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"Opportunities sometimes need to be grabbed with the aid of a club."

May
 2017

April and May are anniversary months for me. Starting with my birthday, through to my daughter’s birthday and my wedding anniversary. But there is an extra day to remember around the 23rd April.

Back in 1993 the Easter weekend fell close to my birthday, as it did this year. We, that’s me, husband Ron and daughter Kathy, joined our friends Hazel, Derek, Richard and Stewart for a week’s holiday in the Lake District, Cumbria. On that occasion, at a caravan and campsite on the shore of Coniston Water. So, I celebrated my 40th birthday in the beauty of the Lakes. In fact, on THE day we walked part way up Coniston Old Man. I recall that it was a lovely sunny day, though a little chilly, although I cannot remember, now, why we only went part way!

We celebrated, we enjoyed, we had a wonderful holiday, but I had an anxiety hanging over me. I was awaiting an important, life-changing phone call. I knew it would not come over the Easter itself, nor the week we were away – if for no other reason than I had no access to a phone. Plus the person I was expecting to hear from was also away.

Back home. Back to routine, back to work, back to school – for me and for Kathy. I was a school dinner lady at the time, keeping an eye on the little monsters – err, dears – during the lunch break.

From the age of about thirteen I had wanted to be a writer, a real writer who wrote novels that were published as real books. So I scribbled ideas and silly stories. I had a few short stories published, nothing remarkable or special. I had more than a few rejection slips for longer stories. When Kathy was born, I was then 29, I was determined to ‘write my book’. I had discovered King Arthur – the ‘real’ Arthur (if he ever was real). The Arthur set in Post-Roman Britain, not the clonking around in armour, Holy Grail Arthur. I wanted to read about this Post-Roman Arthur, but there were very few novels that I found satisfying because none fitted with what I thought, and felt, might have happened to this boy who became a man, who became a king – who became a legend. Nor did the stories of Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) satisfy me.

MY Arthur was to be a warlord who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and even harder to keep it. He was to be a "warts ‘n all" man, with doubts and flaws and who made mistakes. Yet he was also to be brave and strong and determined. MY Gwenhwyfar was to be proud and feisty and equally as determined. She had a sword and knew how to use it, and she also loved Arthur dearly, although the two, both with minds of their own, would often fight like the proverbial cat and dog. There was to be no Lancelot in my story, no Merlin, no knights, no Grail.

It took me ten years to write what I wanted to read.

I was fortunate. I met up with the wonderful Sharon K. Penman who helped and advised me, who showed me where I was going wrong with my writing. (It is because of her that I am as equally pleased to be able to help other new writers.)

She introduced me to her agent, who looked at my ten-year’s worth of writing. She liked it, but sent me away to re-write it. Which I did. This improved draft she definitely liked, and signed me up – although her words of "You do realise you have enough here to make a trilogy?" somewhat amazed me. Yes I was that naive, back then!

Late March 1993. The agent phoned me to say that a publisher was trying to sign up Sharon Penman, but she was firmly contracted elsewhere: however, said agent suggested me, Sharon’s protégé. The phone call was to tell me that she had sent the publisher my manuscript. "Don’t expect to hear anything until after Easter though."

A lot has happened since that March phone call and that Easter holiday: Kathy has grown up and is married to the world’s best son-in-law, I am now 64, not 40 and we moved from London to glorious Devon.

Someone I used to know once said: "It is all very well grasping opportunities when they dart by, but sometimes you have to go and hunt for them – with a club."

I’ve done a lot of club-wielding, I can tell you. Not taking things for granted, working hard to achieve the dream… oh and yes, THE phone call came one week after my 40th birthday.

A three-book deal with William Heinemann for what became the Pendragon’s Banner TrilogyThe Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King. I’ve written a few more books since then – the next will be my 15th, although one of those published, 1066 Turned Upside Down, I only contributed to, so maybe it doesn’t count.

So, that club has come in pretty handy over the years…

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

April
 2017

I don´t really know if I am living in the 21st century, the early 18th or Post-Roman at the moment because I am mentally hopping from one era to another on a daily basis.

Early April will see me promoting The Kingmaking - I believe it is going to be on special offer in the US and Canada in all e-version formats, although my apologies for I have no further information on this. I suggest, if you have not already done so, sign up to my Newsletter at tinyletter.com/HelenHollick as I will be able to update everyone through that.

I will also be posting an excellent article on my blog on April 4th written by my neighbour, Charles, concerning the TV series Arthur of the Britons starring Oliver Tobias – remember that? Charles worked on set during some of the filming, and, after enjoying reading my trilogy, he put pen to paper regarding some memories of the past.

