Previous editions of the Journal pages

Christmas morning arrived and it was pouring with rain; my ducks loved it. They did not think much of the ice on their pond the other day though. Nor that I laughed when they went sliding, tail over beak, all the way across it.

I missed my little girl dreadfully on Christmas Eve. Ok, so she's nearly 26 and not so little - but this was my first Christmas without her; I did not have to tip-toe into her room without waking her and fill the stocking at the end of her bed with goodies from 'Santa'.

One year, when she was about five, one of the toys was a tiger that growled when you pressed it's tummy. Of course the parcel somehow got squashed and it started to make a noise. 3 a.m. and I was trying to desperately hush a present as Kathy began to stir. On second thoughts, maybe Christmas Eve without the trials we parents put ourselves through does have it's compensations.

My stress levels have been soaring higher than a pirate flag lately. St Jude, I am told, is the patron saint of lost items. I have been very grateful to him, although he still has to fulfill one of the two outstanding requests I have asked of him. I lost my pirate locket on the 19th December. I was rather fond of it, but as I could have lost it anywhere I suppose it is unreasonable to expect Jude to find it. He came up trumps with my sapphire ring though. I lost that and another ring on the 14th December. We'd had family to dinner to celebrate my husband Ron's 73rd birthday. I had not had a good day. My worn-out hip was hurting as I had tried to put all the Christmas decorations up on my own - let it be known that climbing ladders with a dodgy hip is not a good idea. The potatoes wouldn't roast, the brussels wouldn't sprout and the gravy sort of flopped onto the plate instead of flowed.

I took my rings off to wash up. That was the last I saw of them. I knew they were in the house somewhere, but when you find yourself looking in the same place for the umpteenth time in case they are there after all... Well, let's just say Saint Jude became a necessity for the maintenance of what remains of my sanity.

My mother, an aunt and uncle and my Webmaster and his mother were coming to lunch on Boxing Day. Nothing fancy, just soup and sandwiches. Even I can manage soup and sandwiches. Sort of. Since I had put it away right at the back of the cupboard, it was not worth rummaging out the tin that contained the best cutlery, I thought. Then a small voice whispered, 'Oh, go on. Use the best stuff.'  I'll leave you to guess where the rings were finally found.

I have proof that my mental state is declining to a hamper short of a picnic. I went to the Olympia Christmas Horse Show in London with Kathy and had a super time; the Cossack display and the show jumping were wonderful. On coming home, having been out all day, we collapsed into a seat on a Victoria Line Underground train.

Now it may be because of stress, it may be because I am very short-sighted and when I have my distance contact lenses in I can't see anything close up without wearing reading glasses, and I had been in a hurry to get ready and also yes, I am cultivating the image of being eccentric. Whatever the explanation, I felt a right chump. I had been walking around all day with my skirt on inside out. Perhaps no one noticed the seams, or the label, or the ragged inside hem? I certainly hadn't! Perhaps I ought to bother Saint Jude again and ask him to find my lost sanity?

** I have some boons to beg **

My Webmaster wants some new readers' reviews to put on this site. I would be very grateful for anything you care to send - especially for Pirate Code and Harold the King...

He has also suggested I re-write some of the "out-take" chapters that I deleted from the early drafts of Sea Witch and Pirate Code - a sort of Author's Cut which would be exclusive to this website. These will not be short stories, but more like glimpses behind the scenes of the novel that finally went to print. I assume you would be interested in the idea? Please let me know.

Also, if anyone would like to send me their own Jesamiah story, I would be delighted to include the best on his "fan" page on MySpace. You don't have to be a MySpace member to view the page, only to join as a friend. So far Jesamiah is proving very popular; he had 1,600 friends the last time I looked and over 7,000 people have viewed the profile. I have had quite a few nice compliments about the site as well.

Pity not everyone has bought the books though. My aim is to get Jesamiah Acorne to become the next most famous fictional pirate. You can help by spreading the word about him, and any other suggestions to achieve my goal will be appreciated.

Does anyone know how I can get an invitation to be a special author guest at the New Orleans Pirate Con next April? I wish someone would organize a UK Pirate Convention. Why should the USA have all the fun eh?

I will be at the Whitby (Yorkshire UK) Goth festival in October 2008, and I am hoping to attend the start of the Tall Ships Race in Liverpool UK in the summer.

I faithfully promise, cross my heart and poke my eye, that I will wear my skirt the right way out this time. I can sum up everything about life in three words. It goes on.
I have some difficult news to share this month.

Sadly, my daughter Kathy has had to start legal proceedings to dissolve her marriage. As a family we find it bewildering to understand how someone can change so much after the formality of vows and moving into a new home, but for possible future legal reasons I cannot say much here on a public Internet site. Our close friends do know the exact reasons and circumstances.

Kathy has returned to live with us, although I have mixed feelings about that as I had just started getting used to the convenience of having a spare room and being able to get into the bathroom! She has elected to reinstate her maiden name, and has bravely put the bad experience behind her.

I am so very proud of her - and so sad for what might have been. All I can do is support her, help her rebuild her life, walk with her into the future and in the meanwhile, help her grieve. But then, is that not what Mothers are for?

For those who have the early editions of Pirate Code , would you mind altering the first sentence on the very first page to read: "Author Helen Hollick lives in London with her husband and adult daughter." Then blank out the second sentence which refers to a son-in-law.

Thank goodness for the quick-change ability of Print On Demand; the typeset will be altered, and no more original copies will be printed. I remember reading about a famous author who dedicated a novel to his wife, only to divorce under heated circumstances soon after publication. Being a bestseller there were thousands of copies printed which stated "to my darling beloved.." Morale of the story? I don't think I'll include any more "about the author" pages!

The worrying thing about this situation is that since the break-up I have heard from so many of our acquaintances who have had a similar experience. From what I have now learnt, one in four women fall victim to domestic violence and/or abuse and bullying, often the cause is drink or drugs, and the abuse rarely becomes apparent before the wedding; in other words, once "possession" has been achieved.

Symptoms, apart from the physical ones of actual violence, include utter denial of anything being wrong, with the abuser finding fault and making destructive criticism; manipulation to gain control - not allowing the woman to see family or friends, attempting to stop her hobbies and interests etc. Control over her money and actions, threats, especially against children and pets, and general harassment.

