Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Guest blogging

http://novelspot.net/behind_the_scenes_index


I'm blogging over at the address above this week, so pop over and have a look. It's all about the "behind the scenes" aspects of writing.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

LinkedIn


Here's a wintery picture for you, taken a few days ago on one of our walks south of Stocksfield. The frost has relented a little since then, but it is still cold. Now it is damp, too. Personally I'd rather have the frost.
How many of you are on LinkedIn? Here It began in 2002-ish and it is aimed at professional people. My daughter-in-law put me on to it, but to be honest I found the initial page difficult to complete since I am no longer working for a living. It is also hard to find anyone else connected to the writing world. It seems that writers don't consider themselves to be a business, which is a shame.


Perhaps I should start spreading the word!


Less than a week to Christmas, and as usual everyone is scurrying around Getting Ready for Christmas. Lots of time for writing, I tell myself. And I have been good. I did my quota today and I will critique Rosemary's chapter just as soon as the effects of the cava we had with dinner wear off. Well, you have to get into the spirit one way or another....we've already demolished the (admittedly small) stock of wine we bought intending to drink it at Christmas...


Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Writing

I read, courtesy of Donna Alwards blog, that there is an article in the Spectator on writing, so I flicked through to read it. You can check it out Here

The article claims that authors of bestsellers write because they are driven to write by Passion. On the whole, I have no argument with that. Well, a little quibble, maybe. Because, of course, bestselling authors do not always write books of the same quality, but they may well have written them with the same passion. Dan Brown is a case in point. So is Harold Robbins, James Clavell.

I don't know if J K Rowling wrote with passion, but she certainly wrote with dedication. Some of the best bestsellers have been one-offs, like Gone with the Wind, Forever Amber or To Kill a Mocking Bird, (Stops to wonder if either of them were bestsellers of their time - probably not) which would argue that the passion was of short duration.

It also seems to me that without dedication and sheer dogged persistance, passion is as nought. Time is vital, too. Writing 90k takes time, and not everyone can stay home in the garret and knock out 5k a day without interruption. The need to earn a crust gets in the way, as does the need to sleep!

My thoughts boggle at something like Wuthering Heights. Written in longhand. What a stack of paper that must have been when it was finished. How did she keep track of details in all that mass of handwritten paper? Now we have the luxury of Find on our computers, but imagine checking back through 1000 handwritten pages to find if you've given Heathcliffe blue eyes or brown! Organisation and a good memory had to be a requirement for writing then. The thought of handwriting all those pages gives my hand Repetitive Strain Injury at the mere thought.

Any other ideas? I'd love to make a list of Necessary Qualities of a Bestselling Writer!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Frost



The first line of a well known poem springs to mind - "season of mist and mellow fruitfullness..." But really, this is not autumn, this is winter. The hard frost continues. The ground is like iron, the puddles remain frozen into inch thick slabs of ice and yet is is beautiful. We went for a walk and made sure we stayed in the sunshine as much as we could.

We are running a bird-feeding station in our back garden. One beautiful little finch arrived on a twig as we looked out of the kitchen window, and a minute later, fell to the ground. The crow who stands guard over the garden flew down, plucked it and ate it. It would be still warm. Life is hard for birds when the weather is like this. I don't know how they survive the long, cold nights.

My favourite Gethin is out of Strictly. I reckon Matt got in on a sympathy vote. Fancy voting for the boy and letting the man go. It's a bit like the Robin-Guy of Guisborne argument. It might have worked better if Gethin had not been doing two Latin dances this week. I don't know who chooses what they dance, but if he'd done a waltz this week, things might have been different. As it was Aleesha did the quickstep, all flash and glitter, and Matt did a waltz. Of course, he had Flavia to do the tango with him, and she is so much better at it than Gethin's partner Camilla.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Oddities of writing


I'm up to 20,000 words and already I'm altering the synopsis to keep up with the way the story is going. Is this bad? I don't know. I read on a lot of blogs that authors use ennegrams, horoscopes and strict character analysis prior to starting a work while others just sit down at their computer and think, "Let's see what happens today."

Some say you have to know your character in detail before you begin, because they drive the story. I agree with the second half of the sentence, but not necessarily with the first. I start with a rough outline in my mind of where the story will go and who the characters are, but beyond that, they (and I) discover each other as we go along.

Hence the changes in the synopsis. Sometimes the characters just don't react the way I thought they would, and rather than force them into a mould they obviously don't want to go, I feel happier bending the synopsis around them. The changes are not huge. The goal will still be met; but it might be met by a different route than I first envisaged.

After all, you don't get to know a friend all in one huge gulp, do you? So why expect to get to know a character before you test them in different and possibly vexing situations?

Just as a footnote - our first taste of winter has arrived and it is quite a shock to the system. We have temperatures below freezing again yesterday, and forecast for tomorrow. Yesterday we walked by the river at Hexham and at midday the sun was beginning to catch the frost-rimmed leaves.




This was the view north across the river into Northumberland. If you click to enlarge, look through the trees and you might see the Roman Wall.
I'm kidding - you won't, but believe me, it is up there, about three miles beyond the river.


Monday, 10 December 2007

Bits and Bobs

I know I said I thought Letitia Dean woud depart Strictly last week, but I was only a week out. She went on Saturday night because Matt, who mucked everything up, got the sympathy vote.
He forgot the routine halfway through in both dances. Gethin was terrific again.

My new wip has reached Chapter Five in 17,000 words. Not bad. I got to thinking how many stories I've actually written, and it sounds good until I confess not all are published. Banners and Dark Pool are, of course; Shadows was, suffered a hiccup and is on offer again. The Viking story is still on offer as a full ms with HM&B, the Victorian story as a partial with them. My Tudor story is going through the critique group, and the new one is set somewhere around 1800 so I'll call it a Regency. So I'm on with my seventh. Oh, and I forgot the Canadian one, which is on offer with PsF. So that makes eight. Amazing.

Now all I need to do is sell some of them, or even better, all of them.

Tonight is is going to be cold, down to -3C (is that 24 degrees F? I'm not sure.) so I took some bubble wrap and wrapped it around my hydrangea. The poor thing is confused by the mild weather, for it already has tiny green shoots. I fear it is very vulnerable. It has suffered in frost before, but I'll keep my fingers crossed tonight. One of my roses, the Alec's Red, is still producing buds, yet we had sleet yesterday afternoon. The A68 between the English/Scottish border was impassable. I saw pictures on tv where lots of cars were in the ditch but I don't know where they were taken. We don't handle snow very well here in the UK. It's not the soft fluffy white stuff we see when we go skiing - it's horrible wet, slushy, slippery stuff. Ugh.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Walking

I've been out walking most afternoons this week and found it rewarding. Not only did I sleep better, but found these two cuties peering over (or through, if you're not as tall as your friend) the gate.

The weather was bright and blustery - so much so that on Thursday I was all but blown back up the hill home! The land rises about 90 metres from the river bank to the town in a distance of about in 1000 metres. Or put another way, 292 feet in two thirds of a mile. Either way, it is along haul going up, and a breeze going down.


Each day the river was different. We explored where the Whittle Dene joins the Tyne, and traced it north. One day we saw five living salmon and three dead. The other days the numbers had changed, and the last day we saw only dead fish. I think it is so sad that once they've struggled all the way back to their home river to spawn, most of them die.
Since the Tyne is the best salmon fishing river in England, I should take more notice of what goes on. Perhaps I will next season. Right now only three or four fish a month enter the river, if past statistics are anything to go by. But this is the time when the little smolts, no longer than a man's hand are fighting their way out to sea.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Romance fiction

If you click here, you'll see a diatribe about HM&B fiction in no less a newspaper than the Guardian.

