Thursday, 28 February 2019

Gloomy days for Indie publishing

Gloomy days for indies

Facebook is abuzz about posts from Nora Roberts and others who have revealed the plagiarised, ghosted, pirated scams going on in the world of publishing. The scams have now moved into audio where Audible pays on hours listened just as Amazon pays on pages read; scammers run "loop systems" where the book just plays for hours and hours and... consequently the pay-pool for genuine audio is reducing.

In retaliation, readers are saying that therefore any book offered for free or 99 cents is ghost-written and isn't worth tuppence. Yet many indie writers have, in the past, been advised to offer a 0.99p series leader as an enticement to bring readers into the entire series. The pundits said it was a solid marketing technique; they also advised offering the book for free for a while to encourage reviews and possibly ensure an Amazon ranking. 

Now readers are saying they will never look at 99 cents and free books again. This is a sad blow for the genuine indie writer and publisher, who works very hard to write every word of their offerings.

Saturday, 23 February 2019


Those who live in the north of England know only too well who the Border Reivers were! They inhabited  the counties that glare at each other across the English-Scottish Border: Northumberland, Cumbria and Durham; Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Dumfriesshire.

The Pennines form the backbone of the Durham Dales and proved a barrier, though the Eden Valley provided an easy route to rich pickings. Every northerner knows the story of the monks at Blanchland in County Durham who cowered in their church as the Scots raiders passed by on their way home to Scotland. Relieved, they rang the bells in thanks. The Scots heard the bells, turned back and raided the little village hidden in its deep valley.

George MacDonald Fraser described the reivers in his book The Steel Bonnets: “not the most immediately lovable folk in the United Kingdom. Incomers may find them difficult to know; there is a tendency among them to be suspicious and taciturn, and the harsh Border voice, whether the accent is Scots or English, lends itself readily to derision and complaint. No doubt there are Cumbrians who are gay, frivolous folk, and Roxburghshire probably has its quota of fawning, polished sophisticates; they are in a minority, that is all.”

Qualities such as those he described were forged in harsh times which passed by most of Britain. From the late thirteenth century to the middle of the sixteenth, the Borders were frequently a war zone. During those times armies marched in both directions across the Border lands, burning, stealing and despoiling as they went, for armies must eat, and the people of the Borders bore the brunt of it.
When the army seized a man’s crops and livestock, there was nothing he could do to support himself and his family but relieve his neighbours of the goods he needed. If the neighbour was in the same situation, then they joined forces and foraged further afield. Nationality was not a consideration in such desperate times; Scot raided Scot as readily as they robbed the English, and the English were not averse to raiding an English farm if needs must. Scots helped the English raid north of the Border and Englishmen aided Scots raids south of the Border. Families such as the Grahams had members straddling both sides of the line and no one ever knew for certain which side they would support on any given day.
In times of peace, the raiding went on. Habits once formed, died hard. Feuds developed, some across the Border divide and some within it. The Maxwells feuded with the Johnstones in one of the bitterest and bloody battles known in Scotland, yet now no one knows how or why it began; possibly a power struggle for supremacy between two powerful tribes that turned the Debateable Land into a wasteland according to Lord Dacre in 1528. Twenty years later Lord Wharton was busily fanning the flames to secure England’s interests and both clan leaders found themselves in and out of English prisons on an almost regular basis.

National policy tried to stop the lawlessness. The Borders were divided into six administrative areas known as the Marches and England and Scotland each appointed three March Wardens whose task was to defend against invasion in time of war and put down crime and maintain law and order in peace time. Some were good men and others were the worst raiders of the frontier. A Warden often used one reiving family to help them catch another. Tracking thieves on horseback in the dark across trackless and boggy wastes was not an easy task and no Borderer was about to betray another Borderer unless it brought him profit or it played into his feud.

Sex took no notice of national policy and intermarriages across the Border were common. Cattle rustling and protection rackets abounded. The words blackmail and kidnapping came into the English language via the Borderers. Overpopulation of the more fertile dales and greedy landlords contributed to the problems. The Tynedale custom of dividing a deceased man’s land among all his sons resulted in a situation “whereby beggars increase and service decays.”

Homes all over the Border were makeshift things in many cases. Often burned down, they were rebuilt astonishingly quickly out of clay and stones, sometimes turf sods with roofs of thatch. Larger villages had more substantial dwellings of stone and oak timbers. The Bastle was smaller, ( built on the same lines as a peel tower, which was more secure still; built of stone with massively thick walls. There was only one entrance at ground level, with two doors, one a yett – an iron grating - and the other of oak reinforced with iron. A narrow curving stair known as a turnpike led to upper floors. Usually they curved clockwise so a defender retreating to an upper storey had his unguarded left side to the wall; the man attacking up the stair was at a disadvantage with his sword arm to the wall. The Kerrs, notoriously left-handed, built their turnpikes anti-clockwise. or

The standard of living was generally higher in towns such as Berwick or Carlisle, but the daily food ration of a soldier in the Berwick garrison in 1597 would not satisfy us today; he received a daily ration of a 12 oz loaf, 3 pints of beer, 1½ lbs of beef, ¾lb of cheese and ¼lb of butter. If that was what the English army lived on, consider the diet of peasant farmers whose crops have been trampled into the mud by an army passing through.

The people of the Border have not changed much in four hundred years; the Descendants of the Elliots, Armstrongs and Fenwicks, Bells and Nixons, Scotts, Maxwells and Kerrs are still living roughly where they were in the sixteenth century. It is not exaggerating to say that they form a distinct cultural and social bloc that is different from the rest of the British people.

There are poems, songs and tales told about the famous names that have come down through the years. The names alone give a flavour of the times: Kinmont Willie, Black Ormiston, Hobbie Noble, Fingerless Will, Nebless Clem, Willie Kang, Bangtail, Fire the Braes.

Friday, 15 February 2019

A few days ago I was lucky enough to be featured as a guest on Mary Anne Yarde's blog - 
and the result was so good I decided to copy and paste the whole thing here. The website is a vast one, with loads of book chatter and information. Do check it out!


Historical Fiction author, Jen Black, is talking about the inspiration behind her fabulous series — The Scottish Queen #MaryQueenofScots #HistoricalFiction @JenBlackNCL

Historical Fiction author, Jen Black, is talking about the inspiration behind her fabulous series — The Scottish Queen

Mary, Queen of Scots: "Mary in captivity,"by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1578

I always wanted to write and the stories that interested me always seem to be set in the past. Even at age eleven I was an avid Mary Queen of Scots fan and later I supported – and still do - Richard III.
I didn’t have the confidence to attempt writing until I was thirty and even then, I kept it very much a secret enterprise. It was hard work with a typewriter and Snopak!
My favourite author will always be Dorothy Dunnett, and it was reading her rather austere conception of Marie de Guise that set me researching and thinking about the character. Dunnett’s conception was a very good one, but I began to think of a softer, warmer personality and she slowly grew in my mind. Matho was a minor character in Fair Border Bride and several people told me how much they liked him and why didn’t I write about him?
So, I did. I brought the two characters together in this trilogy. The everyday facts are as close to history as I can get them for everything but the relationship between the Dowager and Matho, because Matho is entirely fictional. I hope Marie had an Englishman who helped her but I doubt it!

The SCOTTISH QUEEN trilogy is filled with action, romance, loyalty and betrayal; set against the turbulent English-Scottish wars of the 1540s, complex characters surround the infant queen of Scotland. Powerful lords fight for their own survival and Englishman Matho Spirston becomes entangled in the plots that surround the valiant Dowager Queen struggling alone to save her daughter’s crown.

Abduction of the Scots Queen
(Scottish Queen trilogy Book 1)

Encouraged by Henry VIII’s promised reward, Matho and Harry set out to abduct the infant Scots Queen and bring her to England even though Matho thinks they have as much chance of success as a "duckling chased by a fox.” Others pursue the same quest – namely Meg Douglas, King Henry's headstrong niece, who flatters Matho into helping her and at the same time snares the interest of Lord Lennox, who alternately woos her and the Dowager Queen. The adventures that follow are swift paced and full of twists and turns.

Amazon UKAmazon US

Queen's Courier
(The Scottish Queen Trilogy Book 2)

Against a background of political intrigue and Tudor violence, love is not easy to find or sustain. The Queen Dowager repudiates it, Lord Lennox balances Meg’s attributes against those of the Dowager and the lures of Henry Tudor. Matho Spirston falls for Scots lass Phoebe, the English invasion of Edinburgh brings disaster, Meg nurses her guilty secret and Lennox makes his choice.

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The Queen's Letters
(The Scottish Queen Trilogy Book 3)

Grief-stricken, Matho puts his life in danger when he volunteers to deliver the Dowager Queen's letters to France. Dodging assassins, befriending teenager Jehan and saddled with the Dowager’s illegitimate, outspoken niece, danger intensifies when he sets out to unmask a powerful enemy and the hangman threatens once more. Meg achieves her dearest wish, but finds it is not all as she imagined.
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From The Queen’s Letters

May 25th 1544, Dieppe
Matho landed feet first, fell onto his backside with a thud that snapped his jaws together and slid toward another drop. A voice called out nearby as he fell over the edge of the roof, dropped into something wet and smelly, and re-bounded onto the hard, cold cobblestoned yard. Pain sprang up in his shoulder as if someone had hit it with a sledgehammer. Snatching a short, swift breath he knew from the stink that he had landed on what the Aydon farmers would have called the muck heap.
The voice came closer; French phrases that meant nothing to him. Making careful movements with one hand jammed against his shoulder, he rolled to his knees. The satchel containing the Dowager’s letters hung askew, and the strap dug into his neck.
“Monsieur! Monsieur!” A brisk volley of rapid French followed. The stable lad, his torch held high, loomed up beside him.
“Help me up,” Matho croaked. His newly learned French had deserted him.
A warm hand helped him to his feet. Matho, bent like an old man and none too steady on his feet, stood in the inn yard and gazed open-mouthed at the thirty-foot drop he had survived; then the rosy glow that lit the sky above the building caught his attention. Sparks flew up against the indigo sky and the hollow roar of the flames grew louder as a portion of the roof gave way.
He half-turned, lost his balance and grabbed the lad’s arm to stop himself falling. “D’ye speak English?”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“My French is not good.” He took a deep breath to steady his heart, still going at a gallop.
“Many English arrive in Dieppe. They speak no French.” The youth’s tone was either an accusation, or dismissive; most probably both.
Matho rubbed a hand across his face. “Aye, well. There’s no call for it back home. What’s yer name?”
“Jehan Bourdain.”
“Help me get my horse, Jehan? The whole lot is going to be burning soon.” He gestured to the smoke and flames stretching high above the roof of the inn and decided against helping douse the fire. The layout of the place was unknown to him, his French had deserted him and his back pained him every time he moved a certain way. In his present condition, he would hinder more than help.
Still gripping the flaming torch, Jehan disappeared into the stable.
“Is there not a lantern you can use, lad?” Matho called, stumbling after him. “You’ll set the stable afire with that thing.” He spied a horn lantern on the window ledge, reached for it and grimaced as a pain, like a hot wire, ran through his back.
Since Jehan was busy saddling his horse, Matho lit the fat candle inside the lantern and doused the torch in a bucket of water.
“Are there other horses here?” he called, breathing in the warm, musty smell of horses, hay and oats.
Muffled by wooden partitioning, Jehan’s voice drifted back to him. “One horse only. The Scotsman took the other before the fire broke out.”
“Well, my advice would be to get yourself and the other horse well away from here before it burns down.”
“I cannot leave. I have nowhere to go.”
“Go home.”
“This is home.” Jehan led Matho’s horse, saddled and bridled, out into the yard.
“The inn belongs to your parents?”
“My parents are dead. I work here, and sleep with the horses.”
Matho grunted. There was no need to ask how the parents had died. The sweating sickness had taken half a village not far from Corbridge last winter, and Phemie’s aunt in Edinburgh much more recently. Such things were commonplace, but unlucky for the lad. “Well, get as far away from the fire as you can.”
Sparks whirled dangerously close on eddies of hot wind, and the roar of the flames grew louder. Harried figures hurled bucket after bucket of water into the building, yet the fire glow captured one window after another. A man staggered out, coughing, and sagged to his knees in the middle of the yard. Four men followed him, a bundled shape carried between them.
“Hurry, lad. Let’s be away from here. And get the other horse. We can’t leave it to burn.”
He checked his pack was tied behind the saddle, soothed his horse and limped across the yard with the tense, trembling animal nudging his back in its hurry to be away from danger. Jehan followed with a sturdy chestnut on a lead rope which he thrust toward Matho.
“I get the saddle.”
Before Matho could complain, the lad raced back into the stable and reappeared with a saddle clutched in his arms, a bridle and a large bag slung over one shoulder. Grinning, he speedily tacked up the horse. “Now we go, yes?”
A roar rent the air, and fierce light lit their faces. The horses snorted and skittered sideways.

“Christ, the roof’s fallen in.” Matho stared at the doomed inn, hardly aware that Jehan had mounted his horse. “And the straw’s alight,” he said with resignation, watching a spark land in the straw bale by the stable door. A shy, tentative flame sprang into life. “Come on, let’s get away from here.”

Jen Black

Jen lives in the lovely Tyne valley between Hexham and Newcastle in north east England, a stone’s throw from the Roman Wall and with a castle that dates from the 1100’s round the corner. Writing and photography are her main interests and walking her Dalmatian Tim twice a day keeps her fit. She has a degree in English Language & Literature and managed academic libraries for a living. Her father’s family have been traced back to the 1700’s on the Welsh and English border—a place she has never been, but her maternal grandfather worked in Skye, and there is one Scottish great-grandmother in the family tree, so if ever there’s time, perhaps there’s more to learn on that score.

Connect with Jen: WebsiteFacebookTwitter.

Posted by Mary Anne Yarde at 07:00
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Labels: #MaryQueenofScots #HistoricalFiction #Inspiration #Historical #Scotland


Jen Black12 February 2019 at 11:42

Great to finally see it up, MaryAnne!


Penny Hampson12 February 2019 at 17:18

Your books sound exciting, Jen, set as they are in such turbulent times. Will be going on my TBR list.Reply

Mark Noce13 February 2019 at 00:34

An intriguing historical figure for sure, but she scares me a little too ;)Reply

Jen Black13 February 2019 at 15:28

Let me know how you get on with them, Penny.....Scares you why, Mark?


Mary Anne Yarde13 February 2019 at 17:29

Great except, Jen and a lovely post!Reply

See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx

Friday, 8 February 2019

Change is Everywhere

In spite of the Brexit challenge, we have gone ahead and booked the Shuttle and the hotel in Abbeville to get to the mill in June. Tim has had his rabies booster and will have his blood test to ensure it has "taken" in a months time. 

There comes a time when  the only thing to do is throw the hands in the air and say "Sod it!" let's do it anyway. Who knows what will come from this political mess? We don't know what the vet in Vergt will be saying about returning Tim to England, but we will have to sort that out when we get there. From his point of view - the vet, not Tim - I cannot see much changing, except that no doubt his fee will have gone up.

 The pic is from 2005 and the mill has changed considerably since then. The large pine tree was taken down  because it was perilously large and close to the house and the west winds at storm force would have laid it right across the roof. Other trees have gone in various storms and of course, new saplings are shooting up everywhere. There is a swimming pool now instead of all the grass! Everywhere, there is change. Politics change, people change, nature changes. We can't stop it. Sometimes we can't even start it. 

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The wonderful delete button!

I still read the occasional writing blog because learning is good and I need to refresh what I know until it is totally but totally fixed in my head. This morning I found Ruth Harris's piece on deleting....] and it is well worth reading. Amusing as well as informative.

· Skillful use of the delete button will help you show instead of tell. 

· Will add to the page-turning quality of your book. 

· Will help create books readers stay up late to finish. 

She quotes Stephen King’s 10% Rule. 
From Stephen King’s On Writing:

“In the spring of my senior year at Lisbon High—1966, this would have been—I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”

“I wish I could remember who wrote that note—Algis Budrys, perhaps. Whoever it was did me a hell of a favor. I copied the formula out on a piece of shirt-cardboard and taped it to the wall beside my typewriter. Good things started to happen for me shortly thereafter.”

I think I'm going to do the same. How about you?

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 ...