Monday, 30 December 2013

Goodbye Christmas, hello New Year

Christmas is over for another year, and we can all calm down and gather our strength for New Year. Our guests are leaving today, jetting off to Zermatt for some skiing, so the house will soon be calm and quiet again and I'll have to get to grips with catching up on household tasks. One thing we won't have to do is go shopping. It seems we overshopped by a mile and seriously over estimated how much we would eat. OTOH, we have drunk all the alcoholic supplies - surprise, surprise!

Thanks to the good weather, which has been so mild that honeysuckle is budding and gorse is flowering in sheltered spots, we've indulged in some bracing walks - Stocksfield woods,  Chopwell woods, the beach at Seaton Sluice, and our regular good old riverside walks. Our guests travelled as far afield as the creamery at Hawes in search of real Wensleydale cheese. Evidently they can't get it in Australia. Nor can they take any back as the regulations on food importation are very strict and quite rightly so. The UK has suffered from the import of so many species like the grey squirrel, mink and a particular kind of crayfish to name but three. Travellers brought back all sorts of things from abroad, and some were good like the glorious rhododendron  but then we suffer with Himalayan Balsalm crowding our hedgerows and riverbanks.

Very little writing or critiquing was done by moi in the last week, so I'll have to get back into the grind again. Not that it is a grind, really. I wouldn't do it if it were something I hated. Sometimes getting the words down or deciding which way to go next in the story is difficult, but I let it simmer about on the back burner for a while and it usually becomes clear which way I want to go, and the words start to flow.  I'm really behind with critiques for my writing colleagues, so perhaps that is what I shall start with this afternoon.

I haven't even seen Death comes to Pemberley yet!

Friday, 27 December 2013

Otters and dog coats

It seems we have otters in the Tyne at Ovingham. When I first heard the news that they'd been sighted, I was pleased. Now I'm not so sure. The reason? The creatures fish for food and seem to be so successful at it that they catch more than they need, bite the head off and leave the rest to moulder on the river bank. Then, some innocent dog-walker comes along and wonders why his dog suddenly takes off and then pounces on something in the grass.
You've guessed it - they've discovered the possibly days old discarded fish and they're eating it. Sometimes, like today, all that was left was the bony skeleton and a few scraps of skin. If you don't get there in time, then down it goes and the dog's breath also stinks for the next few days. There must be health risks to these disgusting habits, so I always try and get Tim to leave it. He isn't keen to do that. Talking to other dog owners, some say their dogs roll in the remains and then have to be bathed when they get home. I'm beginning to wish the otters had selected some other part of the Tyne to make their home.

We had our first frost yesterday, and the temperature dropped to 2 degrees C, -1 overnight, so Santa brought Tim's coat just in time. His fur coat is very fine and  not thick, and he trots out quite happily in his smart maroon coat. We passed a couple of Mamelukes which reared up trying to get at him (they were on the lead, fortunately) and in doing so displayed all that lovely thick fur all over their bellies as well as their backs. Tim's tum is hairless, so no doubt he felt the cold. It is maybe a tad big for him, but he'll chunk out more, and then it will be just right. It's his first birthday on 30th, so we'll have to see what we'll be doing to celebrate!

Meanwhile we shiver in wind and rain, both ferocious, but the temperature has gone up to 6 or 7. Pity. It was fun watching Tim skating on the iced-up puddles.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas is here

Christmas Eve and guests scheduled to arrive from Oz within the hour. House scrubbed, fridge stocked, will probably fall asleep about mid-afternoon as soon not used to housework! Took Tim for a walk early this morning and managed to come home without being coated in mud. Funny how only men were dog-walking this morning - women probably chained to the kitchen. But Maybe I do both sexes an on holiday, women happy to let men walk the dog? A distinct possibility.

The news this morning cites the pardon for Turing, and, as with all these posthumous pardons and apologies I cannot see the point. Times have changed so much in the sixty years since he died. Plus which he will never know, so who are we pleasing with this? I never saw much point in the current craze for offering apologies over national wrongs in the far distant past. Apologise now for something you've just done and regret, to the person you hurt, of course. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to realise it is necessary, but if  both of you are still alive, then do it and feel better. But after four hundred years when all parties involved are long dead and forgotten - is there a point? It has to be lip service to  a large degree. But then politicians are good at that.

