Saturday, 31 December 2016

Spring Cleaning

Since the internet is so quiet I took the opportunity to do some spring cleaning - 
early Spring Cleaning. It was prompted by Tim thumping a paw down on my wrist (a friendly gesture, I assure you!) which resulted in me spilling a full mug of coffee over the carpet. It was never the best carpet being only required to do duty in my study-cum-Tim's bedroom, but after twenty years of drips and drops and smudges, a mugful of coffee was the last straw. 

Off we went  to the carpet sale room and found a perfect Berber twist in shades of brown and cream - an offcut almost exactly the size we needed. Brought it home and spent the next two days ferrying books out of the study, laying the carpet and then carrying the books back into the study. When I say books, of course, I include in that files, papers, cds, files, document boxes - you name it, I've got one. The only thing we did not move was the built-in computer desk.

There was also the dust of twenty years in secluded corners that never see the light of day in ordinary circumstances, but now my little study is a haven - so neat, tidy, clean, and it looks bigger because of the lighter shade of the carpet. I am well pleased with our efforts. Don't know what Tim thinks of it now that everything is settled. He followed us everywhere as we dismantled the room and didn't know where to settle. Still, it had its upside - he was absolutely knackered by six o' clock and slept all evening. Perfect peace!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Eve

The wind is howling outside and grey clouds scud across the sky.
 I really would prefer to stay indoors this morning, but I think Tim is going to want his usual walk. No peace for the wicked, then.

So it is here at last. Christmas Eve. We've taken the pork joint out of the freezer and we'll collect some fresh vegetables from the local Co-op which is our closest supermarket, well within walking distance. Then I think we might hunker down until these winds have passed by. These days cold winds make my eyes tear, and I feel such a fool walking around muddy fields with tears streaming down my cheeks. 

What is it about Christmas that brings out the nostalgia? I've just finished re-reading Georgette Heyer's The Civil Contract and thoroughly enjoyed it, though I think if she was writing today she might struggle to persuade the younger half of the population to read her. She has her established fans, I know, but do new readers take to her stories?

I've begun a re-read of The Matfen Affair and in the first two chapters alone I'm astonished at how many changes I've made. Often it is just reversing the order of sentences so that it reads more gracefully, sometimes I see repetition and remove a phrase. Sometimes I'm adding in tiny details that help the picture become more visual or bolster the characterization. So I failed in my aim to get it published for Christmas, but hey! I'd rather have something really good go out a few weeks later than rush what already exists into print.

Monday, 19 December 2016

A two month marathon?

I had three paragraphs of a post written, decided to change the font - and lo and behold, the words I had written disappeared. Now I cannot remember how I began the post. It was something like "Why has Christmas changed from a couple of days to an endurance marathon lasting a couple of months?" 

The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind, but is down to people and the dear old media. Where would we be without the media telling us what to  like, what to wear, what to eat and what to spend our hard-earned cash on? Soon they'll be telling us what we believe and the danger is we'll believe them!

Everybody is "Getting ready for Christmas." The supermarkets are crowded, the roads are horribly busy, towns are jam packed and even Facebook has been reduced to adverts on things we can buy. We inflict all this on ourselves and convince ourselves we love it. "I love the bustle and excitement," people will tell you. People go into debt to "have a good Christmas" and kid themselves it is "for the children." I suspect the adults love it even more than the children because it is a break from (paid) work, a chance to indulge without feeling guilty and to admit you don't like Christmas is as good as saying you don't like chocolate. We are going to like it even more this year now that all the strikes are scheduled to take place before or over the Christmas period. If the TV channels go on strike, we will really be thrown on our own resources!

Once Christmas was a religious festival spread over two or three days. Families were nice to each other, exchanged modest presents and went to church. Now it seems to be an explosion of presents, gluttony, an alcoholic haze and a great big blow-up on EastEnders on Christmas day. I suspect Church rarely gets a look in, but would love to be surprised if the opposite were true.

I know the weather is dark and dismal, and the coloured lights in towns and cities lift the spirits. Christmas trees look pretty in the corner of the living room, but imitation trees this year can cost as much as £150 and the baubles that adorn them are expensive. Trees now have to be "dressed," and believe it or not there are people who have made a career out of dressing Christmas trees.

Gone are the home-made paper chains of the fifties and even the sixties, when parents and children actually sat down together and talked as they made them. I think my Christmas is still very much of the old-fashioned variety, and I do celebrate it, but in my own quiet way.
I'll leave it to Tim to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful Christmas.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Publishing these days



Spotted this article today and saved it here so I can pop back and re-read at my leisure. It may be that other writers missed it, too! and I'm sure they will be interested. It seems author Jane Holland has a blog called 52 ways to write a novel (which I did not know but will now follow) and back in March this year an argument about indie/self publishing sprang up there.

http://52waystowrite.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/on-self-publishing-bad-advice-and-being.html

Something I noted this morning - the Historical Novel Society has redefined the way it reviews books. Evidently there are to be no distinctions between traditionally published and self published, but in order to climb out from beneath the piles of submissions, the criteria for earning a review are to be tighter, higher or just more rigorous, depending which word you prefer. I saw this on Facebook this morning, and now - typically - I cannot find the piece! I believe it was Alison Morton who placed the article, which may make it easier to find, but if not then I'm sorry Alison.

