Thursday, 28 November 2013

The mysteries of Blog stats

Does anyone understand the stats on Blogger?

I have the Clustrmap counter on my blog, which gives me the number of visitors to my blog and which country they are from - which is fascinating in itself. Russia? Alaska? Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific?  I assume they are chance encounters and dare not think I have regular visitors from those places - but it would be cool if I did!

Then I looked at the post stats on Blogger and see something called View Counts is given there. Now, I think I can understand the difference between a visit to the blog and a how many posts/pages a visitor looked at once they got to the blog. But why do the view count numbers change from day to day? Is that because Blogger adds one day's views to another day's views? In other words, it totals the view counts made against a particular blog post? If so, that is very clever and an indicator of what readers want to see on the blog, which is useful to me and all other bloggers.

But I'm not totally sure that is what is happening. If a knowlegeable person out there  can explain, do let me know!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Writing Processes Blog Tour

My thanks go to Lindsay Townsend for getting touch about this Blog Tour. I've probably given her hives as I dithered about taking part, contacting other writers and generally messing about. Like most things, once I stopped bleating and got down to it, it was easier to do than I thought. Lindsay is a very successful writer of historical novels and romances, and truly deserves your attention. Go to her website and see her fantastic list of titles, and read how she answered the blog tour questions. The link is:

So, on to the questions :

What am I working on?
Depends what day it is. I always seem to be playing catch up - if it's not time for a blog post, it's time for promo. If not those, then there are crits required by my crit partners and then - there's my book. Well, books. Right now I've just finished polishing two chapters of a work in progress - it is tentatively called Blood Feud, though that may change if no blood is ever shed. It is set in north west Scotland in the eleventh century. It uses the setting and some characters from Far After Gold, one of my early books about Vikings, but  their lives have moved on ten years. Oli is now a rebellious teenager who falls in love with the wrong girl and almost begins a Viking war. With luck and a fair wind, it will be published around Christmas time. Right now my two lovelorn characters are approaching Dyflin in a Viking longship and not at all happy to be there.

I'm also submitting partials to agents for my main historical - To Capture a Queen. This is set in the 16th century, in the court of the Dowager Queen of Scotland, Mary of Guise. She rightly fears Henry of England will take her daughter to England by force if he can, but does not know that my main character is Matho Spirston, is already in Scotland and planning the attempt.

How Does my work Differ from others of its genre?
I think my books could be called cross-genre. Not because they blatantly mix science-fiction and history, but because they're a little more than romance. A reviewer once said Dark Pool was a bit gruesome for a true romance - but she loved it anyway! I like my heroines to face reality, and in historicals, that translates as danger. I'd like men and women to read my books, too. It may be a faint hope, but there you go. 

I understand that religion, superstition and that dreaded word ritual, so beloved of archaeologists, figured largely in the ancient world. But I like to give my characters a bit more freedom in their choice of actions. They can believe or not, as they choose. But like most of us today, I don't think ancient man spent days worrying about who made the world. It would be more a case of getting through the day without dying. Right up until the early nineteen hundreds, you could die from sustaining a cut finger, and it would not be a  gentle death. I studied History and English at university and I try and keep up with recent research  where it touches my stories.

Why Do I Write What I do?
Why do you eat chocolate? Because you love it. Because ancient life and times seem so much more interesting to me than modern day stories.  With all the books currently flowing out about the Second World War, this is not a good time for me. I want to read about medieval times. I can be quite partisan on certain topics, having been a staunch Richard III supporter since I was a teenager, and believing, like Dorothy Dunnett, that Thorfinn and MacBeth were the same man. Don't tell me Marie Stuart was a fool - I would ask what you would have done differently in her position!

How does your writing process work?
Life has changed recently for me. I got a puppy. A Dalmatian puppy. Now, pre-puppy, I could write all day if I chose,  tinker with blogs and crits or stay in bed until noon. Now, I have a different regime. I'm up reasonably early every day to give my growing dog long walks, whatever the weather. My writing fits around him.