It is written by a professional journalist who is content to base her views on research done 15 years ago. What kind of research does the Guardian put up with from its people? 15 years is a long, long time. If this is the best she can do, I think the Guardian should quietly pension her off. From the written list of her professional interests, she seems to have made a career out of writing about sex, but I don't feel this qualifies her to write about romantic fiction.

I wasn't reading the HM&B 15 years ago, and I'm still not reading the single line she chooses to discuss. (Presents) My tastes run to Historical, and the titles I choose to read to day have nothing in common with the titles she talks about. Someone should take her aside and tell her what research really, really means. She obviously doesn't know, poor thing.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Submissions and writing

I finished my latest story just before I went off to Cyprus and now it is going through a critique group. Comments on the first chapter were favourable, which is a good sign. I find this group most helpful and I learn a good deal by reading their work. Let's hope they stay with me to the end.

I've already begun a new tale. This time I've deliberately made my heroine older and already a widow. Not that it makes her old, or even what we would call mature these days. But by the standards of the early 1800s, she was no longer considered a girl at 26. It will be an interesting exercise, as most all of my other heroines have been exceedingly young.

I checked up on my submissions this morning. Samhain took 7 weeks to reject with this: "liked the premise of your plot and felt your writing was strong, unfortunately I did not feel sufficiently compelled by the storyline and the characters to offer a contract."

I'm still musing that one over. Perhaps I make my young heroines characterless?

Then there's the full submission to HM&B. The 18 weeks is up on 20th December. Perhaps I'd better give them an extra week or two before I query that one! The partial with them has only been there fifteen weeks, so....

I subbed to P'sF on 5th July. When I telephoned to ask if they'd ever received it, they said they had and though they had a huge backlog, I should hear something soon.

Yesterday I finished looking over Shadows, the book that got hung up in litigation over Triskelion's collapse, and subbed it to Dark Eden Press. (DEP) It's a fairly new online publisher, so perhaps won't have such a huge backlog of stuff to sift through. They deal with e-books only, which is what Shadows was written for, and promise a response within six weeks.

So, now it's a case of sitting back, getting on with the new book, and trying not to chew my nails as I wait...and wait...and wait. And I hate waiting for anything!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Kykkos

I don't have any pics to offer of the Kykkos monastery, so click on this link and enjoy:

http://cyprus.arounder.com/panagia_tou_kykkou/CY000006241.html

Though I have been told and read that that Makarios was born there, or studied there, I cannot confirm those facts, but he is certainly buried there! I can't think of the word for monks - do they study, serve their time, enter the monastery? There's proably a simple word to cover their training and I can't think of it today.

After reading Michelle's blog, I decided to watch Robin Hood on tv and I must agree that the actor who plays Guy of Guisborne is so much better than the actor who plays Robin. He does not have the stature of a hero at all, and his hair! Is it a wig? Is he bald already? That sounds cruel, but as a hairstyle - they should fire the hairdresser. I can't deny the actor is portraying a determined and well meaning young man, probably clever, certainly brave - but for sheer presence and acting ability the prizes go to the Guisborne character

Strictly was a delight yesterday, too. Gethin and Camilla - their dance kept replaying through my head as I tried to go to sleep - not thinking of the next chapter of the novel at all! - they were on fire! Even Craig, miracle of miracles, said it was fantastic. I suspect it will be Letitia who departs tonight.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Golf balls






The trees have grown taller since I was in Cyprus a good few years ago, so this set of golf balls on the top of the Troodos mountains are not so obvious now as they once were. At 6,500 feet up they should have a good range at whatever it is they do. The temperature change when driving from the coast to this spot is very noticeable. It was summer when I was last there, and the coolness was a welcome change from the hot, burning heat of the coast. This time, at the beginning of winter, I was glad I had remembered to take a pure wool sweater - and I wore it long before we got to the top. I would not like to be there when the sun goes down.
In fact, it was the lack of sunshine that spoiled our visit to the Greek Orthodox Kykkos monastery. It is filled with mosaic wall pictures, many done in the late eighties, using gold leaf that glitters and glistens in the sunshine. I thought it was the most amazing place and persuaded dh to make the trip, but when we got there, the sun disappeared, it was cold within the monastery walls and the mosaics didn't sparkle. The church is small, and claustrophobic. The thick, suffocating incense doesn't help. Almost everything seems to be made of gold. Chandoliers, cupboards, screens, everything. It is a working monastery, with monks in black robes whizzing about. It is definitely worth a visit, but try and do it on a sunny day.





The picture of the mountains doesn't look impressive, but I think you can click on it and get a larger version. You need to imagine that this covers an area that takes an age to drive through. It's like the old trick - you climb to what you think is the top of the hill, and there's always another just beyond it. Well, driving through the Troodos is like that. You think the next bend in the dirt road will take you out of the mountains, but it doesn't; it just shows you another corner. It has a charm and beauty all its own and if you are not terrified you will wreck your vehicle, it is exciting to drive the dirt roads.
The other thing that Cyprus has is history.
In particular, Roman history. There are catacombs and ruins all over Pafos, some in the grounds of hotels, others just off main streets of the town. The picture I have here is of the Asklepieion - what I tend to think of as the theatre. The lighthouse is some distance behind it, though it appears to overlook it here. We went and sat on the terraces, and did what everyone does - tested the acoustics. They work, of course.

It must have been pleasant to sit there and enjoy a play in the warmth of a summer evening with the sea breezes winding in across the back of the neck. The whole Roman settlement is built on a bluff overlooking the harbour with the sea on one side and the harbour on the other. The site is huge, and more than half of it is yet unexcavated. The House of Theseus is vast - the inner courtyard is as big as a bowling green, and rooms surrounded all four sides. I'll put some pics of that up tomorrow.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

An award!

Two bits of news before I go back to thinking about Cyprus.

First of all I'm up for an award for Dark Pool on one of the review sites. Here's the url so you can have a peek and vote for me!




Secondly, I hope to join in a fun-filled online discussion on Saturday 1st December. Treat yourself to tantalising excerpts from Anne Sole and M C Halliday, Savannah Chase, Sloane Taylor and Jen Black, Jess Dee and Tess MacKall. Prizes galore, and it runs all day.

See you there!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Brrr it's cold!



We missed the three days of storms and had a glorious week of temperatures around 24 degrees. To be honest, the night we arrived was full of thunder, lightning and torrential rain and we wondered if we'd done the right thing in arriving so late in the season.

Next day however, the sun chased the clouds away out over the Med and from then on it got steadily warmer and brighter. We hired a car on Wednesday and toured down the west coast to Limassol, stopping off at Aphrodite's Birthplace on the way. The white cliffs and the turquoise sea are stunning on a sunny day.

From Limassol we toured up into the Troodos mountains hoping we could find Kykko Monastery, reputed the be the richest in Cyprus, and where Archbishop Makarios is buried. We did, and found the place strangely oppressive. More on that tomorrow, when I dig the pics out. We crossed over the hump on the way, driving into and out of the snow line and goggling at the weird golf balls perched all over hilltops in Cyprus. Huge golf balls, with notices declaring that photography is not allowed, and, of course, absolutely no information as to what they might be doing there. They reminded me of the early warning stations on Fylingdales Moor way back in the sixties.

