Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Out and about

We didn't venture far while we were on Skye. We went to Dunvegan village a couple of time to pick up supplies at the general store and passed several soaked walkers on the way. They couldn't have got any wetter! and, as you might expect, they looked thoroughly miserable.

Decided that if we were to walk anywhere I would pick the time very carefully. I always check maps before I set off anywhere and  decided an unfenced track across open land would take me to the sea coast. We set off, all three of us, one in huge excitement and pulling like a train on his lead because of all the new smells. We got half a mile down the road, turned off to the gate and there was the dreaded notice. Dogs on leads or will be shot. Disappointment all round. Tim wasn't on his muzzle head collar, so walking him for three miles on a lead was unthinkable. We turned around, came back home and explored the hillside behind the house. Didn't matter to Tim - he loved it. At least we still had arms attached to sockets and we had splendid views out across the bay.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

A week in the west

Came home early from a week on the Isle of Skye. Caved in the relentless rain and 40-50 mph winds that moaned and howled around the house. We did have snatches of time when it was not raining and hurried out to enjoy our surroundings and take a few pics. Tim had to be walked, of course, regardless of the weather and our day began with me walking him the  400 yards down the curving track to the rubbish bins situated at the junction with the single track road.

The track was unfenced with woods on one side and a hillside on the other, so he galloped around
freely until we neared the road. Once I'd deposited our rubbish we headed back, and then if it wasn't pouring down, we ventured off-piste as it were and scrambled around the open land around the house. Little tracks led every which way through the knee high tussocks and bracken, possibly rabbit or deer tracks - we surprised two deer sheltering in the wood one morning and they scampered away, leapt the fence and set off across the hillside with the lovely level stride the red deer have.
 Then the mist would sweep across from the far headland, thicken and the rain would start again. We learned to anticipate how fast the clouds were coming and usually made it back home before we got drenched.  A great way to start the day. Then a quiet hour or two with the laptop and the wip until the rain disappeared and the sun came out again. Then all three of us would venture out and clamber up the hillside.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Disturbing tv

A lot of what I see on tv disturbs me.
What sort of things am I thinking of?

So many comedians who are not funny.

So called “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 leads the public into thinking what they say is news when it is so often prefaced by the phrase “We understand that….we are told that…we think that…”

The way someone’s views are routinely shouted down, mocked, talked over or cut off in most tv interviews these days. The way interviewers ask questions that politicians can’t answer; politicians who won’t answer even if they can.

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

Dramas, films and soaps where people are horribly tortured, mutilated, beated and raped.

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 into gambling.

The focus on food adverts and cookery programmes when a good percentage of the nation is 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!


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Book Covers

Received my first review for Alba is Mine - 


Vasiliki said on 14th October:

"I didn't know what to expect when I bought this book, and I got a really pleasant surprise. It's packed full of detail with finely drawn, likeable characters and loads of intrigue. The world building/historical detail and description seem to me to be well researched and accurate (I covered a tiny bit of this era during my degree in Archaeology) but the author does not overdo it, keeping a light touch so that the story doesn't get bogged down with it. The writing is very good, and it is well edited so the reader isn't distracted by errors. Overall a very good read, that packs a lot in for the price."

All authors love to get reviews and I'm no exception. This one brightened my day and spurred me on with the writing of my next book. Here's hoping I get many more!

For a little amusement (and because I can't bare to delete them usused!) this is a cover I played around for a while before deciding to ask the very talented Dave Slaney to do a cover for me. His is so obviously better! I used to play arpund with ideas for a cover when I had reached a point in writing or editing when my eyes, or my brain, or both - had begun to glaze over. It was therapeutic but eventually frustrating because I did not have the expertise to get the effect I wanted. I see I even misspelled my own title!



Using different colours and fonts can make or break a cover,  and it is an absorbing process. Some colours fade back, other leap forward. Some fonts are just too - what's the opposite of plain? Beautiful hardly seems the correct word here. Mixing fonts and colours is just a no-no and that shows up well here in my two covers.

 I get the urge to go and take a class in graphic art, but then it all gets too complicated - no where local offers such things but the universities and they are so expensive that the idea just fades away.





No doubt I'll keep tinkering and trying and learning bit by bit. 
I'd really like to know how to fade layers into one another to make a wonderfully sophisticated cover like Dave Slaney.

If I was starting my life over again, I might  have chosen to do graphic art at university.

