We would have died that night, if it hadn’t been for the dog.

I’ve come the end of the first phase of editing. Reduced the manuscript from 104,381 to 93,924 losing over 10k words.

Not bad – unfortunately I celebrated by putting some words back. I had removed a scene which I didn’t think mattered. I decided it did matter, so back it went, suitably edited. I then had to get rid of the rubbish I had written to plug the gap. I now have a spare 746 words floating around looking for a home – I wonder if anyone would notice if I deleted them?

I didn’t much like the final chapter. I tried rewriting using a different Point of View, but it was worse.

I’m still not happy with the first chapter, even after the edit, but the first line isn’t bad. That’s it at the top of this post. Do you like it? Does it drag you in? Do you want to read the rest of the book? Don’t worry, it will probably change!

I have put it aside for a while, am having a rest, discovering that another life is happening out there. After several beautiful summer days of refusing to stir from the computer because “I just want to finish this edit.” I was lured out with the promise of a garden visit. A nice drive in the sun down the Fosse Way to Hidcote Manor Gardens. There was no way I would be tempted to think about anything Anglo-Saxon. Would Byrhtnoth have strolled round, inspecting the herbaceous borders or admiring the subtle blends of colour?

Hidcote Gardens, The Red Border

Hidcote Gardens, Fuchsia Garden

Which got me thinking – if he was alive today, what would my protagonist be doing? Probably not a gardener. A soldier seems the obvious choice, but I don’t know. Our heroes nowadays tend to be actors, singers, sportsmen. Some writers have a certain actor in mind – the person to play the character in the film. Chris Hemsworth as Thor has the right look for Byrhtnoth, but I wasn’t sure. Anyway, he’s not tall enough.

Then one day, when I watching some Rugby, I saw him. Richie Gray plays for Scotland (but I won’t hold that against him). He’s the right height 6ft 9in, blond hair, and a Rugby scrum is probably the closest you can come to a shield wall.

One of the known facts about the real Byrhtnoth is that he married a relative of the king. Wasn’t there a Rugby player who married a member of the royal family? And no, my Byrhtnoth doesn’t look like Mike Tindall!

I think I will end the comparison there, because I don’t like to think what the modern equivalent of the Battle of Maldon might be!

Brexit?

(Isn’t it amazing the number of different subjects you can cram in when you’ve got a blog post to fill?)

Elegy for a Dead Warrior – 10th August 991

On this day, in 991, Byrhtnoth died at the Battle of Maldon.

In his memory I give you a piece of writing. A version of it acted as a prologue to my book, but was discarded in the editing.

I hope you enjoy it.

Elegy for a Dead Warrior 

It has come. The day I never thought to see. My friend is dead.

We were of an age, but I thought I would be the first to go. Not him, so strong and vital.

We talked briefly when he passed through Ely, a few brief days ago. We spoke of old times, a little about the battle to come, but nothing of the future. We both knew the truth; that he would die. It was his time.

I followed behind the battle host. They moved fast, eager for the fight. I brought a slow cart, with which to carry his body home.

Now it is finished. The sea wolves have gone, their boats sliding away, back to the sea. Triumphant but sorely depleted. They will not be back again this year. Perhaps next, but who will there be to send them home then, now he is dead?

He did his duty, now I must do mine. The field is wide. The earth cut and bloodied from the fight. The smell of blood and death overwhelms me. There are others, searching for friends and relatives, hoping against hope that they will find a living body and not a corpse. Some perhaps look for plunder. They will look in vain; the victors will have taken everything of value.

It is difficult to walk. I slip and fall to my knees. As I struggle to stand the body beside me moves. Is he alive still? No. Just the tug on his scattered guts that gave him the semblance of life and like a child’s toy he drops back to his everlasting sleep. I sketch a cross above his body and move on. The course wool of my cassock feels damp against my legs. At least the blood, and worse, will not show against the black Benedictine cloth.

As I try to identify the lines of battle, the world turns red. The sky reflects the blood spilled on the ground below. The sun sinks towards the nearby town, set upon its hill. Flat land and water surrounds it. Ahead the island floats; separate, for now, from the land. That must be where the bridge joined it to this land, for there is the greatest spread of bodies.

As I approach, I recognise some faces, or if they have no faces, the colour of some clothing or a pair of shoes. There is old Edward, my lord’s steward. What is he doing here? He should be at home, preparing for the harvest or sitting, watching his grandchildren play. Why did he come? To serve his lord, of course. It was his duty. But who is left to harvest the crops now?

