Ups and Downs.

Time is whizzing past. Already it is the middle of January, which means it is less than two weeks before Bright Sword is published.

How do I feel? –  Terrible! It took a number of #BlueMonday hashtags on Twitter before it registered that it is the official “Most Depressing Day of the Year.” It’s something to do with weather, debt and failure of resolutions. For me it’s the day I went down with a cold – if it is a cold – there are some very nasty things going around this winter, all of which I have managed to dodge, until now.

At least it explains why I have found it difficult to write.

The last week has been very up and down. On Tuesday there arrived a pile of boxes – the delivery of actual copies of my book. Amazing feeling to hold one in my hand, open it and recognise the words that had come from my imagination and were now engraved forever in print – assuming anyone buys them!

On Thursday, I was about to leave for the writing class, clutching a copy to show off to everyone, when I received a report from a beta reader of book two. Talk about being brought down to earth! It was a shock, but they made lots of useful suggestions for me to think about, which is, of course, what I wanted them to do.

In between this, life was catching up with me after the Christmas break. A Family History meeting where I had to prepare a pile of parish register images for the group to transcribe. A Local History meeting, where we are putting together a new book for publication – and I haven’t even finished writing my articles. Yes, I will have another book out this year, and by coincidence it will also have an orange cover (It’s the tenth in a series and it’s the only colour we haven’t used yet! See here.)

On Saturday, there was a meeting of the Rugby Archaeological Society – a fascinating talk about Roman mosaics. Perhaps I could mention that at next months meeting (10th February) there will be a talk about Anglo-Saxon life, by Richard Denning – a much more famous author than me, although I might bring a few books, and a pen, with me!

So, yesterday, although I didn’t really feel like it, I tried to catch up with my writing. It didn’t go well. My characters were out of control – but not in an interesting way. Instead of getting out there and doing things, they will insist on getting together and telling each other what’s happened in the previous books. I wrote one conversation, deleted it, rewrote it, didn’t like it much but have left it for now. I did manage 1211 words. It got me to a  total of nearly 4000, this week, but I’m sure it will be scrapped.

An author needs to be strong and healthy to write. Perhaps I’ll wrap myself up and do some reading.

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Review – The Daughter of Time

I’ve had a bit of a Tudor binge over Christmas. It started when I saw the ebook of A Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey on special offer. This is a book that I had heard of, but never got round to reading. It has been mentioned several times in class. In fact, last term we did an exercise based on it – exploring what we could find out about a face in an unknown, historical portrait.

That is what the book is about. A policeman, stuck in hospital with nothing to do, is brought a pile of portraits by a friend. She knows that he prides himself on identifying whether a person is guilty or not, just by looking at their face. He becomes fascinated by one particular face – he decides this man is not a criminal, more probably a judge or a soldier. He is shocked to find out that this is the portrait of Richard III, reviled killer of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.

He shows the picture to other people. Everyone sees something different, depending on their own experience. For example, the doctor sees illness – “Poliomyelitis” and a nurse “Liver”. The Matron says “It is the most desperately unhappy face that I have ever encountered.” The only person who sees evil is someone who recognises the man.

The policeman, Alan Grant, decides to find out more. He wants to solve a crime, five hundred years old.

The advantages, for the plot, is that this book was written in 1951. For a start, no one would be bored in hospital, with television, internet etc, so it would never get started. In this case, he must wait, for a member of staff to bring in a book on history, then another. He finds books disagree, nothing satisfies him that the “case” has been properly solved. He needs to look at original sources. The friend  who brought the pictures finds someone to work for him; a young American doing research in the British Library. He follows the policeman’s instructions, moving from contemporary historical accounts, back to original documents. All this takes time. The focus of the book remains the policeman, never moving from the hospital room. Of course there are no mobile phones, he must wait, patiently, until his assistant visits with information and is then sent for more.

Finally the policeman comes to a conclusion – a conclusion that runs against all accepted wisdom. The American assistant, astounded at the new interpretation, prepares to write a book that will make him famous and show his father he is not worthless. Then there is a final twist – which I won’t reveal in case someone hasn’t read it.

Although written and set in the 1950s, it does not seem old-fashioned. That, I suppose, is why it is a classic. It never moves beyond those four walls of the hospital room but covers relationships from modern times back into the past. It explores the meaning of history and how it is interpreted by historians  for their own ends. And of course it is a proper detective story, with a satisfying ending – whatever your views on the “truth”.

A perfect example of how to write.

I then moved on, from the sublime to, well, The White Princess – both book and TV series. But I’ll save that for another time.

As for my own writing, I started the year well, with 2,340 words on New Years Day. Since then, I’ve only done another 989. I intended to do more yesterday, but needed to look up a fact. I couldn’t find it and ended up sorting out all my writing paperwork, class notes, homework, letters from publishers etc. At least I achieved something, if not what I wanted!