Wednesday, 30 June 2010


There comes a time in a writing person's life when promotion seems to take over from the writing. Somehow that seems wrong, but it happens. Or it is supposed to happen. I think you need a gift for it. PRing yourself and your work does not come easily. Not to me, anyway.

By its very nature, writing demands that the writer spends a lot of time communing with people who don't exist outside of the the author's head. A lot of time alone, usually, though some say they write in the living room with the tv on and the kids around.
Maybe this self-imposed retreat into silence, or for those who like music while they write, a retreat into a room where they are alone - is one reason why authors' conferences are such noisy affairs. I haven't been to more than three, but each one had mealtimes that almost took the roof off with the noise of people talking. So little time to talk before going back to the self-imposed solitude, perhaps? I'd always thought writers to be shy, introverted people. How wrong! I found myself surrounded by vibrant, self-confident people talking at a rate of knots.
Maybe the people who write thrillers are shy and retiring? Or the literary authors? But romantic authors? No way. Most of them are parents and writing while deep in family life and consequently with amusing stories to tell, and they tell them well, as you'd expect. Maybe such people happily promote themselves. I wish, I wish... I'll just have to pretend I'm vibrant and self-confident, and talk about me as if I'm talking about someone else.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Round up

I'm blogging over at today. If you don't know the blog, it's worth a visit. I added my piece on Historical Belles and Beaus
on the 22nd but forgot to mention it here!

Last week dh and I took a picnic over to Corbridge and walked up to the place I gave my heroine Alina as home - Aydon Castle. It looked pretty good in the blazing sunshine and I couldn't resist a few pictures.

In places so old there have been so many changes down the centuries that it is hard to be sure exactly what the place would have been like in Alina's day. The lovely blocked up window might have been part of the guest quarters, yet from the other side of the wall, you receive a different impression.
The door on the left steps straight in to the cow byre below the kitchen. The door into the sunlight leads to a narrow path above the ravine that caused Harry such trouble. I spend hours contemplating the old stones and how they are arranged and it never fails to give me ideas about stories, what might have taken places there so long ago.

But life calls today. There's a bit of necessary food shopping to do, compost* to buy for houseplant change overs, garden rubbish to take to the waste recycling and then a session in the gym.
(*Is compost the word I want? If it isn't, I can't think of the correct one!) None of the tasks will take us far from home, then it will be back for lunch and and afternoon in front of the tv for Wimbledon. Federer and Nadal in one day! Phew!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Too busy!

Too much, I cry; too much! There's fabulous weather
begging me to go for walks, my garden to enjoy, people to see, Wimbledon (and if you are of the football persuasion, World Cup) to watch.
I signed a contract last week with Sapphire Blue publishing for my book Shadows, so e-mails are whizzing back and forth on that topic. Shadows has changed since it's brief exposure with the now defunct Triskelion. I've rewritten it from beginning to end and added 20,000 to improve the characterisation and motivation of the story. It's definitely a much better book than it was.
At the same time I'm making new contacts through the electronic world, receiving reviews for my last book and joining new blog groups. If you haven't discovered it yet, do have a peek at Historical Belles and Beaus. (The longer I look at that last word, the more I am tempted to write it as Beaux. And if you hurry, my post on Anne Boleyn is the most recent).
As for my poor old wip, editing has stalled at around Chapter 16.
This is the third day in a row that I've not got to it and I'm feeling so guilty. I also know that I have only a certain number of days before I go on holiday and I'd hoped to have it finished before then so that I could settle down and write - ha! ha! - wait for it! a romance for the Mills & Boon competition that kicks off around September.
Mills and Boon and I do not gell. I am continually told in rejection letters that (though my writing is fine etc) I don't have enough internal conflict.
I think because my Matho story is at an end (except for the editing, which OK, demands a lot of layering and thought) my subconcious is sort of freewheeling, if I can put it like that. It noted the M&B competition, and has been offering me tantalising bits of plot that I could use if I was willing to put in the time and energy - and if I think I have a better understanding of what they want when they talk about internal conflict. To be frank, initially I used to think of it as whingeing. Heroine wrings hands and wonders what to do in difficult situation. Now I have learned it is far more than that, and I think I could actually manage it now. It also seemed an ideal new venture to think about while I'm relaxing in France.
The pic shows Hexham market place on a brilliant sunny day. The close up is one of the more intriguing memorials around Hexham. No explanation. But why would someone go to the expense of having a memorial stone carved that says only Blood and Fire?
Must go - the Queen is arriving at Wimbledon! Must watch!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Duke of Somerset

During a visit to Cogito bookshop in Hexham, the owner told me of an execution that took place long ago in the Market Place. There was a plaque, he said. Two visits I made without discovering said plaque. But today - success.

At first, I couldn't find it, so I decided to ask. I began with the lady in the coffee shop, who directed me to the man in the blue shirt who worked in the jewellers on the other side of the market place. He didn't know, but felt he should; I went next to the National Trust shop, but they didn't know either.