I know it's the season of good will and all that, but sometimes I think we are too forgiving for our own good these days.  Before you all shout and tell me to go retire in my corner and not come out again, let me wish you all a happy and serene festive period and a prosperous, healthy and happy 2014. I may not get much writing done in the next few days, but I'll be working hard in the coming few months. Ideas are bubbling and I may just get them down on the computer before too long.

The picture was taken in Kielder forest last week. A riot of winter colours.

Friday, 20 December 2013


I gave myself a fright  yesterday. Working away, everything going well, I attempted to cut and paste one paragraph into a different position - and succeeded, heaven knows how, in deleting the entire chapter. Granted it was only half done, and it's a mere 16,000 words gone into thin air, but those words had taken me a long time to get onto the page.

Needless to say, I quietly panicked. Instead of checking auto recovery, I wandered all over the place seeking the missing file, trying this, trying that and in doing so probably consigned the document to the outer reaches of cyber space.

I wailed out loud on Facebook and several kind people tried to help, but nothing I did brought the document back to my screen. It was a rude wake up call - I have got out of the very good habit of saving work to a back up every day, even twice or three times a day. Now I am saving it to back up every times I finish adding a few words to Chapter Thirteen - yes, it was Chapter Thirteen!

I have also re-set auto recovery to save every 3 minutes instead of every ten.  Obviously my action happened between auto saves. so let my ill luck be a warning to others like me. Don't get complacent - save after every new piece of work!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Telly Adict

What I wonder, will replace Borgen on our Saturday night tv screens? This series did not have the punch of the earlier ones, but even so, it was enjoyable, with competent acting and adequate storylines. Everybody settled down into a happy ending, except perhaps for the buxom redhead who leaked secrets to the other political party. Kaspar simply moved on after separating from Katrina while she wallowed in recriminations and bitterness for a while. Probably typical of many breakups. Birgitte is happily settled with her Englishman, who seemed too good to be true in many ways - there when needed, happy to take a seat in the background of her life when not. I often wondered how he made his living.

The other joy of tv for me at the moment is Last Tango in Halifax. Anne Reid is a delight, Jacobi looks alternately frail and robust depending on which sweater he wears. The daughters Caroline and Gillian are so well written and cast - so different in every way, but each with an urge to reach out and confide in the other. I laughed aloud at the scene in the hotel where they went for lunch and went on to discuss a venue for Alan and Celia's Big Wedding (as opposed to the Small One). Offered champagne, they drank it, and fell about in giggles when they realised the staff thought they were planning to marry...

Then there's John and Judith - she's a librarian, and full of angst about writing a novel, which John has already done. Squabbling about women starting wars, John listens, his saturnine face the picture of defeat as Judith demands "How many women do you know who started wars? It's always men!"
"Thatcher!" John snaps, and then, gathering steam, reels off a whole list of women from Cleopatra to Elizabeth I  and beyond while Judith sulks in silence.

I must discover the writers and see what else they've done. They may even have written novels.

Monday, 16 December 2013

To edit or not to edit?

I knew it couldn't last. Our beautiful sunny days have gone, and we've got dank, dismal weather now. Though it is not particularly cold. That must be still in the pipeline.  So, time to get down to work. There's housework, of course. There always is, but I prefer to save that up and do it in huge blasts - then I can see where I've been!

Instead, let me think aloud about the current craze in self-publishing, which is that we should get our stories professionally edited before we self-publish. I wonder if that is strictly true, or is it simply another bandwagon? I sit here and think back over the freebies I've downloaded from Amazon and I have to agree that  yes, many of them would have benefitted from editorial skills. That isn't to say that it would have made the stories any better, but it would have made them more readable.

On the other hand, if English is your subject at university level, and you've read all your life; if you are happy to consult Fowler or Quirk now and then for the correct style rule - or perhaps Lynne Truss these days - do you really need it? Some of these editors charge as much as £800 or £900 for 100k manuscripts. That's a lot of dosh to pay out.

In a way it is akin to putting a new type of barrier in front of wannabee authors, few of whom can afford such fees. If you self-edit your own work five or six times over a space of months, surely you can catch the errors? Sometimes Amazon software puts a glitch in the work, too. I know I downloaded and  "proofread" one of my self-published books just to see how it came out, spotted an error and went back to my original only to find it error-free at that point. I'm not trying to claim my work is perfect, far from it. But in that instance, the error came from the software. Presumably if you paid for editing, that sort of glitch could still occur.

One aspect of having an editor work with me that appeals is having them comment on the storyline, characters, etc. Now that sort of editing may well persuade me to try it.