I don't know where the ideas come from. Reading, I suppose. I read about MacBeth (who hasn't read about him?) and that led to The Banners of Alba, my first published book. Often its a location - The Gibside Estate and the sad tale of Mary Eleanor Bowes gave me the idea for Reluctance, and Aydon Castle made me think of Alina Carnaby in Fair Border Bride.

 These days I write straight into the computer. The first draft is always a rush to get the story line down, and I go back often - the next day, and again and again, though I know the experts say you should not. My excuse is that the story line changes, and I want to change the name, the heroine's hair colour or the month before I forget that I changed it. It isn't too onerous for the first 6 or 8 chapters, but once there are 50,000 words to go through, I admit defeat and leave it for the Second Draft. You know, the serious kind that requires so much effort it merits capital letters.

I research as I go, using Google Earth to track the location, and all the other wonderful texts available to us writers these days. It would be silly not to, when they're there at the click of a button.
Sometimes I use timelines. I have drafted out entire storylines as advised by Donald Maass and sometimes I've written stories without planning much at all. Whatever it is I do, I do it all in silence. Don't want or need music - just the pictures in my head.If my husband pushes sandwiches and coffee through the door at regular intervals, I'm happy in my own little world. Since you are reading this on my blog, I can only suggest that you click on the page detailing my book titles!

So - don't forget to visit Lindsay's blog, and next week there will be more ~

Next week, on Monday 2nd December, please visit the following authors to see their part of the Writing Process Blog Tour.

Rosemary Morris
Historical novelist Rosemary Morris was born in 1940 in Sidcup, Kent.While working in a travel agency, she met her Indian husband who encouraged her to continue her education at Westminster College. In 1961 Rosemary and her husband, now a barrister, moved to his birthplace, Kenya, where she lived from 1961 until 1982. After an Attempted coup d'etat, she and four of her children lived in an ashram in France. Her book shelves are so crammed with historical non-fiction which she uses to research her novels that if she buys a new book she has to consider getting rid of one.
Rosemary's blog is here:

Anita Davison
Anita is the author if Royalist Rebel, the story of Elizabeth Murray, countess Dysart, who survived the English Civil War, married to keep her inheritance, and spied for her king in a land where Oliver Cromwell's army persecuted her kind. She has had two other 17th century family saga novels published and two Victorian Romances - Trencarrow Secret and Culloden Spirit from MuseItUp publishing which will be available in paperback early next year. She is now writing historical cozy mysteries and lives in Cheltenham with her extended family, and contemplating adding a dog to the chaos.


Anita's blog is here:

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Black Hole Country

A short walk already completed and a cup of coffee by my hand and I'm ready to go at 9.30 on a Saturday morning. Amazing.
I intended to do this yesterday, but got sidetracked by attending a Writers' group meeting at Ashington, where we had a lovely lunch, a good discussion and put some good plans in place for a Writers' Retreat Day  in May 2014. The lunch was remarkable for its variety and quality - there was one unforgettable lunch where fourteen people all decided to bring a quiche!

The only trouble is that the region east of Newcastle, between Newcastle and the coast, is rather like a Black Hole/Bermuda Triangle for me in the sense that I inevitably get lost either going, or returning and sometimes both. The same thing happened when I was lucky enough to share a ride in Hazel's car. We arrived happily in very good time and full of confidence decided we didn't need the sat nav for the way home. Mistake! We got snarled up in heavy traffic coming through Gosforth, a suburb of Newcastle, and I didn't get home until almost four o'clock. There was only just time to take the dog for a swift walk, before I typed up the notes of the meeting before I forgot the detail and then the clock and  dh's stomach suggested it was time to begin preparing a meal.

Which is why I'm really pleased to have a good chunk of working space in front of me now. I left my hero/heroine wet and bedraggled in a Viking longship about to sail up the Liffey to Dublin, (called Dyflin in that period) and I want to get back to them before they catch cold.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Days gone by

I never seem to have enough time these days. My blog used to be as regular as clockwork but it is a trifle hit and miss now, though I still try to keep to three posts a week. Today I'm in the unusual situation of having time to do it and groping for subject matter. Most frustrating.

We had the first frost of autumn last night. There might have been a tentative frost earlier in October, but it was so tentative it didn't last til midday. When I took Tim down to the river bank today, the ground was frozen. It's been soft and squishy up until yesterday and while Tim romped about and got muddy, I had to keep my eyes on where I put my feet. I still slipped a few times, but didn't go down. Tim, on the other hand, hit a puddle at full speed this morning and skidded off to one side. He came back to sniff the ice, so no doubt he knows what to expect next time.

This sort of weather makes me very glad to be living in the 21st century. I tell myself a Viking hallhouse could be very cosy with the central hearth blazing and everyone wrapped up in furs to keep warm while the harper told a tale or two. But someone had to go out and find the wood or peat, drag it back and keep the fire burning night and day. Someone had to go hunting so there was something to cook and eat. Trudging through snow in leather boots without the thick, textured soles that we're so used to today would be no picnic. Maybe they packed straw and wool inside to add insulation, but there must have been many frozen toes, chilblains and even frost bite.

People complained of chilblains in the fifties, (a painful, itchy swelling on the hands and feet due to poor circulation and exposure to cold) and scorch marks on the skin over the shins from sitting too close to the fire. These things were not unusual even in the early sixties. No doubt they were common in Viking days as well. Nowadays, does anyone under forty know of chilblains? Do they remember running to the kitchen to make a hot drink before hurrying back to the one warm room in the house? A trip outside to the coalhouse to get more coal - no one wanted to do it, and it usually fell to the man of the house. Going to an icy bed was unthinkable without a hot water bottle, and three people in a bed doesn't seem such a bad idea in context of  ye olden days. Body heat times three was not to be sniffed at. Pity those who had outside loos....all these discomforts are mostly forgotten now. But it is life as it was lived in historical novels.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Off the beaten track

Here we are in November and still there are mild days when it is easy to work up a sweat walking the dog. The weather forecasters promise a dip in temperatures by next week. It will be interesting to see if they are right.  I have all my cold weather gear lined up and ready to go.

Last night we went for a meal with friends and visited High House Farm Brewery near Matfen. A microbrewery started up there in 2001 and we visited the brewery and did the tour in October. Here's the link:

It is well off the beaten track, though only half a mile as the crow flies from the Roman Wall. I wonder how many walkers would benefit from a refreshing pint if only they knew it was there? We drove the last couple of miles on single track roads between high hedges, and all around was darkness. Would it be open? Had they forgotten our booking? We were almost on the place before we saw a light beaming through the blackness. We got out of the car and almost got blown away - the buildings sit high on the ridge, very much exposed to the weather.

Inside it was warm and welcoming though we were the only party expected that night. Wooden floors and stone walls, cowhide throws over the leather sofas, wooden stairs that creaked alarmingly on every tread. That's old buildings for you. Evidently it is a very popular wedding venue - they're booked solid for next year. I ordered haddock fishcakes with rocket salad and Lemon and Thyme risotto to follow. All very tasty and I for one shall return. I think some might prefer a busier, buzzier place, but I didn't mind our party being the only four people there. Matfen Hall Chapter Library, which we visited in October when David and Helen were with us, was vast, ornate and a little daunting when we were the only guests with at least half a dozen waiters in attendance, but this room was a nice size. I wonder why it is that we keep selecting places where we are the only diners? Can it be that people in general don't eat out as much as they once did? Perhaps the recession means there's not enough spare cash around.

The picture is one I took on our two day break not so long ago. It is Kilmartin, in Argyll. Famous for its prehistoric cairns, chambers and other remains. If prehistory interests you, then here's a link to get you started:

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Finding the light

Once in a while I come across a post on someone else's blog that I know I will want to re-read at some point. when I was new to blogs I thought I could always go back and re-read the original, but several times I never found what I was seeking, so now I paraphrase and jot down here the important bits I want to remember. I smiled when I read how goes through eight drafts. Aha, I thought, I like this woman. I felt even better when she said that nobody writes a publishable first draft.

She specifies two types of revision - one for the Logic of the story she is telling, and the other for Polish. Beginning with the Logic, which is so basic, she lists the scenes of each chapter on a big sheet of paper - something I do on a big spiral-bound art paper book. (I gave up water-colour painting when I started writing, so I already had the big book going spare...) Then on the left side of the paper, she lists the date and time of the action. To the right, she places an arrow to indicate if the scene ends on a positive or negative note for the main character.

It takes time, but you end up with an overview of your story. What you do then is look to see if anything is misplaced in time or emotional impact. It goes without saying that if you find any, you rectify the problem.
The next task is to look for scenes you could remove without impacting on your story. As a guide, ask yourself if the scene moves the action forward or adds to the reader's understanding of the character. If it doesn't do either, remove the scene. (If you really hate to do that, try and make changes that will better our understanding of the character or move the action forward.)

Then, draw a line through the scenes you  plan to remove.
This is good advice. Initially I ripped scenes out, yes, actually deleted them, and felt very brave and in control. Some time later I wished I had kept them in a separate file somewhere, as I could have used them, or part of them, elsewhere. It's called learning the hard way.

Now what you do is read through your list. Check for repetition of words, phrases and reiteration of the same emotional point. Check for scenes that drag, take note and later work on smartening the pace. Check that you use location to the best advantage. Would a different location work better? Check for scenes that fall into the talking heads trap and if you find any, give the characters some action.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Amazon's latest deal

Have you heard that a new deal allows independent booksellers to sell Kindles and get a 10% commission on e-book sales with that device for up to 2 years after the sale?

Called Amazon Source, this deal is only available in the US so far, but there are suspicions that it won't be long before it moves across the Atlantic.

Tim Walker of Walker bookshops wonders why Amazon have taken this step, and suggests that selling Kindle devices would simply help convert people to using Kindles.

David Dawkins manages Pages of Hackney. he won't stock the Kindle and wouldn't want his customers to think he as trading with the bad guys.

Sheila O'Reilly of Dulwich Books thinks she couldn't morally stock Kindles because the company does not pay appropriate taxes in this country.

Jane Streeter of the Bookcase thinks it was inevitable that Amazon wants to partner the independents because Kobo offered a similar service. The 10% commission offered by Amazon is said to be a little higher than Kobo's offer.

Lisa Campbell's article quotes opinions of bookshop owners that I believe operate in the south, possibly all in London - though I have not checked this to be sure. My thought is that there may be many small independents in the midlands and the north who will be so close to closure that they will clutch at this as a lifeline when and if it is offered. Perhaps for that, Amazon deserves some credit? What do you think? At the very least I have a smidgen of admiration for the company that keeps on coming up with new ideas.
Here's the link to the article:

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Amazon's Countdown Deals

Amazon have hatched a new scheme called Kindle Countdown Deals. This means books are on discount for a few days, and then gradually rise to the original price. It's an interesting strategy, and one wonders if it will work. I suppose it means checking Amazon every day to see what is on offer. Now that won't be bad for them, but it certainly could get tedious for someone like me.

I checked the Top Hundred Free titles on Amazon for a few weeks but now hardly remember to go there. It's a hitty-missy kind of exercise - certain authors go free for a day or two, and if you're lucky, you catch their book for free. There's a lot of self-published stuff there that might have benefited from a copy-editor's red pen, but every now and then there is a little nugget of gold. I discovered Ken McClure and Shirley McKay that way, and got a copy of Yan Martel's Life of Pi for 20p.

This has reminded me that it is about time I put one of my own titles up for a free day or two. It usually generates lots of interest, but I find it hard to tell if the exercise generates sales. If I do it soon, it may prompt Amazon US into sending me the next US cheque!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Fiction Bestsellers

I've always known that authors writing school text books were on to a good thing. I've frequently tried to get dh to write the definitive text on auto engineering, to no avail. I've even quoted facts at him, such as did he know that the man who created the Mr Men series of kids books reached no 2 on the list of authors who sold the most books between 2000-2009? I added that at number 7 is the author of hundreds of study guides that have earned him a staggering £49 million. (Ah, correction - the article in the Telegraph says they study guides have taken £49 million at the tills, so maybe the author did not receive all of it.)

The chart listing the top hundred books of the decade  is equally interesting when we look at fiction. For all the sideswipes over the years at Enid Blyton's books, she is present at number 10. Even more surprising is the fact that Jamie Oliver's cook books make him second in earnings to J K Rowling and put him ahead of Dan Brown. (What is it about that rapidly expanding young man that makes him so much more successful than say James Martin or Nigel Slater? I wish I knew, for I find his "whack it in" style of dialogue irritating.)

J K, by the way, has sold 29 million books with a sales value of 215 million. I don't suppose she got all of that, but still, what she did receive would be a hefty sum. Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was the most successful single title with 5.2 million copies sold. It is worth studying the list for the unexpected. Lyn Andrews, for example - a  shy, gentle lady I heard speak in Corbridge just last year has sold  copies that garnered £9.2 million. I bought just four authors in the list - numbers 15,70, 72 and 100.

 If you want to read Brian MacArthur's full article, here's the link:

and here's the list:
Author, Voume Sold, Value
1 J K Rowling 29,084,999 £225.9m
2 Roger Hargreaves 14,163,141 £26.6m
3 Dan Brown 13,372,007 £74.1m
4 Jacqueline Wilson 12,673,148 £69.9m
5 Terry Pratchett 10,455,397 £77.2m
6 John Grisham 9,862,998 £65.9m
7 Richard Parsons 9,561,776 £49.2m
8 Danielle Steel 9,119,149 £51m
9 James Patterson 8,172,647 £53.8m
10 Enid Blyton 7,910,758 £31.2m
11 Bill Bryson 7,409,656 £61.2m
12 Patricia Cornwell 7,355,180 £49.8m
13 Jamie Oliver 7,244,620 £89.5m
14 Daisy Meadows 7,149,788 £24.1m
15 Ian Rankin 6,848,039 £44.3m
16 Julia Donaldson 6,621,594 £33.7m
17 Alexander McCall Smith 6,609,779 £40.6m
18 Francesca Simon 6,564,681 £31.6m
19 Bernard Cornwell 6,297,911 £45.5m
20 Roald Dahl 6,169,406 £33.8m
21 Martina Cole 6,021,960 £41.7m
22 Philip Pullman 5,544,376 £35.8m
23 Stephenie Meyer 5,487,313 £32m
24 Maeve Binchy 5,476,134 £37.6m
25 J R R Tolkien 5,280,406 £50.6m
26 Delia Smith 5,269,783 £58.7m
27 Stephen King 5,268,577 £38m
28 Marian Keyes 5,029,363 £31.7m
29 Jeremy Clarkson 4,913,989 £35.1m
30 Josephine Cox 4,651,166 £24m
31 Sophie Kinsella 4,528,095 £27.7m
32 Jodi Picoult 4,514,620 £24.1m
33 Terry Deary 4,495,655 £21.6m
34 Anthony Horowitz 4,304,041 £23.6m
35 Lemony Snicket 4,220,508 £23.9m
36 Andy McNab 4,123,633 £30.4m
37 Ian McEwan 4,040,887 £27.7m
38 Wilbur Smith 3,871,484 £30.1m
39 Michael Connelly 3,785,330 £23.5m
40 Sebastian Faulks 3,782,665 £27.5m
41 Kathy Reichs 3,514,087 £22.2m
42 Helen Fielding 3,473,003 £22m
43 Cecelia Ahern 3,422,899 £19.5m
44 Joanne Harris 3,392,198 £21.2m
45 William Shakespeare 3,333,670 £17.8m
46 Carol Vorderman 3,315,641 £11.2m
47 Chris Ryan 3,289,855 £21m
48 Lee Child 3,274,928 £20.2m
49 Dave Pelzer 3,217,905 £20.2m
50 R L Stine 3,096,584 £13.1m
51 Catherine Cookson 3,020,751 £16.8m
52 Dean Koontz 3,010,242 £17.5m
53 W Awdry 2,991,572 £9.9m
54 Michael Morpurgo 2,989,161 £15.1m
55 Jeffery Deaver 2,972,145 £16.9m
56 Khaled Hosseini 2,957,026 £21.1m
57 Nick Hornby 2,956,544 £19.6m
58 Ben Elton 2,907,294 £20m
59 Katie Price 2,856,697 £21.8m
60 Jill Mansell 2,798,518 £14.2m
61 Mark Haddon 2,783,600 £16.8m
62 Lucy Daniels 2,768,332 £11.2m
63 Dr Seuss 2,760,156 £14.8m
64 Tess Gerritsen 2,745,556 £14.7m
65 Tony Parsons 2,731,436 £17.3m
66 Alan Titchmarsh 2,707,834 £27.5m
67 Harlan Coben 2,672,713 £15.1m
68 Lauren Child 2,632,369 £13.4m
69 Darren Shan 2,617,959 £14.4m
70 Nigella Lawson 2,616,955 £39.2m
71 Robert C Atkins 2,591,073 £17.3m
72 Philippa Gregory 2,577,235 £17.4m
73 Jane Green 2,498,100 £14.8m
74 Clive Cussler 2,435,718 £16.5m
75 Fiona Watt 2,431,376 £14.1m
76 Cathy Kelly 2,391,540 £13.2m
77 Penny Vincenzi 2,358,041 £14.6m
78 Charles Dickens 2,341,980 £9.3m
79 Eric Hill 2,334,612 £12.1m
80 Joanna Trollope 2,333,337 £14.5m
81 Meg Cabot 2,309,844 £12.1m
82 Jackie Collins 2,295,308 £14.4m
83 Lesley Pearse 2,261,007 £12.6m
84 A A Milne 2,255,346 £14.5m
85 Paulo Coelho 2,229,564 £16.3m
86 Eric Carle 2,225,336 £12.1m
87 Louis de Bernières 2,221,481 £15.3m
88 Jack Higgins 2,207,100 £12.4m
89 Anita Shreve 2,198,899 £13.4m
90 Karin Slaughter 2,196,031 £12.6m
91 Louise Rennison 2,172,395 £11.9m
92 Sheila O’Flanagan 2,162,811 £10.8m
93 Robert Harris 2,150,818 £16m
94 Paul McKenna 2,114,476 £16.6m
95 Alice Sebold 2,106,630 £13.2m
96 Gordon Ramsay 2,094,376 £23.4m
97 Roderick Hunt 2,077,092 £7.3m
98 Frank McCourt 2,055,939 £14.9m
99 Dav Pilkey 2,051,622 £9.4m
100 Lyn Andrews 2,027,382 £9.2m

Did any names on that list surprise you? 

Friday, 1 November 2013

Artistic Crinan

I took this pic from the hotel window. Our bedroom window (third floor, front) looked out over the loch but this view from the gallery shows the lock that joins the canal to the sea. It's buzzing in the summer, when all the yachts are skipping about the west coast and putting in for a good meal at the Seafood Restaurant. The dogs and kids all wear life jackets and everybody looks healthy! some of the ships are beautiful, too.

Two days isn't long enough to do any spectacular, but it was a lovely break. We drove back through a rain storm which only abated as we drove south to England - ha ha, any moral to be gleaned from that, I wonder?

One of the advertising cards calls the hotel a Gallery with rooms....and there are pictures everywhere. The proprietor is an artist by the name of Frances MacDonald  and she and her husband Nick Ryan have been resident for 35 years. They hold artists' events, and dh is keen to return when one of them is happening. He has decided to take up painting again on the strength of what he saw in the hotel.

Everybody needs a hobby, so I'm glad he is taking it up again. Mine used to be painting, until I took up writing seriously, and then the painting gradually slid away and got tucked in a drawer. Along with writing came all those other things authors have to do these days - be social on Twitter and Facebook, keep records, keep sending out submissions, keep an eye on the market......