Christmas is coming – three times over.

Christmas is approaching rapidly, but I am unprepared. I am writing and find it difficult to stop.

But it is not going smoothly; those word updates do not measure an even progress from start to finish. I am darting about from place to place, never knowing where I am.

I never thought it would be easy. The approach of Book One to publication day. The pause with Book Two, awaiting feedback and more editing. The start of Book Three.

It is Book Three that is causing problems, perhaps because I started planning. Not major planning, just dividing the book into chunks – I have six, or maybe seven. See, I can’t do planning properly! A few weeks ago I wrote here about having found an antagonist. I wanted to give him a trial, so I wrote a scene, then another. This section of the book, for various reasons, I planned to write in the present tense. It would be interspersed with other POVs. So that I didn’t become confused, I decided to write the whole of this section, before moving back to past tense. It must have worked, because I then had difficulties shaking off the present tense. I had 9,000 words.

I knew what came next, I continued, another 9,000 words. The ideas were coming thick and fast, I wanted to carry on. Nothing wrong with this, you might say, in fact it’s great.

Except – I’ve got to stop. This section is towards the end of the book. I think I know where the end comes, but more and more words come spilling out and the end gets further away. What about what comes before? The main part of the book. Not only is it not yet written, I’m not even sure where it starts! With regret, I have forced myself to stop.

I have returned to the start. I have rewritten an abandoned ending to book two as the start of book three. I have written more, I think it is going OK.

But – As I write, the abandoned characters at the end keep calling to me, “Come back, we want to carry on.” While the same characters, at an earlier point in the story shout, “No, us first. We might change everything and you will never exist.” It is difficult enough, but the book covers a year in time, from winter to winter, Christmas to Christmas. Today, I had to stop and think – would he be wearing those clothes, or did he acquire them later. One Christmas is happy, the other not. There is snow one year and not the other.

And then there is real life, Christmas is coming. Will my mother end up with a sword. Will Byrhtnoth find a box set of Vikings DVDs under his tree?

Should I give up and spend the next month in bed?

No, because the voices are calling and I cannot silence them.

Box set for Byrhtnoth?

Advertisements

Review – The Briton and the Dane

“Gwyneth walked towards the formidable Keep, nodding to the guards patrolling the wall-walk once she reached the top of the tower. She breathed in the sea air, admiring the beauty of the land as the sun disappeared below the horizon, mesmerized by the rich and colorful hues of the darkening sky. She was comforted by the melodious sound of breaking waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, which was a calming respite from the throes of a violent world.”

This is the start of  “The Briton and the Dane” by Mary Ann Bernal. I downloaded this book some time ago (June 2015, Amazon tells me.) I got 18% into the book, before giving up – it was so bad. Looking for something to review this week, I decided to give it another try. After all, Amazon’s reviews for this book average 9.5 stars. The reviewers rave over it. Was I missing something?

I pressed on to about 50% – My opinion hasn’t changed.

Let’s return to Gwyneth in her castle. Not a bad start, a bit dramatic, but you need to hook the reader. She sees a wounded stranger, wandering the beach. She rescues him, patches him up and “the sight of his bulging muscles caused her heart to beat faster” and she instantly falls in love with him. A bit quick but this is Historical Romance. Actually I would have liked a picture of the bulging muscles on the cover – it would have helped to relieve the tedium!

We meet Gwyneth’s family: her father Lord Richard, her brothers David and Stephen. Gwyneth does not know that her father has arranged a marriage to another man, she runs away, etc. There are other characters all in love with or married to the wrong man. There are political complications. The language is a type of cod medieval that I last heard in (very) old films. A phrase picked at random, during a fight to the death:

“Lord, please spare David,” Gwyneth silently prayed, “and end this fight before blood is spent!” (In fact, typing it out, I’m not sure what this means!)

None of this would necessarily put me off, except for one thing – Remember? I am writing a series of posts on the subject of Anglo-Saxons and (in this case Romance). This book is set in the reign of King Alfred. The bulging muscles belong to a Dane called Eric, but you would never have guessed from the other names, that they are Anglo-Saxon. These Norman names would not appear in England for more than two hundred years.

It is set shortly after King Guthrum’s defeat by Alfred and his conversion to Christianity. Lord Richard is the Lord of Wareham. Now I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to Wareham, I might well have passed through it on holidays in the area, but I am pretty sure there are was no Anglo-Saxon castle (with keep) on the cliffs there. In fact, there are no cliffs, rocky or otherwise. A quick check on Wikipedia would tell you that:

“The town is built on a strategic dry point between the River Frome and the River Piddle at the head of the Wareham Channel of Poole Harbour. The Frome Valley runs through an area of unresistant sand, clay and gravel rocks, and much of its valley has wide flood plains and marsh land. At its estuary the river has formed the wide shallow ria of Poole Harbour. Wareham is built on a low dry island between the marshy river plains.”

Yes, King Alfred built earth ramparts round the town and it was occupied by the Danes in 976. But sorry, no “formidable fortress sitting atop the rocky cliff”. There were no stone castles until the Normans built them 200 years later. Just a few ruined walls left by the Romans.

For me this book failed on every level. The plot is difficult to follow – people tell each other what is happening, repeatedly and there are unexpected flashbacks to explain what happened in the past. The setting was wrong and there was absolutely no sense that these characters were living in the ninth century.

As for Gwyneth and Eric, I have no wish to find out if they live happily ever after. I assume they do as the series continues for two more books, with what looks like a spin-off, plus a time slip novel. There are many, much better, books out there to read instead.

Despite, or perhaps because of, this, I wrote 6,541 words last week (with this post that means I’m over my weekly target of 7k!)

 

Prize Winning Author

Have you noticed? You look at the website or blog of a well known author, and some not so well known authors, and are faced with a sidebar full of awards. Their biography includes every single literary prize they have one from the year dot and the cover of their latest book proclaims it to be “prize winning” – occasionally it actually states which prize! Has anyone ever bought a book because the author has won a prize?

Do I sound jealous? I shouldn’t. I too have won a writing prize.

Last Monday evening, it was the Rugby Family History Group AGM and Christmas Social. As a member of the committee I was armed with my report – how far we had got with the transcription of a local Parish Register; how our First World War Project was going (300 men researched, 100+ to go) more volunteers wanted, and what was happening on the website (not a lot). We dozed through the financial report and looked elsewhere when asked if there were any volunteers to replace the secretary, who was retiring at that meeting. Another report concerned the Magazine. As always the editor complained of lack of copy, please could someone write something for the next issue. Because I’m a helpful type, I can usually manage to produce something when she gets desperate

Some years ago, to encourage submissions, we set up The Harry Batchelor Prize for the best article in the previous years magazines (three issues). This is to commemorate our first Chairman, and is presented at the end of the AGM – before we let the hordes loose on the food – provided, of course, by the committee. The prize is judged by someone from the local library, a local writer and last years winner. I got out my camera to take photographs, to add to the website. The envelope was opened, imaginary drums rolled, the commended and highly commended articles were announced. I lined up my camera. The winner was an article entitled “But what was he doing in  Ireland?”.  Must be that chap with the Irish ancestors.

It wasn’t. It was me! I had forgotten all about that one.

I stood up to receive my prize. Cameras flashed,  well, one did and someone had the foresight to pick up mine, and take a picture. Champagne flowed – someone later opened the wine box!

And I became a prize winning author.

Shall I add it to the side bar? Winner of the Harry Batchelor Prize, 2017

And 2013, 2011 and 2009 – did I mention I’ve won before? I try not to do it too often – it means I have to act as judge next year!

Review – Northman

“843 AD. A Viking raid on an Anglo-Saxon village in England sets into motion a train of events that results, 1200 years later, in the release of an eternal evil into the lives of two unsuspecting and damaged people: archaeologist Kate and ‘B’ movie film director, Michael.” 

Sounds a bit like last week’s blog post? It’s not, but there is a link. Having written a review of a book combining Anglo-Saxon and humour, why not continue the “Anglo-Saxon and …” theme? I decided on Horror – I fancied a bit of gore. I don’t know where I came across this book, Northman, by J D Hughes. It might have popped up in one of Amazon’s lists of recommended books. The description continues:
Then, their descent into absolute terror begins. Ultimate conflict. Ultimate sacrifice. But more is at stake than their lives, or their love. Are you ready for terror? Come on in. Thorkild is waiting for you.” – sounds good!

By coincidence, the story concerns a ninth century Viking in a burial mound, a female archaeologist and a male film maker, but it couldn’t be more different. It starts with the Viking Thorkild, sailing up the Trent for a bit of rape and pillage. This is particularly graphic violence, as is the revenge taken by the villagers – a mixture of British and Saxon.

The book turns to a series of mysterious events. A second world war German plane drops a bomb that doesn’t explode, until, years later, a tractor hits it. Planes inexplicably crash. A poacher apparently kills himself.

Kate, the archaeologist, who has arrived to investigate the Viking remains scattered by the explosion, is attacked. She is found by Michael, who has just finished a film. They are attracted to each other, but reject their feelings. They are both grieving for previous partners, dead or just estranged.  It was at this point I nearly gave up – the characters seemed unsympathetic, almost wooden and there was too much background detail. I wanted to get onto with what I thought was the story – the usual reincarnation of the historic characters/ghosts in modern people and the fight to destroy/lay to rest the dead Viking. (As told in several of the novels by Barbara Erskine and many others.) This is similar, but much more.

Kate and Michael meet again, unexpectedly, in Madrid, but are drawn back to England. Other characters appear, a Spanish translator, Kate’s elderly archaeologist boss, an RAF accident investigator. A flask of radioactive material heading for recycling splits on a ferry at Dover, causing multiple deaths. A museum attendant in Chicago is skinned alive and a woman in Madrid is decapitated. What is the connection?

Gradually everything comes together in a climax, or several climaxes. Things change depending on the point of view. This is what makes the whole book so terrifying. You think you understand the plot, but something happens and you are knocked backwards. The action jumps from place to place, from person to person and from the past to present and back again. The random acts of violence catch you unawares, the long expositions on men and women and the differences between them start to make sense, perhaps.

There is a lot of description, particularly of dark woods, of darkness in general, but even in the heat of Madrid, there is something uneasy in the brightly lit modern hotel.

It is the ideal horror book – enough plot to keep the brain busy, and that hint of menace to keep you looking over your shoulder.

I’m not going to give away the plot, but by the end, everything has changed, in unexpected ways. Only one person knows the truth, though – and the white horses!

The ebook, published in 2014 is only £1.49 and there is a more recent paperback for £10.99.

Mr Hughes has written another, similar book “And Soon the Song.” I have already purchased it. He has also written short stories details on his blog

So, where shall I go next in my “Anglo-Saxon and …” series? Romance perhaps? One of those books with a well muscled man on the front?

Or something else? Suggestions welcome, only please make it something short – I only managed to write 5,500 words last week.

And I really must get on with some Christmas shopping!

 

Review – Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?

Recently, in class, we have been learning about “Voice” and how different genres need to be written in a voice typical of that genre. I have had difficulty with this – I just write, without thinking about  how I do it. One of the genres we discussed was humour and Tom Holt’s book “Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?”. Someone lent me a copy. I loved it!

If you are the sort of reader that enjoys the idea of Vikings rampaging across Northern Scotland (or indeed, London) dressed in grey suits from Marks and Spencer – complete with swords and helmets, this is the book for you.

The story is simple. An ancient barrow is discovered, filled with a crew of sleeping Vikings. Clumsy archaeologist Hildy Frederiksen disturbs them, just in time to save the world from an evil Sorcerer-King. A standard fantasy  plot (I assume – I don’t read much fantasy.) that is high-jacked by the upending of expectations.

For example the Vikings, who talk and act as you would expect, are completely unfazed by the modern world. As people used to facing sorcerers and dragons, what is there to be feared in a double-decker bus? It’s just magic. They find there are places in Scotland that they say haven’t changed in 1200 years – alcohol can still be drunk on the same premises.

The Sorcerer-King is a rich businessman in a London tower block. He invented computers and controls newspapers. Extra enjoyment, for me, came from the fact that this book was published in 1988, when computer languages were FORTRAN and BASIC and radiophones in cars were a rich man’s toy.

There are wizards and elemental spirits that get drunk on electricity. There is a wolf who was transformed into a man so long ago, that when he returns to wolf shape, he cannot remember how to attack. And there is a BBC film maker obsessed with a conspiracy involving the Milk Marketing Board.

Mix all this together in a language that twists and turns, that caused me to laugh out loud. Not too loud, I hope. I read most of it on a coach to London and back. Other passengers must have wondered what was so funny about my family history research. I wanted to read out some of the cleverest lines. Instead I will mention some here:

The Sorcerer-King is in his office, feeling bored, so he gets out his sword: “With a grunt, he swung the sword round his head and brought it down accurately and with tremendous force on a dark green filing-cabinet, cleaving it from A to J.”

The wolf/business man is on his way to Scotland, to find out what is happening. “In the age of the supersonic airliner, a man can have breakfast in London and lunch in New York (if his digestion can stand it); but to get from Manchester to the north coast of Scotland between the waxing and the waning of the moon still requires not only dedication and cunning but also a modicum of good luck, just as it did in the Dark Ages.”

It is not just the evil characters (see last post) that provide the fun, it is also the Vikings. They all have their own characters, their own jokes; their disappointments when they discover the saga telling of their famous deeds has not survived the years, or has been twisted out of shape – like the Sutton Hoo helmet which they explain to the British Museum guide has been wrongly recreated.

In charge is King Hrolf, who experiences all the hidden doubts and loneliness of a leader. Like them all, he must fight or die and go to spend eternity in Valhalla, although apparently that is not what it was. “Nice enough place, I suppose, except that the food all comes out of a microwave these days and the wish-maidens are definitely past their prime. A bit like one of those run-down gentlemen’s clubs in Pall Mall, if you ask me.

They would have got nowhere, though, without Hildy. She joins the Vikings, driving them about in a variety of vehicles, selling Viking rings to dealers for cash, buying multiple servings of fish & chips to feed the King and his warriors and of course the M&S suit to disguise them. She does so well that the king give her a Name – Vel-Hilda. “The Nose word vel is short and means “well”. The same may be said of you.” A piece of wordplay worthy of the Vikings (or Anglo-Saxons).

Did I learn anything from this book? Something about building memorable characters and the use of the right word to define time and place. Also I will read more books by Tom Holt – why hadn’t come across him before?

I like to use a little humour in my writing, but I’m not sure I could manage something so accomplished – though it would be fun trying.

Writing update: 9,356 words in a week. Although not necessarily in the week in question. I was stopped in my tracks by the trip to the National Archives in London and distracted by a (possible) ancestor who left an estate worth one thousand pounds and upwards – in 1666!

Must go now – my publisher has sent the final proofs for the complete cover of Bright Sword and I must go and drool over it.

Someone to Hate

If you are writing a book, you know who your Protagonist is – the person whose story you are telling – The Hero. In my case this is Byrhtnoth. He is searching for something – a sword. Some characters help him (friends), others oppose (enemies). Others are padding – sorry – there to help the story along. But where is the Antagonist? The Moriarty to my Holmes? The Voldemort to my Harry Potter?

I thought I knew who my Antagonist was, but I have been mislead.  I can’t continue with my original plan, due to history. He is a real person, he cannot die before his time, I cannot kill him off at my convenience.

The real antagonist was there in the shadows, hiding until the time was right. He was there in book one, but disappeared. He returns in book two, briefly and does something nasty. I planned to have him killed in book three, in a particularly horrible way, but have given him a reprieve. He is just too bad to throw away!

I nearly missed it. He is so slippery that I didn’t notice that I got his name wrong in the first draft of book two, but now I recognise him.  When I started writing I picked names at random, his was one of them, but now I see how right it is. It has even given me the title for book three. Not that I am going to give away that information yet – things may still change.

I must use him carefully. Like salt in food, a small amount enhances the dish, too much spoils it. I must get to know him, why is he so nasty? Is he completely bad or does he have some redeeming features? Is he kind to kittens? Is he capable of change? Because without change he is a pantomime villain. Just as a hero is boring without his flaws, he must have a good side.

I find the best way to find out about my characters is to just write. I have written a scene. It is from somewhere in the middle of book three, protagonist and antagonist together. Already I have discovered something about the relationship. I look forward to working with him. Of course I say “Him”, for convenience. He might be a she!

So, eventually, I have started book three. Setting a target to write 1,000 words a day or 7,000 a week worked before. I didn’t always hit it, but explaining why not, forced me to write some creative blog posts.

Bright Sword is published on 28th January – that’s ten weeks away. 10 times 7,000 is 70,000 – that’s the best part of a book!

Will I make it?

 

Fireworks for Byrhtnoth

I have come to a turning point. Well, not a turning point, just a place to stop and take stock of where I am going.

This afternoon, I finished editing Book 2. Not sure which edit it is but I have gone through the first draft, checking for all those words I overuse. One of the worst was “look”. My characters look up, look down, they look at each other, they look at the sky, at the sea and their own hands. Well, they did, but not any more, and you know what? They don’t miss it at all (I did have to put back one or two, You can’t have a whole book without the word “look”.) Other words were Begin and Start, as in “he began to do something” – no he didn’t – he just did it! There are many others – I got rid of as many as possible. Then there were the adverbs – chopped.

When I had done that, I printed out the whole thing, then locked myself away where no-one could hear and read it out loud! The things you discover when you do that! I returned to the computer with my, by now, colourful pages and made the amendments, picking up other errors on the way.

I now have a readable manuscript of just over 91K words – just where I wanted to be. I have turned it into an ebook and sent it off to my Beta readers – yes, I have actually found someone to do that job. I was tempted to write another chapter – there are a few loose ends, but that can wait, for now.

While going through all this, scenes for book 3 have been running through my mind. When the first line appeared, I knew I had to start writing again. I thought about taking part in NaNoWriMo, but didn’t allow myself to start until the editing was finished. It’s too late now, but I would never have managed 50k words in a month. I have too many other things to do.

Bright Sword finally came to the end of its proofread/copyediting and is being printed. It is available for pre-order in all the usual outlets. It even has a review on Good Reads – four stars!

So now I have given a big sigh (another overused word!) and prepare to start writing again.

To celebrate this, and because it’s 5th November, here are some fireworks.

And if you are wondering what fireworks have to do with Byrhtnoth, this picture is from a film was taken on 10th August 1991 – the finale of the thousand-year anniversary of the Battle of Maldon.

(It was supposed to be a video, but apparently it was the wrong format – just hum Ride of the Valkyries and imagine the bangs!)

Or watch on Facebook