Friday, 13 December 2013

When a book lets you down....

Wingspan by Jeremy Hughes

"Set in America, England and Wales, Wingspan consists of two stories fifty years apart, of quest and discovery, secrets and mysteries, love and death, betrayal and fidelity.
In September 1943 an American Flying Fortress returning from a mission crashes in Wales. A farmer is first on the scene to discover that its crew of ten have all perished. When the police arrive, only nine bodies are recovered, and so the mystery of the pilot begins.
The pilot is stationed in Suffolk long enough to meet and marry Gail, and together they have a son. It is only when Gail dies just before the son’s fiftieth birthday that he feels able to search for the father he didn’t know. Discovering that his father died in Wales, the son sets out to find the crash site. It is the beginning of a physical and emotional journey which will change him fundamentally."

I have just finished reading this, and am a trifle perplexed. It is all the things the publisher Cillian Press says in the blurb. It is beautifully written. It is not onerously long and presented in good clear font. Reading was easy. But now I'm finished, I don't quite know what I've read.

It is two entwined stories, and I don't mind that. But I do mind not being able to tell, a lot of the time, which story I am reading. I spent time flicking backwards and forwards trying to discover which I I was reading, if you see what I mean.

I do mind that the two stories are told in scraps and patches, with a fifty year gap between the two. I mind that the central question, which made me pick up the book, is never answered. What happened to the missing airman? Was he ever there? Did he live on? Was he the odd figure on the skyline at the end of the book? What are all the letters from the police supposed to convey?

Perhaps it is all just two clever for me. I kept thinking I would get the hang of what it was all about, but sad to say, I did not. Maybe one day I'll try reading it again. Perhaps it will all become clear second time around.

Just to cheer myself up, here's a reminder of the beautiful Northumberland coast on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Druridge Bay

A day out today! The weather looked good, the forecast promised sunshine, and for December the temperature was high. So off we went to Druridge Bay, just south of Amble on the north-east coast. Lindisfarne was a tiny triangle of white on the horizon. One day I must go and visit the castle there.

 Today was a walk along the beach and back again while Tim ran in and out of the sea, gaining confidence as he went along. Just like a child, really - he splashed through pools of standing water, and explored every nook and cranny of the patch of rocks we discovered. All the time the sun was warm on our faces and then on our backs as we followed our footsteps back to the point in the dunes where we came down. Important to get it right as the beach is over seven miles long and a mistake could have extended our walk far more than we intended!

Driving away after the walk we drove by a farm that has converted old buildings into a Cafe and Gift Shop, so we bowled into the car park and went inside for a fruit scone and a cup of coffee. Most welcome, but we didn't dare stay long as Tim isn't too used to staying in the car on his own. Fortunately the sun was strong enough to keep the car warm for him even with the window open a crack.

All in all, a beautiful day and a lovely walk.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Cover change update

 I have now updated Victorian Beauty by changing the cover. It didn't take properly on the first attempt, so I knuckled down, read the instructions slowly instead of glancing over them, and managed it on the second attempt. I have such a bad habit of glazing over when technical terms pepper a screen - especially a screen. The printed page is not so bad, but a screen? As soon as I scroll down and the words vanish from the screen, they also vanish from my mind.

The story has not changed, but the title is now Dark Whisky Road, and the cover has changed to something much more attractive. A photograph of my own, so there are no copyright worries. I took it a couple of years ago on a trip to the Chatsworth Estate. I also took the opportunity to add a piece at the end of the book about the possibility of reviews, and listing my other titles. Threw my blog address in for good measure, and thought about including a picture of myself, but thought that might be a step too far. I didn't want to tempt the gods of Amazon Kindle.

Now I shall have to upload the new cover to the titles listed here on my blog. You did notice all my titles are listed on a separate page, didn't you? I hope so. I updated each blurb just last week. The ones I had were so stiff and formal I could hardly believe I wrote them - and yet I thought they were so good when I first uploaded them.

Talking of photographs, I won't be taking many now until the frost and snow arrive.  We still have an occasional bright day as in the pic of dh and dog in Chopwell Wood last week, but the horrendous winds of Thursday and Friday ripped the the last of the leaves off and brought down branches galore. The autumn colours have all but gone, the leaves are sodden underfoot and the trees are stark skeletons against a grey sky.

