Thursday, 30 November 2017

Taking Note

I'm a notetaker when I listen to talks, especially when the subject is writing. The trouble is I rarely go back and read the notes I've taken. Take the batch I found yesterday, torn out of a notebook and stuffed inside another, smaller notebook;  notes, unloved,  from a meeting I attended in 2014 and have totally forgotten.

The heading is "Marketing = Product - Price - Promotion - Place."
Half-hearted notes below this state that I must know to whom I am selling my product; well the answer to that is easy - anyone who reads, and will buy. Do I have an average client in my head? Of course not. I haven't a clue what kind of people read historical romances. 

Price, the notes say, reflect the quality of the  product in people's minds. Price them cheaply and people won't think they're worth buying. I didn't take note of the obvious corollary - that expensive books  must be "good quality" because I don't think that is necessarily true. I love reading and buying books, but I won't pay above a certain price for them - usually. I did pay £18 for a Dunnett hardback some years ago, but that was most definitely a "one-off." My notes say 77p/99$ is the lowest price on Amazon

Which leads to Place - where to sell?  I know the answer to this one - and in my own confused way, I have been tracking down web sites where readers are searching for romantic historical fiction. So far I've limited my efforts to Twitter and Facebook. No paid ads and no use of Instagram or anyof the other, younger sites. At least I know I shouldn't promote my books where the taste is for thrillers or crime. 

My notes say Promotion depends on whether you are selling ebook or print, but I see many authors promoting both on the same sites. I don't know if it works for them or not. It takes me all my time to promote e-books and let the reader discover there is a print copy - I did one for Queen's Courier and Abduction - when they go to the Amazon site. I hope that comes as a nice surprise.

But then, I'm probably not doing any of this as I should be doing it.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Church Services and odd facts

Whenever I  think of church services it is usually when I'm writing, and usually  in a time period not my own. In a word, the services are not familiar to me as they would be for my characters. Until clocks were invented for the masses, folk told the time by listening to the ringing of church bells for services that went on throughout the day and night. They would recognise the position of the sun in the sky and how close to sunset and sunrise the day might be much better than we do today. I suspect our ancestors had a very good sense of time, far better than ours now we rely in clocks so much. 

 Prime, sometimes called Lauds, is the first service of the day after sunrise, the first hour, around 6am. This is followed at regular intervals by Terce, the third hour, Sext, the sixth hour, None, the ninth hour,Vespers and Compline, Compline being at 7pm in the winter and 8pm in the summer. No doubt monks went to bed after Compline because they had to rise and attend Matins, sometimes called Vigils,  two hours after midnight.  Once that was over they might manage another three hours sleep before rising for Prime.

The population of the UK was very low back then. In 1066  the history folk say England had between 2-3 million people, Ireland  under a million, Scotland and Wales  little more than half a million. The plague years knocked those numbers back quite considerably during the 1300s and into the 1400s and it was some time before the population made up those numbers and then began to grow.









Thursday, 16 November 2017

A tribute to Dorothy Dunnett

Dorothy Dunnett OBE was a Scottish historical novelist best known for her six-part series about Francis Crawford of Lymond. Born in Dunfermline in 1923 she began writing when she could find nothing suitable to read and the first in the series of six was published in 1962 though I believe it was published earlier in America because it failed to find a publisher in the UK.
I found Game of Kings on the library shelves while hunting for books for my mother. She gave it back to me saying “You should read this. You’ll like it.” Like it? I loved it! At 18, who could resist the dashing Scots mercenary, Francis Crawford of Lymond, who travelled to the French and English courts, and later became caught up in intrigues across 16th-century Europe? Not only that, but the other characters were glorious too, and they said things that stuck in my mind for years. The language was a delight, in places perhaps a little overdone for today’s tastes, but the dialogue was brilliant. I still re-read chunks now and then for the sheer pleasure of her style.
I raced through the series and came to a dead halt at the end of book number four in the series, Pawn in Frankincense, in 1969. I discovered she lived in Edinburgh, wrote to her and still have her reply in which she assured me there would be two more volumes to complete the series.
I worked in a library at the time and we gave the books to everyone we though would enjoy them. Eventually one of our ladies invited Dorothy to speak at Wilton Castle and it was there she told us of an American lady who had written 72 letters to her whilst reading the books. I volunteered to take the strain, Dorothy put the American lady and I in touch and we wrote to each other about the puzzles of the books for the next decade or so.
One reviewer at the time called Francis Crawford a sixteenth century James Bond, but the stories were far more complex than any Bond story. Puzzles were linked throughout the books and only answered in the last volume, and even then there were loose ends. By the end of Game of Kings, Lymond had certainly proved his innocence against the charge of treason, but the reader was left with the far greater puzzle of his parenthood. By the end of Checkmate we thought we had all the answers, but then doubts began to creep in.
Another series began – this time a prequel called The House of Niccolò. The first volume was published in 1986 and the hero was vastly different to the suave, elegant Francis Crawford. A dye maker’s apprentice, Niccolo lived in Bruges a whole century earlier. I think I still have the first galley copy without a cover or a spine that someone managed to obtain from the publisher, so desperate were we to read more Dunnett.

More puzzles and we had to wait yet more years for the answers. I don’t mean crossword puzzles, but puzzles of ancestry, of loyalty, of skulduggery. All this time Dorothy was writing a new Dolly book every spring – Dolly being a gaff rigged ketch and the home of artist Johnson Johnson who sailed the world investigating crimes. Then later still came King Hereafter, the book that some think her best work. Dorothy convinced me Thorfinn and MacBeth were the same person and though it was the hardest of all to read and understand, it pays re-reading and gives a huge insight into the minds of those who lived so long ago.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Life in 1000 AD

I've been reading up about life in 1000 AD because I'm writing about it as well as watching archaeological digs. One of the interesting facts to come out of archaeology is the skeletons of the time are always larger than expected and they have wonderful teeth; ground down with use on coarse foods, perhaps, but otherwise healthy. 

Life was shorter then. The life span was forty, and those who reached fifty exceptional. For men the cause of death was often violent - war, and if not instant death then death from battle wounds. 
Not that everyday activities in the home were always safe; a harmless cut from a slipped  gutting knife could end in death because blood poisoning could set in and there was nothing to combat it back then. 

Everyone worked hard, famine was not unknown and sometimes a family had to sell a child. 
Too much rain could rot the crop in the fields, and frost at the wrong time could spell disaster. If a family's feudal lord could not provide, then starvation was all too likely. Hedgrows would be scoured for herbs, roots, grasses, nettles - anything that could be eaten. 

A twelve year old boy could swear an oath of allegiance to the king and a girl of the same age could marry a much older man than herself. Consummation was usually delayed until the girl was in her teens, but not always. Since the contract of marriage was all about land, estates, property among the richer folk, what would it have been about for the poorer families? 

Girls would have been married off as soon as someone willing to take them on could be found, because it would mean one less mouth to feed for her family. Or she could go and work as a maid in a larger household and hope she was well fed.
Men who sought wives presumably had the means to feed them, which meant they would be older than the girls. Young men would have to work until they had somewhere to live and 
 something to offer a wife. This went on right up into living memory. It is not unusual to find our parents and grandparents  listed in the census reports as "servant" in a family with a different name to them right up to the thirties and forties.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

How things change

Around the year 1000 things were very different. Archaeologists who sift through latrine pits and peer down microscopes tell us that the toilet paper of that time was  moss. They report that human stools were looser then, probably due to the higher vegetable content - and the fact that gut infections were most likely rampant. Dog poo, on the other hand, hasn't changed much in a thousand years.

Latrines were sited close to the houses with total disregard for the attendant flies and odours, often only metres from where food was prepared. Parasites were common, probably due to the fact that five baths a year was considered excessive by the Anglo-Saxon population. Danish invaders were thought extreme when they bathed and combed their hair every Saturday night.

Even the Danes had no idea of germs, bacteria and infections but everyone knew that diseases spread from one person to another, hence the horror of leprosy. Bread, that staple of the diet, was often a week old when eaten and required to be softened by dipping it in the grain and vegetable broth that was the staple of the Englishman's diet. Everything was eaten, down to the spines of fish and apple pips and cherry stones. No food wastage in the 10th century, though given that the methods of storage available - things could be dried, smoked, pickled - many foods must have been well past their best, possibly spoilt or contaminated. Which brings us back to the contents of the latrine pit....

Friday, 3 November 2017

Titles

Do other authors look at the titles they have written and wonder why one book is more popular than another? Ask themselves why their books are read in the US so much more than in the UK?  I remember saying a while ago that Fair Border Bride was my most consistent seller but that has been overtaken by The Gybford Affair. Why? I have no idea.  Sometimes I think about replicating it!