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.

Looking Back – A review of 2017

So much has happened this year. I started with one book written and a second started. I ended the year awaiting the publication of the first book, Bright Sword, in four weeks time. The second, Bright Axe (probably) is with beta readers and a third, yet to be named in progress. How did all this happen?

By January, I had received my first feedback for Bright Sword. The book was OK but contained lots of errors. I knew it needed a professional edit and made arrangements.

This was also when I decided to become more organised. I worked out how many words I needed to write – I settled on a thousand a day, which worked out at 7K a week. I announced it on this blog. Although I haven’t often reached the target, it encouraged me to sit down regularly, whether I wanted to write or not. I have created a routine: after lunch I go upstairs to the old computer in the spare room, and write, sometimes an hour, sometimes I continue into the evening (with breaks for tea.)

In February, I seem to have done nothing much except write, and start to think about publication. I was planning on self publishing – When? How could I do it? There was one landmark this month, another author asked me to write a preview of his book, before publication. This was Kin of Cain, a short book (100 pages) by Matthew Harffy. This was an easy job, it was so good; better, if that is possible, than his other books in the Bernicia Chronicles series. Read my preview here.

March was spent worrying about how many corrections I would receive from my editor.

At the beginning of April I got the manuscript back. Not too bad, but my punctuation appeared to be even worse than I thought. There was a bit of discussion about one of the characters and in the end I added a couple more scenes – only about a hundred words or so. At the end of that month, I attended the Self Publishing Conference, to make  a final decision about which avenue to take. There are so many different options nowadays, that I ended up more confused than ever. Someone suggested The Book Guild. You don’t need an agent, or to prepare a synopsis (although I had one). Just send your complete manuscript and they might offer one of several options. I had nothing to lose.

In May, as I struggled with the ending of book two, a bombshell struck. A (very) famous author, Conn Iggulden had published a book set in exactly the same period I was writing (mid tenth century). It was about Dunstan, who appears, briefly, in my book. What could I do? I read the book and wrote a review. I didn’t think much of it, although other people raved over it. Was I jealous? Perhaps, but I’ve put it behind me now.

At the start of June I heard back from the publisher. They wanted to publish my book. They offered me a partnership deal, which I accepted. I was on my way!

It was in June that I finished the first draft of book two (104,542 words) and started editing. I also went on holiday – an archaeological tour of Orkney and Shetland. It was somewhere I had wanted to go for a long time, and since it was our 40th wedding anniversary this year, I managed to persuade my husband that he would survive the ferry journey. Luckily the sea was calm and the weather beautiful. I learned a lot about pre-history and Vikings, but there was not much about Anglo-Saxons. I took lots of photos which can be found on a series of posts, starting here.

Coppergate Helmet, modelled by the author.

One the way back we stopped for a couple of days in Yorkshire. A bit of research and a trip to the Jorvik exhibition in York. More Vikings, but at least I got to try on an Anglo-Saxon helmet. It was a bit too big for me! Another day, on a walk near Wharrem Percy deserted village I was inspired by wind blowing across a field of grain. By the time we  returned to our hotel I had the plot for book three. (And that is all I’m going to say about it!)

In July, we headed north again. This time to Lindisfarne. We had booked a day’s archaeology at the Digventures site, searching for the remains of the original Anglo-Saxon monastery. Unfortunately it was very wet. We only got an hour in the trench and an afternoon cleaning pieces of bone, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. There was also a little time to explore the area for book two research (and perhaps book four!!)

At the end of August, proofs arrived. A whole new experience. It was at this, rather late, point that I discovered that I had been let down by my editor. All those punctuation mistakes that had been pointed out, were not mine. Most of them had been OK and I had “corrected” them to something wrong. Details here. It was nearly a disaster. It was a big job to rewrite the book and search for other errors at the same time. There were several runs though and gradually I signed off on the final half dozen errors. I never wanted to see that book again!

September was busy, writing reviews of books, finding people to review mine. I volunteered to review Viking Fire by Justin Hill. A great book  reminiscent of Dorothy Dunnett.  I had reviewed her book, King Hereafter, in July but in September was noticed by the fanatics (in the nicest possible way) of the Dorothy Dunnett Society, making it my most popular post this year, at 168 views.

It was also September when I found Bright Sword was listed on Amazon. I thinks it was at that point that I knew it was really happening.

In October, author G K Holloway approached me out of the blue to review his book, 1066 , What Fates Impose He has since reviewed mine and beta read book two – it’s better than Bright Sword apparently.

