Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Book Clubs

Book groups
 have existed as long as books have been read for pleasure but it seems they have flourished under social media. I've shyed away from joining, mostly because I don't want to read the kind of fiction favoured by book clubs and I'm not a group person. I'm a sit-back and listen person and observing group dynamics is often more entertaining than the topic under discussion. In recent weeks, there have been a few blogs on the topic, notably one from Joanne Harris ~

"However, I’m getting increasingly concerned by the number of people who think it’s okay to sneer at people for what they read. It’s not okay to do that any more than it’s okay to exclude other people for what they wear, or what they eat, or what kind of accent they happen to have. Books are universal. They are here for everyone. To pretend superiority over someone because (for instance) you like Kate Atkinson and they like TWILIGHT is to be the worst kind of snob, a literary groupie who wants the world of books to be their own, exclusive yacht club. These people do nothing for the world of books. Instead, they create an atmosphere in which people are afraid to talk about the books they enjoy (or not); in which readers of “serious” books are allowed to look down upon those who read purely for pleasure;"

While applauding Ms Harris for her courage in stating this and more on a public blog, I think this kind of thing is also increasing in real life. Electronic interaction makes it easy to give the impression, deliberately or inadvertently, that certain fiction genres are not worth reading, or that certain authors are rubbish. Journalists have made livings for decades out of scathing reviews and these give the average reader ammunition to fire as if the thought were their own. I imagine individuals hastily scan the online reviews in the hope of finding something that gels with their own view before going to a discussion group. I know I would, if I belonged. One needs something to say, after all and Amazon provides reviews in plenty. One could be forgiven for thinking that very few genuine honest views are presented these days. Or am I being much too cynical?

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Thoughts on Hugh Howey's WOOL

Why the peculiar title? The experts keep telling us aspiring writers that a cover is all and the title comes close second in the quest for readers. I galloped through the book - except to eat, sleep and walk Tim - and came to the end slightly puzzled.

First of all - the cover is eye-catching but not informative in my humble opinion. The title is even less informative. Having just finished a book called The Wedding Yarn, which involved a wool shop, I might be forgiven for thinking this new story would be about sheep or knitting or both.  Not at all. The only thing I can see that is relevant to the story is that the powers who run the silo are pulling the wool over everyone's eyes in the hope of keeping them all trapped within its protection. Naughty, and definitely not nice.

But then the alternative is worse. The air outside the silo is toxic. That at least seems to be truthful. So you stay inside or you die. Not a happy alternative. The first two thirds of the book are excellent, with  lots of detail about life in the silo, some doomed people who want to "go outside," and  what the Americans call a kick-ass heroine called Juliette. (Had I been HH, I would have picked a shorter name. Imagine having to type two e's and two t's every time for no apparent gain in pronunciation.)

But the last section seems to unravel (to keep the wool pun going) or else I read too fast and missed important info along the way. The way Lukas guessed what had happened was odd, the way Bernard vanished was doubly odd and we were never told what burn injuries Juliette suffered, or what transpired between her and her father. There was also the curiosity of the kids in the other silo - the oldest was fifteen, yet Solo said he'd been there thirty years on his own. So who conceived and bore the children, brought them up? Who kept the lights running?

Any answers delightfully received!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas, Wool and mud

Ah well, the festivities are almost over. The afternoon of  Christmas Eve we enjoyed a couple of hours in Park Wood near Hexham without seeing another person, and on Christmas Day we had the Spetchells by the river Tyne all to ourselves. Seems not many people ventured out, and yet the weather was pleasant enough.

We had duck breast as our Christmas dinner, but giving Tim a few titbits proved a bad move. He spent the evening walking around the room, flopping down only to get up again  within a minute or two. Eventually I put  a large flat cushion of the floor, he cuddled up beside me and we watched all two hours of the Downton Christmas Special together. Worse was to follow. He wouldn't settle when we went to bed, but kept moving around. Around one thirty he wanted to go downstairs and into the garden where he performed three pees and a poo. I came to the conclusion he had doggy indigestion. Came back inside, upstairs, settled down for a bit, then around two thirty he was sick on the upstairs landing. (DH, needless to say, slept through all of this!) He (Tim, not DH) finally settled on a large cushion by the side of  the bed and he and I got some sleep. Moral of  story? Don't feed your dog rich food.

The Sales have begun today. A good day to stay away from town and the Metrocentre! Once the initial madness is over, then I might venture out and see what, if anything, is still for sale. M&S sales are usually hopeless as everything is either less than a size 8 or greater than size 16. Still,  we live in hope, That's what keeps us going.

Snatched a copy of Wool by Hugh Howey from the library and have read a third of it. I can see why it caught people's interest and became an Amazon bestseller. It has caught mine now, and I want to sit and go on reading to find out what has killed everyone off and if Juliette can possibly survive, isolated as she is in a place full of dead people. Tim is hovering beside me, anxious to go for his walk, so I can't read any more just yet. I think we'll just go along the riverbank and I'll try and stay upright in all the mud. Tim is OK; he has crampons built into his paws!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Taster of the Scots Queen

Here's a small seasonal gift ~ a little taster of my latest book!

Matho and Meg Douglas meet when she rides into Stirling thinking how best to befriend the Dowager Queen, Marie de Guise. He and his friend Harry Wharton are plotting how best to kidnap the Dowager's infant daughter, Mary. 

"Riding into Stirling, Meg eyed Broad Street with a calculating eye, but decided it was not a place she would choose to live. A cheerful crowd, jostling for a view of the gallows, surged about the open space between the Mercat Cross and the grim old Tolbooth. A hanging must be imminent. Her escort closed protectively around her and forced a way through to the top of the hill.

Both her destination and the castle came into view at the same time. Meg caught her breath at the sight of the Great Hall, pale as day-old cream in the October light, shining like a beacon against the darker stone of the older castle buildings.

‘You there! Shift yer hide!’ The sharp order from her Serjeant snagged her attention. He had halted his horse and glared at two men sitting on the perimeter wall surrounding Douglas House. The taller of the two slid off the wall and disappeared in the direction of Broad Street before she had time to glimpse his face. When she looked at the other man, her heart gave a single, painful bound.


She blinked, and found she’d raised a gloved hand to her throat. Her heart thudded light and fast in her chest. Like Thomas, this man’s skin had been coloured by wind and sun, and his hair held the same dark-red fire of beech leaves. Yet Thomas Howard had been dead these six years. When the fellow slid from the wall, she realised the resemblance was no more than a trick of the light.

He glared at her little company as they rode by. Such insolence! His torn sheepskin and rough, darned hose labelled him as farm labourer in town for the day. She raised her nose in the air. He stiffened, and drew his heavy brows together. With a snort of disgust, he turned and walked toward the town.

She stared after him. The tilt of his head and the lithe grace of his walk were so reminiscent of Thomas. Shave this stranger, dress him in velvet, satin and jewels, and the likeness would be remarkable.

Turning in the saddle, she faced Douglas House and rode into the courtyard without registering the recently refurbished dormer windows and freshly carved stone griffons that adorned the roofline."

