Recently

§

"June is busting out all over!"

June
 2018

It doesn’t seem possible that we are almost half-way through the year does it?

I don’t seem to have got anything done so far this year, although looking back I have written ‘Smugglers in Fact and Fiction’, to be published early in January 2019, I published via SilverWood Books Ltd ‘When the Mermaid Sings’ and have re-proof-read ‘Pirates in Truth and Tales’ in order to get it ready for the paperback edition published in mid-July - hopefully without the typos that are in the hardback edition when the publisher printed from the wrong file.

Most of the rest of the time seems to have passed with sloshing and squelching through mud from what has seemed to have been almost continuous rain since last summer.

But here we are at June, and as the lyrics of the song from the musical and Broadway stage show announce: "June is bustin’ out all over". The garden is a blaze of colour, albeit that much of that colour is weeds, but in my view, if it has a pretty flower it can stay. Each year that passes here in Devon - this is our sixth summer - the different colours never cease to fascinate. Green in particular. It was something I never really noticed back in London, just how many varying shades of green there are. Looking out of my study window at the hills on the other side of the Taw Valley on a quick count I’ve come up with at least fifteen totally different types of green.

Sparrows are cheeping outside my study door. They are hidden in the elderflower bush; fledglings I think calling for their mamas and papas to Bring Food. There is also a bit of bird-equivalent four-letter-words being chirruped at a squirrel is hoovering up the last of the seed from the bird table.

The bird table itself is at a precarious angle because we have two hen pheasants that are the size and shape of a rugby ball regularly plopping on to it. They are so round they rarely fly so ‘plop’ is the correct word. We are fairly certain that these hens are the ones we rescued several years ago as day-old chicks when their mother was run over in the lane.

There are a couple of Tawny Owl pairs nesting in the trees near the house, and obviously they are not the best of friends because there is a lot of twit-twooing at night. We have seen the barn owl once or twice, but it seems likely that the Wet Field (aptly named) on the far side of our orchard has been too wet this year to sustain the little creatures that Barn Owls hunt. For mice, voles, shrews to survive down there they would have needed wellies at the very least, or good, sturdy rowing boats!

Thank goodness the horses are out at last enjoying the sunshine and the grass. Franc, the foal prefers to stretch out in the middle of the field and sleep for most of the day, stirring himself for elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, and a pre-dinner snack. He is not two months old yet, but has the speed of a racehorse and the cheek of a teenager. His Mum, Saffie, is already exasperated with him and hands him over to Auntie Lexie during the day for her to keep an eye on him.

As far as June goes, ‘Carousel’ was not my favourite Rogers and Hammerstein musical (‘Oklahoma’ takes precedence,) but several of the songs are now classics and are thought to be the best written by that pair. I wonder how many people realise that ‘When You Walk Through A Storm’ comes from ‘Carousel’? My son-in-law will grumble as he is a Spurs fan but probably the most moving rendition is this version filmed at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium. For my non-uk / non-soccer followers, this wonderful song from ‘Carousel’ is Liverpool F.C’s signature song, recorded by Liverpool pop group "Gerry and the Pacemakers" back in the 1960s, when they were managed by Brian Epstein of The Beatles and Cilla Black fame.

And, of course, there is the famous Carousel Waltz.

I love those huge carousels with their brightly-coloured gallopers – alas you do not see them that often nowadays. The movie was made in 1956 as an adaptation of the 1945 stage musical, which was based on Ferenc Molnár's non-musical play ‘Liliom’. The movie starred Gordon MacRae and a very young Shirley Jones, who, among other things, went on to star in the TV show ‘The Partridge Family’ which set David Cassidy onto his path to fame. He passed away recently; I have memories of seeing him in concert at Wembley, many years ago now.

As for ‘Carousel’ and June, I think I can make a good guess that you’ll be singing ‘June is bustin’ out all over’ at least once this month, and if you want a prompt for the words, or would like to watch those wonderfully choreographed scenes again, click here for YouTube.

I’m not sure what my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne, will make of those sailors dancing about though.

Happy Bustin’ out for June!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

May
 2018

Well, he is here! Taw River Dracarys – or Franc for short - because we decided on Frank, but his mum is French… ‘He’ being the foal. He arrived at about 4:45pm on my sixty-fifth birthday, which I mentioned in last month’s Journal. April 2018 was also the twenty-fifth anniversary of my official path to becoming a published author. Where do the years go?

Franc was up on his very long, wobbly legs, after doing a good impression of a spider, about half-an-hour after he was born, which was just as well as Saffie gave birth down in the far corner of Bottom Field. It had been a pleasant afternoon, one of the first rare chances to let the big horses out to graze. The problem was that the gateway was still ankle-deep in churned-up mud. Still, our brave little trooper, clinging close to Mummy’s side, tottered through it.

Franc is two weeks old as I write this on April 27th – and those legs really are enormously long! We are still not sure if he is going to remain chestnut, turn a darker bay or end up as a grey. His Dad is grey (well white really) so he could become a ‘Snowy’.

Photos are here or you’ll find some videos and more photos on my Facebook Page. (You don’t have to own a FaceBook account – the page should be open to public viewing).

Talking of photos: I still do not have a date for the Return of Escape to the Country on TV – so please do keep an eye on the homepage of this website for up-to-date news!

And another clever link… I am offering an annual prize of a £10/$10 Amazon gift voucher to everyone who subscribes to my monthly Newsletter – winner to be drawn at the end of December - and don’t worry, I will also be drawing a second winner for those of you who have already ‘signed up’. So click here now and join my fantastic friends, fans and followers.

But what about that opening quote? April 2006 was another huge life-changing (well work/writing changing) month for me. Twelve years ago I made the decision to ‘go indie’. My (ex) agent had let me down Big Time, my mainstream publisher ditto, and I faced the prospect of giving up writing. With nothing to prove, I decided to go self-publish using an assisted company to produce my books. It was an enormous step – and back then, quite a brave one as self-publish was still being associated with poor quality vanity publishing, the idea of ‘going indie’ was not really understood, and very much not respected. Justifiably really, as the genre was in its infancy and the books that were being produced were not being produced to the best quality.

Those first steps were a very steep learning curve for me. What mistakes could be made I made them. But they were MY mistakes and I learnt from them.

These years on I am published as a ‘hybrid’, meaning mainstream and indie combined, and published in the USA, Turkey, Italy and Germany as well as the UK, Canada and Australia. I do not make a fortune out of my books, few indie writers do, but they are MY books, produced now with as much care as I can.

I am still here, twelve years later, writing. Gallows Wake (Voyage Six) will be my sixteenth book.

I’m pleased that I didn't give up when that ex-agent dumped me. There’s something to be said for Doing It My Way!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

April
 2018

Spring, according to the calendar, has sprung. Flowers are popping up all over the place - primroses, celandines, daffodils but no bluebells yet and the snowdrops have finished. Unfortunately, snow has made the daffs somewhat droopy. Still, the ones that were frozen solid or broken I picked and enjoyed in the house. My Mother's Day present from Kathy - we celebrate Mother's Day in the UK earlier than in the USA - was a huge bunch of glorious daffs. Picked from our bottom field - but that was OK, it saved me glooping through the mud to get them!

That part of the field, many years ago, had a small house built there. All signs of it have long gone, except for the host of daffs occupying the hedgerow.

I had a slight 'encounter' with the snow, or rather the ice in the lane caused by the run-off from melting snow. Everything was fine during the day, Kathy, the dogs and I had a most enjoyable walk through the snow in our top field, but come dusk the temperature dropped dramatically. I went out to give Donkey some extra hay, and found that the lane between the house and his stable in the dairy was a sheet of black ice. Most unpleasant. For the full story, and photos, go to my Tuesday Talk on my Blog.

Another spring excitement is that we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Saffie's foal. Might be here any day now or by the time you read this, already born. Keep an eye on the homepage for up-to-date news!

I do have some news about my smugglers non-fiction book, which I recently submitted to Pen and Sword publishers; it will be published in January 2019 and will be the very first in their 'Fact and Fiction' series. I have seen the cover design and it looks most eye-catching, but hush please, it is still a secret. We will be having a big cover reveal very soon. Meanwhile I have a few articles about smuggling (and some other topics) on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. This is a link to some of the previous articles I have penned for them, but keep a look-out on my homepage for new postings. You could also receive the occasional tit-bit of exclusive news - and that cover reveal - if you subscribe to my newsletter.

Talking of which: There are new data protection laws coming into force in the UK very soon, I wish to confirm again that subscription email addresses to my newsletter are for my use only and will never be knowingly passed on or used in any other capacity outside of the newsletter subscribers' list.

2018 is a special year for me, April the special month. I will reach the grand, (unfortunately probably not 'wise') old age of sixty-five. That isn't the special bit, though. Twenty-five years ago I celebrated my fortieth birthday during the Easter Weekend while on holiday in the Lake District, camping in our family campervan on the shore of Coniston Water. For the actual day we went for a walk up Coniston Old Man. I recall that it was bright and sunny but somewhat chilly. I was on edge throughout the entire holiday, however, because just before leaving home I had spoken with my (now ex) literary agent about The Kingmaking. William Heinemann, an imprint of Random House, UK, had expressed an interest and I would know their decision after the Easter break. That meant I had to wait until we returned home to north-east London.

Exactly one week after my fortieth birthday I received the news that yes, they wanted the entire Pendragon's Banner Trilogy and offered me a contract. That I was over the moon was an understatement. After many years of boring people with my statement of 'One day I am going to be a proper author', it was going to come true.

From there the rose-coloured glasses proved to be more tinted than I had thought. My agent (ex-agent) eventually let me down and Heinemann undertook very little follow-up marketing. This was the mid-nineties. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs were things of the future, even websites were a new concept and very basic. Authors were entirely in the hands of agents and publishers, and if either did not back you, you sank. To this day I do not understand how a publishing house can pay out a generous advance and then not bother to promote the books they have taken on. For The Kingmaking I had radio interviews. Who remembers Derek Jameson on Radio Two? I spent a happy hour with him in his studio chatting about this and that - and my novel, and as it was a late night show the BBC even provided a car to take me home.

To get a scoop, the London Evening Standard took me, Ron and Kathy out for the day to Colchester (don't ask, I've no idea why Colchester!) When we came home the street was crawling with reporters all wanting a story.

The post-six o'clock local news on ITV spent the day with us filming, and we had a good long spot on the show. But the marketing for the other two books in the trilogy did not materialise, and in reality historical fiction was suddenly not as popular as it had been. Fortunately, it is now and I've made my own way without Random House or an agent to let me down.

I've wrestled with reality for twenty-five years, and I'm happy to state that I can now ignore it. So, happy Silver Anniversary to me, for becoming a proper writer! (This is where the champagne cork pops, and someone enthusiastically shouts 'Hooray!')

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

March
 2018

No out-and-about adventures this month, which is something of a relief, although maybe my expecting to take Wonky Donk the donkey for a quiet, gentle, stroll up the lane - and Donk deciding it was to be more akin to a 600 yard Uphill Sprint - was a tad unexpected!

I don't do trotting, jogging or hurrying, especially not when it is up our very steep lane and being towed by an over-eager donkey! Anyone who insists that donkeys are slow old plodders hasn't seen our Donk in 'go faster' mode.

We had an earthquake here one Saturday afternoon - its centre was Swansea, South Wales, but we felt it here in Devon. The rumbling noise was quite scary. 4.5 on the Richter scale I think it was. Mind you, initially I thought the loud rumble was my daughter's washing machine going into its final over-excited spin. The machine is in said daughter's flat situated on the other side of my study wall. I soon realised it was a different sort of rumble though. Admitted, this sort of earthquake is nothing compared to what other countries have to endure, but then we just don't 'do' earthquakes here in the UK!

Alas, the last weekend of February produced a bit of gruntlement on my part. (For those of you who are not P.G. Wodehouse acquainted. "If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled." P.G. Wodehouse, 'The Code of the Woosters.'

So, I found myself being far from gruntled when I was deleted as a member from a certain historical Facebook group. I was 'removed' as I had dared to mention in public my concerns about an issue with an apparent proposed method of reviewing indie-written novels, which would have involved putting authors seeking reviews in direct contact via email and home address with reviewers. This could open a huge can of unpleasant worms as, unfortunately, there are more than a few authors who get very disgruntled if their books are rejected or receive a poor review.

As a previous managing editor of this particular Society, and now as founder of Discovering Diamonds, I have had several nasty emails - one was even threatening - because of a rejected novel. The delete and block facilities come immediately in to play of course, but even suggesting to put reviewers - who are all volunteers - in a vulnerable situation is madness.

However, because of my concerned comment on a thread that someone else had posted, I was informed: 'You are welcome as a fan and writer of hf, but less so as a vocal critic of our policies... if you promise to keep the criticism out (there may even be things to praise in what we do?) you are warmly welcome. If not... well you will know why you get removed!"

So, I would be permitted to say "I like the way you do XXX" but not permitted to say "I'm not sure that XXX is a good idea." I made a valid - and very concerned - point on a thread that I did not initiate, yet others who commented with similar concerns were not kicked out. So obviously I, and two of my Discovering Diamonds reviewers, were singled out for this unpleasant rebuke. However, that insult aside, I do not tolerate threats and bullying. So the "I will wait for a reply before reinstating you (just 'yes' will be fine)" means that the sender will have a very l.o....n....g wait, as "yes" will never be forthcoming.

