The quote comes from a series of books that I adored as an older teenager – the Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper. I read the first book – called The Dark is Rising – when I was about seventeen. I was working as an assistant in our local library then, having left school, and I must have discovered it on the Junior Library shelves. I started reading it in bed, read a few chapters then turned out the light and settled to sleep. I clearly recall lying there listening to every noise outside, and finally turned the light on again to continue reading, because the story had gripped me.
The book had opened the final door along a dark corridor leading to the amazing world of Imagination. Stepping through, lights went on in my head – the sudden understanding that I could create my own fantasy worlds, and that the religion my family followed was not the Faith I wanted to believe in. I have leant towards Paganism since that night.
The initial door, rather creaky and not very large, had been opened by pony stories. I dearly wanted a pony of my own, but we could not afford one, so I invented my own and wrote masses of pony-based adventures. Didn’t everyone do that? I was very puzzled to eventually discover they didn’t! My story-pony was Tara, a palomino, about 14.2 hands high. Writing this, I wonder where I picked the name from? It was either Irish mythology, the New Avengers on TV (they had a character called Tara King) or Gone With The Wind. I’ve a feeling it was the latter.
Another Door had been thrust open during my first encounter with Dr Who - the original Doctor, William Hartnell, that is. The very first episode, broadcast on November 23rd 1963 when I was ten, showed me the route into escapism.
I wasn’t a very happy child. I was painfully shy and my sight was bad, so I wore those bottle-bottom-lens glasses, with thick frames. Books, stories – writing and reading them - gave me security in my own little world. Characters in books do not laugh at you or tease you. You are safe in those fantastic worlds created by books.
I never knew what my school-peers were talking about when it came to boys and other typical giggly teenage twittering (I will not give it the credit of ‘conversation’.) I was teased a lot, and I seem to have been the perfect person to play tricks on because I fell for them every time.
I went with friends to Carnaby Street once, and was persuaded to wear the new ‘in-look’ maxi skirt instead of the regulation mini. (Which I looked dreadful in because I was most definitely not the right shape.) My so-called ‘friends’ said we should all go into the ladies lavatories and change into the new ‘fashion’. I fell for it, I changed. They didn’t. The trick somewhat backfired, though, because although everyone stared, and more than a few laughed, I felt so comfortable and ‘free’ in a long skirt. I loved wearing it. I still prefer long skirts to this day – and not merely because I have a rather nasty blemish on my leg near my knee.
Books were my friends, and my characters, the ones I write about, are now my best friends. To me they are real, they just live in a different world, that’s all. Imagination is an incredible thing. To write you have to read, because Imagination needs to be fed; stuffed to full by ideas. And no dieting necessary!
I am mentioning all this because over the past few months I have taken part in several on-line Blog Hops. These are fun, but are hard work: but then, anything worth doing is never easy is it?
The idea of a Blog Hop is for participants to put an article relating to the chosen theme on their Blog, along with a list of other Bloggers taking part, and visiting readers ‘hop’ from one blog article to the next. The ultimate aim, of course, is to direct new readers to your blog, and hopefully sell a few books!
I’ve done a Summer Banquet theme;
- a Nautical hop, starting here or here,
- the Wonders of Rome,
- one about Castles, and
- an appreciation of Dr Who.
This December, on 21st, the shortest day, I’m organising a Casting Light on the Dark Blog Hop, with a collection of authors who will be writing a variety of interesting articles. I do hope you will join in by logging on to my blog first on that date.
The dark is more significant here in Devon. It was never truly dark back in London, even the birds sang through most of the night because the street lights were so bright. All we get here are the owls hooting through the night hours, and the occasional roar of a stag during the rut, the bark of a fox and the grunt of badgers. Oh, and the house creaking as the floorboards settle. That was unnerving at first. Intruders? Ghosts? Intruders – unlikely. Ghosts, yes we have a couple, but they belong to the house-past and are therefore part of the family, so are more than welcome to remain living with us.
Interestingly, the sky never gets pitch black. The western horizon is light – probably from the reflected street-lights of Barnstaple, and when the stars are out on a frosty night, or the moon has risen it is never black dark. Especially with a full moon! In winter you do not need a torch to go up the lane when the moon is up, although you do in summer because the trees create too much shadow.
But Light is important, even one little candle can chase away the fear of the Dark. And one little light can strike that one little flame in an empty, dark, nothingness of the mind and lead to the exhilaration of making up stories to share with readers and friends.
I wish you all a peaceful Saturnalia, a Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year. May the Sun shine on your face, the Moon light your path, and may all Shadows fall behind you.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
I have finally discovered why it hurts to walk, why I have falls and why, even at night, my legs are painful. I had assumed my hips were ‘bad’ – basing this on family history of hip replacements, aches in my back and it being difficult to bend down. My osteopaths - a lovely lady here in Devon, and my previous practice In Chingford - doubted there was anything wrong with my hips. The trouble, they were certain, was caused by back pain. That's now fixed. (Until the next time I pull my back.)
But it still hurts to walk far, especially up and down the steep hills here in Devon and on "Windfall Farm". Our house is about 600 feet above sea level, while the gate at the top end of the lane is nearer 900 feet - a bit of a climb.
Back in London we lived in a ground floor flat, so there have been times, especially of an evening when I’m tired, when I’ve wondered why on earth I bought a house with stairs. To go up and down hurts. A lot.
My new Devon doctor in South Molton has taken me seriously and sent me for x-rays. In London my GP brushed aside my concerns and did not examine me, telling me there was nothing to be done because I am overweight and too young. Yes, I accept I am overweight, but it is not easy losing a tummy bulge when comfort-eating too much chocolate helps get me through the more painful episodes. Nor is rigorous exercise a comfortable option because I end up with painful knees and walking around like a stiff-legged robot. I have tried dieting but somehow I put more weight on. I don’t swim well, don’t ride now (because it hurts) and I spend a lot of time sitting at the keyboard, which is also not good for keeping the knees supple, is it?