It was in November, with Bright Sword on track and book two on pause, I started book three. It is causing a few problems, which I’ll talk about another time, but I have written just over 30k words.

With preparing for Christmas, setting up launch events, etc and writing; book and blog posts, I have been busy.

I have taken a week off for Christmas, read a few books, and now stand on the edge of a new year. Where will I be this time next year? I’ll write a few thoughts about that tomorrow – if I am in a fit state.

Writing update for the year: I have written about 118K words of historical fiction. Words deleted and edited – unknown, but a lot.

I have written 53 blog posts – more than one per week. Say an average of one thousand (this is 1166) makes 53K.

Total 171K. No wonder I’m feeling tired!

Thank you to everyone who has helped/supported/encouraged me during this amazing year.

In 2018, may you finish/publish/sell your own books – and if you don’t write; read and add a review to someone else’s.

Just so long as it’s called Bright Sword!





Some Thoughts about Christmas

Well, we’ve made it to Boxing Day; survived another Christmas. How was it for you?

As we settle down to read our books, play with our presents and think up ever more imaginative recipes for left overs, here are some thoughts about the real meaning of Christmas.

What comes into your mind when you imagine Christmas? Peace and Goodwill to all Mankind? Food and Drink? Family gathered round a roaring fire? Snow?

Lighting the Pudding – Symbol of Midwinter?

No, the real meaning of Christmas is Fear. Fear of the dark. Fear of starvation. Fear that this year the sun will not return and the world will end.

This is the reason that men hauled rocks half way across the country, to measure the midwinter sun at Stonehenge and passages in cold barrows were carefully aligned to mark the moment. Why calendars were developed, to calculate the day; the day when the sun turned and all mankind rejoiced that life would continue.

At a time when life depended on a good harvest and food was short in winter, it was a vital time; more so the further north you lived. Cold as well as the absence of light could be deadly, which is why most of the winter traditions originated there. Do people who live close to the equator and have no experience of short freezing days have any winter celebrations?

Winter comes and times are hard. Food must be hoarded, eked out to last the winter. Fuel collected to keep warm and the darkness at bay. How do you know when the worst is over? When the days lengthen again. What can you do to help it happen? Mankind has always invented rituals to control their lives; gods to pray to or bargain with; someone to thank when things go right – or make sacrifices to, when times are bad.

That is why we have Christmas and all the other winter festivals. I am not going into details. I’m sure most of us are sick of the discussions as to whether Christianity took over the Roman festival of Saturnalia or arguments about who invented Father Christmas or Santa Claus and whether his reindeer sleigh developed from Odin’s cart pulled by goats. Common to all of them is the moment when darkness was conquered and we could celebrate.

However, nowadays we seem to have lost the reason and celebration is everything. The early Christians turned necessity into religion, with Advent. A time of prayer and fasting, before the celebration of the Birth of Christ. The date was set as 25th December, disconnected from the actual shortest day and it lasted twelve days.

In the present era of plenty, people forgot the time of starvation and advent has become part of the preparation. Every year the period becomes longer, it now starts with Black Friday, in November and the shops start to fill with Christmas goods even earlier. Everyone complains it comes too early. There is the putting up of trees, sending of cards, the office parties and other premature celebrations. By the time Christmas Day arrives, everyone is sick of it, and so we sit here thinking “Was that it?” and start taking down the decorations.

Knowing there should be more, there is a final burst of fireworks and drinking. New Years Eve, when everything stops and we watch the clocks count down – to what? A moment accurately calculated by scientists to mark – an event nearly two weeks past.

This change is not recent. It happened long ago, when we lost our connection with the land, and time. Is it a coincidence that Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, and in the process “invented” the modern Christmas, at just the tipping point that more people lived in towns than in the country? When the agricultural cycle was forgotten by most. In cities, with industry and commerce, there was no winter starvation. If you were poor you could starve at any time of year, for everyone else food was plentiful all the time. But the mid-winter celebration was remembered.

Religion declined, and advent became a tinsel covered coat hanger on Blue Peter. People still go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, not even knowing why.

And we are discontented with Christmas. We feel guilty because, deep in our ancient brain we know it is wrong. Wrong to celebrate when we have not performed the penance, placated the gods.

Is that why, when it is all over, when the New Year has been rung in, then we make our promises? To give up alcohol, to get fit, to become a better person, to finish writing that book.

Wouldn’t we enjoy Christmas more, if we had done that first?

Is that why I read, and write, historical fiction? Because they knew how to do it right?

Happy New Year.

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!