On 10th April I will be talking on Barnstaple Radio´s The Voice, while on the 15th April I will be at Waterstones in Barnstaple, Devon from 12 – 2pm signing copies of my new pirate non-fiction: Pirates in Truth and Tales,accompanied by two real pirates. (Well, daughter and son-in-law in costume.) In between those dates I will be celebrating my 64th birthday and dealing with some 21st century local issues via my role as a Parish Councillor.

The end of the month, Friday 28th April, will find me in Bristol chatting with author Lucienne Boyce and publishing director Helen Hart from SilverWood Books Ltd on Lucienne´s radio show Silver Sound, BCfmradio, 93.2fm, 10 am to 11 am.

Phew! April is all go. I will need lots of chocolate Easter eggs to sustain my energy I think!

I am also in the process of helping various people with various issues, one being a despicable troll who is harassing authors by sending them scurrilous emails. The best way to deal with these people, who obviously have lots of spare time on their hands, is to dump them straight overboard.

This sort of online nuisance spammer, along with the plethora of telephone scam calls do not have the slightest effect on me. I have been a published author for over twenty years and well, when you have your own private Pirate watching your back, it´s these scallywag barnacles who need to watch out!

I get a huge laugh out of the scam callers. It is most enjoyable to wind them up by asking them questions. My record for keeping one of them talking is now 35 minutes – although I hasten to add that I was having a coffee and digestive biscuit at the time so it was an amusing way to pass an elevenses break.

A few other friends have assorted troubles at the moment, some of them, I think, being the result of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which many of us have been suffering from this dismal, dark, wet, winter. Alison Morton wrote a splendid piece about how SAD affects writers on her blog.

Some people, though, whinge and moan and complain then ignore good advice. Okay, that is their prerogative, but being honest? If you don´t want advice or help then don´t ask for it in the first place!

I heard this little "story" once:

There was a flood and a man had to scramble onto his roof in order to not be swept away and drowned. All around all he could see was the tops of trees, other roofs and floodwater. He was also staunchly a believer in God.

Another man came past in a small boat:

"Hey!" he called up "do you want help?"
"No, no" said the man on the roof, "I´ve prayed to God and I know he´ll help me."
So the man rowed away.

An hour later a lifeboat came along.
"Hey!" they called up, "do you want help?"
"No, no" said the man on the roof, "I´ve prayed to God and I know he´ll help me."
So the lifeboat went away.

Another hour passed and a helicopter flew past.

"Hey!" they called down, "do you want help?"
"No, no" said the man on the roof, "I´ve prayed to God and he´ll help me."
So the helicopter flew away.

The rain started again and the wind blew, and the man lost his grip on the wet roof tiles, slipped, fell into the water and was drowned.

In Heaven he marched angrily up to God and demanded: "I prayed for you to help me – but you didn´t, you are a fraud!"

God looked at him and said... "I sent a row boat, a lifeboat and a helicopter, but you didn´t want my help, so it´s your loss isn´t it?"


Don´t forget that Arthur article on Tuesday.

I was a little in love with the character of Arthur back then, and the Arthur of the Britons series obviously had some influence on my decision to write a novel about King Arthur without the Medieval myth and story.

You will not find Merlin, Lancelot, the Holy Grail or knights in armour in my story; instead Arthur is a warlord struggling to survive in the aftermath of Rome´s disintegration of British occupation.

My Arthurian story is of the boy who became the man, who became the king – who became the legend.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

March
 2017

We survived the bird flu, although for the last few weeks we have had some very grumpy hens and geese here at Windfall Farm. Trying to tell them that they wouldn´t have liked the cold, wet, miserable days didn´t seem to make any difference. Still, with the bursting-out of daffodils, snowdrops and violets all along the lane, spring is definitely springing and our flock is back in the orchard happily dabbling in the wet grass, thereby churning it to mud. Oh well, it´s nice to see them enjoying themselves.

The ponies are doing fine, although the reproachful looks on the Exmoors´ faces of an evening is hard to ignore. They live out. Exmoors have thick coats, they come from the moors, they are perfectly OK to live in the fields 24/7. They try their best to indicate they´d rather be stabled overnight though, especially when it´s very wet. We do, actually, take pity on them when it has been pouring all day and the wind is cold. On those occasions we succumb to their pleading wide eyes and bring them in. Talk about spoilt! Mr Mischief deserves a bit of pampering as he had a claim to fame mid-month when he was featured in an edition of Horse & Hound about Exmoors – complete with a photo of Kathy riding him aside.

