Thursday, 31 May 2007

Arrived back in the UK late on Wednesday night - in fact, very early Thursday morning! We came back a day early, for the weather was not too good in France during the time we were away.

So now I am slowly getting to grips with the backlog of posts, critiques and all the usual hodge-podge of mail blocking the front door, bags of holiday clothes all needing to be washed, ironed but this time not put away, as we fully intend to enjoy the English summer for the next couple of months. We've re-stocked on food, cut the lawns....but I'll be back on-stream in a day or two.

The picture shows me relaxing in normal fashion after dinner on the evenings when it did not rain - glass of wine to hand, though you'll have to look very closely to see it! I'll sort out some better pictures in a day or two. A rejection from HM& B awaited me, but also a very nice review for Dark Pool from Road to Romance -

"Dark Pool is the sequel to Jen Black's Scottish tale Banners of Alba. In this edition, Black takes you from medieval Scotland to medieval Ireland with the spirited Eba of Bundalloch, whose life takes an adventurous turn following her brother's cattle raid on neighboring territory. The newly crowned king of Alba, Finlay, and his faithful vassal Hareth mac Enna are dragged willy-nilly to rescue Eba, kidnapped by the Vikings and taken to the dark pool—Dublin.

This sequel chronicles the many problems the fourteen-year-old Gael faces in the heart of Dublin, which is ruled by the hardy Vikings. The teen, who craves adventure and suitors, finds more than she bargained for in this new land. First a captive, nearly a slave, betrothed to a vicious young man and bewildered by the customs of the neighboring kingdom, Eba matures at the face of grave setbacks in her quest to just go home.

As a romance, this tale is a bit too harsh to handle, but as a historical and a believable portrayal of the ancient times of transition where Celts, Gaels, Picts, and Vikings lived together in the isles I give this book a 100 percent. The snapshot of life in those unsettled times, especially the life of an unprotected young maid makes for a great read. An informative and interesting tale set in a troubled time in history.
Reviewed by Raakhee Suryaprakash for The Road to Romance
May 27, 2007"

The reviewer caught the feeling of the book very well, I think. I knew it was not a straight romance, not in the boy meets girl mode, certainly not in HM&B style. Although the book came out autumn 2006, this is the first review I've received for it. Life is so-o-o hard when you're an unknown name among so many established writers!

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Holidays and an excerpt

I shall be out of touch for a while. I am off to enjoy myself for a week or two, so I thought it only fair to give you something to read while I was away. This is an extract from my first book The Banners of Alba.

The torn remains of Finlay’s fine linen shirt stuck damply to his ribs and shoulders and his black hair hung over his eyes and stuck to his cheek. “Now,” he said in a voice that showed no amusement at all, “where is Thorfinn’s sister?”
The watching men sighed, relaxed and reached for their abandoned ale mugs. Moddan shook his head, sweat rolling down his temples. Finlay pulled his dagger from his belt and tilted the shining blade against the jumping artery at Moddan’s throat. The golden skin twitched at the touch of cold metal and the blue eyes rolled sideways.
“Do you think it matters at all…to me…whether you live or die?” Finlay’s voice was light and neutral between hurried snatches of air. Moddan’s lip curled back from his teeth. “We are at war.” Finlay continued. “To kill you now would save me time. I know your plans.It is in my mind to stop you reaching Thurso.”
Moddan’s eyes rolled back in an effort to see what was going on around him as the relentless voice continued. “The only way you can buy your freedom is…tell me what I want to know.”
Ross, forgotten in the crowd, was perhaps the only person who realized what Finlay suggested. He opened his mouth, and was distracted by someone who tugged at his sleeve. He twitched his arm aside, but when the hand persisted, turned and glared into a pair of mocking silver eyes he knew very well indeed. “Hareth!” His eyes went back to the crouched figures in the centre of the crowd.“How long have you been here?”
Hareth was watching them, too. “Long enough to see and enjoy most of it. Finlay’s lost none of his style, has he?” There was something close to nostalgia in Hareth’s voice. “Only a day,” he added. “Got in yesterday.”
A faint line of blood threaded the knife blade where Moddan’s skin chafed against the impatient steel. Hareth sang out happily,“Kill him, Finlay. Whether he tells you or not is unimportant.”
Two heads, one dark and one fair, turned in response, and the thread of blood lengthened on Moddan’s throat. Ross cried out a warning just as Moddan heaved, careless of the dagger, and wrenched himself out of Finlay’s slackened grasp. Before anyone could stop him, Moddan seized a burning brand from the hearth and punched it into Finlay’s face.
Swift reflexes carried Finlay away, rolling and coiling from the flames and the shower of sparks. Moddan leapt round, kicked blazing peats across the hearth into the corners of the room, then whirled for the door, pausing just long enough to hurl the still blazing brand high under the rafters. Every eye in the Hall followed the trail of sparks and flame into the roof shadows and saw the torch lodge in a crossbeam. As they watched, a thread of light quested out into the thatch far above their heads.
Such was their fear of fire that they let him go. They scrabbled desperately through a fog of sparks and smoke to retrieve the smouldering peats. Someone ran for a thatcher’s ladder to retrieve the torch before the roof caught alight and others grabbed leather and wooden buckets and filled them with water.
Ross and Hareth knelt by Finlay. His face was buried in his hands, and his shirt was a mass of small smouldering burns and ragged tears, with glimpses of reddened flesh beneath. Ross put a gentle hand on the younger man’s shoulder, and hesitated.
The dirty hands moved, and within their protection, the lids lifted the merest slit, and then a little wider. Ross held his breath.
Finlay’s brows were undoubtedly singed. The lashes, blunt and shorter than they had been, ringed reddened, watering eyes that gazed back at him. Finlay sat up and tugged free the clean tail of his tunic to pat his face. “I must smell like roast pork. I wondered where you were,” he said to Hareth. “What is unimportant about the place he has hidden my wife?”
Ross cut in. “You can see? Your eyes are undamaged?”
Finlay nodded, and Hareth smiled. “You smell far worse than roast pork ever did!” He sobered and added, “I am here on an embassy from King Duncan to Thorfinn and your wife is safe within my care. You should have slit his throat.”
Finlay stopped dabbing at his watering eyes, and waited, the cloth bunched in his long fingers, his gaze fixed on Hareth. “Well, go on,” he said. “Don’t stop there.”

