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"Stories are for the mind, songs are for the heart.
We need both to enjoy the gifts of love and laughter."

December
 2017

Well, here we are at the last month of the year. Quite where the previous eleven months went I’m not sure…

The highlight of the year was the birth of our foal, Franc - or for his full name, Taw River Dracarys - born on my birthday, April 13th. I can see it’ll be carrot cake for my birthday from here on. For photos and a link to some videos, click here. There are a couple of additional videos here.

Prior to this grand event, the crew from "Escape To The Country" came back at the end of February to shoot "I Escaped To The Country", the BBC’s follow-up series taking a look at those of us who bought property found by ETTC. Jonny Irwin was our original presenter, but this time Alistair came to visit – he’s lovely. We had a super day and the episode was finally broadcast on November 14th. I was pleased – it didn’t show too much of the dismal mud that we’d been plodging through for most of the winter due to almost non-stop rain. Wonky Donk also put in an appearance despite being extremely camera shy.

Another thrill was seeing the Flying Scotsman come through Devon. I have wanted to see this magnificent locomotive for many years (about 4o or so!) So a huge thank you to Kathy and Adam for taking me down to a brilliant viewing position on an in-the-middle-of-nowhere bridge somewhere near Tiverton. We had the most fantastic view of her! And writing this has given me the chance to watch our video snippet again. Okay, I admit I had a few tears when she passed by and I’m welling up again watching the clip… Achieving ambitions is an emotional thing!

Living in Devon remains as wonderful as it was the year we moved down here from North-East London back in 2013. I look out of my bedroom window every morning across the Taw Valley and still have to pinch myself that we really are here, that I really do live in a lovely old farmhouse that was built in 1769 and I have escaped the noise, stress and jangle of London.

My one regret is that we don’t live near water, a river or overlooking the sea (although given the frequent rain, perhaps this is a blessing – very little risk of flooding!) However our new very nice ‘up-the-hill’ neighbours have excavated a pond (a lake?) in what at one time was known as Goose Field (because a previous farmer kept geese there,) but in recent times it came to be called Wet Field. For obvious reasons. So I now have water to look at. No wildlife on it yet, but the water birds and waders will come. Maybe a crocodile or two…

Another regret is my fading eyesight. The glaucoma seems to have stabilised but it is so very frustrating not to be able to judge distances and look at things as if I’m peering into one of those wibbly-wobbly fairground mirrors – and most annoying of all, not being able to see the stars at night. No street lighting and frosty nights mean a sky full of stars, but I can only see the bright ones. So frustrating. I miss driving too. Oh well, I suppose be thankful for what I have got – Devon.

What else is memorable about 2018?

I went on another trip down to Plymouth to chat with David FitzGerald on his Radio Devon morning show. I think this was my third visit – almost an old radio pro! Always a great giggle to be David’s guest. You’ll find some pictures here.

Book-wise Pirates Truth And Tales came out in paperback, and I’m delighted to say that since its original publication I’ve sold over 2,000 copies … ideal Christmas present folks for the pirate in your life!

I started a new series as a venture with IndieBRAG on my blog: "Novel Conversations", the idea being to help promote and draw attention to the best indie writers by interviewing their characters – a project which is turning out to be quite popular.

Indie Writers have a hard time getting our books noticed. No Big Publisher behind us to do a country-wide marketing sweep, no financial backing – indie writers fund everything ourselves, from editing to cover design to marketing. It isn’t easy. In fact it is darn hard work! I’m not alone in every-so-often wondering why on earth I’m doing this. Social media (Facebook, Twitter et al) every day, thinking up new ideas to keep loyal readers interested or to attract in new readers. It’s an uphill struggle, but then an email pops into the inbox from someone who has just discovered my books, or who has decided to re-read their treasured battered old copies and they have mailed to say, "Thank you for writing these fantastic novels." That’s when you know it's all worth it.

So in a bid to help other writers, to keep regular readers happy and to attract new ones, I have come up with an idea to run through most of December on the "Discovering Diamonds Historical Fiction Review Blog" which I opened back on 1st January 2017. Yes, we are soon to see our 2nd anniversary! I say 'we' because I couldn’t run #DDRevs without the wonderful team of volunteer reviewers and helpers – thank you to all of you.

We received the fantastic accolade of being awarded a place on the "Top 35 Historical Book Blogs", a list selected from thousands of Historical Book Blogs because "… they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information."

What’s the theme of our December extravaganza? "Stories are for the mind, songs are for the heart. We need both to enjoy the gifts of love and laughter." A host of various talented authors have contributed a short story for every day from 1st December until the 26th – stories which have been inspired by a song. Some songs are well known - no clues, because part of the fun will be "Guess The Song" - while some will be not so well known, but believe me you will enjoy every single story.

Do join us on the 1st of December.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

November
 2018

A mild (okay, not so mild!) panic the second week into October. This is my busiest month for ‘marketing’ given that this is the anniversary of the Battle Of Hastings, and obviously I want as much ‘on line’ presence as I can get to draw attention to Harold The King (UK title – in the US it is I Am The Chosen King) and 1066 Turned Upside Down, the e-book of alternative stories written by nine different authors, including moi.

This year, I decided to go all out with a series of articles entitled "1066 The Right Way Up and Turned Upside Down - All Things 1066" with topics such as Why Harold went to Normandy, The Women of 1066 and Wasn’t There Going To Be A Movie?.

Fortunately I had each article written and scheduled, for what should pop into my inbox but the copy-edited file for my forthcoming mainstream published non-fiction smugglers book. Apparently it wasn’t quite what they wanted – would I mind restructuring it…?

Which basically meant swapping some chunks around and deleting others – which in turn meant making sure everything still made sense. That, I didn’t mind (well, I did, because it meant very hard work) but I had ONE week to do it in! Gulp. And meanwhile I was in the middle of my "1066" marketing campaign…

What disappointed me most (apart from the fact that shouldn’t this re-structuring have been done before a copy-edit?) was that I had been led to believe something similar to Pirates: Truth And Tales was wanted i.e. a light-hearted, ‘chatty’ sort of book, covering facts and fiction about smugglers and smuggling.

