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"Horses make a landscape look beautiful."

May
 2016

Did you miss any of the mammoth A-Z Blog Challenge I hosted on my main ‘Let Us Talk Of Many Things’ blog? The idea is for bloggers to post something every day during April, except Sundays, on topics from A to Z, which just happens to be twenty-six letters for the twenty-six days.

I wanted to do something different, so I wrote a set of interview questions and sent them out to twenty-six authors – but the questions were for their lead characters, not for the authors. The result was interesting; I found it amazing that the same questions could generate so many different answers.

I put a lot of hard work into the project and I’m not sure whether I will do it again next year. This sort of thing, blog sharing with other authors, is only successful when all the participating authors ‘do their bit’. It is all about Social Media networking, these things are only successful when all participants promote each other, not just their own ‘slot’. So thank you to the authors on the tour who Tweeted and Facebooked etc., your contributions were very much appreciated!

Here’s the link to my post – but do visit the other interviews and leave a comment on your favourites.

There was also the Sunday Break posts during April, one about Halley’s Comet, an article by the lovely Anna Belfrage about taking a deep breath and going indie alone, and Alison Morton’s Three Year Goose That Laid A Golden Egg. (Intrigued? Find out more here.)

I do sometimes wonder if all this social media-ing is worth it, but for indie authors without the marketing there would be no sales, and I guess selling even a few books is better than selling none. But it is hard to keep going sometimes. Word of mouth is still the best way to reach new readers, so please, chatter away about my books folks!

A good source of readers is the library, although unfortunately many libraries shy away from purchasing indie author’s books for a variety of reasons. How many of us first discovered the joy of books in our local library? One of my earliest memories is of coming out of the children’s library that was in Walthamstow High Street - where Sainsburys is now - clutching a Little Grey Rabbit story by Alison Uttley. I must have been three because we moved from Walthamstow when I was four. I remember the event because I was so thrilled. I hadn’t "read" that particular story and I was excited at finding another adventure in the series. (I'm not sure, I confess, if I was reading these myself or having them read to me - although I don’t recall not being able to read.)

Just for the record: I still love Little Grey Rabbit.

The sad thing is that so many areas are closing their libraries, claiming it is too expensive to keep them open. What price education and leisure? How about this for a fact: ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance as an alternative.’

Devon Libraries, however, have taken a huge initiative and gone independent as ‘Devon Libraries Unlimited’, to be run and owned by staff and the community. The move is set to secure the future of all fifty of the County’s libraries, including the essential Mobile Libraries which visit our rural villages, many of which do not have a bus service. Chittlehamholt doesn’t. I was pleased to hear that now this threat will not happen – the Mobile Libraries are safe.

I am also involved with another new venture. Daughter Kathy is to start running her own show jumping events here in Devon. Taw River Show Jumping is to be friendly and professionally run for everyone to enjoy.

A huge step on Kathy’s part, but she is more than experienced enough, especially with husband Adam helping out. So wish us luck, and dry weather. Do visit the blog and click a few of the tick boxes – every bit of support helps. I’ve been roped in to do the loudspeaker commentary, as if I haven’t enough to do! I guess I had better have a few witty but tactful remarks to hand, with lots of 'Lovely clear round there' announcements and hopefully not too many along the lines of 'Oh dear, she’s fallen off again.'

One final thought regarding this month's quote. Does that also count for our latest addition to the Hollick / Blee family? See the pics of Bertie here.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

April
 2016

It has stopped raining. For a day or two at least. I've managed to get out into the garden to tidy up, not only the dead stalks and last year's withered blooms but a vast amount of debris left behind from two uninvited guests. One was Imogen. She blew in from the south and made her unwelcome presence known by making a great nuisance of herself. Branches everywhere, flattened daffodils, several trees down and the electricity off for a few hours.

That was bad enough but a week or so later in came another storm. This one didn't have a name (probably why it was so cross), came from due west and left behind even more damage than Imogen. We lost another three trees - fortunately in the field, woods and orchard so no structural worries, but the house actually shuddered at one particular enormous gust - keep in mind this is a stone-built farmhouse with walls three-feet thick in places!

The fallen trees will be recycled as firewood for next year; all husband Ron has to do is saw them up.

For those of you with a few minutes to fill and who like puzzles, Mr Webmaster has added one of those 'move the boxes to complete the picture' thingies on the H2U pages. I've no doubt they have a proper name, but if they have I don't know it. I also do not know how to solve these puzzles, they leave me a bit, err… puzzled. But what ho! If you can solve it and complete the picture I'm told you get a reward panel - and I'm offering a monthly giveaway. Follow this link for details.

For those readers eagerly, I hope, awaiting the Fifth Sea Witch Voyage, the full technical edit is done and it has gone off to a copy-editor. I've signed my contract with my assisted publishing company - deposit paid - so once the edit comes back it'll be all set to format and print. We are looking at a publication date of early June.

One thing that struck me as I was doing the final edit was how you miss things - you just cannot spot repeated words for instance. I had 'once' three times in a paragraph! One of the most common reasons why I reject books submitted for review by the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews is poor formatting - sorry, you do not publish novels with the text left-justified - and failure to correct errors. If the first few pages are littered with obvious errors we are not going to review the book. How can we recommend something to paying customers if it is not properly finished? That would be like buying a new suit or dress without the hem sewn up. A couple of typos is a different matter - they even slip into mainstream, I have noticed.

