Saturday, 31 December 2011

Characters

Gorse, broom, plant a genet
It seems to me that characters make stories rather than plot. On the other hand, where would the Da Vinci code be without plot? Maybe I should have said I prefer stories that are character-driven rather than plot-driven.
What a character does in response to the inciting incident defines the action for the rest of the story, and this in turn defines the plot line. The character may react in a different way to you or your best friend, but that does not make the reaction incorrect. It might be different, a tad out of the ordinary, but it doesn't mean his reaction is wrong. That's simply how he is. He may be unskilled, or uneducated and naive, but he'll learn as he goes, as we all do.

Some people make the same mistake again and again. Most of us take a little time to learn something, and while our first error might well be catastrophic, the second stab at the same thiing will hopefully have smaller repercussions because we are aware of where we went wrong the first time. But hey - who makes the perfect response every time? And don't you love reading about a character who makes mistakes, but plods on and gets it right next time? I know I do.

Gorse is blooming again in our neighbourhood. It shouldn't be. It should wait until May or June and then spring into banks of glorious yellow flowers. The world has gone crazy.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A day in York

Yesterday did not start well. Hair took forever to dry and did not style easily. Sometimes it just falls into place, others, it goes everywhere but where I want it to go.  Then strap broke, so had to select another garment. On the road to York,we saw signs announcing certain A1 junctions had been closed. This provoked much comment in the car about which junctions had been mentioned, where they were and if it would affect us.
End result - we found ourselves involved in a 3-lane halt-and-crawl for at least an hour and half, thus extending our journey time  to twice what it ought to have been. To add insult to injury, when we finally did arrive, York was freezing. A vicious wind slapped through every open space, and it is lucky we were to be able to scamper into the narrow, twisty, enclosed streets of the old city which kept the wind out. Fenwicks cafe was a nice warm haven as we wern't prepared to stand in the queue for Betty's tea rooms, though Penny would have enjoyed their quaintness.
By four o'clock we were ready to leave via the A19 rather than the A1 and lo and behold we inched our way out of York in another nose-to-tail crawl - this time because the ring road traffic blocks anything coming out of the city. The York city council should start thinking about fly-overs and under-passes to ease the traffic flow. It'll be years before I think of going to York again!
I finally got hold of the pics on dh's camera, which has a much better range than mine, and discovered this pic of the deer we saw on our drive north to Inchnadampf. On my camera, they were nothing but tiny brown specks. Click on this one to enlarge it, and see what they really looked like!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

E-publishing row


There’s a storm brewing about major publishers banding together to prevent e-books being sold at low prices. You may already be fully informed, but if not, try the two links to get the general idea. For me, the beauty of e-books is the convenience, coupled with the low price. If publishers expect me to pay the same price for an e-book as I do for a paper copy, then I’ll opt for the paper copy every time. There’s nothing to love in an e-book but the story, but just looking at a paper copy with a decent cover gives me pleasure. I can’t look at an electronic copy, can I? I can only look at a Kindle. I wonder if people to who buy e-books buy only those stories that will entertain them for an hour or two and are then prepared to move on to the next. In other words, reading fills and empty hour or two, but the story is instantly forgettable. Whereas I want to be able to buy novels I want to read and keep, perhaps read more than once, and buy them cheaper than a paper copy. Somehow I can’t see the two desires being fulfilled by the same system. Maybe I’m asking for too much?

Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas blues

Happy band at Gibside
Trying to get into the Christmas spirit but hampered by feeling woozy. At nearly noon, this is not a good thing when accompanied by sharp pain in side when taking a deep breath. Slept sitting up in bed last night, as easier to breathe that way. Cannot decide if I should ring the surgery or not.
Sigh. By the time I decide it will be too late and they'll all have gone home for Christmas. Perhaps this thing, whatever it is will, disappear of its own accord. Hope so.

Meanwhile, not up to usual comments, percipient or not. Have just prepared venison casserole and put it in the slow cooker. By tonight it will go in the freezer and be ready to eat with very little effort next week when guests are here. They're coming all the way from Australia, so effort required!

Tonight, as luck would have it, is the night for our "street party" at the Hilton in Newcastle. Planned for months, all the cul de sac attending, smart hotel, Christmas fare, and self feels woozy already. Better stay off the wine.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Names

Gibside Woods

Are names important in fiction, or just a character label? If you were choosing a label for a young magician who was going to have amazing powers, wouldn’t it be tempting to call him something special? But J K Rowling chose Harry Potter, something so ordinary we barely notice it.

Arthur gives out only a faint chime of recognition until it is linked with Merlin, and then it takes on a whole new significance. One of the most feared English kings was the eighth Henry, a name that today rings with total insignificance. How many kids are named Henry today? One thing I have noticed in Real Life is that its no longer possible to tell a child's heritage by name alone. Names that once belonged to a certain nation are now used by any parents who decide they like the name. Therefore we have lots of Scots, Irish and Welsh names filtering down into English households when there seems no link back to the roots those names might suggest.
Reading the cast lists of tv and films is entertaining, and not for the quirky spellings alone. Summer and Breeze are no longer unique, and I swear I have seen Field and Lane listed. I kept waiting for Hedge coming up, but then we veered off to the Peach Blossom tangent beloved of pop stars. Cute children with cute names are one thing, but when that child is in its forties, I wonder if it will be heading down the name-changing route?
Romance novelists scour the lists and come up with names like Blane, Dare, Noble, and Amaury. It seems the name has to be different, sharp-sounding and if possible have only one syllable. What does this say, if anything, about current naming fashions among  authors? and how do readers feel about it?

Monday, 19 December 2011

The joy of titles

Advertising at Gibside
Cold weather starting to bite now. Down to minus 6 Centigrade in Yorkshire overnight, and we weren't far behind. Today it is raining, my least favourite winter weather. Damp and cold. Ugh.
Time to be indoors snuggling up to my computer and thinking of travelling through France in the summer of 1544 with my trusty hero.
I'm thinking of sending out a new partial sub. for Matho One even though it's only a few days to Christmas. The literary agents can't be at parties all the time, and surely most authors have better things to do than submit to agents at this time of year? Maybe my sub. will sneak in and catch people by surprise when they're in a good mood and with time on their hands!
I tentatively titled this story Treason, but as someone pointed out, Matho may not actually be committing treason simply because he crosses the border from England into Scotland. As a foreign national, what he sets out to do in Scotland is more properly an act of war. So I'm back to no title again.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Gibside Christmas Fair

Gibside Christmas Fair
We had our first snow yesterday. Not much, and the sunshine cleared most of it, but oh boy, was it cold! It's still cold today, but it was the Christmas Fair at Gibside, so off we went.

We expected a few intrepid punters, but the numbers in the car park surprised us. Changing from shoes to hiking boots without overbalancing in the snowy grass was fun, and as we walked into the Fair, we found the Prudhoe Community band playing rousing tunes that carried on the cold air. Stalls were set out under the trees, and lots of people milled about. We  decided to head for the Long Walk and then up through the trees to the stables. We had the woods to ourselves all the way to the Stables, and every so far along the trails we noticed items hidden in the trees. Nearby a notice declared something along the lines of:  Santa had dropped a parcel from his sleigh as he was passing by - can you find it? Then there was the spot where Rupert refused to go any further until he'd had a midnight snack - but where? 

By the time we'd enjoyed a coffee and a browse among the bookshelves (lots of paperbacks for sale at £1 each, including Clair Tomalin's Jane Austen) and ventured out again, people had abandoned the Fair and spread out into the estate. Children roared around screeching as they found each hidden item and parents had the fun of watching them. So did we!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Thinking ahead

Deeside
As a well known writing magazine states, the best way to beak into Women's Fiction is to keep at it. (I think they're talking about writing.) Strong characters and relationships are important and we all like emotionally driven stories. One agent says she wants a powerful story that will grab her by the collar and not let go.