Alas my interpretation was wrong, they didn’t mean ‘fiction’ as in novels, they meant fiction as in ‘not true’. I could mention the ‘classics’ in my text, but not any present-day (well, Indie published) novels that have a connection to smuggling.

So, I’m sorry Alison Morton, Susan Grossey and Elizabeth Revill; my mentions of Aurelia - Roma Nova silver smuggling, Portraits Of Pretence, with Constable Sam Plank arresting smugglers in Kent and Against The Tide, a story of smugglers who murder an excise man, have been zapped. I did manage to retain a couple of references to Sea Witch… assuming those don’t get cut at type-setting.

I apologise way in advance of publication for any bloopers and typos – and I have come to the conclusion that I MUCH prefer being an indie writer as I am then in control of what I do, and how and when I do it!

I must add an aside here: Thank you to Elizabeth Revill’s step-daughter, Vicky Spear, who is now managing Codden Hill Equestrian Centre, for generously sponsoring some of my daughter Kathy’s show jumping entry fees. Much appreciated Vicky!

Several days later, when I didn't get to bed until the early hours, felt like a grumpy zombie and got myself very over-stressed, I had the file back to the publisher just one day over the dead-line. The file was then returned to me with a few more alterations suggested - I just pressed ‘accept’ to be honest.

A weekend taken up by another read-through, where I spotted a couple of missed typos, then sent the file back with those relieved words ‘FINAL’ in the subject line. Fingers crossed the publishing team have what they want… I’m getting back to my Jesamiah Acorne, who has been patiently waiting for my attention all this time.

There was, however, prior to this mad re-scribbling, a hugely exciting event down here in Devon. I have always loved sailing ships and steam locomotives – and I had a special treat.

On October 4th 2018 at about 5.25pm, somewhere not far from Tiverton, I waved and cheered as The Flying Scotsman 60103 came through Devon on her way to Penzance, double-headed with Black 5 ‘The Jacobite’ 44871. Okay, I admit, I had a few tears. Click here for a wonderful video of the view we all had.

Added to that, I chilled out after all the stressful re-structuring by watching the movie "Paddington Bear 2". An utterly silly but totally delightful film, which has 'Scotti 60103' in it. So I double cheered!

All of which has absolutely nothing to do with King Arthur, my planned theme for November. I’ll have to put my thinking-cap on and write a couple of inspiring articles for my blog.

The trouble with Arthur, there are so many different views about who he was, when he was, IF he was… we all disagree with each other like mad and never give up on our own decisions and conclusions.

On the other hand, this is precisely why King Arthur is so suited to novels. An author can write anything and not be told "that isn’t right". For where King Arthur is concerned nothing is factually right – but everything fictional can be right!

So read my Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. I assure you my view is the right one.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

October
 2018

Are we really at October already? It doesn't seem possible does it.

Because of the heavy rain which lasted a month, followed by a prolonged period of very hot weather, the trees have found it a struggle this year. Blackberries are few, and many of those are bitter, but the holly tree along the hedge in our middle field is covered in glorious red berries. Damsons haven't done too well, but I can't get any more sliced apples and pears in the freezer!

The trees across the valley and in the orchard are already turning yellow - the earliest I can remember since moving here to North Devon. Usually autumn sets in around the latter end of October; In fact I remember when we came to find a house with the Escape To The Country crew, around 23rd October 2012, that few of the trees looked autumnal. Is this a trick of the mind-memory I wonder? Hmm, I'll have to dig the DVD of the show out again and have a good look.

Franc, registered name Taw River Dracarys, (Game Of Thrones followers will recognise where the name comes from) is growing up fast. He's not six months old yet but we've had to wean him as Saffie was losing condition. Her milk was drying up, plus he is a glutton for his 'grown up tea' and is not far off as big as his Mum. He also spends more time with Auntie Lexie… I think Mum Saffie is more than happy to have a resident childminder. There are some up-to-date photos here on the Gallery, taken late September 2018.

Saffie and one of the Exmoors, Wendigo, went on a short holiday to a friend's field a couple of miles away to ensure the weaning process could properly happen. Again, Saffie wasn't at all bothered. Neither was Franc really, not even when Mum came home. He made a couple of attempts at suckling, then decided it wasn't worth the effort as Mum wasn't too happy about the idea.

We had a lovely time here at home a couple of weekends ago when a friend and his little two-year old daughter came over for the afternoon. She was enthralled by the ducks, had absolutely no fear of massive Lexie and equally (to her) massive Franc, who, incidentally, was as good as gold and as gentle as a lamb, even though his forelock, mane and ears were systematically being pulled by little fingers. Our young guest was not, however, taken with Wonky Donk. Nope. Didn't like him. I expect the big ears put her off.

So we all went up to Middle Field to see the Exmoors instead. Meanwhile, Donk trots round the other way and was there at the gate with the ponies to greet us. It was so funny! The little girl loved THIS donkey! I'm afraid this is going to be one of those stories that will follow her through her life: the Tale of the Two (one really) Donkeys.

Back to business though. There's still time to subscribe to my monthly-ish newsletter and be in with a chance to win a £10/$10 Amazon gift voucher. All new subscribers' names will be put into a hat, a pirate hat of course, and one lucky winner selected at the end of December. But for those who are already 'signed up' . there'll be the same prize for you as a thank you for remaining loyal - or is that "patient"?

Have you seen the new Novel Conversations slot every Friday on my Blog? In conjunction with Indie BRAG - a wonderful idea formed by my good US friends Bob and Geri Clouston to encourage quality written and produced indie novels. Indie BRAG is not a review or critique service, but selected books that 'make the grade' are awarded a medallion of honour logo for authors to use, a bit like the Kite Mark or an 'approved' symbol.

All of my Sea Witch novels have a BRAG medallion, but not the serious fiction or When The Mermaid Sings as these were, or are not now, indie-published, but traditional mainstream.

The idea behind Novel Conversations is to give a bit of a boost to BRAG authors - but I wanted to do something different, so instead of interviewing the writer I interview one of their characters. This is great fun to do, and I hope is as much fun for visitors to my Blog to read.

Also look out for a week of posts from the 8th-17th October, on the same Blog, when I will be posting various articles every day concerning the anniversary of the Battle Of Hastings.

Articles will range from why I wrote Harold The King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US) to a few alternative 'what if' stories of what is probably the most famous year in English history.

'Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book' is very true - especially for us historical fiction authors!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

September
 2018

You know I'm going to say "I´ve been busy" don't you? I´ll make a change from the norm, though, and extend it to "I´ve been very busy".

The accident I had while at the Romantic Novelist's Association in Leeds, mid-July, when the wooden chair I was sitting on collapsed at breakfast time, hasn't helped matters because I have been limiting my time at my desk. Whiplash to my spine and neck is still rather sore and painful - which is costing a penny or two or more in osteopath fees to put right. And of course, typically, the weather has now changed to rain with a distinct autumn chill in the air, so no sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine. If it continues like this the heating will be going on!

So, what have I been busy with?

The on-line book tour for the UK paperback release of Pirates Truth and Tales took up much of my time at the start of August; sixteen different articles based around pirates for sixteen different Ports of Call on my Voyage Round the Blogs.

The articles ranged from general chat about how and why I wrote the book, through A Roman Pirate Who Became An Emperor, whether Vikings Were Raiders Or Pirates, via Medieval Pirates and Pirates And Their Ships, to The Man Who Knew About Pirates. That last reference was Woodes Rogers, governor of Nassau, the man responsible for more-or-less clearing the Caribbean of pirates. Not quite as simple as that, though; read the articles and the book.

You will find the full list and links to the generous Blog Hosts here, with a full set of the articles coming to anchorage on this website, for safe keeping, very soon.

Then, on the 21st August, I took the train down to Plymouth for an overnight stay. I met up with science fiction and steam punk indie author Richard Dee and his wife, Yvonne, at a nice restaurant called The Waterfront, which overlooks Plymouth Bay and The Hoe. It was a pleasant place, recently refurbished at great cost because the building had been one of the victims during the Great Storm of 2014. The whole of its frontage had been smashed in by the strong winds driving massive waves. All was calm for us on the Tuesday night, though - and if you get a chance to go there do have the Gin Cheesecake for desert. Served with lime sorbet it was absolutely delicious. It was also wonderful to chat to Richard and Yvonne about a multitude of things.

The next day I presented myself at BBC Radio Devon because I had been invited back by David FitzGerald to chat about - okay, no surprises - pirates. I will let you into a little secret: In between chatting, while various records were played on air we mostly giggled. Fitz is a big giggler. I had a lovely time, well worth the long journey from North Devon to South Devon which takes three hours in all by train.

Back home, and at my desk, I was busy finalising posts for a new project for my blog Let Us Talk Of Many Things. In conjunction with IndieBRAG, I am running a series of interviews with IndieBRAG Honouree authors who have been awarded the accolade of a B.R.A.G medallion as a mark of quality for their books. (It is gratifying that all of my indie-published books have been IndieBRAG honoured.)

But the series is not just run-of-the-mill author interviews. The series is to be called 'Novel Conversations' - a title thought up by my graphics designer Cathy Helms; well done Cathy - with not the author but a character from his or her book being the Guest of Honour.

The response from writers wanting to take part has been brilliant, with posts scheduled for every Friday. Slots are already filled right through to November!

Formatting and checking these posts, albeit the authors have done most of the work, takes up time however, and I have come to the conclusion that it is now totally official - I'm barking mad to have thought up the idea! On the other hand I think it is going to be great fun, so tune in to my blog for the first post which will be on Tuesday 4th September 2018, and every Friday thereafter.

After all, a home without a book is like a body without a soul.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

August
 2018

In mid-July I went to the Romantic Novelist Association's weekend Conference held at Leeds Trinity University. A long way to travel but it was a more-or-less straightforward journey starting from Umberleigh station, changing at Exeter St David's, then a short branch line to Horsford from Leeds. Coming back wasn't so good: signal problems at Bristol meant it took over an hour to travel two miles. I am now waiting for British Rail to return the fare as compensation.

"Compensation" turned out to be the umbrella word for the conference weekend though… read on.

It was lovely to meet up with some of my dear friends at the conference, and become acquainted with new people. The talks I managed to attend were interesting as well - and it was pleasant to be able to enjoy the weekend without being involved in doing anything to assist in running it.

Super to say hello to Barbara Erskine, albeit briefly. Who remembers her fantastic first novel Lady Of Hay? Always a favourite of mine. I personally met Barbara a good few years ago now, when we were at a dinner party hosted by our US publisher Sourcebooks Inc. and held at the grand address of St James in London. I've a photo of myself, Barbara and Elizabeth Chadwick seated together and having a wonderful time. I find the amount of (empty) glasses arrayed in front of us on the table very amusing! Suffice to say memory of what we actually ate is somewhat hazy.

I am very privileged and honoured to be able to include so many fantastic authors as friends, from the well-known such as the above two ladies, as well as Bernard Cornwell and Sharon K. Penman, through to, in my opinion, the best Indie Writers including Alison Morton, Anna Belfrage and Susan Grossey. Then there are the newish on-their-way-up-the-ladder writers such as Loretta Livingstone, Philip K. Allan and Angela MacRae Shanks, along with other authors like Cryssa Bazos, J.G. Harlond, and Barbara Gaskell Denvil. Alas too many more to name. Check out their reviews on 'Discovering Diamonds' - and a host of other fantabby-doodle titles!

Unfortunately the conference was marred by a defective chair which decided to break a leg while I was sitting on it. I was enjoying a nice chat with author Henrietta Gyland when the chair collapsed and I ended up like a sprawled beetle on the floor; extremely sore, shaken and the result being a painful whiplash injury to my back and neck. My thanks to Henrietta for filling in the accident claim form for me and to Alison Morton for insisting we do so! I'm still stiff and sore writing this. Although my osteopath is slowly putting me back together again, time at the computer desk is having to be rationed, I am even considering finding a temporary secretary to help out during these next few weeks. All this unwanted excitement meant I missed most of Sunday's scheduled events, which was a great shame.

Back home we have a different problem to deal with. Rats. Rats have become a problem nearly everywhere, probably because all the rain earlier in the year drove them from their usual rat-runs and nests and now because of the heat they are searching for food and water - rotting dustbin waste being their special favourite. And ducklings. The darned things have killed and eaten at least ten of our young ducklings and smaller ducks. In retaliation we now have two ferrets, Piper and Hamelin, and Kathy is a good shot. The adult rats are not easy to dispatch, though - and poison isn't an option because of our cats and the owls. I've been told that silver foil stuffed into their holes helps. Apparently they won't chew it. So if our hen, duck and goose houses start to look like silver-coated sci-fi contraptions from Dr Who you'll know why.

I keep thinking of 1665/6 and the rats which plagued London. Maybe the baker in Pudding Lane setting fire to the place was a desperate attempt to get rid of the wretched things? Bit extreme though. Now, where's that flame-thrower?

Looking ahead, I have a very exciting on-line book tour organised for the first two weeks of August. Watch/refresh the home page of this site and scroll to the Latest News area for the 'Stop of the Day'. I have written sixteen different articles about pirates, some of which were a bit of a challenge but all thoroughly enjoyable to produce, and, I hope, to read.

The tour is to promote Pirates: Truth and Tales which is released in Paperback here in the UK and will be out in the US fairly soon. It is available for pre-order. Reviews and feedback are proving positive - and hopefully this paperback edition is rid of the typos that appeared in the hardback edition, which was printed from an uncorrected proof file. I have fingers crossed for this edition, not merely because I want to make my name as a non-fiction writer, but also because as I have included fictional excerpts from the Sea Witch Voyages and a few other suitable fictional passages. I really hope that readers will be enticed into Voyaging with Jesamiah Acorne.

So, spread the word, follow the tour and come with me as I go down to the sea again and embark on a Virtual Voyage around the Blogs.

  I must go down to the sea again,
  The sea, the sand and the sky.
  For I met a pirate there one day,
  With an acorn earring - but no patch over his eye!


Okay, I promise I won't try my hand at writing poetry!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

July
 2018

I cannot believe that the Longest Day has been and gone; what happened to spring? Here in Devon that Spring sprung a leak and rained on us from January to the end of May, but now we've flipped completely opposite and are having a heatwave. All well and good but, excuse the huge pun, our water comes from our well, which is getting somewhat low!

Checking the depth of water in it can be somewhat hazardous if, like me, you are not keen on spiders. I'm talking big spiders, the author-eating sized ones. The well is a spring which feeds into a huge six-foot or so circumference shaft at the end of a crawl-along tunnel-sized pipe. It is very dark in there. (shudder). A good friend of mine, who usually doesn't want to be named online, came up with the idea of using a fisherman's gadget thingy to measure the depth of water. It works a treat, although it also flashes up 'detected fishes' which can't be right since there are no fish in our well. It's probably detecting floating silt. Or a spider or two taking the opportunity to have a leisurely swim…

My friend suspended the gadget from a hook just inside the tunnel door. First day I leant in to use it… yes you guessed, there was Gnasher Eight Legs squatting there. Said gadget has now been moved a yard outside the tunnel.

There is also a very bright full moon at the moment (I am writing this on the 28th June). Probably brighter because the skies are so clear, but when you wake up in those didn't-know-they-existed very early hours and think you've left a light on, brightness gets serious!

Here's a poser for you: if moths and insects are attracted to lights and you get them fluttering around your bedside lamp at night, why don't they fly off towards the much brighter full moon? I don't mind the moths. Beetles that fly in through the open window are tolerable, even the huge ones. At least they are catchable and evictable. Hornets are a different matter entirely. Goodness me but they are the nuclear warhead Sherman tanks of the insect world!

Slugs are another no-no for me. I don't mind snails, but slugs… (shudder). Fortunately we have a very good, very efficient method of dealing with the slime-trail varmints. Ducks. Our Call Ducks and Appleyards have discovered the front garden and all its riches hiding beneath the foliage. Just a shame they have also discovered that it is quicker to waddle through my study and then the kitchen to get from the orchard to the front of the house.

Franc, our foal, is getting enormous. He is taller than the Exmoors, and still not three months old! His mum has decided she's fed up with childcare and is happy to palm him off on any surrogate nanny, aunt or uncle. Yesterday he was in a completely different field with Auntie Lexie, our showjumper. Mum Saffie hadn't even noticed that he was missing. I have a feeling that he will be weaned long before the traditional six months.

Talking of Lexie - registered name Shinglehall Casino - do go to my Facebook page to have a look at the photos and videos of my daughter riding her at The All England Showjumping Course, Hickstead, in Sussex last week (you will have to scroll down). They were there to take part in the showjumping classes, of course, but also to compete in the Ladies Side-saddle class on the Sunday morning. This very elegant class had several of our top side-saddle riders in it, and was run only an hour or so after the Hickstead 1.10m amateur speed derby in which Lexie came 14th out of 60 or so riders. Many of those riders were very experienced and mounted on Grade A just-as-experienced horses. Lexie is only a Grade C, and has only been jumping at speed these last couple of months, so I think she did superbly well. Clear round but not in quite a fast enough time to get a higher place. I am very proud of the both of them. As for that elegant side-saddle class, Lexie went beautifully and did not put a foot wrong, but her plaits were a little frizzy and her coat was slightly sweaty and dusty so she was not absolutely perfect in her turnout. But then, I doubt the others in the class would go anywhere near a show jump, let alone jump it!

Competing at this high level is expensive, unfortunately. What my daughter and Lexie need is a sponsor who will support the pair of them for 2019 to cover the cost of entry fees (often £25-£35 per class). I wonder if any suitable philanthropists who are interested in show jumping and supporting dogged determination and enthusiasm for the sport read this journal?

One thing we will hit a problem with is the water jump. The big ones that are massively wide and are full of deep blue, very wet water. Lexie hates water. She won't even walk through a puddle. She had such a hard time back in the wet spring! But as my daughter says, providing she can get Lexie anywhere near a water jump there would be no problem with her setting a hoof in it! "Wet! Wet! Tuck my hooves up!" The drawback will be if Lexie stops and daughter doesn't. Showjumpers usually wear white jodhpurs. The water looks blue because show organisers put a lot of blue dye in it. Result, blue jodhs. We would so like to take Lexie for a gallop along a wonderful beach near us on the North Devon coast, Saunton Sands, but the mare will have an apop-Lexie (sic ha ha) if she saw all that water.

For myself, I love the sea, especially the type that has lovely swishy reasonable-size waves and miles of shallow bits to paddle in. The moonlight reflected in a calm sea and on the wet sand is beautiful to behold, and, discounting Lexie, why do we love the sea so much? I agree with the rest of my quote: it is because we came from beneath the waves.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

June
 2018

It doesn't seem possible that we are almost half-way through the year does it?

I don't seem to have got anything done so far this year, although looking back I have written 'Smugglers in Fact and Fiction', to be published early in January 2019, I published via SilverWood Books Ltd 'When the Mermaid Sings' and have re-proof-read 'Pirates in Truth and Tales' in order to get it ready for the paperback edition published in mid-July - hopefully without the typos that are in the hardback edition when the publisher printed from the wrong file.

Most of the rest of the time seems to have passed with sloshing and squelching through mud from what has seemed to have been almost continuous rain since last summer.

But here we are at June, and as the lyrics of the song from the musical and Broadway stage show announce: "June is bustin' out all over". The garden is a blaze of colour, albeit that much of that colour is weeds, but in my view, if it has a pretty flower it can stay. Each year that passes here in Devon - this is our sixth summer - the different colours never cease to fascinate. Green in particular. It was something I never really noticed back in London, just how many varying shades of green there are. Looking out of my study window at the hills on the other side of the Taw Valley on a quick count I've come up with at least fifteen totally different types of green.

Sparrows are cheeping outside my study door. They are hidden in the elderflower bush; fledglings I think calling for their mamas and papas to Bring Food. There is also a bit of bird-equivalent four-letter-words being chirruped at a squirrel is hoovering up the last of the seed from the bird table.

The bird table itself is at a precarious angle because we have two hen pheasants that are the size and shape of a rugby ball regularly plopping on to it. They are so round they rarely fly so 'plop' is the correct word. We are fairly certain that these hens are the ones we rescued several years ago as day-old chicks when their mother was run over in the lane.

There are a couple of Tawny Owl pairs nesting in the trees near the house, and obviously they are not the best of friends because there is a lot of twit-twooing at night. We have seen the barn owl once or twice, but it seems likely that the Wet Field (aptly named) on the far side of our orchard has been too wet this year to sustain the little creatures that Barn Owls hunt. For mice, voles, shrews to survive down there they would have needed wellies at the very least, or good, sturdy rowing boats!

Thank goodness the horses are out at last enjoying the sunshine and the grass. Franc, the foal prefers to stretch out in the middle of the field and sleep for most of the day, stirring himself for elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, and a pre-dinner snack. He is not two months old yet, but has the speed of a racehorse and the cheek of a teenager. His Mum, Saffie, is already exasperated with him and hands him over to Auntie Lexie during the day for her to keep an eye on him.

As far as June goes, 'Carousel' was not my favourite Rogers and Hammerstein musical ('Oklahoma' takes precedence,) but several of the songs are now classics and are thought to be the best written by that pair. I wonder how many people realise that 'When You Walk Through A Storm' comes from 'Carousel'? My son-in-law will grumble as he is a Spurs fan but probably the most moving rendition is this version filmed at Liverpool's Anfield Stadium. For my non-uk / non-soccer followers, this wonderful song from 'Carousel' is Liverpool F.C's signature song, recorded by Liverpool pop group "Gerry and the Pacemakers" back in the 1960s, when they were managed by Brian Epstein of The Beatles and Cilla Black fame.

And, of course, there is the famous Carousel Waltz.

I love those huge carousels with their brightly-coloured gallopers - alas you do not see them that often nowadays. The movie was made in 1956 as an adaptation of the 1945 stage musical, which was based on Ferenc Molnár's non-musical play 'Liliom'. The movie starred Gordon MacRae and a very young Shirley Jones, who, among other things, went on to star in the TV show 'The Partridge Family' which set David Cassidy onto his path to fame. He passed away recently; I have memories of seeing him in concert at Wembley, many years ago now.

As for 'Carousel' and June, I think I can make a good guess that you'll be singing 'June is bustin' out all over' at least once this month, and if you want a prompt for the words, or would like to watch those wonderfully choreographed scenes again, click here for YouTube.

I'm not sure what my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne, will make of those sailors dancing about though.

Happy Bustin' out for June!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

May
 2018

Well, he is here! Taw River Dracarys - or Franc for short - because we decided on Frank, but his mum is French… 'He' being the foal. He arrived at about 4:45pm on my sixty-fifth birthday, which I mentioned in last month's Journal. April 2018 was also the twenty-fifth anniversary of my official path to becoming a published author. Where do the years go?

Franc was up on his very long, wobbly legs, after doing a good impression of a spider, about half-an-hour after he was born, which was just as well as Saffie gave birth down in the far corner of Bottom Field. It had been a pleasant afternoon, one of the first rare chances to let the big horses out to graze. The problem was that the gateway was still ankle-deep in churned-up mud. Still, our brave little trooper, clinging close to Mummy's side, tottered through it.

Franc is two weeks old as I write this on April 27th - and those legs really are enormously long! We are still not sure if he is going to remain chestnut, turn a darker bay or end up as a grey. His Dad is grey (well white really) so he could become a 'Snowy'.

Photos are here or you'll find some videos and more photos on my Facebook Page. (You don't have to own a FaceBook account - the page should be open to public viewing).

Talking of photos: I still do not have a date for the Return of Escape to the Country on TV - so please do keep an eye on the homepage of this website for up-to-date news!

And another clever link. I am offering an annual prize of a £10/$10 Amazon gift voucher to everyone who subscribes to my monthly Newsletter - winner to be drawn at the end of December - and don't worry, I will also be drawing a second winner for those of you who have already 'signed up'. So click here now and join my fantastic friends, fans and followers.

But what about that opening quote? April 2006 was another huge life-changing (well work/writing changing) month for me. Twelve years ago I made the decision to 'go indie'. My (ex) agent had let me down Big Time, my mainstream publisher ditto, and I faced the prospect of giving up writing. With nothing to prove, I decided to go self-publish using an assisted company to produce my books. It was an enormous step - and back then, quite a brave one as self-publish was still being associated with poor quality vanity publishing, the idea of 'going indie' was not really understood, and very much not respected. Justifiably really, as the genre was in its infancy and the books that were being produced were not being produced to the best quality.

Those first steps were a very steep learning curve for me. What mistakes could be made I made them. But they were MY mistakes and I learnt from them.

These years on I am published as a 'hybrid', meaning mainstream and indie combined, and published in the USA, Turkey, Italy and Germany as well as the UK, Canada and Australia. I do not make a fortune out of my books, few indie writers do, but they are MY books, produced now with as much care as I can.

I am still here, twelve years later, writing. Gallows Wake (Voyage Six) will be my sixteenth book.

I'm pleased that I didn't give up when that ex-agent dumped me. There's something to be said for Doing It My Way!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

April
 2018

Spring, according to the calendar, has sprung. Flowers are popping up all over the place - primroses, celandines, daffodils but no bluebells yet and the snowdrops have finished. Unfortunately, snow has made the daffs somewhat droopy. Still, the ones that were frozen solid or broken I picked and enjoyed in the house. My Mother's Day present from Kathy - we celebrate Mother's Day in the UK earlier than in the USA - was a huge bunch of glorious daffs. Picked from our bottom field - but that was okay, it saved me glooping through the mud to get them!

That part of the field, many years ago, had a small house built there. All signs of it have long gone, except for the host of daffs occupying the hedgerow.

I had a slight 'encounter' with the snow, or rather the ice in the lane caused by the run-off from melting snow. Everything was fine during the day, Kathy, the dogs and I had a most enjoyable walk through the snow in our top field, but come dusk the temperature dropped dramatically. I went out to give Donkey some extra hay, and found that the lane between the house and his stable in the dairy was a sheet of black ice. Most unpleasant. For the full story, and photos, go to my Tuesday Talk on my Blog.

Another spring excitement is that we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Saffie's foal. Might be here any day now or by the time you read this, already born. Keep an eye on the homepage for up-to-date news!

I do have some news about my smugglers non-fiction book, which I recently submitted to Pen and Sword publishers; it will be published in January 2019 and will be the very first in their 'Fact and Fiction' series. I have seen the cover design and it looks most eye-catching, but hush please, it is still a secret. We will be having a big cover reveal very soon. Meanwhile I have a few articles about smuggling (and some other topics) on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. This is a link to some of the previous articles I have penned for them, but keep a look-out on my homepage for new postings. You could also receive the occasional tit-bit of exclusive news - and that cover reveal - if you subscribe to my newsletter.

Talking of which: There are new data protection laws coming into force in the UK very soon, I wish to confirm again that subscription email addresses to my newsletter are for my use only and will never be knowingly passed on or used in any other capacity outside of the newsletter subscribers' list.

2018 is a special year for me, April the special month. I will reach the grand, (unfortunately probably not 'wise') old age of sixty-five. That isn't the special bit, though. Twenty-five years ago I celebrated my fortieth birthday during the Easter Weekend while on holiday in the Lake District, camping in our family campervan on the shore of Coniston Water. For the actual day we went for a walk up Coniston Old Man. I recall that it was bright and sunny but somewhat chilly. I was on edge throughout the entire holiday, however, because just before leaving home I had spoken with my (now ex) literary agent about The Kingmaking. William Heinemann, an imprint of Random House, UK, had expressed an interest and I would know their decision after the Easter break. That meant I had to wait until we returned home to north-east London.

Exactly one week after my fortieth birthday I received the news that yes, they wanted the entire Pendragon's Banner Trilogy and offered me a contract. That I was over the moon was an understatement. After many years of boring people with my statement of 'One day I am going to be a proper author', it was going to come true.

From there the rose-coloured glasses proved to be more tinted than I had thought. My agent (ex-agent) eventually let me down and Heinemann undertook very little follow-up marketing. This was the mid-nineties. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs were things of the future, even websites were a new concept and very basic. Authors were entirely in the hands of agents and publishers, and if either did not back you, you sank. To this day I do not understand how a publishing house can pay out a generous advance and then not bother to promote the books they have taken on. For The Kingmaking I had radio interviews. Who remembers Derek Jameson on Radio Two? I spent a happy hour with him in his studio chatting about this and that - and my novel, and as it was a late night show the BBC even provided a car to take me home.

To get a scoop, the London Evening Standard took me, Ron and Kathy out for the day to Colchester (don't ask, I've no idea why Colchester!) When we came home the street was crawling with reporters all wanting a story.

The post-six o'clock local news on ITV spent the day with us filming, and we had a good long spot on the show. But the marketing for the other two books in the trilogy did not materialise, and in reality historical fiction was suddenly not as popular as it had been. Fortunately, it is now and I've made my own way without Random House or an agent to let me down.

I've wrestled with reality for twenty-five years, and I'm happy to state that I can now ignore it. So, happy Silver Anniversary to me, for becoming a proper writer! (This is where the champagne cork pops, and someone enthusiastically shouts 'Hooray!')

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

March
 2018

No out-and-about adventures this month, which is something of a relief, although maybe my expecting to take Wonky Donk the donkey for a quiet, gentle, stroll up the lane - and Donk deciding it was to be more akin to a 600 yard Uphill Sprint - was a tad unexpected!

I don't do trotting, jogging or hurrying, especially not when it is up our very steep lane and being towed by an over-eager donkey! Anyone who insists that donkeys are slow old plodders hasn't seen our Donk in 'go faster' mode.

We had an earthquake here one Saturday afternoon - its centre was Swansea, South Wales, but we felt it here in Devon. The rumbling noise was quite scary. 4.5 on the Richter scale I think it was. Mind you, initially I thought the loud rumble was my daughter's washing machine going into its final over-excited spin. The machine is in said daughter's flat situated on the other side of my study wall. I soon realised it was a different sort of rumble though. Admitted, this sort of earthquake is nothing compared to what other countries have to endure, but then we just don't 'do' earthquakes here in the UK!

Alas, the last weekend of February produced a bit of gruntlement on my part. (For those of you who are not P.G. Wodehouse acquainted. "If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled." P.G. Wodehouse, 'The Code of the Woosters.'

So, I found myself being far from gruntled when I was deleted as a member from a certain historical Facebook group. I was 'removed' as I had dared to mention in public my concerns about an issue with an apparent proposed method of reviewing indie-written novels, which would have involved putting authors seeking reviews in direct contact via email and home address with reviewers. This could open a huge can of unpleasant worms as, unfortunately, there are more than a few authors who get very disgruntled if their books are rejected or receive a poor review.

As a previous managing editor of this particular Society, and now as founder of Discovering Diamonds, I have had several nasty emails - one was even threatening - because of a rejected novel. The delete and block facilities come immediately in to play of course, but even suggesting to put reviewers - who are all volunteers - in a vulnerable situation is madness.

However, because of my concerned comment on a thread that someone else had posted, I was informed: 'You are welcome as a fan and writer of hf, but less so as a vocal critic of our policies... if you promise to keep the criticism out (there may even be things to praise in what we do?) you are warmly welcome. If not... well you will know why you get removed!"

So, I would be permitted to say "I like the way you do XXX" but not permitted to say "I'm not sure that XXX is a good idea." I made a valid - and very concerned - point on a thread that I did not initiate, yet others who commented with similar concerns were not kicked out. So obviously I, and two of my Discovering Diamonds reviewers, were singled out for this unpleasant rebuke. However, that insult aside, I do not tolerate threats and bullying. So the "I will wait for a reply before reinstating you (just 'yes' will be fine)" means that the sender will have a very l.o....n....g wait, as "yes" will never be forthcoming.

But on a different note, I would like to say a big 'thank you' to Alison Morton who has now resigned as the admin for the Historical Novel Society social media group. She did a superb job but is now going to concentrate on writing her next novel… which is a huge plus for us her fans. Hurry up Alison, we're chomping at the bit for the next Roma Nova thriller!

Still, moving on and looking ahead not back, March is here, Spring has Sprung, we hope, and my daughter's Taw River Show Jumping enterprise has several exciting events planned for the months ahead, in particular a Not To Be Missed horse show here in North Devon on 22nd July, where there will be show jumping, showing classes, trade stands and a fun dog show - including Doggie Dressage! I'll be giving more information nearer the time, but for now if you are in or near Devon - Save The Date!

I have to smile to myself. I selected my 'Quote of the Month' several weeks ago - but given the content of my Journal this month, I think it is quite appropriate; the horses certainly do seem to have most of the sense where some people are concerned!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

February
 2018

We still have rain. We still have mud. Lots of both. With knobs on, as the (inexplicable!) saying goes.

The weird thing is, Spring has definitely Sprung, albeit a very soggy and windy one. The snowdrops are out in full bloom. There are a few catkins on the hazel trees. The elder outside my study door is coming into bud, the birds are twittering of a morning, and a pair of sparrows have been busy in the nesting box on the wall by my study windows. Plus (intake of breath indicating astonishment) . we have a daffodil in bloom. Just one, by the porch in the front garden - but a daff? In January? Like I said - weird.

The winds have been visiting, their strength varying between mildly annoying to outright keeping the household awake at night. (Well not Ron, he's quite deaf now so sleeps through everything.) When storm Eleanor stomped over the southern horizon, totally uninvited, she hung around making a huge nuisance of herself from about 2.30 to 7.30 a.m. Apart from the windows rattling, I lay there wondering whether any loud bangs or crashes indicated something falling down, being blown off or ripped apart. The house juddered once - which considering it is stone built with walls varying from between one foot to three feet thick is quite something. I figured it has stood here in one piece since 1769, however, so wasn't about to go anywhere.

Come morning, no damage, discounting the huge bang that rocked the house, shaking the ground and ripping through the sky. Yep. Lightning strike. Fortunately it sounded worse than it was, although I don't know that British Telecom or our new neighbours, the 'Up the Hills', agree. The strike was to the box atop a telephone pole in the lower part of the main lane. Miraculously it did not affect our connection.

There has also been flooding in North Devon. We have been fine, except for one night in mid-January. Most of the flooding was caused by rivers bursting their banks, and there are rather a lot of rivers here in Devon, the main ones in our area, the Taw, the Mole and the Bray, rising on Dartmoor or Exmoor.