It's a bit late now! 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Location, location, location


I like researching locations for my stories. Contemporary stories in a foreign location are easily researched with tour guides, travel books and all the resources of the internet, but set the story in the past, and it’s a little bit harder to visualise. Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian locations are not too hard here in England as many of the streets and buildings are still extant, but when I made a 4 day trip to Dublin and found that the street I had set my heroine’s home on was still there I was surprised and delighted that I could walk up and down it. Why was I surprised? Because I had set my story in the eleventh century – almost a thousand years ago. (The fact that the street looked nothing like the scene I had envisaged didn’t spoil things for me. There might be fairly ordinary brick buildings there now, but the shape of the street was the same, I could see how steep it was, whether I could see the river or the sea from there, and it led to the cathedral that was being built at the time.)

Dublin was a famous Viking stronghold and an ancient settlement even when the Vikings arrived, so maps of the place in those days were easy to find online and print out thanks to archaeological studies. I could really get to know the layout of the Viking town from the maps and they showed the development from the earliest settlement to the 1200s, which covered my period of interest. Visiting the place showed me how narrow the river is now compared to how much shallower and wider it had once been before Lord Sitric confined it and reclaimed what had been swampy, tidal land.

Setting Far After Gold in the north west of Scotland was both better, because I had spent many holidays there, and worse because there wasn’t an equivalent large settlement like Dublin. http://www.ullapool.com/ullapool-history is a starting point for the history of the area and the latest large scale maps show where the settlements and brochs, rivers and fords once were and still are. I could describe the landscape because I’d seen it, as long as I made allowances for the changes that have taken place. Forests were much larger around the eleventh century and land was undrained and often swampy. Fords and known tracks were important for travellers and travel by sea was deemed much easier than travel overland. I had experienced the weather of the north west in the summer months and late October, early November; research told me which animals once lived there. We no longer have wolves in Scotland, but wolves and bears were certainly present back then.

Orkney is another of those places where research pays dividends. I’ve never been, but archaeology provides a great deal of information about dwellings, artefacts used, crops grown and where settlements were. Google Earth is fantastic for giving an author a feeling for the size of a place and the geography around it. The satellite imagery will give a very good idea of where you might beach a ship or find a way through the mountains and contour lines of maps will suggest whether you might end up in a bog or fall over a cliff face.

I discovered a fabulous website for maps held at the National Library of Scotland: http://maps.nls.uk/towns/ and used it for the two historical novels set in Edinburgh and Stirling during the mid 1540s. The magnification on most of them allowed me to see individual buildings on the old High Street most clearly.
I used all of these techniques in writing ALBA IS MINE, released 1st October 2017. Here’s the blurb:

In 1034, the fuse has been lit that will change the kingship of Alba. When his place in the succession is rejected, Finlay of Moray rebels against his grandfather the king and sides with half-brother Thorfinn of Orkney.

With his intended bride married off to his cousin, his boyhood friend joining the opposing side and the threat of war looming, there is little happiness for Finlay. Wanting to cement the bond between them, Thorfinn badgers him to marry his beautiful sister, but Finlay, reluctant to abandon hope of his first love, grimly resists the idea.

This absorbing, fast moving tale of power, greed, family rivalries and one man's vision of the future for his troubled kingdom will keep you turning the pages into the wee small hours.



https://tinyurl.com/ycyymrmq (US)
https://tinyurl.com/ybq33rgp (UK)

ALBA IS MINE Kindle Edition $3.11
by JEN BLACK
Jen has always lived in the North East of England and currently resides in the lovely Tyne valley between Hexham and Newcastle. On a clear day she can see across Northumberland to the hills where the border with Scotland runs, and the beautiful unspoilt coastline is barely thirty minutes away by car. She has a degree in English Language & Literature and a great love of history, her dog Tim and takes pics wherever she goes. With several book titles to her credit she is now working on EILIDH AND THE VIKING. See her blog at http://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com find her on Twitter at JenBlackNCL.


I wrote this for the http://www.editingpen.net/researching-locations-jen-black/ It went out this week and I was pleased with the result.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Fashion and cosmetics

 Anyone who knows me knows I am not a follower of fashion. I like to be clean and look neat and tidy, (except when I'm walking Tim, because he doesn't care what I look like - he loves me anyway!) but beyond that, comfort is my watchword. Ridiculous heels are not for me, though I will agree they are a miracle of engineering. But trust my ankles to them? No way!

I cannot actually remember when I last wore a skirt. Dresses, perhaps, when going out for  meal. But skirts? They seem to be a thing of the past, probably because few of us have waists anymore! I grew up wearing nice tweed skirts and crisp white blouses, and still think they look great. Tweed doesn't have to be hairy; it can be the softest, smoothest fabric ever and I love the intermix of so many soft colours. Jagged flashes of black and red or dresses so full of overblown flowers that remind me of wallpaper fashions are not for me.

Leggings, jeggings, joggers, opaque tights - an expert is required to tell the difference between them. They may be comfortable, but sometimes they look downright ugly. Particularly bad are the white or pastel coloured ones. Schoolgirls go to school now in stretchy black skirts that only just cover their knickers, worn with black opaque tights, and again, not all of them should be slaves to such a fashion. In fact, none of them should, since the parade of thighs every day as they go to and leave school is probably a distraction to every driver on the road! There is a sort of metronome precision about the march of the black clad thighs that draws the eye....but who looks at faces when there are so many thighs on view?

Then there is the new craze for having eyebrows that look fine on Middle Eastern ladies but have an odd, unbalanced look on most pale British faces. It may be the latest fashion, but some faces are overpowered by such eyebrows. Plus which, everyone's eyebrows are beginning to look the same. I long for a return to individuality, just as I long for this fashion for scarlet lipstick on blondes to disappear. Ladies with dark hair and skin tones can take it, but again it is a matter of balance and in my opinion - and this is only my opinion and you are free to disagree with me - scarlet lipstick looks like a wound against pale skin and fair hair.

Forget fashion - pursue your individuality and prosper! Those people in the fasion/cosmetic industry are making millions out of you.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

One of those days

This has been one of those days when lots of little things either don’t happen or don’t get fixed. Nothing major, nothing life changing but mildly annoying all the same. For example, my trip to the chemist to pick up my repeat prescription was foiled because it hasn’t been made up yet, which reminded me that I have not yet contacted the surgery to have an annual blood test done, the results of which will dictate the medication I take for the rest of the year. (This may be the reason the prescription was not ready for me!)

So I came home and tackled the online system for the surgery only to find that I can make an appointment with a doctor online, but not the nurse practitioners who do the blood tests. Picked up the phone to make said appointment only to be told that the surgery is closed until tomorrow morning. Surprising, since it was only four in the afternoon. They have half days? Who knew?

Our local supermarket did not have a copy of Writing Magazine which I wanted to purchase because a friend has a piece in the November issue. I don't know if they don't stock it, or if they simply have not received it yet. A second product I wanted was not available – found a rather large space on the shelf where it is usually kept.

I have tried yet again to change the description of my new novel release on Amazon Kindle. Yes, I know there’s a typo – that is what I’m trying to change, but it seems the gods are not with me today. Now Amazon is asking me to fill in their dreaded tax form and it seems I cannot find the right method of listing - international style – my phone number. They keep printing it in red. The final insult - the printer refuses to print out a copy of the instructions for filling in said tax form.


At this point I am making a major decision. I am going to bed to read my Gabaldon.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Alba is Mine

Publication Day yesterday!

Sad to say I may have caused a temporary problem for anyone trying to buy the book - I made a typo in the original book description on the KDP pages and have tried to alter it more than once while it was on pre-order. Yesterday I tried again, and once I'd done it, I realised that I'd effectively put the system out of action until they'd re-processed it.
Here's what I want the description to say: -




BLURB



In 1034, the fuse has been lit that will change the kingship of Alba. When his place in the succession is rejected, Finlay of Moray rebels against his grandfather the king and sides with half-brother Thorfinn of Orkney.

With his intended bride married off to his cousin, his boyhood friend joining the opposing side and the threat of war looming, there is little happiness for Finlay. Wanting to cement the bond between them, Thorfinn badgers him to marry his beautiful sister, but Finlay, reluctant to abandon hope of his first love, grimly resists the idea.

This absorbing, fast moving tale of power, greed, family rivalries and one man's vision of the future for his troubled kingdom will keep you turning the pages into the wee small hours.

Here are the links:

https://tinyurl.com/ycyymrmq (US)

https://tinyurl.com/ybq33rgp (UK)

This is my tag line:
Scottish-Viking struggles for a crown amidst treachery and love.