Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The End

This is probably my final picture of Cragside to show the rest of the south elevation. I couldn't get it all in one picture as I could the north side, because I couldn't stand far enough away from it.
I think I've done all I can do with the Viking story, so I'm going to stop tinkering with it and try to sell it. It is very hard to stop tweaking, adjusting, layering - I shall have to be very firm with myself.

One way to do it is to get immersed in something else, and I have several projects just waiting for me to dive into. I've got one story going through a critique group now, and though no one has come right out and said it, I know it is meandering all over the place. I need to lop off bits at the front to bring the action right to the forefront, introduce the h/h in a more attention grabbing way and then decide exactly what my main conflict(s) are going to be between these two.

The first draft was a delight to write, so I hope I can hang onto the frothy skin and just underlay it with a good, believable skeleton.

Friday, 27 July 2007


Yesterday I decided we'd waited far too long for the weather to clear so we took off north to visit Cragside.
It's a wonderful drive to Rothbury and then onto the Alnwick road where Lord Armstrong built his house, but we'd hardly gone half a mile before the rain began.
We drove on, ever hopeful, and left the rain behind. We stopped in an empty picnic spot on the Cragside estate and the heavens opened, so we ate our picnic inside the car.
Every time we stuck our noses outside the car, it rained, so we went inside the house. We've been many times before. There seemed to be far too many people crowding into every room, so we ducked outside again and I took a few more pictures before - you've guessed - it began to rain again.
The arch in the first picture leads into the main hall of the house, but this arch, which is just to the right of the first picture. leads through and out on the other side. The horse carriages must have made a noise as they rattled through. Today the cars creep through at 5mph and are virtually silent.
Lord Armstrong bought the land alongside the Debdon Burn in 1863 intending to make it a holiday home - he loved fishing and the famous Coquet runs through Rothbury. Railway traffic made the journey to Newcastle easy, and the small holiday home grew and grew and became his principal residence to which the Prince and Princess of Wales and their daughters came in 1884.

This is the view from the other side of the arch. The house is famous for many things: a hydraulic lift which the servants must have loved as they used it to carry coal and hot water and baskets of dusters, brushes and polishes about the house; the library was the first room to be lit by Joseph Swan's newly invented filament light bulbs, which were powered by the first hydro-electricity in the world; the suite of steam bath, cold plunge, hot bath and shower plus water closets and changing rooms were first used in 1870.

Many people visit simply to enjoy the gardens, which are vast. If you love rhododenrons and azaeleas, then this is the place for you in late May early June as the whole hillside around the house is a blaze of colour. A lovely walk away from the house takes you to the formal gardens that are a delight for the eye and nose. The huge plant pots on turntables are worth seeing in the Orchard House, too.

The Visitor centre has expanded over the last decade and there are many mini exhibitions detailing Armstong's work for those who like to know more about lifts, rams, turbines, guns and the like. Gentlemen seem to hover longer over these longer than the ladies.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

This photograph taken from the BBC website gives you an idea of many parts of the UK this summer. It is wet, wet, wet. Heaven help the holidaymaker.

The Severn and the Thames are bursting their banks and running at ferocious speeds. Thousands of people have been forced out of their homes and last night many more lost both their clean water and electricity supplies because food water had swamped the power station.

A couple of weeks ago it was Sheffield and Hull that were inundated. A couple of years ago it was Carlisle. It looks like this is the way things are going to be.

Here on the Tyne valley we seem to have missed the worst. The Tyne is high, certainly, but nothing like the Severn. Flash floods have always been common on this river. Rain on the hills takes between five and seven hours to come down from Alston to Newcastle, and once it hits Newcastle it is contained, probably because the bed of the river was dredged so deep to take the nineteenth century shipping. It is also tidal. There is room to take the extra flow.

This week water has been running down hills because the ground is so sodden it can't absorb any more. Some houses have been flooded simply by rain water running off the hillsides and into their homes. It created mini lakes in Hexham and you can see the pictures and reports in the Hexham Courant at http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/

Gymkhanas, county shows, vintage car rallies - if it takes place in a field, it has probably been cancelled because the ground is too waterlogged to walk on, let alone park cars and trailers on it. This summer is drear indeed.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Viking treasure hoard uncovered

The most important Viking treasure find in Britain for 150 years has been unearthed by a father and son while metal detecting in Yorkshire.
David and Andrew Whelan uncovered the hoard, which dates back to the 10th Century, in Harrogate in January.

The pair kept their find intact and it was transferred to the British Museum to be examined by experts, who said the discovery was "phenomenal". It was declared as a treasure at a court hearing in Harrogate on Thursday. North Yorkshire coroner Geoff Fell said: "Treasure cases are always interesting, but this is one of the most exciting cases that I have ever had to rule on.
"I'm delighted that such an important Viking hoard has been discovered in North Yorkshire. We are extremely proud of our Viking heritage in this area."

Metal detectorists David and Andrew Whelan, who uncovered the treasures, said the find was a "thing of dreams". The pair, from Leeds, said the hoard was worth about £750,000 as a conservative estimate. "We've been metal detecting for about five years; we do it on Saturdays as a hobby. We ended up in this particular field, we got a really strong signal from the detector... Eventually we found this cup containing the coins and told the antiquity authority. We were astonished when we finally discovered what it contained."

The ancient objects come from as far afield as Afghanistan in the East and Ireland in the West, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe. The hoard contains 617 silver coins and 65 other objects, including a gold arm-ring and a gilt silver vessel.
Dr Jonathan Williams, keeper of prehistory in Europe at the British Museum, said: "The cup is beautifully decorated and was made in France or Germany at around AD900. It is fantastically rare - there are only a handful of others known around the world. It will be stunning when it is fully conserved."

Most of the smaller objects were extremely well preserved as they had been hidden inside the vessel, which was protected by a lead container. The British Museum said the coins included several new or rare types, which provide valuable new information about the history of England in the early 10th Century, as well as Yorkshire's wider cultural contacts in the period.
It was probably buried for safety by a wealthy Viking leader during the unrest following the conquest of the Viking kingdom of Northumbria in AD927.

A spokeswoman for the museum said: "The size and quality of the hoard is remarkable, making it the most important find of its type in Britain for over 150 years." The find will now be valued for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport by the Independent Treasure Valuation Committee. Dr Williams said that the British Museum and the York Museums Trust would be looking to raise the funds to purchase the collection so it could eventually go on public display.
The proceeds would be split between the finders and landowners. "

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


I wonder if it is time to write a little about me?

I don't mind telling you about my writing - I like to write in silence, with just the click of the keys to convince me that I'm doing well. I like the idea of background music and I've tried it more than once but I found one of two things - either it was intrusive and annoying, or it was so far in the background that the piece ended - and I never noticed.

Something will arouse my interest in a plot or a period and I'll tinker around lots of research, and I do love research. Then I formulate a brief outline of the story so I know what I'm aiming at. I suppose I could describe it as major towns on a long journey - Newcastle, Durham, York, Lincoln, always heading towards the destination. Silly to go to Aberdeen when you want to get to Dover. I don't expect the outline will be static. I've found that plots seem to change as I go along.
Characters are intriguing, aren't they? A chap I once knew was the basis for one of my heroes, but the character metamorphosed into his own being before the end of the story. I use bits of conversation, bits of a someone I know, bits of history, bits of what I've read, dreamed, imagined and mix them all together with that glorious question that's been with me all my life - what if...?

When you read history you can sense sometimes that there was a pivotal point where a nation almost gelled together, or the plot almost worked, or a battle should have been won - but for some trivial reason the attempt failed. Around the first millenium was just such a time for Alba, the country we now know as Scotland. The borders were almost as they are today, the various incomers had begun to live in peace, and then, in a squabble over the succession, the momentum towards nationhood was lost and not regained for two or even three hundred years.

I mused over that and slowly began to imagine a young man who had all the qualities required for leadership bar one and who found the course of his life changed when the girl he loved was married off to someone else. Before I knew it, he was beset with problems, some of his own making, some not, and through the story he had to learn to adapt, change and negotiate his way out of trouble.

That story became The Banners of Alba.

Friday, 13 July 2007


This is Durham.

The Castle and the Cathedral from Framwellgate Bridge.

Built such along time ago, about 1140AD if my memory serves. I used to live within the sound of the cathedral bells as a child, but they stopped ringing for a long time as the sound was damaging the structure of the Lantern tower. A happy way to spend a day walking along the banks through the trees, watching rowers in training and rowers just out for a lark about in the summer sun.

Good to pop up to Palace Green and duck into the Cathedral for a coffee in the cafe in the Undercroft and to soak up a little of the atmosphere. I always feel better for having been there, and I love it if the organist is playing or practising while I'm there. Walk behind the organ pipes and feel the suck and pull of air!

Another view of the Cathedral, this time from South Street where some of the most expensive properties in the city are located. If the trees along the river banks grow much taller, the South Street occupants will soon have no view of the Cathedral!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

RNA Conference

The picture today is of Halton Castle just up the lane from Aydon. The wing with chimneys is Queen Anne but the tower is thirteenth century. I stood in the churchyard to take the pic, so the church is behind me to my right, with the "mouse" hedge just poking its nose into the picture.
Some gardner with a sense of humour has cut the privet bush into the shape of a mouse, and it always makes me smile to see it. There's also a Roman altar in the churchyard, very old and blurry, but unmistakably Roman in shape and style. It is not in the picture as I didn't think to include it at the time. I wonder if they took it from the Roman station just behind the house, or if the site of the churchyard was once a Roman temple? I must try and find out.
I've just got back from Leicester, where the RNA conference was held this year. I enjoyed myself much more than last, but then I was an absolute newbie last year! This year I had enough sense to pace myself and go to bed early! I learned such a lot, and it will all be useful. I've already gone through one of my offerings (still out on spec) and decided exactly what the goals, motivations and conflicts are. What surprised me is how invisble they were on the page though I knew what they were without trying too hard. I expect I need to do it with everything I do from now on - at least until it is so ingrained that I can't possibly forget it! Certainly the exercise has started me on a re-editing of the entire work.

I've pulled out from 2 critique groups in the last week. It had got to the point where I didn't seem to do much beyond critique someone else's work or felt guilty because I had not done so. Also, I suspect the end result of too many critiques on your own work, as Cat Cobain of Little Black Dress said on Sunday, is that you lose your individual voice. It becomes perfect but bland.
Food for thought there too, I think.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Aydon Halle

This is the view south across the Tyne valley towards the Durham hills and the Pennines.

The path is part of the Hadrian's Wall Walk and there was a very flimsy looking fence between me and that powerful male creature. I kept one eye on him on my right and one eye on the wall at my left so I could make a hasty exit *over* the wall if necessary!

However, he took one look at us and went back to grazing. I was researching the locale for the story I'm just beginning. There is a castle a little further down into the valley and that is where my heroine will live. She will be living in the sixteenth century and I'll keep thinking about her here in this century.

It's right on my doorstep. Couldn't be easier, and it is really picturesque. Can you see the vague grey-brown shape in this picture? Well, that's the castle, and if you can ignore the telephone wires cutting right across the picture, it is romantic country.

The nearest village is Corbridge - and the nearest town is Hexham, four miles away. In medieval days Corbridge was a big, bustling place probably because it was centred on the old Roman Corstopitum, the meeting place of five roads and for some of that time a bridge across the river and a ford if the bridge was unusable. It used to have four or five churches until the Scots burned out all but one. St Andrews is still there with its Roman arch, Saxon tower and the communal oven tucked into the wall behind it.

Once there was a royal residence for the English kings, but that went with many other buildings when Wallace brought the Scots over the Border. He trapped 200 scholars in Hexham Abbey School and burned the place down. Naturally enough, we Northumbrians don't think too highly of Wallace, no matter what Mel Gibson thinks.

This is what used to be known as Aydon Halle, but is now known as Aydon Castle. This is where my heroine will live.

The picture is taken within the curtain wall. It is a genuine fortified thirteenth century manor house, originally built in 1290. It was converted to a farmhouse in the seventeenth century and was in occupation until 1966. It is surprisingly unaltered from its original state.

dh and I walk in this area frequently and it is lovely to sit in the sun within the shelter of the curtain wall and enjoy the luxery of an ice-cream from the tiny English Heritage shop and ticket office before heading off down the steep path through the woods to Corbridge.

Monday, 2 July 2007


I have to admit I've not made a great deal of progress as I allowed myself to be sidetracked bu all sorts of things including a long walk by the river with Mishka (see above)

She belongs to the daughter of a friend but every now and then I get to enjoy her company, plus some much needed exercise.

I've cut almost 20k from the Rimrock Caper and renamed it Mountain Madness, so I haven't been totally idle! It wasn't as difficult as I imagined to cut the words, either. I may still trim some more.

Currently I'm reading an online workshop headed up by Michelle Styles who writes for HM&B. I think I shall learn a lot about category romance there. Evidently she is scheduled for each day this week - an opportunity not to be missed. If you come to it late, I expect you'll still be able to read the whole thing. I shall be driving down to Leicester on Friday morning to attend the RNA's national conference 2007, so I'll have to catch up on the last day myself.

I'm watching the news anxiously with that trip in mind. Floods have devastated the midlands and while I sympathise deeply with the people who are caught up in it, I hope I won't hit any deviations as I drive south. Rain is still forecast for the most of the UK, so it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that I shall end up lost. I shall take husband's tom-tom and hope that sees me through!