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!

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Lynn Bryant's new book

I don't often do Guest Posts, but I'm making an exception today for a writing colleague whose books I admire. (To celebrate her new publication, Lynnn is making the first book, An Unwilling Alliance available from 1st to 5th November 2019 FREE on Amazon here. Don't miss this opportunity!)

This Blighted Expedition is set during the disastrous Walcheren Campaign of 1809, where the largest British operation of the war, consisting of 40,000 men and around 600 ships fell apart due to a combination of poor planning, poor leadership, bad weather and an epidemic of ‘Walcheren fever’ which killed more than 4,000 men and left another 12,000 still sick by February 1810. It’s the second book in the Manxman series, which began with An Unwilling Alliance and is told from the point of view of six characters. 

Three of them are from the first book, including Captain Hugh Kelly, who is the Manxman of the title, his wife Roseen and his first officer, Lieutenant Alfred Durrell. There are two army men, Giles Fenwick, who later appears in the Peninsular War Saga and Ross Mackenzie, a new character and there is also a Dutchwoman, Katja de Groot. All the characters bring something different to the story, but if I had to make a choice, I would unhesitatingly say that this book belongs to Durrell.

Durrell is twenty-five at the start of this book, and has been in the navy since he was a boy. He comes from a family of minor gentry in Kent. Durrell’s father was not wealthy but was fortunate enough to have the patronage of the first Earl of Chatham and then later, after the Earl’s death, of his two sons, the second Earl and William Pitt, the prime minister.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, patronage was king. Put in it’s simplest terms, political patronage is the appointment of a man to a government post on the basis of partisan loyalty. In the days before Parliamentary reform, when many boroughs were controlled by a local landowner, this could also mean the gift of a seat in the House to a man whose duty it then was to support his patron’s interests.

Durrell’s father had enjoyed the patronage of the Pitt family right from the start of his career. He felt an immense sense of loyalty to the family, and held several different posts under the old Earl and then his sons, ending up working at the Admiralty when the second Earl of Chatham was First Lord of the Admiralty.

Both Henry and Alfred Durrell were helped in the early stages of their career by the Pitt interest. The two brothers went to Harrow, but while Henry fitted in well and enjoyed his schooldays, Alfred was unhappy and it was decided that he should go into the navy. He began his navy career as an ‘officers’ servant’ and worked his way up to midshipman and then to lieutenant. It was necessary to take an examination to become a lieutenant, and we are told had Durrell passed his with ridiculously high marks. From there, he held junior lieutenants posts on several different ships before obtaining the post of first lieutenant aboard the Iris in 1806. He was young for the post, and Hugh Kelly offered it to him on the basis of a letter of recommendation from the Earl of Chatham.

Durrell’s relationship with Kelly is one of the pleasures of writing these books. In the early stages, it seems very unlikely that the two men can be friends. They come from very different backgrounds and have very different personalities. Kelly is Manx, his father held a smallholding near South Barrule and drank himself to death after his landlord evicted him for failing to keep the land in good order. Kelly joined the navy as a volunteer, and worked his way up through the ranks without patronage or privilege to help him. He gained his education through the navy and although these days he is very comfortable mixing with all social classes, he’s aware that some people will always see him as a Manx farm boy.

Durrell, in contrast, comes from a good family who mix in the highest circles. He and his brother were presented at court and he has maintained links with the Pitt family. Despite this, he lacks Kelly’s social confidence. He is tall and slim, with the sense that he never knows what to do with his long limbs. We know nothing about his relationships with women, except that his brother teases him about his lack of experience. Durrell likes rules and regulations and has a strong sense of duty and a very good work ethic. He is also brilliant, with a phenomenal memory but in his early days with Hugh, he has no idea when to shut up and his lengthy speeches make Hugh want to thump him.
In An Unwilling Alliance, we see Durrell and Hugh getting to know each other and learning to work together. It isn’t easy, and there are times when Hugh wonders if he made a mistake in his choice, but gradually we see the ice thawing and by the time we meet Durrell at the beginning of This Blighted Expedition, Hugh knows his value and is furious when Sir Home Popham manages to get Durrell seconded to him for the duration of the campaign.

Durrell has a very good relationship with Roseen, Hugh’s young wife. They are fairly close in age, although Roseen is often quite maternal towards him, which makes Hugh laugh. Despite Durrell’s shyness around women, he has a younger sister at home, and once he gets to know Roseen, they develop a close friendship which probably helped to smooth out some of the early difficulties between Hugh and Durrell.

Durrell is a serious-minded young man and feels immense loyalty to the Earl of Chatham, the rather ineffectual commander of the army in Walcheren. There is a sense of mutual liking and even affection between them although the relationship is always very formal; Durrell understands the rules of patronage and theirs is not an equal relationship.

During this book, Durrell is away from the Iris for much of the time, acting as aide-de-camp to Sir Home Popham. Popham and Durrell met in the first book and their relationship is very complicated. Durrell has huge admiration for Popham’s abilities and is keen to learn from him, but he does not trust him and feels uncomfortable about serving under him.

While Durrell was working his way up the ranks of the navy, his elder brother Henry was appointed to a series of government posts through the Pitt interest, very much as his father was. Unlike his father, Henry is not content with this. He is ambitious and unscrupulous and Durrell quickly realises that there is more to Henry’s appointment to Lord Chatham’s staff during the campaign than meets the eye. In addition, Henry is paying court to Miss Collingwood, the very young daughter of a City merchant and Durrell does not trust his brother’s intentions towards her. As the campaign begins to fall apart, the relationship between Durrell and Henry begins to crumble, revealing tensions that began in boyhood.

A friend who has read This Blighted Expedition, told me that she loved this book because in this campaign, the typical hero-types don’t get much opportunity to be heroic. Instead, the real hero of this book is First Lieutenant Alfred Durrell; awkward, earnest and brilliant. This book is Durrell’s coming-of-age. Durrell started out as a somewhat comic foil to Hugh Kelly and proceeded to steal every scene I’ve ever written him into. I hope my readers come to love him as much as I do.

This Blighted Expedition is available on Amazon kindle here and will be out in paperback by the end of November. To celebrate publication, the first book, An Unwilling Alliance is available from 1st to 5th November 2019 FREE on Amazon here.

In the meantime, I am about to embark on book six of the Peninsular War Saga. It’s called An Unrelenting Enmity and to give myself a kick start with the writing process, I am attempting NaNaWriMo for the first time ever. To follow my progress why not join me on my blog over at Writing with Labradors, or on Facebook or Twitter?

Monday, 28 October 2019

Things we see every day are invisible

Romans called it Pons Aelius.

Newcastle has been its name since the Norman conquest of England. I suppose it is my city, since I was born there, though I lived in Durham city from leaving Princes Mary’s until I was seven years old.

In or about AD 120, the Romans built the first bridge to cross the River Tyne. Aelius was the family name of Emperor Hadrian who built a wall across northern England along the Tyne–Solway gap. His wall runs through present-day Newcastle; stretches of wall and turrets exist along the West Road, and various other bits can still be found: a temple in Benwell, a milecastle on Westgate Road, midway between Clayton Street and Grainger Street. The course of the wall corresponded to present day Westgate Road. It runs eastwards to the Segedunum Roman fort at Wallsend, with the fort Arbeia further down river, on the south bank in what is now South Shields.

The Tyne was then a wider, shallower river and the bridge was probably about 700 feet (210m) long, made of wood and supported on stone piers. Probably sited near the current Swing Bridge since Roman artefacts were found there during its building.
A shrine was set up on the completed bridge in AD123 by the VIth Legion, with two altars to Neptune and Oceanus respectively. The two altars were subsequently found in the river and are on display in a local museum.

A stone-walled fort stood on a rocky outcrop overlooking the new bridge, (where the present Castle Keep stands) to protect the river crossing at the foot of the Tyne Gorge.
It is believed that there was a Roman cemetery Near Clavering Place, behind the Central station, for a number of Roman coffins have been unearthed there. A small vicus, or village, would likely have grown around the fort but nothing beyond a few pieces of flagging have been found.
The Angles arrived in the North-East of England in about AD 500 perhaps landing on the Tyne though there is no evidence of an Anglo-Saxon settlement on or near the site of Pons Aelius.
At that time the region was dominated by  Bernicia, north of the Tees and ruled from Bamburgh, and Deira, south of the Tees and ruled from York. Bernicia and Deira combined to form the kingdom of Northanhymbra (Northumbria) early in the 7th century.

Three local kings held the title of BretwaldaEdwin of Deira(627–632), 
Oswald of Bernicia (633–641) 
and Oswy of Northumbria (641–658). 

The 7th century became known as the 'Golden Age of Northumbria', when the area was a beacon of culture and learning in Europe. The greatness of this period was based on its generally Christian culture and gave birth to the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Tyne valley was dotted with monasteries, with those at Monkwearmouth, Hexham and Jarrow being the most famous. Bede, based at Jarrow, wrote of a royal estate, known as Ad Murum, 'at the Wall', 12 miles (19km) from the sea. This estate may have been in what is now Newcastle.

At some unknown time, Newcastle came to be known as Monkchester though nothing is known of  specific monasteries at the site, and Bede made no reference to it. In 875 Halfdan Ragnarsson, the Danish Viking conqueror of York, led an army that attacked and pillaged various monasteries in the area, and it is thought that Monkchester was pillaged at this time. Little more was heard of it until the coming of the Normans.

Friday, 18 October 2019

What is a Structural Edit?

I gather what I've been doing in the last few weeks is called Structural Editing 

Untidy but colourful
Some call it Developmental Editing or even Substantive Editing) It has, and is, in my case, taking a long time. 

I console myself with the thought that it is expensive and that many publishers will no longer accept books that need such work. Which automatically means that it is often beyond the budget of a self-publisher.

I have different personalities when it comes to this argument of hiring editors and having  them "improve" your book. Part of me thinks the whole thing should be my work. Other parts of me think how wonderful  it would be to have someone make these suggestions. I have not yet decided which is my true feeling!

A structural edit isn't beyond the means of a self-published author. It means getting the first two or three drafts done to completion and then leaving it alone for a while. Then go back get out your critical spectacles and look at the whole thing as a reader would. Is the story good, first and foremost? Then does it make sense? Is it believable and satisfying?

At this stage I rearranged one or two scenes to make the sequence flow better. One I brought forward, another I took back; I think I even deleted one totally.

Does your book have themes? Since in this book I'm writing historical romance set in the eleventh century, my themes are the themes of the time. They're very differnet to my Regency and Victorian romances.
Then I look at the characters. Are they differentiated from one another? Do they grow and change, or remain static? Have I described them adequately for the reader?

POV sometimes wanders, so I keep an eye on that. Sometimes I change a secene's POV.

Pace is important. Any section that drags for me will drag for the reader. I change it or delete it so that there is (hopefully!) a slow-build up of tension. Pace and flow often run together, so I'm on the look-out for repetition, contradictory plot points, dead-end conversations and unnecessary backstory. Occasionally I've had to include a missing plot-point or a fact that was needed to allowor avoid  something further down the line.

Dialogue is important and needs to be succinct, minus clutter (ie adverbs, adjectives) and still take the plot forward. I like humour in my dialogue when I can get it, too. 

Finally I'd add Voice. Different books, different plots, different characters all require a voice that is  unique to them. I spend some time considering my POV character's tone of voice, how s/he sees life and try and get this into their thoughts and dialogue.

If you are happy with your story after all that, then perhaps you've just completed a Structural Edit


Friday, 11 October 2019

Wonderful Northern Castles

We're not short of castles in the north of England.

This is Carlisle, about 60 miles west of Newcastle and virtually the capital of the Borderlands during the three centuries of the Border Reivers.

