Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The word Arsenal comes from the Arabic words -- Dar Sina'a which means House of Construction.
The original Arsenal was started under the Doge Ordelafo when in approx 1100, he required all the shipbuilding in Venice to be nationalised. The centre of the operations were two marshy islands known as Zemelle. Over the next fifty years, it became a huge complex of dockyards, foundries, magazines, and workshops. Dante describes it in the Inferno. And it was called the Arsenal. Ultimately at its height, the Arsenal employed over 16,000 workers and was capable of turning out fully equipped warships every few hours.
I have no idea when the term came to be applied to a collection of weapons but thought it interesting.
The Doge Ordelafo is somewhat mysterious as his first name appears to be a virtual palindrome of the Venetian last name -- Falerdo. It is known that he was a member of the Falier family but the reason for his odd first name is lost in the mists of history.
More revisions but the Viking is getting better.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Anyway, the indoor rowing goes fine. My times for 500/meter splits are decreasing. I feel stronger, but I still come off the machine with legs and arms like jelly. My family are being very kind and say that I look thinner. I keep telling myself that the weight and the lack of fitness did not happen over night, so it will not disappear over night. The important thing is to keep at it.
I do find that my stress levels are decreasing and my energy levels are increasing. If I row in the evening, I find that I stumble to bed much earlier as I am completely exhausted.
My daughter has insisted though that we get swim suits next week so we are ready for Sorrento at the end of October....It is one thing braving the rowing machine. It is quite another braving the swim suit shop. All I want is a basic black suit that holds bits in.
The revisions will be done this week. I am not entirely happy with the ending at the moment. But I think once I have put the other tweaks on, then everything will come good. I know why the ending has to be the way it is. And I suspect that I might need an epilogue.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
and Elizabeth Bennet type romance, Thomas and Martha Jefferson is more the Wuthering Heights. Full of great passion and absolute tragedy. And although like Washington, he married a widow, no one has ever said that the marriage was for economic reasons. He and Martha were passionately in love and remained devoted to each other for the duration of their lives.
Thomas Jefferson famously wooed Martha with the violin. He was notorious for not speaking but he could play. He played the violin while she played the harpsichord. They married in 1772. They were well matched in intellect and temperament. Martha supported his endeavors and Monticello, the family home, was designed with her in mind.
Martha was frail, more than likely suffering from diabetes. This in turn led a number of miscarriages and stillbirths. And in 1782 four months after giving birth to her sixth child by Jefferson, she died.
Jefferson never remarried and went into severe depression after the death.
One of the few surviving bits of writing in her own hand was finished by Jefferson: and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make!
Long after her death, there are substantive rumours that he had an affair with her half-sister, Sally Heming and fathered several children. Sally was a half-caste slave who by some accounts looked or sounded a bit like the dead Martha. DNA testing has shown the presence of Jefferson dna but as there were several male Jeffersons who visited Monticello during the period, it is impossible to conclude definitely that it was Thomas Jefferson. However, the Heming did have a special status within the household and were referred to as servants rather than slaves. Within the Heming decendents there are stories about Thomas Jefferson being the father. You can read more here. Jefferson never freed any of his slaves, but his daughter did free Sally.
However there has never any suggestion that he strayed while Martha was alive.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I was looking on the M&B website and saw that they have put the November books on. What is so great is that if you do click on Browse this book, you are taken to the first few pages of the book. When I had tried this earlier with An Impulsive Debutante, all I got was a blank screen.
You can read the first chapter as well as seeing the dedication, the author's note, bio and teaser, plus the back cover. In other words, everything that I look at when I make a decision if I want to buy the book. Totally cool. Or maybe I am just easily pleased.
Come November, it will also be available as an e book.
What do we know?
Martha Dandridge Custis was a wealthy widow and their marriage provided Washington with the economic funds to join the elite of the Virginia planters' class. We also know from a private Washington letter that in all likelihood he was passionately in love with Sally Fairfax during the early part of 1758. Sally Fairfax was the wife of George William, and towards the end of his life, Washington wrote to the elderly Sally confessing that she was the passion of his youth and some of the happiest moments of his life were spent with her.
