Previous editions of the Journal pages

Christmas was good.

We had dear friends staying with us over the entire festive season and we had a lovely time, though our dog Rum wasn't too sure about one of their dogs, who might be small (she is a poodle) but most definitely rules the kennel. Rum was quite adamant, he was not going near that little black woolly thing with the sharp teeth!

My public thanks to my daughter Kathy who cooked us a superb Christmas feast, and to her boyfriend who aided her culinary skills and made a fine waiter. We had goose and duck, roasted via TV chef Jamie Oliver's suggested method - superb. The house looked lovely with all the decorations, and the tree did not drop its needles all over the place.

This was our third Christmas in the new house. Last year's event was somewhat fraught because of difficult family circumstances, but we certainly made up for it this year. I found it a bit hard juggling the festivities with caring for my 90-year-old Mum, but managed it somehow.

At one point I felt like those entertainers who used to spin plates - you know, set a plate spinning on top of a tall stick, and another and another until there are lots of plates spinning. The entertainer then has to keep them all going by running from plate to plate, giving each one a hefty shove before it stops, falls off and breaks.

I admit to getting a tad exasperated by the early afternoon of Christmas Eve after answering the sixth telephone call from Mum. She cannot seem to understand that it is sometimes impossible to do things over the telephone - like read a label on a box of tablets or find a mislaid key.

I also had a few ups and downs to finish the old year on. Suffice to say never discuss politics or religion with people you want to stay friends with, especially when there is a difference of opinion. Faith is personal, belief within Faith even more so. My fault, I should have kept my belief private and not presumed to share or discuss it with someone I thought was like-minded. Lesson learnt, methinks.

There was also some sad news within the family, and my husband Ron temporarily lost his hearing when he had an ear infection. Until I hit on the idea of plugging headphones into the TV, home life became very noisy for while. My headache has now gone, and I have stopped shouting.

My daughter's divorce is going through the official Court process so our family can at last look forward to shutting the door on that particular episode of emotional turmoil. Her marriage irretrievably broke down in early January 2008 and she put in for a divorce as soon as UK law permitted, which was August 2008. I have no idea why but it took a while for various papers to be signed. Still, an end is now in sight.

I am attempting to write like mad to get Bring It Close finished. I sent a draft in hard copy to my editor just before Christmas, so I am now awaiting her opinion with apprehension. If she doesn't like it, I will have to go back to the drawing board. I'm aware there are a few passages that need to be worked on, but I never mention these to her as I do not want to influence opinion.

I have a very good author friend who calls my Jesamiah 'Captain Keggers'. The two of them had a long 'make-believe' discussion a few months ago about the merits of playing cricket on board a ship at sea. After the umpteenth ball was batted into the sea and the other side scored several thousand runs, Jesamiah decided to take up Monopoly instead, since billiards and tennis were also non-starters.

Part of Bring It Close involves the notorious pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. I watched a television documentary about him yesterday and was disappointed as it was somewhat biased in his favour. No mention that he probably had syphilis, that he murdered people by several very brutal methods, or that Mary Ormond, the sixteen-year-old he took as a wife after he had supposedly settled to a life of respectability in North Carolina was the fourteenth Mrs Teach.

Nor that on his wedding night he forced her into prostitution with his crew. The documentary made him out to be a hero who only wanted to be remembered for revenging the wrongs committed to ex-privateers who had been abandoned by the British Government when the wars between England and Spain ceased. In fact, Blackbeard was a vile, ruthless and sadistic madman. And my Jesamiah gets entangled with him. Poor lad!

I am beginning to wonder if I am ruthless for setting so many nasty situations for Captain Jesamiah Acorne to deal with. My revenge for the fact that he has swanned off somewhere, no doubt with a large keg of rum, and abandoned me to get this novel finished all on me oncey. Me, mad? No I'm just a demented writer. All writers believe their characters are real. What? You mean they aren't?

My very best wishes to all my friends and readers for 2009. Merry Meet, Merry Part and Merry Meet Again.
A new edition of The Kingmaking is to be published in the USA and Canada in early March by Sourcebooks Inc. I am so excited and so proud that after almost sixteen years my first novel is to have a new lease of life breathed into it. I have a wonderful and most generous quote from author Bernard Cornwell, and there is a new eye-catching cover.

The book has had a total re-edit (bet there is still at least one typo that everyone has missed) and well - it looks fabulous. Details of the book are on the home page and here. Order it now from your local store or from Amazon. Pendragon's Banner and Shadow of the King will be published soon. I would like to thank my author manager at Sourcebooks and Sara and Paul in marketing. Lovely people.

The last couple of days have been spent answering questions for a Blog Book Tour. Basically, many of the Internet Blogs that are concerned with books have invited me to their sites. The Kingmaking will be reviewed and my answers to sent questions posted up. I have lost count of how many questions I've done - all of them exciting and interesting. I will post a composite of them on my Articles pages in April, but not before then as the Bloggers must have first view.

{Note : Articles Section was migrated to Helen's various blog sites in March 2012 - use the Blog link in Main Menu above.}

For my UK fans we are also re-vamping the British editions. The dark covers were only meant as a temporary affair - but you know how temporary things tend to hang around much longer than they were supposed to.  Anyway, as I write this, I am in cahoots with Discovered Authors' art designer Jag. He has come up with some superb ideas, so, fingers crossed, come the next newsletter you will all be able to see them.

I have not really had a very good time with book covers. The original cover for the first edition of The Kingmaking published by William Heinemann was wonderful. Painted by UK historical artist Chris Collingwood, it had detail that was breathtaking. Sadly, the publishers decided it was not suitable for the smaller paperback edition or for the Book Clubs. A very short-sighted and utterly ridiculous decision in my opinion, since Chris is the best historical artist in the UK! He also designed our 1066 poster for the movie, and the cover for my friend Jo Field's English Civil War novel, Rogues & Rebels. Now, tell me they are not superb?

I was told that the Book Clubs preferred a woman on the cover -what nonsense - so they commissioned a different artist. This new design was dreadful. It had a purplish-blue background and everything that could be historically inaccurate was there. The woman, Gwenhwyfar, looked as if her leg was deformed and she was holding a bunch of flowers! Flowers? Now my Gwenhwyfar is a feisty lass, the sort of girl who owns a sword - and knows how to use it. I dubbed that cover "the purple puke".

The mock-up cover for the second in the series, Pendragon's Banner was just as awful. It was supposed to be a view of Somerset, and the last time I went to Somerset I found it to be distinctly flat. The word literally means "Summer Land". In the Dark Ages in winter the entire area was flooded, the only high ground being the famous Glastonbury Tor. I returned the idea for that cover to the publishers with a note to the effect of: "A very nice picture but I was unaware they had mountains in Somerset. This cover would be ideal for a book about Scotland, but not one supposedly depicting the Somerset flood-plain."

