In the words of Jon Snow and various other characters from Game of Thrones who survive to the next episode, let alone the next series… Winter’s Coming. And with a vengeance.
We’ve had several unwelcome visits from gale-force winds and rain poring down by the bucket-load. I usually cannot see the River Taw from my bedroom window apart from the railway bridge that spans it, but there it was, grey-glistening beneath the murky skies. Except, of course, the river wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
The waterfall in our woods has been rushing at full spate as well, not that I have been close enough to have a good look. Deep gooey mud and an arthritic knee that is getting more painful by the day prevents too much of an interested inspection. At the moment even struggling up the lane is too much for this poor old crock.
The new Exmoor foal, Tanana - stable name Anna - is settling in well. I have some pictures on my Devon Diary. She has a very determined mind of her own and I think she is going to be a little madam as she gets older!
Some other news: the non-fiction pirate book is finished, and is at proof-read stage. I’ve been told that publication is due next February. It only has its main title at the moment – the somewhat uninspired ‘Pirates’. I’m hoping for something with more ‘oomph’ for a subtitle. This being commissioned by mainstream Amberley Press I don’t get much of a say-so for things like titles though.
I’m also, with in-held excitement in case it doesn’t work out, negotiating for another non-fiction book on smugglers, which will mean I can write about Jamaica Inn and Poldark! But more about that, with luck, next month. I wonder how I can wangle an interview with Aidan Turner…?
As some of you might recall, if you were paying attention and have read these journals of mine with regular and avid interest, I recently parted ways with the HNS Indie Reviews.
This was most disappointing for me, and upsetting I might add, as I’d worked hard to get the reviews where they were, and to support indie writers in a bid to be taken seriously – and be noticed. Still, that door is now firmly closed and as far as I am concerned, barred, bolted and the key thrown away. I decided to march on, however, and thrust open a new door, and this one was to be of my choosing: my own Review Blog!
Along with several of my old review team, Discovered Diamonds will be going live on January 1st 2017. We already have several fantastic books reviewed and lined up to be posted, but we welcome more. E-book versions only at this stage; indie, self-published or mainstream, for we will hold no distinction except that a good book is a good book, regardless of how it is published.
Thanks to the highly talented Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics we have some nice diamond logos for successfully reviewed authors to use and we will be selecting a Book of the Month and a Book of the Year – although the latter will need wait until this time in 2017.
Of course, I wonder how sane I am to be taking on such a project, but I really do feel passionate about promoting quality books for a quality read, and at least this enterprise will be mine, with my ideas, my goals, and my rules - all along with input from The Team, that is.
Before January 2017, however, comes December 2016 with jingly bells, tinsel, mince pies and a few hopefully jolly days in which to relax. The start of December sees me immersed in a different project - an exciting Blog Hop, which will run on my own blog with eleven other fabulous authors, from the 6th to the 17th of December.
The theme is "The Best Supporting Role". I thought it was time some of the ‘supporting role’ characters in our novels had a chance to shine – so join me on my blog on the 6th because reading brings us unknown friends – which soon become very well known, and very good friends.
Happy Christmas everyone!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Before the days of the Internet or mobile phones we were quite happy to use a landline telephone or write a letter. The mobile is useful especially, as a mum, for knowing that my daughter and son-in-law have reached their destination safely. When they remember to call that is, and I rely on the Internet for researching facts because my fading eyesight makes it hard to read the small print of books now, and non-fiction, alas, often does use a smaller font. I value the Internet, as well, for being in contact with people – mostly friends from around the world, from Sweden to Australia, from Japan to the United States.
So when, in mid-October a storm rolled in complete with lights and percussion, I had one ear on how far away the lightning was while my husband and I hastily brought the horses in from the fields. There was one particularly loud clap, although I reckoned it was a good fifteen miles away. The storm then trundled off to bother someone else. Except, no Internet. An entire week later, still no Internet - obviously the lightning had zapped something somewhere, although the telephone was working. I suspect that a router, or whatever the technical term is for what happens at the British Telecom end of the line, had been damaged.
