Wednesday, 29 August 2007

This might seem a bit like blowing one's own trumpet, but then if I don't do it, who will? I first contacted Ms Marr way back in January. In fact it might have been even earlier than that, but let's not quibble over a month or two. Reviews do take their time to come through. I feel this one was worth waiting for: read and see what you think.

The Banners of Alba Review on

"In the Dark Ages of Scotland, men fight for the crown, sweeping aside contenders by any means available—including murder. Alliances are made or broken by marriages of convenience, and human character is ever the same, no matter what period in history.

Malcolm of Alba sends Daveth mac Finlay to forge an alliance with his nephew, Thorfinn Sigurdarson, Lord of Orkney, by marrying his half-sister, Ratagan. But Prince Duncan prefers Finlay dead—because he’s a real possibility to take the throne. So he plots behind the King’s back, to have Finlay assassinated before he reaches Thorfinn. Finlay reaches his destination without harm, but he has no intentions of marrying the beautiful and clear-headed Ratagan. He’ll choose his own wife—and not a minute before he’s ready to get married. He has no interest in becoming king, but Thorfinn, though he will not force it, advises Finlay that an alliance between them, through his sister, would be a wise thing to consider.

Ratagan doesn’t want to marry Finlay any more than he wants to marry her, but there’s an attraction between them that they cannot deny. Ratagan will not be ruled by her future husband—she has a mind of her own and will not be obedient just because it’s required of her. Finlay wants to control her, but Ratagan is too strong-willed for that to ever happen.

Kilda had her heart set on marrying Finlay. They’d known each other since childhood, and it was understood that they would marry. But the king thought otherwise and forced her to marry Finlay’s cousin, Gille, to keep Finlay from the crown. Any child born to Kilda would be in line for the throne, and any man would be willing to marry her—but would it be for her or just for a chance to rule before her son becomes old enough to take the throne?

Hareth mac Enna has loyalties to no one but himself. He can choose sides at will while disregarding life-long friendships like the one he has with Finlay. The beautiful, spoiled Kilda plays right into his hands—except he may have truly fallen in love with her. Hareth is a devious but intelligent man, and he’s not entirely heartless. His emotions and honor go a long way in deciding his future plans, even if he doesn’t know it himself.

I can’t imagine the amount of research required in writing The Banners of Alba, but Ms. Black has done her homework. The settings, characters, and history are well-written, taking you back to a time when men fought for land and power and women were considered nothing more than possessions to be used to further a man’s standing.

I love it when an author creates real characters with real human flaws. I can say, “Oh, now, that was a really stupid thing to do,” and still like the character. Ms. Black has definitely done this in The Banners of Alba. All of her characters are unique and rich in personality, and they act just as you would expect men and women to act when emotions run high. It’s not always pretty, but it’s honest. Engaging to the very last page, The Banners of Alba entrances you with a bold story of love and deception. It’s a medieval soap opera that will keep you coming back to see what happens next in this epic tale of love and war."

Well, was it worth waiting for? You tell me. I'd love to know if review influence readers at all.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

I put the following post in http:/ early today. If you want to read the whole thing and enjoy some of the other posts about historical fiction, check it out.

"Scalds or skalds were Scandinavian/Icelandic, scops were from the Germanic traditions that came to Britain and bard was the term used in Ireland. Minstrels came to England with the Conqueror from France. Legend has it that The Conqueror’s minstrel Tallifer begged and was allowed to strike the first blow against the English at Hastings." (More...)

I went to Newcastle Keep last Wednesday and took lots of pics. What struck me today was that Robert Curthose was probably entertained by scops and travelling bards every night in the Grand Hall of the Keep just as we are entertained by television (or whatever your particular form of light relief might be.) I think I know which was the more improving for the mind, and it isn't today's tv.

Friday, 24 August 2007


I promised to show you some of my favourite faces for the heroes in my stories, so here goes. This one (left) doubles up as Finlay in Banners and Dark Pool except that Finlay's hair is black rather than brown.

The face matched the character I had dreamed up so very well. I don't know the actor, and I don't think I've ever seen him in a film, but I don't need to.

I already have the vague outline of the character in my imagination so when I'm trawling the net, reading posts, or just scanning a magazine, sometimes I'm lucky and see a photo that clicks with the image in my head - bingo! There's recognition. I capture the pic and then I can look at it, study it, decide how best to describe it in words that will carry a picture to the reader. The sad thing was that by the time I found Finlay's "picture" he was already in print.

With Herondale, I've been lucky.This face is standing in very nicely for the late Victorian hero in my latest story, as yet unpublished. Pity he got his hand in the way, but he'll do. It's quite fun trying to imagine him dressed in the fashions of the 1890's and addressing the heroine as Miss Blackett.

Further down the page the blonde hero is the very essence of Flane in another as yet unpublished story, right down to the way he stands. I couldn't resist.

Since I don't know the actors, I have no preconceived ideas of them. I have never heard them speak, so I can give them whatever kind of voice I like, give them an earring or two, take way the arm bands if I want and dress them in whatever clothes suit my purpose.
I do the same thing with heroines, but most of their pics are the paper variety, otherwise I'd put them up here.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

I've been interviewed!

I'm being interviewed on Sloane Taylor's blog and it is a really good presentation by Sloane so I hope you'll rush over and read.

It begins on 20th ~ "Jen Black tells all"

Gosh ~ I feel famous already!

Monday, 20 August 2007


Do you recognise this man? (Read on!)
This morning I updated my anti virus software, took care of some bank business, and organised my clutterbook. Clutterbook? I'm sure you've got one too. It's the little notebook in which I jot down every url that I think I might want to use again. I started it so long ago, way before I discovered how to use Favourites and I was reluctant to ditch it because I knew some little gems were tucked away among the stuff that was

a) obsolete and

b) of no interest now or

c) has now become a firm Favourite

So today I went through, checked them all to see if they were still live - most were, and then if I thought I might need them, I transposed them into a A-Z indexed notebook. Before you laugh, I threw a hell of a lot out. But at least now I have a fair to even chance of finding something in my new notebook. It seems I still haven't outgrown that childish love of lists, listmaking, and maybe best of all - writing in new notebooks.
Blogs are discussing actors as fictional heroes right now, so I'm anxious to have my say on this luscious topic. Ian McShane (above) is a type who figures in my fictional writing. I was impressed by his first film way back in the dim and distant past - The Wild and the Willing, perhaps, if I haven't accessed one of those fatal holes in the memory bank. There's something about the deep set of his eyes and the magical timbre of his voice. He can look like a wide boy, a loveable rogue (Lovejoy) and he isn't ideal as a base for one of the romantic gentry figures, but...he is a type I can use. Stretch him to 6 foot, give him a long stride like Charles Dance, and a decent haircut, beautiful clothes and he's just about there.
More tomorrow...

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Hung over

That's Halton Tower flying the flag.
Had some good friends over to dinner last night and consequently off to a very slow start this morning. I don't want to go downstairs, because I know we didn't finish clearing up. Usually I do, but for some reason this time I didn't, so even though I didn't peek round the dining room door when I stumbled down stairs for a mug of black coffee, I know there's a collection of glasses waiting to be hand-washed and napkins to clear and wash, fingerprints to take off the table, empty bottles ot dispose of....but it was a Good Night. Hate to think how many calories we tucked away, and goodness knows what I did with the feta cheese, which mysteriously vanished when I wanted to crumble it with the fresh parsely and basil. I still haven't found it.

Because I planned this dinner and did most of it in advance (one of the joys of not working for a living!) I had time to read through my late Victorian story yesterday, catching the last few errors (I hope) and now I think I regard it as complete. Its gone off as a partial, so now it's sit back and wait time. Time to turn my attention to something new.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Bah Humbug!

I cannot get the cover pic of Banners to show up on the blog - right hand side - over there ----
the right size. As it is, it's a bit like looking in a distorting mirror. Sorry about that. I've added about 20 "hits" to the site trying to get it right, all to no avail.

