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

Taking a Risk

  Poised on the cliff edge about to take the leap! No thoughts of suicide - oh no! Or perhaps only in terms of covers for my e-books. I am a...