Friday, 29 August 2014

Writing - what's gender got to do with it?

I'm like everyone else in that I follow links on Twitter in the hope of finding something good. Sometimes I do, and one of the website I've bookmarked is this one: http://blog.janicehardy.com/  Take a  look at her home page and you'll see (if you are like me, that is) loads of titles to articles you simple must read. They don't disappoint, either.

I keep re-reading the one about the first 250 words of your book being the most important in the hope that eventually, I'll be doing what she suggests by instinct. It will filter through in a process something akin to osmosis. That's my hope, you understand. I think I really ought to read the one about forcing my hero to make moral choices, too.  Many readers, particularly women, I suspect, will dislike Matho for taking the child queen from his mother, and I suspect they'll dislike Meg Douglas even more for the same reason. But my justification is the characters lived in times when choices were hard, and if the characters can justify the act to themselves, if not to us, with out 21st century ethics, surely that is all that matters? They lived in a time when uttering the wrong word could send you to the stake to be burned alive.

My female characters are rarely the simpering type, and Meg Douglas is not a simperer. That some reviewers don't care for my ladies has become obvious to me. My female characters say what they think, and even if they don't say what they think aloud, their thoughts are honest. I didn't have sisters, and there were 40 years between me and my mother, so we didn't have any "girly" contact. She was always a figure of authority in the household, and said what she thought. Consequently, I don't write "girly" females. What you grow up with shapes what you become and it is devilish hard to contradict it. Because I had a brother, I can relate more easily to men, who always seem to me  much less judgemental, say what they think and then let you get on with it.

Perhaps the trick of fine writing is to transcend these things. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it is usually easy to tell if a book  has been written by a male or female author. It's just there in the writing, in the characters and their actions, even in the choice of theme. Possibly all unconscious, too. Writers probably have their audience in mind, and write to them. I can imagine the audience for thrillers, romance, vampires with varying degrees of success and allowing for blurring along the lines and edges as tastes overlap, but I do have a problem deciding the audience for literary fiction. They can't all be university professors, can they?

(Take note: the last comment is definitely tongue in cheek and meant to amuse.) And a further note: today's pic is Loch Crinan, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the post. The black dot is probably a midgie on the lens looking for someone to bite. I still have the red blotches they caused that day.


Monday, 25 August 2014

Castle Dounie

The walk was listed as a three-hour walk and we did it in three hours ten minutes - and that included a lot of short stops to enjoy views. The first hour was all uphill, zig-zagging up the hillside through ancient woodland with the sound of water in our ears and every shade of green around us.

The gravel track soon became a grass track interspersed with boulders, and the trees towered over us. Every so often a curve in the path would offer a spectacular window-view through the trees.

We made it to Castle Dounie on the lower summit of Creag Mhor along a wonderful path with heather billowing beside us on the last narrow path to the fort. There were no bees to be seen, which is a little worrying.

Right on the top of the hillare the stones of an Iron Age Fort. To me they looked like a cairn, but if you were an enthusiastic archeologist well versed in prehistoric structures, then you might be able to make out wall lines and such like. It was very small, and I kept on wondering if the people walked up to it or if they took their sure-footed garrons all the way to the castle.

 There are terrific views towards Jura and Mull, and they say you can see the notorious Corryvreckan whirlpool and even Ben Nevis to the north on a clear day. I suspect you have to be looking at just the right state of the tide to see anything of the whirlpool. I have seen film of it and watched documentaries that explain it and I have no urge to go out in a small boat and peer over the side knowing what is beneath me.

You can see a little white house on the hillside of Jura.  I think they must paint  Barnhill gleaming white every season because it stands out like a beacon. George Orwell lived there when he wrote his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. I could see Barnhill from many points during my stay in Crinan, and acknowledged a certain wish to be there, concentrating on writing to the exclusion of everything else. I know it will never happen - the mere idea would horrify dh and the midgies would be a torment in summer.

The walk is full of interest, varying terrain and returns by way of the same path this time plunging down the hill - and believe me, sustained walking down a steep slope is just as tiring to muscles not often used as going up. When we reached the path across the beach at Crinan Harbour we found a large rock each and sat in the sunshine and watched the little waves roll in. Their gentle splash mingled with the tapping of steel rigging on the yachts moored not far away. There is happiness in such simple things.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Beauties of Argyll

Just back from a couple of days away at Crinan Hotel. We were expecting cold rainy weather - so the forecasters said - and actually had brilliant sunny weather. It is amazing how variable weather can be in this little island of ours. Got well and truly bitten by the notorious Scottish midgie, too.
We stopped at Dunardy halfway along the Crinan Canal to give Tim a walk. We had a lovely saunter through Foresty Commisssion woods and finally broke out of the trees and were rewarded with an ever expanding view. The higher we climbed, the better the view, so we kept on climbing! It was a gentle, curving climb. I don't want to give the impression I climbed something like Mt Everest, but it certainly had us breathing more deeply than usual.

In the bar that night we sat quietly eating our meal and could not help but hear the conversation at the next table. "It's going to rain all day tomorrow, but that might flatten the sea!"
I remembered that Crinan is basically a sailing community, and then the comment made sense.  Still it didn't raise our spirits, I can tell you, and we wondered what we would do if  the prophecy came true. Next morning when we looked out of our bedroom window, the view of the loch didn't inspire. 

It had obviously been raining hard overnight, Still we decided to do the walk we'd planned, and drove the mile or so up the hill, took the right fork down the hill and into Crinan Harbour proper. For all our visits here, we'd never thought to do this bit, and it is very pretty. This is the natural harbour for Crinan, where all the sailing yachts hide away. 
We parked up and set off along the rocky sea shore. The path is sometimes under water at high tide, but the only water was from overnight rain. Then, as expected, the path turned left and uphill. It went on uphill for the next hour, with us taking brief respites after a particularly steep section. We met the forestry road and set off on a level path - well, it swooped up and down but was comparatively flat to the hillside we'd just climbed. Way markers kept us on the trail and took us through a variety of trails, grassy tracks, through woods until we finally climbed Creg Mhor to visit the remains of iron-age Castle Dounie. We sat at the top for quite a while, gazing out over Loch Crinan bathed in brilliant sunshine.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Current work

This Scottish Independence thing is taking on  a looming presence. DH threatens he won't go to Scotland ever again if they vote Yes. I can go, he says generously, but he will stay home.  I suspect the hard-headed Scots are going to vote No, but we'll see. I may well be holidaying alone in the future!

As you probably all know, I'm currently editing my book about Matho. I've made a decision - I either self-publish this book this year, or I throw it in the bin. I've been working on it in fits and starts for a long time now but it never seems to be finished. The time period is interesting, because it is 1543 and Scotland is independent, and fighting off Henry VIII's advances. Henry's England is ringed by Catholic princes who want to bring England back into the Catholic fold, and he suspects Scotland will offer the Catholic armies an easy way into England by the back door. His answer? Marry the little Scots Queen to his son and make the two countries one. The trouble is, Scotland doesn't see it that way. The valiant Dowager Queen, Marie de Guise, prefers to marry her daughter into her homeland, France. Many Scots don't want to be a vassal of France either. Difficult situation. For everyone.

How does Matho get involved in this situation? He and Harry Wharton became friends  in my book Fair Border Bride, which some of you may have read. When Henry of England sends out an order to Sir Thomas Wharton, Sir Thomas mentions it to his son. Harry thinks he and Matho can handle the job. Matho has his doubts, but he needs a leg-up in society, so Harry and Matho set off for Stirling with much enthusiasm on Harry's part and much trepidation on Matho's side.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Poldarks revived

Outlander will arrive on our television screens at some point, but may be a while before it reaches the UK. The likelihood is that I shall see and  enjoy the re-make of the Poldark series before then. I loved the books, written in the 40s and 50s - and eagerly devoured the original seven. I don't think I followed up on the remaining five which were about descendants rather than the original characters. I adored the original tv series 1975-77, and so did many others. The series was hugely popular.

Still, that has to be balanced against the fact that when the series was shown, there were only three ( 3! ) television channels. That made life very much simpler and the ratings very much higher than they are today. Television audiences were a little more naive, too. Production values today - well, the techniques at least, are so much better than they were in the seventies. I'm really looking forward to the costumes and the locations. Let's just pray that the gremlins that haunted Bodmin Moor during the last production in Cornwall - Jamaica Inn - have been well and truly exorcised. If the BBC ruins Poldark, they may well be exorcised!

 I've collected together some links to the cast, the locations and general gossip about the series. I shall very likely dip into them from time to time, and you may wish to as well. I'm putting one of my favourite pictures of Aidan Turner up here in his costume as Ross Poldark. I don't know if there are any Poldarks in Cornwall, but if Winstan Graham dreamed up the name, I applaud him for selecting a wonderful name for a hero.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2596581/The-curse-Poldark-Stars-new-version-beware-The-originals-hit-tragedy-never-fame-again.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2014/poldark

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Poldark-2015/483979435006691

http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2014-04-23/poldark-crew-to-remake-an-18th-century-gloucestershire-house-for-new-bbc-period-drama

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=poldark+remake&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=abzsU5aKL6qI7Aa_oYG4Bw&sqi=2&ved=0CGkQsAQ&biw=1536&bih=708

Enjoy the links!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Outlander - first thoughts



Anyone who has read the Gabaldon novels will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the tv series. 16 episodes for the first novel as far as I'm aware, which should be more than enough time. The critics seems to like it -
http://www.vox.com/2014/8/7/5980011/outlander-review-starz-diana-gabaldon-ron-moore - and from the snippets I've seen, it looks engaging. The pic above is from the website listed and from the Starz press-kit.

One thing puzzles me. Claire's narration is done in a lovely English voice, and the  dialogue is also English. But part-way though the section I saw, she suddenly breaks into American swearing. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ may be Gabaldon's choice of swearword for Claire, but I doubt it would ever be on the lips of a typical English of 1945. Same for "godamm." It just isn't English. So then I got to thinking was the character Claire English or not? 

It's a long time since I read the novels for the first time, but I did re-read Crosstitch (re-named Outlander now) not so very long ago. Somewhere along the line, Claire has metamorphosed into being American in my mind. It isn't something I've ever thought about until now, but there must be something in Gabaldon's depiction of Claire that has drip-fed my understanding that she isn't English, but American.

Which in turn is interesting for all writers. Can we really put ourselves in the skin of another character, particularly when they are from a different country? No matter how hard we try to get it right, something might give us away. Some little thing like curse words, for example.