The abuser often denies responsibility for their actions by placing the blame for everything on the victim and attempting to make the woman - and others - believe she is solely at fault. These abusers are often those who were themselves abused one way or another in childhood, but that is no excuse for continuing and perpetuating the abuse, be it verbally in the work place or physically at home.

Bullying is vile. Domestic violence is unacceptable and, in the UK at least, illegal. Of course it is not always men abusing women - the opposite is also known - but on the whole it is men who make the lives of women a misery, purely because of their greater size and strength.

If you think you or a friend need help, link here now to Women's Aid, who we have discovered are extremely supportive and helpful, or Hidden Hurt, a site that has detailed information and lists all the UK National Helpline phone numbers.

If you are outside the UK please Google for 'Domestic Violence'. I'm sure the information you need will come up.

The hurt and disappointment in another person's behavior and choices is bewildering, and often hard to understand, but the ability to move forward through another door, and close one behind you, comes from not being blinkered to the truths of your own failings and immaturities.

Maturity and wisdom, and the ability to accept and understand the choices of others, walk hand in hand with being totally honest and at peace with yourself.

We are not judged by our actions, but by the consequences of the choices we make. We are all free to make our own choices; whether they be for good or bad, and in understanding what were the wrong choices we made, and in subsequently attempting to make the right ones.

Real freedom comes with turning away from the influence of others, and making your own choice.

* * * * *

On a lighter note; I have managed to get a few "must do" jobs done. Cupboards have been sorted, the duck house re-floored, and twenty-five rather spindly copper beech hedge saplings planted in the garden. I'll post a photograph when they appear more like a hedge, rather than the boney array of sticks they are at present.

I have always wanted a copper beech hedge. They look so splendid in the autumn, but our previous garden, being half the size of a postage stamp, was never suitable. Here at Number 32 we have a long garden which is somewhat, err, "rustic" in appearance. The hedge will look wonderful with the wild roses, honeysuckle, ivy and the generous supply of weeds; ahem, I meant wild flowers!

Our dog, Rum, made a choice of his own the other day. Fed up with mooching around the stable-yard in search of elusive mice and rats, he decided to take himself off for a walk. All well and good, but we wonder how far into the 6,000-odd acres of Epping Forest he would have got had someone not spotted him gaily trotting down one of the sanded horse rides. Fortunately this person called Kathy on her cell phone and reported he was out on a jaunt, all on his oncey.

Had Rum been carrying a stick with a spotted, knotted handkerchief over one shoulder and wearing big boots I would have been convinced he was off to London Town to audition for a part in the pantomime Dick Whittington and his Dog.

Poor Rum, he was very disappointed to discover that the part was written for a Cat.

Good fortune does not change men, it merely unmasks them.
According to the Bible, various people at various times suffered from fire, flood, pestilence and plague. Well the Hollick family had the fire back in 2006. The flood visited us this February when, with the upstairs flat being emptied, the removal men didn't turn off the water properly as they disconnected the washing machine. "Did you know the ceiling's dripping?" said my daughter. "Err, no."

Ron managed to get in upstairs by climbing over our fence and beating back the overgrown jungle that is their garden to reach the back stairs which lead to the ex-neighbours' kitchen. Of course it was dark by then and could we find a torch? Still, he managed to sort it out and the lake of water remained upstairs, apart from the drips coming through. Major flood, with disintegrating ceiling and resulting mess, averted just in the nick of time. I had noticed that our kitchen floor was wet . but Rum does dribble so when he has a drink.

As for the plague, we have just gone through the worry of a nasty equine illness putting the stable yard where we keep the horses in quarantine. Strangles. The disease can spread like wildfire and can kill horses - though with modern veterinary practice that is not so common nowadays. Strangles is the equine equivalent of human plague, the mild stage develops to a discharge where phlegm pours from the nose and the glands swell. Horses can literally be strangled as the windpipe is crushed.

Observant on-their-toes fans of my novels will remember that Arthur's horse Onagar had strangles in Shadow of the King . The Romans were indeed all too familiar with it.

The good news, as I write this the last horse that went down with it is now fully recovered and there are no new cases, so we're clear and out of quarantine. Modern knowledge of using antiseptic handwash and not spreading germs paid off.

Having been in quarantine, Kathy has almost missed the qualifying rounds for some of the summer show-jumping finals. One last chance in early March. What's the betting Elswyth (stable name Izzy) loses a shoe or something so we can't go? I have to admit I've not missed getting up early on a Sunday to go jumping though. Still, the long dark days and nights are over. The clocks change at the end of this month - huzzah! British Summer Time. I wonder if we'll get the weather to match?

The sad news is that we lost all three ducks. I miss them dreadfully. A fox got the lot at about 6 in the evening a couple of weeks ago. I'd gone out to give them their supper and decided to leave them out for a few more minutes as it was a nice evening. Went back to usher them into their overnight house - no ducks. A few feathers, that's all. I know foxes also have a right to live, but these are mangy, scruffy, moth-eaten horrible urban foxes, not the beautiful sleek creatures you see in their proper countryside environment. They make a dreadful noise at night, dig up gardens, leave the stink of their "calling cards" everywhere and eat people's pets. Including my ducks. The good news is that the fish in my pond are getting enormous; notice to herons, foxes and prowling cats - stay away from my pond!

The daffodils are peeping up from the ground, my solar lighting in the garden is sometimes on of an evening . and just in case the Biblical scenario continues I have been Googling for "how to deal with locusts".

Mind you, I am quite expecting the pestilence to manifest itself in the form of slugs and snails. Sigh, and I now have no ducks to help with pest control. I hate slugs. I remember as a child going down the garden one night to get my pet rabbit's feed dish. I walked up the garden with it, came into the light - and found it crawling with slugs. The scream could be heard in Scotland I reckon. I think I was about 10. Bunny got moved to the top of the garden the next day. I'd be no good in an Indiana Jones movie, would I?

Talking of which, I hope to have some news of 1066 next month as Robin Jacob, the producer, is coming over to London.

And yes, I am busy writing the next Jesamiah book, Bring It Close. Haven't had much choice. The internet computer, known as Quarterdeck, fell sick with the cyber version of strangles, despite all my firewalls. Thank you to Mal and colleague Pete who valiantly fixed it. Thank goodness I write on a second computer, Atelier, that is not connected to the 'net. Jesamiah is delighted that he's had my undivided attention, but oh, catching up on the back-log of e-mails!

Maybe spam e-mail is the modern-day equivalent of pestilence? God is coming. Look busy!  (found on a gravestone)

I thought reaching the age of 50 was bad enough - that was five years ago! At least my hairdresser cheered me up about the signs of advancing age. I mentioned that my hair was now distinctly grey. Her immediate answer was "Oh no it isn't - it's just a much paler shade of blonde."

My mum also has a birthday in April, when she will be 90. We've booked a posh restaurant in Epping, Essex to celebrate. Not sure where we will be going for my birthday. Probably that well known place Stop-at-home, as Kathy is likely to be show jumping earlier in the day and by the time I get home I am usually exhausted. Feet up in front of the TV. That will do fine.

Several other birthdays: My editor Jo Field, who is about to be published by Discovered Authors with her English Civil War novel, Rogues and Rebels, as one of their select Diamond Mainstream Imprint. The novel is set in Devon and it's a fabulous read. Can't wait to see it in print.

It is also Raven Dane's birthday in April, and her new book Blood Alliance, about the superb Dark Kind (vampires,) will be out in early summer. That's a wonderful read too, if you like Goth fiction or fantasy. And yes, my next novel is also well under way.

A piece of sad news, though. One of the horses at our stable yard had to be put down a few weeks ago. Bruno. He was about 35, which is a ripe old age for a horse. He was a credit to his owner, Wanda, who was devoted to him. Bruno could be a miserable so-and-so; I still have a scar on my hand where he bit me years ago, but his ill temper was all human-created as he had been badly treated. Wanda took him on about twenty years ago and cared for him with kindness and patience. Despite his snapping teeth and "I could kick you any moment" attitude we were all very fond of the old boy. He is sadly missed.

As I write I am glancing out of the window at one of the trees in next door's garden. A pair of blackbirds had been busy building a nest recently, and now I assume the eggs have hatched as they are flying in and out as if training for the London Marathon.

What beautiful creatures garden birds are. There is a little wren that hops around in the ivy, great-tits are nesting in the wooden nest box Kathy gave me as a present; a pair of doves are in another tree. and thankfully my two cats are now too old to catch birds.

Scrabble and Kitty are both around 17 years old, but Scrabble is getting very slow and stiff. He can't jump now, and spends most of the day asleep in the dog's basket or on Kathy's bed. He has also gone deaf, so meows at the top of his voice to let me know it's dinner time. That's the cat equivalent of shouting.

I had a lovely day with Robin Jacob, producer of 1066 the movie. We were mostly discussing the script, which is about to be read by several A-List actors. Sorry, can't divulge any names. We then drove to the town of Waltham Abbey, about 15 minutes away, to look at the Abbey and eat lunch. Harold II, of course, founded the first Abbey when he was Earl of Essex. Robin then went on to South Wales to look at locations and talk to various people.

We still need the funding to get this movie into pre-production, but Robin is determined to make it and we have a lot of people interested and many well-wishers. If you have a MySpace account please pop across to the 1066 MySpace and join as a friend - we need as many "friends" as possible.

Got very excited when Robin suggested one well-known actor to play the part of William. He told me to go and take a cold shower and calm myself down. Wrinkled was not one of the things I wanted to be when I grew up.

I have so much exciting news to share.

My Arthurian TrilogyThe Kingmaking, Pendragon's Banner and Shadow of the King, have been picked up by the small independent United States mainstream publisher Sourcebooks, and will be re-published in the USA and Canada sometime soon, subject to exchange of contract.

I am really excited about this as the publishing team seem to be a lovely lot of people, having met a couple of them at the London Book Fair a few weeks ago. So, I'll be having new covers and a fresh start with some of my historical fiction on the other side of the Pond. And, talking of that.

I have several friends in the USA and Canada on various message boards. Recently, one group have become involved with helping actor Marty Klebba with his charity. Marty is the "little pirate" in the Curse of the Black Pearl and the follow-up P.O.C. series of movies. To aid Marty's charity CODA, which stands for Coalition Dwarf Advocacy, the group are organizing a special showing of the first Jack Sparrow movie in Salt Lake City on August 16th 2008.

The difference with this event is that pirate fans can come along in full regalia, if they so wish, and take part as an "interactive" with the movie. The Interactive Project originated in Southern Ontario, Canada, in September 2003.  It quickly spread throughout North America, the idea being to create a different viewing experience for Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the Black Pearl fans, reminiscent of the Sing-Along Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz idea, only they'll be "yo-ho-ing," not "hills-are-alive-ing or "yellow-brick-roading."

They are also going to have an auction of donated items and several of the actors from the movie will be there. It all sounds great fun. Such fun, in fact, that I have decided to attend!  Yes, I have made up my mind to visit America, albeit somewhat shakily because I will have to go on a 'plane. I haven't flown since I was knee high to a bi-plane in the days of Amy Johnson. Well, okay, maybe that is a wee bit of an exaggeration, but believe me, when you reach 55 the distant age of 13, when I last flew, seems a long way back in the past. First off I will be playing pirates in Salt Lake City and meeting my cyber-friends for real.

Then I am going to San Francisco to stay with a good friend, Connie, who lives near there. From California I intend to take the train back across the States to stay a while with another very good friend, author Sharon Penman. Yes, the train will be slower but I like trains and have always wanted to travel on a sleeper. Plus I get to see more of the Country. It isn't tornado season or anything in August though, is it? I don't want to be chuffing across Kansas and suddenly find I'm also re-enacting with Dorothy, Toto & Co! The Lion, the Scarecrow and Tin Man I can handle. Wicked Witches of the West are another matter.

I am toying with the idea of spending a few days in Virginia near the Chesapeake Bay - it seems a pity to go all that way and not see for myself where my Jesamiah Acorne sprung from. Wondering too if it would be viable to sail home across the Atlantic, stopping off at the Azores for a bit of research for Book Four of the "Sea Witch" Series, On The Account? I think a trip to the Travel Agent is on the agenda.

Then all I have to do is find my passport. I will not need it for July when I go to Liverpool for a long weekend, to see the start of the 2008 Tall Ships Race. My hotel is booked and I am so excited at the thought of seeing dozens of Tall Ships congregating on the River Mersey. I'll take lots of photos, promise.