Washington however was a man of great self-control. He had an image of himself and what he wanted from life -- including a happy domestic arrangement. Thus in January 1759 he marries the wealthy widow and calls her an agreeable partner. Many scholars feel that there were more economic factors in this match than romantic.
But why did Martha choose Washington? What did she see in him? She is the one with the money, and thus the catch, rather than the other way around. He is the dashing soldier, but there must have been some attraction. He is known to have been good with her children. But her reasons are lost in the midst of history.
All the available evidence suggests that they did have a happy marriage. For example, she did join him on campaign during the American revolution. She certainly remained his hostess and other than the one intriguing letter to the elderly Sally, Washington's name is not linked with another woman's. Indeed the Fairfaxes were close neighbours and good friends of the Washingtons.
There again given the self-control and discipline with which Washington conducted his life, he probably required an agreeable partner rather than a passionate lover and at least had the good sense to marry one.
Unfortunately they did not have children. Whose fault this was is impossible to determine. But there is no evidence of Washington having fathered any children. And the phrase, according to Joseph J Ellis's excellent biography, His Excellency, -- Washington slept here -- is generally accepted by scholars to have NO sexual connotations.
So with the Washington marriage-- who knows. But it became the sort of marriage that Washington wanted. Stable and full of good sense. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Friday, September 26, 2008
First up John and Abigail Adams. Because over 1000 letters survive, we actually know a lot about the relationship between John and Abigail. Above everything, it was a good marriage and the warmth of the relationship comes through in the letters.
The artist Gilbert Stuart once remarked that he wished he could have painted Mrs Adams in her youth as she must have been a perfect Venus, and John Adams wholeheartedly concurred.
They first met when Abigail Smith was a frail 15 year old and married when she was not quite 20.
Abigail had been considered too delicate for school and was taught at home by her mother. She also had access to her father's vast library and developed a love of learning. Her letters are sprinkled with quotes from her favourite poems etc. There are often slight mistakes as she is most probably quoting from memory.
When they met, John was a short, stout young lawyer. His first impression of her was not favourable. Saying the Smith daughters were not 'fond nor frank, nor candid.' However, because his good friend Richard Cranch married Abigail's elder sister --Mary Smith, they became more better acquainted and found much to like about each other. Adams' family legend has it that Abigail's mother opposed the match, thinking her daughter could do better. But it is John Adam's great heart that called to her. Both were strong minded as both had views on nearly everything. Once John calls her parrot-toed and she replies he is too severe in his judgements of people and besides 'a gentleman has no business to concern himself about the legs of a lady.'
Abigail became Diana after the goddess of the moon in their private correspondence and John became Lysander after the Spartan hero. Their letters to each other begin My Dearest Friend.
Interestingly in the final year of their courtship,John has almost no diary entries and only refers to her once before their marriage and then only in code. 'Di was a constant feast. Tender, feeling, sensible, friendly. A friend.'
It was a marriage of equals and a partnership. It was this marriage that enabled John to go off and achieve. Abigail, for all her frailty as a child became a robust woman who managed the house with classic New England good sense. She kept hens and ducks,sewed, baked and churned her butter. She believed that her butter was vastly superior.
Anyway, the letters between John and Abigail shine with their love for each other. And she was the constant good in his life.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Now I just have to make sure that my Vikings rampage enough...
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Thus, it will be back to normal service.
In the meantime,I have been revising the Viking, the paineters have arrived to paint among other things my study and things are just happening.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Yesterday, I received two lovely reviews for An Impulsive Debutante -- one from cataromance and one from the Pink Heart Society. They were reviews I was waiting for as I always like to see how Julie enjoyed the book.
The summary from cataromance made my day!