Check out the reviews on Amazon: 

Available: for the UK link.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas and GONE GIRL

I read Gillian Flynn's GONE GIRL  last week. Initially I thought I wasn't going to like it, for the beginning was very slow. Then slowly, slowly, I got more and more interested and couldn't stop reading. By the end I thought it was a masterful piece of writing, even if the subject matter was a tad off centre. Not many people are so vengeful they will spend a year or more planning a crime and then put themselves through hell in order to bring it about. It could be done, of course, and on the one hand admiration is the overriding factor; on the other, it is pity for such wasted lives. I just hope the story doesn't encourage anyone to try and emulate the plot.

The last line of the book was both inoffensive and full of menace. Hardly the open ending some claim, when one considers the female protagonist's past history. Nick had better watch  his back and both sides....  

Just the sort of thing to read for Christmas!

Just when we thought winter had finally arrived with chilly, crisp days, we're back in the muggy, damp dreary days again. I could hate this weather but I suppose it is kind to the wild creatures that have to live outdoors. The masses of autumn berries have already been eaten. Our holly bush was stripped bare so our plans for a holly wreath at the front door have been scuppered again. I'll have to give in and buy one - or do without berries!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Run-up to Christmas

Miss a day and e-mails choke up the computer! Now I'm running to keep up, and all because I took Saturday out to host a dinner for friends. Well, and Sunday to get over it - I was cream-crackered even though DH did a lot of the cooking!

Here I am today, running to catch up. E-mails checked off - except that for some reason BT Openworld is down, though G mail is functioning without a hitch. Keeping abreast of the Sydney Lindt cafe seige, and trying to plan for the next few days and the run-up to Christmas. I try and stay out of town at this time of year because I dislike being pushed and shoved in crowds, and conspicuous consumption is quite ugly in its raw state. Unfortunately, some things must be purchased, and while buying online is great in many ways, I do like to touch and feel clothes I buy - before I buy! I need something for DH, and so I'll sneak in really early one day this week. Everything seems to be so urgent in the run up to the big day. So many things that Must Be Done and yet, would we really miss them if they weren't done? Will anyone notice if I fail to buy or make sausage rolls? I doubt it!

Walking with Tim is a slipery-slidey task these days. We've had one good day of frost when the ground was hard and silver with frost. Tim went out in his overcoat - the temperature had dipped below freezing overnight. He trotted out looking very pleased with himself. The frost had gone by lunch time, the overcoat went back on the hook and the ground turned to mud again, The fields are green, winter wheat is growing apace in the fields. The lawn looks a mess because it is still growing but too soggy to cut. 2014 has been the strangest year for weather that I can remember.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Complaints about Kindle Unlimited

Best selling American writer H M Ward has something to say about Kindle Unlimited.

"Ok, some of you already know, but I had my serials in it for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income. Thats counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn't compliment each other, as expected.

Taking a huge ass pay cut while I'm still working my butt off, well that's not ok. And KU effected my whole list, not just KU titles. At the time of enrollment I had about 60 titles total.

I planned on giving it 90 days, but I have a kid in the hospital for long term care and I noticed my spending was going to exceed my income-by a lot. I couldn't wait and watch thing plummet further. I pulled my books. That was on Nov 1, & since then my net revenue has gone up. I'm now at 50% of where I was pre-KU. During the time I was in KU, I had 2 new releases. Neither preformed vastly different than before. They actually earned far less (including borrows).

This model needs to be changed for it to work. Authors shouldn't be paid lottery style. For this system to work we need a flat rate for borrows, borrowed or not borrowed (not this 10% crap), and it needs to be win win for the reader AND the writer. That is the crux of the matter.

Id like to see Amazon create something new, something better instead of falling in step with Scribd and Oyster.

Example: subscribe to an AUTHOR. Easy, clear. When Author X has a new book it automatically gets sent to your kindle, & the card provided is charged.

As a reader, I'd want that. As a writer, I'd want that.

Amazon, stop following other companies and break the mold.

Ok, I'm done ranting. Back to writing."

I'd notice my sales have gone way down since Kindle Unlimited appeared on the scene, but thought there could be many causes for this. It is reassuring to see other top-selling authors complaining about the same thing. And complaining they are!

Here's a link all independent authors using Amazon should read.,202571.0/all.html

There's also a link to this article on the new blog Passive Voice over to the right hand side of this blog.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Winter Casualty

Out walking today with Tim and came across what I hope will be the only casualty of winter. Couldn't see any injuries and no sign of a struggle. Beautiful little fox, and not very old. A touch of frost on his fur, since he was in the shadow of the tall hedge separating the fields. Tim sniffed and sniffed but made no effort to touch it.

Brilliant cold day with low sunshine making long, long shadows across the fields. At last the temperature is comfortable for walking fair distances at a decent pace. Lovely and warm inside my old Goretex jacket, fleece hat and gloves, but with my face freezing!  Quite a change to the last few weeks when the slightest effort has had me sweating because I dressed for November instead of the actual temperature.

Good weather for writing, too. Nice to be snug and warm inside my imaginary world. This time it is Victorian England with an art thief as villain. I'm finding it difficult to work in the crimes themselves and leave clues without giving away the whole thing. I fear I my have the timing of incidents out of sequence - or someone knows something when they shouldn't. Will have to read through very carefully before too long!

I hope the fox wasn't poisoned. It is a worrying thought when so many dogs walk the fields with their owners. Dalmatians are very greedy dogs, and Tim is no exception. He ate something nasty along the riverside at Hexham a couple of days ago, and vomited it back up before we finished the walk, but he doesn't learn....probably an old fish skin or carcase. Fishermen tend to leave them behind and I wish they wouldn't. There's nothing quite as smelly as an old fish head.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Notable Books

I expect every independent author/publisher received a lengthy explanation about how VAT on e-books will work after the turn of the year. I got mine. So it looks as if it is happening. The consoling thought is that Amazon might be paying more tax too.

The New York Times has published a list of notable books of 2014 -

As my eyes scanned the list, several thoughts occurred to me. Firstly, I have read none of them. Secondly, they all seem to be on gut-wrenching topics. Thirdly, where have all the happy books gone? Why does everyone want to read about other people's misery and anguish?

When I was much younger and worked in a public library, I ordered/requested many books and read them with a greed for knowledge of the human race. I didn't think of it in those terms then, but it seems to me now that that was what I was doing. I don't do it any more. By my late twenties I had moved away from what I thought of as the agonising stuff, and looked for more escapist fiction, something that would excite me and keep me reading late into the night. Dorothy Dunnett fitted the bill admirably. She had more "bite" than Mary Stewart, wrote so much better than Jean Plaidy, and her mind was so devious I was always surprised by her plotlines.

Now it seems to me that the book world is geared to supplying the stuff that I wanted to read as a young person starting out into adulthood - but there also seems to be a hint that this is what we all ought to be reading. Is this, I wonder, because the editors and reviewers are twenty-somethings themselves?

I read some notable books in the last year, but by the time I get to them, they are likely to be a couple of years old. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent was one title I  would have put on my personal list, and Longbourne by Jo Baker was another. When I read Lamentations by C J Sansom, that will no doubt be added, as I thought highly of his preceding books. Some that missed the mark, like Queen's Gambit (Freemantle) and Bring Up the Bodies, (Mantel) I enjoyed at the time but found they didn't stick in the memory. When I think of more titles, I shall build my own personal list of Notable Books.

