Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Crinan Ferry and Isolation

We drove a little way to a dead-end one-track road where we could walk a couple of miles to Crinan Ferry and let Tim run off-lead. It is difficult to find places where he can run free when there's livestock about but we were lucky in out choice. The one field of cattle were safely fenced away from him, and the sheep were roaming the shore of the loch.

There is a little cluster of houses at Crinan Ferry. We guessed a couple of them would be holiday homes. because it is such an idyllic spot, I asked dh if he would like a week's holiday there. 'Not on your  life,' he replied. 'I'd be bored stupid.'
It is amazing how some people choose to live in spots so remote that other people couldn't contemplate life there. I've often thought such a life would suit me, but the closest I've ever got to it is holidaying in such places, and that isn't a true test. Now that we all have computers and chatter away online, it could be argued that nowhere is truly remote any more. I know the Western Isles were keen to take up e-communication when it first became available, and had library and school link-ups long before city dwellers really thought about it. Now we chatter with off-spring in Australia every day if we chose to do so.

We reached Crinan Ferry landing but of course there's no ferry now. It ceased operating in eighteen hundred and something, and was only a rowing boat even then. It must have been a day's walk to get to Kilmarti
n back then, a village we reached by car in twenty minutes. Perhaps half a day on horseback.

The valley in which Kilmartin sits is green and fertile, and it is ea
sy to see why prehistoric people lived there and built their temples and cairns and burial chambers. The Dunadd, they claim,  is the seat of the kings of Dal Riata. Literally translated, the Dunadd would be the fortress on the river Add. We climbed it on a previous holiday and searched for the famous footprint. We found it, but didn't think it looked like any foot print we've seen. Or put another way, it was like a lot of other odd shaped holes in rocks you find on the sea shore. But if you want to believe it was part of the coronation ritual of Dalriardan kings, I have no quarrel with you. (a formal reference to the Dunadd) (An informal visitor record, with photographs.)

We walked into Kilmartin along the line of the chambered cairns and got drenched in a rain storm before we clambered uphill to reach the Museum and cafe. Because we had Tim, we sat in a small yurt outside the cafe and devoured chocolate cake and drank hot coffee. We had done the museum bit  on our last visit, and recommend it to anyone who visits the area. Once the rain cleared, as it does in Scotland, the sun came out and we walked back to the car and drove back to the hotel for a siesta. We needed it. We must have walked about eight or nine miles.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Adventures in Crinan

On the tow-path looking across Loch Crinan
We arrived at Crinan mid afternoon,  settled ourselves and Tim into the hotel and then went for a walk along the tow-path. This is a very pretty tow-path, with the sea (Loch Crinan) on one side and the canal on the other and hills all around. Tim showed a hair-raising inclination to jump into either the canal or over the edge of the twenty-foot drop into Loch Crinan, so we did not dare let him off the lead.

Coffee and a scone at the Coffee Shop revived us and we got there just before it closed at 5pm. A short siesta, fed Tim and then out for a swift walk before we went into the bar for dinner. Tim settled under the table and all seemed well. Then he decided to go exploring, pulled free of his collar and trotted off with me running after him, the collar and lead in my hand. I caught up with him in the Reading Room and since he wanted to play games, I rugby-tackled him as he darted by and caught him around the middle.

A waiter, a guest and the hotel proprietor all gathered around, laughing. Trouble was I couldn't let go, and I couldn't get the collar back on with one hand. The proprietor took pity on me and knelt down and talked to Tim while I got the collar back on. It seems he had a Dalmatian many years ago and Tim was bringing back happy memories. Tim meanwhile thought this was all great fun and wriggled all the harder while I heard about Breckon, who jumped ship off the west coast of Iona and swam to the beach where a young couple lay embracing, Desperate because there are no trees on that side of the island due to the wind off the Atlantic,  Breckon peed on the young couple instead.

Order was restored, we all settled down and  dinner arrived. My lemon sole was delicious and the creme brulee which followed wasn't bad either. We retired to an early bed well satisfied.
Check out more pics on

Friday, 25 October 2013

A two day break

Drove off for a two-day break on Wednesday morning. If you want to track my journey, then head west along the A69 from Hexham and then turn north onto the A689, then the M6 which becomes the A/M74 north of the border. Swing south west of Glasgow and cross the Erskine Bridge over the Clyde (roadworks! but no delays) and then join the A82 heading north along the side of Loch Lomond. Turn left at Tarbet, onto the A83. Follow that road as it twists and turns through Arrochar and Inveraray until you get to Lochgilphead. Once there, turn onto the A816 and then onto the B841 at Cairnbaan and follow the Crinan Canal till you reach Crinan. Our hotel overlooks Loch Crinan, and I mean overlooks it.
This journey took us five hours, give or take a minute here or there. The longest stop we had was to give Tim and ourselves a chance to have a pee on the M74 - we went into the service station, natch - and to change driver as we reached the A82. Lovely drive with sunshine and autumn colours just taking over the trees and hedgerows. The two old beauties in the picture were snuggled up together in the canal basin at Crinan.

Monday, 21 October 2013

My favourite policeman

Why do I like Inspector Montalbano?
Hard to  pin down. The long promised series of four began on Saturday night on BBC 4, and did not let me down. I've been watching the Young Montalbano for the last six weeks, and while I enjoyed them, they did not have quite the same pull. It was interesting watching the friendships form, and the actress who played Livia was certainly prettier than the original. But now we have a third actress playing the character in the new series. It's odd that  the character seems to never quite gell - either that, or the original actress moved on to other work . It's a pity, because the character is Salvo's long term girlfriend, so she is important.

I like the scenery, but that's not what makes me watch it. I like the fact that it is sub-titled because then I can catch all of the plot. (So many actors mumble or talk away from the microphones today that I miss quite a bit. Maybe the sound engineers are not so well trained? Just a thought.) I like the characters. Ingrid, the very tall Swedish lady for instance, who drives like Fernando Alonso. Fazio who always looks worried. Mimi Augello, who cannot resist an attractive woman. Catarella, who mangles every message and constantly falls into Salvo's office instead of walking through the doorway like everyone else. I was happy for him when it was discovered that he was a whiz with computers.

I like the actor who plays Salvo Montalbano. He's in his early fifties, like the character written by Andrea Camilleri, and he's nicely relaxed in his well-cut Italian jackets that fit his chunky frame so well. He's somewhat bandy-legged, but that only adds to his charm. There's a warmth to him that comes over even when he shouts at Catarella for mangling messages, and the way he handles grieving widows and frightened orphans makes me blink back the tears. He's cunning, easily roused to jealousy and goes into raptures over seafood. All in all, a real character. Long may he continue to delight me. To discover more reasons for my affection, click and read this piece : 

The author did not write until he was 53, and he's now 81 and still writing, so there's hope for us all.

The photo comes from Lucca Zingaretti's Facebook Fans page.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Second Bite at the Cuckoo

Tim really doesn't like JKRowling's book. He's had another go at it, and this time he has torn the cover right across to the spine. I shall have to get the Sellotape out and do a spot repair (Ha! Excuse the pun). But happily all the words are intact.

I enjoyed the book and found it an absorbing read. I didn't guess the villain and was surprised when he/she was revealed. It's a neat set up for a series based on Strike and Robin's adventures. I wondered at the title until I reached the book's conclusion, and then all became clear - but to talk about it here would spoil the pleasure of those about to read the book, so I shall stay quiet.
Sorry Helen. It's no way to treat a gift and I've had words with Tim about this habit of pouncing on a certain lady's book. He promises to do better in future, but we all know what that night mean. I now keep all my books on the very highest shelf in my study, or in a drawer in my bedroom.

I'm off to do some research on how people tag their books. I think I'm doing it correctly but  reassurance would be nice.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Libraries, sex and soft porn

-as if they needed defending. I am posting the link here because it’s worth reading. One thing I learned – he’s English. There I was, always thinking he was American – not that I’d ever bothered to check. I haven’t ever read anything of his. Strange how these ideas float around. Perhaps I’d better find something of his and read it!

I am about halfway through JKR’s book and surprised to find I am enjoying it. Strange how reviews, verbal or writtten, even a chance remark, can influence one’s enjoyment of a book. Helen didn’t say a lot, but gave me the impression she was not impressed. She didn’t rate the ending, certainly. I won’t say any more until I finish the book. 

I returned a book to the library today with mixed feelings. It was a historical romance, and the blurb claimed the author was a best selling author, had been on the New York best seller lists. It opened most pleasantly, with a well written heroine called Temperance,* but about half-way turned into what I would call soft porn. Maybe the boundaries have changed these days, but really, what's wrong with a little discretion? I don't want to find crude words - the kind often seen scrawled on walls - in a Victorian romance. I don't want items of genitalia detailed, or long descriptions of sex - I have imagination, I have had experience and I can fill in the gaps quite well without such blunt details. I think Piatkus should check their buying policy - or at least how they market the books they import from the US.

OTOH - one woman's soft porn is probably another's exciting read though I think the readers who want soft porn would find the story itself trite. Oh, to be a publisher these days. What one must do to make money.

*PS her sister was called Silence. I should have known......

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Cormoran Strike meets with an Accident

Helen kindly left me her copy of  J K Rowling's  book - the one published under a pseudonym. I haven't read it yet, but I keep looking at it. Unfortunately it has already met with an accident - Tim jumped on the bed, nudged it off the bookshelf and was having a whale of a time when I caught up with him. Fortunately, though it looks bad, only the corners of the first two pages have been nibbled. The introductory pages have been given a lacy edging, but the story is intact.

The perceived wisdom for authors seeking publication is to write to a certain style, broadly outlined in my last post. With memories of JKR's writing in the Harry Potter series,  I looked at the first page and thought to myself She hasn't changed her style. I've read that page twice more before I go on. After all, the first page is the one that entices you to read the story, isn't it? It's the most important page, the one we are told we should spend the most time on, honing and sharpening. The first sentence should be a hook.

JK's first sentence is "The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies."

Not bad, although it contains a passive verb and a gerund - an -ing ending. But not brilliant either. Out of interest I got out three coloured marker pens and marked up 5 -ly endings, 12 gerunds and 12 adjectives. All on the first page. H'mmm.

Enough to make aspiring authors groan into their cups of coffee. Perhaps the English publishing market is different to the American market. Perhaps the English prefer a longer, more leisurely read and don't mind adjectives if they work well. Perhaps I should ignore it when critiquers highlight all my gerunds and -ly endings and go with my own instinct of what works for the story. I do ignore them, some of the time, but I always consider the word, the place and the tone of the piece before I do. Find highlights every gerund in the chapter and if you are so minded, you can then consider each one individually. Sometimes it is good to get an overview like this. Active is all very well in its place, usually when something exciting is happening on the page. But there are times when  introspective is good and less active writing  gives the reader a rest. I still remember how irritated I got with the Da Vinci Code with its relentless demand that I turned the page.  Somehow, I don't think JK's writing will make such a demand. It occurs to me that the name of the hero  - on the back cover - is the giveaway to the author's identity. Cormoran Strike is a name that harks straight back to the Potter stories.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Unnecessary words

I know most of Rachelle Gardner’s  tips for shortening a manuscript off by heart but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to refresh the memory and keep the advice on record here.
As she says, if you cut 12 words per page in a 350-page manuscript, you have shortened it by 4,200 (unnecessary) words. Another method I heard recently was to cut 2 lines per page. In a 300 page novel that’s probably around 6,000 words.

Rachelle offers a checklist to consider:

  •  Adverbs, especially those with “ly” endings. Ask yourself if they’re necessary.
  • Adjectives. Often people use two or three when one (or none) is better.
  • Gerunds. Words that end in “ing.”
  • Passive voice: Over-use of words like “was,” “were” and “that” indicate your writing may be too passive. Reconstruct in active voice.
  • Redundancy in words or ideas. Don’t say something twice that the reader only needs once.
  • Passages that are overly descriptive.
  • Passages that describe characters’ thoughts and feelings in too much detail (i.e. long sections of narrative or interior monologue).
  • Passages that tell the reader what they already know.
  • Passages that use a lot of words to “tell” the reader something that should be “shown”
  • Unnecessary backstory.

She also offers a list of words that may not be truly effective:
about, actually, almost, like, appears, approximately, basically, close to, even, eventually, exactly, finally, just, just then, kind of, nearly, practically, really, seems, simply, somehow, somewhat, sort of, suddenly, that, truly, utterly, were.
The Search and Replace function makes this easier than it sounds, and the manuscript will be the better for it.

She also has an interesting rant about the Brave New World of Publishing on her blog 22nd September. Read it with a wry grin! (

Monday, 7 October 2013

Land of the Prince Bishops

John Speed's map 1610
As you drive into Durham you will most likely see a road sign proclaiming that you are entering The Land of The Prince Bishops. The Bishop of Durham has always been Bishop by Divine Providence while other Bishops are  by Divine Permission.

So far from Westminster, Durham's Bishop enjoyed extraordinary powers and could hold his own parliament, raise his own army and appoint his own sheriffs and Justices. Laws, levies, taxes and custom dues were his. He also created markets and fairs, issued charters, claimed salvage from shipwrecks, revenues from mines, administered forests and minted his own coins.

It was said that there were two kings in England, and one of them was the Bishop of Durham. The administrative centre of all this activity was the castle and the buildings on Palace Green, some of which still remain. Henry VIII curbed some of the Prince Bishops powers and in 1538 ordered the destruction of the shrine of St Cuthbert.

Until the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury, St Cuthbert's was the most important shrine in England. It was famous for two reasons - the healing properties he had in life continued after his death, and his body was, as they say, incorruptible. That was back in 668. When Henry ordered the destruction of the shrine, his officers came to Durham intent on taking the gold and jewels, and tried to throw down the saint's bones. Check the link to find out what happened!  ~

Durham's location has always meant the city kept a wary eye on the Scots. The castle is one of the few Norman keeps to withstand a Scots attack. The Battle of Neville's Cross on 17th October 1346 is well documented, and there are several accounts to follow. here are links to just two of them: or

Plague outbreaks reached Durham in 1544, 1589 and 1598.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Durham, my home city

This advert caught my eye and I liked it so I'm keeping it here. 
What would life be like in Durham in 1414, the year the school was founded? There is so much history in and around Durham. They say settlement began in the area around 2000 BC but it was St Cuthbert who put Durham firmly on the map.

Symeon of Durham, medieval chronicler, tells how St Cuthbert's bier came to a mysterious halt at the hill of Warden Law, south west of what is now Sunderland, and refused to budge. The monks of Lindisfarne, having departed their original home because of Viking raids, had shuffled Cuthbert's coffin all over the north, and thought this refusal to move rather strange.  The Bishop of Chester-le-Street declared a three-day fast with prayers during which St Cuthbert is reputed to have appeared to a monk called Eadmer and told him to take the coffin to Dun Holme.

The coffin then allowed itself to be moved, but a milkmaid had to be consulted before the location of Dun Holme became known. Settling on the promontory above the river Wear, the monks built the cathedral to house St Cuthbert's remains. Symeon says it was the first building in the town, but there is nothing left of the modest building today. The Norman built a much grander structure on top of it. Cuthbert is still there, with pride of place behind the altar, and the Venerable Bede lies in the Galilee Chapel. 

Over the years the old name changed. The old words meant hill (dun OE) and island (holme, Norse), then became Normanised as 
Duresme and Latinised as Dunelm and finally at some time unknown, Durham.

Here are some links to the wonderful old city of Durham:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Routines and critique groups

There's nothing like having guests in the house for disrupting routines. Since Monday 23rd we've been playing host and fun as it was, I'm now cream-crackered, or knackered, in the vernacular. It may take some time to recover! I've managed to steal a few minutes here and there to keep up my blog or attend to the e-mails, but  I haven't done anything with all the crits I've received, or had time to do much promotion of my books. The trouble now is that when I'm tired, the part of me that does the writing just flaps about, too tired to do anything. Give me a few days, and I might be up and running again.

On the other hand, today is the start of a new, guestless week. I shall get my eyes tested this afternoon, as I'm certain my sight has changed and I need new lenses and glasses, and my hair cut on Thursday. Tim will start taking the pills the vet gave him because harvest mites have bitten his toes and he is biting them....and I shall concentrate on writing to the exclusion of everything else. Maybe I'll start slowly, by reading the crits of my story, and see how it goes.

I may have bitten off more than I can chew with being on two crit groups, but at least I have the same story going through both. All I have to do is remember which crits came from which groups - and do 3 critiques for members of each group in return. The critiques vary enormously - one person wants  less description which slows the story and more action; another wants more description of the sea voyage, a third loves the description of the countryside and can be confusing trying to decide which comments are useful, and which to ignore. What it does give is a cross-section of the sort of reaction readers have, which is always useful. If several critquers are saying the same thing, it is wise to take their comments on board and do something about it!