With the WiFi out even the smart phones were struggling. No Facebook, no Twitter; I had to hope that the posts I’d scheduled for my Blog were all fine and dandy, and too bad if anyone was trying to get in touch with me for something urgent. We rely on technology; it does make you think how did we get by even ten years ago, let alone twenty or thirty!
I remember a friend being excited about this new-fangled World Wide Web thingy back in the late 70s. He was ecstatic because he could access a menu in a Chinese take-away in Hong Kong. I couldn’t see why he was so thrilled. Then e-mail happened, and Google and Amazon and… well, you get the picture.
The good thing about being off-line was that I caught up with writing the several articles I had queued in my ‘To Do’ folder, and I made a good start on the next Jesamiah adventure, which will be more of a novella-style about his early ‘coming-of-age’ years. I had toyed with calling it ‘Weigh Anchor’ but then came up with ‘When the Mermaid Sings’; which might change if I think of something else.
Being unable to communicate with my friends made me think of how fortunate we are to have this ability to connect with almost anywhere in the world. Some of the people I ‘meet’ on Facebook or Twitter @HelenHollick, are no more than names, some I occasionally say ‘hi’ to, others I have been fortunate enough to meet, and many are good friends. Those few days off-line made me realise how much I value my friends – I missed you all.
One friend in particular I will continue to miss. It was with great sadness that I heard that literary agent Carole Blake had passed away in late October. Her passing has left a gaping hole in the lives of her colleagues, clients and friends – and I am honoured to have been able to class myself in the latter category. Carole was a no-nonsense woman who called a spade a spade, made her thoughts and views clear and, unlike many people, knew what she was talking about. Her wisdom and common sense – and her feisty attitude towards the ups and downs of life – was refreshing as well as invigorating. If ever there was a heroine to look up to Carole was it.
Forget ‘Wonder Woman’; Carole Blake was the role model. She was one of the few professionals who supported and encouraged me when I initially decided to go indie, had willingly and enthusiastically advised me on a few things when I needed advice. I admired Carole because of her honesty and forthrightness, and enjoyed her posts on Facebook including her recent no-nonsense reports on her treatment for cancer. She told me that she wanted to be open to help others get through the tough time of chemotherapy. Sadly, it appears that it was not the cancer that took her from us – that, she was determined to beat. I will miss her posts about a myriad different things; her trips abroad, her love of fine food, her crafts, her books, her love of life and literature. I will miss her welcoming smile and joyful hug whenever we managed to meet at conferences and such. I admit I was terrified of her at times – she was like a school headmistress, you minded your ps and qs in her presence!
I will never forget the second time we met. The first time, my dear friend and Carole’s long-term client Elizabeth Chadwick introduced us. We chatted. I enjoyed Carole’s company, but was she just being polite in return, I wondered? So, that second time, at a different conference, she spotted me first and sailed over like a galleon with a following wind, giving me a huge hug and a kiss on both cheeks, “How lovely to see you!” says she.
And it was genuine, as were all her subsequent greetings, including our last just a few weeks ago in Oxford. There was no need to be scared of her - not outside of business matters that is! - because Carole was a warm, wonderful woman. It is difficult for those left behind not to grieve, but for Carole the passing was swift and I’m glad she did not have to suffer a long, lingering illness. I wonder if she is already bustling about and organising things on the Other Side? Enjoy your next Great Adventure Carole!
November is a special month for the United States for it is Thanksgiving, a celebration of safe arrival in the New World for the Founding Fathers (and mothers) and the gathering of their first harvest. Apart from Harvest Festival, earlier in the autumn, we do not have such a celebration here in the UK which is a shame. Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, for all the good things to be thankful for.
For myself, despite the frustration of my poor eyesight, I am thankful that I do at least have sight. There is a lot to be thankful for and appreciate: my husband whom I often get cross with (what else are husbands for?) but who has always been fully supportive. My beautiful daughter, of whom I am so proud, and my son-in-law - equally as proud of. The joy our animals bring us, even the grumpy goose. I miss horse-riding, but the horses are there at the end of the garden. I am thankful for the tranquillity of the Devon countryside and the achievement of my books which bring pleasure to so many. But above all this I appreciate your friendship – the very fact that you have bothered to visit this newsletter on my website and read it.