Friday, 6 December 2013


I see someone has re-written The Sheik.
The Sheik RetoldThe original story, written by Edith Maude Hull in 1919, was her most popular book and became a famous film starring Rudolph Valentino. The book is still in print today, but out of copyright in the USA and Europe.

Victoria Vane has written a steamy version using the original characters and the same storyline. She has simply added the word "retold" to the title and placed the original author's name on the cover below her own. I find it amazing that this is legal.

I know that there are some well known authors  in this country preparing or actually engaged on re-writing Jane Austen's stories. Are we so devoid of imagination that we can think of nothing new, but have to plunder works that have been in print for decades? Does it not make a nonsense of copyright? Is it any better than plagiarism?

I feel sure that publishers have consulted lawyers and, like accountants slipping between the legalities, a loophole has been found that allows this to take place. Perhaps the fact that both authors are dead has something to do with it. Perhaps the person or company who holds the estate of the author has given permission and that is all that matters. But is it right? I don't think so. I hope no one buys the wretched things, but I suspect they'll sell in shiploads. And to some people, that's all that matters. Look out for re-writes of every other classic novel in the next few years.


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Kindle Covers

They say you can change your book cover on any Kindle title, and I'm wondering about doing it. Sometimes a cover seems good and right for the book, but a year later it seems drab and dreary - definitely not exciting.
So how easy is it to change that cover? I'm looking into it.

When brand new books are published with different covers in different parts of the world, you have to wonder why. The answer has to be that different populations respond to different images, and since the professionals who commission the covers know what they are doing, it would be silly not to take note of how they operate. The cover I did for Victorian Beauty has not caught anyone's imagination. If I changed it, would I change both the cover and the title?

I chose the original title because I was writing about a heroine who was not deemed beautiful after the accident she suffered at the hands of a brutal husband. But it has suddenly dawned on me that no one but me knows that until they have read the book. The irony doesn't work. Why has it taken this long to realise such an obvious fact? (Because authors are too close to their work to see the thing objectively. I can hear you all saying it!)

Melanie and ... Lord Jarrow's Secret might be more intriguing as a title. Certainly it gives a better flavour of the story. And since the title isn't selling terribly well, I have nothing to lose by trying a new cover and a new title if I want to bother fiddling about with it. I could make it a feature of the book in that every so often, the cover changes. If I keep an eye on numbers, I might gain a clue as to how the cover affects sales - if at all!

 When I get this photograph to the right size and shape, it may become the new cover. At least I have no copyright worries, as it is a photograph I took myself. Are the colours more inviting? I think so, yes. Does it need the addition of a figure or does the cover stand well enough without one? Is it the title change that works better than the change of cover? Difficult decisions I need to mull over.

If you have any views, do comment and let me know what you think!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

That dratted Comma!

If you've ever been confused by when to use a comma, then read Ginger Simpson's post on 29th Novemebr at this link:  If you are English* it may or may not help, since we use the wretched things differently to Americans and that just adds to the confusion. A friend who teaches English in America gave me these 5 comma rules that rule the world

1. Use a comma after an introductory phrase or clause
2. Use a comma before and after a parenthetical phrase or clause  (Lynne Truss calls this a weak interruption in a sentence. They can usually be lifted out whole without destroying the grammar)
3.Use a comma to separate two independent clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction  (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) (If you omit the conjunction and keep the comma, this becomes the splice comma. Personally I don't care for the splice comma)
4. Use a comma to separate items in a series (but do not use one before the and at the end of the list unless you want to be guilty of using the Oxford comma.)
5 Use a comma before a quotation when an introductory phrase with a word like say or reply precedes the quotation. (I don't think I ever knew this rule)
6. DO NOT PUT a comma between two verbs or verb phrases in a compound predicate. (Evidently I sometimes do this. My excuse is that I do it in the old-fashioned, time-honoured way we learned to do when we read aloud at school or wherever. It's simply a pause for breath, or for emphasis, perhaps to heighten tension as you make your audience wait for the next bit) 

There is also the comma used before direct speech though this seems to be dying out with some writers. Either way sits happily with me, as long as it is consistent throughout the piece or novel I'm reading.

I love some of the examples of sloppy or careless use of commas:
Leonora walked on her head, a little higher than usual.
The driver escaped from the car before it sank and swam to the river-bank

But of course, you know exactly where the commas should have gone, don't you?

* I've begun using English as my descriptor since the other partners in the United Kingdom began insisting on declaring themselves Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish.