Thursday, 31 January 2008

Red Roses For Authors

Yesterday I joined a new group. It is the first time I have been in at the start-up and I hope it becomes a firm favourite with the 50 or so authors who have joined so far. If anyone is curious, here's the address: redrosesforauthors

Here in the north-east we are in the grip of some ferocious weather - high winds, and snow. I had an appointment in Newcastle today, and believe me, without it, I would not have set foot out of doors. The temperature veered between 0.5 and 4.5 as we drove into the city, and then reversed again as we drove home. The Tyne is in flood, heavy with thick brown waters swirling up among the trees on the bank. The old Victorian bridge is under pressure once more.

Here's hoping it survives. There's more snow and wind forecast for tonight and the next couple of days.

I know this is nothing compared to the weather some people endure, but for the UK, this is nasty. A time for lying low, getting out the old red wine and chatting to friends on the internet! We do not deal with Ice Roads across frozen lakes and temperatures of minus 40 Fahrenheit.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Frozen shoulder

Paid my first visit to a physiotherapist yesterday and had a secondary frozen shoulder diagnosed and manipulated. Intriguing experience. I had great expectations of ultrasound, but couldn't feel a thing!

Since my great flurry of activity on selling earlier in the month, I have received a few negative replies. Caroline Sheldon, A P Watt, Rupert Heath and Gregory & Co have turned down Warden's Bride, and Little Black Dress felt the Rimrock Caper wasn't for them. M&B don't want Herondale's Chance, either.

I think my skin's growing thicker, because I sighed and sent them out again into the big cold world. Somebody, somewhere is going to like them. It'll just take time. I didn't have much faith in agents responding favourably, I have to say. They seem to be flooded out with people (like me!) who think they can write and expect to be published. I blame computers. I've said this before and no doubt I'll say it again, but I do think a PC turns out such an impressive looking piece of work that the author thinks the content is as good as the appearance. Often, it isn't.

I'm "reading the line," as publishers so often tell aspiring authors, so now I'm writing as a reader rather than an aspiring writer. Still with me? Good. The book is one of this year's (or maybe 2007) M&B historicals, by an American author. I find it curious that this author has done so much research into the Victorian period, specified on the first page as 1889, and then drops into language that uses gotten and off of in the same sentence, has her characters eat biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Not only that, M&B have published it as a Regency.

I cannot imagine eating biscuits (sweet, sugary) and gravy (rich and meaty) for breakfast. And 1889 is well into the Victorian era, forty years away from the Regency. Where, oh where was the
editor when this was going through the processes? The story is good, the writing vibrant but these little things, so easily corrected, stand out like giant rocks in a river and jerk me out of the story. I hereby send up a plea to all editors - please, ensure the books are written in whichever language is correct to the time and place of the story. American English and British English are two very distinct languages, I fear!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Things I noticed

That isn't a mountain, it's a cloud formation sweeping in from the west towards Voss.
Just one last recollection of my Norwegian holiday - at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam we walked to the gate for the Bergen flight and sat down. We were early. Other passengers gathered, slowly. I began to get a sense that I was surrounded by rather large, tall chaps. I asked dh, and he concurred. Vikings, he said, grinning.
Don't be silly, I told myself. Just because you write about them doesn't mean you have to collect them. But I kept up with the sneaky glances. There are tall men in the UK, certainly, and some of them, especially if they have outdoor, active lives, are good and broad across the shoulders. Go to a pub like the Pheasant at Stannersburn and many a husky Northumbrian lad will tower over you at the bar.
But the collection at Schiphol loomed around me. Not only broad shoulders, but heavy thighs, thick wrists - and so many in one place! I began to fear the plane might not balance up correctly.
There was only one problem - not one of these guys was blond. Every shade of brown, but not a hint of fair hair. Not Vikings, then.
In Bergen, the big men vanished. I don't know where they went, but they didn't go skiing, and they didn't go to Voss. Except for our driver. He was definitely one of them, and his name was Einar. His knees almost touched the dashboard, he was so cramped into the seat. First thing we saw at our hotel next morning? Three or four female staff all with silvery-fair hair. The typical iconic Norwegian colouring, and they were all big girls, too.
I kept looking all week, but I never saw a man - young, old, tall or small, with that same silvery-fair hair.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Odds and sods

This is Olavs Cross, perched on a tiny mound in Skulegata. I tried, I really tried to get a clear view of it, but it is surrounded by modern buildings.

Olav erected it in 1023 AD when the population of Voss converted to Christianity. It really looks a thousand years old, too. Such a pity about the surroundings.

This is a view of the pedestrianised town centre. The church stands just to the right, and behind the church lies the lake - Vangsvatnet.

Below is the Vangskyrkja - Voss Church ( built between 1271 and 1277 and still in use every Sunday.