At South Molton, our nearest town, the River Bray decided it wanted to go walkabout (or should that be runabout? Floatabout?) Not too much of a disaster since it was a Sunday. Farm vehicles and larger cars and vans could get through the awash road, but not ordinary cars.

Problem. Ron's car was parked in South Molton for the weekend as he had gone off on his annual trip to the Pigeon Fancier's Show, their Event of the Year at Blackpool. He does not have a cell phone. There was no way I could warn him 'don't drive home. You won't get through the floods.'

However, after tracking down someone who had someone else's phone number I got through to the coach which was en-route home. The plan was for Ron to phone when he reached town and son-in-law Adam would go and fetch him in his higher-than-the-floods truck. As it happened Ron followed Adam home via a convoluted back lane route. Thank goodness for SatNav!

One adventure ends then another begins…

Kathy called me to request assistance to bring the ponies in. They were all being idiots (because of a blustery, cold wind) and were playing her up. Don wellies and raincoat and up the lane I trudge. What's that noise? Sounded odd.

I judged it best, get the neds and Donk safely in then go and investigate with Kathy, my sight not being too good although my hearing makes up for it.

Something fizzing and crackling amongst the tops of our 'Down-the-Hills' neighbour's trees? Good grief! Sparks! A mini-firework display from the overhead electricity cable. Yikes!

Fast forward a little over an hour. There were half-a-dozen or so big, burly fireman with their rather large fire engine parked outside our stable block, and West Country Power assessing the problem, which turned out that the pole itself had shifted, part-toppling forward and the 11,000 volt-carrying cable was having a disagreement with the trees - which, thank goodness - were so sodden from the rain that they didn't catch alight. If they had done so, I would now be describing a very serious situation and major damage.

As it was, cups of tea were duly supplied all round by us, then the firemen left West Country Power to it, 'it' being the old pole removed, a new one replaced. All of which took about five hours, in a semi-gale wind and periods of pouring rain at night. Oh, and all the electricity in the vicinity of our village turned off.

Still, it was rather cosy for us, knowing there was now no danger of fire or falling cables. We sat as a family around our blazing log fire drinking red wine and bathed in the gentle glow of candle light.

So, that is my story for this month.

March is Women's History Month - her story - but I've featured the Women of Arthur on the February 2018 home page for three reasons;

- I have written an article about Arthur, his women and children as pertinent to my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, because

- I was highly honoured to learn that a wonderful lady is writing her university thesis based around my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy, and that her very talented daughter had sketched the 'Women of Arthur', and lastly

- The German translation of The Kingmaking is now released. I am delighted with the cover, and sincerely hope that German readers will enjoy the novel in their own language. Parts Two and Three will be following soon.

Speak and/or read German? Here's the link to Amazon Germany.

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig

 

January
 2018

I have made a discovery. Possibly it is not up there with the major discoveries by Einstein, Marie Curie or what's-his-name who 'found' the World Wide Web. but I think it is somewhat poignant. I have discovered that Christmas is not very Christmassy when it pours with rain all day and everywhere and everything is covered not in sparkly frost but in thick, wet, oozy mud.

Mincepies? No, mudpies.

Bedecked? No, bedraggled.

Add to this, I have an observation. Why on earth doesn't a flooring company invent floor tiles that have pre-printed dog's paw prints on them, then we wouldn't notice the new mud-coloured ones. And as for the pet cat… bad enough our Mab catching mice, bringing them into the bedroom and sitting there (at 3 a.m) crunching every little bit from head to tail, but jumping on the bed (also at 3 a.m) absolutely dripping wet? Oh p..l..eese!

At least our donkey, known as Wonky Donk, is happy. We moved him into a different stall, built into one half of the dairy, where he is very comfortable and highly delighted that the window and door are now at donkey height; he can stand in the warm and dry and peer at what's going on outside - and bray at it.

I have a few plans for 2018. I must get on with writing the sixth Sea Witch Voyage, Gallows Wake and I want to write my Madoc the Horseman idea as well. Plus, have you noticed that this website has changed slightly? Check out the graphics on the Home Page. I also want to produce more 'items of interest' for my main blog: Let Us Talk of Many Things. My only problem, I have to think of a few things to 'Talk' about. Any ideas? Suggestions? If you do have any thoughts you can reach me via 'Contact' on the menu bar above.

Also, I'd love suggestions and ideas for how I can make my sort-of-regular newsletter more interesting. I do not really want just a 'this is my latest book' advert page, but what would you, my readers and followers like to receive?

We also had a loss and a gain just before Christmas. The loss was our lovely 'Up-the-Hill' neighbours moving away to Salisbury - much missed as they made us so welcome when we first moved in - and friends ever since. But they were replaced by equally as nice new neighbours. I just hope the sound of Wonky Donk braying, the geese honking, the hens clucking, the ducks quacking and Eddie the dog howling at high-pitched noises doesn't put them off too much!

Incidentally, Eddie has been in my bad books. (He was threatened with Santa not bringing him any presents). Although in truth it was not, accurately-speaking, my bad 'books' that he was in.

Eddie, three-parts collie breeding, gets obsessed with things. Be it rounding up hens, ducks, tennis balls, scurrying wind-whipped leaves or running water. He recently discovered the fountain in our brick-built raised fish pond. And the fish.

All well and good him standing at the edge staring at the fountain and/or the Koi carp… We warned him to "get down". We told him to "get down". We yelled at him to "get down". He did get down, but unintentionally. He fell in. Result: One very cold and very soggy doggy.

Did it cure him? Did it heck.

I've had several people contact me to ascertain if we are alright here in Devon, whether we are snowed in. See the first paragraph above for a somewhat grumpy response. Nope, no snow here. Not even a snow-flake flutter. There is snow up on Exmoor, but aside from a few morning frosts and a bitter wind, no snow.

So this month's featured graphic is a little misleading, I'm afraid. Winter has indeed come. But not to Devon.

You can still buy a book or two though… preferably one of mine.

Happy New Year to you all!

Lege feliciter (read happily).

helensig