Friday, 26 February 2016

Historical romance versus historical novels

Nicola Cornick has recently written an interesting blog piece about historical romance versus historical novels.

Her lovely blog stimulated me to sort out my views on the subject.
I think both extreme ends of the range of books set in a historical period are easily recognised and acknowledged by all, but it is the section in the middle where controversy rages.

On the far left we have category romance, where the romance is the only thing the author and the reader, presumably, is interested in. Category romance specifically does not want sub-plots and sub-characters running off and doing interesting things, taking interest away from the hero and heroine. The author must focus on the couple in question. These days, interest does not stop at the bedroom door. More and more blow-by-blow encounters are detailed inside the bedroom - or the equivalent. It must be an age thing, but four and five pages of these encounters often have me skipping over them. But I digress. My taste in sex scenes may be a little less graphic, but that isn't what the post is about.

The other extreme is of course the literary end. These books are often three and four times longer and detail all sorts of other things beside the central romance - if there is one. C J Sansom manages to write almost 450 pages without a central romance featuring at all and I love his books. Cornwell's Sharpe has a few stabs at romance but there is so much more about daring-do, war and skullduggery. Writers like Forester, Clements, Winston Graham, Mitchell, Gabaldon and Parrish follow a similar pattern as we head towards the more middle of the range works.

This where the lines blur. Readers will put authors  in differing places on the line. Some will say Gabaldon is literary because she has great swathes about the American War of Independence in her Outlander series. So did Mitchell in Gone with the Wind, but in both those books, the central theme is the love affair between Claire and Jamie, and Scarlett and Rhett. We could be very analytical about it and put every title on a sliding scale of romance v literary-ness, but who has the time? Certainly not me! It is a task for each reader according to their personal taste, should they chose to do it.

The other thing that affects the argument is the male-female reading bias. In general terms, though not everyone fits into these divisions, men like action, women like romance. Men like tighter writing, women want feelings explained. Men's reviews still  seem to have more kudos than those written by women. Men, of course, review the Sansom, Forester, Cornwell "serious" type of historical novel. Perhaps they write better reviews? I don't think I've seen this type of historical novel reviewed by a woman, but they must, surely? If not, they ought to.

PS ~ Perhaps Byron had the answer when he said "Man's love is of man's life a part; it is a woman's whole existence." Follow that through and you have an answer to the basic question, though you may not like it.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Gripes week

Been a bit social this week. Celebrating a baby's arrival on Sunday night, met lifelong friend for lunch yesterday before prowling the dress floor of John Lewis and going away empty handed. I don't know what designers are thinking these days. We don't all want cocktail-y type dresses fit only for cruise dinners or the like. Nor do we want clinging, skimpy dresses that show every dimple, bulge and curve. Those frocks with deep V necklines and a rose of gathers off to one side are hopeless for the small busted among us. Then there are all the long dresses - who wants to spend a summer day in a floor length dress? Not me, I assure you. It isn't only John Lewis, either. Fenwick and M&S are guilty of the same problem. Dress designers of the world - unite, I beg you and produce some nice plain summer dresses we'd like to wear.

After the dress hunt disaster I went of to get some new glasses. Like most things these days, it is so easy to build up astronomical prices while visiting an optician. Frames one price, lenses another, add more if you want thinner lenses, varifocals, madam? That's just goes on. Before you know it, you've spent nearly £600  - and no, they're not photochromic. (If that is the right word - my chosen pair, the nearest I could get to the silhouette rimless ones that have lasted me the longest - they do not change according to light intensity)

Still, I had to have them. My current pair are scratched so badly the optician looked them, then looked at me and said How did you do it? I explained that I walk a dog in the woods and branches have a habit of swinging about and hitting me in the face on windy days. I had a black eye last week and dh was worried people would think he had hit me. (Mind you, he had the same fear the day my front crown broke when I bit into a French baguette and had to wait til I got back to England to get it replaced. I don't think anyone ever thought that, because they know dh so well....

Friday, 19 February 2016

What every aspiring writer needs

Sitting here in my study-cum-bedroom, I'm torn about what to do next. Go straight to re-editing my wip? Do some promo work?  (I badly need to do this). Make an effort to join Instagram and those other  new social media sites I keep hearing about? Finally organise a website rather than rely on a blog to do the work? Send out a submission on the wip? (The first ten chapters are re-edited and clean and given the waiting times these days....) Meet friends for coffee? Get an early lunch and walk the dog for an hour or two? Naturally this list absolutely ignores the housework I could be doing....

The one thing an author really needs is an assistant, hopefully one who is media savvy and can double as a PR person. What heaven that must be. An editor who actually wants to talk about  the wip and make intelligent suggestions on how to improve it would be great too, but sadly self-published authors often work alone. 

There are times when I get in such a muddle about what I need to do next that I throw the whole thing up in the air (metaphorically speaking) and whisk the dog out into the sunshine and forget about writing. There's a huge temptation to do that today.....

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Amazon payouts and future worries

Every self-published author will have heard of Hugh Howey. They may even have read one of his books though they are a dystopian-sci-fi mix that is not everyone's taste. I cane across a post of his while checking for comment on Amazon's Kenp system of payment (ie payment by number of pages read at the rate of $0.0056 per page) His long post is worth reading.       and so is this one:

In summary, Howey says:

1. Kindle Unlimited (KU) 2.0 pays per page a higher rate for an ebook borrow than major publishers pay per page for a print sale.

2. KU 2.0 seems to be an attempt by Amazon to pay the same per borrow that they pay per sale, if ebooks are priced according to their recommendations.

3. KU 2.0 more fairly rewards time invested by authors and time spent by readers than KU 1.0.

4. I have yet to see an argument by anyone showing how KU 1.0 was more fair to authors than KU 2.0.

Since the Amazon monthly reports were out yesterday, I have seen mine. Since this new payment system began I have sold fewer books, but my income is much as it was because of the payments on the pages read.  Now instead of looking for sales, I look for the number of pages read. It can be addictive! Who, for example, is the person in Australia who read one page and never read another? Why did they give up? (I find myself thinking of family - there are quite a few Blacks out there! it could have been one of them, and I'm not sure my stories appeal to the young and trendy!)

So now I'm wondering if going free every now and then is a way of bumping up the KENP payment system. Possibly. I'm also thinking that this road leads to books been given away for free forever and payment coming via people who read them, where does it leave the literary prize winner who - so it is claimed - has very few sales but lots of critical applause? Where does it leave mainstream publishers and their advances? I suppose it is a fairness in the argument that if no one ever reads a certain book, then no payment should be made on it.

But how soul destroying for the writer. And how odd to think that  a book like the infamous 50 Shades would earn millions for its author. Is there not a danger that many writers will be persuaded to write similar erotic material? That would mean the average person's reading choice would become severely restricted and that is not a happy thought.

Sunday, 14 February 2016


It's nice to know that  the law can be sensible over plagiarism.
Sherrilyn Kenyon has sued Cassandra Clare for 'wilfully copying' her Dark-Hunter novels with her Shadowhunter series and claims damages and lost profits. 

I'm not sure how lost profits are calculated, since they are lost and never existed. Wishful thinking might come into this part of the claim, which rests on both series using enchanted, glowing swords, with unique names, that have been divinely forged and have other world spirits. 

I can think of a lots of tales using that kind of motif. Perhaps Ms Kenyon has heard of King Arthur and Excalibur? The Ring Cycle? Norse legends? Kenyon also claims as her idea a cup, a sword and a mirror with magical properties, but must have forgotten Harry Potter, the most recent example of such things which have long been part of the storytelling tradition from ancient times to the present? There are other claims too - a blonde demon-hunter character that makes me think of Buffy - I think it was Angel who was so strikingly blonde? Black leather and white hair - I expect a lot of people were struck by that combination, but it is hardly plagiarism to use it in a different story and setting.

The lawyers refute Kenyon's claim, saying the law does not protect ideas and myths, it protects only the expression of those ideas. Good for them, I say. It will be interesting to see the final outcome.

Read the full article here:

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Everyday business and a splendid walk

Trips to the vet and the dentist today, so not a lot of spare time. Tim has to have his rabies booster so we can travel to France later this year, and I need to see my lovely dentist for the last of a series of appointments. Add to those the need to spend a couple of hours exercising Tim, and I think I won't get much writing done today. There's no hope for tonight, either, as we're out with friends.

We have sunshine, even though the temperature dipped below zero last night. Tim has left a set of footprints in the frosty grass in our back garden!

Yesterday was the same, weather-wise.  Too gorgeous to sit around indoors, so I persuaded dh to walk up to the Lion and the Lamb  where he could have a shandy and a bowl of chips (and a well earned sit down!) before setting off to walk back. I would call that bribery exactly, but it did add a certain something to the walk. The outward journey is all uphill, though the footpath winds around fields which makes the incline not too bad and the whole hillside is orientated south so we were in sunshine all the way. Tim scampered about running forward and back sniffing everything and nothing.

With the village of Horsley showing up on the horizon, I asked dh if he was looking forward to his shandy. "It'll be a pint of beer, not a shaandy," he said. We sat in the garden at the back of the pub, still in sunshine, and sure enough, he had a pint of Black Sheep with his bowl of chips.

 The walk back is all down hill, and as you might expect, the return trip always seems to go by faster. We paused on Ovingham bridge, which is still closed. Come June, it will have been closed for two years. Peering over the footbridge, we saw workmen using machines to take the rust off the pylons below water level, and marvelled at the flood debris piled up against the footings and on the walkways. Best of all we chuckled at the nice new blue plaque to commemorates the building of the bridge in 1883, and its refurbishment and re-opening in December 2015. Ha! It was open for two days and the the floods closed it again!
We got home with Tim still running about, having completed 5.9 kilometres. Well done us, I say.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Stuck in the mud

Sunday was a Dally Rally at Waterford Country Park in Gateshead. Check out the site here: Watergate

There are miles and miles of green track and open spaces plus the Tanfield Railway track heading off to the  Causey-Arch- a wonderful place to walk thirty or  so Dalmatians. In the north east there are so many places now where land that was once a colliery has been landscaped into a country park. Watergate is one of them, the Rising Sun (4,000 acres) is another - and featured on Countryfile last night with Matt Baker.

The weather was bright and cold with a little sun here and there and all went well. Tim took a little while to get used to so many other dogs, but soon got into the spirit of it though it seemed like every thirty seconds he stopped racing around and looked for me - if he didn't find me - oh panic - where is she? Most of them found every dirty puddle and hollow to splodge in, and there were lots. Some stayed very clean - fastidious Dalmatians.

Some went paddling in the lake, no doubt enticed by the ducks swimming about far out of reach, but then, some dogs just love water. (Tim doesn't. I blame a wave that nearly swamped him when he was having a crap on the beach...)

Several dogs blithely jumped in and then found the shallow water dropped off into deeper water and they were swimming. One appeared to be in difficulties. Paddling like mad with his front feet and getting nowhere. Muzzle only an inch out of the very cold water. Found out later it was Caspar, and his back legs had sunk into the muddy bottom. A brave man with quick reactions spotted him. Jamie rushed over and went to his aid - up to his hips in freezing cold water, and it wasn't his dog.  With a heave, Caspar was free and scrabbling to get to the bank. Jamie took off each Wellington boot and emptied out the water to much applause. It could have been so much worse. Someone video'd it, but it isn't my video, so it wouldn't run if I loaded it. I don't even know if the link will work - but the photographer agreed I could try!

Friday, 5 February 2016

Fascinating facts for writers and readers

Public Lending Right says five children's authors are among the top ten most borrowed authors in UK libraries in 2014-15.
It also shows James Patterson at the head of the list for the ninth year running - but is that surprising when he published 15 books in that time period and has 300 titles to his credit? Fortunately he doesn't get PLR payments, for which other authors must be grateful! The 202 authors who received the maximum capped £6,600 are all from the UK.
Thrillers are the most popular genre. Nine out of the top ten most borrowed books are in this group.

Among classic authors Shakespeare came in at number ten with Jane Austen at eleven. Roald Dahl was top, with Enid Blyton second and Agatha Christie third.

David Walliams’w popularity continues to grow and he’s now the 41st most borrowed author compared to his 157th position in 2012-13. His book Awful Auntie was also the most borrowed title in libraries in Northern Ireland. “What fantastic taste the children of Northern Ireland have,” said Walliams. “I am beyond delighted. Libraries are vital for children and adults to discover a wide variety of books. Long may they live!” Another big riser was Liz Pichon (64th from 160th last year), who was told off for doodling as a child. But the author of the excellent Tom Gates series, which she writes and illustrates, is one of the most popular in libraries.
David Walliams’s popularity continues to grow and he’s now the 41st most borrowed author compared to his 157th position in 2012-13

In the humour category  Bart Simpson: Big Shot! by Matt Groening came top.

"So many writers benefit from PLR money. In February 2016, PLR will make payments totalling £6 million to 22,347 writers, illustrators, photographers, editors, translators, adaptors, narrators, producers and abridgers. This year’s rate per loan is 7.67 pence."

In the travel and holiday genre, Londoners chose Lonely Planet’s Italy by Cristian Bonetto as their top pick. Other regions disagreed - in Scotland the most borrowed was Edinburgh for Under Fives, edited by Cathy Tingle; in Wales it was Insufficiently Welsh, by Griff Rhys Jones; and in Yorkshire it was North York Moors & Yorkshire Wolds, by Mike Bagshaw.

Mary Berry was the most burrowed non-fiction writer, but MC Beaton, author of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth crime fiction books, has held the title of most borrowed British author of books for adults for the last six years. MC Beaton said: “I am thrilled to bits to be the most borrowed British author in UK public libraries. Writing is a very isolating job and, as I am only human, PLR is a sort of lifeline to me from the general borrowing public. I thank them from the bottom of my inky heart.”

Catherine Cookson remains the UK’s most borrowed author over the past 20 years: her books have been borrowed over 32 million times between 1995 and 2015. Jacqueline Wilson is the UK’s most borrowed children’s author over the past 20 years: her books have been borrowed over 24 million times between 1995 and 2015.

Read all the detail here: Martin Chilton, culture editor 5 FEBRUARY 2016 • 6:54AM

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Editing and Boat Races

Going great guns with editing my latest wip. The first three chapters are finally whipped into shape. Extraneous words like "just, only, almost," removed. POV checked. "Telling" changed to "showing." Fluff and useless info removed.  I think it is going to be called The Queen's Courier. Only another 20 odd chapters to go.

Excitement on the river on Sunday. The Rutherford Head of the River Race finally went ahead after having been cancelled on 6th December and again on 30th January. The first time was because of the flood conditions and the second time for high winds. They were extremely lucky, because we've had Storm Gertrude high winds every day this week except Sunday! It was beautifully calm, if not sunny, but the winds are  back again to day.

I walked the three miles or so from Wylam to Newburn with Tim, who ran off-lead most of the way with no trouble. Here he is behaving well as we watched a couple of boats whizzing by. I met Sandra and her family there - the gang, she calls them - Kate, Taya, Roshan and Sufian. Big brother Kieron was rowing for Edinburgh University. Evidently they'd had an accident with their boat, so didn't do too well.

People say this year's floods are unprecedented, but there are some chilling marks carved into the front wall of the Boathouse Inn at Newburn; markers for the height of Tyne floods in past years. Given that the inn stands some ten feet or more above the level of the river, one marker was waist high on me, one was chest high and the 1771 flood was way over my head. I remember that the town hall in Yarm had similar markers for when the Tees flooded, though I don't recall standing next to them.

DH picked me up so I didn't have to walk home. All in all I completed over 11,000 steps that day!

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 ...