Thursday, 31 December 2020

Tim's 8th birthday

 Today is Tim's 8th birthday! He's having  lie-in

 as celebration!

We did a long walk yesterday - well, long for us - 

and may well do a similar one today if the sunshine holds. We don't mind the cold as long as it is bright and cheerful. 

Nearing the end of the re-write of Abduction. It will be so much better than the original. I'm thinking of a new cover and title, too.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020


 What's Jolabokaflod?

 It's the Icelandic tradition of giving books as gifts on Christmas Eve. In English, we might call it the "Christmas Book Flood."

The members of the Historical Writers' Forum are celebrating the festival this year by offering gifts of books. Make sure you're following our Facebook page to keep up to date with all the offers and giveaways - or click here to see a complete day-by-day list.

Today it's my turn. Silver Season was published at the end of November, so it will be new to almost all of you. It is no secret that I watched Downton more than once and felt so in tune with their world that I began to imagine other storylines set in that time. 1911 was the year of a heatwave in the UK, the coronation of George V and the investiture of the Prince of Wales – yes, the one who went on to abdicate in favour of life with Mrs Simpson. The Titanic was launched, there were strikes up and down the country and the 1911 Census revealed that one in every 7 employed persons was a domestic servant. A different world from our own, and yet strangely familiar.

The e-book will be yours if you visit my Facebook page and tell me - JenBlackauthor - the name of Ellen’s grandmother-in-law!

I hope you squeeze my first chapter into your Christmas reading!


Ellen blamed the heatwave. Somehow the endless high temperatures made outrageous behaviour acceptable when a cool English summer would have labelled it unthinkable. She had no idea what lay ahead of her the night she escaped the cheerful party crowd for a few moments alone in the darkened garden room attached to Bowood. Sagging against the cold iron pillar, fighting a rare wave of homesickness for Boston, Ellen stared through the tall conservatory windows. The moon hovered above the tall trees that flung shade half-way across the lawns. Against all that darkness, the reflection of her diamonds sparkled softly in the pale moonlight.

The woodsy, exotic scent of the tropical plants filled her nostrils. Muted now, she heard the sounds of the dance band and the happy chatter of her guests in the great hall. Nearby a water droplet fell from leaf to leaf and a small fountain in the corner provided a constant arpeggio. Bowood was so beautiful she almost wanted to weep.

Footsteps hurried closer. Through gaps in the greenery she glimpsed Charles, empty-handed, weaving his way toward her. She sighed. He had either forgotten her request, or some important guest had distracted him. Another glass of champagne would have lifted her spirits.

“Darling!” He seized her waist in both hands and before she could speak, kissed her with huge affection. A moment later he dragged the slender straps of her pale blue gown from her shoulders.

“No! Charles!”

He ignored her protestation. “Oh, Ellen, kiss me!”

Alarmed, she got her elbows between them and pushed with all her might until he took a small step back. “You know I hate this!”

“But I love you, my darling, and we both know what needs to be done before October.” He dragged her hips close against him.

“Then we must go upstairs.” She stepped back. “That’s what bedrooms are for.”

“Needs must,” he murmured, pulling her close once more. “Darling! Be bold tonight! You know how this excites me.”

“But it alarms me,” she muttered, furiously pushing him away. “Someone could appear at any moment. Charles!” Really, it was ludicrous to be fighting off one’s husband in one’s own conservatory while the dance band played on in the grand hall fifty yards away. At the sound of tearing cloth, she wrenched her mouth free of his and shoved him away as hard as she could. A stylish Worth gown might be well made but it would not stand up to such brutal handling. In threatening tones reminiscent of her ancient governess, she uttered one word: “Charles!”

To her frustration, it did not stop him. He simply turned his attention to her breasts, revealed momentarily in all their moonlit beauty as the gown slipped lower. Oh, how was she to stop him now? There was no handy plant pot within reach – not one she could lift – and already he scrabbled at her skirts.

“It’s all right, old thing. We are married!”

“It is not all right,” she declared as he propelled her back against the pillar. “Stop! Please – Charles! This is no way to beget an heir.”

The 5th Marquess of Durrington, now an old man in his eighties, was the reason for such dreadful behaviour. He had told Charles that if no heir had arrived by the first day of October, then he would give all his considerable property and assets to the nearest Dr. Barnardo’s home. He was eccentric, of course; but the idea that he might actually do as he threatened frightened Charles, to whom the idea of losing Bowood and living in penury was unthinkable. As his anxiety increased, his libido decreased, and he found it difficult to do his duty by her. As a result, their lovemaking was either feast or famine, depending on his mood. Recently, an exotic location seemed to inspire his endeavours.

She did not dislike making love; rather the opposite if she told the truth; but in three years of marriage there had been no sign of a child and she had begun to wonder which of them was to blame.

“Charles? Are you there?” The mature female voice boomed around the conservatory.

Ellen and Charles froze.

“I told you!” Ellen muttered. “I told you someone would come!”

“It’s Granny. What can she want?”

“Ignore her,” Ellen muttered against his ear. “Pretend we are not here.”

“Charles? Must I come and find you?”

“That was much closer,” Ellen whispered. “What shall we do?”

“It is no good.” Charles, peering through gaps in the rampant greenery, groaned. “She’s coming over.” He drew back and fumbled with his trousers.