I lapped up every single delicious word of this wonderful Regency romance! Michelle Styles is a skilled wordsmith who can make any period of history come gloriously to life and An Impulsive Debutante is a testament to her breathtaking storytelling prowess. Sexy, stunning, heartwarming and absorbing from start to finish, Michelle Styles proves once again that she’s one of the most refreshing and original voices in historical romance writing today!
Tomorrow, I am off to London for the annual Association of Mills & Boon Authors lunch and then drinks party with the editors. I plan on taking my camera...
Alice in the comments section yesterday was asking about a Marriage of Convenience and how to make the heroine not seem passive. Hopefully, I achieved this in Sold & Seduced. The scenario Alice described is the basic Beauty and the Beast scenario. A young woman, in order to save her father sacrifices herself to a beast type figure. If you have read the early fairy tales, rather than simply seen the Disney version, you will see Beauty actually has an inciting role. She asks for a rose rather than the silks and jewels her sisters ask for. Despite his misfortune, her father climbs into the garden to get the rose as it should not cost anything and Beauty is his favourite. Equally she is the one who volunteers after her father has agreed to send the first thing that greets him on his arrival home. The father is hoping for the dog, but Beauty spies him and rushes out.
In other words, it all depends on the motivation for the self-sacrifice. Rather than being told to, Beauty feels obliged because of her earlier past actions.
What you need to make sure is that both your characters are assertive. When the world does not act the way they think it should, they do something about it. They always have a plan -- goal, motivation and conflict.
In S&S, Aro saved Lydia's father in return for a shipment of Falarian wine.But Lydia, after her father fell ill, sold the wine to pay debts. When Aro shows up demanding the wine or he will ruin the father, Lydia feels obliges to sacrifice herself as she feels it was her fault. When the marriage terms are different than she first thinks, she negoiates terms. Hence the Spanish title Sept dias sin besos -- seven days without kisses.
I am still revising my wip....
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
In this case the mantra -- a hero leads applies equally to both the hero and heroine. They both need to be proactive and willing to take charge of their life. Things do not happen to the main characters, they make things happen. Then when the world does not react in the way they expect, they take action again. It also applies across lines. The main characters must be willing to take life on and to make things happen. They are the ones who make choices and who have to live with the consequences of their choices. They do not simply sit back and relax, or become overwhelmed. Proactive rather than reactive.
You do not want your hero or heroine to be overtaken and overwhelmed by events. What ever happens, they remaining fighting against events and not simply accepting of the status quo.
They may be in statis until the inciting incident, but once the story starts, they take a lead.
Main characters need to be assertive rather than passive -- even though they might appear to be without power. Daphne du Maurier does this brilliantly with the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca. Because most of the book is a memory of an older woman, and the author keeps giving subtle hints about how she is now making most of the decisions, the reader can accept the narrator's naivete etc in a way that had the story been told in real time/a linear fashion, she wouldn't.
One of the problems with the current Viking is that events kept happening to the hero and heroine, rather than them directly influencing events. This made my editor question why the heroine was so timid. Some of it had to do with the heroine's back story which had to be changed and some of it had to do with how she approached things. Rather than sitting around waiting to be rescued, my heroine at least had to have a plan of how she was going to escape.
Sometimes, it can be simple, for example, I originally had Ivar being far more rational about certain things. He had argued for more ships. In the revised version (which works better), the expedition is his idea and he has argued that one ship has a better chance of getting through.
Another way of saying this is Make the Turning Points Active. The vast majority of your turning points must be a direct result of actions by your hero or heroine, rather than by events beyond their control.
Monday, September 15, 2008
1. Amber Packard who wins a hard back copy of A Question of Impropriety
2. Melissa Keith who wins a paperback copy from one of my backlist.
Both winners have been contacted via email. Many thanks to all who entered. The next newsletter goes out in November.
I have been rowing for about four weeks now. I enjoy it. My times are coming down and so I suspect that I am getting fitter. My waist measurement etc are slowly coming down and my clothes are getting looser. My weight is slowly decreasing, but given that I am revising and this is when I tend to put on weight -- this is good.
The most important (and unexpected) benefit has been in the increased energy. My mind feels sharper and less sluggish. So it is good thus far, but it takes six weeks to make a habit of exercise.
And my book is becoming so much better. Or at least I am far happier with it. I really did take a horrible wrong turning before. In some ways, it could have worked but I decided that I wanted to do other things and so the revisions are extensive. But fingers crossed the book is much stronger and will ultimately be a better read. The most important thing is to give the reader the best read possible.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I took a huge wrong turn and ended up with a plodding book. Luckily now, I think I made the correct choice and the book is becoming much better.
One of the simplest mantras is A HERO LEADS. A hero is proactive. A hero takes chances.
Why didn't I see the problems before?
It is going to be a much better book, far more exciting. It simply is a case of making sure the turns are right.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
If you go to the US Embassy website, it will give you information on how to do it.
Voting is an important duty of citizens as well as a privilege. But in order to vote, you must first be registered.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
My author's copies for A Question of Impropriety arrived today. I adore this cover. It has grace and movement. Plus the female model looks a bit like my former editor.
The blurb reads: Diana Clare has had enough of London – the balls, the rakes you can never trust… Now, having returned home in disgrace, she is trying to forget what drove her from the ton.
But rake and gambler Brett Farnham, Earl of Coltonby, seems intent on making Diana remember exactly what it was like to be whirled around the ballroom and seduced by the glint in your partner’s eye...
But Brett has ‘mistress’ rather than ‘marriage’ in mind, and Diana is not sure her reputation can stand up to another scandal…
And you can read the excerpt here.
Needless to say he is tremendously excited. He has been counting the days.
The good part for me is the High School is down the road. Years of school runs and fighting buses etc on a steep bank littered with parked cars and lorries has come to an end. They all can use their legs to get there. I think it has been nearly 12 years of the school run in some form.
The other two start tomorrow. This gives the Year 9's a chance to find their way around the school without being run over by roaming herds of students.
My revisions are going fine. The book will be wonderful when it is done. And I am very excited about doing the revisions. They do make sense. Sometimes, you would think that I would remember to apply my knowledge before I turn the work in...
Monday, September 08, 2008
My creativity appears to have returned or at least I am seeing things more clearly. Why I could not have seen them six months ago is a vexing irritation but now, I am excited about the possibilities.
It remains early days but I am ever so glad that we subcumbed and got one.
The three ducklings are now at the fluffy dinosaur stage. If you want prehistoric beasts, you should see them. The mother duck will occassionally go off with justo ne duckling, leaving the other two on the lawn. The garden echoes to the sound of weep, weep, weep.
I am starting to get a handle on my revisions -- in part thanks to the rowing -- it should be excellent once it is done and dusted. Sometimes, I think I am like Thomas Edison and have to find 9,999 ways it doesn't work first until I finally find the right way. But really, what I was thinking about? Fundamental to good story telling is The Hero Leads and does not simply react. Make the turning points active. Luckily I have nice editors who trust me to turn it around.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
My house is at the top of a hill. It is a steep hill and never gets any shorter, no matter the number of time I climb it. We do have a stream running through the garden, and it did have problems awhile ago, but this has been fixed. this meant that thankfully our back wall was safe and the emergency flood shelter at the high school was not in danger of flooding.
The rain is less and there have even been a few moments of sun.
My revisions are being thought about but I think I have a better handle on what needs to happen and the fundamental conflict between the two protagonists. Overly complex and muddled back stories do not make for a page turning story.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Add to the mix the fact that I want to change part of the second half, and I have my work cut out for me.
The KISS principle needs to be put into operation and I have to decide what is important about this story and what is not. Luckily my editors have the faith that I can do this.
Anyway, I shall a busy few weeks ahead of me.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Until 18 years ago, I had never thought 5 September to be that special. It was just another day. Sometimes, school had started and it had a September beginning type feel about it. 20 years ago, I arrived in the UK to start a new life with my husband, but I dare say that I would have forgotten the date. It was one of those things -- the event was more important than the actual date. I do know that the sun was shining and Newcastle airport seemed very small indeed. I think there was one baggage claim at the time. And I do know that we walked through Jesmond Dene to go out to dinner. Little things but hazy.
However, on 5 September 1990, my eldest son was born. And forever after, this date is a reminder of the most important dates in my life.
I can close my eyes and see everything from that day. Clearly. Each moment seared on my brain.
And I can remember thinking, as I lay in bed recovering from the c-section that it would be an awfully long time before my son was 5, let alone an adult.
Only children grow and days slip past.
It is far shorter to a child's 18th than it was to your own. Do not ask me why but it is.
I am fiercely proud of him and all the things he has done and hopefully will do in his life. But it is his life to do what he will with it. And I am so grateful that he came into my life.
Hopefully everyone will have a wonderful day today.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
We managed to pick enough for a pie -- blackberry and apple. The younger two squabbled a bit as they made it, but managed to do everything -- including making the short crust pastry without my help.
The sloes are far fewer but look to be nearly ready. Sloe gin is very simple to make and tastes so much better than ordinary gin.
We do not have any damsons.
Because of the continuing glut of Victoria plums, I used them in a chicken pie instead of sumac. They provided the same sweet tartness. The pie is an adaptation of a Bedouin recipe. You could just use the filling for a wrap or a piece of pita bread.
For the filling:
2 large onions chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 chicken legs and thighs -- skinned, boned and chopped into bite sized pieces.
6 plums, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 pods of cardamon -- crushed
salt and peeper
1 block of puff pastry, defrosted.
To make filling --
Gently fry onions until they start to turn colour, add chicken pieces, continue to cook until chicken has turned colour (about 10 min). Add plums and spices. Cook for a further five minutes or so.
Cut puff pastry into two -- one about two thirds of the block and the other one third. Roll out the bigger piece to fit a 9x 13 oblong pan. Place in pan, spread filling evenly over puff pastry. Roll out the remaining piece to make the lid. Place on top of filling. Brush with oil.
Bake pie in preheated over 180C/375F/gas mark 4/top oven of Aga for 25 minutes. Serve hot.
Can be made in advance and then baked.
Can be turned out of pan after cooking and served on a platter.
Serves about 8.
Monday, September 01, 2008
There are a couple of contests on for An Impulsive Debutante -- at Liz Fielding's blog and also at Unusual Historicals. Leave a comment and you will be in the running for a copy.
My newsletter should be going out later today. And its big contest will be for a hardback of A Question of Impropriety. The paperback will be on sale in November. Set in 1813, it is a proper Regency but as it is set in the North East and has to do a little bit with the development of the locomotive, it is also different. You can read an excerpt here.
The newsletter will also have my recipe for plum chutney. The Victoria plum tree is once again overloaded. The tree is the best in the neighborhood for producing Victoria plums and we regularly get over a 100 lbs worth. Yesterday's culinary discovery was that plums make a good substitute for apricots in Moroccan dishes. It is the sweet tartness.
After the second week of indoor rowing, my weight continues to go down and my energy levels increase. Mentally I feel sharper and more focused. A recent study in the US showed that people are more mentally alert after 30 minutes of exercise. Another study (this time from the University of Pittsburgh)showed at overweight women needed to do 275 minutes exercise per week to achieve sustained weight loss. This is about twice the current recommendation. I have been reading my dh's Runner's World.
For a number of reasons, I have now ordered the deluxe seat. The current seat gets uncomfortable when you are rowing for longer than 15 minutes. I have resorted to sitting on a small pillow...
I have also discovered that intervals are killers but are useful. As my times are going down and my ability to row for lower periods is going up, I feel that I am achieving something. But the thing is that it must be kept up. It takes 6 weeks for something to become a habit.
My weight and poor fitness did not come on overnight and it will not disappear overnight, but through steady work Patience and perseverance.
My current wip is almost finished. I can just about taste the end. I think when all is said and done, it will be a good story.