I happened to post a Caption Contest photo of the Exmoors on my Facebook page the following weekend, and had an exclaimed comment left from a very excited visitor: "OMG is that THE Mr Mischief?" The lady concerned is an author and a Yorkshire farmer, and had no idea that in addition to writing my books and living in Devon, I was the proud owner of said pony. Hmm, given that Mr M has managed to break down the fences in the field three days running, I´m not sure if "proud" is the right word to use.

March sees the wedding anniversary for Kathy and Adam – has it really been three years now? Goodness! It only seems like yesterday. Add to that, I´ll be sixty-four next month. How many of us automatically start singing that (somewhat awful) Beatles song when reaching this age I wonder? (Now it´s in my head it´ll linger for several hours.)

Some good news is that following a minor medical procedure for my knee, the arthritic pain has eased a little. I can now walk up the lane again. It would be good to have some decent weather to enjoy these perambulations though. My next step - excuse the pun - is to walk up the next bit of the lane and back, gradually building up to the whole half-mile, so a mile, there and back. A good part of it up hill. The coming-back-down bit is even better!

I´ve also been celebrating the release of my latest book, the non-fiction Pirates: Truth and Tales, with some fabulous reviews coming in. Read them here.

For example:

"Hollick chronicles a well-informed history of piracy imagined in fiction and real life in fresh, breezy prose"

and

‘Interspersed throughout the book is the author's impressive knowledge of historical detail and it is obvious that a great deal of research has gone into bringing this piratical guide to life. Skilfully blending historical facts with literary fiction, sometimes, the book reads as lightly as a novel, but then, at other times, we come sharply back to reality with daring tales of mischance and menace, of lives ruined by too much grog and too many loose women, and which ended, all too often, dangled at the end of a hangman's rope.´

To say "I´m chuffed," is an understatement I think. If you would like to leave your own review, and thus not be threatened by a pirate to do so, here´s the direct Amazon link. Thank you in advance.

Also, for Jesamiah fans, I have nearly finished a short e-book novelette adventure set as a prequel to Sea Witch; Jesamiah´s early days of how he became a pirate. So keep a sharp eye in a couple of months´ time, for "When The Mermaid Sings" will be sailing into a harbour near you.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

February
 2017

The transition from 2016 to 2017 has not gone smoothly here in the UK for many of us who keep poultry as pets. Bird Flu flew in (excuse the pun) from Europe before Christmas. Thanks EU, that was not a wanted Christmas present. Annoyingly it is also one of the things that is entirely unaffected whether you favour Brexit or Bremain. Disease has no care for boundaries or the English Channel.

The big problem is that our birds are used to living entirely free range in our orchard, apart from at night when they are safely housed away from the foxes. They have had to be shut away all these weeks, ongoing through to the end of February with the probable addition of until the end of March. Bird Flu is a problem, but in my opinion it is not the enormous epidemic that it is said to be, and the protection is purely for the large meat/egg producers´ purse, not for the benefit of the birds themselves. Out of the thousands of geese and swans at Abbotsbury - the enormous swan sanctuary in Dorset - nine were diagnosed with bird flu. Others have died, but could this have been through other causes?

Our hens are doing OK as they are scratching around in an enclosed space under our rather large, if low for people, veranda. They have sweetcorn, peas and such to enjoy. The ducks aren´t too bad, although we are going to have to split them up because it is now approaching mating season: the females can´t get away from the drakes, and the drakes are squabbling.

It´s our two geese Goosey and Boo that I am worried about. Goosey stands forlorn at the wire door pleading to be let out. The Goose equivalent of Colditz, and I hate it as much as he does. What we are going to do about the situation, though, I don´t know. Nor, I suspect, does the government. If most of the government are even aware of the distress this is causing, that is.

Still, on to brighter things. I had an eye consultant appointment the other day; the good news is that the Glaucoma seems to have stabilised, so I still can´t see clearly, but it is looking hopeful that it won´t degenerate much further, providing I keep using the prescribed medications. I´m also going to try steroid injections for the arthritic old knees. Maybe I will then be able to walk up the lane again without grimacing.

I will have to "endure" thirty-six hours of bed rest after the injection though. Oh the hardship! *laugh*. I´m all set with a book to listen to, though. Yes listen. I have joined the Royal National Institute for the Blind´s Talking Books programme, and signed up for Audible. Which I am loving!

