Thursday, 16 January 2020

Veterinary Blues

We seem to be spending a lot of time with the veterinary in Hexham this week.

On Tuesday he had a lump taken from his leg because an earlier biopsy suggested dodgy cells were present. Today we have been back to have the dressing checked.

I woke last night to find he had somehow licked the bandage down, revealing the wound, so we looked rather shame-faced this mornrng but Hey! the nurse says the wound is healing well and there's no damage done.

Have you ever tried to prevent a dog from licking his wound excessively? It's 2am and you wake to the sound of surreptitious licking and you stop him.  Happens again, and again at three am. You know the cone of shame is in the loft and you are not prepared to go find it in the dark.....He is doing this to annoy me....stamp downstairs, grab his muzzle and go back to bed. He may hate the muzzle but he can't chew the newly healed wound now.  I sleep and wake with a jerk next morning as he whimpers pathetically. Feel guilty, and give lots of cuddles.

So now he has a 3x4 inch plaster stuck on his left foreleg but no bandage. (Can you even see it? It is white...) Maybe he'll find this easier to accept. I hope so. I badly need a good night's sleep!

Monday, 13 January 2020

Winter musings on dialogue

Sometimes the words flow easily.

Other times I cannot think of anything to say.

This can be bad when you want to finish the book you are writing. It is at times like these that I go back to basics and refresh my writing muscle with the wise words of others. This morning I am contemplating a lunch table conversation between antagonistic acquaintences, so I'm  reading up about dialogue as I scoff my bacon, mushroom and black pudding sandwich. (Very tasty!)

Dialogue, they say, should sound natural. At the same time, we need to omit all the awkward pauses, poor word choices , non sequiturs and pointless repetitions. We don't alwys speak in complete sentences, we drop articles and pronouns  and sometimes we just grunt - but somehow we get our meaning across!

In novel form, dialogue is a way of changing relationships, or bringing conflict to a head

It requires direction from the author and the scene direction should change after the conversatin occurs.It is possible that the people in the dialogue do not understand themselves, or their motivations; it is also possible that they do, but are incapable of admitting this to anyone else. Some even set out to deliberately confuse an already tense situation.

By the time I get this far,   I can usually see my way more clearly! I hope you can, too.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Sloppy and wordy construction

Editing the first draft of a story can be a revelation.

The day I discovered I had used "has/have/had" twenty one times on a single page and had my characters "sighing" thirteen times on another page convinced me of the need for editing.
Your problem areas may not be the same as mine, but here are some of the things I look for. They all come under the heading Sloppy and wordy construction.

Top of my list - Participle phrases. You know - things like "was waiting," "running," "crying"
was, were - passive words that should be replaced with active
had, has, have  - passive, dull constructions
it, there, here - vague pronouns, should be replaced with something more dynamic
that, but - overused and lazy conjunctions
preposition  such as:  


See if you can't replace them with one or two better, clearer words.
Unnecessary words such as: together, start, plan, almost, just, then, own, thing, began, reach, rather, instead, even, back, very, good, great, really, suddenly, finally, about, only, totally, eventually, almost, exactly, fairly, so, such.

I use the Find Box to see where the words are hiding and I spend a day going through each and every one. It tells you how many culprits it has found and if it lists only five or six in 75k words, I will let them stand -  as long as the are not close together in the text! 

The last time I did this, I edited out 10,000 words from an 88,000 word document. I've done this after each first draft, and the nice thing is that each successive novel has required much less work than the previous one, which means I am slowly erradicating my bad habits.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

THe Regency gentry

To qualify as landed gentry a family of the Regency period must own 300 acres which gave a sizable income. Examples Mr Bennet had £2k a year, Mr Darcy £10k a year, Bingley £5k.

A circulating library was wildly popular in 18th century. The rise of the Gothic novel began with H Walpole's Castle or Otranto in 1765. Horror and romance mixed, supernatural, terrible family secrets, and female victims locked in castles by evil tyrants. Ann Radcliffe made the Gothic novel acceptable (The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian) and the market flooded with cheap imitations (The Monk by M G Lewis.) Fanny Burney spearheaded the comedies of errors - Cecilia, Camille and Evalina.
Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792

Between 1811-1817 Jane Austen earned £630 (about £38,000 today) Her dress allowance was £20 a year .(about £2k today)
Young people met at dances or through family friends. Young ladies were chaperoned, but they might play cards, perform duets, join in family conversations but shoud not walk out alone with   a young man.
Proposals usually took place at the young ladies family home and her only contribution was to accept or reject. If her father approved, marriage articles were drawn up outlining the disribution of wealth and property plus provision for wife and children on the husband's death. She might receive a jointure - part of his property - on his death but that would be unusual.

The potentail bride would buy a new wardrobe; clothes she would need in her new role, including a white wedding dress, which was a sign of wealth.

A barouche-landau was a small carriage with two rows of seats faceng each other.
A chaise waas a close carriage for travelling
A curricle was a two-wheeled vehicle pulled by two horses - one driver and one passenger.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

More notes on Regency period - a Timeline.

This is an abbreciated timeline of events in the early Regency period that I found useful and did not want to discard. It resonates quite nicely against the Poldark books and TV series. It also resonates in a personal way because I have just found an ancestor who was born in 1756....

1775 American War of Independence
1770 Penitentiary Act - introduction of state prisons.
1780 Anti-Catolic Riots against Papist Acts  - Gordon Riots
1783 William Pitt the Younger is PM
1783 Evacuation of American Colonies
1787 Convicts sent to Australia for the first time
1787 Abolition of the Slave Trade committee formed
1788 George III's first attack of madness
1789 Storming of the Bastille
1791 Parliament rejects the Bill to abolish slave trade
1792 French monarchy abolished
1793 French King Louis XVI executed
1798 British go to war against France; the Irish rebel against British rule
1799 Napoleon named himself First Consul - military rule in France
1801 Actr of Union
1805 Battle of Trafalgar
1807 Slave trade abolished in UK
1812 George IV as Prince Regent; Luddite protests
1815 Battle of Waterloo

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Is it a Gig or a hack?

Because I'm about to dtch a notebook that is now devoid of empty pages but holds a few notes that deserve keeping here are a few notes  about writing stories set in the Rgency period that I might need to refer to in the future. I find it terribly easy to be confused by terms such as these when I am notusing them on a regular basis.

Entailment:  Inherited property inherited only by the male line. Legal agreement, not easily broken.
Gig: a two-wheeled carriage for two people drawn by one or two horses. Young man's choice!
Hack: Rented carriage. Scandalous for young women to travel alone in one.
Militia: Several militia regiment of soldiers stationed throughout the country. A man from the lower classes could enter as an officer. In the army, a man had to be of respected background and have enough money to buy his commission.
Pelisse: long dress-like coat made of silk and lined with fur.
Petticoats: made of linen
Phaeton: an open carriage with four wheels.
Post chaise: Long journeys began with one's own horses and chaise; the horses were sent home and hired horses completed the journey.
Postillion: person who rides/guides a horse pulling a carriage. (For years I
thought a postillion was a Chinese building!)
Reticule: laadies bag with a drawstring closure and a long strap.
Spencer: Tight fitting waist length jacket for ladies
Travelling post: hiring the chaise, the horses and the postillion.
Stagecoach: public transport for the lower classes. No lady travelled alone by stagecoach. Royal Mail coaches were quicker but more expensive than the regualar stage coach.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Digging into the past

Great grandmother
There is so much bad feeling on the internet right now that I am staying away from it!

Since my year with Find My Past has recently expired I am now exploring the UK Gov Census to see if it is any better or more accurate. I am happy to believe that our grandparents were not so hot on reading and writing, and that generations before them were almost illiterate, but I was unprepared for the variation in ages quoted for the same family member on each census. Some people quoted figures that varied by seven or eight years.

That got me thinking that if you didn't have a diary or an equivalent to hand, then how did you record such vital facts? You would have to rely on memory, or else pin the event to an important year. "The year the king died," or "the year Titanic went down." Even then people would remember and argue about the year. "It was 1912", says one. "No, it was 1914, just before the war broke out," says another.

Newspapers would have to be consulted, and to do that a trip to the nearest library that held archives would be necessary. Mostly, given the difficulty of travelling into town, they would give it their best guess when the enumerators came around every ten years. Hence the variation. I did notice that most ladies guessed their ages to be younger than they were!

Then there are the people who did the clerical stuff. Some of the names are spelled most imaginiatively. Towns are usually correctly labeled, but villages and hamlets have many variations. It was surprising how many men changed their profession during a lifetime. Agricultural labourer to colliery engine driver. Butcher to registrar of births, marriages and deaths. Obviously, they followed the work that was to be had, for their addresses changed as often as the jobs. Some followed a gradual upward trend, and others did the opposite. The unfortunate few ended their days in the poor house, or living with a family not their own - and labelled "pauper" on the census return.

Fascinating stuff. I just wish they hadDi begun doing the census earlier that 1841.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

The Summit of Stainmore as a Place of Residence.

On a cold day last week, in a carriage travelling along the Tees Valley Railway, between Romaldkirk and Middleton, one of the passengers called attention to the exposed situation of two dwellings, perched on the heights on the left of the line, remarking that, in this weather, the people living there would have something to do to keep themselves warm.
"Its nowt ti t'Summit o'Stainmore, where aw've lived," said another passenger; "them bouses is hivren itsel', compared wi't' Summit! I' winter, at t'Summit, it snawsan' it blaws; an'all frist o' t'year it rains an' it blaws, — it nivver gi'es ower. Sometimes yan sees t'sun shinin' down, owther at t'Westmorland or t'Yorkshire side, when itiowtber rainin' or snawin' wi' uz, an' f wind blawin' eneugh ti tak' yan's heed off. T Summit, sartenly, 's t' varry last pl'yas that was m'yad!"
Said a third passenger, " Why, aw've read i't' newspapers that they're growin' taties an' cabtrishee at t'Summit, now?" "Grunstanes an' horseshoes, far liker!" retorted the second, derisively; "they can eat tatios an' cabbishes at t'Summit, but if they had ti grow them tharsels, tbey wad nivrer see them."
The other rejoined," What for diz onybody live there, then, if its sike a pl'yas as ye tell on ? Its warse then Botany Bay !" "Na, na," said the man who had dwelt at the Summit, "its avast better then that: for, ye see, a workin' man, at t'Summit, when he gets his wages, hez nowt ti tempt him ti spend them, an' be keeps bis money in his pocket. Its a rare pl'yas for yan's hilth, te, for yan nivver wants a doctor."
Here the train stopped at Middleton, and the passengers alighted and dispersed. "Continuing the thoughts suggested by the above conversation," adds our informant, "I could not but believe that if, at the Summit, the workingman preserves his health (which is his capital), and saves his wages (which are the interest of his capital), he might find a very much worse place of abode.”

A snippet culled from the Mercury Times 1870

Monday, 9 December 2019


The Vikings had many stories to tell around the fireside. 

Vikings are associated with swords and axes, shields and spears. Maybe a bow and arrow. But the predominant weapon of myth and fable was the sword, often very old and with a personal name. 

Hand-made, they were expensive; a pattern-welded blade could be worth as much as £250,000 in our terms if the hilt furniture was jewelled or finished in precious metal. 

Skofnung was made for King Hrolf Kraki of Denmark . Not only did the sword have mystcal powers but had a life stone which was said to offer healing powers to those the sword had injured. When Hrolf died, Skofnung was buried with him inside the mound at Roskilde.

Two hundred years later, Skeggi of Vlidfirtlz in Iceland broke into the mound and removed a good deal of treasure, including Skofnung. In the dry and air-tight burial chamber, Skofnung was clean, bright and covered in dried lanolin. With that cleaned off, it was as good as the day it was made.

A warrior called Kormac faced a duel with Bersi, a professional duellist, and decided his sword wasn’t up to the mark, for Bersi had a sword called Hviting, which had its own life-stone and Kormac’s did not; also, the blade bent after a few hard strokes. Kormac’s mother suggested he’d better see if he could borrow Skofnung from Skeggi. Kormac did so, and Skeggi refused to lend his sword.

On his mother’s insistence he tried again, and this time Skeggi agreed, but gave Kormac lots of instructions about using the sword. No woman could look upon it, the sun should not be allowed to shine on it for too long and he must breathe on the blade as he withdraw the sword from the bag which protected it. Breathing on the blade would allow the luck of the sword to swim out into the pattern and if luck was with him Kormac would see the snake moving in the fuller.

Kormac wasn’t impressed and laughed. When he took Skofnung home he wanted to show it to his mother but could not remove the protective bag. When Kormac tore off the bag, Skofnung howled. It refused to leave the bag and howled even louder when Kormac put his foot on the bag and dragged out the sword. The snake vanished into the hilt.

At this Skeggi reclaimed his sword and in time handed it on to his son Eid, who then loaned it to a man called Thekrell and to his son Gellir, who died at Roskilde. No doubt Skofnung was buried with him, very close to the mound from which it had originally been plundered, for no more was ever heard of Skofnung.

Lesser known weapons, but probably more likely to be owned and used every day, were the various shapes and sizes of saex common to the Viking age. A langsaex, as the name suggests, had a blade a good deal longer that the shorter and more common scramsaex which came in all shapes and sizes from a common eating knifr to a blade inscribed with runes and inserted into a patterned hilt. Such weapons have their own history, and Skofnung even has an island, Skofnungsey, named after it. I almost used the masculine pronoun for him in that last sentence…

Friday, 6 December 2019

A Viking Christmas

Celebrating the Christmas Season? 

Have you ever considered that much of what you do was also done by Norse warriors? 


You don’t believe me? Well, let's think about it! 

We tell young children that Father Christmas lives in the North Pole, don’t we? Vikings were known bythe rest of the world as those marauding devils "The Northmen" at that time. Most of Scandinavia, where the Vikings originated from,  is situated above the Arctic Circle.  Thinking of those bleak regions of midnight sun, icy cold  and the weird and beautiful green lights in the winter sky, we can understand why the Vikings thought it to be the “lands of the gods” where Odin the Allfather lived. They named that special place Asgard. 

Odin was also known as Woden, which we remember in the word we use quite a lot -  Wednesday. Christmas Day is on a Wednesday this year.

Vikings believed that on the longest night in the dead of winter Odin led the "Wild Hunt" through the sky, leading his hounds in search of lost souls. Imagine him if you can: the blue-hooded and cloaked, white-bearded Giftbringer of the North on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, crossing the midwinter sky to visit his people with gifts. I don't think I am the only person who will immediately think of Father Christmas encouraging his eight reindeer through the night sky on Christmas Eve.
Over time Odin melded with Father Christmas, then Santa Claus, St Nicholas and the Christchild. Now he is Christmas.

Yule was the original name for the midwinter festival enjoyed by ancient peoples in the northern hemisphere . It predates the Christian traditions by thousands of years in Scandinavia, marking the “rebirth” of the dying sun. People celebrated as they do now, by feasting and drinking, playing games and indoor sports to while away the time until Spring and good weather arrived once more.

The Feast of Yule lasted twelve days. Kind of ties in with our modern twelve days of Christmas, doesn't it? The Vikings honoured their Gods with feasting and religious rituals, one of which meant a sad end for a wild boar; he was offered to the god Frey of fertility and farming to ensure future productivity. The poor animal was prepared, cooked, and eaten. If your house is like mine, there is often a shoulder of pork roasted at Christmas because everyone loves crackling. No one ever thinks it is a link to the Vikings. A feast was a time when the men of early societies gathered together to hunt something large in order to feed everyone. Chances are that boar and venison where the top choices. 

Everyone has heard of the Yule log, though today it is only a chocolate dessert unless you live in a very grand mansion. Originally men went out into the forest, a dangerous undertaking in the snowy midwinter, and selected an oak log, which was decorated with runes and carvings; a sort of prayer of protection against misfortune. Everyone took  a charred piece home from the fire pit in the knowledge that  their hearth would be protected too.

You know the holly wreath you made to decorate your front door? Vikings created a giant Sunwheel which looked a lot like a Christmas wreath only much bigger. Days without sunshine were so miserable they built a Sunwheel, set it alight and rolled it down the nearest hill to attract the Sun back into doing its job.  Once the days got longer and the sun returned, everyone was happy.

Then there’s the image of the Christmas tree, twinkling away in the corner of the room. Vikings and our Scandinavian ancestors believed the trees had spirits that would leave during the winter months, so they decorated evergreen trees with food, statues of their gods, carved good luck runes, and clothes – anything they thought might entice the spirits of the tree to return the following spring.

I didn’t know Balder the god of light and goodness was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe, or that Frigga cried over her son's body; when her tears fell on the red berries they turned white and Baldur was resurrected. The Vikings believed mistletoe had the power to resurrect people; possibly our ancestors believed it too, because of the echoes of Christ’s resurrection,
which is why we still use it today in our Christmas traditions.

Worship of Odin and his companion gods spread from Scandinavian lands to the shores of the Mediterranean and to the North Sea basin. Franks and Frisians, Angles, Saxons and Jutes settled Britain, along with the Norse and naturally they brought their beliefs and customs with them. What is amazing is how these beliefs have survived and entwined themselves into our modern day traditions.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Keep it Simple!

In case I don't say it again this year, Happy Christmas!

Now, if you don't celebrate Christmas, I don't want to know. Simply substitute the word or phrase that suits you and yours, and I wish you all the good things that come with it.

Today I've spent time making a Christmas wreath, which is now hanging on my front door. It is done the old-fashioned way with a  wire ring and a moss "sausage" into which I have pushed  bits of fir and eucalyptus, the odd bit of holly.

I will not be decorating my house with a million twinkling lights as so many do. I am heeding the Save Energy command. Christmas must be a huge drain on the energy resources of the world. Not only the lights on houses, trees, shop windows, town centres, the leaflets that hurtle through my letterbox wanting me to buy more, more, more. The cooking that goes on over Christmas, the petrol used in rushing from shop to shop to buy more before Christmas. In one household itdoesn't seem much, but multiply that by the number of households world wide and the result must be staggering. (My maths is not up to the task!)

Keep it simple. Make a wreath and try not to savage the holly bush and the fir tree as you do it. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2019


My new historical romance is released on Amazon Kindle today!

Here's the link :

VIKING BRIDE is set in the Hebridean island of Lewis sometime around AD1040. It begins with the news that a marriage has been arranged that will break the hearts of two young people and force others into rash actions that have unsuspected consequences. There's lots of action and excitement as well for those who like a little more than a love story. 

Here’s the blurb ~
It was a marriage no one wanted, least of all the bride. 

She knew the groom loved someone else. But how would you avoid a forced marriage? Arrange a swift abduction? An accident? What happens when a third party takes a hand in the game and changes everything?

When chieftain Ragnar and his friend Grettir force the marriage on their offspring they have no idea of the powerful feelings they will unleash, nor the dreadful consequences that will follow. Set in the Hebrides in the eleventh century, it's  a time when  Christianity was taking hold in Viking communities slowly settling down as farmers and neighbours, but the old familiar gods had not quite been forgotten.

And heres's the cover: 

In AD 1040 MacBeth was High King of Alba and the Vikings were settling down in various parts of Scotland as neighbours and farmers. Emerging facts about the Vikings over the last few years would have us see them as less than rampaging warriors anxious to lop off heads, and more as settled neighbours; but I think they would still be a dominant force in any area they chose to settle and very dangerous to those who dared to argue with them. Among themselves, I am sure they were as happy, miserable, compassionate, cruel, cynical, greedy, envious and bloody-minded as people everywhere can be today. How they managed to blend in with the local populations makes a fascinating story. 

Northumberland nudges the border with Scotland and shares a good deal of its history. Ullapool is almost as close as London, and most of my holidays (apart from going to France in latter years) have been spent north of the border, including several in the Hebrides. I bicycled through the Uists one year when I was a good deal fitter than I am now, stayed in an old farmhouse in Arnol another year and various B&Bs throughout the islands later still. Got caught in a rainstorm on a gorgeous beach opposite Scarp and I can tell you it was a long, wet walk back to Hushinish!

I can’t say why I’ve always been interested in Scottish history, except that it began when I was about twelve with a book about ~ as you might guess ~ Mary Stewart. There is something in the air and the landscape of the west coast and the islands that resonates with me. A lady from Scotland turned up in my mother’s family tree about four generations back, but I really cannot blame it all on her! The land and the history simply proved more attractive to me than England and all those kings named Henry.

I have a degree in English and worked in academic libraries in the north east of England until retirement a few years ago. That’s when I began writing seriously and there are now twelve novels with my name on them – all historicals bar one. I hope you will enjoy my latest story and in the hope that you will, here are the links to follow: 

My Facebook Author page: @JenBlackauthor 
My books are listed on Amazon Author Central:
My blog is I would be delighted to see you at any or all of them!

Friday, 22 November 2019

NaNoWriMo, I believe.

It is November.

 Lots of people are tapping away at their computer to take part in the Write a Novel in a Month competition. I think it results in a drop in posts on social media, and a drop in stats on my blog. Everybody else's blog too, I suspect. (I wonder if this makes it a bad month to bring out a new novel?)

I have never tried to do the 50,000 words in a month and I don't think I ever shall. For me it would require so much editing afterwards that it would be more time consuming than usual.

Now that I have finished Viking Bride  - and I have - both Kindle,  published on 27th of this month and - cross my fingers and hope the  proof looks all right when it arrives - the paperback, which might be a week or so later, I can take a deep breath and look around me.

I must do some PR work. It is so easy to forget, but it must be done. Otherwise no one knows I exist, and even less do they know my books exist. So in between dodging the rain during this miserable, flooded-fields November and washing Tim's paws every time we come back from a walk, I shall be busy exploring new ways of getting myself known. It has been a quiet month, with DH in Australia; just me and Tim.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

It was a marriage no one wanted

Here’s the blurb:
It was a marriage no one wanted.
Least of all the Borgunna and Asgeir.
When chieftain Ragnar and his friend Grettir force the marriage on their offspring they had no idea of the powerful feelings they would unleash, nor the dreadful consequences that would follow. Set in the Hebrides in the eleventh century, when Christianity was taking hold in Viking communities settling down as farmers and neighbours, the old familiar gods had not quite been forgotten.
If any of you read Far After Gold then you will recognise Flane ~ he re-appears in this story as wedding guest and distant cousin of chieftain Ragnar.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

We're getting close now!

Latest story is very close to publication.

I'm wondering if I should name a date and put it up for pre-order. I gather that is the accepted thing to do. Putting a deadline on it worries me!

The title is VIKING BRIDE, not  Viking Wedding as I earlier planned. I have yet to do all the fiddly bits - blurb,  tagline, categories and keywords. This story was originally intended for publication on my birthday  at the end of October, so perhaps I'll make it the end of November instead. Just in time for Christmas!

The cover is here - I hope you like it.  Believe me, a lot of effort has gone in to it!