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"Characters capture us in their embrace and we take refuge in their lives"

February
 2016

It is raining.

Nothing much has changed there then since January – no wait, last June! I was expecting our hay to be brought in while I was gadding about in the USA with Cathy Helms, but no, it didn’t stop raining long enough. In the end we had just a few days to get it cut, dried, turned and baled in August.

Fortunately our fields are sloping and being "hollow hills" they drain quickly. Although the grass is soggy and the gateways somewhat squidgy, but the mud is not knee deep – not even ankle deep actually.

Despite the rain it has been so very mild. I have never seen snowdrops, primroses, daffodils and morning glory all blooming at once along the lane.

2016 has started off well with several invitations to exciting things. There’s the Historical Novel Conference to look forward to in September within the fantastic venue of Oxford. Then I have been invited as a guest speaker to Troubadour’s Self Publishing Conference in Leicester in early May and I was absolutely delighted to be asked to join a panel on “History – Fiction verses Fact” at the week-long Viking Conference at Nottingham University in June.

It is quite an accolade when academics say they have enjoyed your work of fiction, in this case A Hollow Crown – titled The Forever Queen in the USA – my novel about Queen Emma, Æthelred and Cnut. What has this to do with a Viking Conference? Well Cnut (Canute), was a Viking and 2016 is the 1000th anniversary of him becoming King of England in 1016 and therefore the 1,000th anniversary of Emma becoming his Queen – although it could be the 999th – did she marry him in 1017? Hmm, I guess I had better look that one up…

It is also the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in October. I am not sure, yet, whether I shall be attending this year. Last October I was very disappointed, and upset and embarrassed, to discover I had gone all that way but my Harold the King novel – I Am The Chosen King in the USA – was not there for sale. Oh well, shrug it off and put it down to experience – but Battle Abbey in Sussex is now a very long and tiring journey from North Devon.

I have been busy with writing – and, dance round the room in excitement, by the time you read this on the 1st February 2016 I will have finished On The Account! It has only taken me three years… Mind you, by "finished" I mean the working draft is completed. It now has to be edited, re-written, re-edited, re-written again and then published: fingers crossed that will be for my birthday in April.

Daughter Kathy has been having some achievements as well. She is now show jumping both the big horses Lexie and Saffie and doing quite well, regularly getting placed in the winning line-up, which is nice because at British Showjumping Affiliated level you win prize money, which pays for the entry fees. Kathy has now started up her own showjumping ‘Club’, Taw River Jumping.

Her main aim is to run a few "Friendly and professionally-run show jumping events for everyone to enjoy" making a fantastic start by running a show jumping clinic with top British Olympic Rider Geoff Billington. The event was a sell-out within days and a great success. She has a couple of jumping shows planned, and has been invited to be assistant course-builder at the North Devon Show in early August. It will be the show’s 50th Anniversary – yet another anniversary celebration! – so should be good.

It looks like a busy year ahead for the Hollick-Blee family.

As for my Jesamiah Acorne, well I have a non-fiction pirate book to write next. I have been doing the research, so now the writing proper begins, and then the Sixth Sea Witch Voyage is to start, Gallows Wake. I faithfully promise not to take three years to write these books!

Meanwhile, for Valentines Day, see the Home Page for the characters who have embraced my heart and enriched my life with their inspiring presence.

Lege feliciter (read happily).


 

January
 2016

I thought I would look back at some of the New Year things I have talked about here in my Journal.

2006 opened with this observation: "The start of a new year is always filled with excited hope; a feeling which begins to tail off by April, turns to a shrug of ‘oh well’ by July, and is completely gone come October - by which time it doesn't matter because January will soon be here and the whole thing begins again."

I’d had high hopes for Sea Witch, being picked up by a publishing company – again and again it was favourably received, but turned down with "…thoroughly enjoyable - but no one reads about pirates." No one, it seems, apart from the hundreds who are buying and enjoying it after I eventually indie-published. I’m glad I took that step, except had it gone mainstream I could have written ‘thousands’ there instead of ‘hundreds’.

2006 also saw the birth, and sad death six days later, of our pony Rosie’s foal; me doing a lecture tour in the Netherlands (very enjoyable and I am still friends with Carol and Joop whom I met at one of the venues) and us having to move house because of a fire where the upstairs neighbour’s burnt-out bedroom ended up on my daughter’s bed.

2007 was welcome after all that unexpected (and traumatic) excitement. But 2007 went rapidly downhill in direct competition with the previous year for unpleasant moments, so let’s just give it a cursory nod and move on to 2008.

The scumbag Kathy married in 2007 was entered onto my ‘stay well out of my way’ list. After a few short months of increasing domestic abuse my daughter divorced him. I remain extremely proud of her having the guts to ditch him. He remains on that list, and yes I feel very smug that he missed out on the financial good fortune that eventually caught up with us. Read on.

So: welcome 2009… when my ‘straight’ historical fiction was published mainstream in the USA and Forever Queen hit the USA Today Bestseller List. A short-lived accolade, but an accolade nonetheless.

Things took a turn for the worse in December 2009, and January 2010 was not much better. We lost a horse, I was bed-ridden in agony from a torn muscle in my groin and my mother passed away on Christmas Day.

At this point I am wondering why I decided to look back at past years – except I ended the January 2010 journal with something worth repeating: "I want to add how very proud I am of my daughter. She ran the house while I was ill, visited her Nan in hospital, took care of everything and set about ensuring that Yule would not be forgotten, even if enthusiasm was a little on the thin side. She decorated the house beautifully, did all the shopping and then cooked an entire Christmas dinner. December was a sh*t of a month - but my daughter ranks among the very best in the entire world. Thank you Kath."

2011 saw us moving stable yards and things starting, finally, to look up while January 2012 was the encore of an exciting year and a complete life-changer. Although that was not to happen until July and the opening night of the London Olympics. We won £1,000,000 on the lottery.

2013 New Year was somewhat chaotic – and a bit scary. We moved from London to Devon on 18th January – in the snow.

From here, January 1st 2016, it was the best thing we ever did, but back then there were a few moments of uncertainty. My memories from those first few days? Piles of cardboard boxes. The darkness of that first night - we hadn't found the outdoor light switches! Moonlight on the snow. A stag red deer in the field next door. The owls. The first snowdrops appearing.

By 2014 all doubts had well and truly gone. Kathy married Adam in March of that year; we live in a fabulous old farmhouse built in 1769. We have new friends, a new life – and I love it.

There have been some sad moments during 2015, a few annoying and frustrating ones, but I continue to shed a few tears of joy whenever I walk down the lane and see our farmhouse lights twinkling through the foliage.

I am sitting here looking out of my study window as evening settles over the fields and hills behind our orchard. The colours change with every passing hour, as well as the seasons. Lambing will start soon, and already, because of the mild weather, primroses are appearing. I have just been watching a barn owl hunt along the hedgerow.

I know I am lucky, and I assure you I appreciate this wonderful gift of life in Devon that Fortuna bestowed upon me.

I wish good fortune for you, my dear friends and loyal readers. May 2016 smile upon you and continue to let us talk of many things… of books and queens and pirates, of history and kings.

Lege feliciter (read happily).