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Trip out

This is the monument to "Edward I who fought a long and bitter campaign to conquer Scotland. Old and sick he made camp on these marshes while preparing to subdue his old enemy Robert Bruce. Edward died here on 7th July 1307."
The monument was built in 1685.
It is on the Solway Firth, west and slightly north of Carlisle, and marked on any decent OS map. Drive to Burgh by Sands, head north and then walk out on the marshes to the monument. On a clear day there must be a wonderful view across the flat Rockcliffe marshes towards Annan and south west Scotland. Behind you will be the Lake District.
Unfortunately, our day was heavy and overcast though not cold, and the view was limited. Scotland was a hazy, half seen blur on the horizon and the Lake District pretended it wasn't there at all. Birdsong filled the air around us, and wild geese grazed the distant marshes. One lonely cow stared into the distance, and a few sheep stalked off with their noses in the air as we approached.
Driving back down the narrow lane to Burgh by Sands, we met a herd of beef cattle and hurridly backed up to let them through! If one of them had sat on our car, which is rather low slung and sporty, it would have left quite a dent!

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

New work begun

I have taken the plunge. I started writing, as opposed to researching and generally fiddling about, yesterday. I had huge doubts about the time period but once I began, it flowed down onto paper very easily. I suppose I have read such a lot on the mid-sixteenth century over the years that some of it is now hot-wired into the brain, which is very handy.

This seems a good point at which to pay tribute to Historical authors whose work has influenced me. They are in no particular order, and some are very old.

Elizabeth Byrd and her book Immortal Queen about Mary Queen of Scots
Rosemary Hawley Jarman: We speak no Treason
James Clavell: Shogun
Georgette Heyer: almost any title you care to name
Jane Austen: any, but particularly Pride and Prejudice
Dorothy Dunnett: any and all of both the Lymond and Niccolo series, though Game of Kings will always, always be my Absolute Favourite
Joan Grant: Time out of Mind, Winged Pharaoh

The authors above made me stop and ponder the craft of writing, or gasp with admiration at their style, or they made me want to write for myself. Below is another list of writers whose books I have read and enjoyed, but I don't think they had quite the same impact on me as the first list:

Barbara Erskine

Elizabeth Chadwick, who gets better with every book

Among the historical romance writers I enjoy - mostly, I have to say because their sense of humour seems to fit comfortably with mine, and because they don't make any faux pas about the historical detail :

Louise Allen,

Nicola Cornick

Deborah Hale

Helen Dickson

and Juliet Landon grows on me.