Friday, 28 November 2008

Sting and that painting...

Muker, Swaledale.

Originally a Norse settlement, derived from the Norse word "Mjor-aker" meaning "the narrow acre". People have lived where the Swale meets the Straw Beck since the Bronze Age and the promise of good mixed farming in the valley bottom is probably why the Vikings chose to settle here. It seems a long way from the sea...

Went into town yesterday to view a painting. Not something I do often., but this was on the recommendation of a friend.

Stephen Hannock, an American from Massachusetts, has painted an 8 feet by 12 feet (2.4 metres by 3.6 metres) view of the city of Newcastle on Tyne. The most distinctive feature is the river that divides Newcastle from Gateshead. The Millennium Bridge, The Sage and the Baltic are represented far more clearly than that other icon - the castle built in the eleventh century. I struggled to find that in the murk beneath the Tyne Bridge. The city is rendered as if looking down on a map spotted and blotched with bluish lights of differing sizes which represent coal mines. The painting combines what is there on the ground with what was once there in a way that reminds me of an advent calendar. A hazy outline of a gigantic miner lies along the south side of the Tyne, hewing coal for ever. Personal memories that must mean something to the man who commissioned the thing are scribbled at numerous points across the painting, but your nose needs to be four inches from the painting to read them.

The painting is called 'Northern City Renaissance, Newcastle, England'. The man who commissioned it? Sting. Here's one view

It is an interesting concept. I admire Sting for doing it, and putting it on view before he whips it away into one of his many mansions. I'm glad I saw it. But I won't rush to see it again.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Two down, one to go

A couple of pics taken as we drove through Buttertubs. Evidently it is so called because near the summit, just off the road, are a series of fluted limstone potholes. Click here to see them - next time I'll have to go find them!

As for writing, I've finished my re-draft of Warden's Bride and decided to name it Till the Day Go Down. It's a quote: the quiet, ominous words of English reiver Hobbie Noble planning his last foray.
"But will ye stay till the day go down
Until the night comes o'er the ground,
And I'll be a guide worth any twa
That may in Liddesdale be found."

(Dramatic cloudscapes arriving at the top of the Pass)

So now I can concentrate on the third story I've been struggling to re-draft. This one needs a spine so it can't be criticised as a series of nice episodes....and I think I have the spine. I just need to work it in so that it all hangs neatly and believably together. Easier said than done, I think!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Back to work

This is taken from the car as we drove up the Buttertubs Pass. Some day I must find out why it has such a strange name, but for anyone looking for a spectacular drive through Yorkshire countryside - look no further than Muker to Hawes.

Today I am clearing the decks prior to starting work. Checked for e-mails, and joined a new Yahoo group just setting up - click here to find out more. Hopefully this one will not become a place where authors send in excerpts of their books but never stop to discuss books in general. I yearn for a good discussion group!

I've downloaded a couple of titles to my new Sony e-reader and spent time yesterday scanning e-publishers. I was surprised to find that publishers like Sourcebooks, Avon and others sell at almost the same price as a paperback. I expected them to be substantially lower, but perhaps I am not looking in the right place. I also need to find if there's a way of scanning an e-book for a particular chapter. I haven't found a way to do this yet.

As for my reading - I've just finished the last Harry Potter. I enjoyed it as much as all the others and applauded the author's imagination. Of course, it could have been shorter and tighter, and there was a mid-section where not a lot happened. I did not question how 3 growing teenagers could survive on mushrooms for what seemed like half a year. Highly improbable, I know, but at least the author did not take the easy way out and have them steal food to survive. I was pleased that Snape was vindicated in the end, and could see why Harry would annoy him so. Poor man! I'd better not say more in case someone still has the pleasure of reading it to come - and it was a pleasure for me.

Saturday, 22 November 2008


Here's a lovely old north country pub bar - it's the Black Bull at Reeth in Swaledale.

We had a day out yesterday and the pics will keep appearing over the next few entries - everything looked so lovely. After a tasty lunch in the bar we set off west and drove through a tiny hamlet called Healaugh and my memory jolted awake. I have surely seen that name in connection with Lord Wharton Deputy Lord Warden of the West March in the 1540's - the man who masterminded the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. It was one of his properties. The Manor House looked deliciously old - I must find out if it is the same Healaugh.
On through Gunnerside and Muker, where I bought a lovely Swaledale sweater - click here to see the lovely shop and the goodies inside, and then off up the curiously named Buttertubs Pass, off onto the 684 to Garsdale Head - one of the Settle Carlisle Railway stations and then up the single track winding old coal road over the the 1750 foot pass to Cowgill.

A shot of the old fireplace in the Black Bull. I swear everything looked level when I took the picture! The pub dates back to 1680 and the owner says all the floors are crooked, so maybe that's the explanation. It has a web site too:

Step outside and the fine hillside opposite fills the eyes-

In October 1680 Charles II's
fourth Parliament met. In November came the first
reading of the second Exclusion Bill
which not only barred James from the throne but made it treason for him to enter Britain. And in Reeth they were busy building the Black Bull.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

John's gone!

Another autumn picture. Our weather forecasters tell us to expect snow tomorrow down the whole of the east coast of England, so I don't doubt we'll get some. In preparation I've been out and about this week so that I can hibernate tomorrow if I have to.

All this gadding about means of course that I haven't done much writing. Still, I've only got 60 or so pages to check over and then I'll be finished ageing the heroine in Warden's Bride. I've almost decided to rename it Till the Day Go Down - and no, that's not bad grammar, it is a quote. More on that later. Because of the request from Black Lyon to make the heroine older and my own experiments with Save the Cat's Board, I think it is turning out to be a better book anyway.

Don't we live in a strange world when the news programmes find the fact that John Sargeant resigns from Strictly Come Dancing is newsworthy? I mean, in the scale of credit crunches, Somalian pirates and global warming, that such a thing should dominate our tv screens is unbelievable. Poor John may find he is now more unpopular for resigning than he was for staying. And the more interesting thing to my mind, is that the BBC is finding there is a downside to interactive tv and getting people to vote on everything. They may rue the day it ever started, because no one can predict the public vote. It is so volatile, favouring one person today and another tomorrow and it could become positively dangerous. Or exciting, depending on your POV. There, I knew I could make that writerly!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Black Cat

Two pictures taken on one walk - and how very different! Both autumnal and both pleasing in their own way. It occurs to me now (thank good ness it didn't occur to me on the walk!) that this dark and gloomy foresty habitat is probably the sort of country the fabled Black Cat of Tynedale stalks. According to local people the panther-like creature lives in the forests south of Hexham and believe me there is a lot of open and wooden space in Hexhamshire.

Since Wednesday I'm ashamed to say I've had only one day writing. Friday was my local authors' group meet, and because I tagged on a visit to my local farm shop - it was only a small detour - and stocked up on Aberdeen Angus sausages - yum! - that took a good chunk out of the day.

Saturday I spent my time fiddling about with a story board as described in Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I'd already roughed it out on Thursday, and went back to it with a vengeance using small green and blue post-it notes in a large spiral drawing pad that opens out to quite a size so there's lots of scope. Trouble was I've had these particular post-its for more than a year and the glue seems to have weakend. Every time I pick up the drawing pad at least one little post-it floats to the floor.

At first it was tricky to get the hang of his act breaks and turning points. Not difficult, but time consuming to get the sequence correct. Once I had it, I couldn't understand why I'd taken so long. Does it work? I think it does. It certainly clarifies the story. I used to think I planned a story before I began writing, but more and more I find the story evolves and changes as I go and I find myself getting to the end and then thinking oh but it would be better if.... and off I go, re-writing.

So next time, I'm playing on the story board before I put a finger on the PC.

If you want to find out more about the Black Cats, click

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


A lovely walk today and good compionship - both human and canine!

County Durham in November. We set off from Wolsingham car park and headed northwest towards the reservoir through glorious countryside. I poked my camera through the wrought iron gates of Faunlees Hall to take this picture and then kept on walking uphill to Park Walls where we sat and late lunch in the sunshine. I should have taken more pictures on the way up, because by the time we reached the highest point, cloud cover had set in and made the hillsides and the pictures hazy.