“Go and meet her. Keep her away from me!”

Charles veered to one side to avoid a large shrub, ducked beneath a hanging branch, and headed for the conservatory door. “Good evening, Granny. Is anything wrong?”

“Why Charles, what have you been doing? You look quite flushed.”

Parting leaves to make a tiny spy hole in the greenery, Ellen stifled a giggle. Charles must have heard her, for he cleared his throat, his fingers straying to his white tie as he said quickly, “It’s all the dancing I’ve been doing. Makes a chap rather warm, don’t you think? Came out here for a breath of cooler air. What can I do for you?”

The Marchioness was an imposing figure at any time. With her silver-gilt gown glistening against the greenery, a fragile tiara balanced atop her grey curls, and numerous rows of pearls wrapping her throat, she surveyed her grandson. “Never do anything to excess, Charles. It is bad for you.”

“How can I help, Granny?”

“Where is dear Ellen?” Lettice Byland glanced round the vast conservatory as if expecting to find her granddaughter-in-law lounging against a palm tree. “I came to tell you that your grandfather wants to see you at once.”

Ellen bit her lip. Charles would guess what the summons meant. The Marquess would have had a glass of wine or two and demand to know if Charles had yet got his wife with child and if not, why not.

There was a long pause and then Charles said, “I do not wish to speak to him.”

Ellen’s eyes opened wide. Had Charles meant to say such a surprising thing? Usually placid and forbearing, she had only once heard him shout and that had been over a badly treated horse. Granny seemed surprised too, for she considered him carefully before saying, “Why, my dear boy, you simply cannot refuse.”

“I can, and I shall,” Charles insisted. “I refuse to be harangued yet again over the prospect of my raising a family on his command. It is too much an invasion of our privacy. I will not have it.”

With a sharp inclination of his head, he turned away and stormed across the open space between the huge terracotta tubs and planters.

Ellen slipped behind one of them and inhaled deeply. She had no wish to be discovered and interrogated by the Marchioness. Hiding was her best option. Her shoulder strap, never properly in place after rough handling from Charles, slid from her shoulder and without looking, she hitched it back into place.

“Ellen? Are you in here?”

Eyes shut, praying she would not be found, Ellen wedged herself more firmly behind the largest plant pot she could see and then, wondering if her reflection would give her away, glanced at the windows. A grinning figure stared at her from the other side of the glass. Ellen froze, rigid with shock, and forgot to breathe.

The glass conservatory door closed with a disagreeable crash that sounded loud in the silence. Granny was not pleased, then. Glancing over her shoulder Ellen glimpsed the old lady’s silvery form disappearing into the house. Sucking in a deep breath, she swung back to the window. Who was this person who leered at her?

What was he doing there? How long – oh, my God, had he been there when Charles kissed her?

The gigantic pots prevented her escape. She would have to stay where she was or walk toward the window before she could leave. Why was he smiling? He gestured that she should look down, and without thinking, she did so and then wished the floor would gape and swallow her.

Automatically she flicked the strap up onto her shoulder to hide the pale roundness of her breast. Heat flooded her cheeks. She turned her back on him in the hope he would go away but feared he would not; if he were a gentleman, finer feelings would have prevented him making his presence known. He would have retreated without disturbing her. Closing her eyes tight, she prayed that he would go now and let her escape to her bedchamber.

He must be a workman of some kind. A gardener, perhaps. Certainly, a fellow who lacked the finer instincts.

When she plucked up courage to check, there was only darkness beyond the glass. He had gone. Air rushed from her lungs and her shoulders sagged. Thank the Lord for small mercies. Darting out of her hiding place, she hitched up her gown and ran for the door. Oh, the embarrassment! No wonder the wretch had been smiling; he must have seen Charles and herself struggling. To an outsider it must have seemed the height of amusement.

Without a thought for her husband she dashed up the wide staircase. The chatter and laughter of her guests faded behind her and a few moments later she sank back against the bedchamber door to shut out the world. What a night! With a heartfelt sigh she gazed at the crimson velvet curtains, the nightlight thoughtfully left burning for her. An almost sheer nightgown had been draped over a chair close to the fire.

A strong, saturnine male face slid into her thoughts; oh Lord! If he was employed by Charles she ran the risk, no; the embarrassment of seeing him around the estate. It would be unbearable. Mortifying, to be constantly reminded of her folly. No. Rather her husband’s folly. If only Charles was not driven to fulfil his grandfather’s demands, the incident would never have happened.

She loved her handsome husband and had no regrets about marrying him. None at all. Well, perhaps a little when he kept going on and on about the need for a child, as if she could do anything about it.

He grew more desperate every day.

Her childless state drove her grandfather-in-law to thump the bed covers and utter the horrid words. “There must be a child!”

He was not alone. Her own mother back in Boston asked the same question in every letter and of her three sisters, only dear Olivia, the youngest, had not asked why she was waiting so long. Charles had confessed he felt obliged to apologise every time one of his relatives asked if the patter of tiny feet might soon be heard in Bowood.

She pushed away from the door, walked to her dressing table, and stooped to peer into the mirror. She must go downstairs again. One could hardly disappear from one’s own party. Her face was somewhat flushed, but that could be attributed to drinking pink champagne in rather greater quantities than usual. Checking that her gown had suffered no damage and that the straps were firmly in place, she turned to the door. The tearing sound must mean a torn flounce on her underwear, but her maid would take care of that tomorrow. Taking a deep breath, she marched out into the corridor with her spine as stiff as that of a guardsman. Time to face the enemy. She would not let these English aristos get her down.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Looking back

 I am reluctant to listen to tv news because it is so depressing. Likewise Facebook. The cruelty and ignorance in the world is terrifying. It is almost as if one begins to feel guilty for being happy. 

Amazon has changed its reporting of KDP stats yet again, so now it is difficult to find out what is selling on a daily basis. Yes, a running monthly total is fine, but that is not the way I checked how I'm doing for the last couple of years. Perhaps they change so that we cannot make long term checks and comparisons!

I have a new camera ( a present from my darling hubby) but learning how it works is a challenge. Together we are slowly getting to grips with it. I have not dared take it outside yet.

I am trying to consolidate all the pics I have and this one is from a holiday in Aosta way back in 2006. We were on a skiing holiday up in Pila. The thing I remember most is the glutinously thick dark chocolate drink we bought in Aosta! I wonder if they still make it the same way? It was so good it's almost worth going back to see if they do!

Friday, 11 December 2020

Engaging the little grey cells.

 Maybe I'm getting old, but tv these days seems to be dumbing down to the level of seven year olds. We spend our tv time watching  stuff recorded in the afternoon on Drama channels and such like. Some programmes I never watched all the way through when they first showed - which is why I am enjoying Spooks now. For some reason I stopped watching after Adam Carter was blown up in a car bomb and now I'm carrying on. I know which of the original vet programmes to avoid so I don't end up in tears, I know the As Time Goes By episodes almost by heart and if they put The Good Life on again, I'd watch that. Monarch of the Glen? Yes, and proably a few more oldies. They were stories instead of over-poweringly loud bangs and shootings; something you could actually engage with. 

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Metadata woes!

 I am experiencing a bit of trouble with Amazon KDP - 

I must have pressed the wrong buttons somewhere because 
my book is definitely set in Yorkshire, UK, and yet the entry
on Amazon says it is US Historical Fiction. 

Don't believe it, people!
My heroine is an American, certainly, but she married an 
English lord and settles in his home to raise a family.... in Yorkshire,
except that the anticipated children are reluctant to appear.

I am in contact with the Help Desk people and hopefully by tomorrow the 72 hours will be up and alterations will have been made. (Actually the 72 hours are up already but I really dare not look to see if the problem has been rectified.) I am keeping my fingers crossed until tomorrow. 

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Quick round up of book sales


They say global sales of printed books by UK publishers dropped by 55m in the first six months of the year. But COVID has done well for the ebook. Sales of ebooks went down each year from 2014 but this year sales are up by 17% to £144m. UK publishers expect ebooks to enjoy their best year since 2015, when sales were just under £300m.

Sales of audiobooks surged 42% in the first half of the year– on track to beat the record set last year. The combined £199m first-half sales of the two formats has set UK publishers up for their best-ever year for digital sales and is expected to beat 2019’s record total of £336m.

OTOH, the printed book, which accounts for more than a 80% of the total £2bn market for books from UK publishers, is not doing so well.

In the UK, sales of all printed books fell 11%. Paperback fiction sales managed to stay level at £114.8m and hardback fiction has sales up 35% which shows that UK readers have turned to novels for entertainment, escapism and comfort during the pandemic.

Top five bestselling ebooks from UK publishers (Jan – June, 2020)

Normal People – Sally Rooney

The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides

Blood Orange – Harriet Tyce

The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Top five bestselling fiction titles – print (Jan – June, 2020)

The Mirror and the Light, The Wolf Hall Trilogy – Hilary Mantel

Normal People – Sally Rooney

The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

Big Sky – Kate Atkinson

Sad to admit, but I have read none of them!

Friday, 20 November 2020

Mailchimp Woes

  It's make your mind up time. 

Mailchimp want to close the account I have not used in 23 months, which is fair enough. I got the first newsletter out successfully, but then could never figure out how to send the same format with a newer message! Call me Mailchimp challenged!

I get twinges of guilt for all those lovely people who signed up to receive and then - after the initial letter - nothing. You have my apologies, wherever you are. I really should try again before the seven days are up.

In 7 days time my new novel will be published on Amazon, so I am  looking at my hit-and-miss PR methods with a view to improving them. Facebook seems to be going down and really makes it hard to read things because of the adverts. Twitter is good  and I haven't explored any of the other things available these days. Mailchimp ought to be good for me, if only I can master it. Time to get going, perhaps?


Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Mozart's balls for sale

 My mini needs an MOT, my driving licence needs renewing and its that time of year for the road tax to be renewed. I always forget, dh reminds me and then there is a frantic rush to get it all done before the deadline.

We are off to Hexham this afternoon to visit our favourite vet. Tim's ear has to be checked, and we're hoping it will be OK. This picture is any old street in Hexham. I chose it because it is pretty typical with its stone walls and trees. Very different to other towns around the world. I know it is different to America and Australia, perhaps not so different from France, Germany I cannot say as I've never been there except a Christmas trip to Munich. My memories of that are wandering the Christmas Fairs and the vast quantities of Mozart's balls for sale.

At least there has been some good news this week: Trump is gone, or will be soon and we have a vaccine against Covid -19. Remembering the thalidomide babies, I only hope it is safe to take for everyone. As for Trump, I wonder why the Americans let the outgoing president hang on for two whole months. Here, the removal van is at the door of No 10 the moment the result is known. A person can do a lot of damage in two months if he so chooses. Better to get them out, for both parties.

Friday, 30 October 2020

Reading in a pandemic


Nigel Newton, founder and chief executive of Bloomsbury, said the firm initially feared lockdown would batter the business after it shut all its shops in March.

But he says: "As we cycled through the month there became a real uptake in reading.” Sales across the group rose by 10% to £78.3m during the period.


Initially people streamed movies but later turned to books. I must admit I rummaged through I-player and I’m still enjoying watching things I first saw years ago. But I never gave up reading. I began something I had been putting off for years. I began re-reading Dunnett’s House of Niccolo series and last night I turned the last page of Scales of Gold. I can see why I was not enamoured of the series on first reading. However I will plod on with it.


Spooks makes good re-watching material. Also the Bridge, along with Downton Abbey. Last night we watched a recorded Inspector Morse that was new to both of us. Now we’ve found the original All creatures great and small. I’m keeping an eye out for Being Human…

I'm also organising all the holiday photos I've taken over the past decade. It may take some time. Once I've done the e-pics, there are the packets (so many!) of paper photos taken so long ago I can hardly remember them.  For those who like to know what they're looking at , the pic today is of Perigeaux in France.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

"Can betrayal ever save a marriage?"

 Still wallowing in happy memories of our five nights away in Central Scotland. If I book again, and I probably shall, I shall opt for the full week. It is always easier the second time, because now I know there is a hair dryer there, and where the nearest shop is, that sort of thing. The questions that can keep you awake at night. I jest, of course. 

Now deep in final edits of my new book. Silver Season, set in late Edwardian Yorkshire. Very much a family story, the difficulties of not being able to produce the required heir and what might be done about it.  Not in the medical sense, not at all! 

The tag line will be "Can betrayal ever save a marriage?"

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Time to take stock

 Ten weeks to Christmas.

I say this because it marks the turn of the year.  The days start to  get longer instead of shorter.
That always makes me hopeful. Not that we make much of Christmas itself. I've always thought of it as a religious festival, but I suspect that it is getting lost in these days of consumerism. 

It occurred to me the other day that if women stopped wearing make up, then it would make a big change in the world climate. Add in soap and shampoo and all those attendant luxuries, and that would make an even bigger difference. Check the labels, ladies, see what goes into them. Not only that, how much power is consumed in making them, packaging them and selling them. Do we really need to have our nails painted various colours? Are false eyelashes and painted on eyebrows doing much except making everyone look the same? 

It's a weird world we live in right now. Time to take stock and evaluate. Decide where we go from here.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Dodging the rain

 The only negative thing about holidays is the amount of laundry required once back home. Especially when we have rain for two days without a break. The clothes will get washed eventually, and dried, which is actually the bigger problem; but when is the big question. Still, it was a very pleasant break. We walked nearly 36 miles in 5 days which is pretty good for a pair of geriatrics like us! 

We slept very well, too. My Fitbit sleep score rose  to 82 on Friday night. It often hovers around 65 back home. But then, in the cottage there were no late night revellers going home, no traffic that we heard though the road was only 100 yards away as the crow flew. The one early morning riser who lived down the lane   managed to sneak by our cottage at 6.55am in silent mode - I only saw the lights of the vehicle flash across the ceiling through a gap in the curtains. 

Now I am slowly adapting back to normal mode. Dental appointments, blood check on Thursday, catching up on e-mails, grocery shopping and dodging the rain on dog walks.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Oh for more energy!

This is Tim finding one of the few sticks on the freshwater beach at the head of Loch Laggan. There are a few half buried tree trunks and he visits every one! The weather is pleasant for autumn, with dramatic clouds and sun - the landscape seems to change as the light changes. The trees are starting to turn glorious gold and copper and we have seen few people around the estate. Most of them have been on quad bikes, but we've stuck to walking everywhere.

We nearly made it to the Falls of Pattack yesterday, but had no map and the trails are not abundantly marked. We passed two little bue arrows (and they are so discreet, about 2 inches high) in five miles. When we stopped and turned back, we were right outside the gate we should have gone through to cover the last few yards through the woods to the falls. If we'd known, we'd have made the effort to go on. (I know, always carry a map....duh!)

Ardverekie began to garner interest in the eighties and nineties when it appeared in various film and tv productions, notably Monarch of the Glen. That was where it got my attention and I've always wanted to visit. I only wish I'd done it sooner, when I was fitter and had more energy to tackle the longer walks. As it is we walk with Tim and I take lots of photographs. And it must be most annoying as I keep saying, "Oh, look at that!"

Thursday, 8 October 2020

We've run away!

 This is our new home for a few days. We are in Scotland, on the Ardverekie estate on Loch Laggan and very much enjoying the peace. Our very comfortable cottage is hidden away among the trees though we can occasionally hear traffic on the A86. We did a fairly long walk (for us, that is) and fitbit tells me we did 17,089 steps yesterday. Right now Bill has taken Tim for a short walk as he (Tim) needs to go "outside." Once they are back, we'll all be setting out to walk by the sawmill route up to the Falls of Pattack.