I am steadily working my way through the brilliant Alison Morton´s Roma Nova series on Audible, and I am absolutely hooked. Imagine if Rome´s administration, through the female line, had survived until the 21st century. Add in the Praetorian Guard as the modern equivalent of the SAS/FBI/Spooks/Special Branch, include a murder or two, silver smuggling, rebellions, a dash of romance… and you get a classy thriller read. Well, thriller listen!

Having plugged Alison´s books, my own Pirates: Truth and Tales is out this month. The quote at the top of this journal entry, although spoken by Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, is somewhat appropriate for my own pirate Jesamiah Acorne, don´t you think?

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

January
 2017

So goodbye 2016, hello 2017.

I can´t believe that on January 18th we would have completed four entire years of living here in glorious, if somewhat wet, Devon. We have made some wonderful new friends and have a relaxed and (usually) cheerful household, enhanced by the atmosphere of our old farmhouse - and the lingering laughter of those who lived here before us from circa 1769 - and the loving and loyal pets who share our life. And yes, that includes the Grumpy Gander and WonkyDonk the donkey, who I am certain dwells in his own time zone. He certainly walks at a different pace to everyone else!

I still feel, occasionally that this is all a dream and I´ll wake up tomorrow back in Walthamstow with the neighbour screaming obscenities, the sound of sirens and traffic and very few stars in the sky because of the light pollution.

Although I must confess, when the owls have a ding-dong over territory the language gets pretty hot – even if it is in Twit-Twoo, and I heard a police car siren filtering up from the distant A377 the other night. I had to laugh as I was reminded of a classic Morecambe and Wise Sketch – this one.

Kathy, who is "sensitive" to these things, met a new spirit from the past the other day. He appeared briefly in the stable yard, a dapper gentleman wearing late 1800s style clothing. My present day contact, a good friend, confirmed that he was a horse dealer from around 1870 – but that he was also (ssh keep this under your hat) a smuggler. It seems there used to be a contraband cache somewhere on the farm. (No wonder my Jesamiah likes it here!) With the River Taw so close I guess they brought the brandy for the parson and the baccy for the clerk up river, then unloaded to the four-and-twenty ponies trotting through the dark… Exmoor ponies of course. It seems, also, that our new(ish) visitor is fond of Lexie. For his period she would be a very tall horse, and quite stunning. I hope he realises she is not for sale!

We also have a "resident guest" in the dairy and our "maid" Milly-Molly. I´m not sure if she still tuts when I take the laundry out the front door: apparently in her period, early 1800s (?) I should use the back door. The nicest moment was when Kathy saw her and another lady dancing outside when we had a rehearsal of the music going to be played at Kathy and Adam´s wedding. I´m glad our friends like remaining here, and adding to the happiness of the household – and they think it worth staying.

Talking of Lexie: Kathy jumped her in her first Foxhunter Class in mid-December, and came second. The jumps were about 1.20 – 1.25 metres. (that´s high) but Lexie took them in her stride (literally!) Considering that technically at the time, Lexie was still in the British Novice level of show jumping – the lowest level, that´s not bad going. The second-place points and prize money has pushed her out of British Novice now though. Still, technically she is still at amateur level! The thing is, at 17.3 Lexie is so tall, and these lower level jumps (90cm or so) are too small…

With the fifth Sea Witch Voyage On the Account published last year and a non-fiction book Pirates: Truth and Tales scheduled for next month, February, 2016 has been a busy writing year.

For 2017 I might have a book about smuggling to do, the sixth Sea Witch Voyage Gallows Wake will need to be written, and I have a novelette planned of Jesamiah´s early days as a pirate: When the Mermaid Sings… Exciting eh?


This month sees the launch proper of my own Historical Fiction Review Blog – Discovering Diamonds. Even before the official opening there were enough reviews scheduled to fill the whole of January; there will be a new review published every day except Sundays. The aim is to review all historical fiction on a level playing field basis, be they mainstream or indie published. To my mind readers do not care who publishes a book - the prime interest being "is it a good book?" So a good book is a good book, however it is produced.

I hope the site will become popular, even very popular, and my thanks to the splendid and enthusiastic team of reviewers and admin helpers who are eager to be a part of this project. The fact that we must all be completely mad is neither here nor there.

The subtitle beneath Cathy Helm´s fabulous Home Page Graphic this month reads:

A new place to discover good books – and a diamond or two!

Probably the closest many of us will get to being given a diamond or two… Happy New Year Everyone!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig