Wednesday, 30 May 2012

It didn't make my heart sing

Here's an interesting article:
It's not too long, so I'll leave it to you to click through and read the whole thing. I hope agents and editors take it to heart!
As for me, I have gone through the first three chapters of Matho 1 - now entitled The King's Business after several titles changes - checking for conflict, suspense, drama and emotional intensity. Not to mention repetition, poor grammar, awkward sentences and the occasional missed word. Yes, in spite of all the work and time spent on these three chapters over the last three years, I spotted two instances where a small, two-letter words had been omitted. (Of course, I blame the computer for that!)
So later today I shall be printing the pages out, and if I think they're up to scratch I'll think about sending them to an agent.

I'm getting more and more reluctant to send things out. There's something truly disheartening about sending these pages out, waiting six or eight weeks and receiving no reply. I mean, how much effort does it take to zip off an e-mail and say "thanks but no, it isn't what I'm looking for?" All of a minute, I'd say. That minute would be a minute well spent, because I'd certainly regard that agency as more efficient, more courteous and one I'd like to work with in the future. The agent who scrawls a hasty handwritten "it doesn't make my heart sing" across the bottom of the covering letter and returns it to me makes me give a wry grin. It's a refusal, sure, but it's personal, and she bothered to respond. Good for her.

 I tend to forget about books I wrote some time ago, but they're still out there, waiting for their readers. Dark Pool is available on Kindle now, click, which it wasn't when it first came out. It's an exciting story about a young girl kidnapped by Vikings and taken to Dublin where she faces a forced marriage or the slave market. One reviewer said it was too harsh to be a romance, but as a portrayal of Dark Age life she thought it scored 100%. I know I enjoyed writing it!

Monday, 28 May 2012


I'm wrecking my first Matho story. I have a safe copy tucked away, and currently I'm going to town on the experimental copy. Chapter One has been discarded. I loved it, worked for hours on it, but no one else ever loved it as I did, so now it has gone. The scenes that made up the original chapters 2-4 are getting the treatment now.

At least one scene has been discarded. The fragment of necessary info it contained has been transferred into another scene. I'm juggling the scenes around seeking a better story flow, and giving  the protagonist Matho greater prominence. Some scenes I'm re-writing, others just need a few tweaks. In at least two places I found a basic mistake - in one  instance mentioning something and then contradicting it. In the second, I realised the time sequence was so flawed my characters would be eating raw meat!

It's an interesting experience, critiquing my own work. I've read that top novelists cut and hone each scene to make sure each has all the necessary elements - pace, conflict, tension and suspense - and I thought I'd already done that, but this latest exercise is proving I was wrong. I only wish I'd realised this sooner!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Millionaire's Club

Evidently those in the know about book publishing are aware of something called the Millionaire’s Club. To join, a book has to sell more than one million copies. Joanne Harris’s novel Chocolat, which came out in 1999 has now officially passed the magic mark. Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper (2003) is there, too. Their books are among the 68 titles that have found their way into the Club since records began in 1998. Other British female novelists to top the one million mark are J K Rowling (Harry Potter), Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones) and Kate Mosse (Labyrinth).
Durham Cathedral
118,000 books were published in 2011. Of those, 21,000 were adult fiction, so maybe my idea that publishers aren't publishing much in these days of recesssion is quite wrong! Only nine authors have sold more than one million copies of more than one book: Rowling (eight titles), Dan Brown (five), Stephenie Meyer (four), Stieg Larsson and Philip Pullman (both three), Julia Donaldson, Khaled Hosseini and Fielding (both two). Interestingly all of these authors have had film adaptations made of their books.

It is difficult to predict what will become a bestseller. Most people like a mystery and suspense turns the pages. If a book makes readers want to know "why", most people will enjoy reading it. The Millionaire’s Club authors are commercially successful, and therefore not “literary”, but they’re good writers, producing unique, imaginative works that appeals to readers.
Carl Wilkinson’s article has lots more detail and I’m sure he’s right when he claims the median annual income of a writer in Britain today is just £4,000. Most authors have other jobs so they can continue to eat, or are lucky enough to have a husband/wife who can support them while they write. Check out the entire piece: here before you decide that writing is a good way to earn money.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Accepting criticism

