| Woke up this morning (29th December) to a belated White Christmas - if a heavy frost counts as white, that is. I had to let the ducks and the goose out with the aid of a hammer because the door to their Night House (safe from foxes) was frozen. And then the goose spent the next five minutes complaining because the water in their little pond was hard. Add another five minutes for her screaming at the ground because it was all nasty and white. Kathy calls her Bernadette, but I think she should be 'Mrs Bennett' because she reminds me of the always panicking Mrs B in 'Pride and Prejudice'. "Oh my poor nerves!"
The goose is a character, and I can quite see where the saying "silly goose" came from. here is proof: What is that other saying? "You don't have to be mad to live here. But it helps."
Well, Kathy and Adam are moved into their new home - aptly named 'Little Owl Lodge'. The days before Christmas were a tad hectic as we were finishing off the last few fiddly bits, then moving furniture from the Big House into the Little House. Here's wishing them lots of happiness in their new (literally new) home.
On another matter and as an update: if anyone missed it, the new Sea Witch Trailer is now public on YouTube - do take a look and click 'like' if you have a YouTube account. There were 306 views of the trailer when I looked; it would be so nice to double that - so spread the word folks!
I have a few New Year Resolutions to make, although I know they will all be broken within a few days:
1. Have a shower before 10.30 a.m.
I don't get up late, in fact I am often in my study by 8.30 but I tend to tell myself, "I'll just answer these e-mails, and update Facebook and my blog" then discover it's well past ten o'clock. Although, there is something cosy about writing in my nice snuggly fluffy dressing gown on a cold and frosty morning.
2. Say 'no' more often to things that I don't really want to do, or do not have time to do.
I know this one will be broken, because I've made the same resolution for the past nth years.
3. Get this newsletter to my webmaster in good time before the end of the month.
See above for not keeping this.
4. Stop gazing out of the window and get on with my writing.
Again, see above.
5. Cut down on cheese and homemade scones with cream and jam.
What are your New Year Resolutions I wonder? How about 'Read all Helen's books again"?
Whatever your hopes and dreams - I wish you all a very Happy New Year.
May the sun shine on your face,
May the Moon light your path,
And may all shadows fall behind you.
Happy New Year Everyone!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| As you all guessed, the resolutions I so glibly made at the start of the New Year have already been broken.
This is what you will read in last month's Journal:
1. Have a shower before 10.30 a.m. I don't get up late, in fact I am often in my study by 8.30 but I tend to tell myself, "I'll just answer these e-mails. update Facebook/my blog" then discover it is well past ten o'clock. Although, there is something cosy about writing in my nice snuggly fluffy dressing gown on a cold and frosty morning. BROKEN.
Well what do you expect on cold, wet, dark wintery mornings?
2. Say 'no' more often to things that I don't really want to do, or do not have time to do. I know this one will be broken, because I've made the same resolution for the past nth years. Yes, BROKEN.
What IS the difficulty with saying 'No'?
3. Get my newsletter to my webmaster in good time before the end of the month. Ah, maybe this one is a keep. NOT BROKEN (yet), but read on.
4. Stop gazing out of the window and get on with my writing. BROKEN.
5. Cut down on cheese and homemade scones with cream and jam. HA HA! Did I seriously intend to keep this? How much homebrewed apple and blackberry gin had I consumed when I thought this one up?
Number three is a positive (so far, but then it is only February), except I have been hampered by Outside Interference. To whit (to quote a well-known Trekkie phrase): 'It's the Internet, Jim, but not as we know it.'
For a good part of January I had no Internet. Everything was working fine Tuesday evening when I logged off, disregarding the slow speed I have, but then I live in a very rural area not far from Exmoor, so that is to be expected. Wednesday morning I had an eye clinic appointment at Barnstaple Hospital. Lovely staff, very efficient, appointments run more-or-less to time. Great. When we lived in London, our local hospital, Whipps Cross, was a nightmare to visit. Sensible people took packed lunches to their appointments; it was anyone's guess when you would emerge into the daylight again.
I was tired when I got home, and the customary eye-drops meant I could not do any work, so I put my feet up for a couple of hours. When I eventually turned the computer on, I had a connection but nothing was loading. The blue light on the router was steady. My computer declared 'connected' but nothing was happening beyond 'loading' going around and around and around. Buffering? Nope, we had very clearly hit the buffers and ground to a halt.
Certain the fault was a Service Provider problem and nothing to do with my equipment, I asked my webmaster to tag my received emails with a 'Locked in Purdah' notification, and took the opportunity to write.
So, Internet-less, I had two articles tucked away, three reviews of books written and took a few nice walks in the woods. Add to those this newsletter, a complete re-edit of the first half of On The Account (the next novel being written) and several new chapters completed without pause for reading and replying to emails.
Am I back online? If you haven't heard from me via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and the like, then No, I am not. If you are reading this and thinking; 'But how did she do her journal?' the answer is simple. There is still the old-fashioned way. I wrote it, printed it, and posted it by snail mail to my Webmaster. How he got it to this point, though, I have absolutely no idea. (You know me and my ignorance of bleh-type techie stuff.)
Maybe this No Internet business, at least for Jesamiah Acorne fans, is a good thing. Despite the distractions outside my window, writing the fifth Sea Witch Voyage - while not conversing on social media - is taking priority. At last.