We then promptly got lost on the back roads heading home to Paphos. We should have had a jeep, for the 15 miles of dirt roads roared up and down hillsides, careered to the edge of sheer drops and of course the storms had cut deep gulleyes and channels where rainwater had taken the fall line down the mountain. DH, who has more knowledge of cars than yours truly, moaned and cringed and prayed that we wouldn't get a puncture, knock the sump off or otherwise damage the car. Anxiety spoilt his view of the wonderful pine forests with sun shining through the trunks...and the views across endless mountain ranges. I offered to get out and remove fallen rocks from our path, and had my hand on the door handle when I realised that I couldn't step out unless I wanted to drop about fifty feet to the stream below. "Oh, well, I can't get out here," I said, mistress of cool. DH ground his teeth and failed to respond.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Cyprus

We're off on holiday again - Cyprus this time. The temperatures should be a little warmer than the 7 or 8 degrees we have here, and I hope we'll see a little sunshine instead of the horrible grey murk and rain that hangs over the north east today.

However, it won't be all fun and games. I've printed out the first two pages of the wip, and I'm packing those, a notebook and a pen. I should make some progress with the rest of chapter one before I get back, and I'm taking Georgiana D of D and Pride and Prejudice with me as reading material. How's that for dedication?

Only a week this time. I've been to Paphos once before, but it was a long time ago and it will be interesting to see how much the place has changed. The downside is I shall have to get up very early, and I shall miss Cranford part 2, and Strictly Come Dancing! I'm not daft enough to phone in and vote on SCD, but I do like watching the amazing, intricate things they do. The energy levels of the professional dancers are amazing. I guess they must have fast twitch muscles to be able to do all they do.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

A new beginning



Started reading about the Duchess of Devonshire today.

I guess I've also started the ball rolling on the next epic. I roughed out a plan yesterday and filled in some detail today - checking for names appropriate to the time period, adding motivation where it needs to go, thinking out the relative back stories of the two protagonists and what the main bone of contention between them is going to be. I think my critique partner would say that was the most important thing of all! She's most concerned that my stories have a Spine.

The Regency is not a period I've studied, so on Lynne Connolly's recommendation I've ordered The Reign of George III by Steven Watson from an online book supplier. I remember those pale blue covers with the dull red border from my days in libraries - a whole sequence of thick books covering every time period from 400AD right up to the present day. Now I want one, of course, they're out of fashion and rarer than hen's teeth in my local libraries, hence the online purchase.

I'm planning a re-read of Pride and Prejudice, and I've got the dvd too, so I can have hours of fun doing research. This time I'll read all the footnotes! I'm happy to say that dh finally got hooked into P&P the last time I watched it. Yesterday I watched the Making of P&P yesterday and one of the examples was where Lady Catherine comes to tell Elizabeth she can't marry Darcy and complains about the windows being "full west"... dh enters the room, watches, smiles, turns to me and says "We'll have to watch it again." Success!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Money

Today is the day the UK goes mad and gives money away left, right and centre.

Last year they raised 33million for children. This year they want to better that figure. On the Terry Wogan Show Radio 2 (yes, I still listen!) listeners were phoning in and almost throwing money into the pot. One tempting offer was to attend the British Grand Prix, meet the driver of your choice, meet the team, see the workshops, sit in the car, all the sort of stuff petrolheads adore, champagne lunch - the bidding went to £100,000. Gulp.

Two 6-course meals at the Sharrow Bay Hotel on Windermere plus a trip on the lake and a big Audi to drive - I think that went for £30,000.

Have lunch with Terry Wogan and Roger Moore - you've got to be olver fifty to know who they are! The last I hear that was £70,000.

Now I feel cosily secluded from the madness. The closest it encroaches is the Pudsey van parked right across the street from my home. No doubt Paul will be out in the cold with the BBC tonight while I stay warm inside and watch it on tv.


At the College, Children in Need seemed to be an excuse for the students to dress up, wear something outrageous and almost illegally sexy, to barge into classrooms, workrooms and libraries yelling and falling over with laughter - and waving buckets into which everyone was supposed to throw money.



The first time it happened was a surprise, and welcomed with good humour - but the 31st time it happened the old patience did a u-turn and flew out of the window. And it happened every year, without fail. For the students, it was new and exciting, but for the staff - the phrase sitting ducks comes to mind. OK, I'm an old Scrooge...but am I alone in noticing how often these days we're asked to donate for this cause or that, sponsor this run or that walk, attend this party but pay for the priviledge as the money's going overseas?

I'll let all these go by and just keep quietly donating twice a year to the RSPCA and Dogs Trust.


And admiring the Pudsey van.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Celebrate

Celebrate! At the auction this morning, Siren Publishing bought the Triskelion Contracts on the list to be auctioned, along with the publishing software for a total of $1,500.00. Loose Id was there, too, but they bid only on the contracts (not the software) and offered $750.00.

According to the press release issued by Siren Publishing, they intend to immediately release all these contracts back to the authors, no strings attached, as a publicity stunt to give them exposure. They deserve all the publicity they can get for this generous act.

I have to admit I don't know Siren, so I'm on my way over there to have a look right now. This is the url -

http://www.sirenpublishing.com/

A good day for an auction

My book arrived from play.com today. Perfect new paperback all the way from Jersey. I ordered it Sunday, and it arrived second class post today. I am well pleased, and I can now return the library copy and let someone else enjoy it.

Today is auction day for the Triskelion author contracts. A strange business, but one I hope will soon be over. Evidently more e-publishers have closed in the last couple of weeks and I have to admit I'm wary of going the e-route again. Two closures out of two e-publishers does not exactly inspire me with confidence to go for a third.

I'm mulling over my next direction, writing-wise, and fell across Streatlam Castle. Not literally, of course. Built in 1718 on the site of a fifteenth century castle, it was demolished in 1927, and then, incredibly, blown up by the Territorial Army as an exercise in 1959. Hard to believe that it was allowed to happen, even if it was a ruin by then. When I found it was only 3 miles from Barnard Castle, I must have driven by Streatlam Park countless times and never realised a beautiful castle once stood there. Ah, England! It's a funny old place. I'd like to show a picture, but I think I would be breaking copyright if I did. Sorry.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Tynemouth

Left the computer to its own devices and nicked out for the whole day yesterday!

Prowled round the outlet centre at Royal Quays, then down to the Fish Quay at North Shields for fish and chips at Kristian's - scrumptious, eaten in the open air, watching the boats on the river.

Then on to Tynemouth and a walk along the sands. It was a gorgeous sunny day, but cold. The air was crisp and clear and the waves rolling in were high and spumy. Half a dozen brave souls were surfing. We watched the waves topping the breakwater at Tynemouth and crashing over it until we got too cold, and then walked on.
Finally, to the Metrocentre, where I bought a new coat. All in all, a good day. We didn't take the camera, though, so no pics.

Sunday, 11 November 2007


I’ve been reading the Victorian House by Judith Flanders.
I first got hold of it because I wanted to check when candles gave way to gas light and gas light gave way to electricity. I found the answers I wanted, but got totally sidetracked along the way with everything else. Fascinating details. I’ve ordered a copy from play.com – the site advertises “no delivery charges” and await its arrival with interest.

Amazon charge £6.99 against play.com at £7.49 – but then Amazon has a standard delivery charge which last time I checked was more than 50 pence! Also, the last time I used Amazon I had to wait ages and ages for delivery. I hate waiting - for anything! I avoid queues, would rather go without than wait in a queue.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Back to normal routine

My Victorian tale is coming to a close with the critique group so on Monday I began at Chapter One checking for errors and inconsistencies. Believe me, I found them. I also did a bit of re-writing. Some sentences just look so clutzy that I couldn't stop myself tearing them apart and rebuilding them in a simpler format. Sometimes I got muddled between gas and electric lighting, or days and dates. I'm up to Chapter Nine, so only another nine to go. Sigh.