Since the steeple is built of wood I should think it has been renewed a time or two, but the stone looks authentic. We didn't go in. I gather in the summer there is a charge of 15 kroner to look around - about £1.60. Reasonable enough, but I do feel that churches and cathedrals should be free and open to all.

I was warned that Norway was expensive. Coffee was around £2 per cup, petrol and diesel were within 20p of our own prices in the UK. Alcohol, however, was a real killer. We asked for the wine list the first night there, and soon handed it back without ordering anything. If the cheapest bottle of wine in the UK might be around £8-12 depending on the level of restaurant, then the cheapest bottle of wine in the hotel was 300 kroner, or £32.

And the prices went up from there!

We walked a short distance along the lake shore, but it was cold and damp and we had to move at a brisk pace to keep warm. If you click to enlarge the pic, you can maybe see the chunks of ice along the edge of the shore. More and more of the lake froze over as our week went on, and more and more of the cloud came drifting down the mountains. Two days out of six we did not ski - one day the weather was just to wet to contemplate doing it, and the other there was too much wind and the cable car did not run.
We don't think we will return to Voss. We probably had an unlucky week, but ... poor weather always colours the entire holiday and the constant cloud and rain was depressing.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Skiing in Voss

Heh, heh, in case you wondered - this is me on the slopes! The moment we saw the ray of sunshine - and there was only one - we rushed out and headed for the lift. DH took this on his mobile phone.

We're at Slettafjellet, heading for the drag lift over to my right. (Your left)

When a drag works well, it is really something. This one goes straight up a couple of hundred metres, and there were very few people about. In fact that was one of the delights of the holiday. We were able to ski at our pace, fast or slow, side to side or straight down - without the dreaded sound of skis hurtling down behind us. As with the slopes, we had the drag to ourselves. No sound but that of the skis hissing over snow, and a track that looked a dream in the sidesunlight coming across the slope. Dramatic ski scapes, photographer's dream. Nearer the top, the wind increased to such an extent that it blew me across the track. Snow spumed off the banks at the side, blew on the wind, made drifts across the track and our skis cut through. By the time dh came up behind me, (next drag) he said my tracks had disappeared.

A beautiful run down. Clear sunlight, every slant and curve of the slope clearly visible. Swooping down, as every skier dreams, with only the sound of the skis biting into the snow. And whoops of joy!

Rush to the lift, panting. Clatter through the turnstile, grab the drag, and up the slope again. This time, the sun vanishes, visibility drops. Near the top, the wind starts to moan. The bones of the face ache with cold, hurt with the cold. Pellets of snow drive into my eyes - why didn't I wear my goggles? Can't see where the disengage point is, wind blows me away over to the right of the track, it's here, let go, stagger off into a deep drift. Blunder around the lift head, can the wind really do this much damage in the time it takes to make one descent?

It can, I assure you. I stood on the top of that mountain, and couldn't see which way to go. If there's one thing I hate, it's trying to ski down a slope where the air if thick and grey, the snow is flat white and suddenly the ground drops away beneath you and you weren't ready for it. Your weight goes back, the skis points come up and you are halfway to disaster. It's like missing a step on the stairs, only worse because there might be another one coming up immediately and you can't see -

It was fun though. I got, down, obviously. And lived to ski another day.

Skiing, anyone?

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Voss in January

You may think this is a poor quality photo but I assure you it is exactly the view I saw from my hotel window!

Voss is not the happiest place to be in January, though I am sure it is very pretty in summer. Or in winter, should the sun happen to shine. We spent a week there, and saw only brief glimpses of the sun, and I really do mean brief - ten minutes on two days would cover it!

In fact it wasn't the best trip we've ever made. We travelled with Inghams, and probably because we did not read the small, small print - I'd need a magnifying glass, actually - we failed to realise that after a two hour wait at Newcastle we flew south to Amsterdam Schiphol, hung around there for three hours and then flew north to Bergen. Had we flown north east from Newcastle, we could have been in Bergen instead of Amsterdam. Also, on one flight we received no food, and on the other a sandwich. Since we had no Dutch currency to buy anything in Schiphol, we were ravenous by the time the sandwich appeared.

Then there was the two hour coach drive in the dark to Voss. I slept through the last third of it.

Fleischers's hotel seemed nice. One of the leading hotels of Europe, one of the Wooden Hotels of Norway. Yes, that is a white wood exterior, and much of the the interior is a rich dark wood. A pleasant but slightly odd ambiance with family photos of the Fleischers on every wall.

Our room seemed small and stark with a polished wood floor and a miniscule bathroom without a bath (always a good thing on a skiing holiday so as to soak away the aches and pains of the day) but everything was very good quality and the shower was so powerful it was almost bounding off the wall. We had two hours to wait until dinner, but at least we were to be fed. Veal. I don't eat veal. I gave it all to Bill. The soup and vegetables were nice, but haute cuisine it was not. I can't remember dessert, except that I ate it.

More tomorrow.

Friday, 11 January 2008

With a Bang

I've started off the new year with a bang. I've expended £20 on submissions to agents.
So we'll see if that brings any results. Half went on printing out partials and half went on postage. As my dh said, "At least you might get somethng back from your £20. I never get anything back for the money I spend." So here's hoping. I have to say I don't have a lot of faith in agents, but perhaps I'm cynical.

I spent 2 days preparing, honing, checking the submissions, so now its back to normal business. There is a duel awaiting me out in the cool misty dawn somewhere in County Durham and I'm off to track down all those involved.

The skis have come in from the cold. They are lurking in out hallway, waiting to be taken to Norway very soon. Our ski boots are huddled up next to a radiator trying to get warm. Poor things. We've been watching weather reports - isn't the web so handy for this kind of thing? - and Voss doesn't seem to be any colder than Zermatt. I'm surprised, but when I think about it, Zermatt is at a much higher altitude than Voss, so the temperatures are probably about the same. I wonder if we'll see the Northern Lights?

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Sno-Pak and Correction fluid

If I thought people wouldn't be offended, I'd swear. But you might, so I won't.

Why do I wish to swear?

Because I received a rejection today. From an Agent. Who talks of enjoying my story, but the worries of placing it in an over-crowded marketplace. I know only too well everyone wants to have a book published. I blame it on computers, I really do. If everyone had to do it in longhand, would there still be so many people attempting it? Yes, perhaps. But would they finish it? I doubt it.

I tried it; writing in longhand and dutifully typing it up in the days before electric typewriters, when Sno-Pak was the latest thing in correction fluid. It took forever. Fortunately for me, computers came in in time for me to finish it off the easy way. That book, dear reader, became Banners of Alba, and it took nigh on seventeen years from conception to publication as an e-book. Are you impressed? I doubt that, too.

But you should be!


Perhaps it was the fresh air, or the visit to Borders Bookshop or just getting out of the house - but I'm almost back to normal.
I bought two books yesterday so perhaps retail therapy had something to do with it, too! Although I know Venetia Murray's book High Society is noted for its inaccuracy I can still learn from it. The other book was for a future writing project but I don't want to dip into it yet, otherwise I'll distract myself and that would never do.

Over the hols I've been editing WsB. Once I got beyond polishing the first three chapters for a submission, I went on to polish the rest! I may still add bibs and bobs as I think of things in reaction to the critique group comments but now I'm back to the HsD - up to Chapter 8 and thinking about a duel.

I've just finished reading the Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick. The last few chapters moved me to tears and I recommend both it and its predecessor The Greatest Knight. On a visit to the library I picked up Barbara Erskine's Daughters of Fire, and Ian Rankin's Exit Music, plus a Nora Roberts (The Calhouns) I may have already read. That's the trouble when an author writes so many books; eventually you can't remember which you've read and which you haven't.

It is blowing a gale here today. We must go out, for dh has purchased a belt sander and must pick it up later. Perhaps we'll drive to the coast, eat fish n' chips at Kristian's and get the sander on the way back. That's if we don't get blown away at some point. All the major bridges are closed because of high winds, so we'll need to remember that when we pick a route.

Monday, 7 January 2008


All the guests, snow and celebrations are over and gone, and I feel depleted of energy. I sit and stare at the screen and can't detect any thoughts whirring, or even stirring. Perhaps this is what authors mean when they say their muse has vanished? I don't know, but I hope the feeling doesn't last. I'm not used to this and it feels weird.

It is wet and windy - the usual depressing English weather in January, but we'll shall go and see if we can get a new part for our old washing machine. I've had it about seventeen years, possibly longer, and there's nothing wrong with it except - and it is a big exception - the dial selector switch is now almost dysfunctional. The little plastic cogs inside have all broken off, so it doesn't click round to the desired wash programme at all well. We've replaced this particular part twice already, but we now wonder if the part will still be available. The fresh air should waken me up, if nothing else. Then when I get back, maybe I'll get down to some writing.

Thursday, 3 January 2008


A new year has begun and I celebrated by posting off a partial submission to an agent. I decided it was time to see if I could get anyone on my side.

We woke up to a white world this morning. Snow. It is still with us, and more promised overnight. Paul and Penny arrived in the UK yesterday, and I'll bet this isn't what they were expecting. They left Oz in the heat of summer, stopped in Toronto, flew to Cuba, back to Canada and then on to the UK. Their bodies must not know what season they're in right now.

The other half of the family are just returned to Oz after a fortnight in Alaska where daylight began at 10.30am and ended at 3pm. Still, I understand there were side trips for plenty of retail therapy in Los Angeles and other places. Pretty soon we'll all be back where our normal lives.