By the time hardback version of Shadow of the King appeared, we had improved somewhat. A nice picture, but again the powers-that-be decided it was not suitable for the paperback edition, so the covers were changed once more. Nice scenes this time, but they did not mean anything.

Harold the King was as bad. Harold was Earl of Essex. I live on the borders of Essex and sincerely do not recall any soaring mountains in the county, but there they were, beneath the King's crown. Very Welsh mountains. The small paperback was better, but I had given up by this time. I did not bother pointing out that there were no stone castles in England prior to 1066.

So we reach my present covers. The current Harold the King is stunning and I like the concept of my Sea Witch series. I hope you have all spotted the hidden skull-and-crossed-bones on the covers? I would have liked professionally painted pictures of tall ships, as in Patrick O'Brian's books, but my publisher is only a small independent company and we couldn't afford that sort of cost. If there are any artists out there who can paint ships do get in touch!

Oh, and I so want a portrait of my Jesamiah. A drawing will do. Perhaps I ought to hold a competition or something? As long as it isn't purple and he's not holding a bunch of flowers.

The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet.
We have had snow here in the UK - then a thunderstorm and pouring rain.

The frost has killed all my geraniums, despite the fact that they were supposedly snug and safe under cover, and the garden is looking a bit drab and dejected. Still, I will have a wonderful array of weeds outside my office window come the summer for all the sorts of things that grow from bird seed will be abundant. I accidentally tipped the bird table over and the lot went everywhere. Does anyone know what seeds are in commercial wild bird seed?

I have a robin building a nest in the box above my office window and it has been quite entertaining watching the fat wood-pigeons trying to work out how to squeeze onto the small table. Mind you I wish they wouldn't all leave their calling cards along my fence. The sparrows are like little hooligans wearing their hoodies and breaking their police ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) restrictions - they flock in, have a ding-dong squabble then swarm off to the next garden to disturb the peace there. Whoever thought of naming Johnny Depp's character Jack Sparrow knew their stuff. All these little varmints need is an eye-patch and a cutlass!

Talking of pirates, yes, Bring It Close is very nearly finished. I wasn't happy with how some of the storyline was working out but I suddenly realised where I was going wrong and everything has dropped into place. Watch this space for news of publication. I'll give two things away. Jesamiah has to do battle with Edward Teach - also known as Blackbeard - and he meets a ghost. Blackbeard was a truly nasty piece of work, the atrocities he committed were awful; he used to shoot or hang one of his crew at random once a week, kept the crew drunk so they would not rebel against him and murdered and maimed people for the fun of it. He also prostituted his new wife with some of the crew on their wedding night. She was just 16. No wonder I am having trouble writing some of the scenes in this novel.

Following on from last month's Journal, the new covers for the UK edition of the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy are completed. If you want to order the new edition(s) please do so direct from Discovered Authors, my publisher, as the old version will still be in circulation for a while. The Discovered Authors website is being updated, so, for the moment, use email address xxx@helenhollick.net to place an order.

We have completely reset the text and corrected the odd couple of typos that were still there - and to our horror we found that an entire page had been printed incorrectly! So, if any of you have the grey/black cover version of Pendragon's Banner showing the man sitting on a horse, and the chapter for September 465 reads all wrong, once again contact Michaela using the email address shown above and Discovered Authors will replace the book with the new version. You will probably have to return the old one - or at least the wrongly printed page as proof of purchase.

I also have a Myspace site dedicated to Arthur Pendragon and the Trilogy. You are welcome to visit. If you also have a Myspace account, please send a 'friend' request.

My Book Blog Tour of the USA for the American edition of The Kingmaking has now been completed. What fun that was! Thank you to everyone who invited me aboard their blogs, and a double thank you for all the wonderful reviews and comments that are pouring in. I am quite overwhelmed. Use the Main Menu Blog item above to visit Helen's Blogs. If you are a writer, or just love books, you may be interested in these links anyway.

I have met with a new fan who has rapidly become a friend - James in New York. He mailed me to say he'd had a copy of Harold the King for ages, but as a devoted "Godwinite" had not read the book for fear of being disappointed. Finally plucking up courage he started reading, and could not put it down. {Quiet smirk from me.} Suffice to say we have struck up a friendship, revelling in discussing and debating various aspects of the Battle of Hastings.

I once had a chat about my theory of those battle tactics over lunch with a previous UK Government Minister. I was explaining that Harold must have beaten William at sea during the summer, for the English did have a fleet - a very competent one - and William's fleet was mysteriously destroyed.  His spin-doctors put his enormous losses down to "a storm." Hah! A defeat mid-Channel would also explain why Harold stood the Fyrd - the fighting men - down. It was only on my way home that I realised I had been lecturing a man who had once been the Minister of Defence. How I laughed.

Yep. The secret of success is sincerity.

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made.
I have a couple of things to follow on from last month's Journal. The robins have laid their eggs, hatched them, and the babies are fledged. All except one, which was snatched by a cat. I don't think it was very strong though, because the parent birds were trying to encourage it to get off the floor and flutter up into the bushes. They are pretty little things, the babies, all speckledy on their breasts. Better for camouflage I suppose.

I also happened to catch a BBC Radio 4 programme about the London House Sparrow. Apparently they are severely in decline - to the point of almost being endangered. The programme was discussing why they may be dying out and the setting up of various projects in London to monitor the rare flocks of these cheeky little birds. I have naturally e-mailed the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) to say that the reason there are not many Sparrows in London is because they are all in my garden.

I counted 30 the other day! I can only conclude that as we have a lot of shrubs and bushes there is plenty of natural shelter and food - insects and seeds, and my constant supply of bird-feeder fat balls. I've offered to monitor our Colony - if someone will tell me what I have to do that is.

I often listen to Radio 4 - I admit to being a huge Archers fan. For those who are not familiar with this radio soap - it is a long running daily episode about "every day country folk". Well it was when it first started at the tail end of World War II. Set in the fictional County of Borsetshire in the village of Ambridge, the original idea was to provide dramatic entertainment combined with advice to farmers. Over my years of listening (no, not since the very start - I first tuned in about 8 years ago) I have learnt a lot about milk yields, crop rotation, rearing pigs and shearing sheep. It is not all farming though - the village characters are a lively lot with all sorts of ongoing dramas happening. Big Wig Matt Crawford, for instance, is about to go to prison for fraud  Usha, the Vicar's wife, has just been mugged while out training for the UK London Marathon and Mike is finding it hard to adjust to living at Willow Cottage by himself now that the family has moved out. The stories are about real people and real events, and they are only 15 minutes each day. Be warned though, it is easy to get hooked!

