Eight Authors, One Table

A few weeks ago I heard about the Southam Book Festival, which was to be held on 30th September. It was not far away, so I made enquiries. It looked interesting and the cost of a table was very reasonable.

Now, I only have one book to sell – at the moment. Perhaps another writer might like to join me. I asked around, several people expressed an interest, perhaps two tables would be better.

Lift off came when I attended a meeting of the Cafe Writers. This is a group who meets at the Cafe in St Andrews Parish Church in Rugby, on alternate Fridays. All writers are welcome;  fiction, non-fiction, poetry, screenplays. Experts, beginners or just anyone interested in books. We drink coffee, eat cake and talk about books.

Rugby Cafe Writers planning the trip to Southam

Everyone who had published a book was interested, we had a total of eight authors altogether – I booked two tables.

I turned up in plenty of time with my bag of books and two tablecloths. The festival started at 2pm, but I wanted to get there before the other writers. I soon realised that two tables would not be enough. I had thought to bring a tape measure in case of boundary disputes. We would only have one foot of table each. I stood there, shaking my head and the organisers offered me another table. We now had 18 inches each! Luckily the table cloths were big enough to cover all three. I measured off my territory and arranged my books.

To my complete amazement, everyone had arrived and was set up in time for the opening. All around us, there were other book sellers. Example of writing from a flash fiction competition were pinned on the wall and an temping array of cakes was set up at the counter opposite us.

Eight authors in search of readers.

The festival only lasted three hours but I think all of us sold some books – I sold two. It was great fun, if a little crowded. With such a range of genres, there was something for everyone. If a customer wasn’t interested in my Anglo-Saxon historical fiction, I could send them down the line to the Victorian period. There were thrillers and romance, fantasy and family sagas. 

Elsewhere in the building workshops and talks were going on, by authors (and dogs). There was a literary quiz sheet and a raffle. It also included a writing competition for children, which produced an international response.

 The event  was held at The Graham Adams Centre in Southam, a community centre run by a local charity. The proceeds of the event will go to the charity.  This was the first time this event has been held and I hope it continues in future years. I’m sure the Rugby Cafe Writers will be back next year.

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Historical Novel Society Conference, 2018

Writers, in general, tend to be wee, sleekit, cowran, tim’rous beasties and writers of historical fiction are no different. We hide, seeing nobody, ignoring even our friends and family, concentrating only on our research/writing/editing, only the occasional glance at Twitter for light relief and kittens.

However, collect 100+ historical fiction writers together in a Hotel and Golf Resort in Scotland and you can barely hear yourself think for the noise.

Yes it was the end of August 2018 and time for the Historical Novel Society Conference. I don’t know why HNS arranged all those Keynote speeches, and Break-out sessions, they could have just locked the doors and let us chat in peace.

Friday afternoon and attendees gathered, the main topic of conversation was where we were from and how far we had travelled. Naturally there were a lot of Scots, and Americans. The English seemed to be in short supply. For anyone who has never been to one of these events, the conversation then continues: Am I talking to another author, or someone else? What era? What stage – planning, writing, published? If so, how? Sometimes you find a “twin” and can end up in a deep and meaningful discussion in the type of mud and height of reeds in the fenland near Ely.

But what about the planned program? There were too many alternatives to go into detail, so I will just pick out what I remember.

Friday evening, after a buffet dinner,  there was supposed to be a talk by Robin Ellis, the original Poldark, but he was indisposed. Instead Graham Hunter, costume designer for Outlander and other films and TV, showed us some of the original clothes he had collected over the years, mostly survivals from the eighteenth century. He was informative and enthusiastic, but unfortunately let down by the microphone system – something that was to plague other speakers. The clothes were modelled by his assistant (Laurie?). Why don’t men look so smart nowadays?

This was followed by the Late Night Question Time Special, which was probably a bit too late for many.

Saturday was a beautiful day, what a pity we had to spend it indoors, but it was worth it. The first Keynote session was Alison Weir talking about Jane Seymour. Alison writes both fiction and non fiction and discussed the different constraints this puts on how you write. We heard a lot about the life of King Henry’s third wife and how difficult it can be to know what she felt about her position and what her intentions were. In non fiction we cannot say, in fiction we can take an educated guess. Alison also told us about a new theory about what caused the death of Jane. Fascinating.

Ben Kane talking about research, I think.

There was a pause for refreshments and for the room to be rearranged and it was on to the first Break-out Session. I had chosen Ben Kane on “Clash of Empires Rome v Greece.” Ben has written many acclaimed books on the Romans, but has decided on a change to the Greeks. He gave a brief run down on the world a generation after Alexander the Great, after the Roman army had been almost  totally destroyed at Cannae. Fighting broke out in Macedonia where Phillip V was surrounded by enemies. Rome intervened around 200 BC. What happened is told in Ben’s latest book, Clash of Empires, which of course I had to buy. An interesting talk about a little known period of history.

The next session was about using Ingram Spark, less exciting, but useful if I decide to  self publish my next book. This was followed by a buffet Lunch and then a session on writing Children’s Historical Fiction. I only caught the beginning and end of this as I had a pitch meeting booked. I don’t know why I put myself through it, but at least I wasn’t as nervous as last time, which I suppose is progress. Finding out about Children’s Historical Fiction would have been more helpful.

Later in the afternoon were more Plenary Sessions: The HNS Awards and reading of extracts from the winning entries, then “From Book to Radio/Screen. Paul Welsh and Trevor Royle discussed the differing methods of translating a book for transmission in other media. Both routes need much changes to the source material – in radio, how to suggest the things that cannot be seen, with film the difficulty is to capture the thoughts of the characters by the way they react to the world around them. Something to think about when writing.

We were then allowed a break. I went and lay on my bed for half an hour, before dressing for the Gala Dinner and Ceilidh.

As we gathered in the bar, we could hear a piper. He marched up and down outside (it was a lovely evening) and then he piped us into dinner.

I spoke earlier about the constant talk. As we waited for our food, we hardly noticed how long it took, although I heard some people gave up. Dinner was at 7.00 pm and it was after 8.00 before our starters arrived, perhaps too long, although it was very nice when it finally arrived.

The ceilidh, when it finally arrived was worth waiting for. By the number of people who asked how to pronounce the word, I realised that many participants had no idea what was to happen – some, I think were still mystified by the end. I will draw a veil over the proceedings, except to say that anyone who watched the dancing of the Gay Gordons will never forget it – those who took part probably still have the bruises – hilarious chaos.

On Sunday morning, people were already starting to leave – trains to catch etc. They probably don’t want to know, but they missed the best talk of the conference: the keynote speech by Sarah Dunant. This was slightly late in starting, I’m not sure why – had someone overslept? It was worth the wait though. Sarah writes about women’s lives in the Italian Renaissance, but today she was talking about the Borgias. Everyone knows about the Borgias – the pope and his family – the corruption, the poison, the incest. We had fun looking at some of the ways they have been portrayed in books and films, but was that the truth? Apparently not. Alexander VI was certainly not the most well behaved of renaissance popes, but he was by no means the worst. He was vilified because he was foreign, the family was Spanish. His daughter, Lucrezia gained a bad reputation from which, as can happen to a woman, she was unable to escape. The Fake News started almost immediately, never to let up. Until now, when Sarah Dunant has produced a possibly more accurate view of this famous family.

Sarah Dunant, Pope Alexander VI and someone else.

Something struck me when I came to write this post. I only bought two books at this conference. Fairly restrained for me, but I didn’t have much room in my luggage! They were books by the most informative and entertaining speakers, Sarah Dunant and Ben Kane. Is there any significance in this? Does being an engaging speaker help to sell your books. Something to think about!

The rest of the morning passed in a rush. The next session I attended was that of Margaret Skea on Stealing Stories, using real places and people and using them as a basis for your fiction. She explained how she used one castle she knew for the outside of her fictional version and a different one for the inside. She tried to use a real person as her main character, but found it too constricting, finally letting a minor imaginary character to tell the story.

At this point I would like to thank Margaret for all her work in organising the conference. She was continually on the move, solving problems, checking people were in the right place and allways with a smile on her face.

Galloping swiftly on to the final Break-out session: The Horse, a workshop with Jane Harlond on how to avoid making mistakes while using horses in our books. She even got us sitting backwards on our chairs to demonstrate the different stirrup positions when using a sword or throwing a lance. I wish we had had more time, but I learned a lot. I will certainly watch Poldark riding his horse along the cliffs in a new light!

Then it was time for the Historical Fiction Challenge, a series of questions to the panel and the audience. Despite the easy questions fed to the panel, the final winners were the audience. Congratulations all round. Then the conference was wrapped up, with an advert for the next, in USA in June 2019. I think I’ll wait for the next British event – I should have got my voice back by then!

My book on display (plus a few postcards I happened to drop nearby!)

I first went to a HNS conference two years ago. At the time I was still writing my first book. This time, that book is published  and the next is nearly finished. I enquired before the conference about selling my book there, but was informed that, due to lack of space, only speakers and helpers were allowed on the book stall – a very reasonable decision. However one of the speakers was Jeremy Thompson, Managing Director of Troubador Publishing Ltd and The Book Guild Ltd. He brought along a display for Matador Books and a few historical fiction books they have published. It included my book, Bright Sword, so although it wasn’t for sale, it was visible. Thank you Jeremy.

It was an amazing few days and wonderful to meet up with old friends and Twitter friends and to make new friends. See you all in 2020.

If you want to see more pictures taken at the Conference see the HNS website

And Finally, a picture to prove that I am unable to go to a HNS Conference and not get my hands on a sword!

 

Easter Break

A very short post today. More to stop Facebook nagging me than anything else!

Hot Cross Buns, straight from the oven.

I haven’t done much this last week. I have discovered how making hot cross buns stops you writing – make and leave to rise, knead and leave, add crosses and put in oven. Take out of oven and add sugar syrup, leave to cool. Eat. No time to settle down to serious writing.

While procrastinating, I have discovered that Easter is NOT based on the worship of an Anglo-Saxon goddess called Eostre. It was all a guess by Bede.

Easter Bunnies only go back to the nineteenth century. I’m surprised it is as long ago as that – I don’t remember him at all when I was young.

Like the week before, I was getting close to my 7k target, by the end of Friday. But on Saturday I was due to give a tour of the town – 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon (the afternoon is my usual writing time) The weather forecast was not very good, could I get out of it? The morning was dry, I would have to go. I got ready, I would have to leave the house at 1.30. At 1.25 there was a downpour of rain. I rang the visitor centre. No one had made enquiries for the walk. No one was waiting. They agreed that it was unlikely anyone would turn up. I was free. I sat down and wrote 1700 words.

So, apologies to anyone who really wanted a tour of rain soaked Rugby on Easter Saturday afternoon. Your sacrifice enabled me to smash this weeks target. I had written 8057 words in a week.

I felt so pleased, that I decided to have a day off – it was Easter Sunday after all. I gave myself permission to just sit and read. The fact that the latest book by Matthew Harffy was published that day had absolutely nothing to do with it.

The problem was, I relaxed (well as relaxed as you can be when the slaughter dew is flying in seventh century Northumbria), I started to sneeze, my nose streamed. The cold I had kept at bay by keeping busy had arrived.

By the evening I had a temperature – I must have – that Agatha Christie film on TV can’t have been quiet as confusing and surreal as it appeared to me!

I am writing this with a box of tissues at my side. Should I fight back by trying to write, or return to reading? Having left Beobrand in the middle of a battle, I think I know the answer to that.

Normal service will be returned as soon as possible – probably with a few book reviews.

Happy Easter Monday.

Let’s talk about the Weather!

There’s been a lot of weather to talk about recently and since I couldn’t think of anything else to write this week – it has to be the weather.

Garden under snow – view from back window.

We’ve had some snow, did anyone notice? Even better, did anyone not notice? You couldn’t get away from it – not just the variable white layer outside the door – it was everywhere; Twitter, Facebook, Television, Radio. All the usual stories of cars stuck on the motorway and reporters standing beside artistic drifts, describing how deep, cold, long it was compared with the last time it happened. Then there were the films of dogs doing funny things in it and cats staring out windows at it – I’m not a fan of cats, but they seem quite sensible about that sort of thing.

I have memories of earlier bad winters. I have been told about my mother’s chilblains in ’47. I remember having a bike for Christmas in ’63 and not being able to ride it until nearly Easter. I even remember a white Christmas – was it ’81?

This disaster/Beast from the East lasted three days, or was it four? Then it thawed and the water pressure went down slightly – we knew it did because Seven-Trent kept ringing us up to tell us so. They started handing out bottled water in Tesco Car Park. It was on the News!

How did I survive? To be fair, we didn’t have it that bad. All the main roads had been gritted and, once we ventured out, they were clear. We live on a hill – not a big hill, but it faces north and isn’t important enough to be gritted. If it snows we can usually get out, but coming back up is sometimes difficult.

Everyone was screaming, “Don’t go out unless your journey is necessary”. What is necessary? A Local History Group Meeting? I’m leader – what would they do without me? Writing Class? I wanted to go, but was it still running? I risked the hill and it was, although only half the usual people were there. The car slid a bit coming up the hill, so I decided I didn’t really need to go to Sainsburys (I sent the husband out to the local Coop, with a team of huskies, to fetch bread and milk.)

How did people survive before we all became so civilised? Did they open the door one winter morning, encounter a snow drift and task, “Will the horse make it up the hill to that meeting I don’t really need to go to?” No they slammed the door and broke out the mead (hoping, of course that there was enough wood to keep the fire going!). Yes, some people probably did die of cold, but at least it was expected. Winter tends to be cold and sometimes it snows. Good, lets sit around and tell stories; make beautiful poems about winter. Read some here.

I think that nowadays we are insulated (well insulated?) from the changing seasons. We expect to do whatever we want, whenever we want to. Eat anything, whether it is in season or not; strawberries in mid-winter, apples in spring (did you know there are still plenty of British apples in the shops at the moment?), Ice-cream in summer. Would we appreciate them more if, just occasionally, we couldn’t have them whenever we want? No, there’d be a riot, someone would set up a petition!

At least the weather gave me an excuse to stay indoors and write.

I managed 5,205 words last week. It was hard work, and it’s absolute rubbish – most of it was about the weather.

Books in Limbo

Still no writing – not book writing anyway. It has been a confused week of editing and cover design for the Local History publication, demonstrating Family History websites in the library, interspersed with a guest post on the Discovering Diamonds Blog about the excitement of receiving copies of my book. Thank you Helen Hollick for accepting it.

Richard Denning explains the Anglo-Saxons. Spot the Sutton Hoo helmet.

Saturday was the second of my promotion events. I had hijacked the monthly meeting of the Rugby Archaeology Society, by suggesting a talk about Anglo-Saxons. Fellow author Richard Denning came to tell us about “Life in Anglo-Saxon England”. It was an entertaining talk including history, food, religion – everything Anglo-Saxon – even genetics. He brought a large collection of objects, which were handed round or inspected afterwards. He brought some of his books for sale, including several for children.

I had my books there, of course, and there was another chance to taste my mead. I got several favourable comments – perhaps I should give up writing and go into mead production!

Now I have a cold. I don’t think it’s anything serious, but I don’t feel like doing anything. I have forced myself to the computer to write this (it probably shows!)

Although not writing, I have been doing a lot of thinking, helped by last week’s class. It was about plotting – regular readers of this blog will know my opinions on that. This was about applying different methods to your writing: “The Three-Act Structure” and “The Hero’s Journey”. Book Three looks good – words like Birth and Death, Shipwreck, Battle and Rescue scatter the chart. The problems come with Beginning and End.

I thought Book Two, although needing more editing, was in its final shape. Was the ending too final? OK for a single book, but for a series? I was finding it difficult to decide where to start Book Three – I’ve written a lot, but the vital beginning is unclear. I had a thought – what if I cut the ending of Book Two and use that for the start of Book Three? It might work, although it might leave Book Two a bit short – more detail earlier on? It would also make Book Three even longer.

But. Could I cut the end of Book Three? There’s that convenient point when… Is that the start of Book Four? I haven’t thought much about that yet. It might work. Do I have an over arching structure for the series? I don’t even know if Book Four is the end, or not.

I think I will be spending some time in planning – comparing what I have against the various structures. I think some synopses will help – I tried to write one for Book Two. When I found it difficult I should have known something was wrong.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking. I should just get on and write. I’ve had an idea for a short story. Do I have time for that?

 

The Signing of Books

After the excitement of Publication Day, I am into the world of promoting my book. How successful it has been is impossible to know. I try not to look at the graph on Amazon’s Author Central page too often. It’s a bit depressing as I have sunk from a peak of 39,496th out of the 6,000,000 books for sale, to 413,662nd today. The peak was 29th January, the day after publication, when all my friends and relatives bought it – thank you everyone! Apparently no-one has bought the Ebook version at all – yet.

Monday was a normal day. As if nothing had happened, I was back to writing – although this time it was an article for a local history book that will be published soon. I have also been proof reading and formatting that.

On Tuesday I was told by my publisher, that something I had written was published in a (online) magazine.  I had been asked to write, “10 Tips For Turning A Historical Figure Into Historical Fiction”, only the week before. You can read it here, if you can find it among the adverts. I suppose it is the sort of thing writers have to do.

Anglo-Saxon feast and books for signing

Nothing much on Wednesday, but on Thursday it was the writing class. When one of us publishes a book we usually have cake. Someone had said that it was too soon after Christmas for cake (is there really a time when people don’t want cake?), but I had already had another idea. My book is about Anglo-Saxons, I have mead! So at the break I brought out my mead and my horn, plus small plastic tasting cups, because passing round a mead horn for everyone to drink from is not very hygienic. How those Anglo-Saxons survived without modern Health and Safety rules is beyond me. I also had food: salted meat (beef and ham – left over from Christmas), cheese and bread. I explained how there would not be much food left at this time of year, most animals would have been killed in the autumn and salted. The bread didn’t contain salt, because butter and cheese would also be heavily salted to preserve it. I used the recipe on this website. It tasted better than it looked! I also signed my first book (apart from those I’d done for family). There would have been others, but Amazon had not delivered!

On Friday there was a meeting of Cafe Writers. I sold and signed another book – the first real money in my hand!

The main event was planned for Saturday – the official book signing at the local bookshop.

I had prepared. I got a piece published in the local newspaper – they got a detail wrong, but not about the book. I had put up posters, and talked about it on Facebook and Twitter. I mentioned it to everyone I knew, a lot said they would come.

I had even ordered warriors from re-enactment group Ardenweard, a Dark Ages re-enactment group affiliated with The Vikings.  I had one Anglo-Saxon and one Viking. I hoped they would have a fight, but apparently that’s against the rules. They were very friendly, talking to customers and offering samples of my mead – now officially approved by Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and the residents of Rugby.

Warriors guarding books.

There was just one thing that I couldn’t control – the weather! It was cold and windy, with showers of sleety rain. Rugby High Street was practically deserted. My warriors did their best, standing outside until their feet froze. Apparently genuine Anglo-Saxon shoes are not very warm – not new ones, anyway. A few people turned up and bought books, which I signed, but not as many as I expected. At least I had plenty of time to hold swords, try on helmets, and learn more about Anglo-Saxons (and Vikings).

I will be attending another event next Saturday, a meeting of the Rugby Archaeology Society. There will be a talk by author Richard Denning about Life in Anglo-Saxon England. Copies of his books, as well as mine will be available. At least it will be indoors!

No writing was done this week – well, not book-writing, but I have been thinking – more about that another time!

My thanks to Ardenweard for the warriors.

Memo: Remember to publish next book in summer.

 

A few more inches and I’ll have that Viking’s head off!

 

Publication Day.

Well, I couldn’t not post today! The biggest day of my (writing) life.

How does it feel to be a published author? At the moment, somewhat dazed, or is that the hangover? Not that I’ve had much to drink, but I’m not used to Champagne (OK, Spanish Cava) at eleven in the morning.

I stayed up last night, to “see” the moment that my book was born. About a month ago, I set up a useful WordPress Widget to count down the days. It’s that box on the right (or elsewhere if you’re reading this on a smartphone) that says “Bright Sword is published!”. As I sat there, in a draughty hall, I found that the final hour counted down in minutes, then the final minute in seconds. It was just like New Year, but without the fireworks!

I checked Amazon and there it was – In Stock and ready to “Add to Basket.” Sorry it’s not expensive enough to warrant Free Delivery. I checked for reviews – none yet, but early days, people have got to read it first! Actually there is one review on the Ebook edition, which crept out a few days before the paperback. 4 stars, so not a bad start. Thank you M J Porter.

I tweeted the good news to the world and sat there a while. I wanted to remember the feeling. I imagined huge lorries thundering through the night, filled with copies of my book, to deliver to readers queued outside bookshops – I’m a fiction writer – I’ve got a vivid imagination! It was emotional. I could have cried, but didn’t. Then I went to bed.

I woke up this morning, and like New Year, nothing had really changed. Breakfast, check e-mails etc, a couple of people had “liked” my midnight tweet.

Later I went to visit my mother. I took a signed copy of the book and the Bubbly. I had dedicated it to her. If she hadn’t encouraged me to read, taken me to join the library at an early age, I would never have discovered books and eventually write one myself. I’m sorry it took so long. Her eyes are now too bad to read it and if she could, she wouldn’t remember what she had read. But this morning she knew what I had done and was pleased. By coincidence, 28th January was my father’s birthday. He died fifteen years ago. I hope he would have been proud too.

A bottle of Byrhtnoth’s Mead

This afternoon I was going to write, not book three, I have a deadline for a family history article, but somehow I wasn’t in the mood. I have a book signing next Saturday (3rd Feb, 11.00-2.00, at Hunts Bookshop in Rugby – if you’re in the area. I have promised Anglo-Saxon Warriors and a Mead Tasting. The autumn before last I made some mead, I wrote about it here. I have tasted it occasionally, to toast the progress of my writing, it is quite drinkable – and alcoholic! It was time to bottle it. Then I decided it needed a proper label. By then, there was not much time to write, except this blog post.

What with everything else I managed 1627 words on Monday, then nothing else. I’m not sure when I’ll continue. I really should get back to editing book 2.

I can’t stop now, I’m a published author.