Friday, 30 September 2011

Hagg Bank

 Took this pic during my bike ride yesterday. The river Tyne near Hagg Bank. Fishermen, walkers, bikers, we're all out in force. We're having days of wonderful sunshine and digging out summer togs again. Got to make the most of it, as our lovely Indian Summer is due to end with a bang at the weekend. Sigh. In my study, work goes on apace. Never know which task to light on as I start the day. I'm re-formatting a story in the hope that I can follow all the instructions to publish it via Amazon, I'm supposed to be writing the first draft of Victorian Beauty, and also adding "sparkle" to Treason. I'm not a multi-faceted person as far as tasks go, and whatever I select at the beginning of the day is usually what I stick with for the rest of it. At the moment, the re-formatting is winning the race. Should the work ever get to Amazon, it will be a couple of thousand words lighter than when it was published as Till the Day Go Down and that will be a good thing. I think I've learned how to tighten prose now. TTDGD was written 2007, and I've learned a lot since then.   

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Chick-lit under fire

There's a new journalistic attack on women writers, this time aimed at chick-lit - http://tinyurl.com/6eubzox - and it's annoying a lot of readers and writers. It isn't a genre I read, and nor do I write it, so I suppose I don't feel much pressure. But for those who do, it must be upsetting, so why do the journalists continue to put out these bitter little peices of journalistic crap?
Usually it's Romance that gets beaten with the sarcastic stick. Can it be that these journalists actually envy the writers who've made it to publishing a book? I expect they'll hide behind the 'my editor made me do it' line, and s/he'll say it's done because it sells newspapers.
It must be a desperate situation for many journalists these days. News is no longer confined to newspapers. Sometimes it isn't even part of newspapers. 24 hour rolling news on television, radio and all the other devices that impart information at the click of a button have made the old fashioned news journalist redundant. I suppose those who are left must feel the pressure to keep coming up with some gossip or pseudo news piece which they claim they claim the public ought to know about. Picking on women writers is easy. No one sues the journalist or the newspaper, and maybe it's time someone did. 

Monday, 26 September 2011

Another life?


Shiny new Viking helmet
It may have been a Roman soldier during an event day at Wallington showing the schoolkids how to fight with a quarter staff. Or it may have been a day when a Viking Warrior was stalking the grassy sward. I really can't remember, and it isn't that important. It might even be me, visible in the reflection, taking the photograph of the shiny helmet. Sometimes these events promise more than they deliver, and both these days were of that kind. Maybe only kids were supposed to be there. It was during the school holidays, after all.

It struck me last week that I have two books, once published by Quaestor, but  no longer available unless there are a few copies still floating around on Amazon and the like. I should do something with them. I have the rights back. So I'm investigating Kindle Direct Publishing, and currently tieing myself in knots trying to unscramble the formatting on the only document I have. It is a valuable lesson - I wish I'd kept a clean Word Document copy for just such an eventuality. It probably seems a bit like death-wishing your precious work, but these things happen. Publishing companies go to the wall with astonishing regularity these days. It's as well to be prepared.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Online chatter

My first foray into online chat did not go well. Following the link, I was told I needed to install Java on my PC. I did so, after much humming and hahing, because if I haven't missed it up to now, chances are I don't really need it.

Whittle Dene
So, sat up late, waiting. Actually, I got a lot of PC tidying-up done in the hours between 10.30 and 2am. All those e-mails in the sent file I'd forgotten to delete, the ones I didn't need in the In Box, they all went. I cleaned up my PR file in preparation for uploading vital information re my newest book Shadows, and finally it was time.
There was no one there but me, but then, I was early. Over the next fifteen minutes, other names popped up in a little file to the side of the screen. They had avatars beside their name, but I had only a grey silhouette. I explored the options file, and provided myself with a red-headed avatar - not that I'm a redhead, but it looked attractive. Then came the big moment - I tried to speak.
Typed in a greeting, and a small box appeared on the screen with my sentence in it, but with every other letter missing. And the box itself shuddered and jittered as if it was in an icy wind. One person must have seen my  message, for that person replied. But that was the best I could do. The box shuddered itself into a frenzy, the screen froze, there were no instructions and no matter what I did, I could not communicate. I could read the comments made by other folk, and saw that Cutting and Pasting was not functioning, which meant people couldn't use what they'd prepared earlier.
Thirteen minutes later, I logged out. Enough is enough. Not sure about keeping Java.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Twitter type woes