PS Tim shows up well in any situation - a flash of white among the dark trees!

Monday, 1 December 2014

VAT Clarity and Reviews

This statement from the Bookseller clarifies my last post -  The new European-wide VAT law causing digital products - including e-books and apps - to be taxed in the European member state in which the consumer is located, as opposed to the country from which the product is sold will be introduced in January.
The change will stop multinational online corporations such as Amazon and Google from diverting their European sales through low-VAT countries, but small companies fear that the new rules will also hurt sales of their digital products.

So the petition I've signed is an attempt to prevent small companies - read authors as well as publishers - from suffering from this attempt to stop giant companies avoiding tax. Everyone wants Amazon to pay taxes as it should, but this seems an unhappy way to achieve it. Surely the business brains could think of another way? The thought of having to be VAT registered and send in returns is enough to make me consider pulling out of this writing lark.

On another topic I am very happy with the first two reviews I've received for Abduction of the Scots Queen. (Check them out here ) If anyone has the time, energy and inclination to review it for me, please get in touch! The pic is present day Stirling Castle, where Matho has many of his adventures

Friday, 28 November 2014


Usually I find out about new legislation far too late to do anything about it, but this time, thanks to Facebook, I'm up there with the news! There is a fiendish plan afoot to place VAT on digital products - yes, that will mean e-books!

New EU VAT regulations come into force in Jan 2015.

Micro-businesses selling Ebooks direct to customers will forfeit their VAT exemption threshold by doing digital business in Europe.

"From 1 Jan 2015, the new ruling means that should you make a sale to the EU (how one can prevent that with online services is not clear) from the first £1 of revenue your business earns you will need to be VAT registered in the UK and under the VAT MOSS Europe-wide scheme – meaning that you will immediately have to apply VAT to all your services, including those in the UK.

Furthermore, this this means a quarterly obligation to submit VAT returns, increasing the accounting burden significantly; as well as, the cost and complexity involved with meeting the letter of the law regarding the capture and retention of evidence of its customers’ location will bring (which needs to be retained for 10 years)."

In 3 years I have sold less than a dozen books to readers in Europe.
I don't know how I can stop them buying, and I certainly don't want VAT on my other sales in the UK.

Click on the link and sign to petition against it -

Monday, 24 November 2014

Clear Out and Statistics

 I love the sound of the word Clear Out, and I love actually doing one. But I'm always afraid it'll come back to bite me. This morning I deleted several folders from my Inbox, plus all their contents. Behold me now sitting nervously waiting to see if  I've deleted something I'll later regret! It is unlikely. Some of the folders were last used in 2012, so I should be safe.

Yesterday I was struck by the statistics bug. (Must be something in the air at the moment!) I carefully went through all the reports for Kindle sales from my very first venture with FAIR BORDER BRIDE in October 2011 and put the results into a spreadsheet. Once the figures go into graph form, it was quite a surprise to see that my best seller by far is FAR AFTER GOLD.

An even bigger surprise was that the UK sales outweighed the US sales by quite a margin.I'd always thought that the bigger market of the US would be where I had the most sales, but no, that was not the case. I had no idea what my second "best seller" would be, but good old FAIR BORDER BRIDE proved to be the one. Slow and steady sales in almost every month since publication, and - quite unexpected - selling in the US far better than the UK!

My other titles have sold a lot less, and in almost equal numbers to both the US and UK markets. Occasional sales come from Germany, Canada, France and Australia, but nothing major. I wish I could find a way to reach the Australian market; perhaps I'll make an effort to visit the blogs belonging to Australian authors and try and make some impression. I know they're out there!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Goodreads Gone?

The big move of the year for readers and writers is probably Amazon's takeover of Goodreads. I've not been following the news as as well as I should, obviously, but I have picked up one or two snippets and hints about this so decided to check it out. Alison Flood has an article, dated 13th April, on the subject in the Guardian. Link 
I have to say that I never really got to grips with Goodreads. I'm on it, but in a sketchy sort of way because I could never understand how the website worked. As of this week I confess to being puzzled as to why none of my covers for e-books are showing on the site. I'm sure they were there not so long ago, but perhaps its just paranoia on my part. Goodreads boasts 16 million subscribers, all of whom probably use the site happily enough, which in turn makes me feel an absolute dunce. 

Some say Goodreads could have become a competitor in online bookselling, either selling direct or directing users to a site other than Amazon, which was why Amazon stretched out a giant hand and grasped it. There those who think Amazon has a plan to rule the world. Most people seemed to be against  the move, but not all.

Hugh Howey (of self-published Wool fame) predicted "a lot of hand-wringing over the acquisition". but thought  there were "so many ways this can be good for all involved. I'm still trying to think of a way it could suck."

He thinks Amazon wanted the data behind the Goodreads scenes and will use the algorithms to improve  their tailored buying suggestions . The social networks that feed readers' habits are going to get stronger. The people who helped make Goodreads so good are going to get richer. And the people at Amazon are going to keep trying to get the right books in the hands of readers. Aha - there's the rub, or at least one of them. The people at Amazon are going to decide which are the right books Or am I misreading what Howey says? 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Unseasonable weather

A few of my blog friends appear to have given up on blogging in favour of other forms of social media, so I'm clearing out the attic, so to speak. No hard feelings. I've enjoyed their words of wisdom for a year or two, and if they come back on-stream, no doubt I'll find them again.

As I find new and interesting blogs, I'll add them to the list. Talking of changes - if I could discover how to put new photos up in the Jen's Holiday pics feature (on the sidebar) I'd refresh that too, but as of this moment I have no idea how I managed to get them up in the first place.

I know the north American continent  has snow already, but we still have temperatures that are unseasonably warm. I tend to dress for the season rather than the actual weather, and that is proving a huge mistake. I seem unable to adjust to going out in November without a sweater or a fleece. Madness.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Bathroom blues

How long does it take for a book to dry out? Anyone know? I was reading in the bath the other night, fell asleep and woke up with half submerged book across my middle. It has been reclining beneath the bathroom radiator ever since and still feels twice its normal weight. I'm thinking about using a hairdryer to speed things up because I'll soon forget what the first half of the story was all about, and it wasn't an easy read.

In Life after Life characters die and then reappear alive in the next chapter which is strange enough, but there's an additional complication in that scenes leap about the decades and the reader gets views of the heroine at various ages but not in sequential order. I haven't yet figured out why the author has done this, hence the wish to get to the end of the book.

