Jumping Genres.

I quick post because I have missed two weeks, and I don’t want you to forget about me and wander off to look at other blogs.

First, the excuses! I missed blogging two weeks ago, because I was proof reading again. My second attempt after the first turned into a massive re-edit due to “Editor Problems”. It has now gone back for a professional proof read, after which it will be set in stone. I am now completely sick of the book. The ad from Amazon recommending it to me suffered short thrift, I’m afraid. It took several days to recover, with a bit of reading and catching up with the rest of my life. I even managed an afternoon of gardening – that put paid to last weeks post.

I have been trying to catch up with some of the books on my TBR pile, which resulted in some interesting thoughts. Why do I enjoy some books and not others? Some of the books were by local fellow writers, that I “had” to read.

The first was a romantic novel. The author is doing well, this is her third book and it was even on sale in Sainsburys! It had one of those covers with pastel colours and a title in swirly writing It was well written, entertaining, but I was unable to write a review. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but to write a review you need to compare a book with others of its type and I don’t tend to read this sort of book. Why? I like a bit of romance as much as the next (wo)man – I am starting to worry that too much romance is creeping into my own writing – but it has to be accompanied by some history. Not just boy meets girl, boy looses girl due to some innocent misunderstanding, boy finds girl and they live happy ever after. The sun always shines, unless a shower of rain or a blizzard is needed. Perhaps I need blood, violence and a touch of jeopardy to add spice to the mix.

Another book I read recently was set during the Second World War, but on the home front. People die, but far away. It has a local setting, so it is interesting to recognise places. There is a lot of detail about the daily life of the time. Perhaps I would enjoy it more if it was set further back in history. This is that awkward period, before my time, but familiar from my parents memories. I wouldn’t normally read about this period. The First World War, possibly, but for me it has to be set at least three hundred years ago.

I don’t spend all my reading life in the past. I enjoy a bit of horror, Stephen King for example, and some crime/mystery novels. A while ago we were discussing writing in the present tense and someone mentioned Elly Griffiths. I have been working through her Dr Ruth Galloway books. Is it the solving of clues to identify the murder I enjoy, or is it because the sleuth is an archaeologist? I don’t think it’s the second, but it certainly helps.

I think I’d better stop there, or I’ll be here for hours – time when I could be reading something set in the Anglo-Saxon period. Or, to be honest, writing my own.

I am back editing book two, chopping out all that romance, adding a touch of blood and guts.

Class started again in September. Since there are a few new students, we have begun with some basics. Already the exercises we have done has helped crystallise some new characters in book three. It (almost) helps me forget it is still four months to publication day.

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Titles, Covers and an Announcement!

The other day, I was wandering aimlessly around Amazon, when I made a search for Byrhtnoth – just checking out the competition. It was a great shock to find my own book there – my publisher must have omitted to tell me! Even more exciting was to find that it was available to Pre-order. It’s published on 28th January 2018, so there’s plenty of time, but just so you don’t forget (or if I forget to mention it again!) Why not pop along and order it here.

I had been thinking about doing a big Cover Reveal, but it’s a bit late for that now, so today I will tell the story about how I came up with the title, and the cover.

When I started writing, nearly five years ago, it was just “The Book”. It became “Byrhtnoth” and then, when I realised that it was the start of a series “Byrhtnoth 1”. I soon discovered that some people found Byrhtnoth difficult to pronounce. It is Britnoth, although I think to his contemporaries it would be something different. There is no point in writing a fantastic book if people can’t go into a shop and ask for it.

Byrhtnoth means something like bright courage – wonderful name for a hero, don’t you think? So perhaps the title could be Bright xxx. Since the book is about the search for a sword, what about Bright Sword? Like “Sharpe”, Bright has possibilities for an endless series of books. The book formerly known as Byrhtnoth II will be Bright Axe, because there is an axe in it, and a brief appearance by Eric Bloodaxe. I’m not sure what Byrhtnoth III will be – I haven’t (quite) started writing it. Is it wrong to think of a title and write the book to fit?