By the time I took this picture of my friend against the sweeping background looking south to the Cleveland Hills, we were close on 900 feet and I for one was out of puff and the dog was plodging around in every muddy bit of bog she could find. I opted for heading back down to coffee and a scone in Wolsingham and that's what we did.

Back to work tomorrow, after taking Mini in for her MOT. I expect her to pass with flying colours. She'll be in for a sound talking to if she doesn't.

Friday, 7 November 2008

And finally....

I found an interview with Phillippa Gregory in which she states:

"In terms of styles of language‚ I deliberately took the choice to use fundamentally modern language‚ but quite pure and quite simple. So I don′t use slang and I don′t use modern idioms. This is to make it acceptable to a wider audience and to write as well as I possibly can without being limited by language. For example‚ if I was to write a novel set in France and there were French people speaking French to each other − I wouldn′t put that on the page in French‚ I′d put it in English − and the reader understands as it′s part of a convention of reading a novel‚ that when someone is speaking Russian or French you don′t get a page of Russian or French − you get it in English.
If someone said to me that the past is a foreign country‚ it seems to me that it speaks a foreign language. So in terms of any notion of thee and thus and thy‚ superfluous words‚ I tend not to use them as it′s so strange to the modern eye. You also gain nothing by using them and the chances of rendering them correctly are very slim.
In the case of early modern society we don′t know how they spoke‚ we know how people have written down Shakespeare plays‚ but we don′t know how people actually spoke or what they sounded like. We do believe however that Anne Boleyn maintained the French accent throughout her life as she believed that it made her a bit special‚ I mention this in the novel. But in terms of how actually people spoke‚ we don′t know‚ so I won′t even make a guess."

An author who thinks differently is Patricia Finney. I once tried her book Firedrake's Eye but didn't get very far with it as I found reading it was rather more of a struggle than a pleasure. A review of her book A Shadow of Gulls says she "endows her players with a rich language--essentially modern English lightly laced with fanciful syntax and Elizabethan vocabulary."
On Nov 26, 2003 Roz Kaveney wrote in the Telegraph : "The books' language is a triumph. Finney finds a workable compromise between anachronistic slanginess and a verbose rhodomontade that would probably more accurately represent much of Elizabethan speech."

Now rhodomontade is not in my trusty dictionary, but rhodo means rose coloured. However, the internet tells me it means "pretentiously boastful or bragging." Still, it doesn't tempt me to go find the book and read it. Would you?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

More thoughts on language styles

"I know that some readers don’t like my ‘modern language’ approach – and, I mean, really don’t like it! Well, I can understand that; I do sympathise with that. I understand that, for some readers, the modern language ‘gets in the way’, breaks the spell, even seems ridiculous. But that’s how the stilted dialogue of many other historical novels seems to me. I wanted to write a ‘historical novel’ that I’d want to read. When I’d finished The Queen of Subtleties, my agent and editor each compiled a list of words that had jarred, for them: words that had gone too far. I did study those lists (and was grateful for their efforts!), but in the end I decided to ignore them. Because, otherwise, I’d be writing by committee. I’d had a vision for the book, and I had to stay true to that. And you can’t please all the people, all the time."
This is a snippet from Suzannah Dunn's website, and it is well worth reading the whole piece.
I read the Sixth Wife, and to be honest I was put off by the modern language the author used, not only for her dialogue but I think I'm correct in saying she used it for exposition too. But you know, by the middle of the book I was easier with it and by the end I'd forgotten about it. My mindset had altered and embraced her use of language.
I know that Dorothy Dunnett wrote in what I have to call "modern language." I had no problems with her novels because she did not use modern jargon or slang - nothing too twentieth century. If I checked I'd probably find there were no words in her Lymond series that would have been unfamiliar in 1560. (Though occasionally there was a tiny slip - I'm not convinced that even the brightest person alive then would have know of the existence of brain cells.) In her first book Ms Dunnett made a glorious game out of using "old" words like passementerie - and I hope I've spelled that correctly - I don't use it very often! - that sent many of us off on a chase through dictionaries to discover the meaning. I enjoyed that, but some people found it irritating.
Ms Dunnett had a style all her own, and one I enjoyed tremendously. The opening line of Disorderly Knights, for instance: "On the day his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt." Now doesn't that get your attention? It got mine.
Or, a little later in the chapter - "Swearing with great spirit from time to time, always a good sign with Sir Walter, he flew through the filmy splendours of autumn, primed to nick Kerr heads like old semmit buttons."
You don't need to know what old semmit buttons are to pick up sense of glorious adventure and tongue in cheek humour to know you're going to enjoy a wonderful read.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Language in all it's forms