Now, though, it is official. A doctor has listened and investigated. I have osteo-arthritis in both knees. There is not a lot that can be done at this stage, apart from having another go at shedding a few pounds and prescription pain-killers. At least I know what the cause of the discomfort is; I’m not making a fuss about nothing or imagining it.
What is frustrating is not being able to put weight on one knee. Very annoying when trying to scramble down to our stream, especially after the recent October Storm had turned our mild little stream into a raging torrent!
We’ve had a professional woodsman clear away all the brambles and overgrowth on the banks that trundle down towards the stream - what a difference he has made. Apart from regaining about two acres of grazing, we can now see the stream through the thinned-out trees. The narrow strip of woodland has been opened up to give more light so with luck the wild flowers, such as bluebells and primroses, will appreciate the extra light next spring and bloom with more abundance. Mind you, we’ll have to keep the brambles down, ensure they don't take over again. The horses might do this, and our lovely neighbour farmer will be grazing his sheep in top field soon. Or what about pigs? Or a donkey? It will be nice to be able to walk through that lovely strip of woodland next year without having to scrabble over fallen trees or fight a way through the brambles. That undergrowth was so dense I’m surprised our woodsman didn't find a few dinosaurs – or Red Riding Hood and the Wolf!
I am a tad miffed about my walk down to the stream, however. While enjoying the very full and fast-flowing stream I managed to get a wet foot. Of course I had to paddle in the pool – what point in having your very own stream if you cannot paddle in it? I was not especially pleased to discover my wellie has sprung a leak. Does anyone know if a puncture repair kit works just as well with wellies? And why can’t you buy just one wellie? I only need a new left one, there’s nothing wrong with the right boot!
I mentioned the October Storm. Most of southern England was on Amber Alert for several days prior to the expected rampage surging in. When it did arrive, in the early hours of Monday morning here in Devon, it wasn’t as bad as expected but a few people elsewhere in England died from falling trees, and the rivers here are getting very high. Our well is full. Fortunately we have a highly efficient storm drain.
I woke up at about 3.15 a.m. when the storm arrived with the sound of the wind rattling the windows. It was roaring up the Taw Valley and rushing up our little tributary valley. At times the wind was like hearing a train coming, at others I thought I was listening to a very angry sea. My main concern was with the horses; were they okay up at the end of the garden? Were they safe, tucked into their cosy stables? With the storm coming from the south west, the wind was hitting the back of the stables which are protected by high hedges. I didn’t hear any kicking, stamping or snorting, so guessed they were fine. Sybil the cat came in and jumped on the bed. She was soaked through. Why pick my bed to dry off on?
Fully awake I got up, went downstairs, made a cup of tea, and snuggled up with Baz the dog and the novel I’m presently reading. Unfortunately, it seems that brain-broadening is as futile as weight-watching.
I fell asleep after two pages.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
One of the things my webmaster said to me when I first started this monthly newsletter, several years ago now, was “Are you sure you can always find something interesting to write about?” I think I have managed it, although I do admit some news updates have been more interesting than others.
I now also have my Devon Diary to keep up to date and the challenge is to ensure the entries do not overlap. This month I’ll get a big X for ‘fail’ as they do just that – overlap. Either there is no news for this page or the Devon Diary stays blank for the first week of October. So, executive decision – both places will share because I had the most exciting experience a few days ago. (Which I telephoned Mr Webmaster about because I was so thrilled!)
The ‘adventure’, I think, deserves to be recounted here in full – so Devon Diary followers, my apologies for re-linking you here. Anyone wanting further owl information can find it on the Leaning On The Gate blog.
I’ve added a few interesting YouTube links there as well.
The story – for that is almost what it is – involves owls.
I have been fascinated by owls since my teenage days, prompted by the superstition that Barn Owls are the returned souls of the dead. You must admit, they are ghostly-looking. Owls are haunting creatures, you can hear them but rarely see them; and believe me, on a dark night in an even darker Devon lane they can be very spooky indeed.
Alan Garner’s young adult novel The Owl Service set the ball rolling for me about owls; the mythology behind them is intriguing. Owls lend themselves superbly to Tales of the Imagination don’t they? Before Garner, in early childhood, there was Owl in Winnie the Pooh, in the Little Grey Rabbit stories, and in Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. I found that owl a bit alarming though, probably because he pulled Nutkin’s tail off. But then, Nutkin was a very naughty squirrel. The things you remember from childhood!
Since moving into our new home in Devon I have heard the Tawny Owls calling on most nights, sometimes right outside my study and bedroom windows. Within the first two weeks that we were here, we saw a Barn Owl float across our back garden, and my daughter saw a pair sitting on the wooden fencing further along the lane near our neighbour’s field. I have never actually seen the Tawnies. What with my eye problems and it being somewhat dark out there, I have not been quick enough to catch them visually, which has been extremely irritating and frustrating.
All was set aright last week.
Kathy, Adam, and I were walking down the Lane, having been up to Top Field to check the horses were all right for the night. It was dusk, that mysterious half-light between day and night. A calm, clear, beautiful evening with the first bright stars appearing (Okay, the brightest was probably a planet.) An owl hooted, quite close. We stopped. Kathy called back – a sort of high-pitched “twee-eek” imitation. To our surprise he answered! Kathy called again. Once more a response, only nearer this time. And a third and a fourth, each with the owl coming closer until he was sitting in one of the trees bordering the lane. Which one? Where was he? We could hear, but not see him.
I was so excited, at last I might be able to catch a glimpse of an owl!
‘Keep talking to him’ I whispered.
Kathy insists she was conducting a conversation about the latest plot line of in the UK soap-drama Coronation Street; the Owl, we think, thought he was chatting up a new bird. (Pun intended.)
