Sunday, 29 April 2007

Phillppa Gregory has written The Other Queen, due out next Spring, which tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots, and after that she is doing a series of three on the Wars of the Roses. I don't know if I'm pleased or quaking in my boots, for each Gregory book I've read contains incest and I'm not at all sure I want to read that Richard III or Mary indulged in such practices!
Come to think of it, Mary was an only child, so there cannot be any mileage there, but she did have several Guise uncles in a handy position at the French court. As for Richard, I can't recall if he had sisters but since the Rose of Raby had seven surviving children and I can only remember four sons, (Edward, Edmund and George, plus Richard) I guess he did.

One reassuring thing about it is that the Tudor thing is set to go on for a little while longer as far as fiction novels are concerned. That makes me feel more secure in my choice of that time for the next work...with which I must get to grips very soon. For this time period, the danger is that there is so much to read one can get lost in the research and never start writing!

Saturday, 28 April 2007

The griffins, all 4 of them, stand guard on the front lawn of Wallington Hall, and I should have had someone stand beside them to give a sense of size...they are about three feet high and five to six feet long. Originally they stood on Bishopsgate in the City of London and were brought to Wallington by Molly, Lady Trevelyan. She died in 1966.
Today I went to hear Freda Lightfoot talk in my local library and very interesting it was too. She actually remembered me from the Romantic Novelists Association conference in Penrith last July. I came away with her new book, out next Thursday: That'll be the Day. Evidently it is set in the 1950s and Freda told us, with a wry grin, that her publisher considers the 1950s to be "history" now!

I hear that neither Michelle, Nicola nor Anne won the RNA romance short story prize; the prize wnt to Nell Dixon for a story called Marrying Max, and published in People's Friend. Commiserations all three. I'd say congratulations Nell, but I've have not met her and she's not likely to be reading this particular blog! For me, it is one more nudge towards getting something published in People's Friend. More than one author has mentioned it over the last year or so, and certainly I see it for sale in my local Tesco superstore. Freda mentioned it today, and it has always been my view that there's no point in asking for advice if you don't then follow that advice when it is given!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Author chat

Yesterday I was guest author on Kiera Black's blog and you might want to pop over and admire her beautiful blogsite. There's an excerpt from Dark Pool there, too, plus excerpts from other authors.

I finished my wip on 17th April, and spent a couple of days reading it over and correcting errors - words missed out, words added in where they should not be, that sort of thing. The partial sub went off on the 21st, so now I'm sifting through ideas for the next venture. It feels very strange not to have something on which to concentrate, and I'm doing lots of critiques for the two groups I belong to. They've been patient while I have done only the bare minimum, so now it is pay-back time.

Critique groups are funny things. I received two critiques this week on the same piece of work, and both "critters" pounced on the same phrase and altered it - but not only did they disagree with me, they disagreed with each other! so now I have three versions of the phrase - and which do I choose? Perhaps the simplest answer is to rephrase the whole sentence and get around the problem that way as it is obviously something that an editor is going to pick up on at some point.

Monday, 23 April 2007

The Face of Britain on Channel 4 promised much but delivers ... not very much. They cannot differentiate between Danish Vikings and Anglo Saxons, so Danish Vikings must be lumped together with Anglo Saxons. The North East of England is therefore largely Anglo-Saxon. A little too simplistic for me.
One fact about Newcastle, glossed over in one sentence, stated that a quarter of the population are more likely of Celtic origin than AS. I fnd that interesting. If a quarter of the population of every major city in the east of the country can trace back to the Celts, then I think that throws doubt on the theory that the Celts as a race were driven back to the west.
I am aware that in the 1800s many Scots and Irish came into Newcastle; 31% of the incomers were Scots and 19% Irish, if my memory serves. They've been coming over the centuries, and they are still coming. Come to think of it, my mother was always called Biddy, and she chose Celtic names for my brother and me....I know next to nothing about my mother's family. Perhaps if I did, I'd find a link to Ireland!

Saturday, 21 April 2007


Another shortie message just to say thanks to the people who commented on the piece I wrote on Historical Romance v Historical Fiction. You'll find it two or three entries back, around 14th April, if you want to read it (and the comments).


It worked! I've just been over there and I have a new format up, which hides all the ads! Terrific! so I'm not as much of a techno-idiot as I thought.

Author chat

I had my first experience of an author chat yesterday on Chatting with Joyfully Reviewed -
and found it exhilerating. If anyone wants to check it out the posts 42822-43030 will just about cover it. Put the numbers in the search facility and they'll pop up like magic. Jean Fullerton, Linda Sole, June Francis and Anita Davidson joined me.

So, what did I learn? First of all, check the dates. I think a lot of Americans are heading off to the big convention in Houston this weekend, so that may account for the low participation by US readers. Secondly, think more carefully about time; at 2pm GMT the messages popped up on the group almost instantaneously. As the day wore on, the time lag increased. By 9pm GMT it was really frustratingly slow. And thirdly - it took up the whole of my day! 8 hours with only an hours break for food.

Perhaps I'll never know if it was a productive 8 hours, or if I would have done better to stick with my writing and produce a couple of thousand words...but it was something new, something exciting and we all need a little excitemeent from time to time. And next time, if there is a next time, I'll know what to expect.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Electronic adventures

I have just tried to add a layout page to Myspace but I don't think it has taken. Sometimes there's a delay before things show, but I'm not holding my breath!

If I cannot do it, I might abandon the Myspace thing as my bit of it seems to be taken over by adverts for other people - not what I imagined at all.

There's an interesting discussion that keeps cropping up from time to time on what kind of language to use in historical novels.

Well: I've thought about this off and on for a long, long time. I've read so many historicals over the years that I must have seen a huge variety of responses to the question and I think I favour - no, I know I favour - normal language minus modern slang on the basis that when people talked to each other in the 8th century or the 14th century, they spoke normally, and there's no way we can recreate that. I don't see the point in putting a language barrier between the reader and the characters.

Some authors try hard to give a flavour of speech as it was then. I think it is probably wasted effort, but if they enjoy doing it and people enjoy reading it, who am I to spoil their fun?

What do I call neutral language? I fall down at once, because to me normal means Standard UK English - which of course, is not normal language for your average American, Canadian, Australian....and we're all supposed to speak the same language!

So I guess we'll all go on doing what we think is the right thing - and for me, that means using normal language without slang, without anachronisms in the hope that the readers will appreciate the lack of barrier and read as if they were there with the characters and understanding everything they said.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Romance v Mainstream

Why is there such a distinction among writers between historical romance and historical mainstream? I find it strange that the distinction should be made at all. I could stumble towards a definition - I'm sure we all could - but who can apply that definition to a work with utter certainty? and find that everyone agreed with the choice? Very few, I suspect.

Perhaps we should narrow the definitions further. Perhaps science fiction should be strictly segregated from fantasy, and time slip novels should have a whole category to themselves.

Crime - well that could be subdivided very easily. Come to think of it, are thrillers segregated already? Is a thriller found within crime? I don't know because I don't read the genre very often though I do enjoy Ian Rankin's Rebus novels. There I go again, mixing my genres - should novels be distinct from crime?

As an ex-librarian who used to segregate fiction into various shelving categories picked by the whim of the public in my particular library, it all seems a bit of a hoo-hah over nothing. Even the readers never agreed on which title should go in which category...

Author chat

I've had a good day today. My historical wip is virtually finished and the first 3 chapters are polished enough to send off as a submission. A synopsis and query letter tomorrow and it could be sent off. I'm pleased it's just about done, as I wanted to be free and clear of it by the time we went to France mid-May. Looks like I'm going to be on target!

I've asked three fellow British historical authors to join me for a chat on Joyfully Reviewed on Friday 20th April, so don't hesitate to follow the link and join in. We'll be kicking off around 2pm GMT, 9am EST in the US. Heaven knows what will happen, but the worst thing of all would be total silence!

Sunday, 15 April 2007


DNA testing, facial reconstruction and the mingled bloodlines of Britain. It should have been a good programme on Channel 4, but...I wonder. Evidently 3,500 people have been tested in the area of Devon and Cornwall to see if genetic links can be traced back to the ancient hunter gatherers who immigrated from southern Europe through Brittany to England, and sired the Celts.
Many of the good folk of the region wanted to be proved Celtic and when the results came back the lucky few were told that they were one and a half times (or two times) more likely to have Celtic than Anglo Saxon ancestors. They were ecstatic. No one asked the question that seemed important to me - what is the bench mark? Could one therefore be eighty times more likely, or did the counting stop at ten?
One chap who thought he was more likely to be Flemish, perhaps Norman, Welsh or even Nordic, proved to have the highest likelihood of all - 5.3 times more likely to be Celtic than Anglo Saxon. Which seems to go some way towards saying that like beauty is all in the eye of the beholder, ancestry is rather a case of focussing on what you want it to be.
There will be another two programmes and next week the canny folk of East Anglia are to be checked out.

Friday, 13 April 2007


Had a day out yesterday and visited the Teviot Smokery Water Gardens and Kelso. I like Kelso with its big cobbled square and huntin', shootin', fishin' shops. They were having clearance sales but we didn't tempt ourselves. I don't know how old Kelso is, but it is built where the Teviot and the Tweed meet at the famous Junction Pool and perhaps two and a half miles from the old site of Roxburgh Castle, once called Hroc's burgh in Old English and recorded as belonging to the Earl of Northumberland in 1107. The castle was recorded as Rokesburg in the middle ages when it belonged to the Scottish kings. When the castle fell, the town around the walls disintegrated and the people moved to Kelso.

Kelso Abbey, built in 1128, is a ruin now and hangs over the town like a red-brown ghost.
Floors Castle, said to be the largest inhabited house in Scotland, is still the residence of the 10th Duke of Roxburghe. It was built in 1721 by William Adam for the first Duke of Roxburghe on a site just across the river Tweed from the old Hroc's burgh. Kelso is off to the right of the picture of Floors Castle, which stares straight across the Tweed towards the Cheviot and England.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Changing plots

I quite like choosing titles for my novels, though I fully accept that they may change if they ever reach publication. The current work is tentatively titled Silver Age, which is the Russian name for the fin de siecle, and I'm happy to report that SA is now at 60K and progressing nicely.