Ten minutes later, again in typical Facebook fashion, I fell across Alison's post and hastily copied the link. Here it is:

https://historicalnovelsociety.org/our-reviews/indie-reviews/



Sunday, 11 December 2016

Bestsellers of 2016 Amazon

Amazon announced today its list of the best-selling books of 2016.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script topped the list in every category: Best-Selling Book overall, Best-Selling Kid & Teen Book, Most Gifted Book and Most Wished For Book. This year marks the first that a play has made Amazon’s top 20 best-selling list.
The top 20 best-selling books are:
1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
3. The Whistler by John Grisham
4. The Last Mile (Amos Decker series) by David Baldacci
5. Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
6. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
7. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
8. Night School: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child
9. The Black Widow: Book 16 of Gabriel Allon Series by Daniel Silva
10. Diary of a Wimpy Kid # 11: Double Down by Jeff Kinney
11. 15th Affair (Women’s Murder Club) by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
12. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
13. Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben
14. Crisis of Character: A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill, and How They Operate by Gary J. Byrne
15. The Wrong Side of Goodbye: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly
16. The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines
17. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
18. One with You: Book 5 of A Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day
19. The Obsession by Nora Roberts
20. Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
The top 20 best-selling Kids & Teens books of 2016 overall are:
1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid # 11: Double Down by Jeff Kinney
3. The Trials of Apollo, Book 1: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
5. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
6. The Last Star: The Final Book of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
7. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 2) by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay
8. The Crown (The Selection) by Kiera Cass
9. Empire of Storms: Book 5 of Throne Of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
10. Lady Midnight: Book 1 of The Dark Artifices by Cassandra Clare
11. Take Heart, My Child: A Mother’s Dream by Ainsley Earhardt and Kathryn Cristaldi
12. Glass Sword (Red Queen) by Victoria Aveyard
13. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
14. A Court of Mist and Fury: Book 2 of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
15. Gravity Falls: Journal 3 by Alex Hirsch and Rob Renzetti
16. Calamity (The Reckoners) by Brandon Sanderson
17. Give Please a Chance by Bill O’Reilly and James Patterson
18. Pax by Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen
19. The Thank You Book (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
20. Broken Prince: Book 2 of The Royals Series by Erin Watt

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Six Wives

I watched Lucy Worsley's new venture last night and thought it well done in spite of the fact that I nodded off part way through Catherine of Aragon's story. ( That is more to do with me than the programme. I can't sleep at night and then nod off whenever I sit down to watch tv.)

The costumes were superb and the actress who played Catherine had me believing her and her speeches were moving. She's the best I've seen since Irene Papas played her so many years ago. It was clever to have someone walk in front of costumed Lucy and reappear as herself in modern dress. I enjoyed that little sleight of camera. Henry looked like a pouting youth straight out of the schoolroom. Yes, I know he was barely eighteen when he and Catherine married but by the time he wanted to annul the marriage he was in his thirties. Is there such a dearth of Henry types in the acting fraternity?

Loved looking at the backgrounds, the scene setting, the beds, the floors. Candlestands, even. I have it all recorded so I can watch again whenever I want a Tudor fix.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Making it big

There are few authors in the world who ever reach the dizzy heights of Forbes billionaires list, but one or two manage it.

We can all dream big, and we don't want to  be faced with questions about how to manage our money once we make it, so hearing about others who have made it can be illuminating. Some do it better than others. Some have a talent for it, and others mismanage it, but reading how one famous author has done it is illuminating.

Try reading this article by James B Stewart:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/24/business/in-the-chamber-of-secrets-jk-rowlings-net-worth.html?_r=0 and join those who wonder how much money J K Rowling has made and what she has done with it. If it is any of our business!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Filming Dunnett

Something I saw recently on Twitter claimed that someone is going to film the Lymond series of Dorothy Dunnett novels. I hope it is true - and I hope it is not true as well. I probably won't like their choice of actor for the hero, though I will be delighted if they choose Aidan Turner for Jerott. 

When I read a book, I have an image of the characters in my head. Call me odd if you like, but that image sticks with me through thick and thin and so often the stars the film production companies choose are so wrong compared to the image in my head. I suspect they are chosen for their "bankability" rather than their acting ability or their rightness for the part. 

Book groups never agree when they start on the right actor to play Lymond. They never have and they never will. Americans select actors the UK has never heard of, and no doubt we do the same in reverse. Very few actors are equally well known in both countries and very few of those can really act. I suppose the current popular choice would be Eddie Redmayne for the sometimes androgynous Lymond. I'll have to think about that. Will he do? Perhaps. Can he act? I think so but I've never actually seen him in anything.