He moved from one side of the lane to the other, but I had seen him. He was now directly above us in the oak tree. I was amazed that he moved so silently. There was no flutter of wings, no rustle of leaves, not even movement in the branches. It is no wonder that the superstitions about these beautiful birds evolved.
A little more conversation and there he was; a silhouette against the sky gliding from one side of the lane to the other. He was so beautiful – his wingspan so big! I had seen him, I had actually seen him!
Those people who know me will not be at all surprised to hear that I shed a few tears of pleasure and excitement.
And then there were two owls. Another male was calling from further down the lane – it seemed he wanted to chat Kathy up as well. Owl Number One flew to see the intruder off, but we were lucky enough to spot him a few minutes later on the tree behind the dairy, his blinking eyes glinting in the torch light, his evocative face staring, a tad bewildered, back at us.
I only hope he wasn’t too disappointed by his potential girlfriend being somewhat un-owlish in appearance. On the other hand he could have been thinking, all along, that these humans are very, very odd creatures trying to pretend to be owls.
"The less he spoke, the more he heard. Now wasn’t that a wise old bird!"
On a completely different note, you may be wondering why I have the quote about dogs and books as my header.
Baz, our fool of a dog, is a sweetheart, the sort of dog any dog-lover would adore instantly. Not yet two years old though, he is occasionally a little puppyish. He gets overexcited and still has to learn not to jump up… and um, he must learn that it is not a good idea to chew books. I left one on the coffee table and it got knocked to the floor. To be fair, Baz’s toys live on the floor, so I expect he thought it was his. I will reveal here that it was an Indie published historical novel submitted for review by the Historical Novel Society. I am the UK review editor; it is my responsibility to receive the books, add them to the database and send them out to my superb team of reviewers.
Even after Baz’s attention to it the novel remained readable, fortunately, and what a good read it was! The reviewer I forwarded it to, with a note of apology regarding its appearance, was most understanding about it being somewhat ‘dog-eared’.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
It’s all change this month: my dear friend Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics is moving house (wishing her all the best & not too many grey hairs). Incidentally, if you follow the link to her website, run your mouse over her title heading - but do remember to call back here to finish reading my newsletter!
We’ve had a change of horses - more of that in a minute. The season is changing from summer to autumn; family life is altering, and book-wise there is a bit of a change as well. The only thing that seems to be staying the same is not enough hours in the day to keep up with trying to get everything done.
The horses have a sad story and two better ones. We lost Jasper a few weeks ago. He was an ex-racehorse, his registered name being Crime Scene. He went down with severe lameness and after five weeks of box rest was making no progress. Thoroughbreds are notorious for bad feet. Unfortunately there was nothing the vet could do and so it was kinder to quietly put him down. At least he had a couple of relaxing years off the racetrack and spent time contentedly grazing in our fields. The best photograph of him is the one my daughter Kathy took of him and Baz, our dog. Quite by chance she had the camera to hand, it is a superb image.
A few days later, Kathy spotted an advertisement for a young coloured horse for sale near us, so we went to have a look and Ruby became ours. You’ll find photos of her here. She’s a sweetheart, only four years old, but ready and willing to learn. We also have the patter of tiny hooves due next year as Adam’s horse Ishi, also an ex-racehorse, is in foal to a local stallion. Something else to look forward to!
At the moment we have a lot of annoying flies here in Devon, mainly enormous hornets about two inches long and horrid horseflies, which are driving the horses mad. They have all got fly sheets and fly hoods to wear to protect them, but Squidge the Exmoor refuses to wear his, and Lexie is a dab hand (hoof?) at getting hers off.
Autumn seems to be coming in at a fast jog. The mornings are very misty across the valley from our back garden - Devon Dew they call it - and the nights are drawing in. Most of the harvest is gathered and a few trees are already starting to change colour. It’s been a funny old year weather-wise; weeks of pouring rain, then weeks of heat-wave. My poor garden looks a bit of a mess as I haven’t had time to dead-head all the plants that need dead-heading, nor to cut down all the flowers that have finished blooming. It has been a poor year for roses, not a very good display and the blooms were ripped apart when the rain descended in bucket-loads.
The woods are so overgrown I need a machete to get through. I swear there must be dinosaurs living in those dark depths – or a crocodile or two in the swamp (which is actually a weed-covered over-grown pond.) We haven’t been going down to the stream much though because two mornings running Ron spotted a red deer hind and her fawn down there, so we thought it best not to disturb them.
There are quite a few deer around here – I guess we’ll be seeing much more of them as the autumn draws in in earnest and it will soon be the rutting season when the stags become active.
All the young swallows have fledged from their nests and will soon be flying south. I watched five of them the other morning swooping and whirling outside my bedroom window – they move so fast, making such intricate patterns. Beautiful!
The only thing I miss about not living in Walthamstow is the swifts. I love hearing them squeak as they whoosh overhead, but although they are up in the village, for some reason they don’t seem to come down into the valley. Still, we have the swallows instead, so I mustn’t be greedy.
Next spring will see some excitement in the Hollick Household as Kathy and boyfriend Adam announced their engagement in mid-August. I suppose this means I will have to go shopping for a new dress? And a new hat. Congratulations to the both of them.
And so to my books:
A little while ago I discussed with my editor, Jo Field, whether we should publish the little volume we wrote between us, Discovering the Diamond, in paperback instead of having it just as an e-book. We decided to go ahead, and I am happy to announce that it now published.
Jo and I wrote the book because we were getting so many e-mails asking us for advice. We started out by producing an A4 fact sheet, which rapidly became four pages, then eight, and then a small booklet. More and more new and novice writers became interested, so we produced it, via SilverWood Books, in e-format on Kindle and Nook. Once again the demand increased, so we are hoping that this book format will do well – and prove useful to a good few writers.
One of the things we emphasise is that for a book to look good it has to be professionally produced; the text correctly set, the spacing right, the feel of it should be quality through and through, and, of course, the writing should be top notch as well!
I admit that some of my early novels that were Indie published did not come up to scratch, but being an Indie writer has taken me at a run along a steep, sharp, learning curve, so I’m delighted to be able to share my triumphs and disasters (and gained wisdom) in Discovering The Diamond, in the hope that you too, if you are a writer, will find the diamond you seek.
It costs money to produce your own book via self- or assisted publishing, but, if you do it right, believe me, it will be worth every penny!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Devon was baking under hotter-than-Greece temperatures for most of July, and while writing this at the close of the month, even though it has cooled right down we still haven’t had any rain beyond a passing shower. We’re getting a little concerned about water because our only water supply is the farm's well, which is down to about three feet of water. Mind you, it is also about six feet in diameter, so I suppose there are a fair few gallons (litres?) left yet. The garden looks somewhat brownish and everything is drooping. Rain is forecast, but so far the downpours have missed North Devon..
Of course, having said all that the forecast is for thunderstorms, so I quite expect to put in next month’s news that we were flooded out. (Needless to say, as we go to press with this newsletter, it has been pouring with rain. I never thought I would be pleased to see so much water! It's amazing how quickly everything is turning green again.)
Ishi, our ex-racehorse mare, has gone to stud. We chose her a Johnny Depp type of a stallion! She has a nasty capped hock – a swollen hock – so it isn’t surprising that she wasn’t running well in races and the syndicate of owners, of which Kathy’s boyfriend was one, decided to retire her. We’ve had the swelling drained a couple of times, but there has not been much improvement so as she is "resting" we thought, why not try for a foal? I’ll update you on an outcome next month.
Jasper, our other ex-racehorse has also been lame. His problem is sore feet. Typically Thoroughbreds have very flat feet, with not much hoof as a cushion: imagine running on tarmac with no shoes, ouch! That is what it feels like for poor old Jasper. He’s on box rest on a nice soft bed for a bit and getting lots of carrots and cuddles.
We have four new residents – click this link to see what they are!
I have been busy getting Discovering The Diamond ready for publication. That text has been edited so many times, yet still I’m finding errors! Where do typos come from? I’m sure Gremlins worm their way in at night when the computer is shut down. The most difficult part was doing the index – it's my first experience of this sort of thing. I think I can safely say that I will be sticking to fiction in future, but more of that below.
Rescuing bees has been on the agenda. There was a comatose bee in the bathroom; I found a piece of card and carefully lifting the bee set it on the windowsill in the hopes that it would recover and fly away (the bee, not the windowsill!). A few minutes later it was still there, unmoving, so I assumed the poor thing was dead and took it downstairs to give it a "burial" in the lavender bush. However, as I went to push it off the card it buzzed very feebly. What to do? Ah! I remembered one of the questions on the popular quiz show QI about rescuing bees: give it honey. I ran for the honey jar, put a little bit on a teaspoon and... Yes! Result! The bee starting sipping at it, then feeding – and within a few moments had revived and flown away. I’m so pleased, for bees are in decline and they are very special. I love having them in the garden, the honey bees, wild bees and the big hairy bumble bees. You can’t have a country garden without the lazy hum of bees can you?
I’ve had a couple of other things to solve as well, both of a frustrating nature. For the first I had to talk nicely to Mr Webmaster because I was unable to fix it for myself – although I tried. My main blog was not functioning correctly. For some reason the layout was not mirroring the customised template; the widths and the text size were all wrong. Needless to say Mr Webmaster managed to fix it once he’d logged in. Clever lad. Thank you!
The second problem has been bugging me for a couple of weeks. More of a quandary really I suppose. I I've been jotting down ideas for my planned Madoc the Horseman story, but to be blunt the thing just isn’t gelling together as I had hoped. So the Fifth Century is going on the back burner for a while. It’s no good struggling with an idea that isn't yet ready to emerge.
Part of the reason I’m finding it difficult to get into gear with Madoc is that darned pirate of mine! He’s been nagging and moaning in the background, tutting and sighing – to the extent that I am just going to have to remain with him for a couple more adventure novels. His presence is too strong to ignore, so I have been well and truly bumped off track and nudged on to a different one by a charmer of a rogue with black hair and a pirate swagger.
Jesamiah will be taking precedence in my writing life for the next couple of months it seems – weigh anchor for new horizons!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Living in the countryside of Devon is as sublime as it was when we moved here, especially as the sun has at last decided to appear – but it ain’t ‘alf tiring! There always seems to be something that needs to be done. Like fencing the field, or sorting out the veg patch, or weeding the garden - and there is a lot of garden and an even bigger lot of weeds.
Our new horsebox arrived last week, which is fabulous, but we still have the previous one, which we need to sell. A pity because it is a lovely box, but it is just too wide for our narrow lane, so we’ve decided to down-size. Kathy has competed at a couple of local shows – she created quite a sensation when she rode into the arena in her side saddle habit on 17.2 hands high Lexie. The effect was somewhat spoilt by Lexie messing about though. There were a few gasps of awe when Kathy jumped side saddle in the working hunter class. Must admit, she did look impressive.
As I write this, we are gearing up for haymaking. Our Friendly Farmer neighbour has already cut the hay in Top Field and turned it a couple of times – oh the smell of an evening when I walk up the lane and gaze over the gate; that warm, new-mown hay smell mixed with the intoxicating Devon air – Devon really is Heaven. I might change my mind about this statement if it rains before we’ve baled and loaded the trailer and stacked the hay in the barn! Please stay sunny for just one more day.
I had a bit of a grump the other evening. Went up to bed late, about 12.30-ish and as I always do, looked out the window to see if the two farms across the valley have gone to bed and how many stars are out – or if there is anything else interesting going on in the dark hours of night. And blow me, there was thumping music and laughter. A party – a noisy party! I thought we had left all that behind in Walthamstow. The tranquility of the night spoilt by revellers. The times I had to hammer on the neighbour’s door and ask them to turn the music down, it being gone 2 a.m.
This time, instead of the noise right outside our bedroom window, I had to lean out the window and strain my ears to hear where the music was coming from. I guess it was at least two miles away down the valley, *laugh*.
I have been re-editing Discovering the Diamond, which is currently available in e-book format on Kindle. My intention is to bring it out as a small booklet, because I have had quite a few people ask for it in printed format. So it has had an update and will, I hope, be published in August or September. Keep an eye on my H2U Newsletter blog for all up-to-date information. The blog has a "subscribe" facility for alerting you to new posts, so you’ll not miss anything important.
I am also looking for an artist to assist Cathy Helms in designing a couple of covers for a new project I have in mind. Helen Hart of SilverWood Books has suggested that I write a series of Jesamiah Acorne’s adventures for Young Adults. I think this is an excellent idea and have decided to write some episodes of his early life as a pirate aboard the Mermaid – a prequel series to the Sea Witch Voyages.
I am looking for an artist who needs a bit of a boost to his or her career, preferably to draw or paint Jesamiah and his motley crew of ruffian pirates to be incorporated into Cathy’s graphic designs, or as illustrations for the interior of the books. This is not a paying job; the trade-off will be free advertising and promotion from me. If you, or anyone you know, might be interested, you’ll find full information here.
Two other exciting things this month. I will be talking about King Harold and 1066 at the Gedling Book Festival, Nottingham on 12th July, and on the 19th July 2013, anyone with a Nook will be able to download a free copy of The Kingmaking for that one day only. Barnes & Noble do a special Free Friday Nook giveaway for selected books, and I am thrilled that they have chosen to promote one of mine. Not sure of a specific link yet so, again, keep an eye on my H2U Newsletter.
Of course, if you haven’t got a Nook, it is on Kindle – or the UK version of the book is worth acquiring.
Arthur is a wonderful subject for authors because there are so many variants to the story, from my "what might have really happened" view, to the high fantasy of King Arthur in Space, with, in between, all the "knights in armour" adventure yarns plus mystery novels, romance, etc. You name it, it’s been written. Arthur. The boy who became the man, who became the King, who truly became the enduring legend. Long may he reign.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
I think the events of the past ten months are finally beginning to hit me, the feeling of awe and gratitude for our enormous luck is at last sinking in.
This time last year we were stuck in Walthamstow and depression was hitting hard (for me and Kathy). The nearest neighbour’s persistent shouting and swearing; the noise, bustle, and impersonal daily life of London - all of it so wearing and taking its toll on blood pressure and stress.
Looking back, there were weeks when I never left the house for there was no incentive to do so. Even a walk around the block was depressing in Walthamstow because of the rubbish strewn in the streets, the choke of petrol, the general impression of unkemptness.
Now, we are in heart of beautiful Devon in an old house that echoes joy, not swear-words. The energy-footprint from the past generations who lived here is very strong; this was a home where love and laughter abounded, you can feel it bouncing off the three-foot thick walls. The first time I walked into our sitting room I felt the house hug me in welcome. And no, I’m not being all soppy and sentimental – it’s true!
So what has brought on this retrospective musing? Simple answer, the Escape To The Country episode which featured our Devon House Hunt aired on BBC1 at the end of May. “Devon: Jonnie Irwen helps a novelist mother and her horse-loving daughter find an equestrian home.”
It was most odd to see ourselves back where we used to live in Walthamstow. The small (though as homely as I could make it) house, my very cluttered study and the little postcard-sized garden. There was our old dog, Rum. Seeing him brought a couple of tears. I’m glad he moved with us to Devon and enjoyed those few months of peace and pleasure.
I wonder how many people noticed the un-ironed tablecloth? I shoved it on when I realised the film crew, two nice young ladies, wanted us to sit at the table. Grabbed the first cloth I could put my hands on, and never thought to check whether it had very obvious fold-creases all across it. Still, my attitude to ironing – I don’t do it – somewhat balances the recent craze for Extreme Ironing. I don’t even know where our ironing board is, let alone think about lugging it up a mountain or waterfall. There are too many interesting and exciting things to be doing in life above standing over a hot ironing board.
Watching the Escape to the Country episode I realised how I had instantly fallen in love with “Windfall Farm”, my home’s on-line pseudonym, the moment I walked through the front gate. The house smiled at Kathy and me as we stepped inside. I was so scared as we looked round. Would the rooms be what we wanted? Where were the stables – were there stables? Then, what if there was not enough land? And finally, ‘What if it is more than we are prepared to pay?’. All doubts that were kicked aside as box after box was ticked with a big, thick, marker pen.
I suppose there are a few picky things that would have added icing on the cake; an annexe for Kathy and Adam, a village bus service, maybe an en-suite bathroom. But an annexe can be built, if we wanted one, the village is about to open what promises to be a bustling community shop, and there is a walk-in shower with loo downstairs and the upstairs bathroom is only a couple of yards from the bedroom, so who needs en-suite? We have blossom-covered fruit trees in the orchard, the snowdrops have given way to daffodils and primroses, to bluebells, lady’s smock and orchids. It is exciting anticipating what will come next.
Thank you to everyone who sent enthusiastic feedback about the TV show via my Devon Diary Blog, Facebook and Twitter@HelenHollick. While watching I felt quite close to all my actual and on-line friends as I knew many were tuning in. Yes, I am lucky, and I assure you I appreciate every drop of it that Fortune has gifted to us.