Have you noticed the banner at the top of this blog? That came next. I started this blog two years ago, together with a presence on Twitter and Facebook. I was starting to think about my “brand”. At the time Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics had a special offer on banners (3 for 2? – I can’t remember now) so I approached her and after some discussion we ended up with the above.

I like sunsets (or sunrises) and the sun fits the bright theme. The view is sufficiently anonymous, but in fact is the Somerset levels, where part of the book takes place. We had a lot of problems finding a sword. I was very particular – it had to be the right era, so I couldn’t use something from the Staffordshire Hoard or Sutton Hoo with all the garnets, and there was a distinct lack of stock images of 10th century swords available. I also give a description of the sword in the book. The one you see was not the one I had imagined, but it was the best we could find. Perhaps we would find something better for the book cover. The background and font were ideal for that.

Obviously, I went back to Cathy when I needed a cover. Knowing it would be difficult to find a sword, we tried other things. A picture of Byrhtnoth? But what did he look like? Against the light a silhouette might be better. One figure – standing or fighting? Two figures fighting? Once again the choice was restricted to what was available and there was nothing I really liked. Have you noticed that you keep seeing the same figure (and sword) on different book covers?

So, it was back to the sword. Gradually we got something close to what I wanted. Four different swords went into that final image! After a while it became “my” sword. The wording was soon sorted – I had added “The Byrhtnoth Chronicles Book I” by then.

The final cover – or was it?

I sat back. That was one thing settled. People who I showed it to, thought it worked. I also made sure that I have not described the axe in Book 2 – the cover will get whatever looks best!

I was expecting to self-publish, one of the advantages of that is you can choose your own cover. When a publisher came along, I told them I already had a cover – told them several time actually. Finally they said they would do their own cover. I was devastated – that was what my book looked like. Eventually I forced designer and publisher together and they came up with something different. I took a deep breath before I looked at it. It was the same cover. I had to study the two versions carefully to spot the difference.

Second version of cover.

There are three differences (I think) but why were they made?

The first is the typeface of the writing at the top. In the second version it now matches my name at the bottom. Lesson: limit the number of different fonts, or it looks messy.

Next is that the sword passes through the letter O. This now ties the images together. Lesson: Don’t have images floating randomly in space.

Finally, the main title has been lifted off the horizon. It took me some to work out this change. Eventually, I noticed that, when viewed from a distance, the title stands out more. Lesson: Designers may know how to design, but publishers know what sells.

I only hope the contents are as good as the cover.

One final thing. Have a look at that banner again. Isn’t that sword nestling in fur? Is it a wolf skin? Did it belong to Byrhtnoth? Where did it come from? At the time I was looking for inspiration for Book 2.  It now has wolves!

Eric Bloodaxe and wolves – it’s looking good! But that will be another book.

 

What a way to spend the Bank Holiday!

With perfect timing, at the end of last week, I received the proofs for the text of my book. This has involved a very steep learning curve as well as a few problems.

Proofs ready for correction

First I had to get to grips with the Proof correction marks – the little squiggles that tell the typesetter what they’ve done wrong. The only one that I had come across before was the symbol that I thought was a carrot (actually caret) which means insert something. The reverse, to delete something, must be a runner bean, complete with curly stalk (I’ve been eating a lot of them recently!). Actually I’ve found it is called a Dele and resembles some of the “d”s I’ve seen in old documents. I love the sound of the Pilcrow, but that’s not on my list – a new paragraph is indicated by a red step round the words.

The first mark I needed (to centre text) wasn’t on the list. Not a good start!

The marks I am using most are a dot in a circle and three parallel lines.

A diversion, back to when I had my manuscript edited. This is a snap of a couple of sentences in the marked up copy:

Marked up text from editor

Would you accept the changes? This was my first book. At the time I was not sure of the correct punctuation. The editor must know best, I accepted them.

I think the original is correct and most people seem to agree. (If anyone thinks the amendment is correct, please get in touch and explain why.)
My book is full of the second version!
Thank goodness I realised, even at this rather late stage. I am doing an awful lot of correcting – for those who don’t know “dot in a circle and three parallel lines” is replace with full point and change to capital.
I am tempted to make other changes. Now that I have written a second book and got to grips with editing, I realise that the first is not as well written as I thought.
But it is too late for that now.
I have mentioned several times about how important it is to get your work professionally edited.
I am starting to wonder if that it right.

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?)

I don’t like August

Most people have a a favourite month. I quite like May with it’s promise of summer, and October; a month of autumn colour and fruits, December brings Christmas, then there is the relief of January and new year. Other months I tolerate, except they pass too quickly nowadays. But I don’t like August. I should – after all, it is the time of heat, holidays and nothing much to do. I’m sure I must have enjoyed it when I was young, that long school holiday, all that time to read!

Somehow I have come to dislike it. People die (see last two posts – sorry about those!) then a few days ago I was reminded, by the excellent Captain Thomas Bowrey blog that it was on the 12th of August, in 1704, that the ship Worcester was seized in Scotland. I have an interest in John Madder, although he died in April, but this was the event that led to it. Come to think of it – I’m not too keen on April.

We don’t often take holidays in August – too expensive, too crowded and we have found, too wet. Every time we have tried to go away in that month, it has rained.

But this year I am enjoying August. If it rains, I am glad. I shut myself away and edit. Enjoy editing? I can hear the shocked gasps! Perhaps I should say that I enjoy this stage of editing. I have written my first draft and I know my writing is bad (Please don’t shout in agreement!). When the words flow, I am not concentrating on perfect prose, I just need to get it down. That is why I enjoy the editing. I now know what is wrong, and I can put it right.

I know my spelling is erratic. I know I have a tendency to use the passive voice and my verbs are progressive rather than simple (see that “am not concentrating” above? – it should be “do not concentrate”). As for my punctuation, we will ignore that for now – as I usually do!

Just for fun, here is something, picked at random and how I dealt with it.

We raced along the hard sand, close to the waves. The wind had picked up and the waves were larger. We laughed as we tried to dodge their attack upon the shore. Then the torrent of rain hit us. The shape of Bebbenburgh disappeared. We slowed slightly; there was no point in breaking a horse’s leg, or our own necks on some hidden obstacle. (64 words)

The first thing is that Spellcheck didn’t like “Bebbenburgh”. I’m not sure about it myself! About half the book takes place at Bamburgh. I am still undecided on which version to use – the modern or contemporary to the story. The text is scattered with alternate versions. This is something I will sort out later – decide which to use, and the spelling, and do a mass correction.

The next thing – is this scene actually needed? Does it progress the plot, or can I delete it? It follows a rather static scene; a conversation where characters exchange pieces of back story. A bit too much telling instead of showing. There has to be some “telling”,  but with this scene I can “show” what the characters feel about it.

How this scene is edited depends on the situation. For example, if they were being chased by rampaging Vikings, I would choose short sentences, get rid of surplus detail. It might end up something like:
We raced along the beach, dodging spears. The rain hit. Vision narrowed. We rode faster.
Down from 64 words to 15 and much more exciting, you feel your heart beat faster in response.

But there are no Vikings, they are riding for pleasure, they have enjoyed their conversation. They are excited, not terrified. Are there any words we can get rid of?

In the first sentence, would “across” be better than “along”? More suggestive of speed?

I mention the waves twice. Everyone knows that the hard sand is close to the waves, we can delete that phrase.

I have previously mentioned the wind, so no problem with it picking up, but that “had” is clumsy and the linking “and”. Merge the two events into one.

The torrent of rain is OK, but is that “us” really needed? Why not an example of how heavy the rain is, how it affects them?

The shape of Bebbenburgh disappeared. They are riding along the beach towards it, of course they can see it to start with (and not just the shape of it!). The rain comes, so heavy that it disappears , but it isn’t the only thing that disappears, the beach, sea, sky also disappear.  Just say “Everything”? (I’m not sure about this, I must think of a different word.)

How do you slow “slightly”? Another word gone.

Then that final sentence: again two clumsy phrases connected in this case by “or”. Can I amalgamate them, anyway isn’t breaking your neck more important than the horse’s leg?