I have some of my best ideas in the middle of the night, and that happened this week. I hung onto the idea (so many are forgotten by the time morning rolls around) and when I got up the next morning hurridly made the alterations before I forgot all about it. So the nice young man angling for his first kiss metamorphosed into the dastardly Aesthete attempting a seduction of the heroine. I think it both tightens the plot and strengths it, for the encounter sparks off a reaction from the hero that....well, I don't want to give away the plot, but generally it was a good thing to do.

The secret of the vast improvement in my writing in the last few days is that I have switched all those e-groups to Read Only on the Web. Now they don't come cluttering up my e-mail system, I have saved so-o-o-o much time and yet I always thought I could whip through the e-mails, stay up to date and still find time to write. Not true! This has been a valuable lesson. I'm staying No Mail until I get this wip right to the end. Then, and only then, I might indulge...and I'm going to linit the time I spend reading other people's blogs, too!

Friday, 6 April 2007

First review for Dark Pool

06 April 2007
Dark Pool

Dark Pool: Sequel to the Banners of Alba by Jen Black

Write Words, Inc

EBOOKISBN: 159433989

397 Pages $5.50

Once you start reading Jen Black’s historical romance, Dark Pool, you’ll find yourself unable to stop reading it as this talented storyteller transports you to a time gone by with plenty of deftness and skill and captivates her readers with a passionate romance you will find impossible to put down!

Finlay of Alba was forced to leave Alba without any protection in order to track down a young ward, Eba, who was stolen by raiders. Finlay must find her and free her from danger, but his search for her fails to come to fruition when he enters Lord Sitric’s stronghold in Dublin and he denies all knowledge of the girl. Will Finlay be able to rescue Eba? Or will she have to succumb to a forced marriage?

Dark Pool is an intense, passionate and gripping read which captured my attention from the very first chapter. Well written, romantic and evocative, this is a must-read for fans of historical romance everywhere! Award five red roses. JB

I am so pleased with this! 5 red roses!

Thursday, 5 April 2007


I bought a couple of little mementos of my visit to Britannia - one of which is a small book called 'Hints on Etiquette and the usages of Society' published for the first time 150 years ago. Did you realise that etiquette is "the barrier which polite society draws around itself as a protection against offences the law cannot touch - a shield against the intrusion of the impertinent, the improper, and the vulgar - a guard against those obtuse persons who, having neither talent nor delicacy, would be continually thrusting themselves into the society of men to whom their presence might (from the difference of feeling and habit) be offensive, and even insupportable."

This is going to give me hours of amusement, I can tell. Did you know that "well-bred people arrive as nearly at the appointed dinner hour as they can. It is a very vulgar assumption of importance purposely to arrive half an hour behind time; besides the folly of allowing eight or ten hungry people such a tempting opportunity of discussing your foibles."

I'll never be late for anything again!

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Mary King's Close

Curiosity finally drove me to Edinburgh to visit Mary King’s Close. We found the site, located opposite St Giles Cathedral on the High Street, paid our money and with another eighteen people, followed a guide down the steep steps into darkness. Mary King's Close turns out to be four narrow streets with tenement houses that in the 1600s stood seven storeys high. The inhabitants lived dirty, nasty lives and died by their hundreds in the plague years, and our guide described it all in gory detail. It is not a tour for the faint hearted or the light of stomach!
In 1753 houses at the top of the closes were knocked down and part of the lower sections were kept and used as the foundations for the Royal Exchange (now the City Chambers). Since the streets ran from the High Street down the slope to the Nor Loch, the buildings that remain at the lower end of the slope are still several storeys high under the floor of the Chambers.
The lighting is so dim as to be non-existant, so I cannot say I really "saw" the closes. The lighting level in the photo from the website is what you might expect, and you can find out more from the website:
But the experience of groping around in the dark, up and down stairs and through cellars and byres is unique, and I'm glad I went and saw for myself.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Edinburgh trip

We had a wonderful trip to Edinburgh. Only two days, but enough. The first priority was to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith, and the second to see what Mary King's Close was all about.
I'm happy to report we achieved both objectives!

The Britannia was fascinating. Of course, she does not look as immaculate as she did when in service, but I am assured that repainting will take place in the summer and then she'll look as good as she ever did. Th interior is not oppulent as I imagine the Onassiss yacht would be; no marble bath tubs and three inch deep shag pile, but evidence of quiet comfort and one particular family's private life. I can also see why she was de-commissioned, though I was so against it at the time. In a way, walking on board was like walking into a time warp. The 1950's is half a century ago, of course, and certain parts of the ship reveal it - old radio link telephones, lack of computers, and ancient washing machines. But there is still magic there - I still get a lump in my throat when I think of Britannia flying the flag for Britain in all those foreigh corners of the world. She and Concorde, both icons of my life. I'll never forget either.

Lost dog!

Sunday 8 th May Slow start to a sunny day with a promise of high temperatures. Bill took Perla out at 7.30 as he has done all this month ...