It is a typical November morning today. Damp, misty and dull. Not a lot of light, and probably one of the major reasons why people leave the UK and go and live where it is bright, clear and sunny all year round. Still, I say to myself, what is life without variety? I should hate to miss autumn and spring and leap straight from summer to winter, and vice versa.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Cover Issues

This the third cover I've put up for Viking Magic. For some reason this book is lagging behind the others and isn't attracting attention. There may be 101 reasons why from a poor cover to a whiny heroine, but since I've nothing to lose I thought I'd experiment.
The first cover was dramatic, perhaps, with the prow-beast head but maybe the pink background didn't gell very well with Vikings. First mistake. Secondly I went for a purchased photograph and thought the girl looked like the heroine of the story. It was only some time later that I saw John Locke had a cover using the self same portrait. Maybe that went against me.
So I decided on a third attempt. This one conveys the darkness and use of magic in the story of a girl fearful for her soul as well as her life. She is too desperate to be kind-hearted, but uses everything she can to avoid entrapment by the wicked magician.

Let's see if this cover makes any difference. If nothing else, it is an interesting experiment in use of covers.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Adventures and freezing at Downton

Took Tim for a walk down by the riverside this morning and amused myself taking pictures of cobwebs on the gorse bushes. Boy! Have those spiders been busy! Do they do it all in one night, or is it the work of several days? Walked on, turned back to the car and realised I no longer had my phone.

Horrors! Not only an expensive item, but a gift from dh! I got Tim out of the car again, clipped on his lead and set off at a great pace back to the point of taking pictures of cobwebs. I had a clear memory of the spot and found it easily. Fortunately no one else is stupid enough to go off in the long wet grass among gorse bushes taller than they are, and my phone was lying where I presume it had fallen out of my pocket. What a relief!

So now I am happy to sit, and Tim is happy to sleep after double the normal amount of exercise.

Watched the final Downton last night. No more until Christmas. What amazes me is that inside those huge rooms, gentlemen wear (I'm guessing here - vests?) shirts, waistcoats, and tweed jackets and trousers. Ladies on the other hand, waft about looking pale and lovely in thin silk and chiffon. Their white skin has a beauty we don't often see in these days of suntans and the delicate set of a long neck on pale shoulders has a lot to recommend it.

Then we go outside, and the gentleman heave a mackintosh or overcoat and hat on top of their tweeds. Lady Mary and the other ladies favour thin-looking coats that often don't close up to the throat. I shiver for them. Come evening, the men have jackets, stiff shirt fronts and sometimes waistcoats while the girls once more shiver in silk with bare arms,and throats. They sport long leather or silk gloves which they remove at the dining table. I can only assume they have Danmart underwear to keep them from  hypothermia.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Marketing blues

I wrote a great blog post, pressed the publish button and the darned thing disappeared. I hope this is not a sign of how my day is going to go. So I'll start again. Now my book is out in the big wide world, I'm contemplating how to get people to buy it. Marketing is the tool, say the Createspace experts.

Marketing, they tell me, is the process of communicating with the rest of the world and telling them about your book, making them want to buy it without doing any direct selling. Who is your target audience, they ask. Anyone who reads historical fiction, I say. Not good enough. Who are they? Where do they live? What age group, social class? What are their hobbies? Which newspapers do they read?

I shrug my shoulders. Haven't a clue. Anyone between the ages of 14 and 94 might read historical novels, and the only link between them is probably just that - they like historical fiction! (I had to pick numbers, but I'm sure there are people over 95 and under 14 who read historical fiction!)

There are lots of sites on the internet these days who do nothing but promote books. Some charge, and there are lots of warnings from authors who've paid hard-earned cash and been disappointed with the results. So I think I shall steer clear of such places. I'm not enamoured of the way Twitter is flooded overnight with promotional post which I assume originate in the USA. I whizz by them - as they come batches this is very easy to do. The general opinion seems to be that 1 tweet in 10 may mention your book as long as you are offering other contents on the other 9. That seems reasonable to me, and the same seems to operate on Facebook.

This time I've let everyone know (or I will have done shortly) that my book is available, and this is a first for me. I'm slowly investigating lists of promotional sites, and may yet come up with some goodies. I'll stick with my promotional yahoo groups and see what the results are like.

It's quite a game, this writing lark. I thought the writing was the hard part!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Publication Day

Any minute now, Abduction of the Scots Queen is going to be available in paperback at Amazon. It is already available in Kindle format. That means I am off the hook, free, able to ignore the PC for a while if I wish. Freedom, in other words. Yipppeeee!

Not that I would have missed the experience. Having Matho's story out there for everyone to read is a wonderful feeling after I've worked on it for so long. Some might say it's a coming of age story - how a young man goes off to try and earn fortune in the last few years of King Henry VIII's reign. Not that he and Henry ever meet. Henry never figures in the pages except as the man who bellows that he wants the Scots Queen in England so she can marry his son Edward. He has cogent reasons for that, but the story centres on Matho's experiences as he travels north across the border and runs smack bang into Lady Margaret Douglas. Characters include her father, Archibald Douglas, Marie de Guise, the Dowager Queen of Scots and Mathew Stewart, Lord Lennox.

Others might say it's a historical suspense story - will he or won't he succeed at the task he has set? Will he survive trying?

I don't think anyone will claim it is solely a romance, though there are two romance threads running through the story. For good or evil, Abduction is finally done!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Strictly, Lewis, Downton and Createspace

Soon I should be free of the Createspace thing that has dominated my life for the past fortnight. I have just submitted the third, or it might be the fourth attempt at a clean ms. Fingers crossed - I think this is almost it!
It will be a relief to get back to more normal pursuits for a while. Once Amazon has it up for sale I'll have to start the dreaded Promo work, but until then I can relax for a bit and enjoy other things. Such as Strictly Come Dancing, which was on last night. I think it is week five and I'm finding it is not so interesting as it used to be. There may be several reasons for this - one might be that I've had too much of a good thing and am simply bored. It might be that I do not recognise many of the so-called celebrities - that so overworked word these days. I don't want to watch girls - it is usually girls - who look as if they've just stepped out of ballet class. (Pixie Lot, anyone? Who is she?) I want to watch people like Steve Backshall who has a lot to learn and may be good, may be terrific, or maybe will have a disastrous night. The constant clapping, booing and hissing is turning Strictly into a juvenile arena and Tess has to take a lot of the blame for this. She is far too partisan these days - she's on the side of the contestants and appears to dislike the judges and their comments. Craig is the only one who gives an honest assessment. Darcey wants to be fair and encouraging, Bruno is usually fair
unless there is a very pretty girl or a handsome young man who takes his fancy and then he scores them high. Len usually sticks with his trademark seven unless he is in a grumpy mood, which he often is these days.

Lewis seemed a bit odd on Friday, though dh assures me it was me and not the programme. Watch it again, he advises, and you'll catch on. I prefer it in its two hour slots when I could settle down and really concentrate. Having one hour episodes a week apart means I forget all the clues in the previous segment, and then can't join in the detection. Thank goodness there's Downton to watch tonight, and double thank goodness it has found it way again after the first two episodes were fairly lacklustre. I think there will be a glass or two of wine to be had in chez Black this evening. Cheers!

Pictures taken on a walk on Friday. Good weather actually, though I photographed the worrying moments when we thought we were going to have to run for it!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Cobwebs and proof copies

My proof copy of Abduction of the Scots Queen arrived on schedule yesterday. I had such reluctance to open it in case I was going to be disappointed, but when dh opened the parcel, he was complimentary. I looked, and was pleasantly surprised. The glossy cover looks good. The text inside could maybe be a tad darker, but the size is OK.

I didn't start reading it until today. In the first 33 pages there are 7 corrections to make. I thought it was going to be perfect! What worries me now is how many more there will be as I read on - and will it be easy to do them? At least three of the faults are where the font has slipped from Garamond to Times New Roman and that might be difficult to change back.

So it is head down, post-its and orange marker pens to hand. I'm using a ruler to keep my attention on the line in question instead of flicking about. It's all work, work work, this writing game. We wouldn't do it if we didn't love it!

I've been using a pedometer (when I remember) as I walk the dog and keeping a record of the number of steps taken in a day. Soon I'm going to add them all up and frighten myself silly. Already today Tim and I have managed 6,500 steps and it is only midday. He'll want to go out again before nightfall. I feel so much fitter than I did before he came into my life. Another plus is feeling in tune with nature and seeing things I wouldn't have otherwise seen - such as the sun shining through a cobweb. A gorse bush down on the riverside was a network of cobwebs like this one, dotted with dew and shining like silver. Another day, a different time, no sun, and I couldn't see a single one.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Self-publishing and praise

Time to turn my attention to something new - or two things - Promotion and A New Story.

As autumn sets in here in Northumberland, the days are growing shorter and the nights longer. The days are still amazingly warm. Yesterday afternoon was 16.5 C and there are flowers blooming among the berries and fallen leaves. Last night I kept moving to a cool spot on the sheets and we have not had the heating on much at all yet, hence clammy towels in the bathroom, which I hate.

But the weather will change, as it always does, and indoor pursuits will become more important - and the radiators will be hot and towels cuddly and warm when I want them.
Promotion will be a necessity, now that I have a paperback out in public. (I haven't, yet, but it won't be long now, and I'm starting to think about what I should do.)

Some people have said I should have begun already, but there was no time. It seemed silly to put the book aside and work on promoting it! Much better to finish the book and get it published first. This, of course, is where traditional publishing wins out. While someone else worries about editing, covers and proofreading your book, you can be off and away doing other things. What a lovely thought. But I listen to authors saying how wonderful it is to have an editor to discuss things with and decide upon alterations and wonder how much of the story changes in those discussions. How big are the alterations? How much is then down to the author and how much to the editor? At least with my story I can only blame myself if it bombs - but on the other side of the coin,  I can take all the praise - if there should be any!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Createspace covers

Trying to  make a cover for my book in Createspace had me tearing my hair for a day or two because I got absolutely nowhere. I had ignored Cover Creator because I'd read somewhere on the internet that CC was crap and produced lousy covers.So there I was trying to load a PDF file and believe me I'm no computer geek. Nothing worked. I decided it would have to be Cover Creator or nothing, and after all this work I wasn't prepared to give up.

I turned to the Cover Creator Community files, and learned that there were many, many cover designs to choose from, and that everything would be formatted for me.
 I chose my design and hopefully uploaded the front cover. It proved remarkably easy, but the title ran off the very edge of the cover by one letter and guess what? I couldn't change it because the file was saved and locked.

Stalemate again. I contemplated going back to the beginning with my original photograph, and actually did half an hour's work on it before deciding it wasn't working as I wanted. The original cover was so much brighter and  well, just better.

Reading the instruction manual for Photoshop persuaded me I could unlock the file so I looked at it again, and had a bright idea. Carefully matching the background cover colour, I painted out the title and reloaded it at a slightly tighter level. I am pleased to report that it works. I loaded the front cover then the back cover and Cover Creator loaded the spine for me. It all looks fine to me. So now we're
on the last lap - check, check and double check before I click the final button. Moral of the story is - don't believe all you read on the internet - and don't give up!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Struggles with Createspace

They say Createspace is easy - well, I beg to differ.
The interior (ie the words of the story) was not a problem. All it takes is patience, an eagle eye and knowledge of the system. It will go easier next time, now I know what is required.

But the covers - mon Dieu! I don't even understand the instructions! And Amazon instructions are always somewhat odd.

I've found and downloaded the cover template. I have a front cover, a back cover and a spine waiting in Photoshop. How to transfer them to the Createspace template is the problem. I struggled all day yesterday and have nothing to show for it. There must be a set of clear, simple instructions somewhere, but I haven't found them. All this talk of layers, opacity, bleed and trim lines - not to mention 300 dpi and 40MB is too much....!

So I took a day off today, gave Tim a long walk and then went into town and had my hair done. Flicking through a copy of Hello, I saw  photo of Anna Wintour and  golly, she and I have the same hairstyle. She's had hers for years and mine is just reaching the stage of all one layer, but even so, its enough to make me grin.

Not so the thought of going back to Createspace tomorrow. A grimace is more the thing. Perhaps I'll hit lucky and muddle through. Wish me luck!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Editing for Createspace

Still plodding on with editing Matho for Createspace. If I write dialogue with a French accent, I wanted  the character Lennox drop his aitches and I represented this as follows: 'there is nothing 'e will do for you.' Sometime Createspace formatted it perfectly and sometimes it ignored the apostrophe and just printed the letter e. There's probably a reason, but I haven't figured it out. After three tries I rewrote the phrase and did not use a dropped aitch!

Otherwise it seems to be going well. I've removed a lot of unnecessary commas and corrected the occasional missing letter or word, but on the whole things are proceeding well. The trouble with editing is it seems to go on for ever and a day! The book is running out at 104,000 word count and I have the last 60 pages still to do. I've been at it all week, and find I can only do it in relatively short snatches otherwise I start "reading" instead of "checking." Maybe I'll think about paying someone to do it next time. It is not a job I would like to do day in and day out.

The other thing is the temptation to keep on tinkering and phrasing things differently - I hope, in a better and more pleasing way. Once I get this portion of the work done, I will have to think about covers, and for Createspace I need not only a front cover, but a spine and back cover too. Another learning curve to master, and my deadline approaches with a steady beat. I don't think I need a list of chapters formatted for searching, as you do with Kindle, because in a print book that's not possible. I am thinking about including a simple map of the main places. It's OK for me since I live in the area and know where Stirling and Dumbarton, Carlisle and Corbridge are, but  I can't expect everyone else to know.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Matho's progress

Final edit run through complete. One of the strange things I noted was my use of a certain phrase. I'm not going to say which phrase because then people will look for it and start counting when they read the book. Needless to say, I've removed some uses and changed others, so it should not be so noticeable now.

I'm so nervous about this that I keep hesitating about trying to load it on Createspace. What if I've missed something horrendous? Maybe I should do just one more run through, to be sure? We all know how correcting one phrase can shake two more loose somewhere in the manuscript and odd things keep happening as the computer tries to anticipate the word we want - and gets it wrong. But I could go on like this forever. So I've made the decision - I'm going to take the plunge very soon.

Autumn is creeping in and changing colours in the landscape. The days are still warm, up there in the 19s and 20s, but the nights are cold now. We've occasionally put the central heating on, and once or twice used the gas fire in the living room but on the whole we are fine. Our gas bill is going to be so much lower this year because we've used it so little.

All the good winter programmes are back on TV - Downton, Scott & Bailey, Strictly, Cilla. to mention but a few. Downton had better pick up its skirts and get going as the first two episodes have been a tad off the mark. Cora and her sickly sweet smile are flirting with Bricker the art critic, and Edith keeps visiting her love child and treating it rather like a doll. The child is going to get sick of that quite soon, I imagine. Cilla proved to be very good and Aneurin Barnard was a big surprise as Bobby Willis. He had played Richard III so woodenly in the White Queen that I despaired of him, but here he was all Liverpudlian and full on even if his dark roots kept showing.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Amazon and the first 3 chapters

There seems to be a lull in sales on Amazon. Initially I put it down to summer holidays, but now I'm beginning to wonder. We've had terrific weather, and reading tends to go by the board when everyone can get out and about and enjoy some much needed sunshine. And to be fair, here in the UK, we still have the sunshine and ridiculous temperatures for almost October. But I expected sales would have picked up by now, and they have not. If anything, they've declined still further.

Now it could be that I have not been promoting. I'll be the first to admit I haven't promoted anything for weeks. A quick look at my diary shows me that I haven't done more than a few spasmodic posts since June. So maybe it is my own fault. There is that one nasty review that appeared around early July. Could that have anything to do with it? Let's hope not!

There is also this new scheme Amazon has running, and I'm more than a little curious about it. My understanding is that people download anything free of charge and read up to 10% of the work before any payment is made to the author.

So that means  people can read the first three chapters (4,000 word count per chapter) of a 100,000 word count book. A tiny portion, you may think, though it seems much more if the word count is 80,000 or less. I wonder how long it took the author to write those words, and many people read those chapters and then decide they don't want to pay for the rest of it? I imagine many do. It doesn't matter how good the rest of the book is, if those first chapters haven't grabbed the reader by the throat, it is all over. I have downloaded a sample of a Mankell-Wallander book to see how it works as a reader.

It puts a hell of a lot of importance on the first three chapters. Remember how important they were to getting published the traditional way? Well, it seems to me that Amazon have just re-introduced the barrier we independent authors were so pleased to avoid! What do the rest of you think?

This is a link to a long, long article about Amazon I haven't had time to read yet, but looks good enough to go back to in the next day or two:

Friday, 19 September 2014

Work in progress

Now I'm at the stage of looking at Createspace. First impressions? More complicated than I expected. But then as you get to know it, like everything else, it doesn't seem so bad. First of all I tried to slot an A4 file into a 6 x 9 format book, so of course, it didn't work. Once I altered my original file, it went straight in - with no errors. Now I know that's not true. For a start it wasn't justified, and when I justified it all the indents and *** scene breaks altered. So I'll be going through carefully to see what else I can spot.

I think I may be stuck with the title I've put in -  Abduction of the Scots Queen. I debated calling it Abduction, but there are so many books using it that it didn't seem attractive. Perhaps The Scots Queen would be simplest. If I can't alter what I've input, I may stick with the longer version. I can always make the fore part smaller on the cover to give it more ooooomph.

I'm working on the cover when I get tired of proofreading. Makes a nice change. I'm quietly pleased with what I have at the moment, but there are no guarantees it won't change in the next few days!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Books and the Internet

Still hammering away on edits and struggling to find a title that hasn't been used before. The trouble is almost everything has been used already! Especially if you want to use the word Queen. Too many books flooding the market these days - that's something  Amazon has done. Not single-handedly, I admit, but it certainly helped. (Just as it helped me - Yes, I know! Pot calling kettle and all that)

Viking Magic went free for two days just to see what the response was. I remember the first book I put up for free was Fair Border Bride and it rocketed up to something like 15,000 takers, mostly in the USA. That was five or six years ago,  So how did Viking Magic do over two days?

A total of 124 downloads and still the biggest freebie takers are in the US - 86. The UK = 26, Germany 7, France 1, Australia 1 and Canada 3. (It would be nice if a couple of those people wrote a nice review for me! The only one I've received for VM was written by someone who was definitely having a bad day.)

So, as a way of gathering readers, going free doesn't seem like the tool it was. Times change, and they change exceedingly fast in Internet world. Twitter and Facebook seem the most obvious alternatives, but even there, marketing persons seem to be taking over and plugging the same titles over and over again.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Plot Points

Editing makes a person consider plot points.

Definition? A plot point is a turning point in the story for both protagonist and plot.
Start with your protagonist at a moment of  change - and this had better be a significant, life-changing change, rather than a decision to wear heels rather than flatties. Feed in a few general details to give us a grasp of normal life because then we will appreciate the changing incident more. This first plot point marks a change in and for the protagonist, indicates the direction the story is about to take, and hopefully engages the reader. The most difficult question to answer is the last one. How can we know if it strikes any sort of bell for the reader?

Once you have your protagonist marching in his new direction, he should run into conflict, both expected and unexpected. How he handles these is a learning curve for him and strengthens his character. As the climax of the story approaches the hero has to face his most difficult challenge of all. How he handles this will define the rest of his life - and sometimes if he has a life after this. 

It is easy to forget the emotional side of this last confrontation when writing the action. Don't forget the effort it takes, the courage, strength and persistence to keep moving forward toward a goal. I suspect I have skipped over this point too lightly in my story of Matho, but I will fix that as I reach the last chapters in what will hopefully be my final edit.

Afterwards, your protagonist and mine should be a different person. The same, but more so, with added strength and knowing what he can do when pushed to the absolute limit.The next question is, what does he do then? Go back to obscurity? Hardly.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Amazon v Hachette

Amazon is in dispute with Hachette book Group in the US. I've been vaguely aware of this for a while, but didn't think it affected me. Except perhaps that my Amazon sales have been very poor this last month. But then, August is a bad month as everyone, but everyone, goes on holiday and forgets reading.

The squabble is affecting writers like Stephen King, Lee Child and James Patterson. They claim Amazon is sanctioning books - I'm not sure what they mean by that, but I think it means they don't supply them in the usual way when asked - but it affects 2,500 Hachette authors and over 7,000 titles.

 Sales for these books have declined by between 50% to 90%. The struggle has been going on for six months and really hurts debut and midlist authors. 

In a nutshell, Amazon says it is fighting for lower prices which benefit the consumer. Yay! Authors United, who oppose what Amazon is doing, are seen as a group of  "rich authors who are seeking higher e-book prices." 

I don't know the rights and wrongs of this squabble, but I do know I won't pay £10 for a Kindle copy of any book. I'll wait. Eventually the price comes down. I'd hesitate to pay £5, but then maybe I'm mean. I'd pay £6, £7, even £8 for a paperback copy - but not a Kindle copy. I think I'm siding with Amazon.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

All those words

Thirty-two chapters and that's my novel complete at 106k word count. Phew! Now I'm ready for the Big Read Through, and I'm a little bit scared of it. What if all those words add up to a rubbishy story that doesn't hang together, and worst of all - bores me?