Back to the bookshop, but the man I wanted wasn't there. His colleagues told me they thought the plaque was in the Shambles, fixed to one of the columns. So off I went, back to the market place.

By this time I was getting some very curious glances. My exploration wasn't helped by the fact that it was Monday, and the market traders were in their usual place in the Shambles.

Losing patience, I asked the market trader who was watching me if she knew of a plaque on one of the columns. 'Ah,' she said. 'It's here.' and she led me around the corner of the dresses and into the plants and flowers and gestured towards a pillar.

'Ah,' I said. Satisfaction complete.

It is perhaps ten or twelve paces from the coffee shop lady. What pity she doesn't know about it. I took some pictures, retreating slowly so I could set the scene, as it were. If anyone else wants to find it it, perhaps it will be easier for them than me. In the second pic, the plaque is in deep shadow and if you didn't know it was there, you'd certainly miss it.

So why was the the 3rd Duke of Somerset parted from his head?

Because he supported the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses and dared to fight Edward of York. Towns such as Hexham and Langley in the Tyne Valley remained red rose strongholds. While Edward gathered an army in Leicester, Montagu marched to confront the Lancastrians camped on the levels near the Devil’s Water, a river south of Hexham.

Montagu arrived with his army in the early morning of May 15th, catching Somerset unprepared. Somerset chose to fight with the Devil's Water behind them; it mean he couldn't be attacked, but neither could he escape.

The battle was short. Somerset’s force was overwhelmed. Some reports say the Lancastrian force fled in panic. The Devil’s water claimed many victims, either drowned trying to cross or crushed beneath the feet of those who did make it to the other side only to struggle to scale its steep bank.

Thirty senior Lancastrian commanders were executed in a brief period of retribution after the battle. Somerset was captured and put to death in Hexham on the very day of the encounter; others were given summary trials in York and then executed.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Things I've noticed lately

What have I learned in the past months?
I've noticed that blog posting is less 'hot' than it used to be. Can it be that people are running out of things to say, or has their attention swung to this thing called Twitter?
I've noticed that Entertainment Programmes about authors and books keep showing up on tv lately. After the wonderful Mills & Boonfest, the Enid story, Rankin interviews and a couple of authors whose names escape me at the moment, last night it was the turn of the Lady Chatterley Trial.
It was on very late, understandably, and many folk may have missed it. I caught it by chance because I watched the last of the wonderful Swedish Wallander series, and LC followed on afterwards. I'm old enough to remember the hoo-ha about the LC trial at the Old Bailey and how shocked everyone was - and how swiftly copies sold after the book was declared OK for public consumption! Wonderful actors inlcuding Twister from Candleford as the judge who kept twisting his mouth when the naughty words kept popping out in the courtroom. Good old Bishop of Woolwich, Lovely Richard Hoggart (was that David Tennant?) and brave Allan Lane for publishing it.

The world has gone mad over football - football, for goodness sake, when Wimbledon is coming up on Monday for a wonderful fortnight. Obviously I want Rafa to win.

I've noticed how disgustingly graphic some tv programmes are these days - everyone seems fascinated by death and how people died. Not only in crime thrillers like Luther (which I didn't see; the write up in the Radio times was enough to put me off) but in documentaries, too. I watched the first few programmes connected to the forensic staff of the university of Dundee but finally gave up as they lingeringly dwelt on the details of each skeletons demise. Reconstructions of the 'victims' always look astonishly alike to me, but I drew the line at the ads for the leprosy victim.

And I grow increasingly tired of having a camera man who gives me every possible profile, full face, and everything-in-between-shot (upside down, and revolving, sometimes) of the prettiest female they can find in the programme. While driving, while eating, while reading, while ....
Enough is enough. Give me landscapes, or let me look at whatever it is the programme is about inside of shooting the main subject glancingly, or while the camera turns a full circle or suffers from clutch judder.

I seem to have gone on a rant. I do apologise!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Reviews come in twos

A friend on my critique group told me of another review for Till the Day Go Down in HNR Reviews Issue 52, May 2010.

Mary Seeley concludes "Jen Black writes with great verve and gives us a vivid sense of time and place, with a hero and heroine to cheer for and a grand cast of supporting characters, especially the loyal village lad Matho, Alina's childhood friend."

I cannot give you a link to read the whole thing, as the May issue is not online as yet, but I will.

I'm especially glad Ms Seeley liked Matho, as I've made him the protagonist of my current wip. He gets caught up in the politics of the Scottish court of Mary of Guise in Stirling and only just escapes with his life - he's a much wiser man at the end of his adventures. I'm half-way through a third edit, and soon it will be done, completed, finito, edited and finished. Then it will be on to the next project, which will probably coincide with my holiday in France this year. We missed our holiday last year, except for skiing in January (Yes, I know! 10,000 thousand feet, extreme cold, extreme exertion - it's a wonder I'm still here!) because of my surgery, so I'm really looking forward to it. And being away from my history books and without an internet connection, I can write happily without stopping to check facts.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Bonello's Review

Good reviews are like gold in this competitive world, so I'm delighted to post the link for the latest I've received - click.
Julie Bonello says - "I was utterly transfixed by Till the Day Go Down, Jen Black's fantastic historical tale set in the sixteenth century. Bold, compelling and simply spellbinding, this richly woven tale liberally spiced with passion, drama and action, is a must-read for fans of meaty historical novels!"
It has so encouraged me that if I wasn't going out to lunch today, I'd be hard at the third edit of my latest wip and whipping all those awkward sentences into better shape. Still, a lovely lunch with friends beckons, so I must go and make myself presentable. I couldn't resist sharing the good news with everyone first!
The pic is of Whittle Dene, once the haunt of linen bleachers because the water was so pure. Probably still is - it's always clear unless it's in flood. We often walk there.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Language and how she changes

Americanisms ~ if you love 'em or hate 'em, you should read this article here and see how you feel about it all. It is true that young people like to experiment, want to be thought cool by their peers and will do anything to appear different from their parents.
But if the current trend continues, by the time today's young people reach pension age, they may well be wondering why they're speaking American English in this country. It is odd that UK English expressions do not move across the Atlantic. It seems to be a one-way system.
The sixty-year olds of 2050 may find to their regret that it is too late and British English has gone for good. Which would be a shame, because there is so much to be valued, so many nuances of possible expression that would be lost. I hear young (and no doubt those who want to appear young but are no longer) presenters and reporters on television using Americanisms like 'incentivise' and talk of athletes who 'medalled' at the last Olympics. My hackles rise and I consider writing to the BBC, who should stand up for British English. American English is just fine - in America. But let's not have it over here.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Bitchery at Henry's Court

Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek has kept me enthralled this weekend.
Here's the outline - Flora Chapman is in her fifties when her glamourous husband suddenly dies. Not unduly grief-stricken, Flora decides to rewrite her husband's history of their village, since the idea had been hers in the first place. She finds a reference to Anna of Cleves, the Flanders Mare, and believes they are soulmates - plain women, both of them.
Her research leads her deeper and deeper. Her home is, after all, one of the properties ceded to Anna after Henry repudiated her.
Then the subtle shift begins with these quiet words: 'The room is hushed. It is the hour of the spirit rather than the flesh, the hour for portraits to breathe again. Out from her frame, into this silent dimness, steps Anna of Cleves.'
And then begins a wonderfully bitchy disagreement between the women of Henry's Tudor court. They're all there, though Anne Boleyn may be the Infanta of Spain, since her painting is not signed, and Elizabeth refuses to recognise her. Anna, quiet and amenable as the real Anne Boleyn was not, at last declares that her strategy was the cleverest of them all. I won't spoil your fun by telling you more, but if you can get hold of this book, published in paperback 2009, do. It's a hoot. Paintings coming to life after hours when the museums are shut? Impossible! But imagine the conversations if they did! Charles I hanging opposite Oliver Cromwell! Mary Stuart next door to Elizabeth of England! And here, all the squabbling ladies connected to Henry VIII. Magic.
and a beautifully written hoot, too.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Summer returns

Second complete edit finished last night. Phew!
123,524 words. Definitely historical mainstream,
and multiple viewpoints.
On the whole, I'm pleased with it, although I know I can make it better yet. I'm impatient -
I want to start sending it around to see if anyone will take it, so I'll need some control in the next few days. My plan is to work hard on the first three chapters and then send out, because I'm sure I can have a third edit complete before any replies will appear.
I have a suspicion my biggest weakness is the synopsis. I don't like doing them, and I don't think I do them well. Homework time is called for!
Summer is back again. The picture of the Old Vicarage at Ovingham, just across the river, was taken in the last "summer" we had a couple of weeks ago. Since them we've had the central heating on and brought out the big duvet again. As of yesterday, it's all change once more. 21 degrees and 22 forecast for tomorrow. A trip to the gym, or a bike ride in the sunshine? Difficult to decide which form my exercise should take today, but afterwards, whichever I choose, I'll be sitting down to watch the Roland Garros tennis, men's semis, on the red button!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Crash and burn

First pages are the devil. I've lost count of how many times I've gone back to the first page of my wip and altered something. Will it ever be ready to show to anyone?
The trouble is we know how little time agents/editors and the like spend reading our submissions. We've been told oh so many times that if the opening page doesn't catch their interest, the submission gets tossed aside.
We all know a first page needs to draw the reader into a story, and make her/him want to turn the page. So there should be some sort of tension or action to get them hooked enough to read beyond the first page.
Bridging conflict is useful here. A little something to pique the curiosity. It keeps the reader reading because s/he wants to know why the protagonist is scared. What is he expecting that makes his palms sweat? A hint will do for half a page and then you plant another little hook that will take the reader another half page. He's scared because he has to do something outrageous or dangerous. If you can get your protagonist's voice down here, that will be a plus. A likeable character snares readers, and before they know it, they've turned the page.

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 ...