More good news; Kathy has qualified for the UK Trailblazer Show Jumping finals which will be held at the Royal Agricultural Showground, Warwickshire in early August. After so much difficulty and sadness this year it was nice for her to be placed in the second round competition and therefore qualify.

Even nicer was the judge at that event speaking to Kathy and praising her for how well the horse looked. Izzy, who's registered name is Elswyth, is in the peak of condition. I tried leading her the other day, but have come to the conclusion that trying to lead a 16.2 Irish Thoroughbred mare from stable to field with a dodgy hip is not a good idea. Horses, especially ones which are "on their toes", do not walk slowly and quietly while the poor old girl on the other end of the leadrope is hobbling along with her trusty walking stick.

Mind you, I'm getting some good practice in for the pirate do. "Arrr, yo ho, Jes lad!"

Now then, where are my red shoes. Just in case. Sanity calms, but madness is more interesting.
I emailed last month's newsletter to my Webmaster at the eleventh hour, as it were. He was not exactly disgruntled about the late delivery but then, he was not very gruntled either. So to take his revenge he is swanning off to Florence for a long weekend. Well hooray and what-ho for him I say - but why disappear on the first of the month when the newsletter is due to have done with it whatever it is he does with it? {Turn it into readable English? Webmaster.}

I say Jeeves that was a bit below the belt!

My apologies, I have been watching and laughing at the excellent Jeeves and Worcester TV series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. I may take a couple of P.G. Wodehouse books to read while I am on my 'Adventure of a lifetime' American Tour. I have already decided to cultivate the eccentric and mildly mad English woman image, so sitting giggling to myself will add nicely to the overall impression.

Yes the trip is definitely on. Booked and paid for. The only disappointment is that it is far too costly to cruise back across the Atlantic to finish the trip off. Ruling out rowing I decided to be conventional and fly home instead. I was a little puzzled by the outward scheduled flight; leave Heathrow, London 11.35 a.m. arrive San Francisco 2.45 p.m. A somewhat short journey I thought, until I realised there is a time delay in between. In London time the 2.45 pm will be something nearer 10 pm. (Yes, that might be wrong. I've only guessed at it.

The train across the USA from Salt Lake City to Williamsburg Virginia, via Chicago where I change trains, to Washington DC looks exciting. That's enough about the subject until September when I will tell you all the details after I get back.

Here is a forward warning to readers of this newsletter and my Webmaster: I will be in an aeroplane somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean on the 1st of September, meaning that the Newsletter will be a day or so late next month. Savvy?

May was another hectic month. Kathy fell off her horse and has ended up with her hand and forearm in plaster. Well, strictly speaking, the damage was caused by the show jump wing being crashed into, swinging backwards and clouting her on the hand. Ouch. She has a scaphoid bone injury; the scaphoid being a small bone at the base of the thumb. The bone might be broken but we will not know for certain until the swelling goes down. Has it stopped her riding? No. Has it stopped her jumping? No. It has stopped her being able to use a knife and fork properly though. Dinner time in the Hollick household is now hilarious as she pokes the fork handle up between her plaster-cast-bound fingers and stabs at things with the pronged end. We are getting very inventive with ideas for "finger food". Soup or lashings of gravy are out for a bit.

We did manage to attend our good friend Adam Greenwood's launch of his new novel "Robin of the Wood", which is available now on Amazon.co.uk. Adam may be more familiar to some of you as the lovely guy who dressed as my pirate for my own book launches.

After celebrating in the shop Quest in Ewell, Surrey, UK, we went for a picnic in the woods despite the drizzly rain. We had fun tucking in to the fine repast "Robin" provided, and took plenty of photos. I've posted a few on the album. It wasn't until I had uploaded these to the computer and had a good look that I realised a tree spirit was in one of the pictures. Although he was asleep, he was definitely posing with Kathy, who was dressed as Maid Marian for the occasion, her plaster cast suitably hidden by her cloak. Go to the photo entitled 'Treebeard' - his face is quite distinctive.

I also had a lovely day out with another Robin - Robin Jacob, producer of the movie 1066. We motored down from London to Battle in Sussex, to walk the site where the Battle of Hastings took place. Thank you to Daryl of English Heritage for the warm welcome (no pun intended, it was rather a hot day!) he gave us, and for showing us his fantastic collection of James Bond memorabilia.

The following week saw me in Regent Street, London with Robin again, his assistant producer, Lance, my friend and musician/singer Bronwen Harrison of Alessandro Ponti, who is to be musical director for the movie. Robin took many photographs of the Battle location as I explained various historical details, and a few more in London while we chatted and had coffee with Alessandro. One thing I have got to remember is to stay behind the camera when Robin is filming location shots. I'm not certain Broni and I can stop giggling, though. It's good to laugh, and to not take life too seriously. This movie may not happen - but Robin is doing all he can to make sure it does. But, if not, I'm enjoying the ride.

Broni and I went for a fabulous meal afterwards in a Turkish restaurant. Where we giggled even more and had a good time. Then it was time to wend our weary way home. As I put the key into my front door, hung my coat on its peg and kicked off my shoes, I thought; "I am having the time of my life."

I'm certain I could hear Jeeves in the background saying, "Very good, Madam." Serious is something you do until you can get happily silly again.

I decided it was time to seriously considered dieting.

One of the disadvantages of being a writer is that it's the sort of job where you sit around a lot. At the desk, wondering what to write; staring out the window, wondering what to write. Sitting in the garden: wondering what to write.

The diet has now lasted two weeks. Honest, cross my heart and spit in yer eye, I have not had any biscuits or cookies - well one last night - no cakes, no honey on toast, no spoonfuls of sugar heaped into my coffee, no sweets and no candy. Just three nourishing meals a day, cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch then dinner in the evening. Have I lost weight? A few ounces even? No. I put ona pound. Dieting? Forget it.

I am sorry to disappoint my patiently waiting Jesamiah fans, but the publication of Bring It Close has been put off until next February. One reason is that it isn't written yet, which, of course, is a fairly important reason. Also, as I am going to be spending a few days in Williamsburg, Virginia during my August American trip, and as there are several scenes in Bring It Close set there, it did seem silly to press on with a story that I knew I would be re-writing when I get home in September.

So February it is folks. I might make up for the disappointment by bringing out Book Four, On The Account, later in 2009 - perhaps around October time. No promises, but I will try my best.

Have been very busy helping Robin Jacob sort out the script for 1066. We are now more or less at the final version and, even if I say so myself, it is looking very good indeed.

I was quite amused a couple of weeks ago while reading an e-mail from someone I recently met on the Internet. We were in chatting about sending of a couple of my books for the auction running alongside the special screening of Pirates of the Caribbean, for actor Marty Klebba's charity CoDA.  She had obtained a copy of Harold the King, and was astonished; "Helen it's marvellous. I thought you meant you were just a small time writer, but you're not, you really are a real writer!" Err. yes.

There are a couple of reading recommendations for you this month. My editor and good friend, Jo Field, has had her first novel published. Rogues and Rebels is set in Devon in 1642, during the English Civil War. It is a story of intrigue, passion and betrayal. I was honoured to provide Jo with a quote: 'Rogues and Rebels will keep you up into the early hours wanting to find out what happens next. From the fresh air of Exmoor to the stink that is 17th Century London, Jo Field has created an English Civil War page-turner and a hero to die for!'

There is also a bonus to add to her excellent story. Artist Chris Collingwood has kindly given Jo permission to use one of his exceptional historic art paintings for the cover. His attention to detail is unsurpassed. Have a look at his work and be impressed. Chris has also, as you may know, painted the poster for the 1066 movie. I rather fancy Jo's lead character, Alexander Dynham could be my pirate's grandfather. Now there's a thought.

I have also recently provided a review for Peter St John's Gang Territory . It was a pleasure to read this story, I was hooked from the first paragraph. A tale to delight boys (and girls!) of any age from 8 to 80! Set in war-time Britain, Gang Territory is about a real boy doing real things in a world that was real. The hero is an orphan and is sent from blitzed London to live with his pious spinster aunt in a Suffolk village.

For anyone who has memories of being an evacuee or wants to find out what it was like to grow up during World War II, or just appreciates a good read, this is for you. A book to rival Goodnight Mr Tom, I think. Every school library should have a copy.

On my own Home Front it is hard to believe that our six-day-old foal died two years ago. He was called Springwillow Midsummer Acorn, having been born on Midsummer's Day. How quickly the time passes, and how much has changed between then and now. We have moved house, Kathy has been married - and divorced. On the other hand, more reassuringly, how much stays the same. My garden is looking like a garden at last, Kathy hopes to have the cast off her broken hand next week and I am looking forward to jaunting up to Liverpool in mid-July to enjoy the start of the Round the World Tall Ships Race. Couldn't resist the urge to spend a few days on Merseyside gazing at those beautiful ships.

Wonder if Jesamiah will be there? If he is I'll know where to find him. Somewhere near a quay, in a tavern, drinking rum, with a top-heavy wench on his knee.

Sigh. Top-heavy. Hmm, I seem to have sagged somewhat. My top has given in to gravity and slid to my middle and bottom. Diets. What is the point of jogging up to the Pearly Gates in your trainers and track-suit, all sweaty, out of breath but only a stone or so lighter? I intend to have a bottle of wine in one hand, a bar of chocolate in the other and a smile on my face, shouting, "Whoo-hoo, boy that was fun!"

Right. Pass me that chocolate bar.

Save the Earth: it's the only planet with chocolate.
July has been a busy month and August is going to be even busier. For most of that month I will be gadding about the United States of America, from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, to Washington (via Chicago) on the train. Then it's onward to Williamsburg and finally New Jersey. I keep checking my passport to make sure it's valid and have been looking up all my travel times. On a UK timetable they look great. Converted to USA time though. get aboard the 'California Zephyr' from Salt Lake City at 04:30 in the morning for instance. I must be utterly mad!

I intend to keep a diary so I will be telling you all my adventures when I get back. I am especially looking forward to meeting all my "cyber friends" - I feel I know them all so well, yet we have never met. And alright, if I am to be honest, I'm looking forward to actually seeing the Pacific Ocean and relaxing in the Jacuzzi that is at the place I'm staying in Salt Lake City. The train ride should be fun. Oh what am I saying - it is all going to be fun!

July started with a talk about pirates at our local Rotary Club's dinner function. I enjoy being guest speaker at these sort of events because the meal is nice, there's no washing up, and the company is congenial. I couldn't believe that I actually forget Nassau Governor Woodes Roger's name during my talk though. My mind went completely blank. Still, I laughed the mistake off, and I had a lovely compliment afterwards when one of the member's wives came up to me and said she so enjoyed my talk as it wasn't all dead-pan serious. "You giggled" she said. "It is so refreshing to hear someone confident enough to laugh even when something goes awry." Confident? Gosh, I must be a better actress than I thought!

A few days after that I was involved in a trans-Atlantic radio interview about King Harold, the Battle of Hastings and the prospective movie. It went well I think. And yes, I giggled.

Kathy went off for a week's holiday - her hand and arm annoyingly still in it's plaster cast. Fortunately, that is now off and the fracture has healed, although she is finding the muscles are weak and there is a lot she cannot do. It was, she said, so nice to be able to at last take a shower without having to stick your arm outside the shower curtain.

The 20th of July found me on a UK train going to Liverpool to see the gathering of the Tall Ships for the 'England to the Netherlands Race'. Ever since 1965, when I fell in love with George Harrison of the Beatles, I have wanted to go to Liverpool. Isn't it strange how it doesn't occur to a twelve-year-old that a rock star is not going to meet you and fall in love? Even stranger when you get to 55 and remember thinking it.

I found Liverpool to be a lovely city. Everyone was friendly and helpful, the place was clean, and so easy to get around. There are few tall building to spoil the skyline, allowing landmarks to be clearly visible. Heading downhill towards the docks I just aimed for the famous Liver Building, while going back to my hotel I made my way towards what looked like London's Nelson's Column (I never did find out about that statue) or asked my way to Lime Street Station.

My hotel was not quite the standard I had anticipated. Being a single room I was put at the back of the hotel with no view except of a brick wall and the chambermaid did not bring me fresh towels or a clean cup on the Sunday morning. Perhaps I should have complained but I couldn't be bothered - well, I was too tired. I had walked for miles up and down the hill that Liverpool straddles and spent one-and-a-half days admiring, along with several thousand other people, more than 60 sailing vessels moored in various docks.