A second interesting thing is how what we thought we wanted, when first we had our win, changed when we found Windfall Farm. Initially, the idea was to set Kathy up with some sort of on-going business, probably a livery yard or equestrian centre, but when we found this place we discovered that a business venture was not what we wanted after all. The desire to take life easy, to sit back and stare at the scenery, to drink in the air and soak up the view became the priority. We didn’t want to scurry about after other people or balance the books – to be at the beck and call of Joe and Joan Public.
Kathy’s underlying dream is to show jump, although I’m trying to wean her away from that because my nerves won’t stand it, instead she wants to teach side-saddle and judge at County Level shows. We do not need commercial premises for these, she can teach on clients’ own horses at their own yard. Especially once she has learnt to drive!
Ron has a brand-new pigeon loft, I have my study, Adam, Kathy’s Other Half, has a new job and company car... it is so lovely to see Kathy happy again. She’s been through some rough times. Maybe at last the corner is turned for her – and for us all. And I am being as careful as I can not to tread on any pavement cracks in case three bears should be lurking out of sight! All we need now is the sunshine and warmer days to enjoy everything in.
A quick reminder before I sign off. For those of you, my dear readers, who have not yet discovered all the exciting and entertaining extras on my ‘Secret’ H2U pages – why not subscribe?
They say that what you send out returns threefold. I must have tried my best to be friendly and helpful towards others (albeit not always successful) and sent out a few smiles and caring hugs these past sixty years to be receiving this amount of pleasure back!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Oh my goodness I am typing this as fast as I can because Mr Webmaster is harrumphing for the May Newsletter - and I confess I have been distracted by other things so am way behind.
Dare I confess to the "other things"?
The garden; the woods; planting seeds for summer veg in the greenhouse - I so hope I can grow pumpkins for Halloween down here in Devon. I certainly have enough garden space! I've also been patting the horses, watching the lambs, gazing at the stars, walking the dog up the lane...
In addition to all that, I have been doing some research for the New Novel - Foals of Epona. I am trying to find some information about North Devon circa 460 A.D. i.e. the post Roman/Roman-British period. So far, apart from information about South Devon (Exeter etc) I have discovered nothing for where I am in the north near Exmoor. I can't believe that there is no evidence for anything even vaguely Roman-ish. OK so there were probably not the big villas and huge Roman-based towns, but were the "Romans" not here at all? And if they were not, and had no influence over the people of Dumnonia, where, then, were these un-Roman "natives"? I've found zilch on them as well. Sometimes, research is not easy.
See my full rant on my Devon Diary.
The one advantage of not being able to find any relevant information, for a novelist, is that I can simply make it up and no one will be able to contradict me - but - I want to know what the facts are for my own interest, and because you can invent a better story if you know the truth behind it.
I shall continue to dig for information, well, not literally, unless when we are doing any gardening on erecting fences in the field we happen to find a Roman pot or buried hoard of coins.
The other thing I have been busy with is the make-over of my website, although here comes another confession: strictly speaking my wonderful webmaster and graphics designer have been busy, hampered by the occasional "ooh" and "ah" from me.
Not sure which one of us it was (I suspect me) but someone happened to remark that the website was looking a little bit tired. I was also a tad concerned that most of the background information about my books was in the wrong place; I found I was directing people to my blog, not my website. While I want readers going to my various blogs, of course, it is the website which should take precedence. It's prime purpose is to be a showcase for my books and what they are about - along with a few other interesting things about myself.
Almost like waving a magic wand, Mr Webmaster started updating all the twiddly technical bits and Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org - almost like pulling a rabbit out of a hat - produced some absolutely fabulous new graphics for the various heading banners.
And the result is sumptuous.
I can't tell you what the technical side of doing all this updating is because I am totally in the dark where techie detail is concerned, but do go and browse www.helenhollick.net. There are lots of things to click and go to (and also look for surprise things like the clump of reeds, bottom right, taking you back to the top of page.) We have lots more information, lovely, lovely new graphics, and two worn out and stressed people who have worked like Trojans these past few weeks to get it all done by May 1st. How can I possibly thank Mr Webmaster and Cathy adequately?
The Internet is a mystery to me; it is akin to that vast unknown infinity of what is Out There beyond the stars - akin to the Universe as a whole, being a mystery to us all.
I don't understand the 'Net, I cannot get my mind round how this amount of information gets from A to B in an instant, but I do appreciate the amount of work it takes to produce such a superb end result, and I am very grateful for having the privilege of having my two "background team-mates" - and superb friends - being there to do all the things I have no concept of being able to do for myself.
So 'thank you' are two somewhat small words, but the gratitude behind them is as huge as the Universe.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
I have a busy month ahead - nothing new there, but April is a month of celebration. I reach the grand age of 60. Part of me thinks, "Goodness, I'm getting old," but another bit is saying "Wow, how did I manage to get this far, in, more or less, one piece?" I'm just a tad miffed that the UK Government have changed the pension dates, so I have to wait another three years before getting my Old Age State Pension - so I guess I'm not a pensioner yet!
April 2013 is also an important anniversary. Twenty years ago around the 16th April, a few days after my 40th birthday, I received a telephone call from my, now ex, agent to tell me that my novel about King Arthur had been accepted for publication by William Heinemann. I had been offered a deal to write a Trilogy, Kingmaking, Pendragon's Banner and Shadow of the King, for an advance fee of £30,000. A few days later the press got hold of the story. Ron, Kathy, who was only ten years old at the time, and I were whisked off to Colchester for the day, where we were given lunch, and photographed at Colchester Castle in return for an exclusive interview. When we got back home we found a whole gang of reporters gathered at our gate - I felt just like a celebrity. What is a group of journalists called I wonder? A Story of Journalists, a Scoop, a Print.?
I felt so proud that after ten years of struggling to write the story I wanted to read I had, at last, been recognised as a legitimate author.
The laugh is, I am still struggling to be recognised!