We have lived in Devon for exactly two years now and I realise I have not been able to write with the in-depth concentration I require because of no longer needing to escape my surroundings. Writing was a way to block Walthamstow out. I had to live there, but could mentally transport myself to another time and place to get away from the noise, pollution and unhappiness. Here in Devon there is nothing to run away from.
So I can now enjoy the longed-for dream-come-true, but also re-embrace that other place, the World of Imagination. Maybe the Internet Disruption is a good thing - the kick-start needed to get back to writing?
Just to remind you of what you are waiting for, take a look at the Home Page graphic for February 2015.
Captain Acorne, even if he is a fictional pirate, makes very good Eye Candy for a Valentine's Day drop-dead gorgeous hero doesn't he? And for the guys. Tiola is a bit of alright as well!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| March 6th 1052 was a day of mourning in England - at least for some. On that day in history, Emma of Normandy - Queen to two Kings of England, mother of two more - passed away. She was at least in her 60's although we do not know her exact age. I expect this is most inconvenient for historians: as a writer of historical fiction I find it downright annoying. Still, at least fiction writers can get away with making things up if the facts are not there.
One thing I am not making up: our goose. Guaranteed to raise laughter. She really is a silly goose, I can quite see where the saying comes from. Her name is Bernadette, although I have to be honest, she might be a Bernard. We're not sure, but we're sticking with Goose, not Gander.
Bernadette Goose lives in the orchard now that the Build is finished. She wanders about alongside the hens and the ducks, although they are two distinct rival gangs. The Webfoots and the Clucks. Think Romeo and Juliet: the Capulets and Montagues. Or West Side Story, the Jets and the Sharks (hum or sing various tunes from the famous movie if you like, but I suggest this one from YouTube) Not that the goose, or the hens can click their fingers, but you can bet your life that Goosey would if she could! She waddles around as if she is a plump queen surveying her Queendom. Woe betide anyone who encroaches into her realm. Even if that does include myself or son-in-law Adam when we go to let them out of their Overnight Suite Accommodation of a morning. She hates us. We are her minion slaves, or in her eyes, the Cops of New York's West Side: Officer Krupke of course!
She hisses, pecks and attacks Adam's wellies and my dressing gown. (What? You expect me to be dressed at 8ish in the morning?) It is probably my white dressing gown that started the whole 'Peck the Humans' routine. It is large, white and fluffy. To Bernie I resemble a giant goose. Adam, she just hates. She chases him. His fault, he shouldn't run!
And Kathy? Well Goosey adores Kathy. Kathy is Juliette, or Maria. and this one from West Side Story just IS the goose: YouTube "I feel pretty".
Western Power were here a while ago to trim back overhanging branches from the power lines. In the end we had to shut Bernie away because she was terrorising the workmen. All that hissing and flapping, you would think she was being measured up for the pot or something. There again if she keeps going for Adam's wellies. we do usually have goose for Christmas.
On a completely separate but vaguely attached topic: I cannot believe that it is a year since Kathy and Adam got married. Happy Anniversary to you both!
The Orchard is looking a little sorry for itself. A lot of the top end was badly churned up because of the Build; not the builders' fault, slopes of grass dowsed by pouring, persistent rain soon becomes a replica of the Somme. The grass will grow back, but skis would be good for getting down the slippery bits.
The evening of February 23rd was spectacular. We had a thunderstorm. Grumbles and rumbles echoing all along the valley and the entire panorama of the sky turning a lurid shade of purple. The previous storm, a few weeks back, tramped over the horizon in the early hours of the morning, announcing itself with the most enormous bang that shot us all out of bed wondering what had been hit. Turned out it was a power cable pole in the next village a couple of miles away.
We are prepared for storms. Power cuts are always a possibility, and the trouble with them is, we don't lose just electricity. The pumps for the oil-fired Range and the water-filter that draws water from the well are both electric. So no power means no light, heat, or water.
Fortunately these storms usually lurk over the moors; Exmoor to the north, Dartmoor to the south - both near enough for us to hear the bangs and see the flashes. Our bit of the Taw Valley is fortunately fairly sheltered. Just in case, though, I have a couple of bottles of water, torches, candles (and matches) always on standby. A bucket is accessible in case we need to draw water from the well (not to drink unless boiled, but handy for loo flushing). The log-burner gets very hot, so with our trusty old kettle we can have tea or coffee, can warm up soup, or cook baked beans and fry eggs - make toast. Or crumpets buttered with Devon Butter.
As for Emma. I 'met' her when writing Harold the King, (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US). I came to like this fascinating woman and wanted to know more about her - hence, she got her own novel, A Hollow Crown. Titled The Forever Queen in the US - and frankly the better of the two editions.
I have a scene where Emma, as a young woman, fends off an angry swan that is about to attack a child. Had I known then what I know now, I would have made it a goose not a swan.
Part of my itch to write her story was a desire to explore why she and her firstborn son, Edward, (later known as The Confessor) hated each other. The relationship was hostile. And that is why I say that not everyone in King Edward's Realm of England that day in March 1052 was mourning. I reckon Eddie put the flags out and celebrated. Silly man.
Read more here - posting March 6th 2015 - a full article about Emma.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| Welcome to Spring!
It has blown in with a rather gusty entrance, especially today (28th March); the wind is roaring past my study window and the trees are bending about as if they are doing some weird disco-dance. Sometimes at night the wind sounds like the sea the way it swoops in and rises and falls through the branches. I usually have a bedroom window open, even on the coldest night, but it got closed last night because the curtain was flapping and it looked like a ghost flying about. Not very conducive for a relaxing night's sleep!