My favourite ship is the Christian Radich. For those who remember the old BBC TV drama the Onedin Line , she was the beautiful white-hulled vessel that was used in the series. I have posted a few pictures in the album. Nothing marvellous I'm afraid, I was using a new camera. Should be more familiar with how to use it by the time I get to the States.

The close of the month sees me in Devon - Barnstaple in fact - at the Torrington 1646 museum of the English Civil War with my good friend Jo Field to launch her novel, Rogues and Rebels. We had a good time dressing up as Cavalier women, chatting to a variety of people - and selling Jo's book. As a bonus I had a chance to meet up again with Devon-based historical artist Chris Collingwood, who provided the cover for the book, and is also involved with the poster design for 1066 the Movie.

Apart from "working" it was lovely to walk along the beach at Instow with Jo and her dogs. Missed my dog Rum though; he loves the sea and has just learnt how to play "fetch" with a ball. Being a few sandwichs short of a picnic, it has taken the poor boy all these years to work out: "If I fetch the ball and drop it, they throw it and I can chase after it and bring it back. It's a good game!" On the other hand, it could be that he's thinking, "For goodness sake I go chasing after it and generously bring it back and what do you do? Yes. Throw it away again."  As soon as I get back fom Devon I'll add a few more pictures to the album.

I have just looked at those travel times again. I return to Heathrow on the 2nd September at 06:30 in the morning. 6.30 a.m? I must be totally insane. Oh well, as the Quote of the Month says... but enjoying every minute.

The next newsletter will be a day or so late. As much as I am fond of you I will not be writing up my American adventures until jet-lag has been firmly chivvied away and I find the energy to wade through the hundreds of e-mails that will undoubtedly be waiting for me. So, see you all on the 3rd of September.

I wonder if anyone would notice if I changed the occupation in my passport from 'Author' to 'Demented Scribbler'? 

I don't suffer from insanity; I enjoy every minute of it.
I would like to think the muzzy head, inability to concentrate and the total bewilderment I am presently feeling is jet lag. Sadly however, I think the befuddlement is nothing more than my mid-fifties age!

Well. I did it. I had an awfully big adventure - still cannot quite get my head around just how large the United States of America is compared to little old England though. I started working out how many times the whole of the UK would fit in to the US and gave up. I also gave up working out what were cents, dimes, bits and nickels so paid my bills in dollar notes instead. Had a mild panic when I realised I had budgeted the cost of my stay in Colonial Williamsburg in UK pounds sterling not US dollars, but fortunately had enough traveller's cheques with me.

There were a couple of not-so-good moments - the four-hours-behind-schedule arrival of the Amtrak train from Salt Lake City to Chicago station for instance, which meant I had missed my connection to Washington, and consequently my overnight stay there. You'll be hearing from me Amtrak, as I have a wasted hotel bill to pay.

San Francisco is a wonderful city; the Golden Gate Bridge is truly awesome, and yes, I saw it on a rare evening when it was not shrouded by fog. Unlike the rest of California, San Francisco Bay was not discovered by the Spanish until around the mid-eighteenth century because of the fog that hides the Bay like a magic curtain. It was indeed a moment of magic when my hostess Connie and I stood on the Headland in a thick white fog, peering down to where we thought the Bridge would be. Nothing. Then Connie saw the twinkle of headlights moving through the whiteness and suddenly, as if Samantha from "Bewitched" had wiggled her nose, there it was, in all its glory - the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is painted orange by the way, but I suppose Orange Gate Bridge doesn't sound so evocative does it?  Just as suddenly, poof, it was gone again - but what a fantastic sight! I also saw the "ticky tacky" houses. Those of you my age might remember the song that goes something like; "There were red ones, and blue ones, and green ones and yellow ones, and they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same". I had no idea that song was written about real houses in San Francisco.

Salt Lake City was my next stop, and how marvellous to at last meet my merry group of Internet Message Board friends: Jansy, Fiona, Susan, Danny, Krista et al (Joyce, stop clicking that camera shutter for a moment.) A special thank you to the Wonder Whiz Danny for fixing my crashed laptop computer. Diamond Danny! I also met actors Marty Klebba and Lee Arenburg, two of the pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Marty is signed up for our 1066 movie and Lee is in discussion with the producer about a suitable role. I had a very pleasant hour and a half conversation about the movie and English history in general with them both on the Friday afternoon. Marty and Lee knew Jansy from a few years ago and were delighted to meet her again. The enormous hug and kiss that Lee gave me when we met again on the Saturday at a fund raising event for Marty's charity was most flattering. Two very nice, genuine guys. I feel honoured to have met them and look forward to working with them on set.

So, despite Jansy's horror tales of murderous cab drivers, suicidal women and hotel balconies, plane crashes and whatnot, I found myself on the California Zephyr train chugging across Utah, winding along beside the Colorado River and up through the Rocky Mountains - heading for Chicago. Despite being late the journey was exhilarating and the scenery breathtaking. I met some nice people, especially Joan who rescued me in Chicago and helped sort out an alternative train to Washington. She appeared again as if from nowhere at Washington Station, at the very moment when I was beginning to panic about not knowing where to catch the connection to Williamsburg. Fairy Godmothers do exist!

Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia is a must place to go if you are interested in history. I stayed in Newport House with hosts John, Cathy and Ian Miller. John is a man of many talents, an ace story-teller and imparter of historical facts, and the man who built the vessels "Rose" (aka Surprise from the movie Master & Commander) and the "Lady Washington" - known to all Pirate fans as the Interceptor. Highlight of my stay was my last night. Newport House boasts a ballroom where on Tuesday evenings folk gather to enjoy traditional English Country Dancing. My aching hip prevented me from dancing, but I was scribbling notes, imagining the rustle and sway of eighteenth century ladies' dresses and the elegance of the men. For my especial benefit the group performed a Tudor dance dating from 1520. Special because it was called Epping Forest. I had no idea that the forest here in the UK where I walk the dog every day and where Kathy rides, had a dance named after it. How ironic to discover it several thousand miles away in Virginia?

Thank you to everyone who made me so welcome and who looked after me. I enjoyed my adventure immensely but have to admit it is good to be home. As soon as I can I will upload a selection of photos onto the album.

My one amusement; many Americans have a limited knowledge of the UK. In answer to the lady from New York who asked, while on the train to Philadelphia, whether I stayed on the train all the way home to the UK? No. Even America has not yet managed to build a railway track all the way across or under the Atlantic. Remember: no matter where you go, there you are.
I seem to have mislaid last month.

Where September went I have no idea, but here I am tapping away at my keyboard because I have suddenly realised tomorrow is the first day of October. I have little to show for September since I have been running around like the proverbial fly with a blue bottom, getting nowhere fast and achieving less than nothing.

Since returning from my lovely USA holiday, Life has decided to play a wicked trick and descend on me with all of it's annoying interruptions. Primarily regarding my 90-year-old Mum and her broken wrist. Sorting out getting her rehabilitated into her own flat after being in a care home for six weeks is no mean feat, and believe me my aching feet can vouch for that! She has needed extra lighting, safer domestic appliances, a walking frame and various disability aids to be purchased and then fixed up. Phew. My husband and I managed it, but I have not had the energy to write more than a paragraph of Bring It Close. Which is frustrating to say the least.

Matters were not helped by the hospital Mum attended having no recollection of her being there, despite her staying in a ward for three days. No notes, no files. When we eventually managed to persuade the medical powers-that-be it was time to remove the cast from her arm, I was told how remiss it was of me not to have brought her in for a check-up half-way through the healing process. My answer was along the lines of commenting that the hospital couldn't organise a drinks party in a brewery. Still, Mum is now home - and as difficult to be patient with as most ninety-year-olds are.

Thank goodness for her professional carers who come in every day to help her out. What wonderful people you are Jan, Yvonne and Susan! Maybe, if Life will now go visit someone else for a few months, I can get back to writing (my apologies if I have sent it winging to you). I have a nasty feeling this is where I add the phrase "but don't hold your breath".

I have, however, had two fantastic weekends where I managed to escape the trundle of everyday responsibilities. The first was a delightfully long weekend in Aylesbury with very good friends. Ron was helping sort out and repaint their upstairs window frames and I walked dogs, drank wine and talked. Lovely. So a pat and a cuddle for Teazle, Chachi, and my Rum of course, for the two afternoons spent ambling in the sunny Chiltern countryside and nattering to Towse, Graham and Broni.

The second weekend found me at the New Writers UK book festival in Nottingham. The group was started four years ago by a few Nottinghamshire writers who were frustrated at not being able to get their completed novels into print. Their first Festival, in a small village hall, had about three people attend. Last weekend we were in the Council Chamber Assembly Rooms - very grand, and very successful. The Festival is open to any writers interested in producing a novel or readers looking for a good read, while the group offers support and advice to writers who are getting nowhere with finding a publisher.

Prime guest speaker was Historical Fiction author and cherished friend  Elizabeth Chadwick , who kindly stayed with us for the whole day and came along to the wind-down meal afterwards. Her next novel A Time For Singing is published on the 2nd of October 2008. Best wishes for it's success Elizabeth. Although I am now in the dilemma of reading it, knowing I am in for a huge treat, or getting on with my own work.

Two topics both Elizabeth and I were talking to budding authors about are the importance of ensuring your novel is well edited, and offering various ideas for innovative marketing.

It is all very well having a website, but if no one knows it is there, who then is going to visit it? My own slots as guest speaker centred around the article "Discovering the Diamond", written by myself and my editor Jo Field, and a general talk entitled "The Ups and Downs of Being a Writer". There are three things a writer needs to cultivate: determination, imagination and confidence.

Determination to start writing and keep writing, from "Once upon a time" to "The End". Determination to keep at it and find an agent or publisher, or to decide to go self-publish and put energy and effort into getting the book sold. Imagination, not only for inventing the plot and characters, but for thinking up ideas for marketing and finding selling points, required whether the book is self-published or with a mainstream publishing house. And confidence. Writing is a solitary occupation; I often think I must be mad to do this darn silly job. Sometimes my confidence hits a low ebb. Why am I bothering? Who is going to read the stories that I write? Then I receive an e-mail from a new fan saying 'thank you for writing' whichever of my novels they have just read, and I find the confidence to boot up the computer and get that next chapter written.

Writing is not the easy time some people seem to think it is. It's hard slog. But when that first proof copy drops through the letter box and you see your book as a real book, the feeling is fantastic. Mind you, that's when even more hard work starts. You now have to go out and sell the thing. Which can be most enjoyable.

s long as Life keeps its distance and permits me to do the things I want to do, not the things I have to do. Sigh. You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.
It snowed in London on the 29th October this year. Apparently the last time we had snow in October was in 1934, but I'll have to trust the media for that piece of information, as, not being old enough, I cannot personally verify the fact.

October has been another busy month. The weekend of 11th-12th I was down in East Sussex for the annual Battle of Hastings re-enactment at Battle Abbey. English Heritage had kindly invited me to do a couple of hours of book signings for Harold the King on both those days. A couple of hours? I was so busy, I was on my feet for nearly the entire day!

But what great people I met - fans who are already familiar with my books, people interested in history in general and 1066 in particular, re-enactors and those who wanted to know more about 1066 the Movie. Producer Robin Jacob and Assistant Producer Lance Prebble were there as well. What a pair - if that is the tone that will be on set during filming, I can see we will never stop laughing! I was particularly flattered by those who came up to say they had purchased a copy of Harold the King at the event last year and how very much they had enjoyed it. It was also nice to find that we almost sold out of books on the day.

My thanks to all the lovely people I spoke to, and to the staff of English Heritage who made me so welcome. I look forward to doing the whole thing over again next year.

Congratulations to my good friends Kim and Terry Lord who took the plunge and opened their own guest house in Lincolnshire a few years ago. They were recently awarded Bronze, meaning third, in the Regional Finals for the Best Guest House and have now won the local area final. I am so pleased for these two special, hard-working people. If you are looking for a super English holiday - visit The Ramblers!

I have been having a problem with pumpkins. I grow a few pumpkins every year, harvest them for Halloween, make soup from the flesh and use the pumpkin itself for a Jack o'Lantern. Throughout October I have spent quite a bit of time in the garden giving the two pumpkins that have made it to a reasonable pumpkin size a severe talking-to. The little one sat there and smirked, the big one just sulked. The reason for my nagging? I was under the impression that pumpkins are supposed to be orange. My two are only half orange. The other two halves were steadfastly determined to remain green. A rather attractive yellow speckledly green I admit, but all the same, green.

At the beginning of October I was at my step-grand-daughter's wedding. Nicola did look lovely and Tony was most handsome. I wish them both well. To balance that, at the end of the month I enjoyed dinner with my webmaster. I value his input when I need to discuss future writing projects. He is not a writer but an avid reader and often has good ideas which "feel" right. Well some are bad ones, but I reject those!

Halloween is also the anniversary of two traumatic events which have changed my life. Two years ago, in 2006, we had our fire at my old home, and a few years before that, my best friend Hazel died. She did not wake up one morning. She was always laughing and always so supportive, always there to share the good times and the bad. Even after all these years I still miss her dreadfully.

The 31st October, I admit, is not my favourite date. Sourcebooks, in the USA, have kept me busy getting the first book of the trilogy, The Kingmaking (link currently goes to the UK edition), ready for publication. The new cover looks fantastic, and I have a wonderful quote from author Bernard Cornwell to put on the front. Publication is set for March 2009, and I hope to put the USA cover on the website for you to see very soon. I met Bernard several years ago now, at an English Heritage re-enactment event. A really nice man, and genuinely encouraging for the new writer that I then was. I have found so many established writers to be interested and enthusiastic, and only too happy to help with advice or general support. Everyone was a "wanna-be" once, I suppose.

In conversation with my author manager at Discovered Authors recently; I do not expect her to automatically accept my next novel for publication, or the one after that. It has to be good enough. Neither of us want mediocre work in print. I am not talking about the occasional typo that has slipped through the net or a wrongly printed page - that happens in any publishing process - I am referring to the quality of the writing. I owe it to my readers, and to myself, my editor and my publisher, to ensure that I submit work that is the best I can produce. If I cannot do that, I will give up writing and grow green pumpkins instead.

In the meantime, while I am reading the proof copies of the USA editions of the Kingmaking and Pendragon's Banner, and rescuing Jesamiah from gaol in Williamsburg - a scene in Bring It Close - I can't guarantee that there will be no whacking of the computer. Particularly, my thumps are aimed at the slowness of my wretched broadband Internet connection.

It doesn't make it go any faster but it makes me feel better. The advantage of a computer is that there's no law against whacking it when it annoys you.
We think there is a ghost in our house. The kitchen tap decides to flow with water in the early hours of the morning, and I seem to be the only one who hears it running. Guess who has to get up and turn it off?

My daughter's TV has started turning itself on at odd times and this afternoon her amusing battery-operated kissing penguins (don't ask!) suddenly burst into life.

I am also certain there is a ghost cat, because I've seen a ginger-and-white one out of the corner of my eye several times. We have a ginger cat, and a calico cat, but no ginger-and-white. Both felines are rather old and spend all day asleep, usually in awkward places. How do cats manage to curl up on the chair you vacated only moments before and manage to look like they have been there all day? And why do they insist on walking all over my keyboard and then step on the receiver button on the telephone in the middle of an important conversation?

I do not object to a ghost in the house, but I would appreciate suggestions as to how we can persuade him/her/it to do useful things. The dusting for instance.

In addition to the ghost/s there is a friendly robin in the garden. He was hopping about helping me move the buddleia and a sapling tree last week. Both of these had been planted rather hastily when we knew we were going to be living here permanently, and we now realise they were dumped in the wrong place. I moved them to a more suitable position last Saturday before the winter frosts set in. Robins are so friendly even if they are, to be accurate, more interested in the grubs in the ground rather than the person on the other end of the spade. We also have a grey squirrel in the garden, and the wren has been twittering outside my bedroom window every morning until recently. I'm looking forward to next spring when the songbirds tune up again. That heron can stay away from the fish in my pond though!

Bring It Close is coming along well; I am so pleased that I waited to write the scenes set in Williamsburg until after my visit there, as I have an entirely different perspective of the place. The only annoyance is that there were a few things I did not see and of course I am now finding they would have been useful. Oh well, thank goodness for Google, my imagination and John in Virginia who is so helpful. I did e-mail the official Colonial Williamsburg website for information, but no-one has got back to me yet...

Now for a bit of boasting. A while ago I encouraged a prospective author, Paul Waters, to stick at trying to find a publisher for his novel Of Merchants and Heroes. It is set in the early Roman period, but the opening chapter involved pirates so naturally I was hooked. Added to that it is superbly written. I am so pleased that he found a publisher and his novel is doing well. I'm delighted that I could spot a darn good read, and, fortunately, so could Macmillan Publishing.

Recently, I had an interesting review about Pirate Code . At first glance I was slightly miffed as it didn't seem a very good one for the reviewer did not enjoy the story as much as he did Sea Witch, but on a second reading, I realised it was actually very fair. I'll not go into detail here but direct you to Bilgemunky.com . You will need to scroll down the page to reach the Pirate Code review. It has sparked quite a lively debate, so if you've read Pirate Code , or you are interested in pirates in general and would like to put your two-pennyworth down please add a comment. All criticism is welcome, positive or negative, as long as it's constructive.

{Sound effect: Fanfare and drum roll} I have two announcements to make:

The first is that we have a new "baby" in the family. Her name, officially, is Shinglehall Casino but we call her Lexie - and yes she has four legs, a mane and a tail and neighs. I say we, but she is Kathy's horse - nothing to do with me. I just pat her and feed her apples. Rosie's foal, little Midsummer Acorn, would have been rising three had he lived beyond his six short days. Both Kathy and I decided we did not want to breed Rosie again for she is getting old now, and, to be totally honest, neither of us wanted the worry of a new-born foal again. When Kathy was offered Lexie she jumped at the chance. She is superb, an absolute darling - already 14.2 hands and growing by the minute. Goodness knows how big she will be at maturity, 17 hands at least I reckon. Thank you to Karen at Shingle Hall Stud for sending such a lovely new member into our family.

Secondly, the official 1066 The Film PLC site is up and running. The company has been established to raise funds towards production costs and the new website gives an in-depth overview of the project, including links to the cast and crew already attached, the proposed merchandising, and much more.

I have also been asked by the Producer to pass on this message: "The '1066' production team would like to thank you for your continued support and wish you all the best for the coming festive season."

I echo those thoughts, and sincerely wish you a relaxing and peaceful Christmas. See you in the New Year. Love is what's in the room at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.