Thursday, 30 December 2010

Green grass and Hexham

We're back to normal English winter weather.
The snow has just about gone, and the river
is no longer frozen but is running high and thick
and brown. The temperature is 4 degrees C,
damp and still. We went to Northacomb Farm Shop today, which sits high up on the ridge above the river. The snow was just starting to fall last week and the fields were still white from the previous dump. The pond was frozen, and everything glazed with frost.

Today, the snow has gone and the green fields are back on show. Not as bright and lush as they are in summer, but green nevertheless. Muddy and wet where the animals trudge about near gates and drinking troughs, and no doubt skiddy if you try and walk over them. In other fields, winter wheat is shooting, brave spears pale and green above the cold brown soil.

Its always reassuring to see the green when the snow melts. As if all is right with the world, somehow. One or two plants get frosted and die, but on the whole everything copes remarkably well with the cold and snow. Misty weather may not be particularly nice for being outdoors, but it makes for wonderfully atmospheric photographs. You cannot see Hexham in this shot below, but it is there, I assure you, lurking in the valley behind the two trees. We encountered a massive two lane traffic jam about half a mile from the roundabout into Hexham, and it took us an age to creep up the hill and turn down again towards the bridge over the Tyne and into Tesco beyond.
We thought the world had gone mad and couldn't wait to rush into the supermarkets to stock up because the shops would be closed for uh, maybe a whole day. As if, with freezers and fridges at our disposal, we cannot manage to last two days without new stocks. Anyway, we crawled down to the bridge where we found temporary traffic lights set up.
And all because two paving stones on the footpath had been lifted and removed. No workmen present, no explanation; red and white barriers around the area, managing to take up half of one lane of the road as well as the pavement, and therefore requiring only one lane across the bridge to be in use. No wonder there was a traffic jam. Hexham was in chaos, with half the town jammed solid and the other half like a ghost town.
We grumbled to ourselves in the car as we whizzed on into Tesco. Which lunatic in the town council had ordered the work to start at this precise time, and then allowed the workmen to leave the job half done while they disappeared home and put their feet up? Whoever s/he may be, may you too get stuck - not once, but several times - in your own creation.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Eating and romance


Romance writers seem to have got into a trend of writing love scenes in terms of eating. I suppose if you like eating, then its no problem, but if sometimes the thought of eating another thing is more like a punishment, (the days after Christmas spring to mind!) then you could begin to wonder at the psychology of descriptive love making that uses the vocabulary of eating.
Heroes and heroines hunger for each other, taste, bite and devour each other....
Next time you read a love scene, take note!
The cold continues. We've no more than a dusting of snow now, but the river froze on Friday. Water ran in the dark patch, flowing as swiftly as ever. By Saturday, the dark patch had closed over.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Historical v romance


Answers.com defines a historical novel thus:

"the action takes place during a specific historical period well before the time of writing (often one or two generations before, sometimes several centuries), and in which some attempt is made to depict accurately the customs and mentality of the period. The central character—real or imagined—is usually subject to divided loyalties within a larger historic conflict of which readers know the outcome. The pioneers of this genre were Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper; Scott's historical novels, starting with Waverley (1814), set the pattern for hundreds of others: outstanding 19th‐century examples include Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris (1831), Dumas père's Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844), Flaubert's Salammbô (1862), and Tolstoy's War and Peace (1863–9). While the historical novel attempts a serious study of the relationship between personal fortunes and social conflicts, the popular form known as the historical or ‘costume’ romance tends to employ the period setting only as a decorative background to the leading characters. "
Well, that sort of says it all. I can imagine the bristles rising all over the globe as romance writers and readers read the last sentence, but remember, girls, I didn't write it - I'm only quoting it!
I think there is a bridge between the two genres inhabited by less serious historical novels and more serious romance historicals. How deep a reader feels the bridge extends in either territory depends on personal taste. One woman might refuse to step on the bridge, and another might head a mile into the other territory. It is good that the bridge is there, because it means everyone can find the right level for them.
Is the black woolly creature in the pic alpaca, lama or vicuna? I can never remember which is which, but I hope this little creature (s/he was very young when I took his/her picture up near Harbottle in the autumn) is tucked away in a nice warm barn somewhere.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Authentically British


There’s an interesting post on Smart Bitches – here’s the link - here - which begins:
“Dear various American authors of historical romances who are trying very, very hard to sound authentically British,
It’s not like I’m the foremost Britpicker of all time. Not even close. But I’ve noticed a distressing trend among your ranks in recent days.”

Anyone who writes anything vaguely historic will find the letter and the comments that follow it entertaining, interesting and informative. I certainly did, and though I didn’t agree with everything, was astonished to learn that my understanding of cetain rude words was a little out of kilter to the norm. Comes of a sheltered childhood, I imagine!


The weather is ferociously cold here in the north east. Temperatures of minus three all day, and plummeting to minus nine and worse at night, is unusual. On the other hand, it is bearable with blue sky and sunshine. I am feeding the birds cracked peanuts, sultanas, mixed seeds and bits of bacon fat, and am amazed that they can tolerate such conditions. The ground is so hard there's no hope of finding worms. How do birds no bigger than a golf ball survive the long, dark nights? From four in the afternoon until eight the next morning - about sixteen hours in freezing temperatures?

Monday, 20 December 2010

So Strictly's done and gone

But don’t we all have favourites? From brand of coffee to an old jumper, by-passing pop stars, actors, authors and all the other things that vie for our attention. So Bruno is not alone, but perhaps a tad more open in showering tens upon his favourites. I do wish Aleysha would stop wearing posh frocks – the last one with the shooting starburst on the right shoulder almost pushed Len off his chair, and designer frocks were always Tess Daly’s claim to fame.

So Strictly is over for another year. Someone, somewhere, said all the dance couples should dance the same dance, same choreography, to the same music and then the competition would be fair. It would, its true, but it would also be a tad boring by the time the eighth couple had danced. Maybe even by the time the third couple had done the routine, don’t you think? Whatever we think of the faults, the show offers entertainment, humour, and something lovely to watch on a Saturday night.

I picked up Echo in the Bone by Gabaldon at the library yesterday, and already I’m up to page 100. That’s the thing about a good author – you’re way into the story before you start thinking Is this good or Is this bad? I’ve picked up, tried and got bored with two other novels from the same batch of borrowed books. Both American authors, and I can say that because Gabaldon is American too, so it’s not the nationality thing that is the decider.

In the first, The Devlin Files by Christi, I got eagerly into the story, which turned out to be a split-time story loosely connected by a diary written by a female medic in the time of Charles II. Started well, I enjoyed the first half, but the second started to go downhill. New characters came into the plot, the detail overshadowed it, and the ending (yes, I flipped through the pages to discover the end) was no surprise.

