over, so I did not get a photograph en route - but we enjoyed a smaller version on our walk to the sea.



Sunday, 12 April 2009

Castle of Mey

I still feel as though I'm still moving. We've done 820 miles since Thursday morning in our trip to Caithness to attend my middle nephew's wedding. He chose to fall for a girl from Thurso, which is as far north as you can get in the UK without taking a boat and heading for Orkney.
We broke the journey by staying overnight in Inverness and I took the picture on the picture on the right from our hotel window. That's the river Ness, and we're looking north.
On Friday we arrived in Thurso and found we were in luck for the Castle of Mey was open to visitors over the Easter Weekend. The castle was built for the earls of Caithness between 1560-1580, and stayed in the family for 300 years. It suffered thereafter until the recently widowed Queen Elizabeth saw it, fell in love with it and decided it must be saved as part of Scotland's heritage. So from 1952 onwards she spent her summers there and gradually restored it. She set up a trust before she died, so now I think the property is safe.
The first view is from the seaward side - it is only 200 yeards from the sea, and though the pictures are taken perhaps only two hours apart, you can see how the light is changing as the afternoon turns to early evening. Typically of me, the first picture you see is the one I took last, getting on for half past five.
The huge wall protects the castle from the worst of the winds off the sea, and shelters the walled garden. The castle seems a huddle of chimneys and odd little towers, a delight, almost a child's idea of a castle. Once through the gates, we walked round to the front of the house, which faces south across the fields.
Surprisingly, the wind shrieked in from the south! and we were glad to get inside those huge doors. Once the nine inch key had safely been turned in the foot square lock to keep out unwelcome visitors, we enjoyed a tour with Mr Jackson. Just the three of us, through the drawing room, the equerry's room, the sitting room, then up the spiral stairs to view the bedrooms. One housed a romantic four poster bed in a room designated as Princess Margaret's room though she never slept there because she thought the castle far too cold and always went back to her quarters on Britannia in Scrabster harbour fifteen miles away.
Down a set of stairs so steep the Duke of Edinburgh claimed they reminded him of being aboard ship, and into the dining room, the pantry and then down again to the kitchen with the 1950s fridge, still in use. Anecdotes and reminiscence all the way. I recommend it for your delight if you are ever that far north.
This is the view of the south facing entrance to the castle - the picture I took first, around half past three in the afternoon.
We saw the gardens. At this time of year few blooms were on display. But the front "wilderness" garden boasted clumps of naturalised daffodils and they made a pleasing show.
Our hotel had much the same sort of wild garden plus daffodils. More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Aftermath

I hear there is a new website for romance readers put up by Mills&Boon. I have not peeked at it yet, but the link is here for anyone who is interested.

My weekend went well. No culinary disasters, which is good as I'm not exactly the world's best chef. I can think of lots of things to do that I enjoy far more than cooking, but one has to do it sometimes. I did not lose the thread of my plot while I stood there boiling, roasting and pureeing, which is a huge bonus, and my time since Sunday morning (after all the washing up and putting away) has been spent writing a new chapter to insert as Chapter 21.
It went well once I started, and of course it threw up, as this sort of edit usually does, things to tweak elsewhere in the book. I caught myself writing "dark eyes" for my hero when I know perfectly well that he has grey eyes. Now I worry how many other times I have made that same error.
I'm at the printing-out-of-the-whole-ms stage and then it will be the read through. Here's hoping I don't find many glaring errors, but even more I hope that the pacing will be improved. Someone, I cannot remember who, told me to start a book like Dick Francis - "he has good openings." Well, I checked the half dozen copies on my shelves, and he has. They are excellent openings - for a thriller. However, that sort of opening does not translate very readily to a romance. So I followed someone else's advice - "Start where thing start to go wrong." That works better for a romance.

The last picture of Newcastle - the Millenium Bridge and the Baltic Art Gallery behind it. Next time there will be pictures of lambs and daffodils, I promise.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Newcastle and dinner parties


I should have shots of daffodils and spring lambs dancing about the fields, but I've been struck by a tummy bug this week and spent 36 hours feeling miserable and lethargic for the rest of it. So while I'm on the mend now, which is just as well as I have guests this evening, it means another picture of Newcastle - this time looking underneath the Tyne Bridge. The menu for tonight (thanks to Nigella Lawson) reads: Pea soup, Ham baked in Coca-Cola, Sorbet and Gooey Chocolate Puddings.
Sounds simple enough, but let's see if I can pull it off without any hitches. I'm off to make the soup now, and all the time the scene I want to insert into KT is running through my mind. By the time I get back to the laptop, chances are I'll have forgotten it, or have it complete in my mind.
Let's hope it is the latter rather than the former!