Thursday, 2 July 2020

The Silver Season

A few blank days due to a cataract removal on Friday 26th June

Almost back to normal now, and during the days when I didn't want to use the computer because of the brightness of the screen (even at its lowest level!) I have now worked out on paper what will happen to my characters in Silver Season. My progress had slowed somewhat because I really didn't know where I was going with it, but now I do, so it will be full steam ahead  and on to publication later in the year.

The Silver Season is set in the year 1911, which marked the end of the Edwardian era. Think of the opening episode of Downton Abbey, and you have the clothes and fashions of the time. It was a year of a heat wave in the UK, when  temperatures hit the nineties with appalling regularity and drought was widespread by August. Edward died and the new king George was crowned. Seventeen-year-old Prince Edward, he of abdication fame 25 years on, was crowned Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle

The Duchess of Devonshire thought the prince still rather young for his years, and his mother thought
him a contented person who never rushed about after amusement. Still, the ceremony went off well and everyone was pleased.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

The last few weeks

The Indie Author Online Festival  kicked off on Saturday, and my tiny piece came yesterday at 11am.

I never use Skype or Zoom, so I was nervous about the technology of using Streamyard, but it proved quite easy - except that my camera is obviously set to time out after 30 minutes.    It took me a little while to realise that all I had to do was click the mic/camera icon to reinstate it.

As for the content,  I think we should have done shorter snatches with more interplay between the personalities, but it seemed to go off quite well. I was surprised at the paucity of questions both in advance and during the hour we were live, because Regency is such a popular genre. In a way it is a pity that many people have gone back to work  this week - a pity only in the sense that our potential audience vanished!  I'm sure everyone is glad to go back to a life that is a good deal more normal than the last 9 weeks have been. 

Having said that, dog walking and a once weekly grocery shop has been the extent of my life lately, and it isn't that different from normal. The family is in Australia and we don't socialise all that much. Bill used to do the shopping at the supermarket 10 miles away, but somehow, I can't remember why, I got elected to do the shop at the local co-op half a mile away. I was there on the dot of opening 8am Wednesday morning and back home by 8.45! I think it might be difficult to persuade Bill back into the old way of him going to Tesco!

Walking Tim in the silence of lockdown was so different ~ only an occasional car, and birds singing.  Lots more walkers, joggers, cyclists than usual but they are pretty silent anyway. The air was brighter and much more pleasant. Of course we had the usual tearaways out in their ancient up car with its go-faster-stripes, streaking around the empty roads in defiance of the electronic sign at the roundabout at the bottom of the hill saying "Stay Home."

On the whole, for me,  the 9 weeks have gone pretty quickly. 



Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Out of the Blue

I've been asked to join Catherine Kullman on a Regency Writing Panel on 16th June.

Not really sure what it entails yet, but planning on talking to Catherine around mid day today. I think she is much more accomplished at this sort of thing than I am. If you want to become involved, then do join before 4pm Friday, because after that, you will
be too late. 

There is much more to the Festival than Regency Writing. I think it is safe to say there is something for everyone. The programme is firming up and available to view and is to be finalised before Friday.

Hurry and join now!

Thursday, 28 May 2020

There was a heatwave that year

My gift to everyone over lockdown was to make each of my titles free for 4 days. 

I chose the order in which the books would appear by drawing straws - or the equivalent - out of a hat, and the 9th title is up as I write. If nothing else the exercise has shown me which genre is the most popular - and that is Regency romance. So far The Gybford Affair: the heiress and the fortune hunter is the clear winner but The Matfen Affair : the bridesmaid and the ghost is not far behind. 

I am keen for the end of the run, for then I will be able to look at the true statistics for all titles. I am rather surprised that the early medievals, Tudor tales and Viking stories lag behind in the popularity stakes, but they are as much romances as "histories." 

My current story is now at 50k and going fine. With a working title of Silver Season, which may or may not last the course, this one is not Regency, but Edwardian.  It is set in 1911 when the Titanic was undergoing sea trials and King George V and Queen Mary were crowned. The time period is very close to the opening season of Downton, but my story will take place within the one year. 

There was a heat wave that year, hints of coming war with Germany and a sense that the season may well be the last of its kind. My heroine is Ellen Montgomery, an American heiress born in Boston and married to Charles Byland, heir to the 5th Marquess of Durrington in the north of England. They have been happily married for three years, but with one flaw ~ there is no sign of a child and that impinges rather heavily on their happiness.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Discovering Diamonds: Guest Spot - Jen Black:

17 May 2020

Guest Spot - Jen Black




I’m an ex-library manager resident in the Tyne valley in Northumberland, a wonderful county for history lovers (and dog walkers!). The Roman Wall and Vindolanda are well known, but the castles, bastles, fortified farms and wonderful landscapes are equally amazing. I take lots of pics and pop them on my blog. (http://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com)

On a clear winter’s day I can see the snow on the Cheviots that form the border with Scotland, and the beautiful unspoilt coastline is barely thirty minutes away by car. My degree in English Language & Literature didn’t help me get an agent interested in my first attempt at a novel and because I baulked at paying postage on a paper ms across the Atlantic, I tried e-publishers. The first one accepted me. Perhaps this should have told me something, but I was so pleased I just went along for the ride and “met” my first authors there.

 

That was back in 2008. Since then I have learned a lot about editing, promotion and networking. My book was duly published and the same day, the publisher announced bankruptcy. Except that she didn’t exactly call it that, and she didn’t follow the rules about doing it. I learned a lot about how Americans handle themselves in tight spots over the next few months.


I signed with other independent publishers including Quaestor 2000, who published 2 of my titles in paperback (they still float around as second hand book, which is disconcerting as I have re-edited and re-published them on Amazon Kindle) but they too failed one way or another, and out of sheer frustration decided to go with Amazon Kindle. I now have a dozen published titles there, some also in paperback.



My favourite author will always be Dorothy Dunnett and reading her rather austere conception of Marie de Guise set me researching and thinking about a softer, warmer personality. Another Marie slowly grew in my mind. Several people told me how much they liked Matho, a minor character in Fair Border Bride and why didn’t I write about him? So I did. I brought Matho and Marie together in a trilogy. The everyday facts are as close to history as I can get them but because Matho is entirely fictional, so is the relationship between them. I hope Marie had an Englishman who helped her, but I doubt it!


The SCOTTISH QUEEN trilogy is an action-packed romance set during the turbulent English-Scottish wars of the 1540s. Powerful lords surround the infant queen of Scotland and the valiant Dowager Queen struggles to save her daughter’s crown. Matho Spirston, initially a diffident young guard captain at a small English border castle, becomes entangled in a plot to kidnap the young queen.

Book 1: Abduction of the Scots Queen Encouraged by his well-born friend Harry Wharton though Matho thinks they have as much chance of success as a "duckling chased by a fox,” they set out for Scotland to kidnap the child queen. Meg Douglas, King Henry's headstrong niece, pursues the same quest – and she flatters Matho into helping her and at the same time snares the interest of Lord Lennox, who alternately woos both her and the Dowager Queen. 

Book 2: The Queen’s Courier Love is not easy to find or sustain amongst all the plotting and violence of the times. When the Queen Dowager repudiates Lord Lennox he once more turns his attention to Meg. Matho Spirston, now coming into his own as a bold, gruff product of the borderlands, falls for a Scots lass but ill luck finds them in Edinburgh during the English invasion of the town.


Book 3: The Queen’s Letters
A grief-stricken Matho puts his life in danger when he fulfils his bargain with the Dowager by delivering letters to her relatives in France. Dodging assassins, learning the language as he travels, danger intensifies when he sets out to unmask a powerful enemy and the hangman threatens once more. Meg achieves her dearest wish but finds life is not quite as she imagined.


I have written four Viking stories set in either Dublin, Ullapool or Stornoway. A Viking called Flane features in three of them and Finlay of Alba sets out to rescue the kidnapped maiden in Viking Summer. 


Four stories with a romance and an adventure make up what I call my Romance Quartet. Set in either Regency or Victorian England - northern England, as I know little of London, you will get to know my heroines: Daisy and the thief, Frances and the fortune hunter, Melanie and the smuggler and Leigh and the ghost. Captivating one and all!


And of course, there is my old favourite, my first novel, now re-edited and repackaged as Alba is Mine, a tale of Vikings and Scots in the 11th century and very, very loosely based on the MacBeth story. 



People can also visit my Page at fb.me/JenBlackauthor and send messages to at m.me/JenBlackauthor.