I move on, the bodies thick on the ground now, the wounds greater. He must be here, in the heart of the battle dead. Ah, there is Wulfmaer, cheeks rosy in the dying light, but beneath the lying glow, cold and bloodless. His eyes stare into mine, surprised in death. I close them and remember. He was son of my lord’s sister, brought up by him, who had no sons to call his own. So many men’s sons came to him, when he was great in fame, to be trained in weapons, to learn to become great men, but none as great as him.

Close by is Aelfwine, another kinsman of my lord. I knew his father, his grandfather as well. His uncle was an Ealdorman of Mercia for many years. Young Aelfwine will never attain such high rank now.

A flash of colour holds my eye. This was my lord’s banner, sewn by his wife. She will mourn his loss, perhaps. She has long wanted to embroider a cloth to celebrate his great deeds. A modest man, he always forbade it. Now she will have her way. Perhaps she will hang it in the Abbey, above his grave, for men to remember him, evermore. I smooth the cool silk. I need no reminder.

He must be somewhere near. I search the gloom. The light is fading. There! A hand. I crawl closer. Yes, that is his. Long fingers relaxed that should be clasped around his sword’s hilt. I trace the scars that map the surface. Some old wounds, barely visible, others new, red raw, unhealed.

It is hard to see now. Either the fall of night or tears dim my eyes, I know not which. I run my hand up the arm. It is starting to grow stiff. I must straighten it before the immobility of death falls upon his body. A wound near separates limb from body, nothing else could have caused him to drop his sword. This is what caused his death. Without his golden hilted sword he could not fight, and so he died. What other wounds will I find upon his body?

I reach the shoulder, still broad and strongly muscled, even after all these years. He may have been a venerable adviser to the king, but he never let himself grow soft. I hesitate. Something is not right. I stretch my hand to touch his face and encounter… nothing. I hold my breath and feel the blood, still sticky, that covers the knob of bone that is all that remains. Was he dead when it happened, or did that noble blood spurt like a fountain to mark his murderers?

Once he stood tall, towering above others. Now he is diminished, reduced to the stature of an ordinary man. The enemy knew his worth. They have taken the head of this famous warrior, to prove their own prowess in battle. Thieves steal honour that they cannot achieve themselves.

I arrange the body. Straighten the long legs and place his arms at his side. I tumble other bodies away. I would know who they are, but I do not care, they are mere lumps of meat, I feel around the blood sodden ground for his sword. It is not there. Did one of his companions scoop it up to continue the fight, or was that taken as well by the invaders?

It is quiet now. I hear the distant sound of celebration from the town. Why do they celebrate when my lord is dead? Because they are safe; safe to eat and drink, then go to their beds without fear. While he lies here, on the old ground, his duty done. They think the raiders have gone forever. They have not. They will be back, but who will defend this land then? The councillors who advise the king say that our land is rich. We can afford to pay them to go away. It will fail. They will always come back, greedy for our gold. Then when we have no more to give them, they will come and take our land as well, and make us slaves.

A mournful note echoes across the field of dead. A pale shape floats on silent wings. Another soul ascending to heaven? Or just an owl hunting for a meal? Other animals will be searching for food. I must remain and defend his body until the day returns. It will not be hard; the nights are short this time of year. I will sit here beside him and pray for his soul. And remember. So much to remember.

Days were warmer then and winters colder. The sun always shone. We would ride all day, racing on the hills or hunting in the forest. Our horses were strong and our dogs were swift. I remember hunting wolves in the north. He still possessed the skin of one. Whose body will it warm now? I remember fishing in the rivers, the fish were shinier and their flesh more tender than those I find on my plate nowadays.

At night we would eat and drink. Many times the mead horn would circulate and we would drink deep of it. We would listen to the scop, telling tales of heroes long ago. Later we would boast of our own deeds; our battles always ended in victory. Then there were the women… but monks are not supposed to think of that.

Life was so much simpler then. A man knew what he should do and did it. Not like now, when everything is politics and rich men strive for more riches, even the churchmen. Especially the churchmen. Have times changed or is it we who have grown old?

They say the world will end soon; a thousand years after the birth of Our Saviour. I will see my friend again, if not before. I do not think I will long outlive him. But I have work to do.