On the other hand, I think Russell Crowe might do very well for Richard and I'd love Sam Neill to play Lord Wharton.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Least favourite things

I’ve known I’m getting old for some time because a lot of what is shown on tv disturbs me. I am reminded of my parents, who sniffed in disgust at various things back in their day. Now I find myself doing the same. What sort of things am I thinking of?

So many comedians who are not funny. 

Celebrities who vie with each other to wear the least clothing in public and then put the photograph on social media. 

Reality programmes that use nastiness of one kind or another to grab an audience. 
The way the media supports anyone who knocks the Conservatives but rarely manages to catch anything derogatory or rude about Labour supporters. 

The way someone’s views are routinely shouted down, mocked, talked over or cut off in most tv interviews these days. 

The cowardly people who use Twitter to annoy, vilify and abuse others. 

The obscene amount of money that is bandied around in football and most other sports today. 

Advertising on tv – and anywhere, for that matter - that tempts people in gambling.

The focus on food adverts when the nation already obese. 

The endless cookery competitions where food is wasted and living creatures are killed – there will be a dearth of lobsters soon since so many are  used in cookery competitions.

Blogger thinking I have spelling errors when I am using British English!



Just a few of my least favourite things. Have I mentioned anything that annoys you these days? There must be something!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Romance Really Rocks!

Today I took part in a reading at Newcastle City Library. With five other authors from my local romance writers group. I read a passage from one of my books to an audience who had paid the vast sum of £3 to be present. Perhaps Romance Really Rocks! wasn't quite the best title, for though most of the books had a romance thread in them, they were by no means category romances or, to put it a better way, the romance was not the main thrust of the book.

I chose to read a passage from Queen's Courier, which is my latest and available now in paperback as well as Amazon Kindle. Being new to this game, when I was told to aim for seven minutes I got out the stop watch, selected a passage and then had to whittle it down when the first run through came in at over seen minutes. Then last week we met and planned the event, had a run through and we were all told the time had been reduced to five minutes. Mine came in a 7 minutes 10 secs, so once again I got out the marker pen and deleted words, lines, passages that I felt could go without destroying the sense of the piece.

Words  I found difficult to read aloud without my teeth getting in the way were also struck out. By Tuesday night I had it down to five minutes five seconds and reading at a faster pace brought it well under the five minutes barrier. Never have I appreciated editing more!

So, to the day itself. We could choose to use a lecture-microphone set up, and I did so because my voice is small and I found it a strain to try and project to the back of the room as we are told we must. We had advance information that twenty tickets had been sold, and more people were expected to walk in on the day.

However, only eight people showed up by the time we started. I had opted to go second, after Janet MacLeod Trotter, who has had, and still has, a very successful writing career. I stepped up to the microphone, and began with a small introduction about what inspired my story. If I tell the truth, I enjoyed the reading. The lighting prevented me from seeing the audience in any detail, but shone on my script so that I could see it perfectly. The microphone took away all the strain and allowed me to modulate my tone to fit what I was reading. By this time I knew the piece so well I could almost do it without the script!

Well, I don't think anyone sold any books, but for me it was huge learning experience. When I stepped out of the Bewick Room I was walking alongside the cafe in the library which seats somewhere in the region of fifty people. It was full of ladies of a certain age drinking tea/coffee and eating scones and cake. Why were they not in the Bewick Room, listening to six great authors?

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Amazon rules, OK?

Amazon has altered its customer review rules. Some revisions appeared in late September and others came in October.

  • ·        “To post a review, customers must spend at least $50.00 using a valid credit or debit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50.00 minimum. Customers in the same household cannot submit a review for the same product.”


  • ·        “We updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews (a review in exchange for a free or discounted product) unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program…The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”


  • ·        Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.

  • ·        “A somewhat murky area is the case of reviewers who post reviews both on Amazon and on their own blogs, with links from the blog to Amazon that result in the blogger/reviewer receiving pay if the person clicking on the link then buys the item on Amazon. It’s not entirely clear at this time, but it appears that this scenario can lead to a purge, because it violates the rule that an Amazon reviewer may not post a review on a product in which the reviewer has a financial interest. Until more is known, a blogger who has monetized his/her blog might be better off not reviewing the same product on both the blog and Amazon.”

  • ·        Promotional Reviews – In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.


I don’t know about you, but I will have to read these several times to realise the import. Author Anne Allen talks about the new rules on her blog (see right) and from reading her I understand a good deal more than I once did. Those one star reviews we’ve all suffered over? Evidently some people actually set out to trash competitors by leaving one star reviews. So there you go. The world is stacked against you!

Monday, 14 November 2016

When is a series not a series?

The Matfen Affair word count is almost 50,000 and the end is in sight. Another twenty or thirty thousand should do it. When I published The Craigsmuir Affair I had no idea of a series, but I loved the title, which I thought had so many connotations.

The Gybford story languished with a Canadian independent publisher for a couple of years but I felt  it deserved more attention than it was receiving, so I reclaimed it and then decided to go ahead and publish it on Kindle after an edit, a new cover and a new title.