Finally, what about that hidden obstacle? If it wasn’t hidden they would see and avoid it. It isn’t needed.

So, final version:

We raced across the hard sand. Wind drove the waves higher and we laughed as we dodged their attack upon the shore. A torrent of rain hit, drenching us to the skin, and everything disappeared. We slowed, no point breaking our necks or a horse’s leg. (46 words)

I think it reads better, the action is sharper, the emotion clearer, and I have avoided the Bebbenburgh question.

This fragment has reduced from 64 to 46 words. Then it’s on to the next sentence – that’s editing for you.

I started editing a manuscript of 104,542 words. With about 15k to go, I’m at 95,174. Not sure if I’ll get down to 90k, but I’m a lot closer!

And in case you wondered, “we” were not on the beach in August, it was the end of October! If you want to find out what they were doing there, and why they were laughing, I’ll be looking for Beta readers, as soon as I’ve finished this round of editing!!

Bamburgh beach in August 2005

 

and in August 2016!

Where are my characters going?

When we talk about a character’s “journey” we are usually talking about his (or her) emotional or spiritual journey, But what about the physical, boots on the ground, journey? There are the obstacles, the bumps in the road. There is the weather and where to seek shelter. Why is the journey necessary? But also, there is the decision on which way to go, especially with historical fiction.

Recently, by compete coincidence, I was following the same route that my protagonist was taking, in book two. Of course I was in a comfortable car and he was walking, but we were both following the same road to the north. I started a bit further south, but the section I am thinking of is from York northwards, nowadays the A68, in his day perhaps Dere Street. One of the great Roman roads that continued to be the main travel routes in Anglo-Saxon times and still serve today.

I have been thinking a lot about why roads are where they are. Rivers came first and it is difficult to move a river, so roads had to go where rivers permitted. Most rivers, close to the sea, are difficult to cross. The road must cross where the river was narrow enough to ford, or someone has built a bridge. Ships can sail up rivers – usually to roughly the same point as the road crosses. That is where a town is built. Nowadays roads can go anywhere, across rivers, under hills, even under the sea, but look at a map and you can see the same arrangement of roads laid down by the Romans, often following more ancient prehistoric track ways.

The Portgate on Hadrian’s Wall. What would it have looked like when Byrhtnoth passed this way?

I can look out of the car window and see the same hills and rivers, my character saw, over a thousand years ago. Although the architecture and vegetation may have changed, the bones of the country are the same. Stand on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and you can see Bamburgh Castle (or you can if it’s not raining, as when I was there recently!)

Have you ever looked at a map and noticed a cluster of those little crossed sword symbols that mark a battle site? Close to York we passed Fulford and Stamford Bridge (1066) and Towton (1461). I’m not sure about Towton, but the other two demonstrate the ford/bridge connection. Battle sites are usually close to one of those road/river pinch points.

Heading North – was that the right junction?

I hope you don’t think that these thoughts were distracting me from driving. I was the passenger, or perhaps I should say, performing the more important job of navigator. I find these long journeys are good for thinking, and thinking nowadays means thinking about my writing. When you are on a motorway and the next instruction is 20+ junctions away, you have nothing to do. Normally, when I have the unusual experience of “nothing to do”, I read – difficult in a car – although there are times when I have been desperate enough! We could listen to the radio, but that is difficult with the noise of a motorway. So I sit, looking out the window. Sometimes there are things to look at. Everything passes quickly but sometimes, something will catch your eye; a certain arrangement of clouds, a house in an unusual place, a group of people or just one person. You have no time to study it but you continue thinking about it, you weave a story around it, it might be the start of a new book, or just a brief scene in what you are writing now.

If the journey is boring, as motorways often are, I drift off into my book, enjoyable scenes or something that is causing problems. On our recent trip I started thinking about book three. With book one with the publisher and book two in the midst of editing, I allowed myself to catch the individual strands that had started to float around my brain; in which order should they be placed? How do I connect them together? The main characters are easy – I have a rough idea about their future, although that may change (I have already killed someone off and resurrected them!) It is the minor characters, the ones that pop in and out, how can I re-use them – recycle rather than invent new ones?