As if I am not busy enough, I have become a co-organiser of a local Readers and Writers Group. We had a preliminary meeting a couple of weeks ago and loads of wonderful people turned up, so many in fact, that we decided to split the group into two. Once a fortnight the Readers Group - discussing books, sharing a good read etc, and once a fortnight the Writers Group - hints and tips on writing, prose or poetry, scripts, anything - sharing our work and helping each other. I'm going to do the Writers Group; Gillian, the Readers. I'll let you know how we get on.

I am off to what I hope will be sunny Aylesbury for a few days at Easter - a chance for a natter with my good friends. I expect I shall be immersed in the final read-through of Bring It Close though. Yes! It is finished! Well, it is written and the editing is being done as you read this.

Editing is perhaps harder to do than the actual writing. So many writers get in touch with me asking if I will look over a few chapters: yes I will - I don't charge but I do expect you to buy at least one of my books. Usually the reason why they are being turned down again and again is because they have not taken the trouble to get an outsider to edit their work. No author can edit their own writing. Our eyes are used to the errors; we know the story so we cannot see that we have left an essential chunk of the plot out, or have the running order all wrong.

I would never dream of sending my work to my publisher without first doing my own edit - looking for inconsistencies and repeated words. "She said wistfully" is fine once or twice but after the twentieth "wistful" it starts to get a tad boring. Then off to my editor for a Full Edit. This is a line-by-line edit, marking up every inconsistency and checking with me. At this stage chapters with too much information will be cut, or my editor will suggest adding more if there is not enough detail. Errors in the continuity are noted, as are paragraphs that do not make sense. For example, the Editor may ask "Why is the character going in here? You have said nothing about a tavern." Or, "But he was upstairs in the previous scene - when did he go downstairs?".

The manuscript comes back to me, I will make all the alterations, then it goes off again for a Copy Edit - this is the stage where punctuation, grammar, spelling etc is corrected. Then, and only then, does it go to the publisher. The text will be checked again once it is set, this Final Edit being a proof read.  Incidentally, even this Journal page is edited by my webmaster.

It is no good cutting corners and think a book will not need this scrutiny of editing. Believe me, the difference between a good book and a brilliant one is in the amount of hard work put into this stage!

Someone once said to me it didn't matter about the minor inconsistencies, "No one will notice."  Oh believe me, they will!  And frankly, if an author cannot be bothered to check, check and double-check that his or her work is the best quality they can offer, then why should a reader bother to read it?  I am not talking about typing errors - sadly they pop up all over the place, no matter how many times the text is read, I am talking about the errors of continuity, of place, action and character - errors in the writing. It is especially hard to ensure that characters stay in character when producing a series of books; by all means develop the characters and let the reader enjoying growing alongside them, discovering more intricate and personal detail with each successive tale. but if that character is, say, frightened of the dark in Book One, for goodness sake either make sure the reader knows he has had extensive therapy or keep him afraid of the dark by Book Ten!

For once I am going to add to my amusing headline quote:  Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance? Why take a chance to scupper what could be a fantastic novel because you can't be bothered to do the hard work?" she said, as she goes in search of her red pen and reading glasses.

Enjoy The Coming of Spring!

Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?
Sudden panic - I didn't realise it was the end of the month. Where did April go?

Before I begin I want to say a public thank you to my editor, Jo. She has done a fantastic job with helping to pull Bring It Close into shape. She did admit that it was nice to have a good book to read and get paid for reading it though! We are due to officially publish on June 2nd, so watch this space next month for further news.

As a special treat a second excerpt has been added. Click on the cover on the homepage then follow the links at the base of the page.

Bring It Close was harder to write than I thought it would be, mainly because one of the leading characters is Edward Teach - yes, Blackbeard himself. What an awful man he was. Some of the things he did were horrendous, and I found writing these scenes somewhat traumatic. By the time I got to the last few chapters and his demise I did not feel one jot sorry for how he ended his life. Ah ha, you don't catch me out like that - I am not divulging anything, you will have to read the book to find out how I interpret the historical facts. All I will say is that you will not find Jesamiah's name in any historical record because he specifically asked to be left out of the official reports!

Hopefully that has got you intrigued enough to pre-order it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. It should be listed there by the middle of May. I would be grateful if you could use the button at the bottom of the page to link to Amazon.co.uk as I get a small commission for any books ordered via my website. (Might I ask if you could remember to use this link whenever you are ordering books? Thank you!)

The Kingmaking is doing well in the USA, and thank you so much to all the new lovely people who have emailed me to say how much they have enjoyed the read. It is so nice to hear you appreciate my books, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Incidentally, talking of emails, anyone is more than welcome to email me - you will find a link at the bottom of the homepage. I always reply, usually within a day or two. So if you do not receive an answer, please try again as my reply would have been lost in cyber-space.

I had an interesting mail from a lady a while ago saying she found it irritating that many UK writers of historical novels incorrectly use the word "corn" when talking about feeding horses. Corn, as she rightly pointed out, was a crop grown in the New World, so could not have been used in England prior to Colonisation. Except, there is a difference between the UK and USA usage of a word. In the USA "corn" refers to corn-on-the-cob or maize; in the UK the term indicates any cereal feed, for example oats or barley. A "corn fed" horse is one that is well fed, probably belonging to a nobleman or knight, as opposed to a horse fed on grass and hay. I understand the term "cowboy" is also different. In the UK a "cowboy" builder is one not to be trusted - whereas in the US the term means exactly the opposite. {laugh} You say tomato: I say tomato.

Anyone interested in historical matters nautical may enjoy the lecture my good friend Jim Nelson gave recently at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago, on the subject of George Washington's Secret Navy which incidentally is also the title of his latest non-fiction book. Do read it, it's good. In Jim's email telling me about the link he said; "If you want to watch it (it's an excellent sleep aid!) you can view it here."

Jim has been kind enough to edit all my sailing detail in Bring It Close - and I am pleased to say that he too enjoyed the read. {Note to Webmaster: Yes, there is plenty of action in it.}   Please don't tell Jim that I find most of my sailing inspiration from reading his books. It is not plagiarism, just research. After all, how many times can a captain bellow "Clew up there!" or "Hoist the main brace" or "Where's the rum gone?"

Jim recommended a superb sailing book called Seamanship In The Age Of Sail by John Harland. It has everything an author of sea-faring books needs. I was delighted at his suggestion for it was one of those rare "Wow" coincidences. Only a few days before I had found that very book in a charity/thrift shop.

I paid �4 for it, and I have to say the investment was worth every penny!

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
I had to laugh when going through the final read-through edit of Bring It Close. Despite all my lecturing on the importance of editing, I found two enormous continuity errors that had been missed.  I am not offering prizes to anyone who finds any further errors.

So, Bring It Close is ready to set sail. Take a look at the new Discovered Authors website. If there is not a ship sailing across the top, bookmark it and come back in a day or two. I cannot believe that the next novel to be written, Ripples in the Sand, will be my tenth - it only seems a short while ago that the very first one was published. I was accepted by William Heinemann sixteen years ago. Gosh!

For those of you waiting for another serious historical fiction novel, your patience is soon to be rewarded. My intention is to write the fourth book in the Sea Witch series, then to return to Saxon England and do a follow-up to Harold the King. I cannot say that I am ecstatic at having to write about Duke William again, but rebels like Hereward (the Wake) gave him a hard time, so maybe there will be enjoyable moments. And he did have a grizzly end. Part of my reason for this decision is that there may well be a sequel to 1066 The Movie. At the moment it bears the basic title of 1087 - the year William died.  {Did you hear me cheer?} So, as I have another script to co-write, might as well do the book at the same time, eh?

I've had some ups and downs these past few months. What is the saying "As one door closes another opens"? Well, a couple of doors have been shut by a couple of people; one I am sad about because it is a great shame, the other, well, I'm not too bothered really. A difference of opinion sometimes has to stay different because there is no point in going over the same futile argument. The doors that have opened may prove dead ends or turn out to be very exciting. I'll let you know.

A visiting MySpace friend came over from Canada and we spent a delightful day in London together. We did something I have never done before - took a Thames river cruiser from Westminster to the Tower of London. It was a fantastic trip, there is so much to see - the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, St Paul's Cathedral, the Globe Theatre - all of it visible from the Thames. This week, friends came for the day - lunch and laughter; I spent a pleasant few hours with the DA publishing team and Midsummer will see me staying with my treasured friends (human and canine) and getting up before dawn to walk a maze. I'm told it is an enthralling experience. It's the 'before dawn' bit I'm not so sure about.

On another evening I had a lovely meal with my webmaster - good food, good wine, good company. We discussed my future books, their plots and ideas and this website. One thing we realised, the "opt in" or "opt out" for the mailing list I had intended to compile has not been functioning. I plan to send a quarterly newsletter to supplement this journal page, but do not wish to intrude. (OK. Blatant marketing; a girl has to earn a living and pay her webmaster, you know!) Could I ask you to click here and opt "in" to the list? I hope to have the first "Hello from Helen" ready for mid-June.

One or two people have expressed mild disapproval that I am occasionally blunt about what I write here on these journal pages. But this is my journal about my life and I made the decision from the start to always be honest - none of it is made up. My criteria is; 'Were I to be writing my autobiography, would the subject go in?' I suppose I rather look upon this journal as the rough draft of said autobiography. I even have a title - Avoiding Ditches. I need a little more material, though, to make an interesting read. And I am not rich or famous. yet.

My garden is growing wonderfully. I have started picking the first lettuces, although I do not know what to do with all the parsley that is sprouting up. The roses smell gorgeous and the honeysuckle is starting to cover the eyesore that is an old fence. What's more, we have had a few beautiful sunny days here in England so I have actually sat out on my swing chair and enjoyed the view.  I suppose I had better not admit, here, that I tend to toss the slugs over into next door's garden had I? I miss our pet ducks, but a pretty garden and foraging quacks do not go together.

If you would like a copy of Bring It Close it is on Amazon now, or place an order at your local bookstore. I thought this month's quote was rather appropriate for my Jesamiah. I saved it especially to mark the publication month of his next exciting voyage. Thank you Mr Webmaster for sending it to me, and may the third in the Sea Witch series sail well and prosper.

Here's to my pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne; the voice of the sea speaks to his soul, I'm sure. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
With the amount it rained the other day I almost had a river running past my back door. My poor seedling lettuces! I put them out to be 'lightly refreshed' when the rain started as a fine drizzle. Next time I looked, the poor things were swimming and shouting for life jackets! I managed to find some of the larger ones that had floated away, but between the rain and the dinosaur-sized rapacious slugs I don't think I am going to have a very prolific second lettuce crop. Nor the peas. I harvested enough for us to have about eight peas each.

The weeds are doing well though, especially the bindweed. It can go on record that I have officially declared war on the wretched plant. This is it. Gloves off and pulling up at the root, no quarter given! Oh, and the new raspberry bush planted in the spring is laden with fruit. I picked one of the first to ripen and it was delicious. Now we need the blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants to do something other than just sit there and look smug.

June has not been a very good month health-wise. Ron has had shingles, poor love - on his head. He is more or less bald and is finding the sun irritates the sensitive nerve endings, so has to wear a hat wherever he goes. I have to wear a brimmed hat if I am outdoors as I have an eye problem - my retina is the wrong shape and has stretched very thin, so I get "eye dazzle". Sunglasses don't make much difference as it is the light slanting in from above that blinds me - a bit like having a bright spotlight shone directly into your eyes. A brimmed hat provides a suitable screen. The difficulty is finding nice hats to wear, as I don't really like baseball caps. I also had a scare during a routine visit to my optician. The eye examination showed up a possible hole in my left retina. Having had it tear many years ago I was extremely concerned, so a quick trip to a private clinic to be seen immediately. Various scans, eye drops and peering into specialist machines later, all proved OK. Phew. Apart from the bill that is. Donations towards 'Helen must pay the nice consultant' gratefully received.

I am aware that my sight is degenerating, the retina problem makes me severely myopic, and to add to the problem I also have a cataract forming. The future is, therefore, somewhat worrying. I don't know what I will do if I reach the stage of not being able to read and write. I'll just have to soldier on and get as much written as I can while I can still - sort of - see. I am having difficulty differentiating between ',' and '.' on screen, or spotting the difference between 'a' and 'o' - thank goodness for my wonderful editor, Jo, who looks after my books and Mal, my webmaster who scrutinizes this journal. To those of you who receive e-mails from me, I apologise in advance for any typing errors.

I am a little behind with replying to some mails, so if you are waiting to hear from me, I'm getting round to it. I was ill for about 10 days in mid-June and was unable to do much on the computer. For a couple of days just before the Summer Solstice, I didn't even have the energy to get out of bed.

It started with a bad cold, which cleared up completely within a few days, which I thought was odd, as colds usually leave me with blocked sinuses. I had 24 hours of feeling fine, then spent a week in bed feeling as though I had been run over by a traction engine. Consequently, I missed out on my jaunt to Aylesbury to spend the Midsummer Solstice with my friends, and was unable to struggle into my office. So many e-mails came through when I finally got here that I took the cowards way and just switched off again. If you are waiting for a reply, or wondering why I have not been on Myspace or Twitter et al, it is because I had a dose of Piglet Plod - a downsized, unglamorous version of Swine Flew (sic).

One of Kathy's horses, Izzy, has been lame. A massive vet's bill later confirmed she has slight damage near her hock. To the equine knowledgeable, a Bone Spavin has formed. Dare I appeal for the 'Help Helen pay the nice Veterinarian' Campaign as well? Hmm perhaps not. We are hoping it will heal, but that is an end to any competing this year, and possibly permanently.

Kathy has been enjoying herself with her youngster instead. Lexie is now 13 months old and as tall as a giraffe. She is so laid back it's unbelievable. A horse got out of it's stable up at the yard; all the other inmates were looking over their stable doors, excited, bouncing about and neighing. Lexie? She couldn't be bothered to get up out of bed.

Kathy took Lexie to a horse show on Sunday - a bit like a dog show but on a bigger scale and with horses! Lexie was awarded 7th place, not bad for her second show. She might have been placed higher if she hadn't fallen asleep half-way through and had shown a little more interest in what was going on. Kathy also took our pony Rosie, intending to do a round or two of the small-scale showjumping. Rosie came 3rd. She too would have been placed higher, but it was won on the fastest time and Rosie wasted precious seconds bucking, going sideways, prancing about and generally misbehaving. I wouldn't mind but Rosie is now 20 years old, a veteran in terms of a horse's age, and should know better. The judge did admit Rosie provided the biggest laugh she'd had all day though.

> We rounded the month off nicely with the annual family outing to Hickstead in Sussex for the DFS sponsored British Showjumping Derby. Those of you who are regular readers of my journal will know that in past years Kathy would have been competing at this week-long event, but we had to content ourselves with being spectators this year. We had a ringside seat, a lovely sunny day and a good time. The founder of the All England Showjumping Course, Douglas Bunn, sadly died recently. His idea back in 1960 to build Hickstead in the grounds of his Sussex farm was innovative. It is a lovely setting, a grand day out, and is important for showjumping standards as well. For the life of me I cannot figure why the 2012 London Olympic Committee are not going to use Hickstead for the showjumping events, and Badminton or Burleigh for the Eventing. We have superb tailor-made facilities already in existence - why not use them?

Talking of events,if you happen to be anywhere near Chingford in Essex, UK, on 1st August 2009, we are having the official launch of Bring It Close at the Bargain Bookshop from 11.30 - 1.30. Everyone is welcome. Pirates will be plundering, so come prepared to participate. Up-to-date information and all my public diary dates are on my Blog Profile.

I have now made this a special site as there are a couple of exclusive excerpts, photographs of places used in my books and a few other fun things to amuse you. If you have a blog please join me as a Follower, or at least pop across and have a look. The more seeds you sow, the more plants will grow.

A couple of links to kick off this month's news.  Firstly, a reminder that I now have a Blog Profile where you will find all sorts of exciting things, including exclusive excerpts and pictures of the real places used as scenes in my novels. Make sure you bookmark the page and visit occasionally as there will often be updates. If you have your own Blog - why not join me as a friend and follower?

I have also taken the plunge and opened a Facebook profile - phew, it's a bit different to Myspace. I'm having to learn how to use the site, but I seem to be acquiring an army of lovely friends already. So again, hop across and join me on Facebook.

Forward to the announcement of Good News!  Book Four of the Sea Witch Series Ripples in the Sand is under way. The story starts three months after Bring It Close finishes, and, needless to say, Jesamiah is in trouble again. He gets unwillingly mixed up in the 1719 Jacobite Rebellion - a failed attempt to put James III on the throne of England.  Tiola, meanwhile, is trying to solve a riddle of her own and can only do so by re-creating various events from the past. The layers of Time must blend - one with the other - like a line scored through the ripples left in the sand after the tide has gone out.

I am also in the process of signing contracts with Sourcebooks Inc in the USA who have taken on my two novels, A Hollow Crown and Harold the King. This is a really exciting deal for me, as it now means all my historical fiction books will be published Mainstream in the USA and Canada. When I think that a couple of years ago I was at my lowest writing ebb after I had been dropped by my agent and my UK mainstream publisher, Heinemann - and now I am one of the top authors with Discovered Authors and have been "head hunted" by Sourcebooks.

The other nice thing about the US deal is that I am now alongside the wonderful author and good friend Elizabeth Chadwick who has also been snapped up by them. Elizabeth was so supportive when I thought my writing career was at an end. She encouraged me to not abandon the idea for Sea Witch and to stick with my hopes and dreams. Thank you Elizabeth, I will always be grateful for your friendship.

While on the subject of authors, as part of my thirst for avidly reading about the Days of Sail, I have recently started Julian Stockwin's excellent Kydd series of maritime adventures. As an aside to these sea-worthy novels I have been perusing his Maritime Miscellany - what a wonderful little book, packed to the scuppers with tid-bits of information and nautical anecdotes of fact and fiction. Among my favourites is a duel fought over a dog. You can bet that story will be made into a scene in one of my Sea Witch adventures!

I have also just finished reading a superb fantasy novel by Suzanne McLeod - the first in her Spellcrackers.com series. It is a delightful fast-paced romp set in London, where brownies, goblins, trolls, witches and vampires create havoc while Genny the heroine, a Sidhe, tries to uncover the truth behind a mysterious death. All good fun.

When not reading or trying to write I have been enjoying walking the dog, Rum, in the forest. In between getting soaked and plodging through quagmires of mud, we have had some grand walks through the woods. On a sunny day the patterns of light beneath the trees are so beautiful. Well, at least they were until I managed to lose Rum. He is getting old now and a little deaf.

He was enjoying himself rabbiting in the nettles and undergrowth. I walked on, only to realise that he had disappeared. I knew he hadn't run off as I would have heard him, so all sorts of thoughts like heart attack etc., were racing through my mind. I had no choice but to retrace my steps and hope that he had the sense to go back to where I had left the car. Well, there he was, sitting by the passenger door, patiently waiting for me. What a clever boy.

He now wears a bright pink bandana around his neck so I can see him better in the undergrowth, and a bunch of jingling bells. I'm sorry, I know the squirrels are all chucking acorns at him, laughing, and calling him the "Tinkle Bell the Morris Dancer Dog" - but the wheeze works. I can now hear where he is, even if I can't see him. (Can anyone tell me, how come nettles don't sting a dog's nose? Ouch!)

As this journal entry will be posted by the 1st August, I have not been able to add a report of that day's event - my book signing at the Bargain Bookshop, Chingford. So, come back again and refresh this page in a couple of days' time to read all about it. If there is no report, well, I'm probably still signing books, browsing in the bookshop or thoroughly enjoying the kind and generous hospitality of the Stationhouse Pub opposite the shop, where we will all be retiring for a more 'fluid' celebration.

> I had a fabulous day on August 1st, sharing the pleasure of launching my 9th book - Bring It Close. I met up with old friends and faithful fans, made a few new friends, attracted a few new fans and I sold some books!

Thank you to the Bargain Bookshop for the warm welcome - the small bookshop with a big heart! Thank you also to the staff of the Stationhouse Pub for the provision of a wonderful lunch and their generous hospitality.

There are some nice pictures of the event on www.acorne.blogspot.com so hop across and have a look.  Alternatively, if you are a member, click here to view the full album on Facebook. Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?
Bring It Close has not got off to the racing start I'd have preferred here in the UK due to delays at the distributor's end, but hopefully various problems have now been sorted, so hurry along to your bookstore and order a copy.

There is still difficulty in the US though, so I suggest Amazon remains the best bet. Reviews are coming in with definite thumbs-up for a rollicking good yarn. If you have already read it I would greatly appreciate a couple more comments added to Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk please.

Of course I am assuming you've read Sea Witch and Pirate Code? If not you are missing out on a stuffed-to-the-scuppers good read.

New this month for the USA and Canada is the second volume of the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy. Carrying that title, Pendragon's Banner, the book will be available in September from all good booksellers or Amazon. Be warned, a box of tissues may be needed at the end of the book. My thanks to the team at Sourcebooks Inc for producing such a lovely edition. May it sell well!

I wrote the draft for this newsletter on the train from Exeter St Davids to Paddington, London, wending my way home after a delightful few days in Devon with my dear friend, and capable freelance editor, Jo. We chatted, giggled, ate well, and walked her three dogs Lorna, Max and Poppy on the beach at Instow overlooking Appledore, where much of Book Four of the Sea Witch Series will take place - and where Jesamiah's mother gave birth to her son. We had rain most mornings which cleared up by about 10.30 leaving us with some superb sunny afternoons - and a few glorious rainbows.

Jo's novel Rogues & Rebels is set in this area - a novel of the English Civil War in the West Country. Another superb read for those of you who like historical novels. Jo and I sorted out what is going to happen in the supernatural elements of Ripples In The Sand and discussed the exciting plot of her second novel - Secrets & Ciphers.

My final day was spent on Exmoor. Purple heather, golden gorse, blue skies and along the coast, blue seas with crashing white surf at the foot of the craggy cliffs on the moors. Secret smuggler's coves and pirate hideaways - fantastic.

Near the Doone Valley we were about to drive over a bridge when we saw a heron perched on the rail. Was the bird real? It stood so still. We waited. We watched. Decided no, it was a plastic ornamental one and drove forward. Hmm. It was real. The glare it gave us was a fitting characteristic for this legendary Valley of Lorna Doone fame. Was he a re-incarnation of Sir Ensor or Carver Doone I wonder?

Writing can be such an insular career - it is so good to talk in depth to a fellow writer about the background details of characters, especially when stuck for ideas. Thoughts become things as the Universal saying goes. I am blessed with so many good friends who are as enthusiastic about sharing their thoughts, talking through the occasional bouts of writer's block and sharing the many ups and downs, joys and frustrations of writing.

I enjoy helping developing writers to get going with a first novel. It's great to receive an e-mail back from a new friend saying something like, "Oh wow, thank you! Why didn't I see the obvious? The action is muddled and fizzles out." or "Now you mention it, yes, my point-of-view changes are all over the place aren't they?" or "You are quite right, I haven't made it clear who the main characters are" and so on.

I'm more than happy to take a look at an opening chapter or two. I don't charge a fee, but I do appreciate at least one of my books being purchased in return. If you are interested, e-mail me using the link on the Navigation bar above.

I will have the pleasure of being at the Nottingham New Writers UK Book Festival on 19th September, where John Baird will be launching his debut novel Chasing Shadows. I read Chasing Shadows in its early draft form. Unputdownable. Can't wait to re-read the finished version! If you are in the Nottingham area do come along. Entry is free, and the Festival promises to be one of the best ever. Go to the New Writers home page and click the link to 'events'.

As advanced information, I will again be at Battle in Sussex for the annual Battle of Hastings re-enactment. The dates this year are 10th/11th October. You will find me in the English Heritage tent down on the field from about 11 a.m.

An item of "closure" news: Kathy's divorce is now Decree Absolute so the door can be shut on that upsetting episode and the one to the future firmly pushed open and walked through without a backward glance.

Lastly, a few people have asked about the gorgeous gown I was wearing for the official launch of Bring It Close. Go to the gallery of Dark Star Clothing for another peep. In case you've forgotten what it looked like. My mind is not as sharp as it used to be. Also, my mind is not as sharp as it used to be.
To open, a reminder. I will be at the Battle of Hastings annual re-enactment at Battle in Sussex UK on the 10th and 11th of October. You'll find me in the English Heritage tent down on the field from 11 a.m.

More head-enlarging reviews have been coming in for Bring It Close - and I was worrying about the book's slow start last month! A couple of people have said how they preferred Bring It Close to the second novel in the series, Pirate Code, and I welcome their constructive criticism. I had trouble getting Code to flow as I wanted it to. Parts of the story were essential for setting up the plot for Bring It Close, and also some of Voyage Five - On the Account, but the main comments about Pirate Code seem to be that a few scenes were somewhat unpleasant, especially for my poor Jesamiah - a flogging scene, references to torture etc. I needed to make them horrible enough to ensure Jes's fear was believable; a mere beating-up wouldn't particularly bother him.

The horrible method of torture that I describe, by the way, I got from the Torrington Museum in Devon UK. It was not my invention! This particularly obnoxious method was apparently used during the English Civil War period - yuck.  So now you'll have to read Pirate Code to discover what I am talking about, eh?

I also needed to develop Jesamiah's bond with Tiola, so my hero enduring her punishment of flogging seemed ideal. Without giving too much away, Jesamiah's heroic if somewhat rash action will have repercussions in future books because Tiola's soul has now merged with his.

Incidentally, stripping her top half bare and flogging a woman in public for the "crime" of adultery was a common punishment in the early 18th Century. Funny how it was often only the young women who were sentenced to this particular form of abuse though. It always proved to be a popular entertainment. But then, hangings, executions, floggings in general and other such ghoulish punishments were equally regarded as a spectator sport. Nowadays we tend gravitate towards violent movies, sexual scandal, and are fascinated by car crashes.

In hindsight I would perhaps write a few of Pirate Code's scenes differently, but hopefully Bring It Close has balanced things out a little. Several characters from Code will be re-appearing in future books - getting Jesamiah into yet more trouble of course.

A comment from a reader has set me thinking though. Are we beginning to accept, and expect, unpleasant scenes of violence, bad language, sex and so on in books, as we seem to be doing in movies? I was watching the James Bond movie "Casino Royale" the other evening. One particular torture scene involving spherical parts of the male anatomy was extremely nasty - I could imagine the majority of men watching were cringing. Is it worse to read these sort of scenes or to watch them in a movie?

Movies often consist of exaggerated drama. Books we tend to believe more, but that, of course, is the art of the writer - to make a novel believable. I did find that in the first draft of Pirate Code I had portrayed nearly all Jesamiah's enemies as utterly ghastly people, but a first draft is precisely that, a rough draft. The characters are not formed, their voices have not properly materialised - another reason for editing, to sort out what works with a character and what does not.

Let me categorically add that I do not, in real life, view men as I depict them in my novels. I haven't yet met a man as horrible as Blackbeard or one who is as fascinating or gorgeous as my heroes, Arthur and Jesamiah in particular (with apologies to my husband and webmaster!)  Part of the "fun" of writing is deliberately escaping the real world and portraying the bad guys as very bad, and the good guys as delectable rogues. Yes, my characters are "real" to me, but they exist in the mind-world of Vivid Imagination.

I was aware that in my novel Harold the King, though, the balance between good and bad was a little too black and white; I did not include many of Harold Godwineson's flaws or Duke William's attributes. Perhaps I should have done, except that I found it impossible to think of anything I actually liked about William.

If you want to add your own views to this line of thought of mine please go to my Muse and Views blogspot or e-mail me using the Contact button above. I look forward to reading your comments.

I had a great time at the Nottingham New Writers' Book Festival. Thank you to everyone who came along and helped to make the day the great success it was. I met up with e-magazine editor Jason O'Keefe who produces an on-line magazine The Re-enactor. Jason is to publish two articles about my books - Sea Witch this month and then Harold the King and 1066 the UK movie next month, so do visit his website and join up for this monthly ezine, especially if you are interested in history and re-enacting - and it is free!

My Kathy has undertaken a new venture, she is learning to ride side-saddle, and very elegant she looks too. As soon as I get a few decent photographs I'll ask my webmaster (very nicely) to put one onto the gallery.

Thank you to Mr Webmaster for accompanying me to the Waltham Forest Dyslexia Association's 20th anniversary celebration dinner. It was wonderful to meet up with the many old friends who were so helpful and supportive during those first years when I discovered that Kathy was severely dyslexic. I was Chair of the Association for four years and I am pleased with the things my committee achieved: teachers' awareness courses, the Saturday Club and a good working relationship with the head of Special Needs, who is now retired and remaining a good friend.

Those years struggling with an education system that did little to support dyslexic children were often a nightmare for me and Kathy, but we survived and she has grown up into a beautiful, caring young lady. She still struggles to read, spell, tell the time, add up, fill in forms, write cheques, use the telephone. but fortunately horses care little about any of those.

My philosophy has always been "find your gift and go for it." The one sad thing about Kathy's dyslexia is that she cannot read books, and has never been able to lose herself in a novel's world of imagination. She has not even been able to read my books, which is why I so greatly appreciate her help and enthusiasm with my writing - especially when she dresses up in pirate costume for various events!

Dyslexic or not - I am very proud of her. Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.
I am writing this opening on the 26th October, as I prepare to fly off to Long Island, New York, where I am looking forward to attending a good friend's wedding. Then I travel, with said friend's Mom (another friend!) to Williamsburg, Virginia, to round off my trip by doing some more research in that fantastic Colonial Re-enactment Centre.

I haven't packed yet and still can't decide what to wear for the wedding. As it is on the 31st October, Samhain (Halloween) I am tempted to wear my Witchy Goth Gear, but maybe a black outfit is not suitable for a wedding?

I have been busy during October. The second weekend saw me in Sussex, England, at the Battle of Hastings re-enactment. Thank you to all the wonderful people who came to the English Heritage Tent to say hello, especially those who had purchased Harold the King last year and dropped by to say how much they had enjoyed the read.

Usually during the actual battle re-enactment, which starts at 3 pm, I normally get a chance to draw breath, drink a cup of tea and visit the loo. Not this year! On the Saturday I didn't stop talking to Harold enthusiasts from 11 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. when the event started to close. It was a little quieter on the Sunday, but what a weekend!

I have also been adventuring via a second Virtual Book Tour on various Blog Sites. The publication of Pendragon's Banner in the USA by Sourcebooks Inc has aroused huge interest: 37 Book Blog Invites, two telephone interviews and countless follow-up e-mails finds me blushing bright red from all the praise and support my Arthurian Trilogy has received.

I am also delighted that several Bloggers have shown an interest in the Sea Witch Series - it seems my Jesamiah has attracted a host of new fans and followers. But then, what do you expect, he's Cpt Jesamiah Acorne! You'll find a list of the Blogs I have appeared on here on one of my own Blog Sites.

You may have to scroll down the page after you've linked, as some sites have moved on to reviewing other books. My other Blog Site, Helen's Muse and Views is also gaining attention. This is a place where I hold forth on my various thoughts and views, so please add your own comments and ideas, or even maybe your disagreements. I intend to post a new Muse or View once a month, probably around the first of each month, although November's may be a tad late!

I had the honour of being a dinner guest with Dominique Raccah, Managing Director of Sourcebooks Inc in London earlier in the month, along with several other UK authors. Thank you Dominique, and your husband, for your hospitality, friendship, and for publishing my books so beautifully.

Other weekends have been taken up with assisting my daughter to compete side-saddle. She looks lovely when mounted. Typical though, the horse, Elswyth, although going well at home, played up in the arena. She did some perfect dressage movements in the dressage test. What a pity they were not the movements required. And for the showing class? Maybe the two enormous bucks were not quite the right thing to impress a judge. Still, Kathy came home laughing. She now knows that it is possible to sit a buck, even riding side-saddle.

The second half of this journal, about my trip to the USA will be posted here around the 10th of November, assuming I don't get on the wrong plane home or get myself arrested going through customs.

Oh, forgot to say, I felt quite a celebrity at the hotel in Sussex. Several people came up to me to ask, "Are you Helen Hollick the author?" Hmm, maybe I had better take heed of my own quote: "Get a Life and Do Something Interesting."

Bright Blessings for Samhain!

Wednesday 28th October: Nervous about airports, I managed to find my way to the right 'plane and enjoyed the flight to Washington D.C.  Sat next to a very interesting man who was a brain specialist. He said they expected to find a cure for Dementia very soon, which is encouraging.

Washington Airport was OK, but my connection to New York La Guardia wasn't. Delayed by about four hours. I was, therefore, somewhat weary by the time I made it to the Big Apple - of which I saw not very much as it was dark and rather late, and we had a bit of a drive to reach Long Island. New York State, I discovered, is larger than England and Long Island is, er, Long.

James and Judy were there to meet me though, and instantly we were best friends - what lovely, lovely people! I don't think James and I stopped talking until the Friday evening, when he had to concentrate on the preparations for his wedding.  James took me to 'Fridays' for lunch and to the nearest Barnes & Noble, and... YES! There on the shelf, The Kingmaking and Pendragon's Banner. Appointing himself as my official Publicity Manager, James informed the store that "An Author" was browsing the shelves, so over a cup of coffee I signed the pile of books they placed in front of me. Yeah!  Fame at last!