I'm still interested in modern/versus archaic language in historical novels. I really think I ought to qualify archaic and say less modern, or language more true to the time period of the novel. Possibly not even that. If I wrote a book in the language used by Elizabethans, I doubt it would sell very well. But conversely, is it OK to write a book set in Elizabethan times and uses phrases like "She was drunk as a skunk and well out of order...." I wonder.

Trawling the web, I found this snippet from writer Mary Renault. Her books The King must Die and Bull From the Sea fuelled my imagination when I was much younger and I still have them on the shelf today. This is what she said on the topic:

"Greek is a highly polysyllabic language. Yet when writing dialogue for my Greeks I have found myself, by instinct, avoiding the polysyllables of the English language, and using, as far as they are still in the living language, the older and shorter words. This is not because the style parallels Greek style; it is entirely a matter of association and ambience. In Greek, polysyllables are old; in English, mostly Latinised and largely modern. They have acquired their own aura, which they will bring along with them. Their stare, like that of the basilisk, is killing. Take the following sentence, which I have just picked at random from a magazine: “High priority is to be given to training in the skills of community organizing and conflict resolution.” It contains no concept which Plato did not know, or, indeed, did not in fact deal with. But it comes to us steeped in notions of the company report, the social survey, and so forth. When I see writing like this in a historical novel I know what the author is after. He wants us to identify with the situation of his characters as if it were our own. But it isn’t, and identification thus achieved is a cheat. You cannot, as an advertising copywriter would say, enjoy a trip to fifth-century Athens, or Minoan Crete, in the comfort of your own home. You have, as far as your mind will take you, to leave home and go to them."

I totally agree. The trick is to find the right kind of language for the particular era in which you wish to write your novel.

Monday, 3 November 2008


Here's an autumn picture - newly ploughed fields....and Halloween went by without a murmur in our cul de sac. Put it down to the nasty cold rain that night, or the fact that the kids have all grown beyond wearing mum's old sheet with two holes cut for eyes. Yet in town, adults were standing in a ten, twelve yard queue, outside in the cold, waiting to get inside and make purchases of some kind at the only Halloween shop in town. It seems to me a very odd thing when adults take over festivals that twenty years ago were considered fit only for children.

I finished reading Saturnalia by Lindsey Davis last week and thought I'd offer a comment or two. I was particularly intrigued by her use of language. I knew she used modern langauge, but now that I'm writing myself I looked at what she does with new eyes. Isn't it amazing how this happens? Something I've taken for granted for years suddenly takes on a new aspect because I started to question how I used language in my writing.

Lindsey says in the notes section: "I write about another culture, where people spoke another language, one which has mainly survived either in a literary form or as tavern wall graffiti. Many an argot must have existed in between. People sometimes discuss whether the Romans would really sound as I portray them - forgetting firstly that the Romans spoke Latin not English, and that on the streets and in the provinces they must have spoekn versions of Latin that did not survive. I have to find my own ways to make narrative and dialogue convincing."

She goes on: "It is no good hoping that the carbonised papyri from Herculaneum that are now being so painstakingly unravelled by scholars will produce clues; so far they are all Greek to me, and indeed to everyone. If Calpurnius Piso, thought to be the villa's owner, owned a Slang Thesaurus, we have not found it."

So she deploys metaphors and similes that work in context, and sometimes she invents words, although she has to struggle to get them by her British editor. And above all, she uses modern, slang English. It works. And people like it; after all, this is her eighteenth book about Marcus Didius Falco.

Taking a Risk

  Poised on the cliff edge about to take the leap! No thoughts of suicide - oh no! Or perhaps only in terms of covers for my e-books. I am a...