"Any writer who dismisses the negative but laps up the positive had better be ready for the negative reviews of her book which will come.
I have had books published. Some of them have won awards. Some of the ones that have won awards have had yuckity reviews. Some of those reviews I (try to) ignore because I don't value the opinion of the giver, BUT if someone says something positive and negative, how on earth could I justify believing the good but not the bad?? If I value someone's opinion I cannot only value it when it suits me. That doesn't mean I have to kow-tow to it but it does mean I should not dismiss it out of hand as this writer seemed to, and to dismiss it so disrespectfully. For a start, the critique opinion seeks to give you the best chance of publication, about which there are no certainties."
This morning Nicola Morgan's blog here has an interesting piece about accepting criticism even if it criticises something in your book, and commenting on the people who willfully ignore advice they don't like. I nodded my head as I read through it, because I know how difficult it can be to admit that I'm wrong and someone else is right when we're talking about my work. It took me time with a couple of critique groups to learn that there was usually a point to what critiquers were saying, even if they weren't always 100% right in their comments. (but often, they were 100% right!)

Some people don't accept any criticism, and can be quite sharp when refuting it. Which is a shame, because if someone has taken the time to read and think about a piece of work, then their comments should at least be considered honestly. Critiquers are readers, after all, and if they are puzzled by something, then you can be sure other readers will be. There's no point in saying 'oh but that's because of x' - the critiquer doesn't have the author's detailed knowledge of the story any  more than the average reader, and if he or she hasn't got it, then x hasn't come through on the page. If it hasn't,  then  an author should know what to do!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Things I really wanted to do

One of the things I really wanted to do was fly Concorde, but before I could get the money together, it was forced out of the sky. Watching it, which I did whenever I got the opportunity, used to bring a lump to my throat. There are machines that just seem both beautiful and right, and for me, Concorde epitomised beauty and power. It was the most graceful aircraft. Coming in to land, it looked like a giant white bird of prey. It was also one of the few planes that did what it was designed to do, according to John Taylor, Editor of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. It crossed the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound almost every day and in spite of vast sums of money and years of trying, no country has ever produced a larger, faster competitor. I’ve flown the Airbus A380, and it is a lovely plane, but I couldn't call it beautiful and it doesn’t bring a lump to my throat.  I sat in it as it sped down the runway, and wondered if such a huge machine would ever become airborne. I was quite surprised when, very quietly, it did. People who’ve flown Concorde say it was very small and not all that luxurious, but hey! when you’re flying at twice the speed of sound, who needs luxury? I’ll always be sorry I never got to do it.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The art of Reviewing

Joanne Harris started something when she complained about reviewers: here
Basically I think she was irritated by reviewers who give away too many plot twists and turns when they review her books, to the point that it made reading the book unnecessary. It was a long article, and interesting, but made no mention of the current craze for non-professional reviewers  to post their thoughts about books on Amazon.

Reading these thoughts can be entertaining, or heartbreaking. Sometimes I suspect people have dashed onto Amazon, clicked on a book title without actually reading the blurb or sampling the text, and several hours later wondered why they didn't enjoy the story. Their review naturally disses the book in question. After all, the book is to blame,  isn't it?
At others it is hard not to notice that authors from the same publishing house review and praise each other's books. It's noticeable even among the hardbacks these days. If the gushing comments are genuine, that's fine, but sometimes that little gremlin of suspicion raises its head and says, rather like Mandy Rice Davies - 'Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? ' because we know the author knows fine well that they'll be due a good review in return.

Is either part of  good bookselling?

Arifa Akbar's answer to Joanne makes interesting reading, too: here

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Phoenix rising

The little laptop is not dead - I should have had faith! It worked perfectly this morning, so that is good news.  The problem of incoming e-mails might be easily solved. I've noticed I get three copies of the same message with five mnutes on the same day, but from different groups, which certainly isn't necessary for me! Once will do! So some groups I'm going to mark as view website only, otherwise I'll never get any writing done.

My pictures  for the next few days were all taken as I walked out of the hotel doorway and gazed across at the Castle and Cathedral, then walked along the river bank to Prebend's Bridge, up to the Cathedral and back down the other river bank back to the hotel. The weather was dull and threatening, with occasional flashes of sunshine. The river was high, full of brown flood water, but there was no flooding. Pity the little boy who fell into the river a little further upstream a week ago. He had little chance in such a torrent, because the same conditions existed then.
The river loops like a horseshoe around the promontory on which the medieval buildings stand, and the ancient bridges and cobbled streets are still there, too. A Cambridge professor once called Durham the finest medieval building in Europe, saying that for setting, unity, harmony and strength, he chose Durham out of all the other monuments of Christian faith. I'm happy to claim it as my home town.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Requiem for a little laptop

A nasty headcold drove me  to my bed on Saturday morning where I shivered for most of the day. Today, Tuesday, is ny first day out of bed, still coughing and with my husband crossing his forefingers against me everytime I do it. It's his birthday today, and the poor man is sanding skirting boards prior to painting them instead of having a jolly day out.
Still, we have our new chairs to sit in, and though they took twelve weeks to arrive, they are lovely. Beige leather and wood, so comfortable, and so good for the spine. Our living room looks very different without the big three-seater sofa that took up so much space.

One thing I have become aware of while I've been tucked up in bed is that I'm receiving too many e-mails. With time to think about it, I realised I was keeping three computers  going (don't ask - two "old" laptops that haven't quite hit the dustbin because they still function, though very slowly, and once they were top of their line....and it seems just cruel to abandon them). The smallest laptop bravely tried to download 1571 e-mails that had collected since the 28th April, and stuttered to a halt on a particular e-mail which it declared the server had refused to pass on.  The other laptop, which had Norton installed, took that particular e-mail in its stride and moved blithely on, but I fear the little one may be defunct for ever.

I tried to reload the e-mails on the little laptop *seven* times through the day, thinking the server would relent and send the message through or ignore it but no, the same grind to a halt occurred every time. As I watched those messages roll in and then deleted them, it became clear that most of them were not necessary - congratulations, heartfelt pleas for prayers for someone I don't know when I'm not a praying person anyway, promos, repetitions of things already said, just the normal everyday chitchat that we're told to avoid when writing our novels! Though it's kind of nice to feel part of the group, I've come to the conclusion that less is more in this case, so I shall be scrutinising each and every group for its - well, not value for money, but value for time, I suppose. Will I cut them off totally? I suppose not, but I shall certainly limit them in some way. That way I might just get more writing done.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Beautiful Things

I’m a hoarder. Tonight, turning out a cupboard in preparation for a little home decorating behind it, I found all sorts of wonderful things. An old Sunday supplement from the seventies with an interesting piece about Beautiful Things caught my eye. Since paper carries so much weight, I flipped it onto the throw away pile, and then couldn’t resist peeking at a paragraph or two about the crown jewels.
All gone
The Imperial State Crown of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, begins the piece, “combines history, beauty, rarity and value in a way which is unique.” At the front of the crown there’s the ruby King Pedro the Cruel gave to the Black Prince in 1367, worn by Henry V at Agincourt and found decorating the helmet of Richard III when he was killed at Bosworth. It’s actually a ballas spinel that was sold for £4 when the Crown Jewels were broken up, and then returned to Charles II when the monarchy was restored.
Below that is the Cullinan diamond whose total weight was 3,106 carats. The cushion-cut diamond on the crown weighs 317 carats, and the larger portion (530 carats) adorns the Sovereign’s Sceptre. The arches of the crown resemble oak leaves with acorns of pearls and rose diamonds. The four suspended pearls are said to have belonged to Elizabeth I but some say the belonged to Elizabeth of Bohemia, the winter Queen. She was Charles II’s aunt.
The cross pattee holds a sapphire said to have come from Edward The Confessor’s hand when his tomb was opened in the 12th century. At the back of the crown you’ll find the Stuart sapphire, recorded as belonging to Alexander II of Scotland in 1214. It was taken to France in 1688 by James II, the last of the Stuart kings, and acquired by George IV from Cardinal York in 1807. The sapphire is partly pierced, and used to sit at the front of the crown until 1911 when the Cullinan diamond was given pride of place.
There’s lots on the Crown Jewels on the Internet: But why not listen to the Queen tell you about them? And I’ll add another of my wildlife pictures.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


harvest mouse on a fat ball

Once upon a time, I used to work in a public library and had access to zillions of books. I read the reviews and put in requests (which were free back then) and read all sorts of novels on the basis that they sounded interesting. It was the best and probably the only perk of librarianship!

I would not hesitate to admit that my reading matter was eclectic when I was in my early twenties. I barely covered the classics because I thought they would always be around and I could get to them later. Something more interesting was always just coming up on the horizon. I didn’t mind foreign countries. Mishima, Han Suyin and Lin Yutang made a big impression and taught me something of the Far East; Mary O’Hara taught me about Wyoming, and Evan Hunter’s Mothers and Daughters taught me about America. I devoured stories set in India and Iran, Tunisia and Greece, but rarely books set in England except for Jilly Cooper’s Riders which made me hoot with laughter. I learned a lot about cardiology from Slaughter’s fiction, though the medical stuff is no doubt outdated now. Lyall Watson introduced me to Supernature, and I’ve read the first part of Dawkins The Selfish Gene, and always intend to read the rest. Touching the Void had me cringing but I finished it, and names like Rendell, James, Dexter have never appeared on my reading lists. I made an exception for Ian Rankin, mostly because I adored the character of Rebus in the Ken Stott tv series.

