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.