For that: Diolch, Gracias, Danke, Tack, Grazie, Tesekkur ederim, Dankon, Gratias tibi, Merci, Þakka þér and Thank You to all.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
October is always a sad time for me. The echoes of the past run particularly loud. I lost my best friend at Halloween, and a few years later we had a fire at our house – both a long while ago now, but the memories have not faded with the passing of time.
September did not end up too well this year either. It started well enough, with the enormous pleasure of meeting so many wonderful friends and enthusiastic indie writers, both established and just setting out, at the Historical Novel Society’s bi-annual Conference that was held in Oxford this year. It takes a lot of effort to organise these sort of things – so well done everyone who worked so hard.
My first thought when I dumped my suitcase on the bed at the University campus where I was staying was, "Oh, there goes Morse!" It just so happened that a police siren was wailing nearby. I am relieved to say, however, that I did not come across one single dead body while I was there.
My involvement with Indie at the conference resulted in some rewarding moments: the announcement of the Indie Award winners, Barbara Sjoholm for her Fossil Island, and Lucienne Boyce for Bloodie Bones.
As an extra bonus, hearing so many new Indie authors say thank you for the support offered to them was fabulous. Writing can be a very lonely occupation; we sit at our keyboards trying to get a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, to go right, wondering all the while why on earth we are doing so. Who is going to read this anyway? (At least, that’s my usual thought for my scribbling.) Then the book is published and horror of horrors something has gone wrong - maybe the text is incorrectly formatted, or there are just too many missed typos.
But is it worth repairing and republishing? It costs a lot of time, effort and emotion to Indie publish a novel. To be told something like, ‘this is a wonderful story, but it needs a re-edit to produce it professionally’ can be hard to swallow when you are a new, novice author, or even an established one. Believe me, I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt … and read the book! Well, written it: Discovering the Diamond.
The main thing I brought away from the conference was the feeling of satisfied pride knowing that several authors are now launched on what could be a very worthwhile career because I took the time to tactfully point out a few silly errors in the original versions of their books, and gave the advice and confidence to put these errors right. The result is some superb novels and some brilliant authors. Bravo to all of you!
Sadly, however, I am now no longer Managing Editor of, or involved with, HNS Indie Reviews. I have, with some devastation, had to step down. But things happen and have to move on – at least now I might have more time to actually do some writing of my own.
October is also a month to look back on the events of 950 years ago. The Battle of Hastings, 1066, which was actually seven or so miles from Hastings but named after the nearest town, and which decided the fate of the Kingdom of England when the invading Normans, by sheer luck, won the day. I do not like Duke William, I never have, I never will.
After 950 years I guess I ought to get over the loss of King Harold II and so many Englishmen, but I think the DNA that makes us what we are in character and looks is also present as some form of subconscious memory. After all, I know for a fact that my ancestors were alive in 1066 - if they weren’t I would not be here today! - so in some way the outcome of that day must have had an impact on them. Maybe my mother’s mother’s mother’s (add a few more mothers) mother lost a father, or husband or son - or all three – on that day of 14th October. The grief, the fear, the horror has been passed down, generation through generation within my DNA memory and that is why I can’t abide that particular Norman tyrant, and why Harold will always have a special place in my heart.
Read more: 1066 Turned Upside Down: an e-book anthology of short ‘what if’ stories about the year 1066 written by nine authors.
Harold the King : the story of the events that led to the Battle of Hastings. (Note this novel is titled I Am The Chosen King in the US)
I have, after many years of intending to do so, at last set up a newsletter to which my friends and followers can subscribe and/or unsubscribe. My plan is to send a short monthly News - that’s assuming I have any news worth sharing of course!
From now until the end of December 2016 I will be running a monthly give-away. On the last day of each month I will choose one winner from the new subscribers – the prize will be a £10/$10 Amazon gift card.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
I usually end my monthly journal with a reference to my chosen quote, but since I was the one to start the tradition, I see no reason why I cannot, on a mere whim, change it.
This month's quote is from the movie Gladiator, starring Russel Crowe; not a bad movie but in my opinion surpassed by the evocative theme music of Lisa Gerrard. I think I am also right in saying it was the divine and brooding Oliver Reed’s last movie?
It is a quote I often think of, for it's a bit of a conscience guide: "If I do X what repercussions will it have in the future?"
Some things are not particularly important, here-today-gone-tomorrow decisions; others truly can echo in eternity. The decision to marry the person you love and produce a child is an eternity-affector – your ancestral line will be continuing and if the child is a girl that maternal link, going way, way back to the very first mother in your DNA chain will continue, unbroken. An awesome thought!
Consequences of friendship; one that survives the inevitable ups-and-downs, or one that is shattered beyond repair by just one thoughtless and spiteful comment. Or the greed of an individual which spreads its ripples wider and wider through this maelstrom that is life.
For example, had Tostig Godwineson stopped to think, back in the year 1066, our history could well have been very different.
2016 is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, where Duke William of Normandy defeated King Harold II on a battlefield seven miles from the Sussex coast near Hastings. The location very soon simply came to be called ‘Battle’.
But Harold had fought another major battle a few weeks prior to that fateful day of October 14th 1066, and had marched - although probably he himself rode - a few hundred miles north to Yorkshire to fight another invading army led by the Norwegian Viking, Harald Hardrada, who had Harold's traitorous brother, Tostig, in tow.
Beyond the knowledge that in 1065 Tostig had been thrown out of the office of Earl for making an absolute mess of running the North of England, had indulged in a spat of temper with his brother and the King, Edward the Confessor, we know few of the actual circumstances. All we know for certain is that Tostig went off in a huff seeking assistance to get his Earlship reinstated. The only person who agreed to assist was Hardrada, and it is pretty obvious that he was following his own agenda, not Tostig’s.
The Viking raiders met the new Earls of the North, Edwin and Morcar, just outside York at Gate Fulford. The English lost the battle, but lived to fight another day. Word was sent to Harold, who had become King on January 6th 1066. No one thought he would be able to send help in time, no one even considered that he would be able to get there himself to defend his kingdom. But get there he did and, taking the invaders - and Tostig - completely by surprise a battle was fought at Stamford Bridge. Tostig was slain and so was Hardrada.
Legend has it that before the battle Harold offered clemency, and invited the Norwegian King to turn around and go home in peace. Hardrada refused, saying he was going to take the land of England as his own. Harold then offered him a small piece of England. Seven feet of it. Enough for a grave. It is probably not a true story, but it might be.
How did Harold feel, knowing it was his own younger brother who had started all this? That one of his own kin lay dead on the battlefield? And how did our last English King, who died defending his Realm from foreign Invasion a matter of weeks later, feel when his other brothers lay dead by Norman hands, and he himself was facing defeat in those last few moments when four of Duke William’s men hacked our Lord King to pieces? (No, Harold was not killed by an arrow in the eye.)
What thoughts went through the mind of William of Normandy when he realised that England was his?
The consequences of their actions. Echoing through eternity…
1066 Turned Upside Down, an e-book anthology of short ‘what if’ stories about the year 1066 written by nine authors.
Harold the King, the story of the events that led to the Battle of Hastings (note this novel is titled I Am The Chosen King in the US.)
Lege feliciter (read happily).
My daughter and son-in-law have gone off for their second trip this year to the All England Show Jumping Course at Hickstead, near Brighton, although with only one horse this time, Lexie - registered name Shinglehall Casino. I am writing this on Wednesday 27th July, Day Two of the competition, and so far Lexie has managed two double-clears - that means she jumped clear in both the first round and the jump-off - and just tipped one pole for four faults in the jump-off of her class this afternoon. Pity because if she had jumped clear she would have achieved 7th place. Still, when you consider this is Lexie’s first season jumping at this level where the maximum height of jumps has been 1.15m, her record is, so far, pretty good.
Lexie is now eight years old and is 17.3 hands high (that’s big) but she has had lots of setbacks since we acquired her as a six-month old foal. At two years old she punctured a tendon, resulting in six months off work, although as a youngster that was not too much of as problem; all the same the leading in hand and early steady training went out the window. She recovered from that, then she broke the pedal bone in her foot. Think of it as your big toe. Vet. Bill. Another few months of box-rest, then gentle exercise and taking things very carefully for several more months and she managed to tear her top lip open. Blood everywhere. Vet. Emergency call-out. Stitches. Bill.
Add to that, she is inclined to come up in hives – little and not so little lumps that erupt all over body. The worst attack was when her face swelled and she couldn’t open her mouth to eat or drink. Vet. Emergency call-out. Bill. Then a puncture wound to her leg. (ditto vet etc) And stomach ulcers. Being quite honest here, I want to know why she has the ulcers when I have the worry about paying all these bills!
Still, her performance so far at Hickstead has more than made up for all the past problems and worries, and she clearly loves jumping. See my Facebook page for video clips. You may have to scroll down a bit to find them.
The fact that Daughter and Son-in-Law are away, however, leaves Ron and myself to take care of everything here at home: this includes - but is not limited to - one Exmoor pony, the other being temporarily out on loan to a lovely nearby family, one donkey, one horse; a rabbit, two cats, two dogs, two geese, about twenty ducks, four hens, some pigeons, four pheasants, a toad, the wild birds and a large family of hedgehogs. At least those from the toad onward look after themselves, which is just as well because Ron has been a bit under the weather with a virus and I have a twisted ankle. Just call me "Hobbling Hollick".
Other escapades during July were the launch of On The Account – thank you to everyone who left reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, more are always welcome - and a fabulous visit to Radio Devon where I was a guest on David FitzGerald’s show. As if that wasn’t fun enough, the train trip from home to Plymouth, where the radio studio is, involved travelling along the famous Dawlish Line, which is the one where the track got washed away by the sea in a storm last year. The views as the line goes along the sweep of the bay are fantastic! I’m really looking forward to doing it again in October when Fitz has invited me back to talk about the 950th Anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.
Talking of which; I am not going to Battle for the re-enactment this year, but will be at King Harold Day in Waltham Abbey instead on 8th October, and on Radio Devon on the 14th. The 1066 eBook of eleven ‘what if’ stories written by nine fantastic authors - myself being one of them - will be released on 1st August 2016. So if you haven’t already ordered your copy of 1066 Turned Upside Down, why not? It will cost you a mere £1.99 or $2.99.
Did you notice my quote of the month?
Sit yourself down, get comfortable and... get reading!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
I cannot believe that we have zipped past Midsummer and it is all downhill to winter from here. What summer? Did I blink and miss it? As I write this (29th June) we are having a rare half-hour of sunshine as an interlude between chucking-it-down rain or extreme gale force wind, or both. Devon is lovely, lush and green but it would be nice to not need wellies to go out, and to have a week of sunshine so we can cut and bale the hay. Last night we were struggling to cut down a rambling rose bush that had been blown beyond repair from its anchorage point, and were nailing the roof back on the duck house after the gale had whipped it off. Fortunately ducks do not mind the rain getting in!
At least we have only had rain and wind here at Chittlehamholt; daughter Kathy and her husband Adam, and friend Ashley, were at the All England Showjumping Course, Hickstead for a week and endured several somewhat rampant thunderstorms, flooded stables, and ankle-deep mud. Even the tractors had a job pulling the horseboxes off the churned parking area fields. Mind you, it was also Glastonbury Rock Festival weekend – mud there seems to be a tradition. There’s a particular TV advertisement for soap powder that I used to like: young lad comes home and dumps his dirty laundry at Mum’s feet "Had a great time at Glastonbury", he says, "sorry about the muddy clothes." To which Mum answers nonchalantly, "When I used to go we didn’t get muddy clothes - we didn’t wear any." The look on the lad’s face was priceless.
It is also Wimbledon of course… that always means rain. As for the football: no comment. I’ll stick to supporting the Exeter Chiefs rugby team.