I still have the last few scenes of the latest tale to write for the first time, but it is almost a done deal, and I don't have any worries about it. I'm keen to get on with something new, something in a different period. I do wonder if I should try a regency, but it is hard to think up an angle that hasn't been done already.


Still no word on the Viking story, still no word on the Victorian and still no word from People's Friend. The whole publishing world is silent.
And France seems a long way away.
A frosty morning a la Francais - until the sun comes up
Tonight I shall watch The Tudors. I missed a good deal of it while I was away and saw it for the first time last Friday. I thought it both flashy and inaccurate, but easy on the eye. Catherine has the Spanish accent, (I wouldn't know if it's the correct accent for her part of Spain!) but I never envisioned her with blue eyes. Anne doesn't seem terribly attractive, though Henry does, but rather prone to fly into rages between one sentence and the next - and rather young. He was born in 1485, and 48 by the time he married Anne. She was 26 when she died, and yet last week they look of similar age. Did Margaret bring about the demise of her aged husband so she could be with Brandon? I could be wrong but I thought the Duke of Richmond attained adulthood before he died. I do like Sam Neill, though and I think he's on the way to being a great actor.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


French food has quite a reputation.


I’m not known among my circle of friends as a food critic, but I find eating in France interesting.
I hate their habit of not eating until 7pm at the earliest, by which time I’m usually ready to take a chunk out of the table, and of allowing cats to sit on white table cloths whilst you eat. (My dh chased it, upon which it looked outraged, gave him a filthy look and prowled off to find a more amiable patron.)


I like their habit of eating outside in the sunshine, of taking time over a meal and rarely, if ever, pressuring a customer to move on and free a table for the next customer. I also love (most of) their crème brûlees. I think of possibly 80, only two have been less than good.

It isn’t that I think their chefs are better than English chefs though they do seem to have more of the good ones than we do. But we’re getting there. French customers seem to have higher expectations than we do, and they are not slow to make their views known.

Their produce does seem to be fresher than ours. Walnuts fell off the trees at our door while we were there, and I collected a huge amount and laid them out on the bolly floor to dry, in a a big flat circle. Almost every night something nudged and rolled those walnuts along the floor, while we were asleep just on the other side of the wall, wondering what was out there.


Farmers harvest vegetables take them to a local market and sell them the same day. Tomatoes bought under these circumstances are gorgeous, and sliced, covered with garlic olive oil and fresh basil and eaten in the sunshine with fresh bread, are just divine. Avocados this year in England have been sorry things, either rock hard or bruised and going brown inside. Bought in Monsieur LeClerc’s supermarket, they were at a peak of perfection, soft and fresh, with skins that were hard and peeled off like thick paper. Prunes from Agen, about 60 miles from Bergerac, were so much more plump and juicy than the ones that come all the way from California.

Bananas came from the Ivory coast, not Costa Rica.

Bergerac is not a huge town. It sits on the Dordogne, not far from the sea, and French rivers provide fresh water fish. Pike is always on the menu, as well as bigger, fatter sardines than we usually see here. LeClerc’s beautifully arranged fish counter is four and five times the size of the counter in my local Tesco, and yet we have the bigger population and are supposed to be a nation of fish eaters. Perhaps we are just a nation of haddock, chip and cod eaters. Mind you, I don’t think I want to go as far as having a tank with live crabs in it just waiting to be selected…

The meat counters boast cuts of meat we never see in my supermarket. Rabbits are always on sale, and boar and duck, with pates and sausages of every variety. My mouth is watering just thinking about it, and do you know, I can remember the different smells of the meat and fruit counters – then there are the bread counters and the patisseries – expensive, but to die for and only to be sampled now and again.

I think it is time for lunch…I’ve talked myself into it.


Friday, 2 November 2007

Bordeaux


Bordeaux...

was a surprise. We expected a seedy, industrial port like Marseille, but instead found a gracious city on the banks of the Garonne with Roman remains, medieval churches and broad streets lined with tall 18th century buildings.

We hadn’t looked it up in any guide books, so we knew little about it. We got some idea of its size on the motorway approach and began to quake about driving into the capital of Aquitaine. Then we remembered that the French are very good at directions for Centre Ville and providing huge underground car parks for when you get there, and relaxed a little.

The river is huge. It makes the Tyne look like a brook, and at the end of the bridge, the road led up the hill through towering old buildings. Um, we said, looking around. This is nice. We went with the traffic flow through a huge archway that made me think of Aosta’s Roman remains, avoided the road works, missed the first car park sign and caught the second but missed the entrance.

Round the square we went once more, spotted the entrance and dived into it. No time for mistakes here, or the traffic will be upon you, horns blaring. Down we went, found a spot and then we had the afternoon to enjoy Bordeaux. Bill got very brave and asked directions of a passing Bordelais. “Centre Ville?” The man looked puzzled, as well he might. I pretended I was finding something in my purse. Haltingly came an explanation. I could tell by Bill’s slight widening of the eyes that he’d followed the first couple of sentences, but as the French speeded up with the man’s enthusiasm, all was lost. He thanked him profusely in French, and backed away.

We headed, as directed, into the Place Pey-Berland, and gazed open-mouthed at the Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux. We’re not unused to cathedrals in the UK, but this one was huge and sat plonk in the middle of a large square surrounded by restaurants. We marched into Le Café Francais and opted for service en terrasse, face a la cathedrale. We ate the day’s special offering: pieces of different varieties of fish with garlic lemon-butter sauce, chestnut flavoured potatoes and a vegetable. I scoffed the lot, and had to be restrained from licking the plate.

Inside the cathedral I was struck by the huge musty darkness of one end and the light, brightness of the other. It was like two churches joined together in the middle. They say the foundations reveal (or hide, depending on your point of view) Roman walls. Pope Urban II consecrated the building in 1096 and it is now a monuent of France. The Royal Gate is from the early 13th century, while the rest of the construction is mostly from the 14th-15th centuries. 15 year old Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII here in 1137, a few months before he became king.

I know a bit about Eleanor. In my mind, she always looks like Katherine Hepburn. (Amazing what a film like The Lion in Winter can do.) After Louis repudiated her, Eleanor of Aquitaine married the French-speaking Count Henri Plantagenet in 1152. He was born in Le Mans. Within months of their wedding, Henry became King of England. Lucky Eleanor. Two out of two. The French called her Alienor, and her dowry, when she married Louis, consisted of the Guyenne, Gascogne, Poitou, Limousin, and Perigord regions. That’s a hell of a dowry. It must be almost a third of France.

For three centuries afterwards, Bordeaux was ruled by England, and the city flourished, primarily due to wine trade. I was so impressed I bought a guide book, intending to read and find out more with another visit, possibly a long weekend, in mind. I was amused to find these opening lines: “Bordeaux began with water which seeped into its name and continues to saturate it. And the truth is, it’s still flowing…” Pierre Veilletet, Bords d’eaux.

The Place des Quinconces is said to be Europe's largest municipal square. It may well be so, but now ultra-modern trams use it as a terminus, and a permanent sort of fairground occupies a good deal of it. The smell of popcorn and candy floss made my stomach heave but what had caught my eye was the Monument aux Girondins. I could hardly miss it. I had seen it from way down the Crs de 30 Juillet - a huge white fountain adorned with a 43 meter high column topped with a statue of "Liberty breaking its chains".

I wandered around in amazement. It was built, according to the guidebook, “in honour of the influential local deputies to the 1789 Revolutionary Assembly, later purged by Robespierre as moderates and counter-revolutionaries. During World War II, in a fit of anti-French spite, the occupying Germans made plans to melt the monument down, only to be foiled by the local Resistance, who got there first and, under cover of darkness, dismantled it piece by piece and hid it in a barn in the Medoc for the duration of the war.”