Apart from being a huge 1066/Harold Godwineson fan, James is also an avid follower of Dr Who and Torchwood, and has a huge DVD collection. I spent a happy few hours catching up on the David Tennant episodes I'd missed, then stunned James into silence when I told him what T.A.R.D.I.S. was short for. He hadn't realised it is Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. Ah, but then I have been a Dr Who fan since watching the very first episode.

The wedding was lovely, and the bride, Kimberly, is most definitely very beautiful! Best Wishes and Good Luck to the Happy Couple.

I have to mention Tito. Tito is James' cousin, and boy can he cook! Scrambled eggs of a morning, poached salmon for dinner; banana drizzled with honey and rum.

And so onwards to Virginia with Judy, James' Mum (Mom). A ten-hour drive which flew by as we chattered all the way. As the sun rose and the sky lightened, I had a glimpse of  the Manhattan skyline as we passed it by, but the highlight of the trip was crossing the Chesapeake Bridge. Readers of my Sea Witch Series will know of the Chesapeake - but in the 1700's there was no 17.5 mile long bridge/tunnel spanning the Bay. Wow!  I was thrilled to finally see the Chesapeake itself, what a fantastic stretch of water. The only pity, not a tall ship in sight. I kept expecting Jesamiah to sail over the horizon any minute, but, ah well, I expect he was busy elsewhere.  Virginia in the autumn is a "must see".  The trees are truly wonderful.

Judy and I explored Colonial Williamsburg; I visited John Millar from Newport House where I stayed for B & B last year. Thanks John, for sorting out my Book Four, Ripples In The Sand, tobacco smuggling problem. I listened to Judy's friends at choir practice, even the warm-up was good.  Williamsburg, you are in for a fine treat come the concert at Christmas.

We then enjoyed a spooky ghost walk around the Taverns of Colonial Williamsburg on the Thursday evening, great fun, and finished my trip to America with a wonderful dinner in the Kings Arms Tavern. Yes, the same Tavern where Alicia is staying in Bring It Close. The meal was delicious, and I very distinctly heard Jesamiah chuckle as I tucked into Game Pye. Bet he'd been at the rum.

The flight home was uneventful, if a little turbulent. I amused myself by watching yet more Dr Who on the in-flight TV.  Thank you James, Kimberly and Judy for your kind hospitality and even more important, your highly valued friendship. I'm looking forward to showing you England next year.

For photographs of the trip, go to my Picture Diary. To avoid becoming a celebrity, get a life. They won't touch you if you do something interesting.

Back to the routine of daily life after my jolly jaunt to the U.S. of A.

Except the routine has been disrupted by looking after my elderly Mum, sorting out lame horses, re-arranging my office, preparing the garden for winter and worrying about my webmaster who has been a bit poorly. Not that I am worried about him of course, only the looming nearness of my monthly Journal update. (Pulling your leg Mr Webmaster - get well soon m'dear!)

Mum had another fall. She tripped over her walking frame and cut her lip open with a very sore-looking bruised face to match. At least she is now remembering to pull the alarm cord that connects her to the emergency services. 5.30 a.m. and they call me to say an ambulance is on the way to her home. I'm up, dressed, contact lens inserted and out of the house in ten minutes. Eight hours later we finally leave the hospital.

I had to laugh the next day: the hospital insisted on sending a Social Worker to assess Mum's mobility. I gave up telling them she is already on the list and regularly has people calling in to see her. A man turns up. He was supposed to have telephoned me first so I could be there, but he forgot. Mum let him in - fortunately I had told her someone would be calling. He asks her to show him how she puts the kettle on, get on and off the bed; sit down, get up, walk about etc.

This was all fine, although apparently she was doing a lot of grumbling about it all being a waste of time. Then he asked her to show him how she has a wash. "I've already had a wash today. I don't want another wash."

And here's the bit that made me laugh. He wanted to see if she could manage getting dressed/undressed, only it seems he didn't explain things clearly. All he wanted was for her to remove her cardigan and put it on again. He should have said so, not asked her to "Show me how you get undressed." "I told him to b*gger off!" Mum declared that evening. "I wasn't going to take my clothes off in front of a strange man. I threw him out." Perhaps there's life in the Old Girl yet!

Horse-wise, Izzy has been lame in her hock again, so another trip to the vet. And another hefty bill. At home, all the geraniums are now safe in winter storage and the last of the veg is picked. The garden looks somewhat drab and dreary now, although the Copper Beach hedge that I planted two years ago is starting to look fabulous. The hazel tree looked splendid in its autumn finery and is getting quite big. I haven't told Ron how big it will get. On the last occasion at our old house I said a tree we planted would grow "just a bit bigger than the shed." I was vague about how big "just a bit" actually was. As the tree was a silver birch, it ended up somewhat taller than my 'approximate' estimation.

I came home from America to find my daughter had re-painted the walls of the hall and my office. I now have blue walls to look at, not that boring magnolia colour. Sadly our hamster died, she was an old lady at two years old, so I found I had a large space vacant in my office where her accommodation had been. It was quite easy re-arranging the shelving and furniture, what took time, and utterly frayed my temper, was sorting out the wires that belong to the computer, stereo, desk lamps and telephone. Not a job I will be doing again in a hurry.

Most mornings I walk the dog in Epping Forest. The last week of November was blustery here in England, although it's lovely listening to the sounds of the trees overhead when it is windy. I was not so keen on the downpour I got caught out in. The fine drizzle was quite pleasant, but I wasn't so impressed by the sheet of rain and the hailstones it evolved into.

The following day the woods were wreathed in mist, quiet and very beautiful. I saw two deer bound across the track ahead of me, heard a woodpecker and a wren, and what I thought was a horse coming up behind me "over-reaching". This is a term that describes when a hind shoe catches on a front shoe and makes a distinct "chink" sound.

I looked around, Nothing there. "Must be imagining it," I thought, Walked on. There it was again - nearer. I looked a second time. No horse and rider behind me, the path was quite empty. I walked on. A third distinctive chink. With the wisps of mist, the silence in the Forest and not a soul in sight - even Rum the dog had vanished into the undergrowth - I was feeling uneasy. Several ghosts haunt Epping Forest. Chink... I felt such a fool. On the other side of the holly bushes is the golf course. Chink. "Fore!"  Just as well Rum was too busy chasing squirrels to notice my red face.  Daft dog hasn't yet realised we have our own two squirrels in the garden which he could chase to his heart's content. The female is quite tame, she took a grape from my hand the other day. They scamper over the wisteria and climbing roses and head for the peanuts. Fortunately, the mob of sparrows don't seem to mind sharing their bird table.

So, the month has gone by with me running around after other people. Christmas will soon be here, and I'm afraid the others will have to look after themselves for a few days. I'm going to put my feet up. See you in the New Year.

Bright Blessings to all my friends and fans for the Midwinter Solstice and the Festive Season of Yule! We are here to do good to others. What the others are here for, I have no idea.