I've had a lot of lovely people help me along the way - too many to mention, but a couple stand out as extra special: my family heads the thank you speech, followed by author Sharon Kay Penman who gave me the courage to get started. My editor/advisor back then at Heinemann, Lynne Drew, and now Elizabeth Chadwick who boosts my sagging confidence every so often, and is treasured because she gives an honest opinion. Not always the opinion you want to hear - but the one that is needed to be heard! Thanks to my webmaster who has supported me in many ways, and Cathy Helms my graphics designer who is indispensable as a designer and a friend!
So now, before I burst into tears like any true-blue Oscar Star, I will change the subject, apart from saying thank you to the people who are even more important than those mentioned above: You, my readers. Without you, none of the past twenty years would have happened.
Readers of my Devon Diary blog will know that we lost our old dog, Rum, a short while ago.
Living here in this marvellous County, with 13 acres of ground it didn't seem right not having a dog around the place, and the gap in our lives was a bit too open and empty, so we decided to go to the Dog's Trust at Ilfracombe, where we met Baz, a collie cross, mostly black with white chest and socks. He was found abandoned, wandering as a stray, and despite a microchip no owner could be found. The registered people on the 'chip said they had "given him away to new owners, who obviously did not change the registered address" - if the story is true. Which I doubt.
It's a long time since we had a young dog and it takes some getting used to an animal that is young and bouncy and raring to go. Poor old Rum could only manage a slow walk. It is odd that Baz doesn't appear to bark; we've only heard him "wuff" once, but he has had basic training. He sits, comes, lays down - goes to his bed. He was thin when we got him, but otherwise in good condition, so it doesn't make sense that he was abandoned. Someone, some-when must have thought enough of him to give him basic training? I wonder whether his owner, perhaps an older person, died and the remaining family couldn't be bothered with looking after the dog, so just chucked him out. I won't add any more words here because they are rather rude - the sort of things my Jesamiah would say.
Baz is terrified of the car, however. He won't go anywhere near it if the engine is running or he thinks we are going to make him get in - so there is some sort of trauma there which we will have to address. We'll have to because we want to take him for a run on Instow beach! Otherwise, he has settled in very well; he is asleep beside my chair in my study as I write this, his belly full with dinner, his legs twitching as he chases rabbits in his dreams. I think he is going to be a very loyal, trusting, long-term friend. Coming to live with us here, he's landed the Doggie Lottery as far as he is concerned.
Mind you, the cats are not so happy about it! They are encamped upstairs, with the occasional grumpy gaze down the stairs wondering if That Dog has gone yet. They'll get used to him, though.
We're settling in here in Devon as well, it is starting to feel like home now, not a holiday cottage, although I still, occasionally, feel like tomorrow we will have to pack up and "go home". I often feel a little disorientated, especially at night; doors on the left that I think should be on the right, light switches not where I expect them to be. I suppose this is a common thing when moving house.
I'm intrigued that the night sky is not as dark as I assumed it would be. There are no streetlights here, only our own outside lights, but when in bed with "lights out" - apart from a couple of night lights on the landing - the sky is often quite bright, even when overcast. To the north the horizon is light, probably from the reflected lights of Barnstaple about fourteen miles away, and on moonlit nights the sky is bright enough. I walked up our lane the other evening to take the dog out before bed-time and discovered that the battery in the torch was nearly dead, so turned it off - and I could see perfectly clearly. The only problem is seeing Baz because he is black, but he has a couple of metal discs on his collar now, so I can hear them tinkling as he trots along.
My thanks to an on-line friend, Mark, who mentioned this month's quote to me. Our dog doesn't have to wait to be happy any more.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Well, we've moved from London to Devon and we love it here. Absolutely l.o.v.e. it! The scenery is beautiful, it is fantastic having the horses at the end of the garden (including a new addition - a genuine Exmoor pony) and the quiet is. quiet. Not for a million pounds would I move back to the Smoke now.
I'll not go into detail about moving, or the subsequent various adventures as you can read it all on my Devon Diary, Leaning On The Gate. Don't forget to scroll down as there are several entries, and lots of photos. Suffice to say here that Pickfords Removals, especially the Gaffer, Mick, were wonderful. They got us in despite the heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures. And a thank you to the wonderful people at High Bullen Hotel for looking after us so warmly (literally!)
There is also one sad entry. We had to take the very hard decision to have our old dog, Rum, put to sleep at the end of February. He was at least fourteen years old - probably older. We did not know his exact age as he came from the Dog Rescue Sanctuary, having been badly treated as a pup. At least he had a few weeks of enjoying the Devon countryside, ambles up the lane and sniffing all the smells.
He was a lovely dog, always 'laughing' always wagging his tail. A good mate. Old age caught up with him though. He will be missed very much.
As mentioned above, we now have an Exmoor Pony. His official name is Mischief, but he somehow managed to acquire the nickname of Squidgy, and of course it has stuck. He is an absolute darling, but as with all ponies he has a mind of his own.
It took me a while to sort my study out - I still have two bookcases and several piles of books to get in order, but at least all the cardboard removal boxes are now unpacked and disposed of. Because of the snow I told the removal men to store everything I was unsure about - in addition to all the books, computer equipment and numerous pictures - in the study. Which resulted in about seventy boxes piled from floor to ceiling. No wonder the old floors in this place are bowed!
However, I am now more or less back on track work-wise. E-mails are up to date - although only getting in by the skin of my teeth with this month's journal update! One of these days I will start writing the next novel. I have been thinking about it. Honest pirate I have.
Ah, there goes the 6.20 p.m. Tarka Line train clickety-clacking along the valley towards Exeter from Barnstaple. Our nearest stop is Umberleigh, but you have to ask the conductor to ring the bell as it only stops by request. I assume if you are waiting on the platform for it to arrive you leap up and down waving your red flannel petticoats as in the Railway Children? ('Get off the line Bobby!' )
I have discovered that it is not a good idea to move house when a latest book is due to be published. Rachel Malone held the fort for me, and will be doing a few more marketing promotions on my behalf, but this is not the same as being personally involved in a new release. Never mind, it was exciting to get back on line after British Telecom hooked up the phone and I found Ripples was available for sale from Amazon, the Book Depository, etc.
