End of the Year Review

A new year – time to look forward. But everyone is looking back. We cannot plan the way forward unless we know where we are coming from.

2018 has been a landmark year for me. There can’t be a much bigger event than publishing your first novel. That was back in January. It seems like a long time ago: the excitement of seeing copies of my book for the first time, practicing my signature for the first signing and that freezing day of the launch. I have learned a lot and done a lot more writing, and rewriting, and editing. I will publish my second book this year, perhaps my third as well. More about all that another time.

For this post I thought about writing about the books I have read in 2018 – put together a top five, or ten. But I couldn’t remember what I read last year. Was that book last year, or the one before? The ones I remember are the ones I have written about here – or planned to write about, but never got around to it.
So I have made a resolution – I will make a list of every book I read in 2019, together with notes and a rating. I hope it will result in more reviews here and elsewhere.

So no top ten books this year. What else can I review? What about this blog? Behind these pages, WordPress provides me with a whole load of statistics. What was my most successful post? Since I am planning on a little light housekeeping, it seems like a good idea to find out what works and what doesn’t.

This blog started on the 9th August 2015, just before the anniversary of the death of Byrhtnoth. This enabled me to introduce my character and write about the Battle of Maldon. I have written 119 posts since then, an average of just under three a month – better than I expected! I have had 5,430 views and my most successful post was on the 25th September a review of King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett. It got retweeted by the Dorothy Dunnett Society (@DunnettCentral) which produced 190 views.

But this is a review of 2018. What have been the most popular posts this year?

Coming top, with 98 views is “How do you pronounce that?” Published on 22nd Jan 2018, it is about my problems with finding the correct pronunciation of Byrhtnoth. Not a particularly enthralling subject for the general public. Why has it had so many hits? Is it the title?

Number two is a report on the Historical Novel Society Conference 2018 , with 58 views. I am sure that a mention by the HNS improved the circulation of that post.

Third comes a post from November 2015: The Last Kingdom – Book v Television has had 50 views this year. It is also the second all time favourite. I think it gets noticed whenever the TV program is shown.

Fourth place this year (34 views) goes to “Do you need a Structural Edit?” Something that is of interest to all writers. Giving my current editor a rave review helped to publicise that one.

In joint fifth place, on 27 views each is a post “With Aethelflaed in Tamworth” a report of an event about The Lady of Mercia – talks and books for sale, which was promoted by the organisers (and participants, thank you). With the same number of views came one of a series of five posts about a holiday in Orkney and Shetland. Why was number three more popular than the others?

What have I learned from this exercise? It helps to write about someone or something with a high profile and tell them you have posted. The other is to ask a question. I will have to give this a lot of thought. Of course, I could always ask you, my readers.

What would you like me to write about in 2019?

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A Tour of Orkney and Shetland – Part 3, Shetland to Orkney

After a whole day touring Shetland, we booked into the Queens Hotel in Lerwick, tucked away at the corner of the harbour. The coach was allowed to stop to unload, but the area was forbidden to other traffic. We were told that this was because there was to be filming in the area.

Queens Hotel, Lerwick. Behind the barriers.

One of the reasons I had wanted to visit Shetland was because I had watched the TV series “Shetland” based on the books by Ann Cleeves. A scene from the new (fourth) series was to be shot there the following day. We did wander back later to have a look, but although there was a lot of equipment lying around, we didn’t see any action. I’ll certainly be watching the next series – and reading the books.

I don’t know if it was to do with the filming, but when we went out for a walk that evening, we found a Viking longship moored just behind the hotel. It wasn’t very big, but it gave us a bit of a shock.

Queens Hotel and Viking ship – our room looked out onto this tiny beach.

We survived the night without being raped and pillaged and checked out next morning. Again the coach travelled south, but then took a road to the west coast to visit St Ninian’s Isle. We didn’t actually “visit” the island, which is attached to the mainland by a sand tombolo. Perhaps there wasn’t time, or we weren’t considered fit enough, but the view was enough. There is a ruined chapel on the island, dedicated to St Ninian. When it was excavated in the 1950s, treasure from the 9th century was found there. The collection of silver brooches and other objects is now in the Shetland Museum, which we visited later, so I suppose we didn’t really miss anything.

View of St Ninian’s Isle

Then it was back north, to Scalloway, the former capital of Shetland. We had a brief visit to the “Shetland Bus” memorial, before a visit to the Scalloway Museum, where there is a display telling the story of this WW2 operation. After the occupation of Norway by Germany in 1941, small fishing boats were used to transport men and equipment to aid the resistance.

Shetland Bus, memorial, Scalloway

Scalloway Museum, Shetland Bus exhibition

Next door to the museum was a castle, which we also visited. This was built in 1600, by the notorious Earl Patrick Stewart, who we had met the day before at Jarlshof. Patrick Stewart was the 2nd Earl of Orkney and illegitimate cousin of James VI. He was not much liked by the local citizens, as, amongst other things, he forced them to work on his castle for no pay. They complained to the King and eventually he was summoned before the Privy Council in 1609. He was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1615, in Edinburgh. The castle was abandoned. It is interesting for the graffiti that has been found in the great hall. Some bored visitor had carved pictures of ships that would have been visible in the harbour below.

Scalloway Castle

Scalloway Castle, Great Hall

Scalloway Castle, ship graffiti (very faint)

We returned to Lerwick via Tingwall Valley. The Ting was the old Norse Parliament. This was originally held on a small island in the loch, reached by a stone causeway. The coach stopped in a lay-by, already occupied by workmen, so we were unable to get out for a proper look. It would have been nice to have spent more time exploring the area. Perhaps we will come back another time, by ourselves. There is so much to see in Shetland, the tour can only cover the highlights.

View of the Ting, from inside the coach (with workmen’s van)

In the afternoon we had free time in Lerwick. We were dropped off near the Museum. After a lunch of scones (which had been recommended) we looked round the Shetland Museum. It was large, modern and had many interesting exhibits. We confined ourselves to the archaeology section; the St Ninian treasure and some beautiful stone tools. Plus a lifeboat from the RMS Oceanic, predecessor of the Titanic, which has recently been restored.

Shetland Museum, different styles, one amazing building.

We had had enough of the “museum shuffle” so set off to explore the rest of Lerwick. We looked round the shops and visited Fort Charlotte, originally built to deter the Dutch during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. It was rebuilt in its current form in 1781 and named after the wife of George III, but never used in anger.

Fort Charlotte

Leaving Lerwick

Tired and footsore, we returned to the museum, in time to be picked up by the coach and delivered to the ferry. The ship sailed at 5.30 for Orkney. This was a shorter crossing, no cabins this time. We had dinner on board and arrived in Kirkwell about 11pm. It was a short coach ride to the Kirkwell Hotel, where the service was very efficient and we were soon heading for our rooms. We were on the third floor, so decided to take the lift. We had been warned about this, it was one of those old-fashioned types where you have to pull the gate across before it will move. We waited while someone else went up, it returned quickly. It contained three large suitcases – but no people. I’d had enough, we dragged our suitcases up to the third floor.

Viking ships, haunted lifts. What more did this holiday have in store for us?