It's possible I'll feel all of these things. OTOH, it is also possible I'll fall in love with it. I hope so. So, I've been out with the dog and the exercise and fresh air have woken me up and got my brain going. I have three critique chapters to do for writerly friends, but otherwise the whole day is mine - except for another hour's walk with Time at some point around midday. I don't want any major breaks now - I need to keep the continuity going.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Final edits and Createspace

I'm up to Chapter Thirty in my "final edit" of Capture a Queen. What I've discovered on this go through is that I'm getting really good at combining two sentences into one, and doing it more elegantly than I used to. Practice does improve one's technique, if not make it quite perfect yet! I've also found that around chapter 27 I've screwed up the time line. Things happen out of sequence, so that will need a major re-shuffle. I'm going to work it out on a paper copy and then transfer the finished result to the computer. Otherwise I'd always be afraid I'd deleted something instead of transferring it.

I've put final edit in quotation marks because of course this is a major operation. First of all it's on
the computer, and I have several runs at each chapter, tweaking and pruning as I go. When I'm finally happy with it, I print it out. The pages go into a file, and I'm not going to read them until I've got to the end. Then I'll sit down and read it as I would a Rebus or any other novel. Things are bound to leap out at me, even at that stage. I shall attempt to read it aloud but have to admit to feeling silly unless I'm sure I'm alone in the house. Tim doesn't mind. I think he even likes it. He goes to sleep, anyway!

Smoothing out the time sequence among three major characters is going to be difficult, but it has to be done, otherwise it will irritate the reader. I'm thinking about Createspace this time, to give me a paperback as well as an e-book, so I'm reading up on how to do it in between bursts of editing. I suppose I have nothing to lose except my time and effort, and who knows? It might pay dividends. It seems to be the way forward at the moment, and when changes in publishing are speeding up I'd better not miss the chance.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Writing - what's gender got to do with it?

I'm like everyone else in that I follow links on Twitter in the hope of finding something good. Sometimes I do, and one of the website I've bookmarked is this one:  Take a  look at her home page and you'll see (if you are like me, that is) loads of titles to articles you simple must read. They don't disappoint, either.

I keep re-reading the one about the first 250 words of your book being the most important in the hope that eventually, I'll be doing what she suggests by instinct. It will filter through in a process something akin to osmosis. That's my hope, you understand. I think I really ought to read the one about forcing my hero to make moral choices, too.  Many readers, particularly women, I suspect, will dislike Matho for taking the child queen from his mother, and I suspect they'll dislike Meg Douglas even more for the same reason. But my justification is the characters lived in times when choices were hard, and if the characters can justify the act to themselves, if not to us, with out 21st century ethics, surely that is all that matters? They lived in a time when uttering the wrong word could send you to the stake to be burned alive.

My female characters are rarely the simpering type, and Meg Douglas is not a simperer. That some reviewers don't care for my ladies has become obvious to me. My female characters say what they think, and even if they don't say what they think aloud, their thoughts are honest. I didn't have sisters, and there were 40 years between me and my mother, so we didn't have any "girly" contact. She was always a figure of authority in the household, and said what she thought. Consequently, I don't write "girly" females. What you grow up with shapes what you become and it is devilish hard to contradict it. Because I had a brother, I can relate more easily to men, who always seem to me  much less judgemental, say what they think and then let you get on with it.

Perhaps the trick of fine writing is to transcend these things. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it is usually easy to tell if a book  has been written by a male or female author. It's just there in the writing, in the characters and their actions, even in the choice of theme. Possibly all unconscious, too. Writers probably have their audience in mind, and write to them. I can imagine the audience for thrillers, romance, vampires with varying degrees of success and allowing for blurring along the lines and edges as tastes overlap, but I do have a problem deciding the audience for literary fiction. They can't all be university professors, can they?

(Take note: the last comment is definitely tongue in cheek and meant to amuse.) And a further note: today's pic is Loch Crinan, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the post. The black dot is probably a midgie on the lens looking for someone to bite. I still have the red blotches they caused that day.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Castle Dounie

The walk was listed as a three-hour walk and we did it in three hours ten minutes - and that included a lot of short stops to enjoy views. The first hour was all uphill, zig-zagging up the hillside through ancient woodland with the sound of water in our ears and every shade of green around us.

The gravel track soon became a grass track interspersed with boulders, and the trees towered over us. Every so often a curve in the path would offer a spectacular window-view through the trees.

We made it to Castle Dounie on the lower summit of Creag Mhor along a wonderful path with heather billowing beside us on the last narrow path to the fort. There were no bees to be seen, which is a little worrying.

Right on the top of the hillare the stones of an Iron Age Fort. To me they looked like a cairn, but if you were an enthusiastic archeologist well versed in prehistoric structures, then you might be able to make out wall lines and such like. It was very small, and I kept on wondering if the people walked up to it or if they took their sure-footed garrons all the way to the castle.

 There are terrific views towards Jura and Mull, and they say you can see the notorious Corryvreckan whirlpool and even Ben Nevis to the north on a clear day. I suspect you have to be looking at just the right state of the tide to see anything of the whirlpool. I have seen film of it and watched documentaries that explain it and I have no urge to go out in a small boat and peer over the side knowing what is beneath me.

You can see a little white house on the hillside of Jura.  I think they must paint  Barnhill gleaming white every season because it stands out like a beacon. George Orwell lived there when he wrote his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. I could see Barnhill from many points during my stay in Crinan, and acknowledged a certain wish to be there, concentrating on writing to the exclusion of everything else. I know it will never happen - the mere idea would horrify dh and the midgies would be a torment in summer.

The walk is full of interest, varying terrain and returns by way of the same path this time plunging down the hill - and believe me, sustained walking down a steep slope is just as tiring to muscles not often used as going up. When we reached the path across the beach at Crinan Harbour we found a large rock each and sat in the sunshine and watched the little waves roll in. Their gentle splash mingled with the tapping of steel rigging on the yachts moored not far away. There is happiness in such simple things.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Beauties of Argyll

Just back from a couple of days away at Crinan Hotel. We were expecting cold rainy weather - so the forecasters said - and actually had brilliant sunny weather. It is amazing how variable weather can be in this little island of ours. Got well and truly bitten by the notorious Scottish midgie, too.
We stopped at Dunardy halfway along the Crinan Canal to give Tim a walk. We had a lovely saunter through Foresty Commisssion woods and finally broke out of the trees and were rewarded with an ever expanding view. The higher we climbed, the better the view, so we kept on climbing! It was a gentle, curving climb. I don't want to give the impression I climbed something like Mt Everest, but it certainly had us breathing more deeply than usual.

In the bar that night we sat quietly eating our meal and could not help but hear the conversation at the next table. "It's going to rain all day tomorrow, but that might flatten the sea!"
I remembered that Crinan is basically a sailing community, and then the comment made sense.  Still it didn't raise our spirits, I can tell you, and we wondered what we would do if  the prophecy came true. Next morning when we looked out of our bedroom window, the view of the loch didn't inspire. 

It had obviously been raining hard overnight, Still we decided to do the walk we'd planned, and drove the mile or so up the hill, took the right fork down the hill and into Crinan Harbour proper. For all our visits here, we'd never thought to do this bit, and it is very pretty. This is the natural harbour for Crinan, where all the sailing yachts hide away. 
We parked up and set off along the rocky sea shore. The path is sometimes under water at high tide, but the only water was from overnight rain. Then, as expected, the path turned left and uphill. It went on uphill for the next hour, with us taking brief respites after a particularly steep section. We met the forestry road and set off on a level path - well, it swooped up and down but was comparatively flat to the hillside we'd just climbed. Way markers kept us on the trail and took us through a variety of trails, grassy tracks, through woods until we finally climbed Creg Mhor to visit the remains of iron-age Castle Dounie. We sat at the top for quite a while, gazing out over Loch Crinan bathed in brilliant sunshine.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Current work

This Scottish Independence thing is taking on  a looming presence. DH threatens he won't go to Scotland ever again if they vote Yes. I can go, he says generously, but he will stay home.  I suspect the hard-headed Scots are going to vote No, but we'll see. I may well be holidaying alone in the future!

As you probably all know, I'm currently editing my book about Matho. I've made a decision - I either self-publish this book this year, or I throw it in the bin. I've been working on it in fits and starts for a long time now but it never seems to be finished. The time period is interesting, because it is 1543 and Scotland is independent, and fighting off Henry VIII's advances. Henry's England is ringed by Catholic princes who want to bring England back into the Catholic fold, and he suspects Scotland will offer the Catholic armies an easy way into England by the back door. His answer? Marry the little Scots Queen to his son and make the two countries one. The trouble is, Scotland doesn't see it that way. The valiant Dowager Queen, Marie de Guise, prefers to marry her daughter into her homeland, France. Many Scots don't want to be a vassal of France either. Difficult situation. For everyone.

How does Matho get involved in this situation? He and Harry Wharton became friends  in my book Fair Border Bride, which some of you may have read. When Henry of England sends out an order to Sir Thomas Wharton, Sir Thomas mentions it to his son. Harry thinks he and Matho can handle the job. Matho has his doubts, but he needs a leg-up in society, so Harry and Matho set off for Stirling with much enthusiasm on Harry's part and much trepidation on Matho's side.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Poldarks revived

Outlander will arrive on our television screens at some point, but may be a while before it reaches the UK. The likelihood is that I shall see and  enjoy the re-make of the Poldark series before then. I loved the books, written in the 40s and 50s - and eagerly devoured the original seven. I don't think I followed up on the remaining five which were about descendants rather than the original characters. I adored the original tv series 1975-77, and so did many others. The series was hugely popular.

Still, that has to be balanced against the fact that when the series was shown, there were only three ( 3! ) television channels. That made life very much simpler and the ratings very much higher than they are today. Television audiences were a little more naive, too. Production values today - well, the techniques at least, are so much better than they were in the seventies. I'm really looking forward to the costumes and the locations. Let's just pray that the gremlins that haunted Bodmin Moor during the last production in Cornwall - Jamaica Inn - have been well and truly exorcised. If the BBC ruins Poldark, they may well be exorcised!

 I've collected together some links to the cast, the locations and general gossip about the series. I shall very likely dip into them from time to time, and you may wish to as well. I'm putting one of my favourite pictures of Aidan Turner up here in his costume as Ross Poldark. I don't know if there are any Poldarks in Cornwall, but if Winstan Graham dreamed up the name, I applaud him for selecting a wonderful name for a hero.

Enjoy the links!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Outlander - first thoughts

Anyone who has read the Gabaldon novels will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the tv series. 16 episodes for the first novel as far as I'm aware, which should be more than enough time. The critics seems to like it - - and from the snippets I've seen, it looks engaging. The pic above is from the website listed and from the Starz press-kit.

One thing puzzles me. Claire's narration is done in a lovely English voice, and the  dialogue is also English. But part-way though the section I saw, she suddenly breaks into American swearing. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ may be Gabaldon's choice of swearword for Claire, but I doubt it would ever be on the lips of a typical English of 1945. Same for "godamm." It just isn't English. So then I got to thinking was the character Claire English or not? 

It's a long time since I read the novels for the first time, but I did re-read Crosstitch (re-named Outlander now) not so very long ago. Somewhere along the line, Claire has metamorphosed into being American in my mind. It isn't something I've ever thought about until now, but there must be something in Gabaldon's depiction of Claire that has drip-fed my understanding that she isn't English, but American.

Which in turn is interesting for all writers. Can we really put ourselves in the skin of another character, particularly when they are from a different country? No matter how hard we try to get it right, something might give us away. Some little thing like curse words, for example.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


When people talk of a book's setting, what do you think they mean? My immediate answer would be Scotland in 1543 for the book I'm currently working on. Is that enough? For a swift answer in a verbal exchange, I think it is. If they want to know more, they'll ask.

If I had to write an article on setting, I would elaborate. Setting is important. I use everything I can to make the reader think "sixteenth century Scotland." After all, life in Stirling Castle has to be vastly different to living in a three bed detached today.

Setting is many things. It's dialect, delicately done, what they wore, how they ate, what they ate and if they did it with their fingers. What kind of plates did they have if they were rich? if they were poor? It's weather and seasons, heat and cold, farm yard smells, perfumes and sweat. Rich tapestries, and straw mattresses. All those things and more. It's how something feels - if you touch a horse, their skin is usually warm, sometimes hot if they're been running. If you see it, can you smell it, taste it, touch it and hear it? Imagine yourself into the pic and tell me if you can smell the pine trees, and hear the wind rustling through the grass. Actually, there was no wind. It was one of those hot, sticky, airless days when the insects are biting. All these thing make up the world of your story. Use them, but use them carefully.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Summer days

Should I believe Stat Counter visits, which are low, or should I believe View Count stats, which are pleasingly high, by Blogger? No idea. The sunshine seems to have gone to everyone's head and even Facebook is quiet. The school holidays have begun here in the UK but still the cul de sac is quiet. It is really quite strange. Perhaps everyone has gone on holiday.

TV has gone beserk with the Commonwealth Games. Personally I think its a little too soon after the Olympics in 2012. I've had my fill of watching people run and jump, but more than one TV channel is devoted to nothing but sport. But then, TV programmers are so annoying. I set the video to record the men's final at Roland Garros, and of course I watched it live while in France. Last night I checked the recording and found that by the end of the fourth set, when Nadal had to win one more game to win his 9th championship, the powers in charge flipped channels to give people the news. I remember being very cross in France at the time. I ask you! Four plus hours of tennis and then they switch at literally the last minute. Are these people mad?

I'm not sure how much more sunshine we can take. We've been hiding away indoors in the middle of the day because the sticky heat has been unpleasant. Energy simply drains away, and it is so difficult to sleep. Even the dog has been lolling about, trying to get comfortable. We drove up to Kielder a couple of days ago - Friday, actually - and though it was lovely, it was too hot to walk far. We spent a lot of time sitting under the tall trees overlooking the reservoir, enjoying the shade. Today it seems a little cooler, with a bit of a breeze, which is much more like English weather. I'll take Tim for his long walk now, before the heat builds. I've been going really early, as early as seven in the morning, and though there are always other dog walkers out and about, it is a lot quieter. We know the regulars now, which is nice.

Lost dog!

Sunday 8 th May Slow start to a sunny day with a promise of high temperatures. Bill took Perla out at 7.30 as he has done all this month ...