AMAZON Central, where all the books are listed:





Click HERE to find  Jen  on Discovering Diamonds



If your novel/s have been reviewed by Discovering Diamonds
and you would like to participate in our 
 Guest Spot
click HERE for details

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Pilgrimages were big business


Should you chose to go diving in your local river you might be as lucky as Gary Bankhead.

But take care, for river diving can be dangerous. I remember my parents warning me away from the edge of the riverbank at Durham because, many years earlier, they had witnessed a young man fall in and become trapped in the tree roots that stretch out under the surface of the water. Gary is a highly qualified diver as well as an archaeologist. 

He has recovered many small metal objects from various periods of history by searching the riverbed downstream of the twelfth century Elvet Bridge in Durham City ~ altogether 13,000 of them, probably “the largest collection of late- and post-medieval finds in the North of England: a unique regional/national resource.”

The location, so close to Durham Cathedral, is important. The Department of Archaeology in Durham University have adopted the site as a research project known as the Durham River Wear Assemblage (DRWA). Archaeology students and specialists work together to record and research the objects.

During the late medieval period, pilgrims would very likely have crossed Elvet Bridge on their way to St Cuthbert’s shrine in the apse beyond the high altar in Durham Cathedral. There is also the story of the bridge being so crowded with pedlars stalls that the Prince Bishop's sargeant ended up throwing stalls into the river when owners refused to move them.

Check pictures of some of the finds here: https://twitter.com/DiveIntoDurham

Pilgrimage was big business in medieval times. People travelled huge distances to and from sites like Durham Cathedral and Compostela in Spain. They needed taverns, food, and beds as they walked or, if they were lucky, rode. Every school child who has ever read Canterbury Tales will recall how Chaucer satirised the sale of religious relics sold to pilgrims.

Badges, crafted from lead alloys, were worn as proof of having completed a pilgrimage. One such 'souvenir' was recovered from the River Wear in 2011: a lead alloy cross with flared arms which had either been thrown or had fallen into the river.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

BOWL HOLE CEMETERY


Not everyone knows about the Bowl Hole Cemetery at Bamburgh Castle.

Just 300m south of the castle some claim it was the burial ground of the royal court that once lived in the ancient castle beneath the current Victorian building. Discovered in 1816 when a winter storm blew sand away and revealed ancient stone grave markers, some investigation was carried out, but records were sadly lost and no one was sure of the location.

A research project was recently set up to relocate the site. 91 skeletons have been found and were sent to Durham University for analysis. Results declared the people to have lived in the 7th and 8th centuries – some of the earliest Christians in the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. Their stature, sex, diet and, in many cases, their birthplace, has been revealed. Characteristically tall, robust individuals they suffered from tooth cavities and plaque problems. Abscesses were common in people as young as twenty – possibly a consequence of rich food.

This led to the assumption that the skeletons were those of well fed, high status individuals of the ancient royal court. Few grew up in the immediate local area and many came from other parts of Britain. Western Scotland and Ireland were well represented in the findings, which could indicate a connection between the Northumbrian church and Iona. Others hailed from Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. Bamburgh was evidently well-known 1300 years ago.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Ebooks win!

Dragondrums (Pern: Harper Hall series Book 3) by [Anne McCaffrey]A lot of people claim they dislike ebooks.

They swear by a real book. For along time I hovered on the neutral line and told myself I liked both and I didn't really have to choose.

Since lockdown, I have discovered I truly like ebooks! They are there whenever I want them, at a time all the bookshops and libraries are closed and when Amazon is inundated with so many online requests for real books (among other things!) that the postal service in the UK has been logjammed.  A letter from our grandson, aged 5, has taken over a month to arrive from Australia.

I have been re-reading a series I enjoyed long ago, way back in the days when I was young and impressionable. I speak of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. I still have two of the paperbacks published back then, and boy! is the print tiny. It isn't just my fading eyesight, even though I need a cataract removed which will also have to wait until lockdown is over, but the print really is small! The map of Pern is almost unreadable.

But when I ordered an ecopy of The White Dragon, not only did it arrive on my ipad within seconds - and this was at midnight when I finished one book and still wasn't sleepy - it also had a new cover and nice clear text that I could read without strain. Hurrah! If I wanted I could enlarge the text, and adjust the brightness of the screen. I have since ordered other titles in the series, and will go on doing so.

Ebooks win!

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Battlelines over ebooks


“Sign up, log on, and borrow!”

Authors on social media are angry about the new service ~ the National Emergency Library, from the Internet Archive. It offers borrowing of 1.4 million books without a waiting list. Some think it is great.

Others think “allowing unlimited downloads of books under copyright, for which they have not paid, and have no legal right, is piracy.” It is not only illegal but also removing a source of income from authors when they need it most.

The Authors Guild  thinks the Emergency Library uses the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to weaken copyright law. The Association of American Publishers declared itself stunned by the “aggressive, unlawful, and opportunistic attack on the rights of authors and publishers in the midst of the pandemic.”

The Internet Archive maintained that it was doing absolutely nothing predatory or illegal, and that it was simply stepping up to help the nation’s readers during a national emergency.
Readers just looking to access books while also staying home could be confused.

Most public libraries have shut their doors. You can still access ebooks through their systems, but there may be a waiting list for the most popular books. Many indie bookstores have closed their doors. Amazon does not prioritize nonessential packages. So where can you go to get your book fix?

The Internet Archive argues that it is doing what public libraries do, only it has eliminated the waiting list. Authors argue that it is making a rights grab that affects their bottom line.
Traditional libraries license their ebooks directly from the publisher. 

The Emergency Library does not. Libraries license ebooks from publishers and lend them out to patrons, but they pay substantially more than individual readers do when they license ebooks. (You never really buy an ebook — you just buy a license to read it.) 

The files that libraries lend out have code embedded that makes it impossible for them to go to more than one patron at a time — hence those public library waitlists.

This model allows libraries to make their books accessible digitally, but it also allows publishers, and by extension authors, to get paid for their work without losing sales. 

Read the whole article:

Monday, 20 April 2020

Changing one's Mind


Back in September 2013, I was not too keen on the new series of Downton Abbey. 

Highclere Castle, Downton Abbey“the first episode was very close to boring. The most exciting thing to happen was O'Brian disappearing into the night leaving only two notes behind on the mantelpiece. Not that she's a loss, really. I never liked her, and she is the one who spoilt the Granthams’ last chance of producing an heir.” But the programme didn't sparkle. Perhaps it is hard to sparkle when there are widows and relatives in black all over the house and neighbourhood. Lord Grantham is being absurdly dictatorial and instead of giving stick-thin Mary a shake or two, he continually urges everyone to let her be; let her grieve in peace. Silly man.”

Since then, would you believe, I have bought all the CDs and watched every episode so many times I have lost count. My perceptions have changed, and not only because the episodes have filled many an hour of winter television where the programmes on offer were too gory for me to enjoy.

 I understand the characters better now than I did in 2013, and even if Robert is too kind to bereaved Mary, he is consistently kind to everyone throughout – except perhaps to Barrow. Carson is not kind to him either; I was drawn into Barrow’s story this winter and had a lot of sympathy for him. His transformation through the series was well done and so, surprisingly was Edith's. I cheered when Bertie Pelham became the Marquess of Hexham and Edith  told the family "That's the thing. He is the Marquess." Robert's delight, Mary's horror, and Cora's aside to Mary - "Anyone would think your were jealous, dear, and we wouldn't want that, would we?"

I shall be watching the CDs again, whenever there is a dearth of good programmes to be had on live tv.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Good news, bad news.


If we believe the tv news, then sales figures suggest the UK was stockpiling novels last week as people prepared for a spell in isolation.
Unhappily, chains like Waterstones are deemed non-essential and have closed too but it does mean that those who sell e-format books may do well. Sales of fiction rose by a third, children's education went up an astonishing 234% - a record figure. Puzzle books, handicrafts and true crime also rose. 
Nielsen Book are keeping track: "We've seen significant jumps in sales of puzzle books, adult colouring titles, home-learning titles for children, study guides, and we have seen been a big increase in sales of paperback novels."
Waterstones may be closed, but supermarkets are still open, and they sell paperbacks. So do Amazon. Physical book sales may now plummet as readers turn online. Waterstones online sales have risen 400% week on week.
It reported a "significant uplift" for classic titles like Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, Toni Morrison's Beloved, F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.

"Our bestseller is Hilary Mantel – there is plenty of time now to read those 900 pages of The Mirror and the Light. It's doing really well," said Waterstones fiction buyer Bea Carvalho.

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!