Have you ever wondered how successful your blog is? If anyone every reads it? There's a link that grades your website or blog here: http://websitegrader.com/

Naworth, sw corner of the present day garden
PR is a huge part of an aspiring author's life these days, and can easily take up more time than actually writing if you subscrbe to Twitter and Facebook and the many other things that I've heard of in a vague sort of way but haven't investigated because if I did I'd never get any writing done. And I don't have a full-time (nor even a part time) job to absorb most of my waking hours! Pity the poor writer who does.
Is it really necessary? Must I understand RSS Graffiti, Bebo and Good Reads to be a success? I gave up on MySpace a long time ago, but it seems there a many others springing up to take its place. Sometimes Facebook is fun, and its a good way of keeping in touch with other writers. I enjoy doing my blog. But that's it for me. If my stories aren't good enough to stand on their own two flat little feet, then so be it.

Monday, 19 September 2011


Gatehouse at Naworth
This week I'm going to try my hand at joining in an online chat. The third Wednesday of every month, Sapphire Blue, who published Shadows for me, holds a chat: here It is scheduled to begin at 9pm EST on Wednesday 21st September, which means it will be around 2am here in the UK. Now, I don't expect many UK people joining in at that time of the morning, unless they're insommniacs or shift workers, but the rest of the world, especially my pals in Australia, might like to join in.
I only hope I can manage the technology to join them myself! The chat will be as entertaining as we make it and as far as I know, there are no set topics laid down.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Austen re-written?

The book pages are full of publisher HarperCollins commissioning Joanna Trollope to write a contemporary reworking of Austen's novel, Sense and Sensibility. It is to be the first of a "major" new series in which modern authors reimagine Austen’s books in a contemporary setting.

HarperFiction publishing director Louisa Joyner came up with the idea after reading a comparison between Trollope and Austen – Trollope herself has said that "comparisons with Jane Austen make me twitch. She is a Great: I am a Good - on a good day".

"TV adaptations of Austen all focus on one reading of her: they are all about the romance. But actually she was such an acute social commenter – and economics were such an important part of it," said Joyner. This led to wondering how a contemporary novelist would deal with the stories.
She describes the new series as a "conversation" between Austen and today's novelists. This is no attempt to better Jane. “It's a respectful conversation, and if it ends up with people talking more about Austen and Trollope, then that's a good thing. It's not a competition. It is a literary celebration, and all debate is good."

John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London, said the project was part of "a time-honoured literary genre". "In the 18th century they used to call it imitation," he said. "It's an old tradition - Pope did Horace, Dr Johnson did Juvenal, now Trollope is doing Austen ... I think it's fine. It always works best if the people who enjoy it most know the original - that's the test."
HarperCollins is currently in talks with other "authors of global literary significance" about the remaining five Austen novels. Joyner would not comment on suggestions that Stephen King might produce an interesting take on Northanger Abbey, or that an Ian Rankin crime twist to Emma could prove fun.
Now the last two suggestions could be interesting, don't you think?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Amazon Reviews

Any author must run a gauntlet of “gatekeepers” who judge whether the work has any artistic and commercial merit. Literary agents, editors, bookshop and chain store buyers, critics and reviewers guard the gates marked Success. The Internet is changing this. Today, publishing is vey much dependent on the electronic community. For some lucky authors, nothing stands between them and the reader but a server.
Outside Naworth's gates
Off to the side, however, ready with  fingers poised over the keyboard, lurks A Reviewer. Once upon a time, critics were professional journalists who gave us their considered views through newspapers and the like. Not today. Now anyone can write a review and put it up on the Amazon website, and some come with all the speed and damaging power of a Djokovic backhand.

Word of mouth has always been touted as the best promotional exercise in selling books, and was always largely a matter of luck. If people liked a book, they told their friends, who read it and told their friends. Now we read the reviews of strangers and wonder if we should take notice or not. If their views on life are different to ours, its likely that we won't share their reading taste, but how are we to know? They may be the author's best buddy, their doting auntie Joan or their worst enemy. We've all seen the title that has ten good reviews, and then tucked in among them, will be the one review that trashes the work. Follow that reviewers name, and you may well find that they trash every book they read.

Amazon.com is aware of the problem and has created a badge system to identify a cadre of reviewers who can be trusted. Go to Amazon, click on any recently published book and page down beyond the "official reviews" to Customer Reviews. If the reviewer identifies himself as regularly reviewing or blogging about specific genres, it is possible that this person’s judgment is reliable and enlightening, and more importantly, co-incides with your reading tastes. It’s worth your time to click on the link that says “See all my reviews,” or on the badge beneath the reviewers name.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Naworth's White Lady

entrance in the south facade
Some say a ‘ White Lady’ haunts Naworth.
Gatehouse

The spirit, so they say, is of a girl who was seduced by Lord Dacre. She became pregnant and upon discovering Lord Dacre’s rank and social standing realised they would never be together. She threw herslf into a stream on his wedding day and drowned. The body was discovered by Lord Dacre, his bride to be and the dead girl’s mother. The girl’s mother put a curse upon Lord Dacre, resulting in his death and that of his heirs.
The trick is to know which Lord Dacre was the culprit. In about 1315 Randolf de Dacre married Margaret of Multon (having first abducted her) and the Dacre name became associated with Lanercost Priory as well as Naworth. 172 years later Thomas Dacre, 2nd Baron Gilsland, married Elizabeth Greystoke, gaining the title 1st Baron Greystoke. Thomas would have been twenty at the time. A typical age, some would say, for a little amorous adventuring.
In addition to his legitimate offspring, Thomas, the 2nd Baron, also has an illegitimate son, Capt. Thomas Dacre, from whom the Lanercost Dacres are descended. In 1538 Henry VIII and Cromwell dissolved the monasteries, and Lanercost Priory was given to the Dacre family who had served him so well at Flodden. The main branch of the family continued to live at Naworth Castle, and the Lanercost Dacres took up residence in the west range of the monastic buildings in what is now known as Dacre Hall. They created a dwelling of some style.
Thomas's grandson, Thomas Dacre, 4th Baron Gilsland and 3rd Baron Greystoke married twice, firstly to Elizabeth Neville, and the second time to Elizabeth Leyburne. When he died he left a son, George, and three daughters, Anne, Mary and Elizabeth.
It seems it took some time for the lady's curse to work on the family, and it has to be said that though George died young in a fall from a vaulting horse, the girls all married a sprig of the Howard family and went on to produce offspring. So it was also a rather selective curse.
If you believe in such things.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Naworth history


The courtyard looking west
There may have been a castle at Naworth as early as 1270. Certainly the house was crenellated by Ranulph Dacre in 1335, during the reign of Edward III. The Dacre family grew increasingly powerful by marrying wealthy, landed heiresses. One such mariage was that of Thomas, Lord Dacre of the North, who married Elizabeth de Greystoke.
The present castle consists of a courtyard with towers at the corners. The two tallest towers flank the south entrance range. Once it was an impressive irregular quadrangular fortress with a high curtain wall containing small turrets in the centre and on the angles, dominated by two, five storey towers.
Today the 16th century courtyard still has its yett and is protected by the remains of a barmkin wall, a gatehouse and a squat tower flanking the ditch.

Northeast corner
In 1513 Thomas, Lord Dacre played an important role at the battle of Flodden, where the English, under Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (later 2nd Duke of Norfolk) inflicted a catastrophic defeat upon the Scottish nation. Thomas Dacre was awarded lands around Lanercost, and with that new wealth extended Naworth. He built the whole of the south and east wings including the 100ft Great Hall, and what is now known as Lord William’s Tower. His arms are displayed over the detached entrance gateway.