Talking of ghosts. (oh I do love these convenient links!)
I am not sure if I'm utterly barking mad or excited about taking part in a month-long blog-hop challenge over on my Leaning On The Gate Blog. It looked fun, and I have every expectation that it will be - but if you glance back to my January Resolutions I had promised myself that I would not take too much on. So here I am about to embark on a daily blog post.
Yes I think barking mad is probably right.
The idea is it will be an A-Z Blog, for every day during April except Sundays. Those taking part blog about something with the appropriate day's alphabet letter as a key to the title. So on G day (April 8th) I'm going to be blogging about ghosts. Also on my proposed list are.. Well pop across to my H2U news to get a taster of what is to come or contain your excitement and follow the daily input on the Leaning On The Gate Blog.
We had a new family friend for two weeks: a second dog called Tess from the dog's trust in Ilfracombe. She was a lovely little dog and will make a fabulous family pet - unfortunately she has had to go back because she chases the cats, chickens and ducks (although she thought twice about the goose. See below.) And not just chasing, she actually got hold of Mab the cat and a duck - if we hadn't been on hand both would have ended up injured or worse. We gave her as much chance as we could but we couldn't take the risk; what if she got out and went into a neighbouring farmer's field where the lambs are? Unsettling for her, sad for us, but it would be even more so if there was a tragedy. Hopefully she will find a nice home with a family where there are no other pets. She was a nice little dog, a pity things did not work out. Baz got on with her fine, although he did give the impression occasionally of thinking; 'Hm, you still 'ere? When're you going 'ome?"
The good news is that the Dog's Trust were delighted with our full report so should be able to easily re-home Tess, and we might be getting a six month collie pup instead. Poor thing has been passed from pillar to post already in his little life. Why DO people get high-energy dogs when they live low-energy life-styles? We have had collies before (any of my friends remember dear Nesta and Tugger?) but we were up stable yards and walking with Kathy while she rode the ponies every day. I didn't really want another big-ish dog, but hey, we have thirteen acres!
It is so wonderful to see the changing landscape now that it is Spring: the colours alter almost hourly depending on the mood of the weather. Yesterday morning the sky was a pale blue with a bank of silver-grey cloud dawdling along behind the hills. The sun was illuminating the ridge as if a series of spotlights had been erected - it is amazing how many different shades of green there are.
We have dozens of birds tweeting and twittering from dawn till dusk, mostly squabbling over the birdseed and fat balls that my husband hangs from the hazel tree and a rose arch (which I call The Gallows). From my study window I can see sparrows, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, there's always a robin, often two collared doves, woodpeckers and nuthatches, and, way, way up in the sky, lazily circling, there are frequently a pair of buzzards. At night there are several Tawny Owls. We have only seen two Barn Owls though; they are in decline, almost an endangered species, for rain and bad weather, along with being hit by cars because of the nature of their flight, has taken its toll. But Owls will be one of the topics of my A-Z Blog Challenge. Today, the clouds banked up, the wind turned into a huffing gale and the rain bucketed down.
All is back to normal for Devon weather then!
Unfortunately we also had an unwanted visitor in the orchard during the week. One of our white hens got taken by a fox last week, then two days ago Foxy Loxy came back for a second course of duck. He reckoned without the goose - who has been re-named Boadicea as it is more fitting! She set up such a racket that both Kathy and I went running out and there was Foxy loping down the orchard with a squawking duck in its mouth.
I shouted, Kathy yelled, the dogs barked. and believe me, as Fox has now discovered, you do NOT want to get in the way of a very, very, very angry goose.
Fox dropped the duck and fled. Thanks Boadicea. Nice one.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| Maybe one day soon I'll stop running just to catch up with myself - I'm writing this at five minutes past midnight on the 29th April. Mad scramble to get everything done is an understatement! Why so behind schedule? Playing with a puppy, and puppy-sitting, takes an amazing amount of time. As does enjoying the sunshine out in the garden.
I've had a number of important local issues to sort out, several chapters of On The Account have been written (don't all cheer at once), and I have also celebrated my birthday. Sixty-two since you ask! Our celebration meal at the Stags Head, near South Molton, was - as always when we go there - scrumptious.
Looking at that short list does not seem to explain the disappearance of time does it? Add into the equation the month-long A-Z Blog Challenge which I participated in. Ah, there go quite a few more hours. The idea was to blog every day during April (except Sundays) with each item having a theme titled A-Z. I decided to do the blog on my Leaning On The Gate Devon Diary.
Some letters were quite a challenge but I included posts about Fat Little Ladies, Ghosts, Here Be Dragons, On the Shelf, Quack and Hiss, Umberleigh & Z-Shaped (and Time!).
I think it was a success. The stats seem to say so; over 5,000 page views for the month. Most visitors came from the United States but six were from India, ten from the Ukraine and more than two hundred from Switzerland. What happened there, I wonder, to attract them in? Total page views since I started my Devon Diary in 2013 are over 54,000 - not bad at all.
The most popular A-Z post seems to have been M for Moorland Mousie, my entry about Exmoor Ponies. Why Moorland Mousie? Click here to find out. What's more, I have sold a few books through it. Not hundreds, but enough to be pleased with the hard work involved.
I have also been to the Wrexham Carnival Of Words, a book festival at Wrexham in North Wales. The part I was involved with was 'Romans To Redcoats', an afternoon of Historical Fiction-based talks and panel sessions, the Highlight being a Skype session with California-based Patricia Bracewell who also writes about Queen Emma.
I was there to join a panel session debating whether King Arthur is fact or fiction. Sorry to say, if you are a 'fact' supporter, that the vote cast in favour of 'fiction'.
The festival was great fun, the hotel comfortable, the people attending - authors and visitors - wonderful, although the journey there and back was somewhat tedious. I must clarify that the travel was tedious, not the company! I was escorted home by writer James Aitcheson. I say escorted; he happened to be going in the same direction as far as Bristol.
I've met with James several times, mostly at the 1066 re-enactments at Battle in Sussex as he writes a series of superb novels on the aftermath of 1066. Highly recommended.
I first met him before he was published. He came along as a visitor to the re-enactment, saw me in the English Heritage tent and asked me about writing. I recognised his enthusiasm straight away - one of those moments when I just knew the young lad standing in front of me was going to achieve his goal. I told him to go home and write. And he did.
It's rather nice to know I've helped several such talented writers reach success.
It can be a hard slog, this somewhat daft job of "authoring". I went through a patch of not writing for about six months before I was picked up for publication. When I did eventually discover the confidence to start writing again I found myself - quite unexpectedly - describing a battle scene. It ended up as the opening chapter of Pendragon's Banner, the first line of which is this month's quote.
A Word to the Wise:
Bookmark my H2U Newsletter Blog. I have some exciting announcements coming up soon!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| I so wanted to be able to announce my exciting news last month, but until contracts were signed I had to remain silent - albeit with great difficulty. With the official bits done though, I was thrilled to be able to announce that the entire Sea Witch Series of Voyages are to be translated into Italian - available world-wide in e-book format. As if that was not exciting enough on its own, I have also been commissioned to write a non-fiction book about pirates.
The Spaghetti Pirate, as I am calling the translation, (I can just imagine Clint Eastwood with a cutlass and pirate patch) is to be translated by Catnip Edizioni so I guess I need to learn a few basic Italion words. 'Ahoy', and 'where's the rum' for starters.
The non-fiction, to be published by Amberley Publishing, is temporarily entitled 'Pirates in Fact and Fiction' (although this is too dull for a title, it will do for now). The idea is to write something fairly light-hearted featuring the truth about pirates, then comparing this to the fictional side, which will, of course, include my personal rogue, Jesamiah Acorne.
At least for the Italian Translation I need do nothing beyond ensuring the files have been sent, but before I can start the Pirates in earnest I need to get 'On The Account' finished. Nearly there. Then I shall start some earnest research. I have until October 2016 to write the book, which seems a long way off but probably isn't.
My exciting real-life continues in the form of preparing to go to the USA. First stop North Carolina, to stay with Cathy Helms, then it's the Historical Novel Society USA Conference in Denver, back to Cathy's for a few days, and finally Williamsburg, Virginia to celebrate the 4th July.
Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum in the form of a historic Williamsburg, Virginia. The 301-acre (122 ha) Historic Area includes buildings from the eighteenth century (during part of which the city was the capital of Colonial Virginia), as well as 17th- to 19th-century, Colonial Revival structures.
The Historic Area is an interpretation of a colonial American city, with exhibits of dozens of restored or re-created buildings. With the majority of people working there, shopkeepers, barmaids etc, wearing authentic costume, it is a very entertaining and interesting place. This will be my third visit, my aim being to do research on the Friday and enjoy 4th July on the Saturday.
Research? Well, yes. Jesamiah visited the town in 'Bring It Close', and will be returning there in 'Gallows Wake'. For factual research, Blackbeard's crew were incarcerated in Williamsburg gaol, tried in the Courthouse and hanged on the Green. So I have a lot to look at and Cathy Helms will be taking photos - the results will, I hope, appear in the above Pirate Book.
It is going to be a tiring adventure, but should be good fun. Well, apart from the long flight. I've got everything booked, and went shopping in Exeter the other day for new underwear and socks. The money exchange is all arranged; passport is in order. (Must remember to renew it next year).
Only downside, I will probably miss the haymaking here at the farm, and as I will be gone for almost three weeks I know I'll miss Devon very much. This will probably be my last big holiday though, and Devon will still be here when I get back.
The HNS Conference also promises to be fun - and hard work. I am on a panel talking about the "Brass Tacks of going Indie", I've been booked to do a book-signing session and a "chat over coffee" with a group who want to chat over coffee. All that is to be slotted in between meeting old friends and making new ones, talking with people, laughing with people. And then there will be the evening banquet on the Saturday when the winners of the HNS 2015 Annual Indie Award will be announced. I know who they are but I'm keeping schtum. And I expect there will be a party or two!
I chose this month's quotation because it is one of my favourite scenes in 'Sea Witch'. It's Tiola's birthday and a suitor has presented her with some emerald earrings and a necklace. Jesamiah is dead jealous: it is the dawning of his realisation that he adores Tiola.
But I must leave him fuming that he didn't know it was her birthday, and whisk myself away and do some writing. My July newsletter will be sent from North Carolina.
See you in America folks!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| Howdy! I am behind with everything. It is almost 6pm here at Cathy Helms' residence in North Carolina. Back home in the UK it is now nearly 11pm. By the time I get to post this I'll have no idea what the time is wherever you, dear reader, happen to be reading this. So I give up with Time Difference! I think suffice to say I am having a great time, although missing home, family and animals very much.
The flight over was somewhat bumpy. In fact I think it might have been smoother by sea.. Even before I got on the plane I hit problems. No one told me I needed a visa to enter the US. Not even the airline website said so. In fact I DID look. It said: 'Visa not necessary if visit under 90 days or as vacation only.' Turns out I did need one.
The airport staff were very helpful, which makes me think they know perfectly well that there's no information saying a visa is needed. Apparently they have to deal with this issue on a regular basis. All I had to do was fill in a form, pay some dollars and hey-presto, I would have my visa. A really nice young man assisted me - unfortunately he was also on duty at baggage check-in so couldn't give me his undivided attention. It was a task that eventually took us a mere 20 minutes to accomplish. Pity my flight had, by then, taken off.
Again, the Heathrow staff were helpful. They booked me into a hotel and re-arranged the same flight for the next day. No idea how I kept cool and calm. I just kept telling myself that my flight had been delayed for a reason.
Sunday, everything went fine and there at Charlotte Airport was Cathy, her mom-in-law Julianne and mom Lynn to meet me. First stop: the ladies restroom.
Jet lag didn't seem to be a problem, and BleeBear gave his approval to our guest bedroom bed. (Yes he came with me. Ideal neck-rest cushion for long flights.)
Hot and humid here in North Carolina. I do miss sitting outside in fresh, cool, Devon for morning coffee, but better to enjoy indoor air conditioning rather than frizzle outside.
Wednesday, Cathy and I set off for the Historical Novel Conference in Denver, Colorado, with the sound of John Denver singing in my head 'Rocky Mountain High! Colorado..!'
Very disappointing to discover that although Denver is the 'Mile High City' it is also quite a few miles from the mountains. I could just about see them. Never mind, on one of my previous US trips I took the train from Salt Lake City to Chicago - which involved going alongside the Colorado River and up through the mountains. Incidentally, we also stopped for about an hour at Denver Station.
First night, TV were announcing a tornado warning. I was interested - all good research and the hotel looked safe and solid enough. Well I guess the storm was on the other side of the hotel because beyond a few half-hearted lightning flashes and a couple of low thunder grumbles nothing much happened. (I think there was some flooding in downtown Denver.) From where I stood at the window though - Devon beats Denver as far as thunderstorms go. It didn't even rain on our side of the building. There was a super rainbow afterwards though. Sadly, no super photo to go with it.
Thursday, and most of Friday, Cathy and I ensconced ourselves at a table in the hotel's outdoor café, nice and cool, and we could see all new arrivals - including Geri Clouston and husband Bob of Indie B.R.A.G the main Conference sponsor, Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage and several other treasured Facebook friends.
Friday evening, the reception and buffet dinner. Probably a very little thing to most people but the delightful author and actor C.C. Humphreys (read his books, they're good!) opened the Conference with a poem, which you can find here: "We are Historical Novelists, Fiction is our Game".
Saturday. In between meeting so many wonderful people, mostly Facebook friends - fabulous to now put faces to names - I was co-speaker for one of the panels talking about the brass tacks of indie publishing with Geri Clouston, Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage and Dan Willis. We had a rapt and interested audience; hope we managed to answer most questions. Our main emphasis was 'if you are going to publish as indie/self-publish do it properly and professionally'.
Full report of the Awards - and a few US pictures are on my blog.
Sunday morning I had a very brief chance to chat with a few lovely people, but I had a plane to catch and the cab came early. Next I'm off to celebrate us Brits giving the Colonies away. 4th July in Williamsburg. Looking forward to it.
See y'all soon!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| I sometimes wonder if people who leave comments on Amazon either actually read the book or are leaving comments for the right book? I had a lovely review the other day, sent to me via email, with a note that the reader had also added a comment on Amazon.
Naturally I went to have a quick look - and a huge thank you to this lovely lady for adding her excited praise there as well - but I made the mistake of glancing at a few others. I really shouldn't have looked at that low star-rated one.
Now I don't mind constructive criticism, and am well aware that not everyone likes the same sort of books - what a boring world it would be if we did! Opinions are diverse; some say there are too many battles in my novels, others that there are not enough. (What's the saying about pleasing all the people all of the time?) But this particular comment made me somewhat irritated: 'It is littered with typos'. Was this for one of the old edition Arthurian novels perhaps? I wrote the trilogy over twenty years ago.
My writing has vastly improved since then, and in those days Point Of View changes - head-hopping - were not such a moot point. I also notice, glancing at a few pages, that I used several phrases too often and a few repeated words. Back then I was inexperienced with continuity. Example: I have Arthur kneeling down, then he is standing, but I didn't 'get him up'. Do readers notice these picky things? If I am engrossed in a story I don't. My dilemma: do I consider a total re-edit of these books? But then, if I continuously go back over things written all that time ago will I move forward with new stuff? It is hard enough finding the time to write my present Work In Progress.