But on a different note, I would like to say a big 'thank you' to Alison Morton who has now resigned as the admin for the Historical Novel Society social media group. She did a superb job but is now going to concentrate on writing her next novel… which is a huge plus for us her fans. Hurry up Alison, we're chomping at the bit for the next Roma Nova thriller!

Still, moving on and looking ahead not back, March is here, Spring has Sprung, we hope, and my daughter's Taw River Show Jumping enterprise has several exciting events planned for the months ahead, in particular a Not To Be Missed horse show here in North Devon on 22nd July, where there will be show jumping, showing classes, trade stands and a fun dog show - including Doggie Dressage! I'll be giving more information nearer the time, but for now if you are in or near Devon - Save The Date!

I have to smile to myself. I selected my 'Quote of the Month' several weeks ago - but given the content of my Journal this month, I think it is quite appropriate; the horses certainly do seem to have most of the sense where some people are concerned!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

February
 2018

We still have rain. We still have mud. Lots of both. With knobs on, as the (inexplicable!) saying goes.

The weird thing is, Spring has definitely Sprung, albeit a very soggy and windy one. The snowdrops are out in full bloom. There are a few catkins on the hazel trees. The elder outside my study door is coming into bud, the birds are twittering of a morning, and a pair of sparrows have been busy in the nesting box on the wall by my study windows. Plus (intake of breath indicating astonishment) . we have a daffodil in bloom. Just one, by the porch in the front garden - but a daff? In January? Like I said - weird.

The winds have been visiting, their strength varying between mildly annoying to outright keeping the household awake at night. (Well not Ron, he's quite deaf now so sleeps through everything.) When storm Eleanor stomped over the southern horizon, totally uninvited, she hung around making a huge nuisance of herself from about 2.30 to 7.30 a.m. Apart from the windows rattling, I lay there wondering whether any loud bangs or crashes indicated something falling down, being blown off or ripped apart. The house juddered once - which considering it is stone built with walls varying from between one foot to three feet thick is quite something. I figured it has stood here in one piece since 1769, however, so wasn't about to go anywhere.

Come morning, no damage, discounting the huge bang that rocked the house, shaking the ground and ripping through the sky. Yep. Lightning strike. Fortunately it sounded worse than it was, although I don't know that British Telecom or our new neighbours, the 'Up the Hills', agree. The strike was to the box atop a telephone pole in the lower part of the main lane. Miraculously it did not affect our connection.

There has also been flooding in North Devon. We have been fine, except for one night in mid-January. Most of the flooding was caused by rivers bursting their banks, and there are rather a lot of rivers here in Devon, the main ones in our area, the Taw, the Mole and the Bray, rising on Dartmoor or Exmoor.

At South Molton, our nearest town, the River Bray decided it wanted to go walkabout (or should that be runabout? Floatabout?) Not too much of a disaster since it was a Sunday. Farm vehicles and larger cars and vans could get through the awash road, but not ordinary cars.

Problem. Ron's car was parked in South Molton for the weekend as he had gone off on his annual trip to the Pigeon Fancier's Show, their Event of the Year at Blackpool. He does not have a cell phone. There was no way I could warn him 'don't drive home. You won't get through the floods.'

However, after tracking down someone who had someone else's phone number I got through to the coach which was en-route home. The plan was for Ron to phone when he reached town and son-in-law Adam would go and fetch him in his higher-than-the-floods truck. As it happened Ron followed Adam home via a convoluted back lane route. Thank goodness for SatNav!

One adventure ends then another begins…

Kathy called me to request assistance to bring the ponies in. They were all being idiots (because of a blustery, cold wind) and were playing her up. Don wellies and raincoat and up the lane I trudge. What's that noise? Sounded odd.

I judged it best, get the neds and Donk safely in then go and investigate with Kathy, my sight not being too good although my hearing makes up for it.

Something fizzing and crackling amongst the tops of our 'Down-the-Hills' neighbour's trees? Good grief! Sparks! A mini-firework display from the overhead electricity cable. Yikes!

Fast forward a little over an hour. There were half-a-dozen or so big, burly fireman with their rather large fire engine parked outside our stable block, and West Country Power assessing the problem, which turned out that the pole itself had shifted, part-toppling forward and the 11,000 volt-carrying cable was having a disagreement with the trees - which, thank goodness - were so sodden from the rain that they didn't catch alight. If they had done so, I would now be describing a very serious situation and major damage.