Kathy did well, considering. Saffie has had a bad experience in the past (I wish I knew what.) She is a superb showjumper but in certain environments she gets agitated and becomes a very difficult ride. Kathy has done wonders with her in the two years that we have had her – when she first came to us Kathy couldn’t even ride her in our sand school if there was a jump in sight, now, that isn’t a problem. Even so, despite Saffie being ‘hyper’ Kathy got safely round all her classes, including the fifteen fence Amateur Derby Course, so that is another ambition achieved. And personally, I don’t care about getting faults for knocked poles as long as both horse and rider get to the finish point in one piece.
Lexie also did well at her first big jumping show, she even managed a clear round, and not going silly about walking through puddles! On the Sunday Kathy rode her aside in the Ladies’ Side-saddle Class. The ground conditions were awful, too much rain meant a lot of mud, despite Hickstead being well drained and maintained. Lexie behaved like an angel and went superbly, getting through the first part of the judging to the finals which took part in the prestigious main International Arena. Which meant a quick head and neck gear change for Kathy, swapping bowler and tie for silk (top) hat and stock. It is etiquette to wear a silk hat in the main arena. There will be some photos and hopefully a video or two on my Leaning On The Gate blog.
So that’s their adventures.
Mine involved a long train journey to Nottingham for the ‘Viking World’ conference at Nottingham University. I was a little nervous because it was an academic affair and I haven’t even got an ‘O’ level in history, let alone a degree, but I was there to talk about writing historical fiction, so I was confident with that side of things. I must add that I do have a quarter of a degree, as I started to do one - just never found the time to finish the other three-quarters.
The Conference was superb; so many friendly, enthusiastic people. It also made a fantastic change – and a step in the right direction – for academics to not only embrace historical fiction but to actively promote it. Yes it is fiction, no it is not accurate fact, but I, and the other panel speakers with me, James Aitcheson, Justin Hill and Victoria Whitworth, unanimously agreed that reading a good story about the past can lead to wanting to find out the facts. So thank you to Christina Lee for organising the event and inviting me along.
The added bonus was that I had the chance to stay overnight with the wonderful author, and dear friend Elizabeth Chadwick – and got to meet her three fabulous dogs! Thank you for making me so welcome Elizabeth!
The train back to Tiverton Parkway was a bit onerous, but hey ho, I got home eventually. My Guardian Angel was watching over me though: I got off the train at Birmingham New Street a tad apprehensive about changing trains because of my poor eyesight. About to step into the lift to ascend to the main concourse the loudspeakers announced the 12.17 to Plymouth was the next train to arrive at platform 11B. As I was standing on platform 10B all I had to do was step through an archway. No lifts, no escalators, and no heaving and trundling my suitcase.
Meanwhile, On The Account is due to set sail on 7th July. This will be the fifth Sea Witch Voyage: when I wrote Sea Witch I had no idea the books would become so popular and that I would follow on with an entire series.
~ On The Account
Jesamiah Acorne is in trouble. (Again.)
He has to find a missing box (valuable) and a boy who has also gone astray (possibly with the box). He thinks he has a love-rival (who is annoying him) and deal with a boatload of Barbary Pirates who have kidnapped his wife, Tiola…. (Oh, and he is in trouble with her as well.)
At the end of Ripples In The Sand (Voyage Four), Captain Jesamiah Acorne had been arrested for treason and smuggling contraband, his mistress was in labour, and his ship, Sea Witch had foundered on England’s North Devon Coast. All of which pale into insignificance when he is convinced that Tiola is having an affair with a mysterious Night-Walker – but he is unaware that she has her own battles to fight… Keeping him alive when people close to him start getting murdered, being one of them.
~ ~ ~
But there is a lot more to the story than that – except I’m not letting on. After all… Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Remind me, someone, at a future time, that it is not a good idea to have two books to proof read for immanent publication, and another in the middle of writing, with a deadline for completion looming in about three months. That's three books on the go at once. Not to mention all the other daily, weekly, monthly commitments. How come, I ask myself, I have managed to agree to do five articles all to be ready by 1st June? I think I need to invest in a better Personal Organiser!