It is first and foremost a defensive castle to hold back raids and armies from Scotland. It sits almost on the border line and many a Scots prisoner was brought to Carlisle's dungeons.

There are fascinating wall carvings where Tudor prisoners prisoners whiled away their time leaving their names and insignia for all to see. The castle featured as the headquarters of Sir Thomas Wharton in my book Abduction of the Scots Queen and as I wrote I had so many pictures of the castle in my mind from the huge portcullis to the tiny little snickert door cut into the larger one.

I am now wondering if I have misremembered the term snickert as I cannot find it in the etymological dictionary. I don't mean a postern gate; that is something quite different. If anyone can confirm or deny, please do! This is now going to worry me until I find the right answer!

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

If you are interested in Gibside, then try this link:

It tells of the estate and the disastrous marriage that ruined it.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Wet Weather Walk

Yesterday we took Tim for a walk at Gibside, a National Trust estate once owned by the Bowes-Lyon family.

Their money was made on coal, mined from the surrounding landscape. The long flat stretch from the chapel to where the road curves round in front of the house and the dip down the hillside is where the racehorses were exercised.

The weather was dismal but meant we had the place to ourselves. Away in the distance we saw the clutch of pre-school children doggedly scrambling after their leader through the sudden downpour which didn't seem to dampen their spirits at all.

The low cloud base meant that the column of Liberty can barely be seen at the far end of the long drive, but perhaps if you click on the pic, you'll spot it on the larger version!

Sunday, 29 September 2019

A Downton Binge

Season of mists indeed.
Can't help myself. I've been on a Downton binge lately. Here in the UK we've been watching a re-run of the whole series. I caught up to the fact by the episode where Sybil and Tom confront the family and watched all of it from there on to the very end - which I hadnever seen first time around. Then a friend and I went to see the new film the week it came out. This morning I've decided to purchase the original script as there is no novel version.  I'm very much  curious about the Edwardian period, so much so that  it could feature as the setting for my next historical romance!

As for the film, I feel it was  done because the tv series was so popular. Nothing wrong in that, but there was little of the plot that structured each episode for tv. Every character was given consideration and a chance to play their part, so in that sense, it was good, but added little to their character arc.

Only Barrow had moved on, accepting what he was and making the best of it. It was good to hear Dowager Lady Grantham spouting her acerbic lines again, to see Mary and Edith being less bitchy with each other and Tom finally getting romantically interested again. Seeing how well he dresses it occurred to me that he must have inherited whatever money Sybil had, which gives him the independence he so badly needed. All in all, an enjoyable evening watching  characters doing what they do best.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

How to Write a Best Seller

Back in October 2014, Alison Feeney gleaned the following top tips after talking to Sophie Kinsella. Does this advice still stand, and how well?

  1. First, she advises carrying a notebook. Jot down anything that catches your interest. It may become your next novel! This should become a habit.
  2. Work with “What if” ~ if you can sense the grain of a story, work on it!
  3. Read, read, read. It’s vital if you want to be a writer
  4. Don’t write to please someone else. Write something that will please you.
  5. It’s a bad idea to talk about what you are writing. Writers can be easily put off by a raised eyebrow or a chance remark and lose confidence in their idea. The minute you put your work out there and ask for opinions, it will just get in the way of your creativity.
  6. Finding your voice is sometimes the hardest thing. There may be a few false starts, a few steps down an avenue that is not the right one for you but carry on. Let others worry about what genre it is when your story is complete.
  7. Every author gets bored with their work, usually around the middle of the book. Everyone reaches a block of some kind – a plot hole or a scene that makes you cringe, but you’ve got to get to the end. The first draft may be rubbish, but it can be improved; a blank page or screen will get you nowhere. For me, going for a walk, with the dog often results in problems disappearing. Change of scene, fresh air, exercise, whatever it is, if it works for you, use it. (Sad to say, but alcohol does nothing for me in this instance!)

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Author incomes tumble

The Authors Guild suggested that Amazon’s dominance is partly responsible for loss of earnings for US authors. 

Amazon says the findings are flawed.

The report was published in  early 2019, but I never saw it at the time, which is why it is interesting now when I have been looking at my own stats.  On the whole I made more sales prior to 2014 than I do now. One thing the report does not consider is the vast number of books that are now self-published. One report I read stated over 7,000 a day! 

The Authors Guild said the median writing income in 2017 fell 42% from 2009 and pointed out the growing dominance of Amazon as a reason for this. The company now controls 72% of the online book market in the US and keeps costs down and takes a large percentage, plus marketing fees, forcing publishers to pass on their losses to authors.

Amazon disagrees and points out significant differences between the data it compared in its recent survey and years prior, with many of the survey’s conclusions flawed or contradictory. It claims earnings increased almost 17% for traditionally published authors and 89% for self-published authors, and that full-time authors saw their median income rise 13% since 2013.

Read the full report by Alison Flood

Friday, 6 September 2019

Are you an Indie?

Not long ago being an Indie author meant paying to get your books printed and shipped to you, and then selling them, one by one, as best you could in your local area. Waterstones would look down their nose at your slim little volume and local libraries would take one grudgingly, flick through it and say “Oh, but it’s such small print.”
Then the ebook and Kindle appeared on the scene and everything changed except the work - the hours, days, weeks and months of research, writing, editing, and re-editing to get a manuscript ready for publication – that hasn’t changed at all.
But everything else has and is still changing. An indie author now needs to market and sell their books in a very different way.
An ebook can be transmitted, in an instant, anywhere in the world. But to make this work, you must be online, with internet, blog, website, and a working knowledge of social media. You also need to be alert to the constant changes in this world.
Never heard of metadata? You need to check this site: an expert at writing metadata. Make sure you know about keywords and categories. Decide if you are sticking with Amazon and ignoring every other selling channel, or if you want to sell through other outlets as well.
Then there’s the question of designing a cover yourself or paying someone to do it. Some people believe you must pay for editing not once but twice and sometimes three times. By the time you have paid out all this money, it is doubtful if you will ever get that money back in royalties.

Then there is advertising. Such a tricky business many authors are signing wannabe authors up to expensive courses on how to achieve success with online ads. Teaching people to write has become a college, university and freelance opportunity - and an expensive one at that. How many people can afford £20k for a university course to teach someone to write a novel? 

Not I. I'll just soldier on, learning by doing it the hard way. By trial and error. Doing something and seeing if it works. Discarding it if it does not. It keeps me out of trouble. If I were twenty something and craving a career as a successful author, all thee expensive routes might be worth taking, but I'm not, so it isn't. Oh, and by te way, have you noticed I now have an author page? Jen Black's Author page should find me.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

DG and That man in a Kilt

Way back in 2000 Diana Gabaldon wrote the following:

I have a lot of friends – published and unpublished – who just can’t write without a fully worked-out outline. But there are an equal number who start work with only the roughest of notes, or with no outline at all (me for instance.)

The thing is, writing is the only important thing; it doesn’t matter how you write; nobody can tell, looking at the finished book, whether you had an outline or not, and who cares? If it’s helpful to you, that’s one thing – but sometimes an outline may seem as though it’s holding you back and preventing you from writing at all.

Look – a book is a very organic thing. It grows and changes, as you write it. It doesn’t matter how detailed your outline is, once you’ve started writing, you’ll see things you never thought of, your characters will begin to talk to you (if you’re lucky they’ll take over and tell parts of the story to you), and the whole thing will take on a life of its own. As you work – or after you have a complete entity, at least in rough draft – then you’ll have enough feel for it to make decisions about what to cut, what to keep, what to expand.

I’m not saying this works for everybody, but I started my first novel – for practice, I never meant to show it to anybody – with no outline, no plot, no characters, even; all I had was a time and place, and a vague notion that there should be a man in a kilt.

I just started in where I could sort of see something happening, and wrote. The next day I wrote some more. Then I couldn’t see any more happening there, so I wrote something else that I could see. I kept this, and as I wrote tons of these little pieces, I got a sort of feel for the overall shape of the story, and could start to stick the pieces together and move them around.

I wonder if DG has ever regretted having that man in a kilt peer up at Claire standing in a lighted window?

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Do you check your stats?

Someone asked me if Banners of Alba was my most popular book and I replied that I didn't know but I would check.
Well, I've spent most of the day checking stats on KDP and decided there is not a simple answer though there are strong indications.
If I go by number sold, then Far After Gold is my bestseller, followed by Fair Border Bride.
If I go by greatest KENP Read then it is The Craigsmuir Affair followed by The Gavington Affair and then Far After Gold.
If I check which title I gave away free most then it is Fair Border Bride followed by Shadows.
An interesting exercise. My records for some titles go back to 2011 and so there have been many difference in the way Amazon does its counting and payment in the years between then and now. FAG and FBB go back to 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Judging by the smell in the air these last two days the local farmers may be muck spreading, so the pristine beauty of the fields may be gone by the time I walk there. These things don't last long - you have to be quick to catch them - thinking of the picture rather than the muck spreading!

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Really, Amazon?

It is claimed that 25.5 million US households bought books in the past month, and fully a quarter of those used Amazon’s Prime Reading, which allows subscribers to borrow 10 items at a time from a vast 1,000 item catalogue.

Kindle Unlimited, a similar program, costs an extra $9.99 and offers a wider selection of millions of titles. Amazon First Reads allows members to download a book a month earlier than the unsubscribed public for no extra cost. Often, First Reads are Amazon Publishing titles, and they rocket up the Amazon best-seller charts as soon as they’re made available. Titles topped the charts in early July despite being due out August 1. (I did not know that First Reads exsted!)

And then there’s Amazon’s 19 brick-and-mortar stores around the country, ( he journalist is talking about America) which sell print copies of Amazon Publishing titles, produced via a sophisticated print-on-demand operation. All told, these services overlap to create an ecosystem with the same aim and model as Prime: to lock customers into a regular subscription that binds them to Amazon. The company’s then pushes its own titles to subscribers to keep them happy with their membership.

Amazon Publishing puts out 1,100 titles a year, compared with the 1,500 to 2,000 a large publishing house such as Simon & Schuster might publish. Estimating sales for those 1,100 titles is difficult because Amazon  keeps the info to itself.

Grace Doyle, an Amazon editor, says the subsidiary looks at three things when measuring the success of a title: the book’s sales, the number of people who read it, and whether the company can expect more books from that author. Her goal was to maintain partnerships with authors for as long as possible, which often results in publishing series, especially for the thrillers and mysteries that do so well with ebook readers.
“Amazon readers are voracious readers of genre fiction.” Fans of romances and thrillers race through books quickly.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that Amazon is taking an interest in courting household names. The chart-topping thriller writer Dean Koontz unveiled a five-book deal with Thomas & Mercer in late July.

If you would like to read the lengthy article for the full picture, go to BLAKE MONTGOMERY  He is a journalist and fiction writer living in San Francisco. He reports on technology and Silicon Valley for The Daily Beast.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Time to get out the red pen

I once read an article on editing by Robert Doran and thought it useful, so I kept it. Right now, it should be  a very good reminder for me as I near the last chapters of my wip, so here are his tips:

· Plot: First of all and most important - Does the plot make sense? Is it believable and satisfying?

· Themes: Are there so many that the book lacks focus? Do they interfere with the plot ?

· Characterisation: Are your characters well developed and entertaining?

· Point of view/voice: Am I using too many POVs? Count them! (You may be surprised!)

· Pace: Is the pace pleasing? Does it need jazzing up or slowing down?

· Dialogue: Do your characters sound real when they speak? Do they a- horrors of horrors - all sound the same?

· Flow: Does back story dwarfe the main plot? Is there enough back story for reader understanding? Have I missed any great plot points?