Thomas Dacre was also Warden of The West March for Henry VIII, and provided loyal service to the crown until his death in 1525. Unfortunately for the Dacre family, in 1560 the then Lord Dacre died, leaving a widow, three daughters and a young son called George. Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, Queen Elizabeth's cousin, married the widowed Lady Dacre, and arranged to marry his three sons to her three daughters. Young George was killed in a fall from a vaulting horse and the vast Dacre estates which covered great tracts of the north of England - including 70,000 acres of the Barony of Gilsland, lands in Cumberland including Greystoke and Dacre, 20,000 acres around Morpeth and 30,000 acres in Yorkshire - now part of Castle Howard estate, all came under the control of the Howard family. Following the death of his wife, he then rather foolishly became embroiled in a plot to marry Mary Queen of Scots. Thus Thomas Howard, like his father before him, went to the scaffold and was executed in 1572.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Naworth

Can you see the squirrel? Perched on top of the helmet? I'd love to know the reason its there. After browsing around a little, we ventured through the doorway and into a long passageway which brought us out into a sunny courtyard.
This would be the inner bailey, and the heart of the castle. Buildings range round it on all four sides, with a bigger gateway to my left. People are heading to a small doorway tucked underneath a set of steps with a right angle in them, which must lead up into the grand hall. Today only the antique dealers are allowed up there. So we step into another doorway, and I really got a sense of stepping into rather than through, for the worn flag stones were a little below the threshold. Notices warned of uneven floors.
Gaunt stone walls, odd shaped doors, even odder internal windows without glass so from the corridor we could look into a couple of dark rooms taken over by the inevitable coffee and scone cafe. Then  we took the stone stairs and arrived at the start of the antiques fair. Lots of stalls, with eight foots screens forming small rooms and spaces but unfortunately hiding a good deal of the castle structure! Lots of lovely things on display but the least expensive things we found were copies of John Speed's early maps - for £55. There was a wonderful sculpture of a green bronze dragon with gold-tipped horns and claws, perhaps three foot tall, and priced at £8,000, lots of jewellery and glossy 18th and 19th century furniture. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Antiques and Old things


Naworth Castle
On Sunday, which luckily happened to be a beautiful day, we drove west to Naworth Castle near Brampton. Normally it is not open to visitors, but Sunday was the last day of a Three Day Antique and Fine Art Fair, which is not the kind of event that regularly has me beating at the doors. But since my wip features both castle and owner, I couldn't stay away.

So, through the archway, once the gate in a curtain wall that no longer exists, straining my neck back to look up at the armourial bearings on the wall above. I would swear there's a squirrel seating atop the helmet. Going through, its more of a tunnel than an archway, and about ten or twelve feet long. There's a small wooden door on the left, and a glance to the left show that there was once access to what was presumably a guard room overlooking the entry.

From here we can look up at the facade of the castle proper, and see one or two people disappearing through the doorway that has a smaller shield set in the lintel. I notice how different the stone is in colour to the stone in the eastern side of the country. This is a delicious soft red shading down to brown and pink and grey. The grey reflects the sunlight, so the overall effect is light, pretty and fawnish pink.

Will be continued tomorrow. (I haven't checked yet with this new version of blogger, but I hope clicking on the pictures gives an enlarged view.)



Monday, 5 September 2011

Changes in Book Chain

Sorry about the weird colours yesterday. I got tangled up in the new version of Blogger.
Today I won't touch a thing!
I hear Waterstones has been sold and the new MD says they will be no more 3 for 2 offers in store. I took advantage of the offer only once when there were 3 books I really wanted. Must say something for my will power over a decade! Most people seemed to get sucked in when they really only wanted one book, but could be tempted by the second and didn't care about the third, but it was on offer and what the hell, it was free anyway. A bit like the BOGOF examples in the superstores, where people buy and then complain that they didn't use all the product before it passed its sell-by date. Why buy if they didn't plan to use it all? Seems weird to me. What's to stop them blanching and freezing vegetables or making fruit crumbles and freezing them?

But to get back to books - it will be interesting to see what changes the new head, Daunt, brings to the book chain. He is thinking of selling campaign books (I presume he means those that publishers pay to have pushed in store) at £3, £5 and, if I've remembered correctly, £7. Few books I read are priced anywhere near £3 or even £6. More often they're £6.99 or £7.99, occasionally £10.99 for the larger format. So any book priced at £8.99 will have to be sold at £7 (or less) if it is to be pushed. Otherwise it will go and sit on the shelves with all the rest. It's the rest of the deal that is interesting - will publishers have to bear the reduced price and still pay the store? Must check a few publishers blogs to find out.
(The pic is carriage rides on the Gibside Estate, a National Trust property)

Friday, 2 September 2011

UK Publishing

Snippets from Lloyd Shepherd’s article (but please check out the Guardian 30th august and read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

“Ten years ago in 2001, 162m books were sold in Britain. Ten years later – a decade in which the internet bloomed, online gaming exploded, television channels proliferated, digital piracy rampaged and, latterly, recession gloomed – 229m books sold. So, a 42% increase in the number of books sold over the last 10 years.

The standard discount on the recommended retail price of a book in 2001 stood at 17.6%. In 2010 it was 26.7%.

Last year UK consumer publishing drew in sales of £1.7bn, up 36% on 2001. Adult fiction saw an increase of 44%, to £476m; and young adult and children's fiction, realm of all those pesky copiers and pirateers and downloaders, saw sales more than double to £325m.

Up to the week ending 13 August (2011), overall sales were down almost 6% on 2010 in volume terms, and just over 4% in value." (He says these figures don't include e-books)

"In May this year, Amazon announced that, for the first time, it was selling more Kindle versions of books than paperback and hardbacks combined, and (here's the thing that doesn't get quoted so often) sales of print books were still increasing.

The average cost to the consumer of an adult fiction book in 2010 is only 30p less than in 2001. That figure will be higher when inflation is accounted for, but it's not slashed-and-burned; it means a fiction book still sold for £6.11 in 2010, on average.

in Amazonia, Kindle versions of new books are outselling hardback versions - at similar prices.

authors are not seeing a sudden collapse in their incomes. The Society of Authors did a survey in 2000 that showed the average annual figure was £16,600; only 5% of authors earned over £75,000; 75% earned less than £20,000. A more recent survey, done by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society, came up with very similar figures.

Membership of the Society of Authors passed 9,000 people for the first time since the Society was formed in 1884." (This confirms what I've thought for a while now - that a lot more people are trying to get published. It's a depressing thought. I wonder what the figures were when Heyer and Plaidy ruled the book world?)

"There has been a steady increase in the number of book titles published in the UK, from almost 110,000 in 2001 to just over 150,000 in 2010." (I wonder how many of those are self-published, and how many are e-books?)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Sackcloth and Ashes

Scanning the Bookseller today, I found this link about author Lloyd Shephard and ended up reading the whole article in the Guardian -
"This time last year, I was metaphorically invited to the only party I've ever wanted to be seen at. My first novel, The English Monster, was picked up by an agent, and then by a publisher, Simon and Schuster. It hits the streets in March 2012.

I've made it, I thought to myself as I clutched my invite to the most exclusive set of all. I'm going to be a published author.

So imagine my surprise - nay, dismay - to discover that publishing's streets were not paved with gold, but stalked by the anxious, the gloomy, the suicidal.

"Publishing's dead!" shouted men in sackcloth on Bloomsbury street corners. I had arrived at the party, but the coats were being handed out, the drink had dried up and the hostess had collapsed.
So I asked myself (somewhat desperately, positively naively): are things really that bad? What is the actual state of book publishing in Britain? Can writers really only look forward to a life of penury? Or should I stick my head in the sand, if only to deaden the sound of commissioning editors weeping into their lattes?

Follow the link - http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/30/death-books-exaggerated - it's well worth reading, for both aspiring and published authors.