This cheeky maiden peering around the corner was just one statue at one corner and there were four corners. Each statue was totally different, and there were another four corners on the second story, so to speak.
What made it weird was the fact that the funfair was jammed in right behind it, so close that it was impossible to get a clear shot of the whole thing. Huge red and white pylons shoot up from the middle of the chariot...
Out at the front, another lady plus outriders, drives her four horse chariot down to the river. If she ever breaks loose the pedestrians on the Crs de 30 Juillet had better scatter for she doesn't look like much would stop her and I did worry for the horses. They had finned feet rather than hooves.
Perhaps you can see why I was entranced.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Autumn in France


We set off for France in high spirits on 4th October. We did it the leisurely way by driving down with one night in Folkstone, one night in Tours and arrived midday Saturday at the Mill in bright sunshine. It was warm, too, with the trees still green and only the merest hint of orange here and there.
Sunday was a surprise. Gunfire woke us early in the morning when it was barely light. Bill looked out of the window while I stayed snug and warm in bed - "there's a deer running over the field." A moment later, "there's dog chasing it."

"It must be la Chasse," I groaned. We remembered that the rural French are still hunters at heart. The crack and bang of gunshot sounded all morning, sometimes so close that we thought it wiser not to venture outide. We've been told that the hunters shoot more huntsmen than they do game, but even so....discretion, and all that. We passed a small group of three or four as we drove off to LeClerc's for food, and they each bore huge, lethal looking rifles. One small, rather chubby man hugged a rifle that, if it had been stood on its butt beside him, would, I swear, have been taller than him.
We were there as Clerk of Works at the Mill, you might say, for our friends are extending the building. Monsieur Grenee the builder and his brothers roared up at 7.55am on Monday and began work. The weather was brisk, but by 9.30 the sun had cleared the trees and clearing brambles, which is what we chose to do, was hard, sweaty work. Those runners go everywehere. Grab a stalk, pull and the line zips across ten and twenty feet of open land with ease. Branch lines career off in three and four other directions, and among trees, they climb through the trees and root on the other side, pulling the poor little walnut saplings into a deformed hunchbacked thing. After three or four days at work with a rake and secateurs (professional size!) we had a huge bonfire that lasted all day.
By lunchtime it was too hot to work, so we sat on the bolly in the sun. I dragged out the laptop and started work. I felt like one of those famous authors photographed in exotic locations - Arthur C Clarke in Sri Lanka springs to mind - but found I can't drink wine and do anything sensible on the computer. Sad but true.



I continued with writing on after the rejigging of chapters four and ten I'd done just before we came away, but soon came unstuck. Further down the line the storyline didn't gell. After a huge internal struggle I abandoned the changes I'd made and re-inserted the Black Moment at chapter Four.

After that, the storyline flowed far more easily. I told myself it was a small black moment that threw the participants together, really made them know what they wanted and that there would be a bigger Big Black Moment further down the line. I just hadn't got there yet. Also, I did not realise exactly how much my face reflected the frustration I felt - but the camera does not lie!

At the end of the first week, the mornings grew colder and we woke to find mists streaking down the valley, and frost turning the leaves outside our door crisp and silver. Bill assured me it was warmer outside than inside, and he was correct. We destroyed a lot more brambles, and the afternoon hours were spent in sunshine on the bolly, writing.



The evening became a struggle to light a fire. The Mill has a grande vieille cheminee, the sort you feel you can walk in and stand upright to stare up the chimney. An open fire roaring away, I thought, how romantic! How wonderful! And sometimes it was, once the wood caught fire. But I'd forgotten such a lot, too. As a child we had coalfires at home and I well remember scorching at the front and freezing at the back. So it was here; no matter how high we built the fire, no matter how many logs we burned in a night, two things remained constant - the temperature in the big room barely lifted beyond 3 degrees, and we were rosy-faced and frozen arsed. And when the indoor temperature falls as low as 10 degrees Celcius, every degree matters.
Since the candles were in the candelabra in case of a power cut, I conducted an experiment to see how far I could see with one candle. Not very far, is the answer. I would not be the lady in the flimsy nightie who flits down stone corridors holding one candle aloft in the horror movies or Northanger Abbey. I lit more and more candles and finally concluded that eight or nine candles, spread around a space about eight foot square, produced about the same light as twenty five watt electric bulb.
And the woodsmoke! I must mention the woodsmoke. We came away kippered, and not only our clothes retained the aroma; I opened up a small, empty tupperware box to wash the biscuit crumbs out once I got back home and reeled back from the smell of woodsmoke coiling into my kitchen. Now I am well aware that we didn't have an adequately prepared wood pile. We scouted the woods on the property for fallen logs and dead trees, and soon realised why every French home has an orderly, well stacked and often covered wood pile alongside the house. The wood we burned would probably have been scorned by any Frenchman with a grain of sense, but then, you use what you have. So what if we had to leap up and open the window because a blue fug had filled the room and we were almost crying because our eyes stung?

The other complication is woodworm, beetles and termites. France has them all, and it is recommended that you do not have wood piles, neatly or otherwise stacked, against the house, because termites live in them and burrow from there to the house. We split open some logs that looked wormy, and found some, 'er creatures; since we didn't know if they were the ones to dread, we burned them. I felt guilty, too.

Everything we washed, we washed by hand as the machine was out of action. (Eventually we went looking for a lavarie, and found one in Bergerac, 20 miles away.) Clothes did not dry outside, for there was no wind; the sun dried them, but a day within the house and they felt damp again. I took to ironing things before I wore them. And I filled a hot water bottle every night and wrapped my ankle-length, longsleeved nightie around it before I climbed into bed. All I can say is its the only nightie I own, and I bought it to wear in France
All this made me think how lucky I am, and how hard life was for our parents, grandparents and forebears. At least I still had a fridge, a freezer, electric light, hi fi, computer. Take electricity away and life would become hard grind just to exist. I dreamed every night, because we went to bed early, almost as soon as it got dark, and the dreams were full of childhood, my parents, people who are now dead, almost as if the woodsmoke was filtering into my dreams and making me think of the past.
I really, really enjoyed my three weeks in rural France, strange though that might sound after all the above. We laughed a lot, and had fun tearing those brambles out. We saw Squirrels (deep, rich red rather than chestnut like ours) running down the bolly supports and up and down trees within a stones throw of us, kept track of tiny lizards, hardly the width of my little finger, with incredibly delicate long toes, and nearly trod on one larger lizard with bright yellow stripes along his back when we stepped out late one night to go for a meal at Lou Peyrol. I gathered basketfuls of walnuts that fell from the trees ten feet from the door. We watched the woodpeckers, the kites and the crows and used binoculars to keep track of the bull and his harem one field across, and speculated as to why a single heron night sit alone for hours in the middle of a green field. We found him fishing one day in the stream that borders the Mill, and that's the closest we've been to such a big bird in the wild.
But I was glad to come back to home - and central heating!












Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The real me!

I arrived back home 1am Wednesday after travelling without stopping since 4.45am on Tuesday - that's driving the Honda and crossing Calais-Dover by ferry. Twenty one hours at full tilt.
Needless to say I'm absolutely cream-crackered today. I'm not going to attempt to do anything here tonight except to say the piece I did for Romance Junkies way back in July is up today, which is excellent timing. You should find it on this link:

http://www.romancejunkies.com/cocktailhour/jenblack/cocktailhourjenblack.html


Lots to come tomorrow!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Holidays

I have spent some time rejigging the chapters in my wip. This comes about because of poor planning and starting work too soon, I suppose. I knew when I wrote it that the Black Moment should come later in the story, but I was just so keen to write it...so now I pay the price. Chapter Four has become Chapter Ten and everything else has moved up and into place. That wasn't too much trouble - Thank the Good Lord for Computers - but then I had to go through and check and change the odd phrase that no longer made any sense. It's taken time, but I think I'm back on track. I have a goal, I've completed 49k and I also have a stronger, more sensible storyline.

So now it is time to pack it all up in a haversack and take off for France. Odd time of year, but interesting. I'm packing warm clothes instead of skimpy tops, for the weather there varies, as it does here, between hot sunshine and miserable dank grey days. The nights, though, are uniformly cold. I have packed warm fleeces and corduroys, just to be sure.

While I'm away I shall continue to work on the book. I also plan to reread my notes on McKee's Story. I keep intending to, but never ger around to it. But on holiday, with no tv to distract me of an evening, I shall get to it. That's if I'm sensible enough to understand it after a couole of glasses of good red wine. See you when I get back!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Romance publishing

I journeyed to Alnwick today to visit with the Border Reivers group of the RNA. Great fun. I whizzed through the glorious autumn countryside in the Mini Cooper and enjoyed every moment of the hour and a quarter it took me to get there, possibly because I travel on back roads, not A -roads. Not for me the long straight boring stretches of tarmacadam - I opt for the bends, swoops and curves of road through Stamfordham, beside Bolam Lake, a swift jink through Scots Gap and over the top to Rothbury - slow down for the High Street and then rev up the hill by the Cragside entrance, over the next top, cross the main road carefully and then on - wave at the ruined castle - I must stop and investigate one day -and then down into Alnwick. Wonderful. The trees are beginning to turn golden and the hedgerows are alive with red berries.

We talked about the Radio Four programme on Mills and Boon. If you want to read an entertaining rant about it, do go and enjoy Trish Wylie's rant: http://trishwylie.blogspot.com/
She has covered it all!

On the whole the programme coverage was not as bad as I expected it to be. I think the people like Brayfield, Mary Evans and one or two other detractors condemmed themselves out of their own mouths - they cannot have read a M&B since the 1960s. Shame on you ladies, for not keeping up with the current publishing world.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Do you ever...?


Have you ever spent an hour recording music from a CD to a tape and then found you've got nothing on the tape? That's just happened to me. I wanted to add Josh Groban tracks to a half-empty Josuha Kaddison tape and I've wasted my time. Fortunately I wasn't sitting watching the wheels go round but getting on with my wip. I'm up to 45k now and going well.


The picture shows the sixteenth century staircase to the main entrance of Aydon Hall. My heroine is currently tripping up and down these stairs as she goes about her business. I had a good old mooch around there the other week and took loads of pictures to remind myself of the detail but really, if the place is clear in my mind, I find I don't need the detail. My reader needs a flavour, not detail. And anyway, how many readers will know enough about Aydon Hall to tell me I've got it wrong? It's not exactly on the high spot of anyone's tourist plans, so tucked away north of Corbridge. I'll just go on enjoying myself writing about it.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Success at last!

Finally I've found how to make the cover for my first book show up on the blog at the normal size. Phew! what a relief. It seems it's all to do with the white space on the cover - must be why publishers rarely choose to do white covers! A blue border, which doesn't actually appear on the cover, and the software seems to recognise where the edges are and prints accordingly.

We had the central heating on this morning for the first time, which means the temperature dropped overnight and the thermostat clicked in to warm the house around 7am. I have to say I approve. It must mean that autumn is here.

I received another communication from a law firm in America yesterday telling me that the Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix has "set a hearing on the Trustee's application to extend time to assume/reject author licence agreements ... and the various objections filed thereto." The hearing is on 16th October. This all about authors and software companies getting their rights/fees back from Triskelion. It seems that Shadows, nor any of the other titles snarled up in this mess are going to hit the shelves any time soon.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Critiquing


This is me feeling pleased with myself. Perhaps I shouldn't be, but critique partners can be so tough that when one says you're doing OK, I treasure the words like gold! Here are a couple of sentences I received today:

The strongest point I noted of this chapter was the dialogue – just wonderful, and so enjoyable. You have excellent chemistry between your two protagonists.
Fantastic work, loved it!


Now, I have to say that this particular critiquer writes a mean story herself, and sends my chapters back peppered with comments, not all as glowing as the ones I've quoted here. But it is encouraging to have something like this, from someone who knows what a struggle it can be some days to get just exactly the right words down on the page.


I'm almost up to the 40k mark with my latest story, and I'm approaching a love scene. I haven't yet decided whether to take them all the way or not. Save something for later, perhaps? ah, decisions! I could always take them to bed and then interrupt them, but that seems mean...

Sunday, 16 September 2007

New romantic hero



If you can imagine this man with dark hair curling over the collar of a velvet doublet or a leather jack, then you can imagine Harry, the hero of my wip. I'm up to 35k now and its going well. I'm tempted to try giving him a dye job courtesy of Photoshop, just to see what he looks like.

I checked my old blog on Yahoo 360 tonight out of curiosity and find it records 4,460 visits. I have no idea how it records these, and it does seem curious when I have not blogged there since April. My old website is similar - 879 visits. Perhaps I ought to take them down and ensure that people come to the newer sites, but I'm not sure. Perhaps people have these bookmarked and just make an extra click to get to the new sites. Then again, perhaps they don't. Perhaps they give up and go away without bothering.

Friday, 14 September 2007



Here's the Tyne Bridge with the thing I think fondly of as the big silver slug creeping up behind it.

It is actually the Sage music centre. Sometimes modern architecture leaves me cold and I agree with Prince Charles about carbuncles on the face of well loved friends. This is one of those occasions. Sorry Mr Designer. Apologies Mr Architect. Yes, I know it reflects all the changing light at every time of day, yes I know it is fascinatingly new and modern and at, no doubt, the forefront of technology in the building trade. (Not to mention it probably cost umpteen millions....) It is so new that most repairs to the structure have to be done by a new kind of tradesman - he has to have a certificate in abseiling. There was one clinging to ropes and floating about under the ceiling when dh and I walked in for coffee last week. Quite a conversation stopper. "Oh, he's slipped. No, he's alright. Just his rigging thingy jumped a bit..."

Anyway, enough of Newcastle. I am off and flying on the new wip now. Chapter Seven is looming, over 20k words done, and this week I rubbed shoulders with real authors again, as opposed to the merely hopeful, like me. I went to Fenwicks for the launch of Benita Brown's Daughter of Fortune. She sneaked in The Dressmaker as well since she'd just got the new hardback with its beautful cover. What a varied writing career she has had! I thoroughly enjoyed her talk.

Dh and I snuk off to Wallington Hall midday to get a breath of fresh air, and fresh it was indeed. We abandoned our intended walk to the wildlife hide in favour of the most sheltered walks we could find to keep us out of the cold, cold wind which we hadn't expected and for which we had definitely not dressed. We had carefully spaced intervals of hot coffeee in the tearooms, a brisk walk to the walled garden and a brief but warm interlude in the glasshouse, a five minute sit in the basketweave chair out of the wind, then a brisk walk back to the car. I rthink autumn is upon us, folks.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

There's a review out for Dark Pool ~ check it out at http://historicalnovelreviews.blogspot.com
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Dark Pool by Jen Black

The reviewer concludes~

"What impressed me most about Dark Pool is the incredible historical details she skillfully weaves into her work. It completely enthralls the reader and transports them to a far off time and place. A talented storyteller, Jen Black truly brings the turbulence of the Middle Ages to the forefront. Her tales are never disappointing, always filled with unique plot twists and unusual circumstance. Her novels keep me reading with avid interest until the very last page."
Mirella Patzer

I'm very happy that so far reviewers have always commented on the research in a favourable way. I know I'd hate myself if they picked holes in what I'd written because I'd never bothered to check the facts. Anyway, I couldn't write if I wasn't sure about what I was saying, and it is always, always interesting to find out how people lived so long ago.

I didn't know, for example that the ladies of Sitric's court - and probably the other ladies in other courts in Ireland at the time ~used berry juice concoctions to stain their nails and lips. I suspect that their make up was less chemically laden than ours, and probably much, much healthier. I know that Elizabethans used white face paint that was full of lead, and that belladonna was used to enhance the beauty of a woman's eyes by widening the pupil, but thankfully I did not find anything worrying in the Irish cosmetics.

Saturday, 8 September 2007



This is the view from the top of Newcastle Keep, looking south down to the river Tyne. In the foreground you can see some of the medieval walls that surrounded Newcastle, and Armstrong's famous Swing Bridge is in the middle of the picture. In its day, (1876) it was the largest hydraulically operated bridge in the world. The whole deck rotated 180 degrees to free up both channels and allow shipping up and down to the Elswick works. Armstrong went on to supply the machinery to raise London's Tower Bridge. (1894)

To the left is the Tyne Bridge. The earliest bridge across the Tyne, Pons Aelius, was built by the Romans in about the same spot. A stone bridge replaced it in 1270 and was destroyed by the great flood of 1771 . In 1781 , a new stone bridge across the Tyne was completed. Increased shipping activity led to the stone bridge being removed in 1866 to make way for construction of the present Swing Bridge.


Discussion about the bridge began in 1864 but it wasn't until the early 1920s that proposals began in earnest. Work started in August 1925 with Dorman Long acting as the building contractors. Despite the dangers of the building work, only one worker died in the building of this structure, which cost £1.2m when complete.


The Tyne Bridge was completed on 25 February 1928 and opened on 10 October by King George V and Queen Mary, who drove across in their Ascot landau. The Tyne Bridge's towers were built of Cornish granite and were designed as warehouses with five storeys but were never used. Lifts for passengers and goods were built in the towers to provide access to the Quayside, but these are no longer in use. The bridge was originally painted green and the same colours were used to paint the bridge for the year 2000. The bridge spans 531 feet and the road deck is 84 feet above the river level.

There are so many bridges in Newcastle now that it is hard to keep track of them all. The most recent, and possibly the most famous, is the Millenium blinking-eye bridge. I'll have to see if I took a photograph of that, but I think one of the Keep's towers got in the way!

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Chapter Four


This, folks, is Newcastle Keep. Believe it or not, the arch before it is the Victorian railway and today's trains screech by within touching distance of the stones of the castle. I kid you not. It must be the only building I know where a train rumbles by and you can barely hear it.
I've been very good and written 2000 words today. Already I'm up to Chapter Five of the work in progress, and the strange thing is that although I find it hard to plot in advance with this one, when I apply myself to the keyboard, characters just up and take over. Words start spewing out over pages. I struggled to curb this this for a while, but now I've decided to just go with the flow. I can always trim what isn't relevant at a later date.

So now I read in bed instead of plotting my next chapter! A fine excuse, perhaps, but true.


I've just finished Nicola Cornick's Deceived, which was excellent. Such a subtle plot device to use the notices in the newspaper. Now I've started June Francis's Tamed by the Barbarian. The titles HMB select always crack me up, but I gather they are intended to be "generic" so the reader will know what to expect. Possibly because the average HM&B reader doesn't have time to stand and read a blurb but needs to be able to grab a book as she goes by with the supermarket trolley and still be assured of a good read.

If it works, don't knock it, I always say.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

This might seem a bit like blowing one's own trumpet, but then if I don't do it, who will? I first contacted Ms Marr way back in January. In fact it might have been even earlier than that, but let's not quibble over a month or two. Reviews do take their time to come through. I feel this one was worth waiting for: read and see what you think.

The Banners of Alba Review on http://www.nightsandweekends.com

"In the Dark Ages of Scotland, men fight for the crown, sweeping aside contenders by any means available—including murder. Alliances are made or broken by marriages of convenience, and human character is ever the same, no matter what period in history.

Malcolm of Alba sends Daveth mac Finlay to forge an alliance with his nephew, Thorfinn Sigurdarson, Lord of Orkney, by marrying his half-sister, Ratagan. But Prince Duncan prefers Finlay dead—because he’s a real possibility to take the throne. So he plots behind the King’s back, to have Finlay assassinated before he reaches Thorfinn. Finlay reaches his destination without harm, but he has no intentions of marrying the beautiful and clear-headed Ratagan. He’ll choose his own wife—and not a minute before he’s ready to get married. He has no interest in becoming king, but Thorfinn, though he will not force it, advises Finlay that an alliance between them, through his sister, would be a wise thing to consider.

Ratagan doesn’t want to marry Finlay any more than he wants to marry her, but there’s an attraction between them that they cannot deny. Ratagan will not be ruled by her future husband—she has a mind of her own and will not be obedient just because it’s required of her. Finlay wants to control her, but Ratagan is too strong-willed for that to ever happen.

Kilda had her heart set on marrying Finlay. They’d known each other since childhood, and it was understood that they would marry. But the king thought otherwise and forced her to marry Finlay’s cousin, Gille, to keep Finlay from the crown. Any child born to Kilda would be in line for the throne, and any man would be willing to marry her—but would it be for her or just for a chance to rule before her son becomes old enough to take the throne?

Hareth mac Enna has loyalties to no one but himself. He can choose sides at will while disregarding life-long friendships like the one he has with Finlay. The beautiful, spoiled Kilda plays right into his hands—except he may have truly fallen in love with her. Hareth is a devious but intelligent man, and he’s not entirely heartless. His emotions and honor go a long way in deciding his future plans, even if he doesn’t know it himself.

I can’t imagine the amount of research required in writing The Banners of Alba, but Ms. Black has done her homework. The settings, characters, and history are well-written, taking you back to a time when men fought for land and power and women were considered nothing more than possessions to be used to further a man’s standing.

I love it when an author creates real characters with real human flaws. I can say, “Oh, now, that was a really stupid thing to do,” and still like the character. Ms. Black has definitely done this in The Banners of Alba. All of her characters are unique and rich in personality, and they act just as you would expect men and women to act when emotions run high. It’s not always pretty, but it’s honest. Engaging to the very last page, The Banners of Alba entrances you with a bold story of love and deception. It’s a medieval soap opera that will keep you coming back to see what happens next in this epic tale of love and war."

Well, was it worth waiting for? You tell me. I'd love to know if review influence readers at all.

Sunday, 26 August 2007


I put the following post in http:/unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com early today. If you want to read the whole thing and enjoy some of the other posts about historical fiction, check it out.


"Scalds or skalds were Scandinavian/Icelandic, scops were from the Germanic traditions that came to Britain and bard was the term used in Ireland. Minstrels came to England with the Conqueror from France. Legend has it that The Conqueror’s minstrel Tallifer begged and was allowed to strike the first blow against the English at Hastings." (More...)

I went to Newcastle Keep last Wednesday and took lots of pics. What struck me today was that Robert Curthose was probably entertained by scops and travelling bards every night in the Grand Hall of the Keep just as we are entertained by television (or whatever your particular form of light relief might be.) I think I know which was the more improving for the mind, and it isn't today's tv.