Well, that's fine, as far as it goes. But what grabs her by the collar may be a story that barely holds my interest and the next person might toss it unread back on the pile. Reading is so subjective that advice in the round almost meaning unless by sheer chance you happen to find the agent who thinks exactly like you do. And the chances of that happening are about as lucky as the snowball rolling unscathed through hell.

One thing the agents agree on. Chick lit, mom-lit and sex-lit have all decreased in popularity. Chick lit, they say, has migrated down to Young Adult as women's coming-of -age stories, or more hopefully YA has migrated upwards to encompass it. Either way, women now want more challenging reads.

'Positive effects of the right balance of emotional appeal will help the reader connect with the characters as well as create an exciting an unpredictable storyline' (Katie Shea of the Donald Maas LA)
'Readers will be looking for more sweeping plots, big stories that are very involving, thought-provoking and don't necessarily have black and white happy endings.' (Dorothy Lumley, Dorian LA)
'Write something that stands out, something different...new, fresh - something that makes you think. Women want books they can discuss in groups. They want more substance.' (Jane Judd)
'Real women want to read something they can relate to...family reationships.' (Wendy Sherman.)
So there you have it. Something for everyone. But make it fresh, make it exciting and give it substance.
Catch the whole article in  the January edition of Writing.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Bad Sex Awards 2011

autumn on Deeside
I imagine literary figures must cringe when they see their name up there in black and white next to a heading like It's Time for the Bad Sex Awards again. It's intersting to see how bad some of them can be, too. Here are three links, so you can zip from one article to another and check out  others as you go.

I suspect journalists see this topic as a bit of light relief in comparison with all the doom and gloom they have to think about most of the time. I must admit I approach the articles with a bit of a giggle in mind, but often I come away feeling dispirited and what I feel most of all is that these literary men don't really like sex all that much. Either that or they don't like women, for some of what they write, apart from being pure drivel, is often ugly and distasteful. It's very different to the way women write about sex. There is very likely an argument that says women overegg the cake and beautify sex beyond its merits, but I never come away from reading sex scenes written by a woman with the feeling that they dislike men, or sex. (Unless the storyline demands it, of course, which it often does in some genres.)
Perhaps we should have an award for Good Sex scenes, just to redress the balance a little.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Third time lucky

My book is up there on Kindle for all the world to see. I'm reading it on my newly acquired Kindle and it looks  fine. The only glitch I've spotted is that sometimes an Em-dash turns into a tiny question mark inside brackets, but hey - when did you last read a print book copy that didn't have a glitch in it? Ever since computers got involved in printing books, the typographical errors increased.
This book has had a checkered history. It got tied up in the Triskelion bankruptcy case when the American tax people froze all books and assets for over a year until they'd sorted everything, and it's had an uneventful couple of months with Sapphire Blue until that independant e-publisher decided to close last month. Since the rights came back the same day the company closed, I decided to go for the simplest option, which was Amazon's Kindle Publishing programme, and priced it very low.

I described Shadows as "a chilling tale, written with humour and drenched in the sights and perfumes of the rural Dordogne... a must-read tale for those who like a romance with a ghostly twist."

Anita Davison loves a great ghost story and thought Shadows "definitely does not disappoint...an exciting read...powerful and fast-paced writing...endearing and memorable characters."

Lindsay Townsend thought "Jen Black writes subtle, powerful characters, very nicely shaded, and I felt I understood Rory and Melissa and why they acted as they did. The older story of the ghosts is teased out in a compelling way and is genuinely moving and other-worldly - to write of ghosts as well as this takes some skill."

There's a book trailer as well -

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Kindle woes

Sometimes I wish I'd never started trying to publish this e-book to Kindle. The first one, Fair Border Bride, made me think it was so easy, but that was because I didn't realise the Table of Contents in that book wasn't properly linked. Oh, it links you to the chapter OK, but there's no link to the Table of Contents itself. You have to go to Cover, or Start, and click a couple of times to reach it. I don't think it's all that big a deal, personally, but now I've started this game, I'm persistant enough to want to get it right.
waterfall on the road to Lochinver
It will probably drive me insane before I'm done, and the worst thing of all is that I could be writing, which is much more fun. Perhaps I should  just pay someone to do it. When I think that Optical Express are saying I owe them money now that I've cancelled my contract on contact lenses because they couldn't manage their direct debits properly, it galls me to think I could have spent that money on getting the darn book published.

Perhaps I'll just concentrate on Matho for a bit. I'm going through the first volume, prior to sending it out again, and letting volume two lie dormant for a while, but I've written the fist chapter of volume three. It's tricky, getting back into the mindset of Tudor times again, and I have to keep remembering that not all readers are guaranteed to have read vols one and two. Still, it's a hell of a lot easier than trying to cope with Amazon Kindle, Mobipocket and HTML files that don't transfer hyperlinks.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Quietly demented


near Gairnshield Lodge
The weather here in the north has taken a turn for winter all of a sudden. Temperatures down as low as 2 degrees tonight, and there's snow in Scotland and up in the hill country and the Pennines. Time to break out the woolly sweaters and maybe think about thick tights under jeans. I'll also have to stock up on peanuts and bird food. They haven't needed us, but they've nicked all the berries off the holly bushes in mmy garden and they're starting on the cottoneasters now.

I have spent over a week diligently trying to get my file perfect for uploading to Amazon Kindle, but always the Table of Contents is greyed out - yes, even on my brand new Kindle - an early Christmas present from dh. I followed the Kindle instructions and the Table of Contents comes up on the screen, and it links the reader straight to any chapter selected, so I haven't a clue why it doesn't do exactly as Kindle wish.
I've lost count of my attempts. I've tried Intenet Explorer 9, discovered knowedgeable people think it isn't compatible with Mobipocket, tried Internet 8 on my laptop, tried it with the cover pic, without the cover pic, with the TOC, without the TOC, as Web Page, Filtered, as Web Page, and as a Word doc file, all to no avail. I've even stripped the story back to Plain Text and  inserted minimum formatting and I've read countless websites and found I'm not alone with this problem.

So, I think I'm going to send the file off as it is and see what happens. If it's accepted and any of you wonderful people out there buy a copy of Shadows, then please remember the TOC does work. It just doesn't have its own little Go To link.

In case you wondering who this little fella is, he's the youngest of a Highland Cattle herd who live on the farm we visited.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Dark Landscape

 I found the Aberdeen side of the country very different to the west. Larger communities that look more stable somehow, as if they've been there a long time and aren't afraid to say so. Remembering the north west, the communities outside Ullapool and Lochinver always seemed romantic and somehow transient, without streets, often without drives or gardens; more as if they'd settled on a nice patch of land and would stay there for a while. Curious and interesting to see the two in the same visit.

I've often toyed with the idea of moving to the northwest, but I suppose it isn't practical and dh would hate it. I know there would be moments when I would miss being able to wander into Newcastle and around the big department stores  - which I do rarely, but they're there when I want them. The M&S is one of the flagship stores, second only to London because we have such a cross sectional mix of people prepared to spend - the town and country types of the Tyne valley, the urban dwellers of Newcastle and Gateshead, the suburbans in countless villages up and down the river, like me, and then the holiday traffic that comes in from northern Europe - Scandinavia, Denmark, and as was reported on the news yesterday, cruise ships from the Faroes bringing people to do their Christmas shopping.
We drove through  the hills from Tomintoul to Cock Bridge, said to be one of the highest roads in Britain at just over 2,000 feet, and the landscape got progressively darker, gloomier and downright bleak. To drive from home to the Lake District, we cross Hartside Summit into Cumbria, which is just over 1800 feet, but the scene is much more attractive than this road. A strange shape loomed on the hill ahead of us, and as we drove past we saw that it was the rather stark looking Lecht ski centre.

Compared to the ski resorts we've visited in Europe, Canada and the US,  it didn't look appealing.  A little further on, a shooting party had been on the hills, and we watched several Land Rovers gingerly edging their way across the hillside back to the road.

It may have all looked so much better in sunlight, but the sky was grey and grim, and the landscape was a dark, dirty brown green. From there the route was downhill most of the way to Ballater, and there the landscape changed again But more of that tomorrow.