So what are these three books? One is the non-fiction pirate book I am writing for Amberley Press - Pirates in Fact, Fantasy and Fiction. Another is On The Account, which is ready to go off to SilverWood Books for publication - hopefully landing at an online bookstore near you in mid to late June. The third? Well I cannot divulge that as it is still a secret. Suffice to say it is an exciting project I've been involved in so watch my News page, Twitter ( @HelenHollick ) and Facebook this first week in June to find out what the secret is!
One I can reveal is that I am about to sign a mainstream contract with Sadwolf Verlag, a German publisher, for the entire Sea Witch series!
I'm typing this with stinging fingers. It has been a glorious few days here in Devon over the May Bank Holiday weekend, and so I have been getting up early, 6 o'clockish, to do some work until about 10 a.m then out in the garden. I'm not a very good gardener, I tend to think that if it has a pretty flower it can stay, so in consequence we have rather a lot of 'rustic plants' (OK, weeds) growing among the posh stuff.
Nettles I don't mind in the right place - which is where I can't get stung by them - those by paths or borders get pulled up. Fine as long as I have my gardening gloves, or if I can see there's a nettle lurking, hidden. My eyesight not being that good, I grasped a clump of burdock, gave a sharp tug and only then realised there was a vigorous nettle in the middle of it all. Hence, stinging fingers. I also stink of vinegar. It's good for nettle stings, but it is a bit pongy!
We've raised two families of sparrows, some robins, nuthatches and various blue tits and great tits - I say we, I mean the house, stables and outbuildings can take the credit. One family of sparrows nest in a small hole in the house wall, obviously deep enough to make a cosy nest in. This is the third year they've raised a brood or two. The only trouble with sparrows - they do squabble so. There's a right old domestic going on outside my study door at the moment. It appears that there is a tenancy disagreement about who has sitting rights over the branches of the elderflower bush.
Did I mention we have a donkey? His name, officially, is Bertie, but we all call him WonkyDonk. Which occasionally gets changed to HonkyDonk. Either he hasn't learnt to bray properly, he has chronic asthma or he is learning to play the trumpet very badly. There's some photos of him enjoying the sunshine on my Devon Diary, Leaning On The Gate.
Which brings me neatly back to other Diary Dates matters. I am travelling up to Nottingham at the end of the month to join in a rather special anniversary celebration: 2016 is the 1000th anniversary of Cnut becoming King of England. Yes, that Cnut, the one who held back the tide. (He didn't, he was actually showing he couldn't hold it back.) Again, keep a close watch on my news page because I've a few articles lined up about this period of history.
Cnut, of course is one of the man characters in my novel A Hollow Crown (titled The Forever Queen in the US) It was this US version that brought me the acclaim of becoming a Best Selling Author. Primarily the story is about Emma of Normandy, who married Aethelred the Unready and became Queen of England. When Cnut Conquered England she retained her crown by marrying him instead. (Aethelred had died - she was free to wed again!)
So I've been invited to the University of Nottingham to take part in a panel discussion about historical fact v historical fiction, and to talk about Cnut and Emma. (Again, for details keep an eye on my News Page.)
It's odd that Cnut was a foreigner (he was Danish), he conquered England but I like and admire him. He died when he was only in his thirties, though and England fell into some disarray for a while until Emma's firstborn son, by Aethelred, Edward, became King, Fifty years after Cnut's coronation, in 1066, another foreigner landed on England's shores, fought a battle, won and became King. But him, Duke William of Normandy I utterly detest.
Obviously there's some family ancestry history there which I don't know about!
I'm proud and honoured to be representing Emma at Nottingham. I wrote her story because I felt it needed to be told - had the Conquest not happened, I am certain that she would have been as famous, and as revered, as that other most noble Medieval Queen - Eleanor of Aquitaine.
For both of these remarkable women I have chosen my quote this month: "Sometimes a desperate kingdom is in need of one great woman".
Lege feliciter (read happily).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).