Wednesday, April 28, 2010
This is the linked book to A Christmas Wedding Wager and is dedicated to my high school English teacher Mrs Fifer. It features a minor character from ACWW who was not the nicest but whom my daughter loved and adored. I had great fun making Lottie into a heroine.
The cover was also used in the title sequence for the BBC production about Mills & Boon.
I am supposed to be getting my author copies soon. They delivered the wrong box of books -- Anne Herries Bought for the Harem which is also out in June.
Recently I had a really nice note from a 15 year old in Essex who had stumbled across AID in a library and it had become her favourite book! She loved and adored Lottie -- so I guess I did my job.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Burning, vaseline or nail polish is not good and is likely to lead to infection.
My youngest is now on antibiotics. He thinks I overreacted but Lyme disease is no joke and there are a number of other nasty diseases. The doctor agreed with me, particularly as the tick was on his skin for over two hours.
The best way to avoid ticks is prevention -- long sleeves and insect repellent with DEET.
Other than that, he had a brilliant time. Lots of pictures of rocks and other geological formations as well as red deer.
Monday, April 26, 2010
They were more expensive than I thought they'd be.
This means no new wardrobe and that I have to fit into my existing wardrobe.
This means exercise as nothing makes you lose inches like exercise. One of the best workouts I know is indoor rowing. And until we moved the rowing machine downstairs (where it became a good clothes horse), I was very good at doing it. I have started again after my youngest remarked that 3 x a week for 30 minutes at a time will get you fit in 6 weeks.
Time to do it as I have no wish to be wearing a sack at the RWA conference.
I have also discovered that dividing my writing into chunks and concentrating on finishing one chunk at a time is working. It means limited my Internet time but it is keeping me focused as I can't just check until I have finished the next chunk of 750 words. Thus far since starting the new regime on 6 April, I have managed over 63, 000 words. Go me!
Friday, April 23, 2010
Her early life adds a lot to my knowledge about the North East. Basically her grandfather, Lowthian Bell, was the Bill Gates of his day and the family transportation royalty rather than aristocracy. It is also great to read about when places like Washington and Redcar oozed money.
What surprised me and shocked me was her stepmother Florence Bell. As far I know no proper biography has been done of this lady. She was the daughter of a physician, brought up in France, highly musical, a playwright as well as writing various things on the education of children. She moved in artistic and industrial circles. Counted Charles Dickens as a friend. She was an early pioneer in social work, doing a lot of the hard graft of interviewing people and publishing the raw data. ALong with her husband, she was an early suppoertor of the trade unions (surprisingly they both felt that the owners of businesses were dependant on the workers and that workers therefore needed to be treated well) And as I was reading this , I thought no wonder, Gertrude was such a strong character and got the first first in Modern History that Oxford ever bestowed on woman. Her stepmother must have been one of the first suffragettes. Had to be.
Umm, no. Lady Florence Bell was vehemently anti-suffragette. She wrote essays on why the movement was wrong. Gertrude could not even discuss it with her. Her education philosophy was that women should be educated at home where ever possible. No exceptions. The aim being not to create a great academic but someone who would shine in society. Accomplishments were it. A woman's place was by her husband's side. Apparently her own daughters were renown as great conversationalists -- The Hugh Bells.
However, Gertrude was the exception. Realising that she needed stretching, Florence sent her first to Queens College and then to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. The way women were treated in Oxford was surely scandalous -- being forced to sit with their backs to the lectures or on the podium with the lecturer. Luckily Gertrude did not stand for any nonsense and made several remarks about the lecturers not adding anything to the books she had read. After which, she decided that Gertrude needed domestication before she came out as a debutante! And Gertrudealso learned to operate within society. Although Gertrude never married (there were several scandalous affairs with men!), she always was a part of the establishment. It enable her to accomplish things.
Anyway, it shocked me that a woman like Lady Florence Bell could be so enlightened in many ways and yet not grasp the fundamental principle that women deserved the vote.
Anyway, it is a lesson to me not just to assume and to place my 21st century interpretations on things.
Busy writing away.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
When you write, there is always talk of deadlines. Some authors get so het up about deadlines that they forget to have a life and this can lead to burn out, particularly if they have overestimated the number of books they can produce a year. Over production is a good way to get writer's block and burn out. Burn out is something that all authors want to avoid.
Some deadlines are movable feasts and others are precise. Before your book is accepted, in general, deadlines are movable if you speak to your editor in advance. After your book is accepted and you are dealing with things like Dear Reader letters, and Author Alterations (aka copy editors) deadlines are cast in stone. You miss them, these things are not included in the book.