Does the sky brighten? Nearby, the dark treacherous river laps against a muddy shore. Is the bridge covered now, or open to the island? Yesterday it was important but now it no longer matters. A gentle breeze stirs the battle stink. Somewhere a bird begins to sing. Soon the cart will come. I stretch my legs, stiff from the night watch.

I find the piece of silk and before it light enough to see the damage, I place it over the area of his missing head. Despite the desecration, I am glad I do not have to look into his dead eyes. That I could not have borne. I puzzle at the white feathers that move in the wind. No, not feathers; wisps of hair, white as swan’s down. Shorn from his beard when his head was roughly hacked off. I carefully collect them and save them between the pages of my prayer book. I will place them in the coffin, most of them. Perhaps one small tuft I will keep, for remembrance.

People return, some with pallets or carts to carry away their friends. Others bring spades to bury the unknown dead. Soon the grass will grow again, thicker than before, fed by the blood spilt here. Eventually they will forget that anything important ever happened, in this field beside the cold dark Panta river.

It must not be forgotten. That will be my final work.

We will take his broken body to Ely. I will wash it in and anoint it with precious oils. I will wrap it with costly cloths and place it in the coffin. A ball of scented beeswax, studded with his hair, to replace his head.

Then, when all is over.

When I have spoken to those few men that survived or witnessed from afar.

Then I will select the palest, smoothest parchment. I will grind the finest colours to make the ink. I will find the best of geese, select the straightest of their feathers and cut them to the perfect point.

Then I will write. I will tell the story of this battle on the field near Maldon.

I will tell of the words they spoke and the weapons they used.

And I will tell of the death of the great Lord Byrhtnoth, son of Byrhthelm, Ealdorman of Essex, leader of the army of Aethelraed, King of England.

My friend.

© Christine Hancock 2017

Sutton Hoo through time

If you mention Anglo-Saxons, the first thing most people think about is Sutton Hoo – the famous helmet and shield, the beautiful jewellery and the mounds that stand on a hill near Woodbridge in Suffolk. In recent years the Staffordshire Hoard has become famous, but it was probably made by the same artists, and in the same place as the Sutton Hoo treasure.

Since I am writing about the Anglo-Saxon period, I must take my characters to Sutton Hoo. After all, Byrhtnoth was Ealdorman of Essex, not far away. But what was the site like when he visited? The Anglo-Saxon period lasted a long time – over four hundred years from the 7th century to 1066. Byrhtnoth died in 991. I wanted his sword to have a beautiful gold and garnet hilt, but he lived too late. King Rædwald, probable owner of the treasure died about 624. It would be like a modern soldier using a flintlock pistol. I don’t suppose swords changed that much, but how they were decorated would. A warrior would be ashamed to wear “last season’s” sword. And Byrhtnoth was a Christian, no one was buried in burial mounds with treasure any more. You gave it to the church to pray for your soul

Sutton Hoo has meant many things to many different people. As you will see, I am one of them.

There were prehistoric farmers on the site, the woodland was cleared in the neolithic period, they placed pots in pits there. There were bronze age roundhouses but the land became infertile and farming was abandoned, used for sheep and cattle. Farming returned in the Romano-British period, perhaps growing grape vines. Then came the Anglo-Saxons.

A little while ago I read Monsters by C R May the third of his Sword of Woden series about Beowulf, which includes a scene where Beowulf himself visits Sutton Hoo and buries a body there.  It’s fiction, but a nice idea,  someone must have made the first burial there. It was followed by others.

There are about 17 burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, dating to the sixth and early seventh centuries. King Rædwald ruled from 599 to around 624. He was the greatest of the East Anglian kings. He defeated Northumbria, installing Edwin as king. He was called Bretwalda, chief of all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Therefore we assume he was the king buried with the great treasure, but we cannot truly know. Who was buried in the other mounds? His relatives and family? Possessions of both men and women have been found; one boy was buried with his horse. On this hilltop, the clan of the Wuffingas demonstrated their power.

By Byrhtnoth’s time there was no longer a king of East Anglia. King Alfred’s Wessex had expanded to form a single country, England. Danes had invaded the eastern part of the country. Æthelstan was Ealdorman of East Anglia. He was called half-king because of his power. In later life he became a monk at Glastonbury and presumably buried there, his sons were buried at Ramsey Abbey. Sutton Hoo had been abandoned, at least by royalty. Archaeologists have discovered graves from the later Anglo-Saxon period. There was a gallows on one of the mounds and criminals were buried there.

So it stayed, seemingly forgotten, until the 20th century, but not untouched. A boundary ditch was dug, destroying part of the largest mound, so looters in the 16th century missed the burial. although other mounds had been robbed.

Now, a slight diversion. Before I became a writer, I was a genealogist, in fact that was what started me writing. I gradually became interested in one unusual name, Madder. The family came from Norfolk and I got stuck in the mid 18th century. In my efforts to break this brick wall I extended my search. I came across a family of that name in Suffolk. They lived in Sutton. I didn’t realise the significance of this until I was transcribing the will of Robert Mather (both names appear in records for this family) in 1639. He leaves the property etc “in which I dwell called the Howe”.

Line from will of Robert Mather 1639 (Suffolk Record Office ref:
IC/AA1/77/74

Old map (date unknown) from website of The Sutton Hoo Society

Robert is referred to as “gentleman”. There are twelve wills of the Madder/Mather family dating back to 1474, early members were “yeoman”. They owned the site of Sutton Hoo, they became richer over the years – Robert’s son, Henry moved away and I lost track of them. Are they related to my family? Did they dig up some of the Anglo-Saxon treasure?

I will leave it there for now.

There were a few digs in the 19th century, but it was not until 1939 that the then landowner, Mrs Edith Pretty, employed Basil Brown, a self-taught archaeologist, to dig the largest mound.

When he found the burial chamber the dig was taken over by “professionals”. It was the eve of WW2 and the objects were whisked away to the British Museum. A later coroners inquest awarded everything to Mrs Pretty, who eventually donated the collection to the BM. There is an interesting book, The Dig by John Preston which tells the story of the 1939 events. Fiction, but it gives a good description of the atmosphere and the characters involved.

This should be the end of the story, but there is one more event in the history of this place.

In July 2002, it was my birthday. I was visiting my parents in Essex and decided what we would do. We had visited Sutton Hoo before, but the National Trust had recently opened in new visitor centre, the British Museum had loaned objects. We would go there, have lunch, visit the display and walk around the site.

At this time my father (centre in the above picture) had health problems; he had trouble gripping things with his hands and sometimes swallowing, but he walked round the site (We told him that although he had problems with his hands, his legs were OK.) and enjoyed the day out. Three weeks later he went into hospital, for tests. Motor Neurone Disease was diagnosed, I visited him (he was in a London Hospital.) and we talked about how he would cope, make alterations to their house. He died, peacefully, three days later, on 4th August 2002. Exactly fifteen years ago last Friday.

I don’t know why; perhaps I had a premonition, but I took a photograph of him at Sutton Hoo, standing outside the exhibition, beneath a representation of the Sutton Hoo helmet. It is the last picture I took of him.

Sutton Hoo has a long and interesting history, that is why have included it in my book (you will have to wait to see how). It is also a special place for me.

RIP Kenneth Bernard Madder-Smith (1926-2002)

 

 

Self-Publishing Conference – Take 2

On Saturday I attended the Self-Publishing Conference. This was my second visit, you can read about my first here. What was my experience this year? I see that I didn’t manage to live-tweet last year – the same thing happened. I also neglected to take any photographs – at all!

The main difference was at the lunch break. Last year I remember sitting on the floor, chatting with other authors and swapping cards. I arrived with some freshly printed cards, but managed to get rid of only two. I don’t know if the arrangements had changed or if I got there earlier, but I found space on a table. Most of the people I spoke to seemed to be staff/helpers/speakers. Over the day I spoke to several people, but since I had come with a friend, perhaps I was not as open to random chatting.

So why was I there? Last year was a bit of an experiment and I learned something of the direction I was travelling. This year, I had a purpose. I have a book, just about finished. I am seriously thinking about publishing – but how? I have spent a lot of money on editing and cover design. Could I do the rest myself? Someone had recommended CreateSpace, then there is KDP. What was the difference, should I go down that route or was there a different way? I know there are many different ways to publish, and more appearing all the time. My objective was to find the right way.

The Keynote speaker was Angus Phillips, Director of the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies. His subject was “The future of the book: the changing publishing landscape”. We heard about how book sales have changed. The growth of e-books has slowed, but the balance between digital and print has probably stabilised. Dedicated e-readers are less popular, but consumers are using other devises to read books. The outlook seems gloomy for bricks and mortar book shops – more are closing all the time. Readers are using the internet where there is less time for your product to make an impact. You have to get out there, promote your “brand”, write blogs, have a presence on social media etc, Physically visit book shops, festivals. Everything is changing – apparently the future is Virtual Reality. I’m not sure anyone knows how that is going to work.

We then split up for different sessions. My first was “Endorsements, Blurbs and Spine Design – Beyond the Cover.” with Chelsea Taylor, production manager and Jonathan White, sales & Marketing Manager, both with Troubador. I was hoping to find out how to write a blurb – some thing I have been having trouble with. There was rather too much about covers in general – size of images etc. I didn’t really need this, although I was gratified to note that my cover fulfilled most of the criteria. One interesting point is to avoid a photograph on the cover for Historical Fiction. Apparently it just looks wrong, readers will be put off. Endorsements should only be used if by a well-known name, otherwise avoid. In Spine Design you must think about using a cohesive design and there is no need to put all the information there – just enough to get the casual browser to pull out the book to see more. As for the blurb, it is wrong to tell the story, you must leave them wanting more. The first sentence must grab the reader’s attention. I wonder how I’m going to manage that?

There was a short break for refreshments. This was the only point on which I could complain. There was a large selection of coffee, tea and even hot chocolate. The was nothing cold, soft drinks or even water – at least that I could find. It was a sunny day and I’m sure not everyone wanted a hot drink.

The next session was “Doing it Differently: Crowdfunding and Partnership Publishing.” We were given a very useful sheet with all the different options listed; from Traditional to Vanity Publisher, via Self-Publishing (doing it yourself), Packagers (paying for someone else to do it for you), Curated (more of a partnership between you and the publisher) and Crowd-funding (raising the money before you publish). The session was chaired by Cressida Downing (my editor) and we heard from Alice Jolly, who crowd-funded a book that she was unable to get published any other way and Jeremy Thompson of The Book Guild Ltd who explained the various options that they provide. I think I now know understand what is available, but which to choose?

This was followed by lunch, which I have already mentioned. The food was excellent and there was plenty available.

After lunch, the Plenary Session was given by Clive Herbert, Head of Publisher Services, Nielson Book. “The growing importance of bibliographic data.” This sounds like a boring subject, but is essential to know about. Everyone knows about ISBN numbers, I had thought about buying a set of ten – one for ebook , one for print book, plus some left for next book etc. There is so much more you need to know. With 500 new titles published each day, how does a reader find your book in the right place (book shop, online), at the right time (publication date)? How do they know your book actually exists? Figures were thrown about, graphs shown and strange acronyms described – BIC (Book Industry Communication) which enables you to classify your book. So much information you need to think about – and it has to be in place 16 weeks or 112 days before your publication date. No wonder books take so long to publish! How would I find my way through this maze?

My handwriting deteriorates!

I stumbled, stunned, out of this session into “Boost Your Ebook’s Earnings: Maximising Sales.” with Rachel Gregory, Troubador’s Ebook Programme Manager. It sounded useful. But this was more figures, more things to think about. Different versions, so many platforms, lists of websites that might help – or not. My handwriting, not good at the best of times, was deteriorating. I’m sure I have a lot of interesting information – if only I could read it! Something that I thought was straightforward was much more complicated than I expected.

This was followed by a tea break. I found the cake this year – I needed it.

My final session was more restful “Do Judge a Book by its cover.” Chelsea Taylor (who I had already met in the Beyond the cover session) and Andy Vosper, Deputy Chief Executive of TJ International Ltd., talked covers, beautiful covers. A cover is subjective, you must decide who you want to attract – what will they find attractive. What to readers of your genre like? You must stick to that, but also make your book stand out from the others. We learned a lot about cover enhancements: Foil, UV Lamination, Glossy, Matt, Supermatt; I loved the feel of supermatt – there was a lot of passing around of books, touching and stroking. I was still thinking basic self-publishing. None of this can be done with Print on Demand, so I just enjoyed the experience. The beautiful things you can do with dust jackets on hardbacks. And who knew there were so many versions of a paperback: embossing, debossing, flaps, flaps with perforations to provide a tear out bookmark. But every addition to the basic book increases the cost. If you have plenty of money you can produce something unique. There was a bit about practicalities – what colour and quality paper to use, what font to use, on cover and inside, bringing details of the cover inside the book.

I emerged, stuffed to bursting point with information and a realisation that there was so much I didn’t know, but at least I now know what I don’t know. I calmed down with a glass of wine and a chat with my editor, before finding my driver. It gives an indication of the range of different sessions on offer that we had not shared any of them (apart from Keynote and Plenary). There were sessions about using the Media and how to avoid getting sued, Selling to Bookshops and how to deal with copyright, Children’s books, schools and libraries, Non-fiction and audio books.

It was an exhausting day, but I leaned a lot.

Did I come to a decision on which direction to take? Perhaps.

Am I going to tell you what? Of course not.

I might discuss that in a different post.

Belated Memories of a Pirate – and other deaths.

Every year I remember the Eleventh of April. This year I forgot – well I remembered late in the day – too late to blog about it.

It is the anniversary of the death of John Madder, in 1705. He was a real person, but not a real pirate, that was the excuse they gave to kill him.

I remember him because of his name, which I used to share.
I remember him because of his tragic death, with its connections to the Union, or not, between England and Scotland.
And now I remember him as the person who started me writing. Read about that in a previous post. I could so easily have written my novel about him – perhaps, sometime, I will.

The reason I forgot to remember was because I was too busy remembering.

In another life, I am responsible for running a website remembering men who died in the First World War. We publish a biography of each man from our local war memorial on the centenary of his death (there are over four hundred). I don’t do it all myself, we have volunteers, although not as many as I’d like. But I am the coordinator. I read them through, checking for mistakes then publish them on the blog. Last weekend was the centenary of the Battle of Arras – the anniversary was in the news, mainly about the Canadians at Vimy Ridge. But from our town, in the centre of England, six men died on Sunday 9th April 1917, two more on Monday and another two yesterday. Those last two were in the same regiment, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. I have been reading the war diaries – they are not named, just included in the anonymous list of casualties.

Total casualties for the period 9th to 21st Incl.
Killed: 2 Officers,  43 Other Ranks (includes 10 died of wounds since)
Wounded and missing: 1 Officer, 0 Other Ranks
Wounded:  5 Officers,  173 Other Ranks
Missing: 0 Officers, 33 Other Ranks
Missing believed wounded: 0 Officers, 1 Other Ranks.

Most casualties were from enemy shelling as they assembled before the attack.

So many men, so many stories. Perhaps I should be writing about that period, I have learned so much about it. Many writers, better than me, have done just that.

I started thinking about Byrhtnoth. What would he think about the four year battle that was the First World War? The idea would excite him – he loves to fight. But the reality would shock him. For him, war is man to man, fighting in the shield wall. Not sheltering in a trench from overhead bombardment. We tend to think that the Dark Ages (or Early Middle Ages, as they are now called.) was a violent time. If you read some authors it was all battles! But the battles were short, afterwards the survivors went home, harvested their crops, had feasts and told stories round the hearth.

Our job, as writers, particularly of Historical Fiction, is an act of remembrance. We remember the men and woman, famous or invisible. We bring them alive, tell their stories, so they will be remembered.

So I will not say that this week I have done no writing. I have been writing biographies, in my own act of remembrance.

If you do not know the man (or woman), how can you remember him?

Memories – coming and going.

As I suspected, it’s been a busy week. I managed 4,475 words. Since I only found time to write on three days, I don’t think I did too badly.

The first two days were fine, 1,026 and 1,014. Tuesday morning I had a dentists appointment and was unable eat any lunch. Still numb, I had to pick up an elderly relative for a hospital appointment, at a hospital an hour’s drive away. It was a minor outpatients procedure, so there was a lot of waiting around. I don’t mind that – plenty of time to read! On this occasion though the Elderly Relative suffers from memory problems. I couldn’t read because every five minutes I had to explain where we were and why we were there, where we had come from and where we would be returning to etc, etc, etc – for five hours, including the short break while ER had the operation. Tired and hungry, I was wiped out for the rest of the day.

It is terrible watching someone you know gradually disappear, but at the same time interesting to witness what goes and what remains. ER has been in a care home for over a year, but every day is new because they have no memory of the time they have been there. Sometimes ER gets agitated, usually in the afternoon. We thought it was due to tiredness, but no. It was straight after lunch and ER insisted they had to “look after the children”. Eventually we worked out that ER had, a long time ago, worked as a school “dinner lady” – I don’t suppose such a job exists any more –  someone who had to look after / entertain / read to the children after their lunch, until they were handed back to the teachers. Why had ER remembered this particular job, performed for a short time, over fifty years ago?

What has this got to do with writing? It started me thinking about point of view and the unreliable narrator. How would someone with memory problems view the action in a book?

To continue. When I did manage to do some reading, it was on my Kindle. It was a book I had purchased a while ago, perhaps it had been on special offer, or I liked the cover. When I decided to read it, I noticed that Kindle thought I had already read it – 100%. I didn’t remember reading it, perhaps I had accidentally clicked on the final page. The first few pages looked familiar – perhaps I had read them and then got interrupted. I scrolled forward to something I didn’t recognise and continued. As I read I knew that I had read it before, but at no time did I know what came next. Was it a bad book? No. It was the first of a series and I have downloaded the next book. Was I distracted by something else (my own book?) at the time. I don’t know, because I don’t remember.

Another example. I mentioned last week that I might discuss the second series of The Last Kingdom that has just started. I have read most of Bernard Cornwell’s books. The ones in this series I read as they came out. I watched this first episode. I didn’t recognise the story at all. It must be the film makers messing up the plot, I thought. It annoyed me, so I looked up the book – the TV is onto the third book “The Lords of the North“. So far the TV is sticking to the book. I “know” I have read this book, why have I forgotten it? Perhaps it is because Bernard Cornwell has written a lot of books. It was first published in 2008; a lot of books have passed under my bridge since then. Of course it might be that I hadn’t actually read that book.

Before I become too worried and join ER in the care home, another example of memory.

A new character has entered my book. I have been thinking about her since I started (yes, I know I don’t plan, but…) and have been dropping hints about her – she is slightly mysterious and I don’t even have a name for her yet. I was thinking about her and her part in the plot, while watching TV – as you do – and two ideas collided. I realised that anyone reading my book would think I had based her on the character in a fairy story. I hadn’t intended to. Had I plucked from some genetic memory? These tales are very old? Or had I just read, or had read to me, too many fairy stories when I was young?

Writing is strange. Where do our ideas come from?

Don’t forget to come back next week to find out how my writing is going.

The Reluctant Author – or How to publish without really trying.

Nowadays there are many different ways to publish a book. Some are obvious, others are not.

The old, traditional way is to write your book, find a friendly agent, which could take any time from today to never. Your agent will then find you a publisher and you, the writer can sit back and get on with writing your next book. Translations, films, etc appear as if by magic.

The second way is to self-publish. Originally this cost you a lot of money and was called Vanity Publishing. Proper publishers and readers alike looked down on you.
It still costs a lot of money, but you have more control over the process. It also takes a lot of time and effort, that you would prefer to spend on writing. This is the route that I am attempting to navigate.

There is a third way, a very different way. It doesn’t cost you anything, apart from time – a very long time.

You start it by leaving school, about the age of 16. You start work at a local site run by the Post Office (then part of the Civil Service) as an apprentice. You work your way up the ranks until you retire as Station Manager. You are interested in history, over the years you have collected pictures and information about your place of work. You continue to research, visit the National Archives, Post Office Archives and BT Archives. (Because your government-owned company has been privatised over the years.) Shortly after your retirement, the site is closed, developers move in to build thousands of houses.

b6muau9ceaaplvjYou don’t want the history to be lost. You offer your services as unofficial historian. You give talks, you suggest names for roads. You are invited to the opening of a new gallery at the Science Museum and find that the Queen gives a speech, and sends her first tweet, in front of equipment from “your” site.

A vital component of this process is to be cursed with a nagging wife, who continually asks when you are going to build a website or write a book. You write a book, but just for your own benefit. You don’t want to be bothered with anything else. The developers want to sell houses, they build a website. They give you space to tell the world about your history. Finally they offer to publish your book. They pay for it to be edited. They pay for it to be printed. You don’t want to be bothered with sales or income tax, all the profits can go to charity.

p1180315Which is why we now have a hall cluttered with boxes, and I am slightly miffed at being beaten into publication by a Reluctant Author.

You can find out about the book here

If you have ever travelled up the M1, close to the junction with the M6 sometime between 1926 and 2007 and noticed the twelve tall masts – or the red lights that shone at night, and wondered what was going on there. Now you can find out.

For anyone else thinking about this method of publication, you need a lot of time – and to have started fifty years ago.

 

 

For those of you keeping tabs on my writing total, this week I managed 6,210 words. I have been busy thinking about covers, but I’ll leave that for another time.