One of my UK reviewers wrote a very good article for my blog, and he'll pop up in On The Account as I gave him a bit-part as a pirate. I wonder if anyone will spot him? Arr!

I'm going to be talking about more of the above at Barnstaple Library on April 2nd, the Troubador Conference in Leicester on May 7th (my daughter's birthday - first one I've missed,) and the HNS Conference in Oxford during the first weekend of September. Unfortunately there will be one annual event I will not be attending this year, which is a great shame as I've been there for the last nine years or so. The Battle of Hastings re-enactment in October.

I was upset to discover last year that English Heritage had not ordered any copies of Harold The King - so it was slightly a waste of my time being there, particularly as this event is all at my own expense. It seems English Heritage insist on a 40-to-50% discount when buying books. Because I am Indie that means I would be paying them to sell my book. I know authors don't make much profit from sales but we do not expect to be in negative figures!

I did come up with one solution, which would involve a special reprint of about 500 copies - despite a hefty chunk from my savings to do so. However no one from English Heritage got back to me about it, and it is now too late to organise an alternative print-run. I will miss meeting everyone, but I must admit the journey from Devon to Battle in Sussex is long and tedious and the weekend exhausts me. I can cope with all that, but not if I haven't got any books to sell at the end of it.

It is particularly a great shame as this year, 2016, is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. I am just hoping it rains then I won't be so disappointed at not being there. Sorry, all you folks who will be.

It is, of course, also the 950th anniversary of all the other things that happened in 1066. One being a mysterious star that blazed across the sky for most of April. The star - or a comet as we now know it to have been - was noted in the Chinese records and depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry.

Many centuries later a chap called Halley managed to work out that this comet returned every seventy-six years or so, and his prediction of its return proved to be correct. His name? Sir Edmond Halley.

Hence my quote this month!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

March
 2016

The good news. On The Account is finished. Well the major writing part is, now the editing begins. Three setbacks: one for every Indie writer, two for me personally.

Editing services are expensive. Very expensive, four figure GBP or USD expensive. Especially if, like moi you tend to write books of 134,000 plus words. Editors charge, on average, between four to seven dollars or pounds sterling per thousand words. I'll leave you to do the math.

My own editor is right in the middle of moving home - bless her she has done a sterling job with an initial line edit, not easy when your dictionary is somewhere at the bottom of a removal box and the computer is in bits.

For Indie writers the potential cost of £1,500 or more is way beyond a practical budget, especially when taking into account the cost of using an assisted publishing house to produce the book, so add another £1,500. Then there is cover design, anything from £500 upwards. Before the book is even in print you are looking at around the £4,000 mark.

What author, whether a first-timer or old-established can afford this? But we do somehow, and this is why the people who knock Indie writers annoy me: we spend a lot of time, effort and money producing our books. Give us some credit for doing the best we can please!

For myself I have hit an unforeseen snag. My editor marked up the manuscript in red biro. Problem, my fading eyesight cannot read red biro - or see things written on red paper come to that. No matter, I've managed, but it is something I will have to remember in future.

I guess it is a bit like my husband who is losing his hearing. He can no longer hear certain words - he thought I said 'hospital' the other day, when in fact I had said 'osteopath' - or high-pitched sounds. He regular mentions that "there are no birds in the garden"; I no longer point out that the trees are full of their chirping and tweeting. (You can quite see where the makers of Twitter got the idea from.) In the same way, it seems I can no longer see certain colours of the spectrum.

What I need, now, as the initial editing is done, are a few enthusiastic volunteer readers to go through this pre-published Fifth Voyage for me, to pick up on anything I have missed, and to give me honest feedback before going to press. As well as some good comments on Amazon etc when the time comes?

Any offers to read a PDF on-screen version gratefully accepted. Just e-mail me via the Contact form on the menu bar above. The only caveat, you'll probably only have about a fortnight to read through. Anyone eager to get their hands on the next Jesamiah Voyage, though, will, I hope, jump at the chance.

Also for Jesamiah fans, I have opened a new Facebook Page just for Sea Witch where I am sharing the opening lines of chapters - with appropriate images when I can find them. So spread the word me 'earties and sail across to click 'like'!

And for any Italian readers - coming soon "Il primo viaggio di capitan Acorne".

Other news: It is still raining, although we did have a couple of tentative days of sunshine. The Producer of 1066 the Movie, Robin Jacob, came to stay for a few days. He is planning a possible movie that will require some dense woodland that looks like it hasn't been touched for years. Ours fits the bill nicely. Not sure if actors and cameramen and such will appreciate all the mud down there though. But watch this space for updates.

At least spring proper is just around the corner, although the flowers and birds have it all mixed up. Isn't it nice when the days start drawing out?

We have also been watching a pair of barn owls most evenings as they hunt over the field behind us. I can see them as barn owls are not small birds and I can pick up their white plumage as they scour above the long (very long) grass for prey. Such elegant creatures. Unlike the waddle of our somewhat fat goose who reigns supreme over the orchard. Mind you, for plumpness, the pheasants we reared last August are more like round footballs. How they manage to fly I don't know. One of the cock birds, Damian, has lost his tail. There was a lot of squawking in the early hours the other day. I guess he has now learnt that it is best to get out the way of prowling foxes as quickly as possible.

Right, back to the editing read-through.

I wish to state here and now that I hate commas. See this month's quote above. I mean it!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

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).

helensig

 

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).

helensig