I was drawn to the simple but effective title The Gybford Affair but the idea of a series still had not really hit home. The characters were different in each title, there was absolutely no link between them. No character in Craigsmuir knew or was related to the characters in Gybford. The settings were actually ninety years apart.

When I began The Matfen Affair, the idea of a series title could not be denied. But I liked it. In fact, I loved it. In each of the titles - Craigsmuir, Gybford and Matfen – it is the place that is the star, or the series link if you want to call it that. That, and the general genre is the only claim to a series.

Choose one of the three and you will find that they are all historical romances with a mystery or an adventure thrown in. With Craigsmuir it is Daisy and her dream of being an artist while getting caught up in a series of art thefts at Craigsmuir and meeting the man with whom she will fall in love. 

In Gybford it is the rich heiress who swears she will stay at her beloved Gybford and not marry again and then gradually falls in love with one man, who  is dedicated to his lost wife, only to be courted and kidnapped by another that she despises.


Matfen is the country house hosting a wedding where Leigh is the bridesmaid who struggles with the house’s ghosts while battling the misadventures of her sister and cousin and finally discovering the man she loves. 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Odd world.

The world is a strange place these days. First Brexit and now Trump. It is difficult to know if one is wise to book a holiday next year in case by then the world will have changed out of all recognition. People are talking about the feeling of the country being like this before the outbreak of the Second World War, but maybe that’s being just a tad too pessimistic.

I hope so. I’ll just plod on doing what I normally do and hoping for the best.
Twitter and Facebook are  awash with comments. Everyone now voices their opinions and expects the world to agree. Lately we’ve watched the arguments develop between rival political groups both here and in the US and it seems that s/he who shouts the loudest often wins the argument. (Of course, that doesn’t mean they are right. Only that they shout loudest.)

Reading social media statements is often a hoot because I’m convinced that some swig a bottle of wine (or the equivalent – insert your brew of choice) and then get busy with their ipad or iphone. Grammar and spelling are forgotten (or never learned), and it seems to me that those on the left of the political centre shout loud and often. Those on the right of the centre maintain a stiff silence for the most part, probably because they don’t want to receive a van load of rude tweets and posts.

I suppose the silence makes the lefties think a) those on the right are cowards b) they know they are wrong anyway and c) I’ll say it again, louder just to see if I get a response.


People argue about tennis players and actors, not to mention rape scenes on Poldark. They’ll probably argue about a whole lot more in arenas where I never venture. Strictly is argumentative enough for me – and I do wish that Tess would stop interrupting the judges, and that the silly shrieking with glee that goes on would stop, too. Sometimes it sounds like a kid’s party. Oops! Now I will  have everyone descending on me complaining that I dislike spontaneity and the sounds of happiness. It's not true!

It's OK. Tim (above  right) will keep me sane.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Writing Styles

As a boost to my writing I've been reading authors who write outside the historical fiction zone thinking that  I shouldn't get in a rut. Which is why at the weekend I brought home The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

The only other book of his I have read is, inevitably, the Da Vinci Code. I remember it had fast pacing and numerous short chapters. Well, his style has not changed. In 53 pages I have reached chapter 14. The plot set up is fine, but I find I am weary of bad guys who appear to have every attribute - fine physique, brains, confidence - you name it, they've got it, but they use them for world domination. In other words, a typical James Bond villain. Of course, I may be wrong. 53 pages is not an awful lot to judge by when the whole thing is 500 odd pages.

I have nothing to complain of in his actual writing. It flows by with ease and nothing stands out as awkward. I hardly notice it as my eyes travel the page seeking the story. It is very similar to Lee Child's style - straightforward, correct, short sentences.

At the same time I'm reading Ian Rankin's The Black Book on Kindle. Before that it was Peter James, the House on Cold Hill., Adele Parks Stranger in my Home. All very different, all very readable. Will I come out of this splurge a better writer? I doubt it, but it cannot do me any harm, and subconsciously it may do some good. A lifetime of reading has got me this far and I shall continue to read widely. I tried Val MacDermid's Skeleton Road, made no conscious decision to leave it and go onto Rankin, but that is what happened. I shall probably go back to it at some point. She must have something to offer me!

I've written reviews over the last couple of years for the Historical Novel Society and that has introduced me to many different styles, some of which I liked and some I didn't. What has it taught me? In no particular order, that the story line is as important as the style, adverbs are usually not required, that voice can be many things; pacing is important and a good, sensible conclusion is a must. It has taught me that I dislike what I call the the grab and snag style of writing where every verb is racked up to maximum; no one ever "takes" anything, they "grab" or "snag" it. They don't kiss, but "devour" each other, don't walk but "sashay," "tramp" or "traipse" across a room.  Sometimes plain English is good, if not best!

PS - I got myself in the picture this time!

Friday, 4 November 2016

Crime, anyone?