There's a new review of Banners over at :

and I see they have used the old cover layout. I wonder if they had the same problems trying to load the newer cover? Perhaps I'll try the older one, too! All that's different is the colour and font of the actual words.

That's the correct size! Phew!

I wonder if I mentioned that I blogged on Unusual Historicals on the 26th last month? and that I'll be blogging htere again on the 26th of every month unless they throw me off. I talked about writing my first book and the pros and cons of writing in a time and place where written records are almost unknown.

There are some well known authors blogging there for your delectation - a different author every day. Today it was the turn of Michelle Styles and she's talking about casting actors as her heroes.

Maybe I'll talk about that next time I blog.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Good news and Bywell

Today I received a request for a full ms for a partial submission I sent off some time ago. So while I realise it could still be a turn down, at least its a step forward on the road to getting something new out there. I've spent the day reading through, checking for typos, trying to concentrate 100% so that nothing slips through. It's a while since I worked on this story, and on the whole I'm pleased with the way it hangs together. Now I can only hope that they like it.

This is St Andrews church at Bywell, Northumberland. The tower dates back to Anglo Saxon days, though as with most churches in the UK, there have been alterations to various parts of it through the centuries. I remember being brought here on a visit by my tutor Dr Bailey and he pointed out the features that made it datable to the 800s - megalithic quoin stones at the corners of the tower, the simple arched windows...the circular openings...I'd have to go back to my notes to tell you more, but it is a lovely old church and one of the more fascinating things about it is the circular path around the churchyard, supposedly so the devil could not find his way in. As you can see in the first picture, the churchyard is going back to nature as the church is not in service any more.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Autumn Walking

Went for a walk today out by Prudhoe Castle. A bit breezy, but out of the wind, very hot sunshine. We went by old Eltringham Village and the old track along by the river - lovely views across -though you can't see it because it's down in the dip, then up the hill by Bewick's Cottage to Mickley, then back along the main road.
We found brambles and luckily I had plastic bags in my pocket, so we picked enough fine black fruit to make a crumble. They're early this year, and rowan and elder berries are in hanging in huge swags just begging to be picked or for the birds to eat them. We found wild plums, too, though Bill refused to eat one.
I did, so if I don't survive the night - don't eat the plums!
Another few days and the hazelnuts will be ready, too. I love the idea of free food, and its a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Brings back memories of childhood when we all went out armed with bags, bowls and buckets.
Toothache is fading away, but still present.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007


This is my great-uncle, who was born November 1872. He would be about 20 in the time I have chosen to write about, and I think he looks somewhere between 20 and 30 here, bearing in mind that fashion can make people look older than they actually were. He died before I was born.
I still have toothache but it is getting less painful. At least I don't need painkillers today. If I sit still, it is easier, too, so it is a grand reason to stay chained to my desk and go through the second draft of my late Victorian epic. Sorry, my late Victorian romance, is more accurate.

I've cut a good chunk of description, and I've brought the h/h together in every chapter but one so far. Even if he isn't there in person, she's thinking about him, so I hope I'm closer to the money this time. What I need now is a good title. I called it The Silver Age originally, because I've read that's what the Russians called this period of history. I rather liked it, but I have to admit it doesn't cut the mustard as far as M&B titles go, so I go to sleep at night thinking up racy titles

I'm about halfway through, maybe a third, but its hard to tell when I might decide to add a chapter, or delete one. Anything goes at this stage.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

I need sympathy today. I had a tooth out yesterday and feel under the weather. But quite by chance Anna sent out notification of a new site aiming to inspire writers. I took a peep and it looks wonderful so I've bookmarked it to go back later. Thanks Anna. I needed some inspiration today.

I've begun to take my late-Victorian novel apart, so that's what'll keep me going for a while, and I will surely need some inspiration to keep plodding away at it. Sadly the new books that was whirling around in my mind will have to go on hold for a little while. I don't think I'm one of those people who can jump from one story to another, but I might try it. I know Penny Jordan does it, and it should provide a valuable "other perspective" which should help.


Adapting to colder temperatures now. Frantically Housecleaning to remove a month's dust, the washing mountain has diminished and we'...