I started getting confused, it was difficult remembering what happened in which book. I was horrified to find myself thinking: I really could do with a notebook, to write things down.  Now anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am not a planner. Am I changing? I can’t imagine doing anything as drastic as actually dividing the book into chapters – before I’d written a word!

Perhaps a timeline, or a few brief biographies, even a family tree. And of course I’ll need a map, to track where people are and how long they take to get there.

But definitely not post-it notes!

Finally, with all this travelling about, I have lost track of where I had got to with recording my editing progress. So I will give a general overview. I have divided book two into four sections, well three sections and a bit on the end. With this edit I have got through the first two (roughly half way). 47,448 words have been reduced to 44,460, a loss of around three thousand words. There is a scene that I have decided to cut, perhaps another. I have hopes I will get under 100,00, perhaps closer to the planned 90k.

So – I’d better get back to it. I have been told I will be getting the book one proofs “sometime”.

A Collection of Cousins

Apologies for the delay in this week’s post, but I had to go to a funeral.

At least it gave me a subject to write about, not about the funeral as such, but some insights into families.

I also had plenty of time to think. It was a long journey, about 180 miles each way, including part of the M25. It took over four hours and we were one minute late, creeping in during the first verse of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. Others were later! Then it was back to the house to chat with relatives who we only manage to meet up with at funerals (and weddings – except no-one seems to bother getting married these days!)

My father was one of a family of five, three boys and two girls. Only one is still with us; the funeral was for another. It is now up to the next generation, the cousins, to keep the different branches of the family in touch, we send Christmas cards, and Facebook is bringing us closer.

This is a photograph, taken yesterday.

Ignoring the man, here are four women. Each is a daughter of one of those five brothers and sisters; the fifth sibling produced only boys – none was there for the funeral, probably coincidence, or do the women in a family make more of an effort?

We are a variety of sizes and shapes. Is there any resemblance between us? Possibly, but we each had another parent to dilute the family genes. We all married (some more than once), we all have children and some have grandchildren. We all get on, despite not meeting very often, or perhaps because of that. Are we any different from a random group of friends, or total strangers?

Someone (Harper Lee, I think) said “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family,” Bearing in mind the distance between us – we all live in the southern part of England, but as I found yesterday, too distant to pop in for a cup of tea – if we were friends we would have to make an effort to meet up. As it is we have to rely on the odd funeral to get together.

But they are still there, somewhere in the background, our family.

What is this to do with writing? A little while ago I wrote about mothers, how all characters must have had a mother. She must have had some influence, good or bad, that made them who they were. Cousins are different. They probably don’t have influence on you, but they are there, lurking in the background.

Several of my characters are orphans. My protagonist has no family; the book, the whole series, is about his feeling of loss, about his search for a family. Will he find them or will his friends become his family? Does he have cousins? It is something I will have to think about.

Cousins in novels are usually a device; the cousin in Australia who leaves a character a fortune that changes his life, the mysterious cousin murdering relatives because of some ancient feud.

In history, especially in a ruling family, cousins can be a problem (The Wars of the Roses has become known as “The Cousin’s War”.) or the means of continuing the dynasty, hopefully without bloodshed (James I after Elizabeth, those Germans after the Stuarts). In the Anglo-Saxon period, there was no rule that son followed father to the throne, the best person could be chosen from the “royal” family, barring Viking invasions. Did it cause problems between cousins?

But history is usually about male cousins. What about the women? They would be married off, sent to form a link with another country. Often we don’t even know her name. In more ordinary families, they would disappear, appear only as “wife of”. They would have children, boys would recognise their male cousins – they shared a name after all – but what about the girls? Did they become submerged in their “new” family or did they keep in touch? Did they meet at funerals, or communicate via whatever was the historical equivalent of the annual Christmas Card?

They are the invisible glue that keep families together.

 

And I did manage some editing last week, despite funerals, and Wimbledon. 11,884 edited, 890 lost. Think that is an improvement!