The second story featured two sisters in the time of Leonardo da Vinci and the characters didn’t read as early teenage (both under fifteen) medieval females to me. I didn’t even get half-way with that one. But I’m looking forward to reading more Echo tonight.

Why? Because the characterisation is so good, the language is easy and draws the eye and the mind along, and there’s always something happening, even if it is being scared of an enormous sow that lives under the burnt-out house. And the other thing? What happens is believable.

Very important that a character, and what the character does, should be believable, for both the persona created and the setting in which it is taking place. Maybe I could have said that better, but I know what I mean!

The crows no how to keep warm by hugging the chimney stack in this cold, bright weather!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Strictly

Strictly is an addiction. My better half hates it, and I can find fault with it, but on the whole I enjoy it and the secondary show when Claudia shrieks like a macaw, chatters inanely, often to herself, and wears heels so high she can barely stand. I bet she whips them off the moment the camera switches off.


Do dancers annoy you with their constant affirmations that it is a tremendous journey and they’ve discovered a lifelong friend in their partner? Well, to them it’s business and they love the spotlight, so of course they’re going to keep the whole thing rolling as long as they can. The BBC loves the publicity, viewers seem to enjoy the gossip and wonder which couple will turn a false love affair into a real one, and then newspapers pounce on the happy couple and turn their lives inside out.


Some dancers, it seems to me, hog the limelight off the dance-floor, and others do it on the floor. It may be a coincidence, but the on-floor hoggers are often fond of wearing white and gold. When the celebrity doesn’t dance well, then I suppose there’s nothing else to do. Some pro-dancers seem to be better at choreography, while others are better teachers of dance movement. Either way, it’s a big plus, especially if you’re good at both skills and the scores often reflect it. I don’t know how much influence the dancers have with their costumes, but I’ve noticed some have consistently gorgeous costumes while others seem to end up with something of a designers’ nightmare.

And then there’s the old complaint – that Artem, for example, can push/heave Kara around with little effort, but sssScott sometimes made heavy weather of leading/lifting Nat. And James Jordan truly deserves a medal. I’m surprised he hasn’t given himself a hernia. Likewise Anton.
Say what you like, it is easier for the girls to follow a pro-dancer than it is for a chap to lead a pro-dancer. And we all know that Bruno has favourites….

Anyway, I promised a picture of the Jacarandah tree, so here you are. Isn't it wonderful?

Monday, 13 December 2010

Requiem


My publisher, Quaestor2000, is closing. Copies in stock will be sold for another month but after that, it’s over. So if anyone wants copies of Far After Gold or Till the Day Go Down, get them now, otherwise they’ll be pulped.
My sympathies lie with Roger Bennett, who began the Quaestor venture. Publishing is harder than people think. Or rather, to make a success, a profit-paying venture, is harder than it might seem. Getting a book printed is easy enough today, but the trick is in selling it. Faced with 500 copies of a title, where do you off-load them?
The big chain booksellers go through their chosen hubs, and select only what they think will sell in multiples. Persuading them to accept a novel from an unknown author is like trying to push a snowball uphill, in my view. Or, they accept politely, and eventually it dawns that nothing is really going to happen. The precious book never appears on their shelves. Or if it does, it's there for one week and then vanishes.
Some people are built for the task of selling their own work and enjoy it, but the mere thought of filling the car boot with copies and touring the countryside as a salesperson fills me with dread.

So, my brief time with paperbacks published and available is soon to be over. I’m sad about it, but console myself with the thought that I still have two e-books available – Banners of Alba and Dark Pool.
And soon I’ll have a contemporary ghost story, Shadows, coming from Sapphire Blue. As with everything else, its Onwards and Upwards and Don't Look Back.
(The pic? Prudhoe Castle in the snow.)

Friday, 10 December 2010

Good reads


I finished Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant this morning. Published 2009, some of you will already have read and enjoyed it. A tale about nuns in a convent in Italy in the 1570s doesn't sound a likely theme for a good read, but I've been devouring it morning and last thing at night over the last three days and found it riveting. The first words hold the eye and the mind: Before the screaming starts, the night silence of the convent is alive with its own particular sounds. Who could resist an opening line like that? The writing is sure and the language suited to the time and place of the novel without being "worked" in any way, and the varied lives of the women are thoughtfully exposed. Fasting was commonplace among them, and reading of the reasons why it was done makes an interesting comparison with the tales of anorexia common today.

The story concerns a young girl taken into the convent against her will, but to talk about it would give away too much. Instead, let me recommend it for your TBR pile. Or even for your reading matter tonight!


I know I said I wouldn't talk about the weather, but let me just say that about three o' clock yesterday, the temperature went up and the thaw began. This morning we have patches of garden visible again. Now we stand by for floods as all that snow rolls off the hills.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Enough of moans about travel and weather. Let’s get back to real life. I wondered, the other day, when people started referring to Edinburgh as Auld Reekie, but haven’t done anything about finding out. I suspect it may be as long ago as the fourteenth century.
The phrase just desserts has always struck me as peculiar, so I did get around to looking that up, and here’s what I found: the expression has nothing to do with the sweet course at dinner. It comes from the French for ‘deserve’, so take note everyone. Just deserts is the correct form.
Having forgotten all my school grammar lessons, I have often been frustrated by not being able to remember what a gerund is, so I looked that up, too. It’s a verb made to function as a noun, as in ‘cooking is my favourite hobby.’ It isn’t, but that’s by the way.
American friends use swipe in their writing where I would use wipe. To me, swipe conveys a rash, large, hurried action. No well bred young lady would ever swipe anything, but would dab, brush, stroke, pat, or flick a fallen leaf from her skirt. It also has the more vulgar meaning of striking a blow in a fight or struggle, and worse still, taking something that is not yours by right; in other words, stealing.
Aren’t words fun?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Did we ever see the sun?


Suffice to say that we got back to Heathrow to sub zero temperatures, snow, and cancelled flights to Newcastle. Not only Newcastle, but Munich, Franfurt, Nice, Lyon, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and others were closed because of snow. No flights out that night, so slept on the floor to be ready for a 7.15am flight. Cancelled at 7.05. Back to baggage claim for second time to reclaim cases and rebook a flight. The queues were enormous. Noon and four o'clock flights full, standby list of 27. We opted for firm booking on 5.30pm flight. Ushered into Business class lounge for free food and drink but the serenity of the Australian First Class lounge was missing. People overflowed in this one., all looking rumpled and furiously using mobile phones. Landed at Newcastle, and the runway was covered by snow, the hard, rutted variety. I wanted to burst out in applause that we'd finally made it. Taxi drove cautiously, had to stop at cashpoint 'cos we'd spent all our spare cash eating at prohibitive prices in the airport, and the snow got deeper and the tarmac trails through it narrowed. The last hundred and fifty yards we did on foot, tugging cases through snow because the taxi driver would never have got up the hill and out again.

Then it was a case of digging out the drive. Into garage for shovel, and garage door came off its runners. Managed to winkle the mini out underneath it, only to find a flat battery. Honda slid backwards down the hill. Put mini on charge, and half an hour later roared up the hill to get to supermarket for food. Got stuck on the frozen ruts in the supermarket car park, pushed out by kind, tall gentleman. Fixed garage door. Then discovered waste bin frozen shut beneath fifteen inches of snow. This morning the back door to the garden was frozen shut.

Life is such fun. Memories of wonderful beaches such as that at Manly are all but fogotten. But you know, I'm beginning to look for the next challenge already.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Last leg

We set off for the 9.15am flight to Singapore on Sunday 28th November, not on the A380 unfortunately, and stepped out into steamy heat around 4pm. Ate in Brewerkz on Clarke’s Quay and slept well. Got up early to beat the heat and had breakfast in nearby Starbucks, then set off walking towards the Raffles Hotel. I have this fantasy of having a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel, and failed to achieve it yet again. We were too early for the residents of Singapore. Shops were not open at 9am, many not by 11am. We walked through the Raffles Hotel, where a wedding was taking place in the central garden, but the arcade of shops were firmly closed, and so was the Long Bar.
Foiled again.
By this time the heat was too much at 32 degrees, and we headed back to the hotel and the air conditioning with a Subway sandwich in lieu of lunch. I didn’t know Subway was begun by doctors who wanted a healthy sandwich option, but now I support it wherever I can. Peeled off my shirt, which was sticking to me, and took a cold shower and lay on the bed reading. Then the thunderstorms started. Torrential rain put paid to thoughts of going out again, and we ate in the hotel. Dh had enjoyed Nasi Goreng in Sydney, so we ordered the same thing. It was listed as a local speciality of Singapore. I enjoyed it, but my, parts of it were hot, hot, hot. Sydney obviously has a toned down version, according to dh.
Up at the crack of dawn to be at the airport for 6.30am and then the long 13 and a half hour flight back to London Heathrow. I watched Adam’s Rib – an old film with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in their prime. It had real dialogue instead of grunts and I enjoyed it rather more than the latest Angelina Jolie Salt. Talk about Superwoman…
Then we landed at Heathrow, discovered the snow, and the problems really began.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Back in Oz

I hope Rosalie is still reading, because I’m back in Sydney. We did the Captain Cook Coffee cruise in brilliant sunshine on Tuesday, which took us from Circular Quay out to the Heads of the Bay, the two headlands a mile apart that mark the entrance to Port Jackson from the Pacific Ocean. Evidently Captain Cook landed at Botany Bay, 20 miles south, and then sailed north for home. He looked into what we now know as Sydney Harbour, named the entire area Port Jackson and sailed on.
The harbour is a huge expanse of water, mostly 16 metres deep so the biggest ocean liners can sail right up to either Darling Harbour, beyond the bridge, or if they are too tall to get under the bridge, or too long for the DH quay, then they anchor at Circular Quay, just on the seaward side of the bridge.


Almost all the way around the many inlets and bays, there are houses gazing down into the water, huge mansions, several storeys high, built into the cliff face and always crowded close together. I just couldn’t decide which one I wanted to own, and then remembered some of the lovely houses we saw, set in vast green acres of open space, on the way to Mollymook. Difficult decision!
Before I came to Sydney I found it difficult to understand the layout of the city. Now I’ve been here the equivalent of six or seven weeks over two trips, I’ve got a picture in my head. There may be four million people living here, but they are spread out around the many bays, inlets and coves. Run a piece of string around the coast from one headland to the other and you’d need 362* miles of it. The iconic Harbour Bridge stretches across the narrowest part of the waterway, roughly midway between the Heads and the Parramatta River, which marks the end of Sydney Harbour at the opposite, western end.


The bridge runs north-south across the Harbour and links “Sydney” with North Sydney. They are two very distinct areas. Sydney, on the south side of the Harbour, is the big business centre of Australia, followed by Parramatta, at the extreme western end of the harbour, Melbourne and then North Sydney.
Given that the entire population of Australia is still under twenty-two million, it is easy to understand Sydney’s importance.
*I heard many of these details while on the boat tour – many thanks to the mellow voice of David Jeffreys – and I hope I’ve remembered them clearly. If not, all Australians have my apologies in advance.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Last day in NZ

Sunday saw us riding a Ford Territory (lots of room to spread ourselves out and take our luggage!) from Blenheim to Picton via the scenic route.
The road is tarmac as far as Cloudy Bay, but climb the S bend hill heading north and the road soon changes to gravel and sand with huge drops into the sea on the right hand side. Enough to send vertigo sufferers lurching for the left hand side door handle screaming ‘Let me out!’
Wonderful vistas for the camera-mad among us, and the driver (Mr Black Junior) enjoyed himself so much we had to beg him to slow down.

At Picton we got on board the Tranzcoastal train and set off south for Christchurch. I‘m told you can drive the distance by car in 3 hours, but the train takes five. It hugs the coast most of the way and the black sandy grit we’d found at Cloudy Bay continued all the way south, but the scenery was wonderful, and so very different to what we’d experienced during our morning ride on the roller-coaster north east corner of the island.
We spotted lots of black fur seals lolling about on rocks, and scanned the blue ocean for signs of whales near Kaikoura. Herds of deer, cattle and sheep scattered as the train rolled by, and always the mountains marched along our right hand windows. The trip may have been a short three days, but it was a wonderful introduction to New Zealand. The trip of a lifetime.


We rose at 3am to get to the airport for a flight back to Sydney, and flew over the white, snow-capped mountains before heading out over the Tasman Sea. Once we landed, we used our Express cards to speed through the queues, oh and I forgot to report that we had a calm, cool and peaceful breakfast in the Jet Star lounge in Christchurch. First class is so-o-o much nicer…..

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Cloudy Bay is still the best

First stop on Friday was the eucalyptus-gum grey-green of the Cloudy Bay refinery. A beautiful frost-free patch of land in the Wairau valley of the Marlborough region of South Island, with several huge gum trees offering shade in the sunshine. Though we expected NZ to be colder than Oz, we happily wandered around in tee-shirts all day, and we were the first people through the Cloudy Bay doors.

We wandered in a darkened hall with hundreds of barrels stacked in long rows, and gazed at the pictures, legends and short documentary; glanced through the books on wine-making, bought an apron with the legend Cloudy Bay and admired the building and the grounds and finally got down to the tasting.


We tried five wines.
First a sparkling wine. Pelourus is named, oddly enough, after a dolphin and a dolphin features on their logo stickers. The locals like to drink Pelourus with their Christmas dinner, and I imagine it would go down well on a hot, sunny day but might prove somewhat lightweight on the equivalent day in the cold, icy UK.
Then the benchmark wine we have all come to love, the Sauvignon Blanc. The 2010 vintage is new, should have reached the UK in October, and is so pale as to be almost clear. We were assured that as the wine ages, it will darken in colour. The grapes are harvested in the cool of the night, which sounds romantic but probably isn’t, and the bright, sparkling fruit flavours are locked into the bottle for us to enjoy for the rest of 2010. Even the distinctive line of hills on the label is real. We looked out of the window, and there they are, fading into the distance just as they do on the label.
Next we tried the Te Koko: a complex, deliciously aromatic wine, much softer in flavour than the Sauvignon Blanc, and three years older. I spent a happy hour tasting and at the end my favourite was still the original award winning Sauvignon Blanc.




From Cloudy Bay we drove to Villa Maria, then on to Wither Hills, and finally Montana, where we were told that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has captured 81% of the world market. We had lunch in the Brandcott winery restaurant, and tried to get used to the idea that Montana is re-branding all its wine as Brandcott. Evidently Montana wine has always been sold in the US as Brandcott because of the confusion with Montana state, which does not grow wine. After lunch we drove by a very indirect route which involved heading in totally the opposite direction to the one we wanted and eventually came within sight of Cloudy Bay itself. I have to say it was a disappointment with its black, gritty sand and desolate air. Later the clouds rolled in off the sea, covered the flat valley floor and by the time we’d had dinner that evening, we had a hard time believing we were surrounded by mountains, for they’d all disappeared. No need to wonder why or how Cloudy Bay got its name.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Blenheim


I’d been warned the landing at Wellington could get very rough, so I waited with my usual sang froid and got so engrossed in a game of Scrabble played on elder son’s ipad that we touched down before I had time to worry. I should say that I abandoned Russel Crowe as Robin Hood in favour of Scrabble, which will no doubt be heresy to some, but I have never seen his charm. Also I lose patience with the cavalier way modern films trifle with British history and legends, but won’t go on a rant here. Suffice it to say that I sincerely hope one day to have a UK company make a film in which Billy the Kid is portrayed as a worker for the World Wildlife Fund – it’ll be about as meaningful asthis latest version of RH.
Breakfast in a local café next morning, followed by walk along the harbour and a trek to a shop called Small Acorns. Not my style, but the daughter-in-law dreams of furnishing a new house entirely from its range. To me many of the patterns look distressingly similar to the patterns we had in the 1970s, but to thirty-somethings, it’s all new. Or, as daughter-in-law says, it’s a generation thing. There’s a website.: smallacorns.co.nz and a blog at smallacorns.blogspot.com


Finally gave up on walking to the ferry terminal which is no longer comfortingly close to the town centre as the town map states. After a struggle we ran a taxi to earth – why is it they disappear when you really need one but flock around like seagulls when you don’t? Set off for Picton on the south island. The distance between the north and south islands of New Zealand may look about an eighth of an inch on the atlas, but it is three hours on the water. The boat heeled over like a racing yacht in the wind, which made walking to the bar difficult, but once we turned in among the headlands, bays and coves, everything settled on an even keel and we could get the drinks without staggering into stranger’s laps.


The land is reminiscent of the western seaboard of Scotland, except that all the headlands and hillsides are covered in woodland. Rich, lush woodland that looks nothing like ours. Palm trees erupt among the greenery, none of which I can name – except for the eucalyptus, which some people say is also known as the gum tree. Ferns that grow two and three feet in the UK sprout eight and nine feet high in New Zealand.
In picturesque Picton we picked up our hire car and drove down to Blenheim, about half an hour away, and found Rapoura Road and the Marlborough Vintners Hotel. There we settled in our “room” – a lovely modern chalet, with a splendid uninterrupted view of the mountains. Dinner was good, too; in my case, roast blue cod, which turned out to be just as white as cod in the northern hemisphere.

New Zealand



Thursday saw us in Sydney airport First Class lounge as guests of the younger generation of the family, who travel the globe on a fairly regular basis as part of their jobs. I now have an insane longing to travel everywhere First Class, for the lounge is huge, quiet, and a world away from the rowdy, crowded airport realms I’ve been used to. A small piece of card marked Express allows the holder to magically by-pass the monster queues and I didn’t feel in the least guilty in doing so. Staff treat first-class passengers with deference – I’ve never been called ‘Ma’am’ – pronounced correctly to rhyme with ‘ham’ – so often since I left the Singapore Airlines flight at the end of October. Which reminds me that we travelled Heathrow to Singapore on the new A380 double decker (Economy Class, naturally!) the day before one such plane limped back to Singapore with a cracked engine casing. We are due to fly back to Singapore via the same aeroplane, but since they’re all still grounded, we may well be on a 747. A pity, because the new plane is beautifully smooth and quiet.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Cafe Sydney


The seascape is one aspect of Australia, and the nighttime shot is another - and very different.
There nay be other restaurants with splendid views, but Cafe Sydney is up there with the best.
Sitting on the open air deck overlooking Sydney Harbour, the ocean going cruise liners that nudge up against the dock and the numerous ferries that dart across the water as dusk comes down and the lights go on is a magical experience.
Nor can I think of another city that would name its fine restaurant, with what I think of as tongue in cheek flippancy, as Cafe Sydney.
There is another restaurant in Sydney that sits at the top of a tall tower block and revolves very slowly. I imagine that is a wonderful experience too, but I enjoyed cocktails there in daylight, and anyway, it is so high and so far back in the city that the experience would be less intimate, somehow.
Another surprise about Sydney is the number of hills, valleys and ravines that run through the suburbs. The roads are reminiscent of San Francisco as immortalised in the car chase scene in Bullit, and houses here back onto hillsides that would give those suffering from vertigo the creeps. Children cannot ride their bikes home down the hill in some areas because they'd shoot straight over the edge. Driveways slope at forty-five degrees and worse, and in England such a drive would be an impossibility given the winter frost and ice that would make them into ski slopes. So much for me and my impression that Australia was almost tediously flat. Comes of seeing all those nature programmes of intrepid explorers driving along straight roads across red deserts that stretch - flat as a pancake - to the horizon.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Mollymook 2

Trees here bear flowers that remind me of an old-fasioned lavotory brush. They abound in this part of Oz. Always the same basic style and shape, but in many different colours from grey-brown to deepest crimson, often with green parrots squawking among the branches pecking at the seeds. Then, as a total contrast, we see the beautiful violet hues of the Jacarandah tree, so prevalent in all corners of the country, and in Sydney itself. The purple haze of the Jacarandah greets visitors who land on Circular Quay.

But such beauty is not without its drawbacks. A notice on the tennis court at the back of the beautiful apartments where we're staying proclaims that there are black snakes
in the bush which begins but a yard away on the other side of the wire netting. The sun is something to be watched, too. I sat on the balcony for a couple of hours in what I thought was pleasant early morning sunshine, and by lunch time one arm was red with sunburn. Evidently the UV was high that day, even though the skies were intermittantly cloudy.

The names here are reminiscent of home, and slightly disconcerting. Newcastle is 146 kilometres away to the north, Penrith, Grosvenor, Blenheim, Liverpool, Haymarket are scattered around Sydney, but in the suburbs, Aboriginal names prevail. My favourite so far is Wooloomooloo Wharf on Blue Bay. Yes, that's eight letter o's in one name.

The heat is building. The rain clouds have dispersed and we wake to brilliant blue skies. Now, naturally, we cool-blooded English start to complain of the heat around noon. By four o'clock, it is tremendous. We're just never satisfied. Back to Sydney late Sunday, with the promise of good weather to come all week.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Mollymook

We had a side trip from Sydney to Mollymook. It's 200 odd kilometres from Sydney and is very nuch a holiday resort, but small and very pretty.

The apartment had a balcony - everywhere in Australia has balconies or decks, or both, and it overlooked the Southern Ocean. Long stretches of beautiful beach, blue waters and wonderfully warm weather to amble about in. Some of the locals were surfing and some some brave kids played about in the waves near the shore. I stuck my foot in, and was surprised at the temperature of the water. I'm so used to the cold North Sea just about taking my foot off at the ankle that this felt pleasantly warm.


The surprise of Mollymook was Bannister's. A restaurant with rooms and an infinity pool - Rick Stein's latest venture. He opened his restaurant in October 2009 and people arrive from huge distances to sample his sea-food cooking. It is a beautiful spot. We didn't eat in the posh restaurant, but sampled a sea-food pizza in the bar at the side. He certainly picked a beautiful spot on a headland with golden beaches to either side. Go, if you can.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Is the Ibis a bully?


We hear tales of the ibis, an Australian bird who bullies people in parks. In a fight for a sandwich, usually the ibis wins. With a beak like that coming at me, I think I'd be tempted to fling the sandwich and run. But maybe not. Might depend on how hungry I was at the time. Give in to a bird? But then I speak from inexperience....
Had big adventure on the bikes this morning. Cycled over to Berowra Village and loaded up a haversack at Coles supermarket with items we'll need to cook tonight. We got back just in time, a few minutes to noon and the sun really startng to scorch.
Now having a rest before cooking for the family coming h0me from work.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

On the train

More adventures in Sydney. We seem to have a weather pattern of mist in the early morning, brilliant sunshine from 10am till about 4.30pm and then the thunder clouds roll in and dump on everyone. We went out for a loaf of bread on Monday and came back drenched. My linen shirt turned transparent, my feet squelched in trainers, wonderful. Yet the silly thing was, we were still warm.
Today we went into Sydney on the train. The journey took an hour and only the last section could be called scenic. Looking down from the train as it went over the famous bridge was wonderful, and I took a couple of pictures. Fear not, they will probably turn up on here once I get them downloaded!

We went into a fantastic bookshop - Kinokuniya in George Street. They say they hold 300,000 books, and a goodly percentage of them are in Chinese text. I assume it is Chinese, though it could be Japanese to my untutored eye. We had coffee there and managed to explain that Sydney coffee is a little strong for us - is it ever - you almost get hairs on your chest as you drink it. So the waitress brought us a little jug of hot water as well as the coffee - perfect.

We took a walk in Myers department store and bought me a blouse I took a fancy to, and I received a belated birthday present - a shoulder bag that will hold my new notebook pc plus the stuff I usually carry in a travel bag - passport, money, etc. My faithful 9x5 travel wallet has been looking careworn for a while now.
A stroll through Hyde Park, on into the Domain, past Parliament House and the grim looking state library of NSW and along Hunter Street to Wynyard for the train home.

Monday, 8 November 2010

New Horizons

I've spent an hour trying to get a picture onto here so that I could say No prizes for guessing where I am now! But, because I am using a tiny pc I've only had for tweve hours, I haven't found the way to upload pics. Typing is hard enough. Mine read rather like the policeman in 'Allo, 'Allo who transposed all his vowels, until I realised I must look at the keyboard and slow down my fingers.
So where am I? If I loaded a picture it would show a massive single-span steel bridge towering over buildings. Yes, I'm in Sydney, on the other side of the world' where the only tree I recognise among the millions around me is a gum tree.
The birds are different, too. The large parrot family screeches and squabbles, kookaburras cackle and there is one plaintive mimic in the trees in the garden who sounds alternatively like a homesick woodpigeon with a sore throat and a mobile phone ringing. I spent a while hunting down what I thought was a hidden/lost phone until an amused husband informed me the bird was in the tree above his head. I'm sure it is that bird that wolf whistles us as we walk down the street.
Sydney seems to be a city of eateries, and caters for every culinary taste. Restaurants employ the very civilized habit of corkage, which means they charge the very reasonable sum of A$2.50 to open the bottle of wine you take into their premises. You but the wine at the Grog shop (or Bottle Shop) and if you are lucky you can buy a clearskin - a wine that is surplus to production and sold stripped of its well known label at a much cheaper price - and very good they are too.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Key of Redesdale


Henry III loved building and complained that the privy chamber of his wardrobe smelt badly, and advised no one to build such a style again. A wardrobe was a small room next to the great chamber, usually with a latrine beyond a kink in the corridor. The wardrobes were used as changing rooms, store rooms for clothes hung on rods like towel rails. Rich silks and furs would be put in great chests and scented with herbs and perfumes. Sometimes a scribe or secretary had to work in a wardrobe.
I think if you click on the pic you'll get a larger view. and be able to read the legend. It is part of the edisplay board at Harbottle Castle.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

D shaped towers


In King John’s reign, castles appeared with larger gatehouses and outer ditches that were deeper and wider. Nearby streams were diverted in order to flood them. The lord’s hall continued to be in the bailey rather than boxed up in a keep, whose importance slowly dwindled. They were built as austere towers, a place of safety in time of need rather than for everyday living; a bolt hole when attacks came. D shaped towers appeared, and were thought to give a better view of enemy activity.