As it was, cups of tea were duly supplied all round by us, then the firemen left West Country Power to it, 'it' being the old pole removed, a new one replaced. All of which took about five hours, in a semi-gale wind and periods of pouring rain at night. Oh, and all the electricity in the vicinity of our village turned off.

Still, it was rather cosy for us, knowing there was now no danger of fire or falling cables. We sat as a family around our blazing log fire drinking red wine and bathed in the gentle glow of candle light.

So, that is my story for this month.

March is Women's History Month - her story - but I've featured the Women of Arthur on the February 2018 home page for three reasons;

- I have written an article about Arthur, his women and children as pertinent to my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, because

- I was highly honoured to learn that a wonderful lady is writing her university thesis based around my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, and that her very talented daughter had sketched the 'Women of Arthur', and lastly

- The German translation of The Kingmaking is now released. I am delighted with the cover, and sincerely hope that German readers will enjoy the novel in their own language. Parts Two and Three will be following soon.

Speak and/or read German? Here's the link to Amazon Germany.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

January
 2018

I have made a discovery. Possibly it is not up there with the major discoveries by Einstein, Marie Curie or what's-his-name who 'found' the World Wide Web. but I think it is somewhat poignant. I have discovered that Christmas is not very Christmassy when it pours with rain all day and everywhere and everything is covered not in sparkly frost but in thick, wet, oozy mud.

Mincepies? No, mudpies.

Bedecked? No, bedraggled.

Add to this, I have an observation. Why on earth doesn't a flooring company invent floor tiles that have pre-printed dog's paw prints on them, then we wouldn't notice the new mud-coloured ones. And as for the pet cat… bad enough our Mab catching mice, bringing them into the bedroom and sitting there (at 3 a.m) crunching every little bit from head to tail, but jumping on the bed (also at 3 a.m) absolutely dripping wet? Oh p..l..eese!

At least our donkey, known as Wonky Donk, is happy. We moved him into a different stall, built into one half of the dairy, where he is very comfortable and highly delighted that the window and door are now at donkey height; he can stand in the warm and dry and peer at what's going on outside - and bray at it.

I have a few plans for 2018. I must get on with writing the sixth Sea Witch Voyage, Gallows Wake and I want to write my Madoc the Horseman idea as well. Plus, have you noticed that this website has changed slightly? Check out the graphics on the Home Page. I also want to produce more 'items of interest' for my main blog: Let Us Talk of Many Things. My only problem, I have to think of a few things to 'Talk' about. Any ideas? Suggestions? If you do have any thoughts you can reach me via 'Contact' on the menu bar above.

Also, I'd love suggestions and ideas for how I can make my sort-of-regular newsletter more interesting. I do not really want just a 'this is my latest book' advert page, but what would you, my readers and followers like to receive?

We also had a loss and a gain just before Christmas. The loss was our lovely 'Up-the-Hill' neighbours moving away to Salisbury - much missed as they made us so welcome when we first moved in - and friends ever since. But they were replaced by equally as nice new neighbours. I just hope the sound of Wonky Donk braying, the geese honking, the hens clucking, the ducks quacking and Eddie the dog howling at high-pitched noises doesn't put them off too much!

Incidentally, Eddie has been in my bad books. (He was threatened with Santa not bringing him any presents). Although in truth it was not, accurately-speaking, my bad 'books' that he was in.

Eddie, three-parts collie breeding, gets obsessed with things. Be it rounding up hens, ducks, tennis balls, scurrying wind-whipped leaves or running water. He recently discovered the fountain in our brick-built raised fish pond. And the fish.

All well and good him standing at the edge staring at the fountain and/or the Koi carp… We warned him to "get down". We told him to "get down". We yelled at him to "get down". He did get down, but unintentionally. He fell in. Result: One very cold and very soggy doggy.

Did it cure him? Did it heck.

I've had several people contact me to ascertain if we are alright here in Devon, whether we are snowed in. See the first paragraph above for a somewhat grumpy response. Nope, no snow here. Not even a snow-flake flutter. There is snow up on Exmoor, but aside from a few morning frosts and a bitter wind, no snow.

So this month's featured graphic is a little misleading, I'm afraid. Winter has indeed come. But not to Devon.

You can still buy a book or two though… preferably one of mine.

Happy New Year to you all!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig