Thursday, 26 February 2009

Blustery day at the coast

A picture of Newcastle on Tyne from the Gateshead bank, looking east. The Norman Castle Keep is just visible above the High Level Bridge.

A six span, two level bridge it carries both rail and road traffic over the River Tyne between Gateshead and Newcastle. The bridge opened in 1849, and is a Grade 1 listed structure 412m long.

It is a cast iron heritage structure designed by Robert Stephenson, and is one of Network Rail’s 'Major Structures'. Travel the East Coast Mainline and you will go over the bridge. In May 2008 the High Level Bridge reopened to the public following an extensive, £42M programme of repair and strengthening to extend the life expectancy of the structure and conserve it as an important piece of our national heritage.

We went out today, escaped down to the coast and ate fish and chips from Kristian's on the North Shields river frontage. It was a bright and clear day, but windy enough to blow away every last cobweb. We walked along the river frontage, head down into the blast, and watched several ships come storming into the Tyne on the high tide. The City of Sunderland works between the Nissan car factory and the rest of the world. The factory where 1200 people were laid off a couple of weeks ago because no one is buying new cars in these credit crunch recession days.

It was good to get away from the computer and watch the world go by. I should have had the camera trained on the acrobatic gulls and terns hovering alongside the car as I threw out left over chips. One chip and twelve birds dived for it. The chip never touched the ground! Sadly the camera was in the boot, but next time I'll be prepared.

Bought some jeans and a top in the M&S outlet at Royal Quays, dithered over the sale stock at the Barbour factory in South Shields but left there without making a purchase.

Coming back through Newcastle with the sun sinking in the west I saw lots of pics I could have taken, but the traffic flow was such that I didn't care to stop and hop out with a camera in my fist. One day soon I shall go into town on the bus and walk around and take all the pics I want.

It is a very photogenic town.

This for example, is the view from the same spot as the first picture, but facing west instead of east.

More bridges! And looking so very different because of the light. And that's not all of them. Newcastle is a city of bridges.

I'll catch the rest on that next trip out.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Lit Lite

Thanks to Linda and her reference to the Independent article, I now have a grip on lit lite. Looking down the list of titles mentioned in the complete article, I think I have managed to avoid every single one. Now I worry - what does that say about me? Not well read? All through my life I've read widely on whatever caught my interest, but I've never done well on the kind of fiction that always figures in lists of 100 best reads. Still, I've enjoyed my reading life and it has given me a huge respect for the written word.

Ms Taylor's article says this of Lit Lite: "the kinds of books that are challenging enough to satisfy the little grey cells of the committed "heavy book buyer", but not too off-putting to the intelligent Richard & Judy viewer who might only buy five books a year. It's a subset that I'm calling "Lit Lite". And it is big, big business.
Lit lite is the kind of book beloved of the reading group: sufficiently approachable and gripping to engage everyone, yet still offering something - some stylistic quirk, some moral dilemma, some social issue - for members to discuss when they meet.

So what exactly is Lit Lite? Andrea Levy's Small Island, with its sassy dialogue and political-historical content (and sales of over half a million) is quintessential lit lite: a ripping yarn with lots of meaty issues to discuss. So is Yann Martel's Life of Pi, with its exotic setting and philosophical musings - and sales now nudging a million. Zadie Smith's Man Booker shortlisted On Beauty is another example."

Read the whole of Debbie Taylor's article here. And thanks, Linda!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Commercial fiction

Still wondering about the publishing world I discover a phrase agents and publishers often use ~ commercial fiction.
From my reading and asking colleagues I have gathered that anything under this heading is aimed at the mass market. It includes romance and historical, and sub genres such as sagas, supernatural, timeslip, fanfic, lit-lite, historical crime and male oriented battle historicals of the type written by Bernard Cornwell.
Poor old category historical romance a la Mills & Boon/Harlequin is not included.
I know that fan-fic refers to the modern follow-ons to Jane Austen's novels. My question is ~ How does lit-light differ from category fiction?

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Grammar and Romance Genres

Heard a new one today. I'm sort of resigned to hearing that a sportsperson has "medalled" but my ears pricked up when I heard that a certain skier has not "podiumed" this year. I'm hope it is not a painful and worrying experience for him.

In view of my mention of genres yesterday, here's a list of the Romance Writers' of America definitions of the romance genres (thanks to Linda for pointing me in the right direction!)

First, a brief intro: "All romances have a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending. Beyond that, however, romance novels can be set in any time or place, entertain any number of plot elements, or convey moods from light and humorous to dark and suspenseful. The genre of romance can be classified into various sub-genres depending on their setting and plot elements.

Those sub-genres include:
Contemporary Series Romance Series romance novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and typically set after 1945.

Contemporary Single Title Romance Romance novels which focus primarily on the romantic relationship, released as individual titles, not as part of a series and set after 1945

Historical Romance Romance novels set in any time period prior to 1945, and taking place in any location

Inspirational Romance Romance novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religion or spiritual belief system) are a major part of the romantic relationship.

Novels with Strong Romantic Elements A work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.

Paranormal Romance Romance novels in which the future, a fantasy world or paranormal happenings are an integral part of the plot.

Regency Romance Romance novels in which the majority of the story is set against the Regency period of the British Empire.

Romantic Suspense Romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

Young Adult Romance Novels with a strong romantic theme geared toward young adult readers.

The RNA covers the field but in a less specific manner:
"Romantic fiction is the cross-genre genre. In the UK it appears under a variety of publishers' labels including general fiction, women's fiction, historical, romantic comedy, chick lit, sagas - even spooky - as well as romance. These are among the UK's most commercially successful book categories.
It embraces Jilly Cooper's 900 pages as well as the 187 Harlequin Mills & Boon category romances which are published every month; multi-generational sagas and Regency romps; deeply serious meditations on life and flippant twenty-somethings' metropolitan shenanigans. The engine of romantic fiction is love and relationships. The bodywork is infinitely variable."

Friday, 20 February 2009

Whittle Dene and fiction genres

In the Whittle Dene valley there is a collection of holiday dwellings, or weekend retreats. They look self-built, though in the last five years a couple of new ones have appeared, and they look far more sophisticated. The owner of one of the older homes has carefully coiled and wound the branches of growing trees and shrubs into circular shapes all around his property. The effect is curious - part Tolkienish and part hobbycraft.

The trees have accepted their restrictions and kept on growing, sometimes melding branches together. It would be interesting to know why it has been done, but there's never anyone there to ask. I know the woods are coppiced, and the valley used to be famous for bleaching linens as the water was so clean and pure in the Whittle Burn. The old stone buildings are ruins now.

There's been an interesting and helpful discussion on the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association)online group recently about the distinctions/genres used by publishers and agents. I thought I knew what these were, having worked all my life around books, but still had lots to learn. Given the ease of communication today, American terms and British terms are used interchangeably but they do not necessarily mean the same thing. Also it seems to me, agents/publishers apply their own definitions to terms like commercial fiction, literary fiction, womens' fiction. Sigh. Homework time!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Forgot something and Oxford commas

I despair, Ireally do, when I see twenty foot banners inside Tesco with the legend 'Forgot Something' leering over the check out counters. They've also got Jackie Collins and Dean Koontz in the books section under a heading Childrens Fun for the second week running.

Then there's the weather person after the lunch time NE BBC NEWS who tells me "it could be a bit more drizzlier."

I'm tired of the grammatical errors that creep into everything. Does no one under the age of fifty understand the rules of grammar? I console myself with the thought that at least they got the new signs for Hadrian's Wall Country correct. I know it is easy to make mistakes and the paragon who never makes a mistake does not live - but if I was going to pay good money for a banner the size of a double decker bus and plaster it up in public, I'd make very sure I got it right. And perhaps the worst thing of all is that younger people don't see it, don't feel their hackles go up, don't know what the problem is. And who works in advertising agencies? Grrr.

I read of something called an Oxford comma the other day. Do you know what this strange creature is? No, I didn't either, in spite of having a degree in English Language, so I thought I'd better find out. So here goes - in the sentence The flag is red, white, and blue the Oxford comma is the one after the word white.

In Britain, standard usage is to leave it out. In America, standard usage is to leave it in.
Arguments can be made both ways. Some sentences seem to need it, and others do not. So then it becomes a matter of personal style and choice.
My critique group has a lot of fun with commas. Some take them out, some put them in, and some take no notice. Both the sentences below are correct:
It was a dark, stormy night.
It was an endangered white rhino.
The rule is that you use a comma where and would fit, as in a list. ie The night was dark and stormy.
But the second sentence is not a list. In other words, the rhino was not endangered and white.
(Thanks to Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves) for the example)

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Richard Armitage as The Hero

Since it is Valentine's Day here's some more pics of Richard ~ this time as Lucas North, newly returned from eight years incarceration in a Russian prison to join the Spooks team.

Every romantic author in the land seems to fancy Richard Armitage as a template for their current hero ~ and a video on You tube is no doubt helping! Click and prepare to drool. The Romantic Novelists' Association has almost adopted him as a mascot.

More helpful in a different way is a video I found this week on writing. Elizabeth Gilbert talks fluently and amusingly about that elusive thing called genius, muse, whatever. I don't think I have read any of her work, but I shall certainly look out for her titles now.

The snow has gone. Again. Now we're back to Spring. Hey ho! Can I put the wellies away at the back of the cupboard now, please?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

I shouldn't have said anything

I blithely said we hadn't had much snow. H'mmm. It waited until the kids got to school and everyone got to work and then it started around ten o'clock and it is still snowing a couple of hours later. My own fault for tempting Fate, I suppose. I can almost hear the kids gnashing their teeth as they sit in school, eyes glued on the window and dreaming of sledging.
Walked up the hill in the snow and posted off 3 partials, visited the library and came back glowing. Nothing like a bit of healthy exercise. Still haven't persuaded dh that we ought to give a dog a good home.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Writing makes you fat! Hurrah!

I always knew there had to be a reason why writing makes you fat - I just didn't have a scientific explanation for it! Sure, sitting down all the time and not moving much may have something to do with it, I won't deny that. But in November's Scientific American, Steve Mirsky talks about the research done with students who underwent tests and found that after using their brains, the students ate too much. The conclusion is that intellectual tasks and a sit-down work mode makes us fat. I knew it! You can read a very good resume on Tess Gerritsen's blog.

I've recently discovered Ms Gerritsen's books and romped through Vanish and Body Double.
The UK has been dumped upon these last ten days. Snow, ice and rain. But you know, here in the north-east, we've missed most of it. We had four inches or so the first day, but that vanished by the next morning and so far all I can say is that a couple of nights someone dusted our drive with icing sugar. The hills are capped with white, and it is cold, but we have sunshine and yesterday I took the picture of the new leaves because it looks like spring is here.
The rest of the country is either crippled with snow and ice, or deluged with the melted version.
How lucky can we be? and how long will our luck hold?

Sunday, 8 February 2009

RNA and Pin ups 2009

Romantic novelists have voted and the results are out ~ here are their choices for the sexiest male celebrities of 2009:

1 Richard Armitage - see pic to the right. I didn't see him in North and South, regrettably, but caught up with him as baddie Guy in the latest Robin Hood. The fact that he wore black leather and played opposite a less than charismatic Robin had to help. He replaces Penry-Jones in Spooks ( and what an exit he had! Talk about going out with a bang!) and I'm watching....

2 Johnny Depp. H'mm. Saw him as the pirate and recently as JMBarrie. Good actor, but there's something not quite right....

3 Hugh Jackman - see pic with towel. I haven't to my knowledge seen HJ in anything, but like what I see...

4 George Clooney - nah. Almost a caricature of a handsome man

5 Daniel Craig. a bit scary sometimes as Bond, but certainly fanciable.

6 Sean Bean, ah yes. It's that wicked grin and the insubordination that do it for me, but is he perhaps just a tad past the pin up stakes now?

7 Alan Rickman, a great actor but not exactly a pin up for moi.

8 David Tennant. Definitely dislike the wide-eyed look he persists in displaying

9 Pierce Brosnan. Like Sean, perhaps a little over his sell-by date

10 Gerard Butler. Who?
I have no quarrel with most of the choices, though Clooney, Tennant and Rickman don't do it for me. I think one person they've overlooked is the new world number one tennis player
Rafa Nadal (in the blue tee shirt).
How about it? Anyone agree with me?

Friday, 6 February 2009

Is there a thief about?

There's a piece in the Times about stealing books ~ check here
As an ex-library manager I'm not surprised that books are stolen from bookshops - they are stolen from libraries too. But what does amaze me is the cost to the bookselling world, and therefore to us. Think of the knock on effect that a £750 million loss creates. And that's what it costs per year for the 100 million titles that are stolen.

It isn't the hot, sexy reads that are going, or the Da Vinci-type best sellers. Thief selection is more mundane than that. The London A-Z. Yes, that's what tops the list. Dare we target the tourist trade as the culprit? Or Londoners fed up of getting lost? Perhaps taxi-drivers trying to learn their routes? Surely not. Second on the list is an OS map of Exmoor, which makes me wonder what is so appealing about Exmoor that people steal maps before they go there. Perhaps it is country lovers who walk into a bookshop and walk out with a little something tucked under the jacket. Perhaps in a single theft we can grin and think someone was doing it for a dare, but collectively it is a body blow to the book world. The fiction author who has the dubious honour of being "Most Stolen" is Terry Pratchett.

There's also a list of the most borrowed library books, and it is a very much different list except for one title. Harry Potter's last exploits feature on both lists.

You can bet I'll be looking around my local bookshops in a new way next time I visit.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

I'm bloggin' and TILL THE DAY GO DOWN

The snow has gone. Started disappearing the very next morning,
leaving us with a slippery, slidey mess and all those little red sledges are tucked away in the back of the garage once more. The forecasters are promising more on Thursday. I bet the kids are praying they're right.

I'm blogging over at Historical Novel Review this week, so make sure you pop by and leave a comment. I'll feel lonely if you don't.

Some good news - my publisher is keen to take on my Tudor story TILL THE DAY GO DOWN, so I'm very pleased about that.

I promised pictures of characters in
FAR AFTER GOLD, and you saw Flane leaning against the tree.
A tease, right?
Far too far away to really see him.
I might remedy that soon. Stick with me...

Over to the right is a picture of Emer, as she exists in my imagination.
You might have a different idea of her!

I started out doing another video trailer to put on Youtube, and then thought it would be far simpler and much quicker to post the pics on here. I don't suppose anyone will miss the video!

Monday, 2 February 2009


This time the forecasters were correct~we have snow, about 4 inches of it.

The kids were up and out early this morning. Luckily we have plenty of hills round about for them to sledge down. Neighbours turned out to push a car up the cul de sac always always the biggest hazard since we live on the side of a hill.

Both roadsters used to go up sideways, front wheels spinning while the back end slewed out. Time to get on with some work today and stay nice and cosy.

I wonder how much Rafa aches today?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Authonomy and Nathan Bransford

Flane contemplates his future...

I was told about a new way of reaching publishers some months ago and ignored it because I had tried something similar a couple of years ago - I even forked out the princely sum of £25 but to this day no publisher has been seen or heard beating a path to my door (not even to tell me my work was rubbish and please take it off the site at once.)

A fortnight ago someone else spoke of the website that promised wonderful things, and I gave my cautious view on Disorganised Author. Now I see the same website has cropped up on Nathan Bransford's blog. This is his view:

HarperCollins has built quite a following behind its new site Authonomy, whose devotees are so rabid they make English football fans look like well-behaved choir boys. Anyway, Harper announced that they had given three book deals to authors they found on Authonomy. Meanwhile, one of the devotees of the site, Alexander McNabb, posted a great rundown on his experiences and thoughts on its future. (thanks to C. Michael Hall for the link). An aside: what's most interesting to me about Authonomy is how thoroughly populated it is with people who grew tired of the "gatekeeping" system of publishing and networking. So they upload their manuscripts, then participate in a Darwinian system of elimination and calculated networking that would make Machiavelli blush, all in the hopes of making it to the editor's desk and hopefully pleasing Harper's.... gatekeepers."

I shall check it out and see what is going on. As I sit here quietly contemplating the quirks of the world, it occurs to me that perhaps, with all these people rushing to send their work online, the agents/publishers in trays won't be quite so overflowing as they once where? It's an interesting speculation. There's no way of knowing if the intray rush is slowing. Just as there's no way of knowing how often HC actually look at the Autonomy website.

Lost dog!

Sunday 8 th May Slow start to a sunny day with a promise of high temperatures. Bill took Perla out at 7.30 as he has done all this month ...