I've received some very encouraging reviews for this fourth Sea Witch Voyage - which takes place on the North Devon Coast, not far from where I now live. But even with reviews I am always nervous when a new work comes out. What if this is the one that is a failure? Hopefully my Jesamiah will win through, work his charms and do his pirate-piece. Reviews and comments always welcome on Amazon if you would like to add something by the way - especially the nice ones!
Missing the release did not matter too much, although it is always rather a let down when after all the hard effort in the preparation, on publication day nothing happens. In the days when I was first published I received flowers and champagne from my publisher Heinemann. I don't think that happens now. The excitement begins, for me, with the start of a promising Blog Tour. My fingers are even tighter crossed for some supportive reviews from the variety of Review Bloggers.
I have one confession to make, a huge error on my part. Because of being distracted by the move I did not notice that the required credits were not added for the man who took the photograph of that wonderful sunset used on the cover of Ripples In The Sand. Purely an oversight, but most rude on my part. So, to Simon Murgatroyd, thank you so much for permitting me to use your beautiful photo taken on Instow Beach. I intend to write a full article for my main blog about the cover on Tuesday 19th March for my (usually) weekly Tuesday Talk feature. Another apology will be added there. Must admit to a red face here.
I felt this month's quote, above, was very appropriate. Penalty for the crime of not reading Ripples In The Sand (or any of my books, for that matter) will be keelhauling.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Boxes. Lots of boxes!|
Right at the time when this Journal needs to be updated, my family and I are in the middle of moving house. We have completed the task of transferring the contents of our London home into boxes, and removing those boxes into our Devon farmhouse. Somewhere in the middle of one pile is a box containing a computer and the Internet router. Until that particular box is located, unpacked and plugged in, I would like you to be patient and refresh this page from time-to-time to see when the Journal arrives.
Whilst waiting, you can have a look at our new location on the Windfall Farm blog. The horses have arrived, been shown their new stables and field, and are calmly exploring the grasslands.
So, the bridge behind us, the one that leads to London, has been 'burned'. As you will see on the blog, our farm has its own little stream, amongst many other desirable features, causing thoughts to turn to the bridges which lie ahead.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Happy New Year to all my friends and readers.
Another new year. I cannot believe how long I have been writing these monthly newsletters now - too many to go back and look, that's for certain. Although if you would like to browse the archives allow yourself a couple of days to do so!
There was a bit of a last-minute rush for me just before Christmas because I thought Ripples in the Sand, the Fourth Sea Witch Voyage, was ready for publication. All it needed, I assumed, was a final proof-read. I had taken the decision to send it to a different editor to my usual trusted Jo Field as it is always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at a proof copy to pick up those last minute errors that have been missed. Unfortunately I have now learnt a big lesson - don't send your work to an unused, untried editor whom you do not know, and who does not know your style. While doing an exact and precise job, following the rules etc, this editor missed the point of my style and consequently changed far too much, thus altering my writer's voice. It seems the semicolon is now out of fashion, so he changed most of them to commas or full stops. This is probably perfectly correct English, but it changed the emphasis of the sentences. "Jesamiah sipped the rum; grinned", became "Jesamiah sipped the rum, and grinned" or "Jesamiah sipped the rum. He grinned". All say the same thing, but in a different tone. I prefer to have it the way I wanted it in the first example, so I had to plough through the manuscript putting everything back as I had written it. In consequence, some of the punctuation has now been messed up, and the book still needs a final proof-read.
The team at SilverWood Books worked their socks off to get a version out on Kindle before Christmas - my appreciation and gratitude to Helen Hart, Sarah and Jo - so at least all of you with a new Kindle for Christmas can obtain a copy to read. Full details are here.
I am endeavouring to get the hard-copy book format out as soon as possible in the New Year.
My other dilemma is that we have got our removal date - mid-January, so I will be off-line for a while during part of January. Which is not a good idea when a new book is out! Still, I have one or two lovely people willing to step into the breach to cover for me.
Moving is a little nerve-wracking. Apart from the underlying thought of "Are we doing the right thing" regarding moving house, moving County and facing a completely new life-style, the mere logistics of the removal is already somewhat daunting! I didn't realise, for instance, that the whole thing will take about five days. Two for the removal company to pack up and load, one to travel from London to Devon, two to unload. Then there is the unpacking - deciding where everything should go. The finding out how everything works - we will have a Redfyre cooker (like an Aga) which will be fun to discover how to use. Add to that my husband's racing pigeons have to be transported, then we will have to re-erect their pigeon loft. The chickens will have to travel in a basket, and live in a shed at the new house for a while until we can build a proper fox-proof run.
The two cats will not like the fact that I am going to put them in a cattery for a few days over the moving period. They will hate it, but they will also hate strange men in the house and furniture walking about. Kathy is going to bring them down with the horses in the horsebox when she comes the day after we've gone off with the furniture. One blessing, she will not be able to hear the meows of protest coming from the cat baskets, as the horsebox is a bit rattly and noisy!
At some point I need to get on and write my next book - I intend to do my Arthurian spin-off - the first in the Madoc the Horseman series, but I am so torn to get on with Jesamiah's next adventure!
What a pity novels are not written by magic. I could sit here and wave a magic wand at the keyboard and create two books at once (and maybe turn a few bad reviewers into toads while I am about it.) That's not the way it works, however, authors create the magic with hard work, attention to detail and a huge sprinkling of fairy-dust imagination.
Wish me luck with the move. The next newsletter will be written (eventually) in Devon
Lege feliciter (read happily).