What with walking, watching tennis at Roland Garros and sleeping like proverbial logs, we're doing very well. 

Thursday, 1 October 2020


"Writing backstory feels like storytelling,” says New York Times bestselling novelist Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), “but it isn’t. It’s regurgitating facts or dolling up aspects of world-building—basically plugging in what that author already knows, hoping it will entertain and enlighten the reader. Instead it has the opposite effect. Less is more. Backstory is like creating a ‘connect-the-dots’ picture—you just need the dots. The reader will draw the lines.”

I’ve been thinking about backstory in novel-writing. So, to remind myself, here are some thoughts I've picked up on the internet.

Too much backstory in the opening pages can be a turn-off.

As we begin writing, we’re grounding ourselves in the story, exploring our characters, creating their histories as we discover who they are and what they want. These early writings are a crucial part of the process. As authors, we need to know everything that came before and why our characters act as they do. Our readers, however, do not. Answering their questions too early and too easily takes away a large part of the incentive for them to keep reading.

 A good opening sets the scene, introduces the characters, and sets the story in motion. What it never does is answer the question, “Why?” Why the characters behave and think as they do, and how they came to this point in the opening are questions that will be answered throughout the book.

Good storytelling has nothing to do with what the author wants to say, and everything to do with what the characters need to say. As authors, we don’t speak in our own voices; rather, we’re speaking for our characters.



Friday, 25 September 2020

The seasons change

Central Heating on last night! 

First time since about February.

So to cheer everyone here's a pic of a nice hot beach in Australia where they are just coming into their summer. For those already in Australia, it is forecast for 3 degrees C here tonight, and I think it was 4 last night. I now you think 14 is cold, but spare a thought for the UK!

Otherwise, life proceeds as normal. We watch the figures for disease going up and wonder if our five days in Scotland is going to happen or not. Are we heading for a general lockdown again? I hope not.

 Ever since I watch Monarch of the Glen years ago, and more recently on BBC4, I wanted to go. So I booked in January for a week in October. Hopefully, we'll still get there. Isolated cottage in the woods. No neighbours. Shouldn't be a problem. There was a re-run of A Murder is Announced with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple on tv the night before last, and lo and behold, the police inspector went to Ardverekie to interview the millionaire sister! "Whoa! He's gone to Glenbogle!" I cried. I do hope we manage to get there. In case there might be difficulties shopping for food there, I've been building up a small cache of necessaries to take with us. Lots of rice and pasta....

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

We win some

This is an experiment to see if I can upload an image and not screw up whatever text I wish to add.

I've uploaded the image first and clicked on it which allows me to place it where I chose.

To add labels, I tried typing above the line instead of below it, and it worked.

I suppose if I continued to add text, it would behave as normal. The preview looks all right.

Tim had his stitches and staples removed today, slept most of the afternoon and has tormented us for food ever since. He has had his normal quota, but is driving us mad......


Sunday, 20 September 2020

Things are changing

Recently Word 365 has changed the way it handles grammar.

 I have never been a fan of the Oxford comma, but now Word 365 bludgeons me into using it, or else I end up with a document covered in blue lines. 

I'm one of those people who like a clean ms so I give in, but really, I must investigate the Language menu and see if I can stop it. 

I think this is one of the reasons why readers say in reviews "there were typos." English and American English may be similar, but in many respects the two languages are different. If there is an alternative way to spell a word, then American English always uses a different spelling to the English version. Some grammar is different, too, but the differences are not mistakes. Microsoft Word is a great system, but it should not be changing the way I use my native language.

I wonder if MW has anything to do with the current habit of using "watching on" when they really mean "Looking on?" You watch something and you look on - that's the way it has always been and there is a subtle difference in use. As a spectator, you look on without taking part. As an observer, you watch something, usually closely and attentively.

So is another thing Word annoyingly handles in one way when there are various ways it can be used. It must be why so many people start sentences "so," and then pause and go on and the word so was never really needed at all. 

Another failed innovation in my view, is Blogger. I cannot find a way to upload a photograph with out distorting the text. I've given up trying to load a pic tonight. 


Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Getting better

 Our visit to the vet this morning went well, except that I had misunderstood the instructions on one of the drugs. Thhe instruction was 2 tablets twice a day, and I have been giving Tim one tablet twice a day. Thank goodness I got the others correct. 

However, on the whole he is looking lively and on the mend. The stitches and staples come

Add caption

out next Tuesday so its no brekkie for Tim that day. There are countless staples in a 2.5 inch wound but he leapt in and out of the mini like a showjumper today. Last night  he was allowed back  upstairs to sleep. We've been taking turns to sleep downstairs with him - we had a mattrass and a duvet!

I might get back to my pc and some promo woork soon. Working on the laptop is OK but there so much stuff I don't have on here.

Friday, 11 September 2020

When your dog is ill


 The last few days have been spent nursing my dog

 Tim after his op to remove bladder stones. He has stitches internal and external, plus staples to make the wound even more secure. At first looking after him was easy, because of the after effects of the anaesthesia, but now he is thinking he should be doing all the things he uusually does. 

Unfrtunately for him, jumping on the bed is definitely not allowed, and going upstairs is forbidden for a few days. No running, no jumping, no barking at other dogs...and four pills to take every day. 

I am so glad he is doing well. Watching you dog pee blood is alarming, but according to the vet, not unusual for a few days. In almost eight years of life, Tim has developed 12-14 stones in his bladder, and we had two emergency blockages in June when he coud not pee. Drugs to dissolve the stones did not do very much except make the darn things more rounded and smooth, so we are hoping that we'll have the next eight years without anymore drama.

Needless to say, writing and evrything else has taken a back seat, but hopefully we'll soon be back to normal.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Was Pemberley well-staffed?

How many people lived in Pemberley, Downton or Chatsworth? 

When we read  novels of  life among the nobility or watch tv and film on a similar topic, we are rarely given details of life as a servant. The great houses were the major employers of the day right up until the Industrial Revolution. A  lord, and certainly a duke, would own several properties and each would have a resident staff. Mining, tree felling, forestry and a home farm would all be done within the estate by estate workers. In the 1820s entertainment was done on a grand scale, and since guests often brought their own staff,  it is difficult to pin down the exact number of staff in a house at any one time. 

One way of obtaining a reasonable estimate is by checking lists of salaries and other payments held in archives of houses like Dunham Massey. The old rule of payment once a year had changed to twice a year by 1820. Servants were either resident at one house all year or listed as "travelling" staff, in which case they moved from house to house with the family. 

A typical number of resident servants would be twenty-one, broken down as six women ie housekeeper, housemaid, two still-room maids, a kitchen maid and a dairy maid. Of the men, only four were indoor servants ie the house steward, the porter, the brewer and usher. Outdoor servants included the  land steward, head gardener, two gamekeepers and five out-gamekeepers, one groom and a stable-boy.

The travelling indoor servants were listed as the cook, the valet. the butler. two under butlers and three footmen, first housemaid, and two lower housemaids, four laundry maids and two ladies maids. Outside there would also be the coachman, under coachman, a postilion and two grooms.

Across the whole estate, the typical number of servants might number seventy-eight. When the obnoxious school teacher in Downton accuses Lord Grantham of not knowing his kitchen maid's name, she might actually have had a point!

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Statistical surprise!

I am often surprised when I look at the stats on Blogger.

Who would have thought that 101 page views would come from Japan, or 119 from Russia? A similar number from the US but only 18 from the UK!

The other thing  about the stats is how erratic they are - 2 days at 23 page views, then the next day up in the hundreds. Single spikes from one particular server, presumably from one person, happen every now and then, which makes me a bit paranoid, as in why should someone in Russia
be checking my blog? One can be charitable and say that  some innocent person has found something of interest and is happily reading all the pages (since 2007?  H'mmm)

But the world is such a "scammy" place today that it is so easy to think the worst.

Any day now Blogger is going to force me to switch to its new format. It did this earlier in the month, but the page was totally unresponsive so I reverted. Hopefully they will have sorted the problems before they do the change-over again. I see people complaining that Facebook has forced them to change format and they don't like it. I don't know if I'm on Classic Facebook or the new one, but I'm praying that they both just keep working as they are!

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

The big decision

We've finally made a decision.

all summer we've been thinking we might get to France this year if we just waited a little while until things had cleared.

We kept moving the shuttle booking further into the year, but we've decided we will lose the booking fee and resign ourselves to not attempting to go this year. The hotel bookings we cancelled with no charge. So we've lost £160; it's a pity they will not let us take it over from one year to another but that's the way it goes. So, its roll on 2021.

We worried that our dog, who had an emergency vet appointment twice in June because of an inability to pee due to bladder stones, might suffer a similar emergency in France. We know the vet, and have no doubt of his abilities, but out of surgery hours we have no idea where to contact him and of course there is the language difficulty, especially on the telephone. We are hoping the Allpurinol is busily dissolving the stones in his bladder, but if they are not gone at the next scan, then surgery is the next step. And that will be  around the end of this month.

We have a holiday booked (way back in January) in Scotland on 6th October, so we might just make that week at Ardverekie. Let's hope so.

As for things clearing Covid-wise, I'm thinking we will have to learn to live with it, as we once did with measles, diphtheria* and whooping cough. As a friend said ,"Its out to kill us, you know."

*Yes, that's how Blogger spells the word. Rather too many aithches in my view.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Does publishing have a future?

 When Lockdown began on 23rd March, Waterstones closed its 280 branches. Independent bookshops did the same. Supermarkets focussed on food and stopped ordering from publishers. Amazon did the same.

Publishers furloughed staff because there was little work to do. Newspapers saw the dwindling numbers of books for review. Publication of new titles has been delayed, and there is no news of when everything will be, if ever, back to normal.

People claim books have helped them get through lockdown. Most publishers record an increase in e-books sales via their website and sometimes wonder if Amazon’s monopoly can be broken. Literary agent Johnny Geller has been saying for 20 years, "Why not go into direct selling?”

Some publishers dismiss the idea as too complex and expensive, but others are talking about it after Amazon turned off the supply tap.

Authors are used to self-isolation, but it is hard to know what to write. Some who have been recently published feel their books have disappeared into a black hole. Others think that fewer books on the scene have helped them. The book promotion trail is non-existent, and literary festivals have fallen by the wayside.

Some independent bookshops ie Forum Books in Corbridge, have got together a series of events on Facebook Live. There are other online events around, but the usual camaraderie of a drink after the talk is over is just not possible.

Supermarkets and Amazon are getting back to normal now. Commercial fiction is doing well. In some quarters there is an assumption that the market will be down 70% in the second quarter of the year, and 50% in the third. They hope the fourth quarter will be close to normal.

 Recent experience has shown that people can work from anywhere and more can be done online. The next decade may be interesting as far as publishing is concerned. It would be nice to see some regional  offices scattered around the country rather than everything being centred in London.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

The beheading of a Queen

Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, England on February 8, 1587. The last of five Stewart/Stuart monarchs of Scotland who all died a violent death, she was 44 years old and had spent the last nineteen years of her life imprisoned in various English castles. 

·         James I, crowned at 12 years old, was a prisoner of the English for 18 years and once back in Scotland he was interrupted while undressing for bed, chased and then assassinated.
·         James II, crowned at 6, was killed aged 30 by an exploding cannon.
·         James III, crowned at 9, escaped from a battle, went into hiding but was discovered and murdered in cold blood by a passing priest.
·         James IV was at least 15 when crowned but was killed at Flodden Field, aged 40, fighting the English.
·         James V was just a year old when crowned. He died of illness and despair, so they say, a few days after the rout of Solway Moss in 1542.
·         Mary, queen from six days old, the youngest of them all, was executed aged 44, by the English after 19 years in captivity in England. To Roman Catholics everywhere she was the Dowager Queen of France, Queen of Scotland and the true Queen of England.

Mary Stewart returned to Scotland at 18 years of age after her French husband, King Francis, died. Given the violent end of recent kings, the inevitable regencies and increasing ruthlessness among the nobility, Scotland was very different to England, where Henry Tudor and his son had ruled for 62 years.

The beheading of the Queen of Scots was the first legal execution of an anointed European monarch and would change forever the ancient tradition of the Divine Right of Kings. An anointed Queen had been executed by law; royalty was no longer untouchable. Thrones became increasingly less secure.

Many accounts of Mary’s death are hearsay reports, for Elizabeth wanted no Catholic martyr once the deed was done. Perhaps 20 or 30 people were present to witness the axe fall.

links to Google books which cites the report written to Lord Burghley and the Council. (Cottonian MS.Calig.C.ix.fol.163 )

 Later Reports multiplied and differed according to personal and religious loyalties, but facts we can be reasonably sure of include the representatives of the English Queen arriving at Fotheringay between two and three o'clock in the afternoon on February 7, 1587. The Earl of Shrewsbury, Earl Marshal of England, the Earl of Kent, and Thomas Androwes, Sherriff of Northamptonshire, presented their commission which informed the Queen of Scots that she was to be beheaded between seven and eight next morning. Sir Amias Paulet, the jailer, was ordered to have everything in readiness.

The Queen of Scotland reputedly thanked them for their good news, saying that nothing could be more welcome to her, since she longed for an end to her miseries and had been prepared for death ever since she had been sent as a prisoner to England.
However, she begged the envoys to give her a little time in which to make herself ready, write her will, and place her affairs in order. It was within their power and discretion to grant these requests, but the Earl of Shrewsbury replied: “No, no, Madam, you must die, you must die! Be ready between seven and eight in the morning. It cannot be delayed a moment beyond that time.”

According to Robert Beale (1541-1602) Clerk of the Privy Council, Mary then ordered her supper and spent the rest of the day and the early hours of the next morning writing her will, and farewell letters to friends and relatives. One of them was Henri III, King of France and brother of her first husband, Francis. The letter is kept at National Library of Scotland and you can read an English and French translation here

Rising early, Mary gathered her servants and read her will to them. Accompanying her to the great hall were Andrew Melville, gentleman steward of her chamber, Dominique Bourgoing, physician, her apothecary Pierre Gorion, her surgeon, Jacques Gervais and an aged male servant. Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle were also present.

The Clerk to the Council, Beale, read the Commission. Standing on the scaffold, Mary asked for her chaplain, but this was refused. The Earl of Kent told her that he pitied her greatly to see her thus the victim of the superstition of past ages and advised her to carry the cross of Christ in her heart rather than in her hand.

Fletcher, the Dean of Peterborough was offered instead, and being Protestant, Mary rejected him. He prayed for a long time, and Mary and her Scots servants ignored him and prayed in their own way.

The executioner knelt before her and begged her forgiveness. The Queen told him that she willingly forgave him and alI who were responsible for her death, as freely as she hoped her sins would be forgiven by God.

Her outer garments were removed by the executioner and his assistant, assisted by Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curle. The women blindfolded her and then backed away. Mary knelt down, uttering her last words: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum (‘Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit’).

The executioner made two strokes with the axe and then had to detach a thread of gristle before he could hold up the head. When he did so, her wig fell off and revealed short grey hair. As the executioner tried to remove her stockings he discovered her little dog, which settled where her head should have been and had to be washed clean of blood.
The executioners were paid in fees; the normal “perks” such as garments and trinkets were forbidden them. Nothing that belonged to the queen was removed by them, such was the fear that relics would circulate after her death. Anything that was blood covered was taken from the hall with the body.

There were perhaps 30-35 people ringing the platform or standing nearby to witness her death. Everyone except the sheriff and his men were commanded to leave the hall while the queen’s body was carried up into a great chamber lying ready for the surgeons to embalm her.

Afterwards the body was taken to Peterborough Cathedral, but was exhumed on the orders of her son James VI (I) and reburied in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey.

Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantome, was a member of the French nobility who accompanied Mary during her internment. Being a fellow Catholic, he provides a sympathetic account:~
“Her prayers being ended, the executioners, kneeling, desired her Grace to forgive them her death: who answered, 'I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end of all my troubles.' Then they, with her two women, helping her up, began to disrobe her of her apparel: then she, laying her crucifix upon the stool, one of the executioners took from her neck the Agnus Dei, which she, laying hands off it, gave to one of her women, and told the executioner, he should be answered money for it. Then she suffered them, with her two women, to disrobe her of her chain of pomander beads and all other apparel most willingly, and with joy rather than sorrow, helped to make unready herself, putting on a pair of sleeves with her own hands which they had pulled off, and that with some haste, as if she had longed to be gone.

All this time they were pulling off her apparel, she never changed her countenance, but with smiling cheer she uttered these words, 'that she never had such grooms to make her unready, and that she never put off her clothes before such a company.'

Then she, being stripped of all her apparel saving her petticoat and kirtle, her two women beholding her made great lamentation, and crying and crossing themselves prayed in Latin. She, turning herself to them, embracing them, said these words in French, 'Ne crie vous, j'ay prome pour vous', and so crossing and kissing them, bad them pray for her and rejoice and not weep, for that now they should see an end of all their mistress's troubles.

Then she, with a smiling countenance, turning to her men servants, as Melvin and the rest, standing upon a bench nigh the scaffold, who sometime weeping, sometime crying out aloud, and continually crossing themselves, prayed in Latin, crossing them with her hand bade them farewell, and wishing them to pray for her even until the last hour.

This done, one of the women have a Corpus Christi cloth lapped up three-corner-ways, kissing it, put it over the Queen of Scots' face, and pinned it fast to the caule of her head. Then the two women departed from her, and she kneeling down upon the cushion most resolutely, and without any token or fear of death, she spake aloud this Psalm in Latin, In Te Domine confido, non confundar in eternam, etc. Then, groping for the block, she laid down her head, putting her chin over the block with both her hands, which, holding there still, had been cut off had they not been espied. Then lying upon the block most quietly, and stretching out her arms cried, In manus tuas, Domine, etc., three or four times. 

Then she, lying very still upon the block, one of the executioners holding her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all, and not stirring any part of her from the place where she lay: and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little gristle, which being cut asunder, he lift up her head to the view of all the assembly and bade God save the Queen. Then, her dress of lawn [i.e. wig] from off her head, it appeared as grey as one of threescore and ten years old, polled very short, her face in a moment being so much altered from the form she had when she was alive, as few could remember her by her dead face. Her lips stirred up and a down a quarter of an hour after her head was cut off.

Then Mr. Dean [Dr. Fletcher, Dean of Peterborough] said with a loud voice, 'So perish all the Queen's enemies', and afterwards the Earl of Kent came to the dead body, and standing over it, with a loud voice said, 'Such end of all the Queen's and the Gospel's enemies.'

Then one of the executioners, pulling off her garters, espied her little dog which was crept under her cloths, which could not be gotten forth by force, yet afterward would not depart from the dead corpse, but came and lay between her head and her shoulders, which being imbrued with her blood was carried away and washed, as all things else were that had any blood was either burned or washed clean, and the executioners sent away with money for their fees, not having any one thing that belonged unto her. And so, every man being commanded out of the hall, except the sheriff and his men, she was carried by them up into a great chamber lying ready for the surgeons to embalm her.”

Pierre de Bourdeille's account was originally published in 1665 and republished many times thereafter. Antonia Fraser claims that 300 people were in the Great Hall at Fotheringay Castle to watch the proceedings. Another account claims about four or five hundred people were present.

A contemporary account by Sir Robert Wynkfield, nephew of Cecil, who was present that day, described what he remembered of the events following the execution.

Official news of Mary’s execution arrived in Paris 1st March by special courier from Elizabeth who had to explain the true reasons for ordering her death. In France there was anger and sorrow – Mary was a Queen of France and all Catholic hopes had been dashed. The French saw her as French Dowager Queen, beautiful and a RC martyr.

The French Ambassador in London was not present at the execution and relied on hearsay. His letter arrived in Paris on 6th March – claiming Mary welcomed her execution after so long in prison though she never believed Elizabeth would go so far.

The English embargoed the execution as far as they could. Then the Maries returned to France with eyewitness accounts that naturally glorified the Catholic aspects. The Catholic Press conjectured and imagined what happened.

Philip II regarded her as a safely dead martyr plus a useful additional reason for the Armada to attack England.

Mary’s son James had many problems – he believed in his right to rule England but did not wish to align with the Roman Catholic factions of Spain and France. He also wished to reduce the clout of Scots nobles and the strong and growing Presbyterian influence, so he risked an alliance with England though it caused a rift with his mother, imprisoned in England. Outraged Scots saw her startling red underskirt as a blood’s cry for vengeance.

(Pictures from Eyewitness to


Adapting to colder temperatures now. Frantically Housecleaning to remove a month's dust, the washing mountain has diminished and we'...