Now, my tastes are different. I avoid books set in foreign countries. It is easier to learn about them through film and tv. I like books that have a slightly scary element, like those of S J Bolton, but I shy away from vampires and shapeshifters and the like. I’m too lazy to learn their worlds and rules, and the same goes for science fiction though I used to read lots of it. Dorothy Dunnett’s novels changed my taste in historicals, and I’ve been on the lookout for something as good ever since first reading her. Sansom is good, and so is Shirley Mackay. The more I think of the books I've read, I realise how much pleasure reading has given me.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Here it is...

This may not look like a book trailer for a romance, but I assure you it is. Reluctance is the story of Frances, said to be the richest widow in England, and her struggles to remain a widow. Yes, she wants to stay single, while fortune hunters abound, and simply will not give up trying to persuade her otherwise. In 1803, when a woman married, most of her  wealth went into her husband's hands. Not only that, but Frances, young and pretty as she is, does not wish to marry at all, for Marital Duties loom far too large on the negative side of any proposal she may receive. Discover for yourself how Frances solves her problem by clicking here:
"it’s a story with enough twists and unpredictable turns to make you dizzy, while Frances and Jack will alternately endear themselves to you and drive you crazy.  In any event, you won’t be able to forget these two or their story."
From a review by Margaret Chrisawn.

Friday, 4 May 2012


Durham Cathedral from the east
This week I have done no writing at all. Six social engagements in one week and  everything has gone to the dogs!
The meetings were all great fun, (and I've just remembered there is another one tomorrow - a coffee morning to support someone who is cycling from Panama to Costa Rica for medical charity) but I couldn't do this amount of socialising on a regular basis and write as well.

Dorothy Dunnett once said that she couldn't write if she was doing a lot of socialising - after all, she said, it all comes out of the same tap. I am full of admiration for authors who write with children playing in the same room - I know I couldn't do it.
So - now I'll have to knuckle down and re-read a few chapters to get back in the groove before I can start. That's part of the problem - come out of the imaginary world for too long and I forget where I was when I was last in it!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Another Hexham Book Event

Gorse, sometimes called broom
Meg Rosoff is an American who has lived in Britain for a long time. She doesn’t approve of “teaching” creative writing but if she practised the art, would suggest that Archer, Brown and Meyer should take up other occupations. Thinks all writing is a reflection of the author, and that it takes seven years, like an ancient apprenticeship, to learn the craft of writing. Or to put another way, it takes 10,000 hours before you produce reasonable writing. (Though it occurs to me that in seven years the apprentices did more than a million hours, and that’s if they worked a five-day week.)
Most people find that their first chapter is overwritten, overworked and often omitted in the final book. There’s too much exposition.

Think of a Colander – everyday stuff rushes in and falls through the holes, but some things will stick. They’re the important bits and will be quite different to other people’s bits. The contents make you, and the particular you that you are will dictate what and how you write.
Some people are clear, sometimes too clear. Everything is on display. Others are not connected to their subconscious and you feel you keep coming up against a pane of glass as you talk to them.

Depressives are attracted to the arts. (Or perhaps it is vice versa.) The depressive thinks he sees the world more accurately than anyone else. Perhaps it helps to be a depressive writer? When we’re writing, we’re looking for a conduit to the subconscious. What’s in the brain should come out on the page. I think this quote is from the Talmud: “We do not see things as they are. We see them as WE are.” Once you start writing, you may be surprised at what comes through to the page.
There is no objective truth, no one way to write. Often writing is technically competent, with good storytelling and plotting, but has no voice. Think of voice as in singing: you want a strong voice from your rib cage, not a thin little voice from your throat. German dressage riders have a word that roughly translates as through-goingness – from the rider to the horse and out into the dressage movement – a complete flow of energy.
Principal ballet dancers stand out against the corps de ballet because s/he has a quality the others do not. Their voice is strong.

Who you are, what you have to say, plus the confidence and self-knowledge to get it on the page – all these things go towards making your voice.

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...