Mention the name John Rebus and my ears perk up. I'm never sure how much Ken Stott contributed to my being drawn to the books by Ian Rankin, because I am not really a thriller or crime fan. John Hannah was not ideal for the role though I love him in The Mummy and films of that type where his comedy touch is excellent. Oh, and I'm forgetting how good he was in Four weddings and a funeral. But somehow, he was never John Rebus, whereas Ken Stott with his distinctive voice and unprepossessing looks dragged me in from the start.

The character was born thirty years ago and is still going strong, though I've read that it took five or six titles before the tide turned and Rankin and Rebus became popular. I've long known that John tried  and failed for the SAS but have only recently realised that Rebus is an immigrant. His family came from either Hungary or Poland. Now I'm wondering why Rankin chose, back in 1984, to give him that family history. It certainly gives the books an added twist and allows Rankin to explore such a strand in the current climate - if he wishes to do so. I suspect he will ignore it, because he won't want to alienate fans, and whatever he says, it will alienate someone. That seems to be the way of the world now. Free speech is very nearly a forgotten concept in the UK.

I'm currently beginning a re-read of the Black Book, one of the early titles. No 7, I think. I may go right back to Noughts and Crosses and read the whole lot. It isn't the crime itself that intrigues me, but the way Rebus goes about solving it. The way Rankin develops character is one of the best things about the writing and if you are a pop music fan, then you can join Rankin/Rebus and enjoy his choices. This one is full of bad puns on Elvis records, but a menu featuring Blue Suede Choux raised a smile.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Matfen Affair

Some people claim to write without planning their books so when I recently began a new book, tentatively called the Matfen Affair, I had only a loose plan for it but didn't think it would be too difficult to work out as I went along. 

Hah! I have been obliged to change the ages of characters and their parentage several times already and I'm only 40,000 words into the story. The smallest thing can become a problem. An example would be that because I couldn't recall if cousins could marry in 1803, which is when the book is set. I had, in the first line of the book, my heroine address the hero as Cousin Robert. Then I decided I didn't want cousins to marry even if it was legal and the church allowed it.

To be on the safe side I decided the relationship would be within the same family but so far back that they are not first cousins, or even second cousins. That led on to a change of surname and working out a sensible family tree. It also made a great-aunt out of a grandmother. 

I am now regretting not planning more carefully before I started! My only excuse is that I was so keen to start writing the actual story.....

I want to have this published on Kindle before Christmas. Will I make it? I think so. The cover is already done. I went out one sunny afternoon and took a picture of the building I wanted as my "Matfen" but I may fiddle about with the heroine's hairstyle before I upload the cover pic here.  On the whole the story is coming along very well. Even if my ghost has suddenly turned vengeful rather than pathetic. 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Sales and glitches

While running down the tweets on The FALL, I noticed a couple of interesting links for self-published authors. If you are considering which way to go when publishing your book, then this could be of interest.   It provides the lowdown on what you need, what to expect and better still, lists of what kind of exposure you will get from places like Createspace and Smashwords. Here's the link :

http://writershelpingwriters.net/bookstore/

If, like me, you have been watching your Amazon monthly sales reports and wondering what is going on, then here's the link for you:

http://authorearnings.com/report/october-2016/?src=mc

There are lots of theories as to why even top authors are finding their sales figures dropping, but no conclusive answers as yet. Many suspect a glitch in Amazon's tracking system, or worse, think the company has altered the algorithms to suit different parties. 

https://scriggler.com/SharePost/Opinioncash=eef777d8eda116e438f70f571aa9455d

Another article that every aspiring author should read is behind the third link. Does price matter, does length matter? Do reviews help? All sorts of information gathered together in one place. 

It is an education to read the articles, including the comments section. Get yourself a coffee, sit down with an hour or so to read and inwardly digest what they say.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Poldark argument

There is a lot of discussion at the moment on the so called “Rape scene” in the tv drama Poldark. There seems to be a split in the perception of the scene by viewers, with one segment of the comments disliking it and panning the BBC for showing it and others who thought it a fair depiction of the way in which long thwarted love between two people will suddenly erupt – especially when the woman is going to marry the man who has beggared you and is your greatest enemy.

The book, written in the sixties/seventies, has not been given the same treatment. Nor has the previous tv adaption which featured Robin Ellis. I feel sure there have been other rapes, some more violent – the Forsyth Saga, The Onedin Line, Daniel Deronda to name but a few. Watching historical drama with the mindset of modern times is never going to work. The lowly position of women in the 1790s has to be considered and understood. Men ruled, and that cannot be changed without changing history.

So many things are not pc now that it is difficult to say what we think without alienating somebody, somewhere. It strikes me as rather odd that the recent 50 Shades Books and films can be so popular when the subject matter is so close to rape (even if she did sign a consent form!) and that women now drool over pictures of half-naked men – exactly the behaviour they so hated when men drooled over pictures of half-naked women. Do as you would be done by seems a better maxim to follow.


The book was written in the era of the bodice ripper, which was once so popular and is now spoken of as trash. One of the themes of romance writing back then was that what began as rape could and often did transform into something better when the heroine realised that she could give in and enjoy what followed. Now it seems we are told that subjection, obedience and pain add to the delight of sex. The world is a weird place, but fortunately, most things pass away and are but as smoke on the wind.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Ebook sales fall



It seems Ebook sales declined by 2.4% in 2015, the first drop in numbers of books sold in this medium for the “big five” publishers since the digital age began.

According to the Bookseller, ebook sales slid as follows:-
Penguin Random House by 0.4%
Hachetteby 1.1%
HarperCollins (excluding Harlequin Mills & Boon by 4.7%
Pan Macmillan by 7.7%
Simon & Schuster by 0.3%

Slowed growth rate in ebooks is attributed in part to the publishers’ shift to agency pricing for ebooks and the fact that they have increased ebook prices.

Self-published ebooks are making a difference, too, by taking market share from the bigger publishers. According to a survey last year, self-published ebooks account for anything between £58m and £175m

In a November report, it claimed the big five account for 31% of all ebooks sold on Amazon.co.uk, while self-published authors have reached 26%.

Read Alison Flood’s article https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/03/ebook-sales-falling-for-the-first-time-finds-new-report
Wednesday 3 February 2016

I can add that the Bookseller does not consider the effect of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited system on individual authors. My personal experience may be different to everyone else, it’s true, but my income is now coming from the US Pages Read system rather than items bought. The UK seems to have stopped reading – or at least buying – since the referendum on June 23rd!



Thursday, 20 October 2016

How writingromance fiction has changed


Ambling around the internet this afternoon I found a long article on romance writing.... you will find the whole thing at this link -



Because I want to be able to find it again, I've put the first couple of paragraphs here. I'm also going to suggest you read the whole thing as I am about to do. It begins by comparing writing for both the literary genres and romance 

Madeline Iva is her pen name, and you won’t find a trace of her real-life identity anywhere.
Iva is an emerging novelist who, as she puts it, writes “lady smut.” Her first novella was published last year by HarperImpulse, and it focused on sexsomnia, an actual condition in which people have sex in their sleep and wake up not remembering anything about it. The story’s protagonist is a young economist who has the hots for a strapping biologist, and starts waking up in the morning on the floor wearing different clothes. She has to solve the mystery of what she’s doing at night—and whom she’s doing it with.
I met Iva for the first time in 2013 during a social outing with several other authors. She told me how much she loves writing smut. She calls romance novels “happiness machines”—they guarantee that you’ll be happier after reading the novel than before.
Only later did I discover Iva has an MFA in creative writing from a top-tier program in the U.S., where she studied under one of the most respected literary writers today.




Tuesday, 18 October 2016

PC problems

Problems with my pc again, My e-mail keeps vanishing. This is the third time it has taken itself off into the unknown so I hope I am not missing important messages. We suspect it is a clash of some kind between software since I updated to Windows 10. Although I have Windows 10 on my laptop, it does not seem to be affected by the same problem, so I shall have to resort to e-mails on there until this is sorted.

Heard yesterday that Write Words, Inc - an independent US publisher - is closing down after 17 years, so that means that Banners of Alba, my very first book, and Dark Pool, its follow on story, will be reverting to me. I first published with them in 2006 and they have been sending me small sums of money all that time, so it is quite sad to see them disappear.

It means plenty of work over the winter to  check them over and re-publish them on Kindle with new covers. Meanwhile I'd better finish the Matfen Affair, which is standing at around 35,000 words so far.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

HNS Reviews

It seems the Historical Novel Society is having a re-think about reviews.
I have two  books with them right now for review, so it could not have come at a worse time - for me!

I read a long explanation from Richard Lee on why this has happened. It seems the people who did the reviews do it unpaid and as the volume of titles coming through for review has escalated, it takes too much time for one person to deal with and still have a life of their own.

Another reason is the inherent stigma still attached to indie books by virtue of them being reviewed separately from traditionally published books.

That's one thing. Another is the range of indie books has always been wide and recently the best have got better and those at the opposite end of the scale have got worse. The problem will be in sifting out the good from the less good.

There is a wish to review the best of the indie material alongside the traditionally published reviews. The problem seems to be how to achieve it. I hope an answer is found soon and that the HNS Review system continues and goes from strength to strength.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Life in the Fifties

People who talk about austerity today have very little idea what it really means. In the fifties, we all knew what it meant. Check out the link and discover more: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/4/newsid_3818000/3818563.stm

Rationing came to an end in 1954, having lasted 14 years. Any child growing up during the years 1940 to 1954 had a very limited diet and very little food intake. Adults too went hungry.  Check the old newsreels, you’ll see that no one was overweight. Fashion models of the days show off the waspy waist styles because women had much more prominent waists then – though it seems a strange way to describe something that was not there! Perhaps you get my drift anyway.

Toys were far fewer, made of metal or wood and lasted very well indeed, which was just as well because children had far fewer toys then. The garish plastic toy did not exist, nor did excessive spending at Christmas. A stocking that filled up with a tangerine, some nuts and possibly a bar of chocolate was enough to bring a smile to a child’s face. Towards the end of the fifties, annuals were popular as Christmas gifts. The Beano, Dandy, Eagle, Hotspur and School Friend Annuals all did well and provided hours of good reading.

We all went to church on Sunday, some morning and evening and getting Confirmed was a rite of passage. It was entirely possible that young people who went to church spent a lot of time eyeing up members of the opposite sex of their own age, but it was fun to flirt silently across the pews. 

Saturday was filled by walking to town to buy food in the market stalls lit by big hanging lamps that hissed and whined. Stand close enough to them in winter, and you could get warm. Then it was walk home with bulging bags, or queue for ages and hope to get on the bus when it arrived. There was always the possibility of bumping into a friend or relative or making a new acquaintance. Weekdays were filled with School and Work. It was a much simpler life, without the frills of today. But I remember it, the bits I do remember, as a happy time.


Friday, 7 October 2016

Life in the fifties

Life now is so different to the fifties when we all earned so little and we didn’t spend much because we didn’t have much spare cash. We had clothes that were “Sunday best,” few changes for every day and things were worn until they wore out. Shoes were polished and cared for because they had to last and trips to the cobbler were frequent. Segs were hammered into the heels of flat shoes to make them last that little bit longer. Colours were sober and the darker the better to hide marks.

Since a car was only for the rich, travelling to work on steamy, fugged up crowded buses – because people smoked then and there was little or no heating – through the dark gloom of winter mornings, was standard. Everyone rushed to get on board because waiting in the cold for ten minutes made the bus seem a haven of warmth and comfort. Chat with the conductor as s/he took the fare and punched out a ticket, and with fellow travellers that you met every day made for a noisy, but cheerful journey.


It was hard to get privacy for romance back then. You could invite your young man back home but since only one room was heated, that meant sitting with the family or freezing to death in the “front room.” Not a good option. So there was a huge need to get out and have your own place, even if it meant “taking lodgings.” If you’ve watched Endeavour then you’ll have seen the kind of place he was living in then. They didn't aim for five-bedroom houses with central heating and three bathrooms, but for much more modest accommodation. A small, "two-up and two down" that needed work might be all that they could afford, but at least they would be on their own - and they were young; they had the energy to re-decorate and make it better. 

Since the young were expected to contribute to the household expenses once they were earning, that too was an incentive to strike out on their own. Everyone saved for a deposit on a house and went in hope to the bank manager who would authorize a mortgage if he thought you could manage the repayments. Young people didn’t go out clubbing, or spending money on clothes, makeup, alcohol and mobile phones as they do today; they went out on a Saturday night “to the pictures,” sat in coffee bars spinning out a couple of coffees listening to Bill Haley or had a drink at the pub and then the man walked the young lady home. There would be goodnight kiss on the doorstep, if they felt so inclined.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Never had it so good

Comparing life today with life in the fifties ought to make everyone feel that life today is comfortable and safe. I know, there are always exceptions and sad stories, but imagine trying to live without central heating now that autumn mornings are kicking off the central heating. Remember waking up to ice on the inside of the bedroom windows? There was a real disincentive to crawl out of the warm nest of blankets (no duvets) and stagger off to a freezing bathroom to wash (no showers) before going to work or school. The water wasn't always piping hot, either, and the lino underfoot was like ice.

Then it was walk to school where at least there was some warmth in the classrooms. (Pity poor mum who stayed at home in the cold house all day. No wonder she did housework - to keep warm!) Walk home again at lunch time, back to school again and then home. Four journeys in freezing, damp and dismal winter days wearing knee length socks and a thick gaberdine school mac with a quilted lining inside. For me it was about four miles a day, maybe five that I walked, so I gobbled up the jam roly-poly pudding and never put on any weight. Some days gym lessons were hockey and netball - outside in the field. Remember the red knees and chilblains? I never see schoolgirls playing hockey these days, though I'm sure they must be some, somewhere.

Washing machines were rudimentary and still required a mangle and a good drying day. Refrigerators were a luxury, but anyway, houses were cold enough without them, weren't they? Fitted carpets? who had those? Or telephones, or televisions. Radio was the standby for cold winter nights by the only fire in the house. Personal computers weren't available and if you wanted to write a book, you did it by hand or on an old typewriter that almost broke your wrist as you used it.

The fifties (only sixty years ago) were only a few years after a six year war, and the Cold War with Russia was threatening both America and Europe. I had forgotten such things, but when I listen to a certain D Trump, memories of those days return.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A few good points

Did you know that the thriller genre has action while the suspense genre has danger  but not necessarily action? I had not even considered the difference between the two genres, but of course it is true.  I wish I had the kind of analytical mind that can cut through these things at a glance. On the other hand, I'm not so bad at symbolism.

The rhythm of a novel is the rate the reader reads, the speed at which the novel events occur and unfold. Dialogue can speed things up very nicely.  Pacing is the  length of time between moments of conflict. Though a protagonist may not know what his goal is on the first page, he jolly well ought to know by page thirty, and hopefully, earlier than that. Every step afterwards should be a step towards that goal. Interest is maintained and heightened if he encounters obstacles that must be overcome, and other characters will usually have a different set of goals that collide with his.

These things sound so simple when put  on the page like this, but trying to "see" what is happening in the half-written novel is a different matter altogether. This is where the skill of the writer comes in, though I suspect some would say it is where a good editor tells you where change is required. I can't help the sneaking feeling that a) I would love to have a good editor and b) that a good writer should not need a good editor to point out where things could be improved. Call me conflicted!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Elephant Orphanage

25th September 1981

The first stop of the morning was at the Elephant Orphanage twenty five miles from Kandy. There we met several teenage elephants already grown quite huge and half a dozen smaller ones. The youngest was only two months old and especially cute. He sucked Bob’s finger quite happily and downed three pints of milk at a sitting. The other greedy youngsters devoured five or six pints and the older elephants ate 250 lbs of greenery a day.
Only elephants found abandoned in the jungle are reared and once they are old enough they move down the road to work and training camps.

We continued driving to Nurawa Eliya in the hills of Sri Lanka. On the way we stopped at a tea plantation and learned how tea is grown and prepared. The best pure Ceylon tea is known as Broken Orange Pekoe and the second is BOP filings. The tea bags we have been using are made from the dust that is left after the six better grades of tea are produced and is literally swept up from the floor. Tea should never leave tannin stains behind in the cup.

The St Andrews Hotel at Nurawa Eliya is a hundred-year-old Dutch building still with its original fittings and furnished. The place has a distinct Scots affiliation with its tartan carpets! There is also a distinct coolness in the atmosphere because we have climbed into the hills. I didn’t think there would be such a difference, but there is. Evidently the cooler temperatures are good for tea-growing. The food at dinner was the best so far but for the Oberoi Lanka in Columbo.


Saturday, 24 September 2016

24th September 1981

Our morning expedition was to the famous Temple of the Tooth down on the lakeside. The tooth is the famous canine tooth of Buddha enclosed in eight caskets all of gold. Three times a day the shrine enclosing the tooth is opened for the people to view, and at festival time the Tooth Casket is carried around the city on the back of a huge elephant – a tusker splendidly jewelled for the celebration. Once every five years, the tooth itself is viewed.


In the evening, after a quick trip to the Market and a walk through Kandy’s main streets, we went to a Kandy Dance Evening and watched men and women perform some of the local dances. There were lots of costumes, feathers and loud music but it was exciting and I must say, very different to the sedate Morris dances back home.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Kandy

23rd September 1981

Our bags were packed and loaded by 9am and we set off for Sigiriya Rock Fortress, also known as the Lion Rock. There was the usual encampment of coke-selling stalls with carvings and collections of “antique” brass lining the route towards the rock itself. Beggars also waited at strategic points, but not too many of them. The steps just went up and up the 600 foot rock in varying pitches, gradients and directions, and the wind grew increasingly strong. Ladies in dresses were in imminent danger of ballooning.

The frescoes of the handmaidens of the king were halfway up the rock; sheltered by an overhang, 18 of the many originals have survived from the 5th century. The portraiture is exact though the colours have probably deteriorated slightly. One can differentiate between Indian, Singalese and possibly Chinese features among the ladies. Their headdresses and jewellery are still seen today.

The last ascent is made from a natural platform carrying more soft drink sellers. Many people back out of the climb at this point, eyeing the frail ladders up the face of the rock with doubt and disbelief. We carried on. Once there was a lion’s head to complement the lion’s paws that still guard the entrance, and the steps went up and into the lion’s jaws. Now all that remains are the two massive paws.

At the top of the rock the view is splendid on all sides. The foundations of the brick palace are still to be seen plus the swimming pool which had water pumped to it from the rain water collection tank at the opposite end of the rock site.

We had a good buffet lunch at the Sigiriya Rest House after a refreshing swim in the Resthouse pool. Afterwards we travelled on to Kandy, stopping at a spice garden and a batik factory on the way. Spices grown and packaged in the garden are priced at 15 rupees each so I bought citronella and saffron, both of which are extremely expensive in England.

The Batik factory was interesting. Such a complicated procedure of building up colours and blocking out patterns by using paraffin wax makes the high price of the finished article understandable.

Our final visit was to a Buddhist temple which had a library. The palm fronds are straightened and polished on a pulley (weighted) over a ceiling beam ad are then ready to have the inscription scratched into the polish. The ink is rubbed across the surface and then wiped off, leaving only the carved inscription. The fronds are cut and made into long narrow “books” bound by two threads and backed by decorated boards. Some were over 1200 years old and are still just as good as the day they were made.
The hotel in Kandy was perched on top of the central hill with superb views of the surrounding hills.