Friday, 24 August 2007

heroes




I promised to show you some of my favourite faces for the heroes in my stories, so here goes. This one (left) doubles up as Finlay in Banners and Dark Pool except that Finlay's hair is black rather than brown.

The face matched the character I had dreamed up so very well. I don't know the actor, and I don't think I've ever seen him in a film, but I don't need to.

I already have the vague outline of the character in my imagination so when I'm trawling the net, reading posts, or just scanning a magazine, sometimes I'm lucky and see a photo that clicks with the image in my head - bingo! There's recognition. I capture the pic and then I can look at it, study it, decide how best to describe it in words that will carry a picture to the reader. The sad thing was that by the time I found Finlay's "picture" he was already in print.

With Herondale, I've been lucky.This face is standing in very nicely for the late Victorian hero in my latest story, as yet unpublished. Pity he got his hand in the way, but he'll do. It's quite fun trying to imagine him dressed in the fashions of the 1890's and addressing the heroine as Miss Blackett.


Further down the page the blonde hero is the very essence of Flane in another as yet unpublished story, right down to the way he stands. I couldn't resist.


Since I don't know the actors, I have no preconceived ideas of them. I have never heard them speak, so I can give them whatever kind of voice I like, give them an earring or two, take way the arm bands if I want and dress them in whatever clothes suit my purpose.
I do the same thing with heroines, but most of their pics are the paper variety, otherwise I'd put them up here.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

I've been interviewed!

I'm being interviewed on Sloane Taylor's blog and it is a really good presentation by Sloane so I hope you'll rush over and read.

http://www.sloanetaylor.com/blog/

It begins on 20th ~ "Jen Black tells all"

Gosh ~ I feel famous already!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Organisation


Do you recognise this man? (Read on!)
This morning I updated my anti virus software, took care of some bank business, and organised my clutterbook. Clutterbook? I'm sure you've got one too. It's the little notebook in which I jot down every url that I think I might want to use again. I started it so long ago, way before I discovered how to use Favourites and I was reluctant to ditch it because I knew some little gems were tucked away among the stuff that was


a) obsolete and

b) of no interest now or

c) has now become a firm Favourite


So today I went through, checked them all to see if they were still live - most were, and then if I thought I might need them, I transposed them into a A-Z indexed notebook. Before you laugh, I threw a hell of a lot out. But at least now I have a fair to even chance of finding something in my new notebook. It seems I still haven't outgrown that childish love of lists, listmaking, and maybe best of all - writing in new notebooks.
Blogs are discussing actors as fictional heroes right now, so I'm anxious to have my say on this luscious topic. Ian McShane (above) is a type who figures in my fictional writing. I was impressed by his first film way back in the dim and distant past - The Wild and the Willing, perhaps, if I haven't accessed one of those fatal holes in the memory bank. There's something about the deep set of his eyes and the magical timbre of his voice. He can look like a wide boy, a loveable rogue (Lovejoy) and he isn't ideal as a base for one of the romantic gentry figures, but...he is a type I can use. Stretch him to 6 foot, give him a long stride like Charles Dance, and a decent haircut, beautiful clothes and he's just about there.
More tomorrow...

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Hung over


That's Halton Tower flying the flag.
Had some good friends over to dinner last night and consequently off to a very slow start this morning. I don't want to go downstairs, because I know we didn't finish clearing up. Usually I do, but for some reason this time I didn't, so even though I didn't peek round the dining room door when I stumbled down stairs for a mug of black coffee, I know there's a collection of glasses waiting to be hand-washed and napkins to clear and wash, fingerprints to take off the table, empty bottles ot dispose of....but it was a Good Night. Hate to think how many calories we tucked away, and goodness knows what I did with the feta cheese, which mysteriously vanished when I wanted to crumble it with the fresh parsely and basil. I still haven't found it.


Because I planned this dinner and did most of it in advance (one of the joys of not working for a living!) I had time to read through my late Victorian story yesterday, catching the last few errors (I hope) and now I think I regard it as complete. Its gone off as a partial, so now it's sit back and wait time. Time to turn my attention to something new.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Bah Humbug!

I cannot get the cover pic of Banners to show up on the blog - right hand side - over there ----
the right size. As it is, it's a bit like looking in a distorting mirror. Sorry about that. I've added about 20 "hits" to the site trying to get it right, all to no avail.



There's a new review of Banners over at : http://historicalnovelreviews.blogspot.com/

and I see they have used the old cover layout. I wonder if they had the same problems trying to load the newer cover? Perhaps I'll try the older one, too! All that's different is the colour and font of the actual words.



That's the correct size! Phew!






I wonder if I mentioned that I blogged on Unusual Historicals on the 26th last month? and that I'll be blogging htere again on the 26th of every month unless they throw me off. I talked about writing my first book and the pros and cons of writing in a time and place where written records are almost unknown.

There are some well known authors blogging there for your delectation - a different author every day. Today it was the turn of Michelle Styles and she's talking about casting actors as her heroes.

Maybe I'll talk about that next time I blog.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Good news and Bywell


Today I received a request for a full ms for a partial submission I sent off some time ago. So while I realise it could still be a turn down, at least its a step forward on the road to getting something new out there. I've spent the day reading through, checking for typos, trying to concentrate 100% so that nothing slips through. It's a while since I worked on this story, and on the whole I'm pleased with the way it hangs together. Now I can only hope that they like it.





This is St Andrews church at Bywell, Northumberland. The tower dates back to Anglo Saxon days, though as with most churches in the UK, there have been alterations to various parts of it through the centuries. I remember being brought here on a visit by my tutor Dr Bailey and he pointed out the features that made it datable to the 800s - megalithic quoin stones at the corners of the tower, the simple arched windows...the circular openings...I'd have to go back to my notes to tell you more, but it is a lovely old church and one of the more fascinating things about it is the circular path around the churchyard, supposedly so the devil could not find his way in. As you can see in the first picture, the churchyard is going back to nature as the church is not in service any more.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Autumn Walking


Went for a walk today out by Prudhoe Castle. A bit breezy, but out of the wind, very hot sunshine. We went by old Eltringham Village and the old track along by the river - lovely views across -though you can't see it because it's down in the dip, then up the hill by Bewick's Cottage to Mickley, then back along the main road.
We found brambles and luckily I had plastic bags in my pocket, so we picked enough fine black fruit to make a crumble. They're early this year, and rowan and elder berries are in hanging in huge swags just begging to be picked or for the birds to eat them. We found wild plums, too, though Bill refused to eat one.
I did, so if I don't survive the night - don't eat the plums!
Another few days and the hazelnuts will be ready, too. I love the idea of free food, and its a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Brings back memories of childhood when we all went out armed with bags, bowls and buckets.
Toothache is fading away, but still present.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Great-uncle


This is my great-uncle, who was born November 1872. He would be about 20 in the time I have chosen to write about, and I think he looks somewhere between 20 and 30 here, bearing in mind that fashion can make people look older than they actually were. He died before I was born.
I still have toothache but it is getting less painful. At least I don't need painkillers today. If I sit still, it is easier, too, so it is a grand reason to stay chained to my desk and go through the second draft of my late Victorian epic. Sorry, my late Victorian romance, is more accurate.

I've cut a good chunk of description, and I've brought the h/h together in every chapter but one so far. Even if he isn't there in person, she's thinking about him, so I hope I'm closer to the money this time. What I need now is a good title. I called it The Silver Age originally, because I've read that's what the Russians called this period of history. I rather liked it, but I have to admit it doesn't cut the mustard as far as M&B titles go, so I go to sleep at night thinking up racy titles

I'm about halfway through, maybe a third, but its hard to tell when I might decide to add a chapter, or delete one. Anything goes at this stage.