Previous editions of the Journal pages

So goodbye 2016, hello 2017.

I can´t believe that on January 18th we would have completed four entire years of living here in glorious, if somewhat wet, Devon. We have made some wonderful new friends and have a relaxed and (usually) cheerful household, enhanced by the atmosphere of our old farmhouse - and the lingering laughter of those who lived here before us from circa 1769 - and the loving and loyal pets who share our life. And yes, that includes the Grumpy Gander and WonkyDonk the donkey, who I am certain dwells in his own time zone. He certainly walks at a different pace to everyone else!

I still feel, occasionally that this is all a dream and I´ll wake up tomorrow back in Walthamstow with the neighbour screaming obscenities, the sound of sirens and traffic and very few stars in the sky because of the light pollution.

Although I must confess, when the owls have a ding-dong over territory the language gets pretty hot – even if it is in Twit-Twoo, and I heard a police car siren filtering up from the distant A377 the other night. I had to laugh as I was reminded of a classic Morecambe and Wise Sketch – this one.

Kathy, who is "sensitive" to these things, met a new spirit from the past the other day. He appeared briefly in the stable yard, a dapper gentleman wearing late 1800s style clothing. My present day contact, a good friend, confirmed that he was a horse dealer from around 1870 – but that he was also (ssh keep this under your hat) a smuggler. It seems there used to be a contraband cache somewhere on the farm. (No wonder my Jesamiah likes it here!) With the River Taw so close I guess they brought the brandy for the parson and the baccy for the clerk up river, then unloaded to the four-and-twenty ponies trotting through the dark… Exmoor ponies of course. It seems, also, that our new(ish) visitor is fond of Lexie. For his period she would be a very tall horse, and quite stunning. I hope he realises she is not for sale!

We also have a "resident guest" in the dairy and our "maid" Milly-Molly. I´m not sure if she still tuts when I take the laundry out the front door: apparently in her period, early 1800s (?) I should use the back door. The nicest moment was when Kathy saw her and another lady dancing outside when we had a rehearsal of the music going to be played at Kathy and Adam´s wedding. I´m glad our friends like remaining here, and adding to the happiness of the household – and they think it worth staying.

Talking of Lexie: Kathy jumped her in her first Foxhunter Class in mid-December, and came second. The jumps were about 1.20 – 1.25 metres. (that´s high) but Lexie took them in her stride (literally!) Considering that technically at the time, Lexie was still in the British Novice level of show jumping – the lowest level, that´s not bad going. The second-place points and prize money has pushed her out of British Novice now though. Still, technically she is still at amateur level! The thing is, at 17.3 Lexie is so tall, and these lower level jumps (90cm or so) are too small…

With the fifth Sea Witch Voyage On the Account published last year and a non-fiction book Pirates: Truth and Tales scheduled for next month, February, 2016 has been a busy writing year.

For 2017 I might have a book about smuggling to do, the sixth Sea Witch Voyage Gallows Wake will need to be written, and I have a novelette planned of Jesamiah´s early days as a pirate: When the Mermaid Sings… Exciting eh?

This month sees the launch proper of my own Historical Fiction Review Blog – Discovering Diamonds. Even before the official opening there were enough reviews scheduled to fill the whole of January; there will be a new review published every day except Sundays. The aim is to review all historical fiction on a level playing field basis, be they mainstream or indie published. To my mind readers do not care who publishes a book - the prime interest being "is it a good book?" So a good book is a good book, however it is produced.

I hope the site will become popular, even very popular, and my thanks to the splendid and enthusiastic team of reviewers and admin helpers who are eager to be a part of this project. The fact that we must all be completely mad is neither here nor there.

The subtitle beneath Cathy Helm´s fabulous Home Page Graphic this month reads:

A new place to discover good books – and a diamond or two!

Probably the closest many of us will get to being given a diamond or two… Happy New Year everyone! Diamonds Are An Author´s Best Friend!
The transition from 2016 to 2017 has not gone smoothly here in the UK for many of us who keep poultry as pets. Bird Flu flew in (excuse the pun) from Europe before Christmas. Thanks EU, that was not a wanted Christmas present. Annoyingly it is also one of the things that is entirely unaffected whether you favour Brexit or Bremain. Disease has no care for boundaries or the English Channel.

The big problem is that our birds are used to living entirely free range in our orchard, apart from at night when they are safely housed away from the foxes. They have had to be shut away all these weeks, ongoing through to the end of February with the probable addition of until the end of March. Bird Flu is a problem, but in my opinion it is not the enormous epidemic that it is said to be, and the protection is purely for the large meat/egg producers´ purse, not for the benefit of the birds themselves. Out of the thousands of geese and swans at Abbotsbury - the enormous swan sanctuary in Dorset - nine were diagnosed with bird flu. Others have died, but could this have been through other causes?

Our hens are doing OK as they are scratching around in an enclosed space under our rather large, if low for people, veranda. They have sweetcorn, peas and such to enjoy. The ducks aren´t too bad, although we are going to have to split them up because it is now approaching mating season: the females can´t get away from the drakes, and the drakes are squabbling.

It´s our two geese Goosey and Boo that I am worried about. Goosey stands forlorn at the wire door pleading to be let out. The Goose equivalent of Colditz, and I hate it as much as he does. What we are going to do about the situation, though, I don´t know. Nor, I suspect, does the government. If most of the government are even aware of the distress this is causing, that is.

Still, on to brighter things. I had an eye consultant appointment the other day; the good news is that the Glaucoma seems to have stabilised, so I still can´t see clearly, but it is looking hopeful that it won´t degenerate much further, providing I keep using the prescribed medications. I´m also going to try steroid injections for the arthritic old knees. Maybe I will then be able to walk up the lane again without grimacing.

I will have to "endure" thirty-six hours of bed rest after the injection though. Oh the hardship! *laugh*. I´m all set with a book to listen to, though. Yes listen. I have joined the Royal National Institute for the Blind´s Talking Books programme, and signed up for Audible. Which I am loving!

I am steadily working my way through the brilliant Alison Morton´s Roma Nova series on Audible, and I am absolutely hooked. Imagine if Rome´s administration, through the female line, had survived until the 21st century. Add in the Praetorian Guard as the modern equivalent of the SAS/FBI/Spooks/Special Branch, include a murder or two, silver smuggling, rebellions, a dash of romance… and you get a classy thriller read. Well, thriller listen!

Having plugged Alison´s books, my own Pirates: Truth and Tales is out this month. The quote at the top of this journal entry, although spoken by Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, is somewhat appropriate for my own pirate Jesamiah Acorne, don´t you think? That´s what I do: I drink and I know things.
We survived the bird flu, although for the last few weeks we have had some very grumpy hens and geese here at Windfall Farm. Trying to tell them that they wouldn´t have liked the cold, wet, miserable days didn´t seem to make any difference. Still, with the bursting-out of daffodils, snowdrops and violets all along the lane, spring is definitely springing and our flock is back in the orchard happily dabbling in the wet grass, thereby churning it to mud. Oh well, it´s nice to see them enjoying themselves.

The ponies are doing fine, although the reproachful looks on the Exmoors´ faces of an evening is hard to ignore. They live out. Exmoors have thick coats, they come from the moors, they are perfectly OK to live in the fields 24/7. They try their best to indicate they´d rather be stabled overnight though, especially when it´s very wet. We do, actually, take pity on them when it has been pouring all day and the wind is cold. On those occasions we succumb to their pleading wide eyes and bring them in. Talk about spoilt! Mr Mischief deserves a bit of pampering as he had a claim to fame mid-month when he was featured in an edition of Horse & Hound about Exmoors – complete with a photo of Kathy riding him aside.

I happened to post a Caption Contest photo of the Exmoors on my Facebook page the following weekend, and had an exclaimed comment left from a very excited visitor: "OMG is that THE Mr Mischief?" The lady concerned is an author and a Yorkshire farmer, and had no idea that in addition to writing my books and living in Devon, I was the proud owner of said pony. Hmm, given that Mr M has managed to break down the fences in the field three days running, I´m not sure if "proud" is the right word to use.

March sees the wedding anniversary for Kathy and Adam – has it really been three years now? Goodness! It only seems like yesterday. Add to that, I´ll be sixty-four next month. How many of us automatically start singing that (somewhat awful) Beatles song when reaching this age I wonder? (Now it´s in my head it´ll linger for several hours.)

Some good news is that following a minor medical procedure for my knee, the arthritic pain has eased a little. I can now walk up the lane again. It would be good to have some decent weather to enjoy these perambulations though. My next step - excuse the pun - is to walk up the next bit of the lane and back, gradually building up to the whole half-mile, so a mile, there and back. A good part of it up hill. The coming-back-down bit is even better!

I´ve also been celebrating the release of my latest book, the non-fiction Pirates: Truth and Tales, with some fabulous reviews coming in. Read them here.

For example:

"Hollick chronicles a well-informed history of piracy imagined in fiction and real life in fresh, breezy prose"


‘Interspersed throughout the book is the author's impressive knowledge of historical detail and it is obvious that a great deal of research has gone into bringing this piratical guide to life. Skilfully blending historical facts with literary fiction, sometimes, the book reads as lightly as a novel, but then, at other times, we come sharply back to reality with daring tales of mischance and menace, of lives ruined by too much grog and too many loose women, and which ended, all too often, dangled at the end of a hangman's rope.´

To say "I´m chuffed," is an understatement I think. If you would like to leave your own review, and thus not be threatened by a pirate to do so, here´s the direct Amazon link. Thank you in advance.

Also, for Jesamiah fans, I have nearly finished a short e-book novelette adventure set as a prequel to Sea Witch; Jesamiah´s early days of how he became a pirate. So keep a sharp eye in a couple of months´ time, for "When The Mermaid Sings" will be sailing into a harbour near you. A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge.
I don´t really know if I am living in the 21st century, the early 18th or Post-Roman at the moment because I am mentally hopping from one era to another on a daily basis.

Early April will see me promoting The Kingmaking - I believe it is going to be on special offer in the US and Canada in all e-version formats, although my apologies for I have no further information on this. I suggest, if you have not already done so, sign up to my Newsletter at tinyletter.com/HelenHollick as I will be able to update everyone through that.

I will also be posting an excellent article on my blog on April 4th written by my neighbour, Charles, concerning the TV series Arthur of the Britons starring Oliver Tobias – remember that? Charles worked on set during some of the filming, and, after enjoying reading my trilogy, he put pen to paper regarding some memories of the past.

On 10th April I will be talking on Barnstaple Radio´s The Voice, while on the 15th April I will be at Waterstones in Barnstaple, Devon from 12 – 2pm signing copies of my new pirate non-fiction: Pirates in Truth and Tales,accompanied by two real pirates. (Well, daughter and son-in-law in costume.) In between those dates I will be celebrating my 64th birthday and dealing with some 21st century local issues via my role as a Parish Councillor.

The end of the month, Friday 28th April, will find me in Bristol chatting with author Lucienne Boyce and publishing director Helen Hart from SilverWood Books Ltd on Lucienne´s radio show Silver Sound, BCfmradio, 93.2fm, 10 am to 11 am.

Phew! April is all go. I will need lots of chocolate Easter eggs to sustain my energy I think!

I am also in the process of helping various people with various issues, one being a despicable troll who is harassing authors by sending them scurrilous emails. The best way to deal with these people, who obviously have lots of spare time on their hands, is to dump them straight overboard.

This sort of online nuisance spammer, along with the plethora of telephone scam calls do not have the slightest effect on me. I have been a published author for over twenty years and well, when you have your own private Pirate watching your back, it´s these scallywag barnacles who need to watch out!

I get a huge laugh out of the scam callers. It is most enjoyable to wind them up by asking them questions. My record for keeping one of them talking is now 35 minutes – although I hasten to add that I was having a coffee and digestive biscuit at the time so it was an amusing way to pass an elevenses break.

A few other friends have assorted troubles at the moment, some of them, I think, being the result of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which many of us have been suffering from this dismal, dark, wet, winter. Alison Morton wrote a splendid piece about how SAD affects writers on her blog.

Some people, though, whinge and moan and complain then ignore good advice. Okay, that is their prerogative, but being honest? If you don´t want advice or help then don´t ask for it in the first place!

I heard this little "story" once:

There was a flood and a man had to scramble onto his roof in order to not be swept away and drowned. All around all he could see was the tops of trees, other roofs and floodwater. He was also staunchly a believer in God.

Another man came past in a small boat:

"Hey!" he called up "do you want help?"
"No, no" said the man on the roof, "I´ve prayed to God and I know he´ll help me."
So the man rowed away.

An hour later a lifeboat came along.
"Hey!" they called up, "do you want help?"
"No, no" said the man on the roof, "I´ve prayed to God and I know he´ll help me."
So the lifeboat went away.

Another hour passed and a helicopter flew past.

"Hey!" they called down, "do you want help?"
"No, no" said the man on the roof, "I´ve prayed to God and he´ll help me."
So the helicopter flew away.

The rain started again and the wind blew, and the man lost his grip on the wet roof tiles, slipped, fell into the water and was drowned.

In Heaven he marched angrily up to God and demanded: "I prayed for you to help me – but you didn´t, you are a fraud!"

God looked at him and said... "I sent a row boat, a lifeboat and a helicopter, but you didn´t want my help, so it´s your loss isn´t it?"

Don´t forget that Arthur article on Tuesday.

I was a little in love with the character of Arthur back then, and the Arthur of the Britons series obviously had some influence on my decision to write a novel about King Arthur without the Medieval myth and story.

You will not find Merlin, Lancelot, the Holy Grail or knights in armour in my story; instead Arthur is a warlord struggling to survive in the aftermath of Rome´s disintegration of British occupation.

My Arthurian story is of the boy who became the man, who became the king – who became the legend. The Boy, The Man, The King, The Legend.
April and May are anniversary months for me. Starting with my birthday, through to my daughter’s birthday and my wedding anniversary. But there is an extra day to remember around the 23rd April.

Back in 1993 the Easter weekend fell close to my birthday, as it did this year. We, that’s me, husband Ron and daughter Kathy, joined our friends Hazel, Derek, Richard and Stewart for a week’s holiday in the Lake District, Cumbria. On that occasion, at a caravan and campsite on the shore of Coniston Water. So, I celebrated my 40th birthday in the beauty of the Lakes. In fact, on THE day we walked part way up Coniston Old Man. I recall that it was a lovely sunny day, though a little chilly, although I cannot remember, now, why we only went part way!

We celebrated, we enjoyed, we had a wonderful holiday, but I had an anxiety hanging over me. I was awaiting an important, life-changing phone call. I knew it would not come over the Easter itself, nor the week we were away - if for no other reason than I had no access to a phone. Plus the person I was expecting to hear from was also away.

Back home. Back to routine, back to work, back to school - for me and for Kathy. I was a school dinner lady at the time, keeping an eye on the little monsters - err, dears - during the lunch break.

From the age of about thirteen I had wanted to be a writer, a real writer who wrote novels that were published as real books. So I scribbled ideas and silly stories. I had a few short stories published, nothing remarkable or special. I had more than a few rejection slips for longer stories. When Kathy was born, I was then 29, I was determined to ‘write my book’. I had discovered King Arthur - the ‘real’ Arthur (if he ever was real). The Arthur set in Post-Roman Britain, not the clonking around in armour, Holy Grail Arthur. I wanted to read about this Post-Roman Arthur, but there were very few novels that I found satisfying because none fitted with what I thought, and felt, might have happened to this boy who became a man, who became a king - who became a legend. Nor did the stories of Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) satisfy me.

MY Arthur was to be a warlord who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and even harder to keep it. He was to be a "warts ‘n all" man, with doubts and flaws and who made mistakes. Yet he was also to be brave and strong and determined. MY Gwenhwyfar was to be proud and feisty and equally as determined. She had a sword and knew how to use it, and she also loved Arthur dearly, although the two, both with minds of their own, would often fight like the proverbial cat and dog. There was to be no Lancelot in my story, no Merlin, no knights, no Grail.

It took me ten years to write what I wanted to read.

I was fortunate. I met up with the wonderful Sharon K. Penman who helped and advised me, who showed me where I was going wrong with my writing. (It is because of her that I am as equally pleased to be able to help other new writers.)

She introduced me to her agent, who looked at my ten-year’s worth of writing. She liked it, but sent me away to re-write it. Which I did. This improved draft she definitely liked, and signed me up - although her words of "You do realise you have enough here to make a trilogy?" somewhat amazed me. Yes I was that naive, back then!

Late March 1993. The agent phoned me to say that a publisher was trying to sign up Sharon Penman, but she was firmly contracted elsewhere: however, said agent suggested me, Sharon’s prot�g�. The phone call was to tell me that she had sent the publisher my manuscript. "Don’t expect to hear anything until after Easter though."

A lot has happened since that March phone call and that Easter holiday: Kathy has grown up and is married to the world’s best son-in-law, I am now 64, not 40 and we moved from London to glorious Devon.

Someone I used to know once said: "It is all very well grasping opportunities when they dart by, but sometimes you have to go and hunt for them - with a club."

I’ve done a lot of club-wielding, I can tell you. Not taking things for granted, working hard to achieve the dream. oh and yes, THE phone call came one week after my 40th birthday.

A three-book deal with William Heinemann for what became the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy - The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the King. I’ve written a few more books since then - the next will be my 15th, although one of those published, 1066 Turned Upside Down, I only contributed to, so maybe it doesn’t count.

So, that club has come in pretty handy over the years… Opportunities sometimes need to be grabbed with the aid of a club.
So where did the first five months of the year go? I cannot believe that we will soon be seeing Midsummer Day - I’m not even sure Summer has started, let alone reached its mid-way point! However, June is apparently ‘bustin’ out all over’, and the quote refers to a song in the musical Carousel, not the famous Barbara Windsor losing her bikini-top scene in Carry On Camping.

The garden is looking nice-ish, although we are somewhat be-jungled with what are, technically, weeds, but I take the view that if it has a pretty flower and the bees like it, then it can stay. Dandelions are a good example. We tend to pull them up because they are (supposedly) untidy weeds, but the bees love them, the birds eat the seeds and personally, I like their yellow cheerfulness. I have waged war on nettles and brambles though, because I can’t see them and when I walk into them they hurt.

We had the most peculiar phenomenon the other night, quite scary in fact. An electric storm, although I think some areas got the full works of lightning, thunder and torrential rain. We just saw the amazing light display set as a panoramic view all round the house for over two hours.

To give you an idea, about 2 a.m. after watching the lightning move up steadily from the south we decided this was going to be a big storm, maybe it would be a good idea to get the ponies and donkey in from the field before it reached us. The lightning colouring the sky a vivid purple was enough in intensity for us not to need torches! With the lightning growing brighter, and thunder coming nearer, we retreated indoors, ponies safely tucked up in their stables, jugs of water set aside, candles and matches to hand in case of power cuts, then back to bed to watch The Menace approach.

Only, it didn’t. Instead of coming straight on the storm veered north-westward and completely by-passed us, except for a light smattering of rain. So it was a non-event of a direct storm, but incredible to watch all the same. Expect to see something similar in a future novel.

Talking of which, I have recently signed a contract to write a non-fiction book about smuggling. Similar to my Pirates Truth and Tales it will be a light-hearted but interesting look at smuggling, with short, dip-in-and-out chapters. I have to get it written by mid-October, with a hopeful publication date mid-2018. Published by Pen and Sword, I am delighted to have joined their excellent library of authors.

Pirates Truth and Tales is doing well, thank goodness, despite a predatory Proof Reading Professor attempting to sabotage it, and my name and reputation, by posting a detrimental comment on Amazon. This person approaches authors offering his proof reading services then posts a negative review when his unsolicited spam is rejected. Supposedly he "found" over 200 typos and errors.

Yes there are a couple of bloopers, there are some missed spelling errors and typos, but on another read-through I found only a small handful. There might be some additional grammar and syntax and vocabulary-type boo-boos that I did not spot, but I wrote the book in my familiar "chatty" grade B+ O-level English (1969) secondary school education standard. A work of B.Ed. academia it is not, nor was ever intended to be.

Even so, this person’s 249 (supposed) errors were not littered on every page, but "found" dotted within 110,000 words, which, when you think about it, is an almost negligible percentage, so the 35 I have found are insignificant. Readers will spot them as obviously missed, pedantic and petty errors. I hope.

Please, buy the book or order it from your local library, chuckle at the bloopers but enjoy the overall entertainment that it was meant to be. Oh, and please, could you leave a positive comment on Amazon for me? I would very much appreciate it, as would my damaged pride and self-confidence. I’ll have a more in-depth article about this on my blog.

Another project I have just completed is a novelette story When the Mermaid Sings, a prequel to Sea Witch. In Mermaid we meet Jesamiah when he is fourteen-and-a-half, too old to be a boy, too young to be a man. As Sea Witch followers, you will know that this was when Jesamiah left his home on a Virginia tobacco plantation and became a seaman and pirate. But I’m saying no more about the story and his early life aboard the Mermaid - shhh, secret.

The offshoot of writing this story has been that I have re-read the Sea Witch Voyages in order to ensure I have, more-or-less, conformed to continuity. And I know I say so myself but I have thoroughly enjoyed these revisits. OK self-promotion, and said not with big-headedness but self-belief - they are good. Very good, in fact.

Bring It Close, the third Voyage, I particularly enjoyed because it reminded me of my two visits to Colonial Williamsburg. Except, I found an enormous blooper in the story. I’m not saying what it is, but immediately my mind went to "ah, I can use this as a part of the plot for a future Voyage!" So I hope I’ve whetted your appetite to re-read and enjoy, and do drop me an email if you spot that - now deliberate - boob!

That detrimental comment by the insidious Proof Reader Prof on Amazon did, I am loathe but honest enough to admit, severely dent my confidence as a writer. I was so proud of Pirates Truth and Tales, proud and delighted to have been approached by a mainstream publisher to write a book that I had, for many years, wanted to write. Then along came Mr P.P. and p*sses on my parade. Disappointment and embarrassment followed. How could I be proud of, let alone promote a book which, according to him, was littered with abhorrent typos? How could I expect people to buy something which was way below sub-standard in quality? How could I think of myself as a good, experienced, confident writer?

Fortunately things are now back in perspective. I am a good writer. The book is a very good book - even with its silly errors. I have loved books ever since I was around four or five years old. The dream of being good enough to write them has been with me since I was about thirteen. I am now sixty-four and no damned touting for business hack charlatan is going to take the pleasure of writing away from me! So there! Whatever you are most passionate about when you are five, is what you should do for the rest of your life.
Was that summer? Several really hot days in mid-June, and by hot, I mean Hot!

The sort of heat that is wonderful if you have a pool to laze beside, and a cool breeze to fan the perspiration away, but not the sort of heat that has to be endured while running a day-long horseshow. As we duly discovered.

When we heard that the Moorland Mousie Trust, our local Exmoor-based centre for rescuing Exmoor ponies, was in trouble financially we, Taw River Show Jumping, decided to join forces with Oakfield Showing, and run a horse show with all profits going to the centre.

The Exmoor pony is thought to be a breed that is over 2,000 years old. The bones of very similar ponies have been found on the Moor, with one caveat being that it is uncertain whether the distinctive ‘mealy’ muzzle and brown coat is original. The shape and size, however, seem to match.

On the Moor today you are likely to see groups of the wild ponies, all of which are direct descendants from the millennia-year-old stock. In 1921, however, the Exmoor Pony was in danger of extinction, so the Exmoor Pony Society was established to do something about the decline, but even so, by the end of WWII only fifty, including four stallions, had survived living wild on Exmoor.

We have four Exmoors of our own here at home: little monsters who rule the roost, have their own ideas, know their own mind - and we love them dearly! It has always been an ambition of mine to own an Exmoor. Ambition fulfilled, even if I haven’t quite worked out why we have four of them.

Seventeen years ago, the Moorland Mousie Trust was created to rescue the ponies and the breed. The centre handles and rehomes ponies brought in off the Moor every Autumn, with only the prime, carefully assessed breeding stock beingt released back into the wild. Most of the ‘unwanted’ ponies are colts, so the Moorland Mousie Trust does a good job in what they do. But it takes money.

Our small contribution raised about �450 profit, thanks to judges Emma Hunt and Mal Phillips, our wonderful stewards and helpers - and the competitors who melted alongside us all.

I’ve written a more detailed article for my blog, which includes photos - do pop across and have a read, and please, support the wonderful sponsors who paid for the cost of our lovely rosettes.

The rain has returned now, although this is a little ‘thank goodness’, for our well was getting low and the heat was somewhat too hot.

July and August is the time for Summer Reading, so why not re-fill your Kindle or Nook with a host of good books guaranteed to entertain, and take time to relax with a glass of Pimms or a G & T, put your feet up and enjoy a good book or two, or three… preferably my books, of course.

I came across an advertisement the other day for an Indie-published book that had been short-listed for an award. Now, I’ve more-or-less given up on awards (although read on below) but this particular one did irritate a little. The romance novel in question in my opinion was somewhat bland, with stereotypical characters and predictable plot - so how does the author get such high recommendations? I queried this conundrum with a friend who answered: "By proclaiming, all over the place, how very good the book is.".

Hmmm. I might have a go at that.

"Have you discovered the Sea Witch Voyages? Treasure-filled swashbuckling nautical adventures - the best pirate-based yarns that you’ll ever need to read!" OK. I’ll work on the slogan. Any suggestions gratefully received.

I am proud to announce, however, despite my anti-award misgivings - mostly brought about because I rarely manage to win awards - that the Sea Witch and 1066 Turned Upside Down covers have both been nominated for awards. Watch my Facebook and Twitter @HelenHollick pages for details of how to vote for Sea Witch - and help break the never-win syndrome!

In other good news, I have recently signed a contract to write a non-fiction book about smugglers, and have also finished a novella prequel story for the Sea Witch Voyages: When The Mermaid Sings is an adventure romp for the young Jesamiah. How did he become a pirate, and when and why did he start using those blue ribbons of his? The answers are all there, hopefully coming out towards the end of the year in e-book format, published by SilverWood Books Ltd.

Yes, it took a bit of skill, and several pinches of fairy-dust to make the magic to write this one, but the result is good. Definitely an enchanting brew of swashbuckling adventure! A pity the magic doesn’t extend to spreading the word about good books worth reading though… (and yes, that is a hefty hint.) A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.
The August "what I’ve been up to", or "the latest excerpt in my collection of memoirs" was a little late this month as I went off, gadding about. Yes, I do sometimes escape from the chains which bind me to my desk!

July was not a very good month, as much of it I spent feeling pretty rotten with a viral infection which puffed up the glands under my jaw; I called it Hamster Syndrome. It wasn’t mumps, but darn well felt like it. Two courses of antibiotics sorted it out, but I felt rough for a couple of weeks, so fell very behind with the "To Do" list, which is still looking somewhat on the hefty side - even now, although going off on holiday has not particularly helped lessen the steadily growing mountain.

One good achievement: we got this year’s hay in and stored safely before the flashy bangy stuff rampaged up the valley, along with pouring rain - which here in mid-August is still being a nuisance, although ’pouring’ has slackened off to ’hefty drizzle’. That old saying, "Make hay when the sun shines", is very true, but if the sun ain’t gonna shine the hay still has to be cut and dried as best as possible. All you need is a few dry days and a nice wind, not necessarily the sun - then scramble like mad to bale it and bring it in. Phew!

My river cruise with some very dear friends was fabulous, a well-timed break and a chance to relax, with dinner served, wine poured and even the beds turned down at night. However, I haven’t got any photos yet, so I’ll do a full report next month.

Arriving back home I had to get up earlyish on the first day to toddle off to the Brendon Show, a "farmer’s show" held up on Exmoor. We went along specifically to do the Exmoor Pony and Mountain and Moorland classes, taking His Lordship, Mr Mischief, (we must be mad!) and little Farleywater Tanana who is now a yearling.

Well, fifteen-year-old Mr Mischief showed off, messed about and shouted almost non-stop for the first hour after we arrived. He behaved more like a naughty two-year-old who didn’t want to go in for the beastly showing classes. Tanana, on the other hand, behaved absolutely impeccably. You really cannot predict Exmoor ponies.

Tanana came third in her Exmoor Pony youngstock class, but she was up against well-filled-out three year olds, so it was a "no contest" really.

Never mind, we’ll knock their socks off next year. (Although, strictly speaking, Exmoor ponies do not have socks - any white hairs at all are prohibited for the pure bred Exmoor.)

I have to forgive Mr M., though, as once he realised things were going to be fun he quietened down and enjoyed himself - particularly when whizzing round the jumps in the Working Hunter Pony class, in which he was placed 3rd. He went on to win the ridden Mountain and Moorland, and the best Moorland-Bred Exmoor Pony Championship, so all was well that ended well, as the saying (sort-of) goes.

Even if we had not come home with a bundle of rosettes and two enormous trophies it would have been a glorious day out, for the heather is in full bloom up on the Moor, the sky was (mostly) blue, and it was a lovely day out, so no complaints.

Kathy did well show jumping at Hickstead at the tail-end of July, being placed her highest ever at the All England Show Jumping Course - 4th in the Newcomers. All is fine with our various ducks, geese, dogs, hens and cat. The garden resembles a jungle, and sad to say, our very nice "up the hill" neighbours are moving; we’ll miss them, especially as we swap our eggs for their fresh-grown vegetables. Looks like we’ll have to get that veg-patch dug this autumn.

Meanwhile, I can highly recommend messing about in boats. Cruising is most enjoyable. There’s nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.
I finally managed to get my holiday memories up on my blog, along with some nice photos taken by Cathy Helms. It was a wonderful week, slightly marred by the poor quality of service at Schiphol airport. Shan’t use that place again unless I really have to. Must say, though, that B.A. and Heathrow Terminal 5 were superb.

Best part of the cruise? Well apart from meeting up with Cathy, her husband Ray and her mom Lynn again, I think, not necessarily in any order:

. Listening to the water gurgling past the hull at night.
. Relaxing aboard, with no cares about having to do Social Media
. The musical mechanical museum at Rudesheim
. The German equivalent of Irish Coffee
. Oh, and the Regent 2016 wine - loved that one!

Would I go on another such cruise? Yes, but I’d pick the location with some depth of research. Basel to Amsterdam was wonderful but I’d not be too keen on doing it the other way round. My ideal would be a Caribbean cruise, but that isn’t going to happen. Maybe a Fjord cruise? Or one around the British Isles? Mind you the North Sea can get a bit rough. Maybe I’ll see what cruises sail from Plymouth.

Back home things soon got back to normal. I often listen to Radio Devon in the mornings with "Fitz" (David FitzGerald) and at night from 10 pm to midnight with "Shep" (David Shepherd). Shep is a hoot, offering lots of laughs and his ‘Five before Midnight’ quiz. I’ve got three answers right so far - I text them in - and I now have the honorary, and very appropriate Radio Title of ‘Helen with the Hat’. It’s one I’ll deploy elsewhere I think!

Here’s an example of one of the chatty emails I sent to Shep showing the sort of laugh ‘we’ share:

Evening Shep,

This is my ‘please excuse me note’ (you know like the fake ones delivered, supposedly written by Mum to ’Sir’ when homework had not been done). Except this one isn’t fake, and not written by my mum, who has long gone to the Great W.I. Coffee Morning in the Sky. So, please excuse me if I nod off before even the Spotlighters* arrive tonight. Its all your fault, of course…

There I was snuggled in my cosy bed at 06:35 this morning when the phone rang. Well we all know that the phone ringing at that unmentionable hour can only mean its an ‘uh-oh’ call…

"Have you got two Exmoor ponies and a donkey?" says the voice on the other end.

"Yes…" says I tentatively, wondering how a spam call centre in India could know this information.

"Well, you haven’t now - I’ve got them!" comes the merry laugh from my neighbour of about one mile away up the lane.

The four-legged so-and-sos had got out and toddled off to explore hadn’t they. (What’s wrong with the grass in their own field I ask?)

And that wasn’t all! Coming back down the lane with said three Houdinis, a load of sheep (not ours!) had got out as well, so it was quite a parade coming back along the lane.

"We need a shepherd!" we cried. But of course, YOU didn’t respond to said urgent plea, so we were left sorting out ponies, a donk (who is called Wonky Donk) and half-a-dozen awkward sheep at 07:30 in the morning.

Which means by the time you start babbling on tonight about not much at all, I’ll probably be in the land of nod. HAD you appeared when we needed you then I’d be wide awake and listening to whatever it is you’re nattering about this evening. Wouldn’t I? But you didn’t so I’m not.

Helen with the Hat

(p.s. I forgive you.)

*This refers to ‘Spotlight’, the local news slot on BBC TV at 10:25 - 10:30 pm, after which there’s a flood of about two people joining Shep’s radio show.

Well, my e-mail was read out, in full, at the start of the show, and Shep and I had a good giggle. That’s why I like listening; it’s a very good way to end the day and it’s nice to go to sleep with a smile on your face.

Read the full story of the Three Houdinis on the blog here.

Work matters, of course, are also back to normal. I’ve been informed by my US publisher that I Am The Chosen King (UK title is Harold the King) will be on special e-book offer this month. So I’m going with a Game Of Thrones theme… albeit I am having to be very patient re the latest TV series as I have to wait for the DVD to come out before I can catch up what is happening. So, please, no one slip me any spoilers, okay?

Regarding the 1066 historical version, I don’t think it will be a spoiler to bemoan the fact that Duke Bill won… When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.
I've been looking into some words in the 'Dem'n' (Devon) Tongue, some of them are quite fascinating: 'Chittles' are spring onions, a wren is a 'Tiddly Tope', an 'ipsy-oy' a boy and for "how are you" as a greeting you would say " 'ow be 'ee?". The last of the old hay is 'droney' and some of our 'mizzley' days are now drawing in when it starts getting to 'dimpsey' - that's misty days and dusk!

Autumn is definitely drawing in; the trees have a distinctive yellow tinge and there's mist in the Taw Valley of a morning, when it isn't raining, that is. There were a lot of blackberries. I say were because we discovered that the ponies and Wonky Donk had eaten most of them. Lots of bright red hips on the wild rose bushes and the toadstools in the field are dinner-plate big. Toadstools are not for eating, of course, but the puffballs are edible. Damsons have been rather sparse this year, so only a couple of bottles of Damson Gin on the go. I'm trying a blackberry gin from the few berries I did collect. I'll let you know what it's like next year.

The woodshed is topped up with logs for our winter fires, and the muckheap, now well rotted, is spread over the fields. We do have a Big Job looming for one weekend in October: the fencing needs re-doing which involves sinking the fence posts to a depth that makes them anti-pony-push proof. Two new gates are required as well. I think I'll be stopping the Exmoors' pocket money to pay for the damage they cause. Little horrors!

That's another thing we are noticing this autumn, the Exmoors' coats are already thickening up and starting to get very woolly. Winter is coming - and not just for Game of Thrones fans!

One thing I do very much enjoy is the ever-changing view from my study window. Not just the changed colour of the leaves on the trees, from bright, fresh spring green through the sun-dappled (or rain-soaked) summer dressing to the mellow browns and golds, but the angle of the sun tints the fields, dispersing shadows as it moves across the sky. Or a single field at the top of the hill across the valley suddenly gets illuminated as if someone is shining a spotlight on it. Wind tossing through the trees also alters the colours, especially on those trees that have silvery undersides to their leaves. Beautiful.

Spring is always welcome because it means the cold, dark days of winter have gone, but Autumn, by far, is the most glorious month to view.

I do have two regrets; one is that I can't quite see the River Taw from our house - sometimes I can see part of one meander, but if that's the case, the river is in flood and has burst it's banks. The other is that I wish we were a little nearer the sea. Not having either were compromises, of course. I love our house and I wouldn't want to move anywhere else, but there are always those small things on a figurative 'wish list'.

On the other side of things, though, too near a river would mean constant worry about flooding, and too near the sea would be constant cold winds blowing in from the Atlantic - and given the recent Atlantic winds, perhaps it is just as well that our house is nicely snuggled in our lovely valley.

I mention the sea in another context as well. My Smugglers non fiction book is finished, and submitted to Pen and Sword Press, and by the time you read this, the new short-read novella of how Jesamiah Acorne became a pirate should be available as an eBook. I had great fun writing 'When the Mermaid Sings', although it was hard work checking the continuity with the previous books. It meant having to read them all again. It's a tough job, but these things have to be done! *laugh*

So what's the next project? I'll either have a look at writing Madoc the Horseman, a spin-off from my King Arthur Trilogy, or I will get on with the sixth Jesamiah Voyage, Gallows Wake.

Given my love of the sea, I reckon it might be the latter. Why is it that we love the sea? Maybe it's because we came from beneath the waves?
"Smugglers in Fact and Fiction", as the title is at the moment, is all done and delivered. My graphics designer and I had a bit of a scrabble during the last weeks of October, however, as the publisher, Pen & Sword, decided at the last minute to include photographic illustrations. This meant I had to source at least twenty-five images from official stock sources. Not, I can assure you, an easy task!

However, I am pleased to say that with the help of my brother-in-law who is an excellent photographer, a good photo of one of our Exmoor Ponies (for the 'five and twenty ponies trotting through the dark' poem by Rudyard Kipling,) plus three lovely sketches of smugglerish things by a lady called Mia Pelletier, combined with three days of looking through suitable stock images, we got there.

For all you writers, especially indie authors, who contact designers to come up with an eye-catching cover for a novel, please keep in mind that finding an image, or often several images, is not easy.

It involves hours of scrolling through pages of potential photographs - a little like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. It is essential, however, to ensure you have copyright permission to use any images. Just because you find something on the Internet which is a gorgeous photograph of exactly what you want to complement your story, does not mean you can willy-nilly copy and use it.

Keep a sharp eye for accuracy and content as well. If your novel is about a thriller taking place on board a train, don't have an aeroplane on the cover. Or a Medieval setting perhaps, so why use something typically Tudor?

Having said that, the graphic image on the Home page this month, designed by Cathy Helms, is very inaccurate for the period in which my King Arthur Trilogy is set. The novels are Post Roman, the graphics are clearly more Medieval… but this is only a website image, not a book cover, and anyway, it's a superb design!

Talking of covers, and Cathy Helms, well done to her talented ability for being placed as Runner Up in the recent Rone Awards for the cover design for 1066 Turned Upside Down.

With Smugglers finished I am now about to embark on my next project. "What be that then?" do I hear you ask. Well it might be my Madoc the Horseman murder-mystery, or it might be the next Jesamiah adventure. I suspect the pirate will get his own way though - he's very demanding!

Following the publication of my novella When the Mermaid Sings, which is a prequel to the main Sea Witch Voyages series, I have had several people urge me to write something even earlier than 'How Jesamiah became a pirate'. "We want to know more about his mother and father" they all say. Okay, it's on the To-Do list.

I had a nice break during the last weekend in October; a quick trip by train to Bristol for my publisher's annual social gathering. Thank you to Helen Hart and everyone at SilverWood Books Ltd for their hospitality. It was great fun meeting with new authors and old friends - especially Wendy Percival and Lucienne Boyce, two highly talented authors. Devonian Wendy writes mysteries connected to genealogy and 'family tree research', while Lucienne also writes mysteries but of a very different type. Her's are set in the eighteenth century with Bow Street Runner, Dan Foster, as her protagonist. She also writes non-fiction about the Bristol Suffragettes.

Meeting Wendy was one of those 'oo-er' coincidence moments. Soon after we'd moved in, I asked the previous owners of our house here in Devon if they knew a good architect. They gave the name of their friend's son who is a very good architect, and mentioned that his Mum, Wendy, was a writer. Imagine our surprise when it turned out that Wendy was also published by SilverWood Books!

So, What of the Pendragon? I often wonder whether it is worth my while to keep the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy in print, and then Lucienne spoke to me at the SilverWood 'do'.

She had just finished reading the entire Trilogy - and she loved it. Honest praise from a fellow highly respected author means such a lot:

"The characterisation is superb, the action scenes memorable, and the grasp of the political machinations is so good it's like an extra fix of Game of Thrones!

Arthur is at times very unlikeable: no modern man in fancy dress here but a man of his time - and that time was brutal.

As for Gwenhwyfar, I thought she was a brilliant heroine, at times strong, at times horribly vulnerable. Their relationship is compelling and feels true - no sickly romance here either!

And from a different reader:

"Don't read this book (or any of the trilogy) expecting a tale of mystery, magic and Merlin. Rather a historian's view of what the real Arthur and Britain in the post-Roman, pre-Saxon age might have been like.

This is a time when Rome has deserted the British and the English are only just arriving from 'Germany' bringing with them upheaval and a constant struggle for power. A time when 1,000 soldiers is considered a major force and tribal and ethnic loyalties are constantly shifting.

As in real life many people are looking to the past and the glory of Rome while others want to look to the future. Not as clear a distinction as it sounds. Dirt, death, tragedy and a nicely dispassionate view of life and death keeps the books rocking along even though they are quite substantial.

I did manage to put it down but it did certainly keep me popping back as often as possible.

So I think for once I'll pat myself on the back, raise my chin and declare that I am proud, very proud, of my version of the King Arthur story! What of the Pendragon?
I think most of my 'followers' know that I was Managing Editor of a review section for indie historical novels for several years, but things went unexpectedly pear-shaped. I wished to remain involved with the sort of review site that openly supported indie writers however, so set up my own historical fiction review blog, Discovering Diamonds, all the while thinking to myself "What on earth are you doing Helen? Where are you going to find the time?" (Add in several question and exclamation marks!)

Well, you know the old saying: 'If you want something done… do it yourself.'

I wanted a review blog where I could show that indie writers could be just as good as (maybe even better than) traditional mainstream authors, and I wanted to support good writers in getting the attention they deserve.

Indie and self-published writers often get a raw deal in many respects, notably with the disadvantage against traditional authors who have the huge marketing machine of the Big Publishers behind them. Indies have to do everything, from editing, to production to marketing - and believe me, Social Media Marketing is not as easy as it seems. It can be a hard slog to promote a book if you are an indie writer, it is one of those every-day necessity jobs.

I wanted a blog where good books worth reading could be shouted about. I had a fabulous team of reviewers already behind me - they came with me when I departed that other place - and plenty of books to review, so, although with I admit some initial trepidation, off we went.

We officially opened Discovering Diamonds on January 1st 2017, meaning that our first anniversary is approaching. In that time we have reviewed several hundred books, awarded our Discovering Diamonds logo to some brilliant novels, and are going from strength to strength - thanks to those fabulous reviewers and admin people who are also on board. Together we have created a dedicated and energetic team, and I am delighted to be working with such wonderful people. Add to this, to date, we have had over 110,000 page views, so we are being noticed.

I was also determined, when I set out on this venture, to not distinguish indie novels from traditionally published ones. Our 'criteria' is that we review a book on the grounds of it being a good book worth reading, and value for money for the person buying it. A good book is a good book, regardless of how it is published. Most readers are not even aware of that distinctive publisher's logo.

I leave a comment for every book we review on Amazon and Goodreads, and we work in conjunction with Indie BRAG and Chill With A Book.

For 2018, now that Discovering Diamonds has established itself as a worthy site for readers, writers and publishers, my aim is to expand and attract in the traditional publishing houses as well; and hopefully more keen reviewers too.

My other intention was to create a place of interest for readers and a site where authors could showcase their talents. After all, the reader is the most important person; if we do not have readers there is little point in writing the book in the first place. For the Festive Season, I looked for something exciting to attract in further readers.

The end result is a series of fabulous short stories or excerpts written by a host of fantastic and diverse authors. These will be published every day from 3rd December until the 23rd. Each contribution has a common theme of something connected to Diamonds, and I am delighted to say that every story is brilliant; a couple even made me cry they are so packed with emotion.

So, tune in to Discovering Diamonds on 3rd December 2017 for our first story, and then every day until Christmas. I promise, our "Diamond Tales" will not leave you disappointed!

Greetings of the Season to one and all. Diamonds are… a writer's inspiration!