The trick is knowing which is which and speaking with your editor.
The editors do know about burn out. They are human. They understand that authors go on holiday. They go on holiday as well and surprise, surprise they do not take manuscripts to read! They would be appalled if you took work, sat in a hotel room in some exotic location and wrote, ignoring your family. One hotel room looks very much like another. There are no prizes for being masochistic. In fact the cemeteries are full of people who were going to take a break but never got around to it.
In fact, if you speak to your editor and tell her that you are going and when, she will attempt to make sure you do not have work. She will tell you to step away from the computer. The last thing she wants is a productive author to become unproductive because she forgot to have a life.
Equally life circumstances change. For example -- illness and other serious stress can through your work into a spin.
Communication with your editor is key when you are on a multiple book contract. She wants to know if there are problems because she can help. She can also help more before rather than after the fact. Editors are not going to drop you because you take a holiday. They want your books. There are always more places in the schedule for an author whose voice they love.
With writing, you do need to prioritise and if you need to be at your children's play -- schedule it and go! You will probably be more productive for having taken a break. You will feel less guilty and while you watch or have dinner or whatever, your mind works. You might even solve that intractable problem.
Equally you have to learn to say -- no, this request is going to eat into my scheduled writing time. Scheduling your writing time is important. If you are going to schedule class plays etc, then you also have to schedule your writing time. Block out the time. Ring fence it but be flexible for things that take high priority. Let your family know your schedule.
Communication is key. Learn to make priorities. Simplify your life. Decide what is important and what is a time waster/eating into your time.
If you start constantly avoiding the manuscript, you have to ask why. The reason is probably several fold. You may have also over written a theme. Writers typically enjoy writing certain themes. When they become overmined, writing can suffer. You might have to start writing other themes. Or it may have to do with you taking a wrong turn, or some other problem. It may not have to do with all your other obligations. Be honest. Is it your work or your outside obligations? Sometimes you do hit a dry patch. It is far better to turn out a good book than to churn.
So have a life. Stop blaming deadlines. Learn how to set priorities and schedule. It is part of the bit about working for yourself. It is in your hands. Organisational skills count.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
They have very distinct personalities. Hardy is far more laid back than Tess. Tess is a dog who would wear high heels and generally run the entire show if she possibly could.
Friday, April 09, 2010
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
But any and all suggestions welcome. The glass is about an inch thick and there used to be stripes painted on it. There is a metal screw on the top. Altogether it is about 18 inches high.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Monday, April 05, 2010
The Bedouin of the Sinai are divided into about 19 tribes, although some say as much as 27. Each is headed by a sheikh. Sheikh simply means the leader and he really does the power of life and death over his tribe. Depending on the tribe, they live a semi-nomadic or a settled life. The government has built housing for them and there are a few local primary schools. As Bedouin life most revolves around camels and goats and to a certain extent tourism, the Bedouin are not renown for their adherence to education. Bedouins are v strict traditionalists and are Muslim. Bedouin women keep to the tents and cover up (although my daughter commented after suffering from sunburn, she could really see the point of wearing an all in one cover up in the desert!). It is the men and the children who interact with the tourists and the women stay in the houses. The Bedouin also operate on their own terms as they are a very independant people. Bedouin tribes are spread across the entire Middle East. The Bedouin of the Sinai do not have the oil like the Saudis or their Gulf cousins but it was mentioned that some oil had been recently found when they were drilling for water.
To ride a camel, get on like it is a horse. As the camel gets up, hold on to the pommel. Once a camel is up, let go. You can then either ride it like a horse or ride it like the Arabs do by hooking your left leg around the pommel. Personally I found hooking my leg was far more comfortable. Bedouin women ride donkeys rather than camels btw. The Bedouin children led the camels from the starting point to the camp.
Once we were at the Bedouin camp, we were welcomed with cups of Bedouin tea. The tea is made from desert herbs and tastes like sage and honey tea. It forms a very important part of the engagement ceremony as it is the only chance for a Bedouin to say if she likes a man before they marry. Bedouins do not date and tend to marry very early 15/16. They also tend to marry within the tribe. The Bedouin have a very strict tradition of hospitality -- 3 days and that is all but for those three days, you are treated very well. After that, the guest is supposed to move on.
The Bedouin demonstrated how they made flat bread over the open fire. My daughter had a go. And then it was time for the typical Bedouin meal -- salads, grilled meat including kofta, a spicy potato thing and grilled chicken and of course the delicious bread. All washed down with water or a soft drink. We ate at low tables, reclining against cushions.
The sunset was spectacular and the entire canyon was lit up with different colours. The candles were then lit as there is no electricity. There is supposed to be no mobile signals either but much to the disgust of the man's wife, the other man in our group was able to find a signal for his Blackberry. Surround by nature, he had to check with the office. I really felt for her. The Bedouin seemed less keen on such devices than the binos.
After the sunset, the Bedouin demonstrated a few of their songs and dances in front of an open fire and then it was time for the stars.
I will admit to being spoilt, living up in Northumberland where there is very little light pollution but I like looking at the stars in any case. And the Bedouin's enthusiasm for the stars reawakened my love of the skies. There is no electricity, and therefore no light pollution. As the man spoke, the full moon rose over the mountains. It was absolutely spectacular. They had good telescopes and so Saturn with its rings, the moon and the North star were on view. I had forgotten how good Saturn looks through a telescope.
We then drove back to the hotel. The desert looks fantastic at night lit by the moon. It was a pity that the other family were entranced by gadgets. There again, it was their loss. Personally I enjoyed tasting the Bedouin life. And would recommend the excursion for any visiting the Sinai.
Tomorrow -- a wooden yacht and snorkeling in the Red Sea.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
By any measure, St Catherine's Monastery is remote. It is in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula and there is one road which leads to it. It is only open 3 hours per day, three or four times per week. The Greek Orthodox monks are determined that this is not a tourist attraction but a working monastery of enormous significance to all Christians, but particularly to those of the Orthodox faith.
Why is St Catherine's important?
First of all, St Catherine is the wrong name for it. St Catherine of Alexandria died in the fourth century and her name is given to the firework -- the Catherine wheel. She and her relics did not become associated with the place until some enterprising monks *discovered* her uncorrupted body etc in the area around the time of the Crusades.
Second, about this time, a document purporting to be a treaty between the monks and the Prophet was also *discovered*. The Prophet recognised the holiness of the place and allowed the monks to be there. Very enterprising and determined these monks. A copy remains in the monastery library.
This monastery was built over one of the earliest Christian chapels, founded by St Helena in the 360s. St Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great and started life as a bar maid. She is probably the person most responsible for legitimising Christianity in the Roman world. It bothers me that her contribution is often forgotten. She was either very lucky or she did her research etc. Afterall the Romans did keep records...
She built the chapel, not because of Catherine but because of Moses. The chapel which is the holiest of holys in the monastery is built over the roots of the Burning Bush. The monastery has taking a cutting of the Burning Bush, and interesting it is the only one of its type to grow on the whole of Sinai. It is a sort of acacia. Also contained within the walls is the well of Moses where he met Jethro's daughters. Behind the monastery is Mt Moses where tradition has it that he received the 10 commandments. Thus it is Moses, rather Catherine who is the focus of the monastery. But as he plays an important part in three religions and volatility of the region, you can forgive the monks for safeguarding the monastery in other ways.
Because of its remoteness, Justinian built a fortress around the chapel in the 6th century. Napoleon reinforced the walls. There is a place where they poured burning oil on to the maundering Bedouin and the walls are etched in Coptic crosses. The original Justinian doors are still there, and it also contains icons that predate iconoclasm. St Catherine's boasts one of the best libraries of old documents including codices, second only to the Vatican.
Many people also walk up Mt Moses or Mt Sinai but due to opening hours and the heat, they do it at night, taking the camel trail up, sleep under the stars and then either go back down the same track or the Steps of Repentance -- 3,000 steps carved into the mountain where you do have scrambled with your hands. As we were only in the Sinai for a week, it was far too complicated. so we opted for a fleeting visit. As it was, the day started at 6 am.
Once inside the walls, it is like a medieval village and very crowded. The silence of the desert replaced by the murmur of hundreds of voices. There are loads of Orthodox Christians who come on a pilgrimage, Russian Orthodox in particular. The women were wrapped in headscarves and they were beating their breasts, mumbling their prayers or simply bowing their heads. The guide, a devout Muslim, pointed out that it was very different to other forms of Christianity.
The church of St Catherine's which also houses the icons is very much un reconstructed Byzantine and rather over powering. The Russians were busy being pilgrims and kissing various relics. But it is utterly glorious. Byzantine as it was meant to be.
The descendant of the Burning Bush was the one spot of greenery within the walls. The monks did have another dusty garden where they grew olives etc but that was further outside, near the charnel house where the bones and skulls were displayed.
Afterwards, we went to lunch in a Bedouin encampment. The meal was lovely and they had chairs etc for tourists to sit on. As we were getting back in the bus, a little girl came begging for food. We did have food left from the breakfast boxes and so everyone gave her some. The Bedouins of the area are very poor. Their biggest trades are camels, goats and people trafficking -- mainly smuggling Russian Jews into Isreal.There is a huge problem with illiteracy as the Bedouin often do not see a point of sending their children to school beyond the state required basics. Think Travellers or gypsies, a semi-nomadic people who are struggling with modern life. The Bedouin of the Sinai unlike their cousins further to the East have not had oil discovered on their land (although the guide did mumble something about oil being recently discovered when they were digging for weater).
We then drove Dahab which is another big centre for the Bedouin as while as being a big backpacking and diving centre. The Bedouin do sell their handicrafts there. They are renown for rag rugs, think proggy mats. We did not buy any but had Egyptian coffee. Various Bedouin children scoured the beach for shells that they could then take back to their parents and have them turned into trinkets for tourists.
We returned to the hotel, exhausted about 8 pm.
Tomorrow -- Bedouins, camels and desert stars.
Saturday, April 03, 2010
To get to Sharm, the plane travelled through a sandstorm during the last part of the journey over the mountains where the light suddenly went brown. Rather disconcerting. But we arrived as the sun set, turning the desert into wonderful colours.
Because we had booked our holiday through Classic Collections, the airport arrival was a breeze. We were met off the plane, and the representative had the visas. He also made certain that we cleared passport control quickly. Given the huge crowds milling about, waiting to get visas and then clear passport control, we were very grateful as the whole process was over in a matter of minutes. After getting our luggage, we had a private transfer to the resort -- Hilton Sharm Waterfalls.
We opted for an all inclusive package as all inclusive includes drinks. And in a hot climate, one needs to keep fluids up. If one wanted, one could eat 24 hours a day. The buffets were ever changing and did have lots of wonderful things to eat. I enjoyed the Arabic breakfasts of falfel, ful (fava beans cooked with onion and lemon), feta, tahina and pita bread. The rest of the family went for more conventional English or American breakfasts.
Our rooms were next door to each other and had a sea view. The seating areas meant that it was quite easy to pop back and forth.
The biggest problem with the hotel, and if you listen to the guides is the number of Russians who visit, many of whom have never really travelled. Russians can seem abrupt in their dealing with staff. It can be very difficult to watch. The pool has to close at sunset because of the problems with the Russians getting drunk on vodka and fighting. But basically, as we were not staff and they were speaking a different language, they were easy to ignore. There were relatively few English speaking people at the resort. Various members of the staff mentioned how much they liked the English who were always polite and always smiled.
The vast majority of the workers in the tourism industry in Egypt are male. In Sharm, the cost of living means that the families live elsewhere and the staff live in company provided accommodation. The women staff in charge of the various classes tended to be Russian or German. Apparently a clash of cultures can happen when the Russian/German women marry Egyptian men without really understanding the culture. The guide we had at St Catherine's said that because he does speak several languages, he can get called in when the women show up at the Tourist Antiquities complaining about not having papers etc.
The cleaner was very kind and kept doing towel art. I think I liked the swans best. My youngest now claims that he can make them.
We spent the first three full days at the resort swimming and lazing in the sun. The resort has its own private coral reef. So if you want to go in the sea, you do have to walk out in pontoon. Walking over the coral is a good way to get cut as my youngest found out on the first day. Luckily the cut was not too deep. Later we saw a Russian woman whose heel was bandaged.
The swimming pool's water was salt, rather than fresh. The air is incredibly dry and the sun hot -- just what we needed after a cold winter. The staff were very helpful, getting towels and finding sun loungers and umbrellas and moving them to where you wanted to be. They operated a no blocking the sun bed policy and did remove unattended towels etc. This caused much dismay to some Italians who had tried to bribe one attendant. But we found there were more than enough sun loungers for everyone and the sun warm and the water wonderful where ever. Up at the lobby pool, there were hammocks but we preferred the main pool near the beach and our room. Life is far too short to exercised by where your sun lounger is.
On the third day, I convinced my daughter that we should take a belly dancing class. After all, the tiny Russian woman who organised it seemed very friendly. She may have been but she also possessed an inner core of steel. Things were done her way and she was apt to stop the class with a wag of her finger and a No, no, this way, and did not accept that it was my first time. Everything needed to be done properly and relaxed. There are reasons why Russians are good at dance. Discipline. However, belly dancing is tremendous fun. Unfortunately there was only time for the one lesson as we started to do our excursions.
Tomorrow's post -- visiting St Catherine's.