I digress. If this sour comment about typos had been directed at the Arthurian editions published by the UK company that eventually went bankrupt I might have agreed - they were poor quality. I am not even too certain about the early editions of my US Arthurian versions, but this comment was for I Am The Chosen King (titled Harold the King in the UK). The text is the first edition produced by that respected Publishing House William Heinemann. It was professionally edited in-house and by one of our top UK editors - in addition to my own edit, re-edit and re-re-edit. Then the US edition was copy-edited and proof-read in-house by Sourcebooks Inc and, again, by myself.
I am not saying there are no errors, there very probably are a few minor things, but 'littered'? To satisfy myself I have just read two chapters at random. Not a single error. Unless you add into the equation that the UK and US spelling and punctuation is very different. Maybe that is what this person did not understand? That UK English uses the letter 'u' and we have not gotten as far as Americanisms and punctuation differences yet.
Talking of the US... my huge thanks to Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org and her family (Ray, Juliann and Lynn) for making me so welcome in North Carolina, and to Cathy and John Millar of Newport House, Colonial Williamsburg, for making us feel like family not just friends. July 4th in Williamsburg was a night to remember - although it was almost cancelled because of the thunderstorm and torrential rain - but the clouds cleared just before the fireworks were due and we had a super view near the Governor's House. What with fireworks, the cheering crowds and the fifes and drums playing in the distance. well, it was worth us Brits giving the Colonies away!
(To read about the first part of my US trip and the Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, scroll down to the July newsletter below.)
One disappointment at the Conference, there had been a mix-up with the bookseller so most of the books due for delivery to be sold in the conference bookstore did not arrive. I was a little miffed as this would have been my only chance to sell my mainstream US books in the US. Nothing to be done about it though. Ironically Sea Witch was there and I sold all of those. Usually it is the indie-published books that don't turn up!
Sales for my Arthurian Trilogy seem to have slumped. I think the US covers need re-branding, but this is not going to happen - a huge advantage for my indie versions is that I am in control of things like covers. So I am going to have an Arthurian Month during August. Don't ask what that is going to involve because I haven't thought that far ahead yet. Suggestions welcome.
One thing I can do is offer a Giveaway Prize.
Have you noticed anything different about my website? No? (shame on you!) It has had a slight makeover; well it looks slight, but I know the technical side to doing it is a hefty lot of work, so thank you Mr Webmaster.
One new addition is an improved 'Contact' facility. You'll see it up there on the top menu bar.
Anyone who sends me a message during August via this new contact form will be entered into a prize draw - winner to be picked at random at the end of the month, and announced on the home page on September 1st. The prize is a choice of any one of my books, which will be sent via Amazon. The competition is open worldwide, but entries are via my website contact form only.
If this is successful, I might consider holding a similar giveaway every month. I look forward to hearing from you.
Finally, I am not certain that I completely agree with this month's quote from The Kingmaking. Happy endings can also be winning a good book!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| I am blogging busy! And no, that is not as rude as it sounds!
I appear to have agreed to joining several blog events this month, ranging from 'Romancing September' through 'History, Mystery and Derring-do' ( #histmystderringdo ) to a Book Blitz on Indie B.R.A.G.
All this will be sandwiched between my own regular Tuesday Talk Blog Posts. Look out for an interesting one on 8th September when I will be talking about being approached for movie and TV deals.
Is all the effort for these blog entries, posts, articles and so on worth it? In terms of sales of books I am not sure, yet I seem to pick up some decent royalty payments twice a year, especially for e-books, so something is going right somewhere. But it isn't necessarily all about sales: the best way to market books is to market yourself. People (for some reason!) are interested in the author, particularly if that author has something interesting to say. And if they find you interesting, they will find your books interesting. Or so the theory goes.
That is where the blogs come into their own. Let's look at the statistics for one day for Let Us Talk of Many Things: US 195 visitors, UK, 93, and then the exciting bit emerges: Russia 19, Slovakia 18, France 11, Germany 8; but there are also several from Australia, Sweden, Netherlands and Portugal. The excitement does not end there! Japan, China and a few countries I have never heard of are included.
The big question, are these visitors enjoying what I have written, or do they drop in purely by chance, realise this is not what they are searching for and go away again? No doubt someone with technical knowledge of these things will know, but for myself I love the thought that my Blog is being appreciated - even for a few fleeting seconds - worldwide.
I also find it interesting, and slightly amusing, that topics completely unrelated to books, writing or reading always prove the most popular. The stats for various posts about our orphaned baby pheasants that we found cowering under their dead mother in the lane have proved phenomenal, and the entire Leaning On The Gate Blog - basically my Devon Diary, attracts almost 2,500 page views per month from as far away as South Korea. I would like to think that I am the main draw, but I suspect it is either the novelty of our farm, or the delights of Devon.
Full details of the 'Busy Blogger' for September are on the home page and, while you are there, take a look at the fantastic graphic Cathy Helms has designed for me this month, incorporating everything that will be included in the Big Blog Bonanza. Can you spot them all? Cathy really is a superb designer, and a fabulous friend I might add.
On a different note: for my website I tried a giveaway draw for August, making use of the new contact form on the menu bar. It went well with some lovely messages from some lovely people, so as it was a success I will extend the giveaways for each month until the end of December. Anyone who sends me a message via this form will be entered into a prize draw - winner to be picked at random at the end of each month. The prize is a choice of any one of my books, which will be sent through Amazon. The competition is open worldwide, but entries are through my website contact form only. It will be interesting to see whether any of those visitors from Far Off Lands message me!
But back to the matter of Blogging.
I posted a few personal thoughts about a timeshare expansion at the hotel situated on the edge of our village. I wanted to share my perspective about the issue, in my way and in my words. It is all very well writing formal objections and submitting them to the planning department at the local council offices, but that is not the place for expressing personal feelings or concerned cares - that is what my blog, and this journal, is for.
It is such a shame that the management of the hotel has not taken the time or consideration to understand what the majority of villagers think and feel about nearly sixty timeshare lodges being built - in addition to expanding the hotel itself. Put this into perspective - there are only about ninety houses in our entire village. We have been treated to some patronising remarks which are somewhat unbelievable, culminating in a declaration that we (the village) might as well not fight this planning application because we will only lose at appeal stage. We might, but that will not stop us trying.
Scroll back to the top of this post and re-read the quote. It comes from none other than that remarkable man, Ghandi. It might be monsoon season here in Devon, but the Village is entering the third phase - and we will soon be heading at a gallop for the last. We might not succeed, but, again, that will not stop us trying.
Ever heard of that chap, David, and the big guy he took on?
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| October is upon us and Halloween is always a day of remembering for me. Fourteen years ago now my best friend, Hazel, passed away on the 31st October. She went to bed, went to sleep, and never woke up. I still miss her very much. How she would have loved coming to stay here in Devon; the walks, the birds, the country life. Lunch in the sun on the veranda or the front patio. I can hear her laughter in my ears, and know she would have shared our good fortune with genuine pleasure. I reckon it's that shared laughter I miss the most.
And then in 2006 we had 'The Fire' where our upstairs neighbour's mobile phone charger overheated and set light to the carpet in his bedroom. Result, his bedroom ended up on my daughter's bed. I didn't get around to posting news of it in this journal until 1st December as I was without Internet - or a home - but you can read the backstory here. Only today, all these years on, Kathy and I thought of something which we lost that evening to the damage. We only lost 'things' though. Had Kathy not been out at a Halloween party she might well have been in that bed.
When she came home all she had to wear was her Halloween costume and the clothes waiting to be laundered in the basket in the bathroom. But the insurance company was very good and we had money to buy new clothes within twenty-four hours. It took somewhat longer to be rehoused. Doesn't matter, it's all in the past - and all back in Walthamstow, London.
Going even further backwards: 18th October 1985 saw me in the local Walthamstow Guardian Newspaper - an article about the launch of my first book, Come And Tell Me, which I wrote that year, primarily for daughter Kathy who was then three years old. It's a 'keep yourself safe' book - what used to be called 'stranger danger' although the majority of abductions and assaults on children are committed by people they know, not strangers.
I am still very proud of Come And Tell Me - even if it's now only available second-hand, as it has been out of print for about ten years. Looking on Amazon.co.uk to find a link to it, I glanced at the comments. I confess I hadn't thought to look before now. There is one two-star dating from 2008 complaining because I had used the name McCann, and the reader found that choice upsetting because of the disappearance of Madeleine (who has never been found). The comment-writer called for the book to be withdrawn and reprinted with a different character name - a bit pointless as there have been several thousand of the books printed and sold since its first publication, one source being via the UK Government Home Office.
The name coincidence is unfortunate, but perhaps from here in 2015 it will serve to keep the memory of Madeleine alive? I also noticed another comment posted 26th September 2015. I am absolutely thrilled to know that, thirty years after its original publication, it is still being found useful and receiving praise!
Another anniversary is the annual Battle of Hastings re-enactment, 10th & 11th at Battle Abbey, Sussex, where I, and several other authors, will be eagerly waiting to chat to visitors and enthusiasts. I just hope English Heritage have sorted out a bit of a mix-up with ordering copies of Harold the King.
The blog events during September seem to have gone well. I made some new friends and sold a few books. One of the highlights was an off-the-cuff short story written by Anna Belfrage and myself. The Blog post - split into two parts - was about Alexandra Graham, lead character in Anna's time slip series of The Graham Saga, in which 21st century Alex falls through time and has to start a new life in the late 17th.
In Like Chaff in the Wind, the third book of the series, Alex sets out on a sea voyage in order to rescue her abducted husband, Matthew Graham who has been sold into indentured slavery. In our story she encounters my Jesamiah Acorne who appears from nowhere on the deck and gives her some advice. It was great fun to write, hopefully as much fun to read! Rather than the snippet getting lost on my blog I've asked Mr Webmaster to put it up on H2U. It's called "Ships that pass".
Among all the other goodies in the H2U Zone there are also a series of essays written by me several years ago when I was studying for the first part of a history degree. I never found the time to go on and finish the studying - but I thought my readers might find the essays interesting. Peruse them here and here.
This month on my Tuesday Talk slot I'm having a "Shining Light On Our Ladies" Blog Tour with some delightful authors also taking part. I thought it time I focussed on the females in my novels, so head to the blog to meet the women of 1066, Gwenhwyfar from the fifth century, and Tiola from the eighteenth!
I thought this month's quote quite fitting for the theme. It comes from Game of Thrones.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| November 11th sees an anniversary: my sixth year on Twitter! I opened a Twitter account in 2009 and I seem to have, to the date of writing this, tweeted 18,400 tweets and amassed 4,725 followers. I also, according to the stats, opened my Facebook page in November - but a few years earlier, 2006 to be precise. Goodness, November 2016 will be our 10th anniversary. I'll have to have a Facebook Party. Except I can only trace actual posts to as far back as 2008 for some reason. Oh well.
I have 3,169 friends on Facebook, but the Powers That Be on Facebook limit the number so I often do a 'clear out' of those who are businesses or obvious spammer-types. I mean come on, is a non-English-speaking person from Bangladesh really interested in me and my books? Don't think so.
A bit of a pity that every one of those 4,000 plus Twitterers haven't all bought at least one of my books though.
If you would like to join me on Twitter, my handle is @HelenHollick. and/or 'like' my Facebook author page. Here's the link: https://www.facebook.com/HelenHollickAuthor/.
Is Social Media any use for a writer? As an Indie Author, I know I wouldn't be selling books if I didn't have an online presence - it's all very well having your books for sale on Amazon, but if readers don't know they are there, how are they going to find them in the first place? I regard Facebook and Twitter as my 'shop windows'. The place where visitors are strolling along the 'High Street', hoping to find something interesting, and with any luck stopping to look at my sites, then coming in to browse (and buy).
I have discovered a new nifty Amazon link viewAuthor.at/HelenHollick - a single link that takes you to your own Amazon, be it dot-com, dot-co-uk or dot-whatever - even Japan for instance, I've had 21 visitors from there! If you're reading this and based somewhere other than the UK or US, I would love to know if the system works. Message me via the contact form on the menu bar above -and as a bonus you will be entered into my monthly Giveaway Draw, which so far is proving to be fairly popular - thanks to my advertisements on Twitter.
On the home front, the orphan pheasants we rescued are now all grown up and have flown the nest - literally. We plucked up courage to open the door to their house and let them return to the wild. All well and good but they seem to like the orchard and the free meal café, so they haven't gone far. We quite expect them to fly away when they meet prospective mates - and just hope they stay safe. Still, Kathy has done an excellent job with them; not many people could hand-rear pheasants from almost day-old chicks.
We also managed to get Baz and Eddie in the car one Sunday for a jaunt to the seaside. OK, so Baz was sick in the back! So what, it's not his fault.
Eddie has a water obsession though - he insists on stopping water from running away, be it from a tap or bucket of water sloshed over the yard. The sea rather defeated him somewhat.
There's a full report and video here.
But back to the marketing: I am venturing into a different sales world throughout November. The Storybundle is an idea where you can buy a collection of e-books for whatever price you want to pay. No idea how it works, but I guess I'll find out as Sea Witch and Pirate Code are included in the History, Mystery and Fantasy Bundle. No link yet, but keep an eye on my social media sites or my News Page - because as it says in this month's quote:
"Your next date will be tall, dark and fictional" - with Jesamiah of course!
Lege feliciter (read happily).
| Cold and frosty mornings. Well, they would be if it stopped raining. At least this year we have had no worries about the well running dry. No worries about anything running dry come to that, except maybe the wine cellar. Which is not as glamorous as it sounds. My wine cellar is the extra fridge in the scullery. We needed an additional freezer and someone gave us a combined fridge and freezer - tah-dah, instant safe, cool, place to keep the wine and the scrumptious Devon Mist cider.
Goodness even the cider reflects the weather!
I have some very exciting news to share, and a very big thank you to make. One of my readers (now also a friend) Carolin Ahnert from Germany, wrote to me asking if my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, starting with The Kingmaking, was available in German. Well the first two books used to be, but they fell out of print, and the contract out of date, many years ago. In addition, Book Three, Shadow of the King was never published. To this day I cannot figure why my ex-agent did not ensure a three-book contract deal!
My reply to Carolin was basically the above. She mailed back to say if she could find a German publisher willing to translate and publish the books, would I be interested? You bet I would!
To cut a long story short, that is exactly what she did and I had the great pleasure of finalising the contract - for all three books - with Sadwolf Verlag at the end of November. The on-line machine translation, if you use it, is not very good. It seems to be completely confused by my surname, translating it as Helen Get Lick!
So thank you Carolin, you are a star!
Another fabulous reader did me a great honour over in the USA. A friend, while I was visiting there back in the summer, went into her library and found some useful pirate-books for me to look at in case they were any use for the Pirates In Fiction, Fact and Fantasy non-fiction book I am currently researching (and writing). Yes the books were just what I wanted, so I made note of the titles and ordered them from Amazon.co.uk.
As a thank you I gave her a copy of Sea Witch to donate to the library.
It seems a very nice gentleman read it, loved it, and bought the rest of the series - which he also donated to this library. Wow! Now that is what I call a fabulous reader! I wish there were more Carolin's and US Gentlemen like these two lovely people.
Also for Jesamiah fans who are craving more of his adventures, hop across to my News Blog for information about Janis Pegrum Smith's second book in her Book Ark fantasy (or is it real?) series. Our charmer of a rogue has a bit-part in the story. Thanks Janis for including him. Mind you, he is swaggering around, insisting he's actually the star of the book - I'll not disillusion him.
So have you noticed the graphic on the homepage for December 2015? I giggle every time I see it - another thank you to Cathy Helms for designing it. Of course if you have no idea who Mr Jon Snow is and have never watched Game of Thrones you will have no concept of what it means.
The snowman will get it though - so buy a book for Christmas. One of mine, or Janis's, preferably.
And finally, best wishes for the December Solstice and the Christmas Season - and yes, beware! "Winter Is Coming!"
Lege feliciter (read happily).