Sunday, 27 November 2016

Least favourite things

I’ve known I’m getting old for some time because a lot of what is shown on tv disturbs me. I am reminded of my parents, who sniffed in disgust at various things back in their day. Now I find myself doing the same. What sort of things am I thinking of?

So many comedians who are not funny. 

Celebrities who vie with each other to wear the least clothing in public and then put the photograph on social media. 

Reality programmes that use nastiness of one kind or another to grab an audience. 
The way the media supports anyone who knocks the Conservatives but rarely manages to catch anything derogatory or rude about Labour supporters. 

The way someone’s views are routinely shouted down, mocked, talked over or cut off in most tv interviews these days. 

The cowardly people who use Twitter to annoy, vilify and abuse others. 

The obscene amount of money that is bandied around in football and most other sports today. 

Advertising on tv – and anywhere, for that matter - that tempts people in gambling.

The focus on food adverts when the nation already obese. 

The endless cookery competitions where food is wasted and living creatures are killed – there will be a dearth of lobsters soon since so many are  used in cookery competitions.

Blogger thinking I have spelling errors when I am using British English!

Just a few of my least favourite things. Have I mentioned anything that annoys you these days? There must be something!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Romance Really Rocks!

Today I took part in a reading at Newcastle City Library. With five other authors from my local romance writers group. I read a passage from one of my books to an audience who had paid the vast sum of £3 to be present. Perhaps Romance Really Rocks! wasn't quite the best title, for though most of the books had a romance thread in them, they were by no means category romances or, to put it a better way, the romance was not the main thrust of the book.

I chose to read a passage from Queen's Courier, which is my latest and available now in paperback as well as Amazon Kindle. Being new to this game, when I was told to aim for seven minutes I got out the stop watch, selected a passage and then had to whittle it down when the first run through came in at over seen minutes. Then last week we met and planned the event, had a run through and we were all told the time had been reduced to five minutes. Mine came in a 7 minutes 10 secs, so once again I got out the marker pen and deleted words, lines, passages that I felt could go without destroying the sense of the piece.

Words  I found difficult to read aloud without my teeth getting in the way were also struck out. By Tuesday night I had it down to five minutes five seconds and reading at a faster pace brought it well under the five minutes barrier. Never have I appreciated editing more!

So, to the day itself. We could choose to use a lecture-microphone set up, and I did so because my voice is small and I found it a strain to try and project to the back of the room as we are told we must. We had advance information that twenty tickets had been sold, and more people were expected to walk in on the day.

However, only eight people showed up by the time we started. I had opted to go second, after Janet MacLeod Trotter, who has had, and still has, a very successful writing career. I stepped up to the microphone, and began with a small introduction about what inspired my story. If I tell the truth, I enjoyed the reading. The lighting prevented me from seeing the audience in any detail, but shone on my script so that I could see it perfectly. The microphone took away all the strain and allowed me to modulate my tone to fit what I was reading. By this time I knew the piece so well I could almost do it without the script!

Well, I don't think anyone sold any books, but for me it was huge learning experience. When I stepped out of the Bewick Room I was walking alongside the cafe in the library which seats somewhere in the region of fifty people. It was full of ladies of a certain age drinking tea/coffee and eating scones and cake. Why were they not in the Bewick Room, listening to six great authors?

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Amazon rules, OK?

Amazon has altered its customer review rules. Some revisions appeared in late September and others came in October.

  • ·        “To post a review, customers must spend at least $50.00 using a valid credit or debit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50.00 minimum. Customers in the same household cannot submit a review for the same product.”

  • ·        “We updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews (a review in exchange for a free or discounted product) unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program…The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

  • ·        Paid Reviews – We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.

  • ·        “A somewhat murky area is the case of reviewers who post reviews both on Amazon and on their own blogs, with links from the blog to Amazon that result in the blogger/reviewer receiving pay if the person clicking on the link then buys the item on Amazon. It’s not entirely clear at this time, but it appears that this scenario can lead to a purge, because it violates the rule that an Amazon reviewer may not post a review on a product in which the reviewer has a financial interest. Until more is known, a blogger who has monetized his/her blog might be better off not reviewing the same product on both the blog and Amazon.”

  • ·        Promotional Reviews – In order to preserve the integrity of Customer Reviews, we do not permit artists, authors, developers, manufacturers, publishers, sellers or vendors to write Customer Reviews for their own products or services, to post negative reviews on competing products or services, or to vote on the helpfulness of reviews. For the same reason, family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.

I don’t know about you, but I will have to read these several times to realise the import. Author Anne Allen talks about the new rules on her blog (see right) and from reading her I understand a good deal more than I once did. Those one star reviews we’ve all suffered over? Evidently some people actually set out to trash competitors by leaving one star reviews. So there you go. The world is stacked against you!

Monday, 14 November 2016

When is a series not a series?

The Matfen Affair word count is almost 50,000 and the end is in sight. Another twenty or thirty thousand should do it. When I published The Craigsmuir Affair I had no idea of a series, but I loved the title, which I thought had so many connotations.

The Gybford story languished with a Canadian independent publisher for a couple of years but I felt  it deserved more attention than it was receiving, so I reclaimed it and then decided to go ahead and publish it on Kindle after an edit, a new cover and a new title.

I was drawn to the simple but effective title The Gybford Affair but the idea of a series still had not really hit home. The characters were different in each title, there was absolutely no link between them. No character in Craigsmuir knew or was related to the characters in Gybford. The settings were actually ninety years apart.

When I began The Matfen Affair, the idea of a series title could not be denied. But I liked it. In fact, I loved it. In each of the titles - Craigsmuir, Gybford and Matfen – it is the place that is the star, or the series link if you want to call it that. That, and the general genre is the only claim to a series.

Choose one of the three and you will find that they are all historical romances with a mystery or an adventure thrown in. With Craigsmuir it is Daisy and her dream of being an artist while getting caught up in a series of art thefts at Craigsmuir and meeting the man with whom she will fall in love. 

In Gybford it is the rich heiress who swears she will stay at her beloved Gybford and not marry again and then gradually falls in love with one man, who  is dedicated to his lost wife, only to be courted and kidnapped by another that she despises.

Matfen is the country house hosting a wedding where Leigh is the bridesmaid who struggles with the house’s ghosts while battling the misadventures of her sister and cousin and finally discovering the man she loves. 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Odd world.

The world is a strange place these days. First Brexit and now Trump. It is difficult to know if one is wise to book a holiday next year in case by then the world will have changed out of all recognition. People are talking about the feeling of the country being like this before the outbreak of the Second World War, but maybe that’s being just a tad too pessimistic.

I hope so. I’ll just plod on doing what I normally do and hoping for the best.
Twitter and Facebook are  awash with comments. Everyone now voices their opinions and expects the world to agree. Lately we’ve watched the arguments develop between rival political groups both here and in the US and it seems that s/he who shouts the loudest often wins the argument. (Of course, that doesn’t mean they are right. Only that they shout loudest.)

Reading social media statements is often a hoot because I’m convinced that some swig a bottle of wine (or the equivalent – insert your brew of choice) and then get busy with their ipad or iphone. Grammar and spelling are forgotten (or never learned), and it seems to me that those on the left of the political centre shout loud and often. Those on the right of the centre maintain a stiff silence for the most part, probably because they don’t want to receive a van load of rude tweets and posts.

I suppose the silence makes the lefties think a) those on the right are cowards b) they know they are wrong anyway and c) I’ll say it again, louder just to see if I get a response.

People argue about tennis players and actors, not to mention rape scenes on Poldark. They’ll probably argue about a whole lot more in arenas where I never venture. Strictly is argumentative enough for me – and I do wish that Tess would stop interrupting the judges, and that the silly shrieking with glee that goes on would stop, too. Sometimes it sounds like a kid’s party. Oops! Now I will  have everyone descending on me complaining that I dislike spontaneity and the sounds of happiness. It's not true!

It's OK. Tim (above  right) will keep me sane.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Writing Styles

As a boost to my writing I've been reading authors who write outside the historical fiction zone thinking that  I shouldn't get in a rut. Which is why at the weekend I brought home The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

The only other book of his I have read is, inevitably, the Da Vinci Code. I remember it had fast pacing and numerous short chapters. Well, his style has not changed. In 53 pages I have reached chapter 14. The plot set up is fine, but I find I am weary of bad guys who appear to have every attribute - fine physique, brains, confidence - you name it, they've got it, but they use them for world domination. In other words, a typical James Bond villain. Of course, I may be wrong. 53 pages is not an awful lot to judge by when the whole thing is 500 odd pages.

I have nothing to complain of in his actual writing. It flows by with ease and nothing stands out as awkward. I hardly notice it as my eyes travel the page seeking the story. It is very similar to Lee Child's style - straightforward, correct, short sentences.

At the same time I'm reading Ian Rankin's The Black Book on Kindle. Before that it was Peter James, the House on Cold Hill., Adele Parks Stranger in my Home. All very different, all very readable. Will I come out of this splurge a better writer? I doubt it, but it cannot do me any harm, and subconsciously it may do some good. A lifetime of reading has got me this far and I shall continue to read widely. I tried Val MacDermid's Skeleton Road, made no conscious decision to leave it and go onto Rankin, but that is what happened. I shall probably go back to it at some point. She must have something to offer me!

I've written reviews over the last couple of years for the Historical Novel Society and that has introduced me to many different styles, some of which I liked and some I didn't. What has it taught me? In no particular order, that the story line is as important as the style, adverbs are usually not required, that voice can be many things; pacing is important and a good, sensible conclusion is a must. It has taught me that I dislike what I call the the grab and snag style of writing where every verb is racked up to maximum; no one ever "takes" anything, they "grab" or "snag" it. They don't kiss, but "devour" each other, don't walk but "sashay," "tramp" or "traipse" across a room.  Sometimes plain English is good, if not best!

PS - I got myself in the picture this time!

Friday, 4 November 2016

Crime, anyone?

Mention the name John Rebus and my ears perk up. I'm never sure how much Ken Stott contributed to my being drawn to the books by Ian Rankin, because I am not really a thriller or crime fan. John Hannah was not ideal for the role though I love him in The Mummy and films of that type where his comedy touch is excellent. Oh, and I'm forgetting how good he was in Four weddings and a funeral. But somehow, he was never John Rebus, whereas Ken Stott with his distinctive voice and unprepossessing looks dragged me in from the start.

The character was born thirty years ago and is still going strong, though I've read that it took five or six titles before the tide turned and Rankin and Rebus became popular. I've long known that John tried  and failed for the SAS but have only recently realised that Rebus is an immigrant. His family came from either Hungary or Poland. Now I'm wondering why Rankin chose, back in 1984, to give him that family history. It certainly gives the books an added twist and allows Rankin to explore such a strand in the current climate - if he wishes to do so. I suspect he will ignore it, because he won't want to alienate fans, and whatever he says, it will alienate someone. That seems to be the way of the world now. Free speech is very nearly a forgotten concept in the UK.

I'm currently beginning a re-read of the Black Book, one of the early titles. No 7, I think. I may go right back to Noughts and Crosses and read the whole lot. It isn't the crime itself that intrigues me, but the way Rebus goes about solving it. The way Rankin develops character is one of the best things about the writing and if you are a pop music fan, then you can join Rankin/Rebus and enjoy his choices. This one is full of bad puns on Elvis records, but a menu featuring Blue Suede Choux raised a smile.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Matfen Affair

Some people claim to write without planning their books so when I recently began a new book, tentatively called the Matfen Affair, I had only a loose plan for it but didn't think it would be too difficult to work out as I went along. 

Hah! I have been obliged to change the ages of characters and their parentage several times already and I'm only 40,000 words into the story. The smallest thing can become a problem. An example would be that because I couldn't recall if cousins could marry in 1803, which is when the book is set. I had, in the first line of the book, my heroine address the hero as Cousin Robert. Then I decided I didn't want cousins to marry even if it was legal and the church allowed it.

To be on the safe side I decided the relationship would be within the same family but so far back that they are not first cousins, or even second cousins. That led on to a change of surname and working out a sensible family tree. It also made a great-aunt out of a grandmother. 

I am now regretting not planning more carefully before I started! My only excuse is that I was so keen to start writing the actual story.....

I want to have this published on Kindle before Christmas. Will I make it? I think so. The cover is already done. I went out one sunny afternoon and took a picture of the building I wanted as my "Matfen" but I may fiddle about with the heroine's hairstyle before I upload the cover pic here.  On the whole the story is coming along very well. Even if my ghost has suddenly turned vengeful rather than pathetic. 

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 ...