Tuesday, 30 August 2011


The word arquebus, (sometimes spelled harquebus, harkbut or hackbut from the Dutch word haakbus, meaning "hook gun" or "hook tube," refers to an early muzzle-loaded firearm used during the 15th to 17th centuries. The Germans knew it as Hakenb├╝chse, or haquebute, the Italians as archibugio; which gave arquebuse (French), arcabuz (Spanish), arcabus (Portuguese) and arquebus (English).

The caliver, an improved version of the arquebus, was introduced in the early 16th century. The word is derived from the English corruption of calibre as this gun was of standard bore, increasing combat effectiveness as troops could load bullets that would fit their guns (before, they would have to modify shot to fit, force it in, or cast their own before the battle).

In the early 16th century, the term "arquebus" had a confusing variety of meanings. Some writers used it to denote any matchlock shoulder gun, referring to light versions as caliver and heavier pieces fired from a fork rest as musket. Others treated the arquebus and caliver synonymously, both referring to the lighter, forkless shoulder-fired matchlock.

As the 16th century progressed, the term arquebus came to be clearly reserved for the lighter forkless weapon. When the wheel-lock was introduced, wheel-lock shoulder arms came to be called arquebuses, while lighter, forkless matchlock and flintlock shoulder weapons continued to be called calivers.

The arquebus was used against enemies wearing steel-plate armour, standard in European combat from about 1400 until the middle of the 17th century. Plate usually stopped an arquebus ball at long range but at close range often pierced the armor of knights and other heavy cavalry. Good quality in both gun and armour was vital. The arquebus led to the development of thicker plate armour, and its final retirement.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Tools of War

Research fascinates me. Right now I'm thinking myself back into the sixteenth century and it's a wonderful opportunity to hunt down obscure names and places on the internet.
Many things have to be considered. By the fifteenth century cannon had improved, but they were still inaccurate and unreliable, as likely to explode and kill their 'handlers' as the enemy. They were unwieldly and could not be fired more than perhaps seven times a day because they grew too hot. Handguns were in use, but longbowmen, foot soldiers with pikes and heavy cavalry units were still the ones who won the battles.

By the 1400s brick was the coming building material, and there are some splendid castles made of brick. By the time the Wars of the Roses were over, ideas filtering in from Italy affected the architecture of England. By Elizabeth's time, castle building was over. Some were altered and redesigned as stately homes.

Handguns became more efficient with the matchlock pistol towards the end of the fifteenth century. Renamed an arquebus, it had a short wooden butt designed to rest against the shoulder. Cannon became lighter, and thus more mobile. With these new tools, the old accepted methods of warfare had to change.

Some castles were inhabited, besieged, felled and restored well into the seventeenth century. Some are still used today as family homes, but others became prisons and storerooms. Yet others fell into disrepair and their stone was spirited away by those anxious to rebuild a fallen barn or delapidated farmhouse. For a period of three, perhaps four hundrd years, castles were the most important defensive building in a region. With Henry VIII, who changed so many things, castles morphed into stately homes, and forts and barracks were built to house soldiers. The last battle on English soil is generally accepted as the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685, though Cumbria claims a skirmish involving a hundred dead as the English chased Bonnie Prince Charlie back over the border in 1745, and some claim the Falklands as 'English soil.'

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


France is no more than a fond memory now. From my bed I could look out on this secluded patio, and in two strides I could be out there in the baking hot sunshine.
Back at home, I have finally caught up. E-mails are under control, crit group duties completed, bills all paid, store cupboard stocked up, all that miserable washing and ironing out of the way. The biggest bugbear of holidays for me is the laundry work on returning home.

Best of all, I seem to have got back into the writing routine. My latest is called Victorian Beauty, and I had to do a swift re-vamp of my heroine, who had got out-of-control-nosy over the hero. Critters complained they didn't like her any more, and at first I couldn't see it, until Mirella explained how it would only take a little reworking, a sentence or two, to make the whole thing take on a different slant - and then Mel would be acceptable.
I saw the light, and did as Mirella suggested. Even I like Mel better now! Just goes to show how easy it is to change a character's motivation, or make their actions believeable. But until my crit partners told the truth, I'd thought everything was fine with the story as it was. So the thought of the day is: be truthful, kind and constructive when critiquing someone's work. They need to know when it doesn't work, but don't need battering over the head about it!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Is writing a skill

Is writing a skill that can be taught?

Philip Hensher says: Yes, I think so. I think you can teach writing in the same way you can teach cabinet making. I think you can’t teach somebody to be a great writer, you can’t teach somebody with no aptitude whatsoever for writing how to write. On the other hand, you can teach people how a character can be constructed, teach people how to improve their writing. But you can’t turn somebody from Katie Price into Alan Hollinghurst by the sheer power of your pedagogy.
I love that last line!

Two acclaimed novelists - also friends - shared a stage to discuss their new works. Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel, The Stranger’s Child, is the eagerly-awaited follow-up to The Line of Beauty, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2004. Philip Hensher combines writing novels with journalism and teaching creative writing at Exeter University. His latest book, King of the Badgers, is set in a fictional Devon town loosely based on Topsham in Devon, where he currently lives. They delivered a masterclass at the (Daily) Telegraph Ways With Words Festival on how to write fiction.
An extract of what they said can be read: http://tinyurl.com/5wwbbpl

Friday, 19 August 2011

Angels and ghosts?

There's an interesting article for anyone who writes for teens in the Bookseller last week - here - but it seems its a complex genre for writers.

I've just caught up with the film Twilight though the book was published in 2006 and already publishers are thinking the teen vamp thing is already passe. To be honest about the film - I hope the book was better. The premise is engaging with its teen focus of boy-vamp meets human-girl and they fall for each other, because all the conflict you'll ever need is right there. He can never trust himself not to 'take her over' and she insists she trusts him absolutely. But the boy-hero in the film made me laugh with his red lipstick, dark eye make-up and amazing ability to skim through the treetops and run up tree trunks like an ant. The acting was abysmal and the second half had the soundtrack out of synch with the actors' mouths. Distracting to say the least. (Rant over.)

The teen publishing market is now thinking that the next big thing may well be ghosts and angels. Now there's a though to conjure with for a moment. But if any of you are writing for the teen market, which now has female readers up to thirty waiting eagerly for the next book, forget vampires, and think ghosts instead.
What motivates the under thirties? Can it be that the success of Harry Potter, Twilight and the like has encouraged these people that the teens have the best stories?
They're original stories, certainly - one of the things I loved about the Harry Potter concept was the brilliant imagination that conjured up things like the map that showed who was walking around Hogwarts at night, the punishment pen that wrote his lines on his hand and the Room of Requirement...what kind of a mind thinks up such things?
I'm not sure there's much to be found in the womens' fiction shelves these days that can match match such good storytelling. What do the rest of you think?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Dated blogs

This article in the Bookseller is aimed at website owners, but many of the pointers apply equally well to bloggers. Bookseller Thankfully it recommends photographs, and mentions that awards and reviews are a good thing to include. It also recommends a Buy Button as everyone is buying things online these days. Sadly, it recommends Twitter and Facebook links.

(Even me. My beloved laptop cracked a hinge during our last days in France, which made it vulnerable to complete extinction. DH has just told me he has found new hinges for my particluar model (after three days of searching on the web) and do I want him to order them? I leap to accept his offer. £20 seems OK to have my VA10 back in action.)

Returning to my original subject, I don't think I've ever got to grips with either of those social networks. I'm there, I'm registered, but often stare at the screen and wonder what in my life is worth putting on the page. That I had an egg for breakfast or will have roast duck for dinner is hardly going to set the world alight, yet that's what some people put out there for everyone to read. Stalkers must be delighted!
Still, the article in the Bookseller
is worth reading, and it is making me feel that perhaps it's time I looked at my dear old blog with a re-vamp in mind.

The pic is the cinema in Bergerac.
Fear not, I still have lots of French pics to load!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Beware Mondays

Mondays are peculiar days in France. We went to Perigueux on a Monday and found everything closed. Thinking to enjoy a birthday celebration meal before we packed up and drove home, we drove to St Foy le Grande on La Dordogne and found the chosen restaurant closed. Of course! It was Monday. Hasty scratching of heads. Where to eat, if it was Monday?
St Foy offered nothing and the countryside south of the river, around Ligueux, Saussignac and Monestier, though beautiful, offered only closed auberges and restaurants. We drove into a golf resort hotel, which was open - but would not accept us because we were not resident. So, about six restaurants later, we arrived back in Bergerac, where we'd started, heading for the tourist area of the old town. Surely that would be open?
It was, and we had a very nice meal in a restaurant opposite the poissonnerie. I chose lotte saison and hoped it was fish. Whatever it was, it looked delicious, tasted wonderful and when I checked in the dictionary next day, discovered it had been monkfish of the low season. I'd been lucky with my starter, too, in ordering a tartine de legumes. It arrived as an artistically built mound of fresh vegetables: a baby carrot, a slice of red pepper, and paper thin slices of something yellow that may have been fennel, but might not. Something equally thin, almost transparent with faint pink stripes on white, a baby tomato cut precisely so that the inner structure formed the shape of a tiny tree. Delicious!
But the moral of the tale is this - in the Bergerac area of France (I cannot speak for other areas) the food is good, but almost impossible to get on a Monday night!
I thought you might enjoy a pic of me in my tree-felling gear!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Holidays - the aftermath

All holidays come to an end, and I am now back in damp, rainy, grey England. Once we fought our way through the mass of post behind the front door, exclaimed over the height of the lawns and that we'd missed the blooming of the buddleia and the Shasta daises, I rushed upstairs and grabbed a warm sweater. Even when it rained in France, and it did, for nearly three solid weeks, it was never really cold.
We're still in the middle of the de-heaval (it seems wrong to call it an upheaval when the holiday is over!) - masses of clothes waiting to be washed, empty cupboards and shelves to restock so we can eat every day, and getting rid of the ants that have decided to invade one corner of our utility room while we've been away. I even had to catch and gently put out of the window a small spider who had taken up residence in our bed. Obviously a spider with delusions of grandeur.
And then there's catching up with the e-stuff; 1,752 e-mails in my in-box even though I'd gone no mail on all but my crit groups. One group alone had 860 posts. Although I've not done much work while I've beeen away, I have done some, and stored it all on a usb. Now comes the dicey moment of transferring that stuff back to my main computer. In the past I've been known to keep the old stuff and delete the new, but hopefully I've gained more IT awareness since then!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Prior to the thunderstorm a day or two ago, we spotted this visitor - or it may be a local resident. How are we to know? (After all, we are the guests here.) Almost three feet long, it froze when it saw us, hung around long enough for me to take pictures, and then shot off through the long grass and into an old, overgrown wall beneath the trees.

The same afternoon, we saw a much smaller black snake wriggling across the upstairs balcony. We got there in time to persuade it outside was much preferable to the interior of the house, and it obligingly wriggled off. We thought that one came down from the roof tiles to seek safer quarters in a thunderstorm. I suppose they hunt the small lizards that live in the walls and the roof.

Once the new arrivals had rested up after their journey from England, we started the real business. Felling and hauling out old, dead trees. Trickier than it looks, even with the help of this lovely little piece of equipment. After several hours work we had two large specimens hauled out onto the field where they can be safely cut up to make winter fuel.

We were muddy - because the trees had fallen across the bank of the stream - and sweaty, and once work was declared over for the day, there was a rush to have a shower and find clean clothes. But what a satisfying day! And we certainly enjoyed supper and a glass or two of wine.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

What is danger?

Our friends arrived bearing English newspapers yesterday, and I read that a boy has died because a goalpost fell on his head. Tragedy though this is to his grieving family, I don't see the sense in the subsequent demand that a risk assessment must be done on goalposts up and down the country.

Thus goalposts become close kin to the childhood game of conkers, which has now been ruled out of safe sports in schools. I have heard that chestnut trees should be cut down so that said conkers would not fall on anyone's head. Then there's the rumour that trees should in fact be felled because they may drop branches on people passing beneath.

How much of this is true I do not know. But it seems to me that as video games, films, novels become or contain more violence, real life is being tied down to the equivalent of walking in straight lines because bends and zig zags may contain hazards.

Common sense seems to have gone out of the window in the last thirty years. Life is dangerous, has always been dangerous, and it is up to the invidivual to circumnavigate those dangers, whatever they happen to be. Driving cars is dangerous, perhaps one of the most dangerous things we ever do, and yet people feel so safe and cocooned that they speed through houseing estates and motorways with equal abandon.

Forget the goal posts and conkers; one the whole, they are among the safer things in life.