Thursday, 9 April 2020

Going free

FREE today ~ The Matfen Affair

Doing my bit to ease the lockdown situation I'm making one of my titles free for a little while as from today. Others will follow in due course.

So why not hop over to





and grab a copy while you can?


My word, where to start?
This novel is concerned with little more than marriage. It takes place over the space of a few days as a family is drawn together for a wedding. And little else is on the minds of the guests. But there is a ghost story that is seamlessly blended into the plot and adds a delightful frisson of mystery and danger.
This is pure Austen. A family who want to marry off their youngsters, and that is pretty much the main theme of this novel yet as simplistic as that sounds, it does it perfectly. Even if the ghost story were taken out completely, this tale would still work perfectly. It would still be as readable, it would still flow as smoothly and with the same surprising pace. 
This is an absolute gem of a novel, a delight, one of the best Regency Romances I have ever read. I could not put this down. I read it in a handful of hours and resented the time I had to leave it alone.
As a classic Regency Romance, this is a must if you like the genre. I can't praise it highly enough.
© Nicky Galliers


Sunday, 5 April 2020

Embalming medieval style


Honey bees live through the winter as a colony, unlike wasps and bumblebees. 

They don’t hibernate but stay active and cluster together to stay warm, which requires a lot of food.   Bees have been collecting and  storing honey during the summer in the UK for something like one hundred and fifty million years. They need 20-30 lb of honey  to get the through an average winter.
In a good season, an average hive will produce around 25 lb (11 kg) surplus honey. It takes a huge amount of work, for the bees fly 55,000 miles to make one pound of honey. Romans valued it so much they paid taxes in it, and Neolithic farmers stole it from the bees when they could.
Bees collect the sweet sticky nectar from flowers, mix it with enzymes from glands in their mouths and then store it in honeycombs – the hexagonal openings  we are familiar with - until the water content has been reduced to around 17%. Then the bees seal it with a thin layer of wax until they want to use it. Once capped, the honey will keep indefinitely. Honeycomb found in the tombs of the pharaohs was still edible after three thousand years.
Melissopalynology is an established science that allows researchers to study the landscape and its vegetation over millions of years by analysing pollen extracted from soil samples. It is also useful in modern day analysis of soil samples in criminal cases or predicting hay fever levels.
I once listened to a lecture at a conference which I must admit I now remember imperfectly, but the gist of it was that a coffin from medieval days was opened a decade or two back in or around the locality of St Bees Head in present day Cumbria. Unusually, the coffin was sealed and unbroken. On opening, the archaeologists discovered the body had been embalmed in honey. The eyes were still “wet” but of course soon crumbled as air reached them as it did immediately the coffin was opened. 

I’m sure they will be a paper about this somewhere in some university library. I must remember to look it up and read it one day.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The long, hot summer


1911 was remembered as the year of the heat wave.
Summer temperatures climbed after May and hovered between 80F and reached 92F (33C) in King's Lynn in Norfolk breaking all previous records for East England. By the end of July the lack of rain and scorching sun resulted in a paucity of grass as pastures turned brown. Farmers were forced to raise the price of milk. By late July song birds were silent in the fields and lanes. In early August the health of England was faltering in the continuing heat.
The sun continued to burn down, and activity in meadow and field ceased. Water pumps and village wells ran dry. The relentless sunshine became oppressive. People crossed to the shady side of the street.
Sun-darkened skin was undesirable and acceptable only in the labouring class and sunburn was a serious hazard
On 11 September the average temperature suddenly dropped by 20 degrees and prospects of rain before long were expected
The Lady magazine was already devoting several pages to new autumn fashions, and sumptuous furs had arrived on the rails of the new department stores. The long, hot summer was over.
This is the background to my latest writing. Seen through the eyes of Ellen, an American dollar princess who finds herself in trouble because she seems unable to become pregnant – and there is a large estate dependent on there being an heir.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Knitting, anyone?

I don't think this is a response to the Corona virus, but I've taken up knitting again!

It's a skill we used to learn at school. I wore out the pair of socks I made in primary school and was very proud of them. I doubt I could turn a heel today, but you never know. Have just finished a sweater for DH and am now on a lemon yellow sweater for me. The pattern includes a christmas snowman, but I shall ignore that. Knitting again after so long made unacustomed muscles ache for a day or two, well a week, actually, but now I've got the stamina built up again, really enjoy knitting and don't want to stop. It is so much better than all those other bad habits I developed wnile watching tv!

It used to be cheaper to knit a sweater than buy one, which is why we all did it. Everyone, but everyone knitted in my youth. I'm still wearing Aran sweaters I kntted thirty years ago. They don't seem to age at all.

Now the opposite is true. I've had sweaters I bought  recently go thin and nasty in less than two years. I imagine that is because they are made abroad somewhere.

I'm glad to see a wool shop has opened recently in our small town in Northumberland. It began in very small premises and recently moved to larger premises, so I'm hoping it is here to stay. Everyone will get knitted presents now, just like in the old sit coms, so be warned!

Friday, 20 March 2020

HISTORICAL ROMANCE WRITING



How much description should go into a historical romance? Usually I start like this:

OK, I have my great premise
Then I focus on a time and a place for this story

NO, no, no. 

Let's re-think that. 

In historical fiction, the setting should be essential and the first thing I think about. 
If readers feel my story could have happened anywhere, at any time, then I’ve failed at the very first hurdle. The historical setting must come first. I need a story that could have taken place nowhere but the one place where it did happen.

Once we have a time and place sorted, how to describe it?

I aim to make it vivid, but I remind myself not to overdo it. Especially not to do description in huge chunks. Today’s readers are impatient creatures, and won't tolerate long descriptive paragraphs as they did in the past. 

So instead, I should drip-feed descriptions of the setting into my story.
I should keep descriptions short and powerful and use every sense I have. We smell and hear places as well as see them.  Some places have an atmosphere and sometimes it is peaceful and sometimes it is threatening. 

I should not forget to describe the social and cultural morals of the time. Gin Lane without the gin would just be inaccurate.

Use metaphors and similes where Ican but I must make them original. Clich├ęs are not what I want. If there is movement in the scene, that is better than a an unmoving one. If I can remember all this when I'm writing, then I should be well on the way to achieving my aim!



Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Can you build a character?


This is my little memo to self on How To Build a Character. Read at your peril!

What makes a character unique?

Observable qualities ~ This includes physical appearance, mannerisms, speech style, gestures, sexuality, age, IQ occupation, personality, attitudes, values, where and how she or he lives.

That’s the simple level. True character lurks behind this mask. Only time will tell if they are loyal, honest, loving or cold-hearted or even downright cruel, cowardly and weak.
How do we tell which they really are? True character shows in the actions and choices made at a time of dilemma or danger.

The key to character is Desire. What does the character want? Now, and in the future? Does the character even recognise this need?

Then there’s motivation. Why does the character need this thing? Can it be attributed to parental upbringing, culture and or genes?

Physical image and setting says much about a character, but could be a lie or a mask. Other characters may and probably do comment on them, but they might have a hidden motive for what they say. 

What the character says of himself may or may not be true.

The trick is not to muddle readers. Your character may be a guilt-ridden ambitious person but must be consistent in oth his guilt and his ambition. Focus on the main character and fit the rest around him – they must bring out his contradictions and his values, his sadness and his wit. Always assuming he has any. Your character may have other values.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

What's the stake?

Identify the primary value at stake in a story.

It's a good phrase, but does it mean anything?

The protagonist usually represents the positive side of this value and the antagonist the negative side.

Now, can one have a heroine who is both protagonist and antagonist? Would that make life interesting? I think it happens often enough in real life. When there is a problem, then the heroine struggles to solve the problem. In my current work, honesty is at stake. If a successful outcome means she must lie, or do something dishonest, then the two sides of her nature will argue with each other - or against each other - in the story.

How successful will it be for the readers?

I suppose that will depend on how good the exposition is - facts, info about  the character that is necessary for the reader to understand her motivation, for her story and desperation to be understood. The skill is to make it invisible and usually  the dreaded words Show dont Tell creep in at this point. The author should dramatize the exposition if possible. Look at it this way - the charachter knows their world, their history and themselves  - or we hope they do.  Let them use what they know  to get what they want. Think of self-knowledge as a gun and let them shoot it out. Reveal your character slowly; let unimportant facts come first, the most critical facts last.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

A first-class scene

Do you ever analyze a scene in a book?

There are several things that must contribute to this, but one of the most important is to
Define Conflict.  Who drives or motivates  the scene?  What does he want? Does he get it? if not, what stops him?  Can he change this?

Has the scene been well set? Do we (the reader) know  the value the character puts on the object he is trying to achieve? Will it change his life? Or merely make him more comfortable?  Is it worthy?

Throughout the scene keep checking what the character seems to be doing and what he is actually doing.

Note the closing of the scene. What has changed? There must be something that has changed.

The reader should be able to locate the turning point - where action becomes a reaction, and the shape or the pattern of events will change. 

It sounds easy enough. Now to go to my work in progress and check.....
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

My new hobby


They say, if you go back far enough, each one of us has a shared ancestor with every other person on earth. 
Scientists estimate that the most recent common ancestor of all humans, probably lived in either Egypt or Babylonia during the classical period. Evidently, we can all trace our ancestry back to this person.
Assuming an average generation time of 20 years, this means that we are all 120th cousins, descended from someone that was alive when the pyramids were already aging structures. (Many millions of other people living at that time also have living descendants, of course. The last common ancestor is simply the one who is an ancestor to all of us, in addition to our many other ancestors who are not common to everyone.)
Of course, within a given ethnic group, the most recent common ancestor will be much more recent than that, especially so within a limited geographical area with low ethnic diversity. Remember that, randomly, some people leave many descendants and others leave none. If you take a country like Scotland, Sweden, or Poland, you really don’t have to go back very far before you discover someone that is a shared common ancestor to the vast majority of living citizens. For example, in the lands of the former Mongolian empire, around 8% of the population are direct descendants of Genghis Kahn and that goes less than 800 years back. Even as far away as North America, around 0.5% of men carry the Y-chromosome of the great Kahn.
Many millions of Americans of Irish ancestry trace their families back to a specific county in Ireland, but the reality is that, if you’re Irish, you are related to all other Irish people and probably a lot more closely than you think.
In fact, everyone on earth with any trace of European ancestry probably has a shared ancestor who lived in the early Middle Ages. Charlemagne has been proposed as a possible candidate.
Family trees aren’t correct anyway
One thing that Ancestry.com won’t often tell you is that the genealogy that you discover may not be accurate anyway. Inferences have to be made when you are dealing with records that are hundreds of years old. There are many surnames and first names that are quite common. There is no way to be sure that the “Jacob Carter” that turns up in one record is the same “Jacob Carter” that shows up in another from fifteen years later, even in the same general area.
Then, as now, many families were on the move. An isolated census record containing only a name is nothing more than a low-resolution snapshot. There is no way to know how many links and associations that genealogy reveals are simply coincidence.
Furthermore, over the past two centuries, it was not uncommon for last names to be changed, misspelled, or misattributed. Records were frequently lost, recreated, or even forged. We think of our identities as relatively fixed now because we have traceable identification cards, birth certificates, and social security numbers from a very early age. But none of that existed until recently.
There is a long article, with an America slant, you may wish to read on this topic
:
Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., is a professor of molecular biology at John Jay College, of the City University of New York.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Finding the way forward


Next time I start a new book, this is what I’m going to do!
Finding the way

Open with a hook. It is the chance to grab the reader and show them the quality of my writing. Wonderful writing alone won’t do it, though; there must be something that makes the reader want to read on to see what happens next. How whoever it is will dig themselves out of this hole they’ve fallen into….

Next step is to introduce your main characters, their aspirations and goals, and their setting. Where are they? Sometimes these days when are they is as important as where!

Then there must be the inciting incident. Think of it as a fuse that sparks off your story. Sometimes along with this comes what authors like to call the Call to Adventure. It should at the very least be soon after your introductions. Get the protagonist involved in the story – whatever you make the character do will be a direct reaction to the inciting incident, ecen if their first reaction is to baulk and not answer it. 

The first move they make is the first plot point and marks the end of the beginning section of the novel. It also marks the beginning of the rest of the story. From then on there is usually a major escalation or a setback of some kind, which forces the protagonist into further action.

Think of it as a list:
INTRODUCTIONS
INCITING INCIDENT
CALL TO ADVENTURE
FIRST PLOT POINT

And you are on your way!

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Cheers!

Drunkenness was not uncommon in Anglo-Saxon England.

In the early medieval period people brewed with barley and wheat and the names beer and ale were applied to the drink. somewhat indiscriminately. If there was a difference between them it may have been that beer contained aromatic herbs while ale remained "pure."

By the 10th centry beer  described the  sweet new wort barely fermented. "Beor" was said to be honey-water (hydromel), a Greek name which in Latin translated as mead. Ale was the common name for malted liquor.

The Anglo-Saxons were great ale drinkers, with an ale house in every village, selling bright ale (the dregs well settled), mild ale, and extra-strong twice-brewed ale. Rosemary, yarrow, betony, gale and bog-myrtle were infused in ale and drunk medicinally as well as for flavour and preservation purposes.  Mixed herbs known as "gruit" were added to ale in Germany and hops finally became the ideal ale-herb.

Welsh ale or "cwrw" retained its individual smoky taste until the end ot he 18th century and often figured in food rents in Anglo-Saxon England. "Bragot" was a honey and spiced ale drunk at theWelsh court. 

Mead was the warrior's drink for both Celt and Saxon. It was also a celebratory drink in peace time and more readily available than wine until well after 1066. Wine drinking diminished after the Roman legions left, but gradually Rhenish wine from Cologne and French wine from  Rouen established trade routes into England. 

Milk, buttermilk, whey and water were the non-alcoholic drinks. Bede quotes King Edwin of Northumbria marking the sites of clear water springs at roadsides by means of a post with a bronze cup suspended from it.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Food Matters


The potato is indigenous to Chile and the Andes. Everyone thought the potato came from Virginia, and that was because when Sir Francis Drake stopped in Virginia to pick up English settlers, he had potatoes from Cartagena in Columbia on board and introduced them to England. It had reached Spain around 1570.

Rumour says that the vegetable found its way into Ireland by virtue of the looting of a ship’s store from a wrecked Armada vessel around 1588. Alternatively, the Irish claim Sir Walter Raleigh brought it.

The potato was initially not widely used in England, but the Irish took to them whole heartedly. They were easier to grow than oats or barley and easier to hide in an underground store when soldiers prowled the land. 

By the 17th century potatoes were grown in Lancashire and by the 18th their use was spreading through the rest of the UK, at first as a garden and later as a field crop, even reaching the highlands of Scotland.

At first they were used as a delicacy and if they were of the sweet potato variety, almost a sweetmeat, but it was not long before they became the traditional boil, roast or fried vegetable we all know. By that time the use of pottage had declined, or the potato would undoubtedly have become the main pottage ingredient.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Pottage, anyone?

        Young green peas were cooked in a beef broth flavoured with parsley, sage, hyssop and savory to produce pottage in medieval days. Old dried peas were cooked with bacon stock and eaten afterwards with bacon. meat if you had any. The labourer's family without bacon made do with  oatmeal, flour or breadcrumbs to thicken it. This thick pease pottage  remaned a basic country dish for several hundred years; in fact, we still have it in our home today, usually with some ham and a ham stock cube.

Pottage was a staple of the English diet, came in many varieties. and was eaten by rich and poor alike Onions were the most popular ingredient and demand outstripped supply so that the vegetable and the seed were importd from the Netherlands and even Spain. Garlic was also imported.   
                         
Many other broad green leaves went into it, plants we are not so familiar with today: orche, clary, mallows, patience dock, borage and bugloss. Flavourings included parsley, sage, thyme, mint in all its forms, and fennel . In the medieva period, people chopped up the parsley root fas well as the leaves  and stalks for pottage.  A 15th century housewife grew no less that 48 herbs - though we cannot assume that every housewife grew all of them! Many were gathered from the wilds - such as dandelion, daisy and red nettle. All this greenery should have been very healthy but unhappily the pottages were cooked for so long that all the goodness of Vitamin C would have been destroyed .

Parsnips,  carrots, radish, turnip and rape were grown in gardens as these root vegetables were not yet grown as field crops.   Rape seeds were used as a cooking oil among the less well-off. Dutch immigrants began growing rape in south east England in the Tudor period; before that, the seed was imported from Flanders.                                                                                                                               

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Can't see the wood for the trees?


Time is our enemy. Most people don’t have enough. This is why our writing must be tight, direct and hook early. Modern audiences have the attention span of a toddler hopped up on Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. We can’t afford to let them drift.” So says  Kristen Lamb in UncategorizedWriting Tips
Here are some of the  reminders I keep for myself –
1. Describing what a character sees can be overdone and more importantly, keeps the reader at a distance, makes her a mere observer and not a participant. Sight is possibly the weakest sense and doesn’t help pull your reader into deep POV. SO: Don’t rely on a lot of description.

For many, the sense of smell is the most powerful sense, followed by taste
Try to use a combination of all the senses.

2. Don’t have body parts doing things. You don’t need a character to raise his hand to reach for the door handle. If he makes it from one room to another, the reader will fill in the details.

3. Don’t State the Obvious
She slammed the door and cursed in anger.
We know she’s angry because she slammed the door.  Telling us she’s angry is redundant.

4. Don’t bring in too many characters too soon. If you have ten named characters by page one your reader will be confused.

5. Too Much Anything v Give Us a Sense of Time and Place
This happens with historicals as much as science fiction and fantasy. If the readers get lost in all the characters, places, clothes, prophesies, weapons, technology, dragons, ships and robots, it is bad. A few details are helpful to orient us where we are – maybe the smell of horse manure, the rattling of carriages or the whir of computers. The readers need to be grounded quickly and easily to become part of the world.

6. From page one, the reader should have picked up the basics about a character.

7. Tighten the Prose
Overuse of the word “was” is an indicator of weak writing and passive voice. If a writer does this on page one it is likely it will continue.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

The Duties of Servants

I bought a book a long time ago entitled The Duties of Servants. 

I think I discovered it in one of the National Trust bookshops and is an updated version of something published in 1894.  The forward claims that this work appeals equally to both mistress and servant. A mistress will gather from its pages the actual services she is entitled to demand from each servant; the servant will learn of what his or her duties strictly consist.

It seems the house steward is the top dog, as he engages and dismisses both men and women servants. Where there is no house-steward at the head of the household, the housekeeper engages and dismisses female servants and  the butler the indoor male servants. 

The master and mistress  engage their own personal attendants such as the valet, lades-maid and nurse.
if there is no housekeeper then the mistress engages female servants and the master  engages the butler and footmen. If the butler is trusted, he is allowed to engage and dismiss footmen.

The line continues down through smaller and smaller establishments. This little book is going to prove invaluable for my latest project! Although 1911 is not strictly Edwardian, there is much that is still present of that period even though a coronation of George V is about to take place in June of that year. There were many in the upper echelons of society who felt that nothing should ever change, that their lovely way of ife should go on and on and history tells us of a huge number of parties given that year.