The pic looks east from the motte at Harbottle.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Shell-keeps


Late in Henry’s reign, shell castles , or shell-keeps, appeared. High walls, sometimes 36 feet high, formed an outer shell on the top of the motte, sometimes in circular shape, sometimes polygonal. They enclosed the area at the top of the motte, but were not roofed.
Sometimes the motte was not stable enough to supposrt the weight of a keep and the walls, and in such a case, the walls were deemed more important than the keep. A flight of steps led up from the inner bailey to the shell-keep. Domestic buildings, roofed and built in the normal way, leant against the shell wall on both left and right, leaving a courtyard or garden in the centre space.

At Harbottle, the gatehouse defended the entrance to the inner bailey and therefore access to the shell keep. Towers strengthened the curtain wall, and the gatehouse was a twin-towered affair with a central passage over the actual gate and living accomodation above.

The lord’s hall was often built in the bailey, allowing for a more spacious building than could be built in the shell keep. A garrison might be housed inside the shell walls. The pic shows what is left of the massive gatehouse that once stood at Harbottle.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Slighted


When the king ordered castles to be slighted, he wanted them razed to the ground, but sometimes the task was too much and the demolition gang took down only part of the walls. Before the castle could be used defensibly, it had to be restored.
Knights came back from the crusades with ideas about buildings, ideas they’d seen first hand in the Holy Land.
In Romanesque castles and churches, windows were built with rounded arches and passages were roofed with barrel-vaults or groined vaults. Pointed arches suddenly appeared, and Gothic was here to stay. A pointed arch was found to be far more flexible architecturally, and led to rib-vaulting, first used in Durham Cathedral before 1133.
Castles became circular in shape, because the right-angled corner of the old square keeps was all too easy to undermine, and defenders could only see straight ahead through the narrow window slits. Circular castles, with towers that commanded views of all parts made defence easier, and attack harder. Castles built in Henry II’s reign incorporated these new ideas, and often added in small kitchens for making sauces and keeping food hot. Big outdoor timber kitchens still coped with the roasts and the bulk of the cooking.
The pic is Elsdon Bastle House, now a private dwelling.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Crenels and

Then castles began to get really complex.
Henry I allowed his nobles to build castles, and forebuildings (also called a barbican, or hornwork) made their appearance, projecting out sometimes twenty feet to protect the castle's main gate. The base of the forebuilding might have a trapdoor through which unlucky prisoners were dropped into a dank cell, and the upper floor, by contrast, made a good chapel. The roof area became a fighting platform in time of need. Formidable defences were built into the area around the entrance. A drawbridge plus pit was near normal, a portcullis which slid down into place at the drop of a lever an enviable extra.

There was often a stone passage way leading to a second, internal gate, and one or the other, sometimes both, had murder holes above so the inmates could throw down whatever they fancied on the men attempting to break in.


Farmhouses on the English side of the border needed to fortify when the Scots continued to attack, and Aydon's owners received permission to crenellate from the king. At the top of castles, there is usually a walk way, or wall-walk, sometimes called an allure, or an alure depending on your choice of spellings. Sometimes there’re on the inside, and men hide behind the stone merlons of the parapet, and shoot through crenels or gaps in the parapet. At other castles it was possible to step through the crenels onto timber boards running outside the castle walls. The structure looked like a timber roofed gallery running around the outside of the castle, and it allowed the men inside to shoot arrows and drop damaging items on their enemies below. If the enemy tried to burn down the gatehouse doors, hoardings allowed men to pour water down and put out the fire.


A lot of thought went into making castles impregnable, but the unbelievable did happen. One castle went into siege mode only to find that the stream feeding the vital well dried up due to the hot weather, and this happened not once, but twice.
The first pic looks west from the curtain wall towards Alwinton. The second looks down from the motte towards the river Coquet running fast beneath the trees on the north side of the castle. The sheep were anxious to get away from us interlopers in their nice green domain.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Hall-Keeps


Before the Norman invasion, castles and defensive buildings had been built in wood. Timber palisades were built around defensive buildings on the top of a motte, or mound of earth. Domestic buildings were often outside, below the motte, but if the place was attacked, everyone fled inside and hurled stones and arrows at the attackers.
Once the Normans started building in stone, castle architecture moved ahead in leaps and bounds. Stone curtain walls enclosed the bailey, sometimes called courtyard or ward, and protected the domestic buildings and formed a first line of defence for the castle. Any towers built into the curtain wall were called mural towers. Sometimes the curtain wall had a gatehouse tower that acted as the keep, or strongest building in the castle. There was always a postern gate in the curtain wall to allow for a night time escape from a difficult situation.
Tower keeps followed, and slowly domestic functions moved from the bailey into the tower keep. Strong, rectangular towers, usually higher than they were wide, with the hall, reached by an outside staircase, on one floor and the Great Chamber, or solar, providing the living accommodation for the lord and his family, on the next storey. Latrine shafts emptied into ditches, or deep pits like the one at Richmond in Yorkshire, said to be so deep it never had to be cleaned out. No convenient ditch or pit? Then some unlucky person had to remove the disgusting piles from the bottom of the latrine shaft.

There was always a chapel, but they sometimes remained in the bailey.
Hall-keeps appeared. Usually wider than they were high, they brought the Great chambers and the hall together on the same floor, with a latrine, or garderobe, not far away. Hall, Great Chamber, chapel, keep and storerooms now fitted into the one rectangular tower. Walls were often 14 feet thick, with slit windows on the lower levels. Larger windows appeared higher, well out of reach of scaling ladders. Storerooms needed to be vast and hold food to see the occupants through a siege. A well was a necessity. Now they were found on the inside, accessed through the storerooms.
The French called a hall-keep a donjon and the word corrupted into dungeon, often associated with prisoners.
Kitchens were often ignored. Cooking was done over open hearths and in timber kitchens outside in the bailey. Square keeps of this period, like Newcastle, often had a gallery running through the thickness of the walls at the upper storey level. Openings let in daylight, and provided a view of the countryside; a man could turn and look down on the activity in the hall below him.
Royal castles housed a garrison, always on the lower floor. If the lord was not in residence, then a skeleton staff remained: the castellan, or constable, the man in charge, his household, the chaplain, a few soldiers, a watchman and a porter.
The first pic shows the ditch surrounding the curtain wall at Harbottle, and the second looks north to Scotland from the meadows around the outer bailey on the west side of the castle.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The sad castle

Harbottle Castle was built by the Umfraville family on the order of Henry II around 1120. A major medieval route into Scotland, Clennel Street, passes Harbottle, and the Roman Road from Low Learchild to High Rochester crosses the valley at Holystone a few miles to the south. Only 12 miles from the border, it was well used to Scottish aggression.
The motte is located on the south side of a kidney-shaped bailey, later divided into two halves by a crosswall defining the inner and outer bailey.
Large sandstone blocks bonded with hard grey-brown gritty mortar made up the crosswall, which was reported as 9 yards high in 1536. It once had a tower at the Nort-east corner. Back in 1318 damage by the Scots under Robert the Bruce was so severe that no building was left at Harbottle to contain prisoners of Redesdale justice and Prudhoe Castle, also an Umfraville property and some distance away on horseback, was used for the next twenty years.
By 1400 Harbottle Castle was habitable and defensible again, and housed 20 men-at-arms and 40 archers. In 1432 conscript builders and labourers restored the castle walls. In 1435 the Umfraville line died out for lack of an heir, and the castle passed through the female line to the Tailbois family in Norfolk. Like most absentee landlords, the family spent neither time nor money at Harbottle. William Tailbois fought for the Lancastrians at the battle of Hexham in 1464, and was executed in Newcastle.
By 1509 Lord Dacre was in residence and in 1515 ex-Queen Margaret Tudor-Stewart fled from Edinburgh to the Border where she was met by Lord Dacre and escorted to Harbottle. She gave birth to Lady Margaret Douglas within a fortnight of her arrival.
By 1523 the castle was in sore decay once more and by 1538 it was declared unfit for the Keeper of Redesdale to inhabit. But as the Anglo-Scottish wars developed around 1543, the Castle was required and repairs were made. Harbottle passed into the care of King Henry in 1546. More repairs, and provision made for artillery. By 1552 it was reported as the best residence for a Warden of the Middle Marches. Elizabeth spent money on it, but by 1604, when the crowns had merged, there was little use for Harbottle and decay began in earnest. By the 1700s stone was quarried away to build new homes in the village.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Harbottle Castle

Start reading about castles and strange words start to bounce off the page as you carry on reading. Then you get to the end of the passage and if you are like me, ask yourself, “What did that actually tell me?”
The words are so specialised that no one but architects, and historians with a modicum of curiosity about old buildings will ever understand them. Authors can get tangled up in words like Gothic, Keeps, Tracery and Barbicans. I did, and I’ve spent the last two days digging around in the literature about medieval castles in an effort to understand.
Tracery, for example. It is intersecting ribwork in the upper part of a window. It can be used decoratively in blank arches, on vaults, etc. And that’s not all. Plate tracery is an early form where decoratively shaped openings are cut through the solid stone infilling in a window head. Bar tracery, introduced into England around 1250, where intersecting ribwork made up of slender shafts continuing the lines of the mullions of the windows up to a decorative mesh in the head of the window. Lost yet? I hope not, for we still must consider Geometrical tracery, Y tracery, Intersecting tracery, Reticulated tracery, Panel tracery and Perp tracery. Oh, and mustn’t forget Dagger tracery, Kentish or Split Cusp, and the intriguingly named Mouchette, a leaf shape which lies flauntingly off to one side.

Ignore these words at your peril. Gothic windows are defined by their pointed arches, yes, but then there was the tracery.
I spent a happy day on Sunday prowling around Harbottle Castle in Coquetdale. A brilliant day, a lovely drive full of autumn colours, and a four mile walk beside the Coquet to round off the afternoon. The Castle had - you’ve guessed it! – at least one Gothic window, because remnants of the tracery have been found among the fallen stones at the bottom of the motte.
Tomorrow I shall hastily go through my already written pages and redesign my version of Harbottle Castle, ignoring the fact that my hero languishes in an upper story where a fire has broken out. Time to rescue him when I've sorted ou the windows.
And then, of course, there are all those other details I've discovered about the gate towers, the drawbridge. and the well in the inner bailey. I didn't know there was a drawbridge when I wrote the chapter!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Reality v fiction


A rare pic of me at the GNI last Friday. Interesting questions come up at the Girls' Nights In and the evening at Haltwhistle was no exception. How do we get our ideas? Simple question, but it makes you think, really think, about where ideas come from and how we execute them. Most historical writers claim to love history, yet there are some books being written today, someone said, that made her think that the writer didn't understand the period she'd been writing.


It is sometimes hard enough to understand our neighbours and next to impossible to understand people ten years younger than ourselves. Does any forty-year-old really understand why twenty-year-olds think as they do? What makes some of them get absolutely plastered? Why drink at home before they go out, so that they are half-way to plastered before they hit the streets? Why do they need artificial stimulants before they can have a good time? Why do football matches turn into battle zones? Why are bankers so greedy?


Understanding how someone living in Regency times understood her/his world is therefore doubly difficult. Then it was fear of French invasion and a strict code of manners and morals. In Tudor England, it is a struggle to understand the stranglehold the church had on minds and hearts, or why burning at the stake was thought to be such a cleansing thing. I wonder how many of us would die at the stake for our beliefs today? Are the Scots still The Enemy, as they were then? (I look at Alex Salmon and wonder) Or the Norman French, who overan England, and relegated the indigenous population to starvation, death or serfdom. We go there for holidays now and we're all great friends, so how can we really understand what it was like then?


All writers have a debt of honour to those who have gone before to get it reasonably right. Therefore, as many have said before me, heroines who live in 1803 and behave as if they live in 2010 are just not on.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Font Wars


When IKEA changed the font it used last year - when it replaced its old faithful Futura with the more modern Verdana - the company found itself embroiled in a “font war”. Not only were customers vexed about this unwanted attempt to “refresh the brand”, but there was also much rudeness on websites dedicated to graphic design. Wikipedia soon had a page called “Verdanagate”. People, it seems, had discovered they cared about something they had never knowingly cared about before.


When I read this piece over the weekend, I acknowledged that I like some fonts and hated others. Don't care for Courier, as it happens, and like Times New Roman though I am coming around to Bookman Old Style. Close on the heels of that thought, came another: if fonts mean so much to people, what happens if we send in a submission to an agent or publisher, and it is in a font the receiver loathes? Does the submission go straight in the bin? It may well be true, and it's a frightening thought.

Monday, 11 October 2010

End of Edits


Finally got to the end of edits on Friday afternoon and staggered away with a cracking headache that only a large glass of red could solve. Boy, it was hard work. I've heard of US editors who have strict rules about writing, but I haven't so far encountered one until now. I think what made the task more complicated was the fact that I didn't know the house style. If I had, I could have ensured that there were 2 spaces between sentences and no spaces at the end of a paragraph before the submission went in. I wouldn't have used exclamation marks since they prefer italics. ( ie there! becomes italics, ie there) In many cases this added very little to the sense or the story. Those simple changes led to an awful lot of balloons. If they had not been necessary, the task would have seemed less onerous.


So, I've given myself a couple of days off and today must take a deep breath and read through the complete thing to see if what I've done makes sense. The exercise has been a learning curve, and I'm glad I'm through the hard part. Like the Durham students in the pic, training is essential if you want to be good.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Alnwick GNI

Alnwick Library hosted a splendid Girls' Night In on Thursday Evening. Aimed at readers, writers and would-be writers, a panel of half a dozen published authors tell of their experiences in getting published, with time for questions from the floor and during a half-time coffee break. Twenty or so people turned up and made it a fascinating night. Yours truly was on the panel, sitting alongside Margaret Carr who lives in Alnwick, Janet MacLeod Trotter (in the pink jacket in the picture), Michelle Styles, and Abigail Bosanko. A box of Mills & Boon giveaways had just been opened, hence the sudden cluster in this part of the room.
There is another GNI in Haltwhistle on Friday 15th October, so come along and join in the fun.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Edits part two


I think I'm getting the hang of it now. Chapter Seven looms today, so some progress has been made over the weekend. I certainly slept well last night!


Some of the places where I used the pronoun "it" read better when I say what the "it" is. Getting rid of the formatting balloons first helps, as I have no problem with US spellings etc. Turning sentences on their head is sometimes easy, sometimes hard. I still haven't thought of a way to show "perplexed." There are so many ways different people would exhibit the state of being perplexed - biting the lip, frowning, shaking their head, yet none of them absolutely defines the word itself. I think I'll leave it as it stands, unless some kind soul can give me a clue.

Edits are tiring, far more tiring than writing. I have the urge to go to my writing and abandon edits, but feel I must get the edits done sooner rather than later. I have scenes building in my mind, and hope I can hang on to them long enough to get them down when the edits are done. I should make notes, of course, but hey - whose perfect? Certainly not me.

Another thing to report is that doing edits is a learning curve, and helps to improve my writing, because even as I sit back in my chair saying No, no, no, I'm also thinking would doing this make the whole thing better? Putting aside pride and looking at my writing through fresh eyes is a good thing to do, and I'm benefitting from the exercise.

Watched Downton Abbey last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. ITV is doing well with this one.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Editing

After so many rainy days, yesterday was a surprise.
I had an engagement to lunch with a friend, and we
walked around the riverbank at Durham. The university
colleges all have rowing teams and this is one of the frontages
where they lower the boats into the river. The sun was so hot the wet planking steamed. It was like sitting in a sauna.

It was a lovely break, but now I must buckle down to the first round of edits I received on Wedneday from Sapphire Blue. (This is for my story Shadows, about ghosts in a French water mill.) They warned me their editing was strong, but I must admit I was shocked when I saw the first page with the host of tracking change balloons to the right hand side. There were so many they ran together!

As might be expected, all the spellings are changed to US style. That accounts for a few balloons. Then every sentence has two spaces after it. That's another set of balloons. Exclamation marks are not used - instead the word is italicised. Sorry - that should be italicized. More balloons. Semi colons are changed to commas. No spaces at the end of paragraphs.

And then the comments. Another host of balloons asking for motivation, plus internal and physical reaction. Some of the requests have me stumped. To say a heroine is perplexed is "telling." I'm asked to show her being perplexed. Maybe enlightenment will dawn on that one later, but at the moment, I'm as perplexed as she is. Still, it is a learning curve and I must get back to it.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Men do not notice...


MOST improbable headline of the week? “Men do not notice women in high heels.”
It followed publication of a study by Northumbria University, where researchers observed men’s reactions as a series of women walked past, some wearing stilettoes, some not. Apparently their recorded emotional response to women in high heels and those in flatties was indistinguishable. Well I’m sorry but either the guys had water flowing through their veins or someone at the university had forgotten to plug in the machinery. Of course blokes “notice” women wearing high heels! Saying they don’t is like saying women don’t “notice” a man in uniform! (And by “notice”, we all know what we mean). Along with sheer stockings and lacy underwear, high heels are among the most potent weapons in a woman’s amour armoury. The research also said that the men couldn’t tell any difference in the way women walked depending on whether they were in pumps or heels.Whaaat?!? I refer you to an early scene in Some Like It Hot (the funniest film ever made) in which Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon watch Marilyn Monroe sashaying along a railway station platform. She is, of course, wearing killer heels. “Will you look at that?” Lemmon breathes to Curtis. “It’s like Jello on springs...” I rest my case. Men of Northumbria, hang your heads in shame.

This came from Richard and Judy in the weekend's newspapers. Since Northumbria Uni is where I did my library science and in my local city of Newcastle, I can tell you that there are some who dislike make-up and would claim that personality and intelligence far outweighs physical attributes. Sounds like the researchers hit on a group of such people.
And before you all die of boredom, here's the last set of rules for writing fiction

Neil Gaiman
1 Write.
2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3 Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4 Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5 Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6 Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7 Laugh at your own jokes.
8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Monday, 27 September 2010


Here's a snippet that shows how jolly and friendly authors are to each other - Ken Follett suggests that people should give Wolf Hall, the Booker prize-winning novel by Hilary Mantel, “to the Labour Party jumble sale — I hated it”.
And here are some more rules for writing fiction for your (and my) delectation: this set comes from Geoff Dyer, not an author I recognise, but his rules appeal to me.

1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project.
2 Don't write in public places.

3 Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: "Niet" becomes "Nietzsche", "phoy" becomes ­"photography" and so on. ­Genius!
5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I'm bunking off from something.
8 Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.
10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You've got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That's what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won't do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Ten Rules for Writing Fiction


You may have seen these before, but I've just found them this evening and decided to quote them here so I can refer back to them later. Some of them are priceless! Others I need reminding about. I've truncated them to one liners, except for (3), which I couldn't resist putting in full; if you want to look see them in all their glory, follow the link.
Ten rules from Elmore Leonard
(Using adverbs is a mortal sin )

1 Never open a book with weather.
2 Avoid prologues

3 Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely.
5 Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6 Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose".
7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters
9 Don't go into great detail describing places and things
10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.