Saturday, April 30, 2005

A phalanx of ducklings

It is amazing watching the ducklings and the mother duck. She seems to instinctively how far to push her ducklings. Why they were first hatched, she kept them near the nest with the bundles of fluff hidden under her wings. Then she took them on the the lawn and had a meeting with the other ducks. Next she marched them across the bridge but would not take them down the headland. Then yesterday when I returned from an RNA Northumberland Border Reivers meetings, she decided -- right this is it and marched them down the headland, across the middle pond, down to where the lower pond was (in need of repair due to storms and a large flood of water surging through the stream) and out under the water gate to the neighbor's' garden.
My husband and children then spent several anxious minutes, shooing her back up into our garden. We counted. 14 still there. I did not know ducklings could move that fast.
Another problem encountered yesterday was that of a sparrow hawk deciding to visit the garden. We have stretched green netting over the duck enclosure but the ducklings are allowed out of the enclosure.
Today, the ducklings are not sticking as close to their mother but they stil move as a rolling scrum. They did attempt to revisit next door's garden but the children were dispatched and they have returned. A quick count reassured us that 14 is still the magic number. We have also finished repairing the dam and the lower pond has now filled with water. Fingers crossed that they no longer go on walkabout.
I must learn how to put photos on this blog so that everyone can see the they are very cute.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Wrestling with the Muse

Yesterday when I was walking the dogs with my eldest, I had an epiphany about an abandoned mss. I realized why it was not working and how it could be fixed.
This is a mss previously set at the beginning of the 18th century. There are a number of reasons which I won't go into why it was not going to work and why it was going to be a difficult sale. It is going to work far better having the time period moved forward 100 years.
Now I have to wonder what my muse is doing here. Is she trying to get me to stop working on my saga by throwing enticing snippets of info my way? If so, it is not going to work. I am determined to get the saga done and completed before I do anything else writing wise. It is a matter of being firm and determined. Sometimes lately I feel I am getting to chapter 3 and stopping. At least I know with the saga, the agent said to send it in after I had completed it. That should be incentive enough. The story is interesting.The muse appeared to be cooperating and then she starts whispering about other stories.
So it is a matter of completing pages and taking notes on unrelated stories. I am wise to her tricks and blandishments. She hates to work. She'd rather play at being a muse. She will sometimes wear a very innocent face when confronted as if to say -- who me? what on earth are you talking about? At other times she is wonderfully cooperative and the words flow like water over a dam.

Today I received the go ahead for the RNA Workshop on 8 October at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle Upon Tyne. The speakers are: Dr Hilary Johnson who runs an author advisory service, Kate Walker who is an award winning author of how to write books as well as being an international best selling author, Eileen Ramsay and Wendy Robertson.The theme of the workshop is Taking Your Writing to the Next Level within Commercial Women's Fiction -- a subject dear to my heart. After all one of the perks of organizing such events is that you get to ask the speakers you want to hear!

2 ducklings became stuck down in the ravine this morning and had to scooped out.The white winged tipped one always seems to be in the forefront of danger. This one is the duckling most likely to...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Quick duckling update

There 14 ducklings. Two died yesterday from unknow n causes and we finally got an accurate count.
The mother duck decided they were better off across the bridge in the duck house. She made this decision just after my husband and eldest had moved the duck house on to the lawn. Half the duckling crossed on the bridge and the other half went down the ravine and across the stream. Only one need a bit of a push to make it up the slope on the other side.
So the duck house was moved back. The next problem was the height. While it is fine for the senior ducks, the junior East India company were going to have difficulty. we tried a wooden ramp, but it collasped when the mother duck put her foot on it. So my ever resourceful husband built a series of steps. All the ducklings save one were able to climb into the duck house. The one panicked and had to be lifted in.
This morning, when I open the door, the senior ducks rushed out, causing one duckling to tumble and panick. Was it the same duckling? Other than the one with white wing tips, they are difficult to tell apart. Then the juniors came out in a rush. Finally mother and babies were reunited in the winter garden and they stretched out in the sun.
Later they spotted swimming in the baby bath. Only the Lab started barking to greet one of his dog friends and caused another mass panic. Four ducklings found it difficult to climb out but manged it as I went into the enclosure. They were again reunited with much quacks of delights with their mother.
14 is better than 20. I suspect the number will fall again as ducklings are very vulnerable, but I do think a sizeable proportion will survive. Or so I keep telling myself.
Why is this so nerve racking?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Duck update

We have now counted 16 ducklings. They are growing and are not nearly the bundles of fluff of yesterday but they are still tiny.
They move as a great rolling scrum across the lawn, eating grass and wht have you. The mother duck gets very nervous if one goes astray.
Last night my husband scooped one up and it was so tiny. Apparently one does not grab but scoops. In his youth, my husband used to do a lot of birdwatching and bird ringing. it always amazes me that he is so calm, and I manage to flap about.
At the moment, it is a matter of trusting nature and the mother duck.
The children are over the moon about the ducklings and even theeldest who likes to pretend that nothing excites him was in reality quite excited by the whole thing.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Make way for ducklings

One of the ducks, Sophia, has been sitting on a nest for what seems like forever (certainly before Good Friday) and we all had begun to think that this was goingto be another dud nest. Over the past five years that we have been keeping ducks, the Runner in particular have tried and failed. However this little duck has dodgily sat through rain storms and freezing temperatures, never wavering in her maternal instinct to keep those eggs warm.
Hope had begun to fade as it was a bit over the four week period, but yesterday we hauled out the baby bath just in case. We thought a trip down to the ponds might be a bit much for newly hatched ducklings. And going across the bridge was going to be difficult.
It fell to me (when doesn't it fall to me?) to change the baby bath water. I heard Sophia quacking but thought not much of it. It was a quiet I am here sort of quack. The other four ducks were hualled out on the lawn.
I started forward, intending to empty the bath first and try to avoid getting my feet wet.
Out of the corner of my eyes I saw them. Little balls of black and yellow fluff, gathered around their proud mother. I blinked and tried to count and then ran inside to telephone my husband. Eight I thought.
Then I decided they needed food and more than likely clean water and of course they ought to get used to me.
Not eight but about twenty ducklings took after their mother and headed for the nest.
What are we going to do with 20 ducklings? They should grow into pretty ducks as the drake is pure East Indian Runner and the mother is a mixture of East Indian runner and a few other things.

Seeing different things

At the moment, I am doing a lot of reading women's mainstream fiction. Partly because I like it and partly because I am curious.
I have discovered that Santa monefiore does nothing for me. I wanted to like her. Some Daily Mail journo said that she was the next Rosamunde Pilcher. I adore Rosamunde Pilcher. When I used to read her, I came away feeling good about life. Not with Santa Montefiore. For one thing, I notice her style too much and it gets in the way of the story. She has some good images but not enough to keep me going.
Some of this is perhaps because I have recently discovered Eileen Ramsay whom I really like and can read without thinking -- why is she doing this? Or how would I do that? Or even what has inspired. I can simply let the story flow over me.
I am finding that difficult with The Forget Me Not Sonata. I try to get inot it and then think -- oh, she did this for this effect and that for that, and that will have to have echoes here etc. In fact, I abandoned it to read the next Eileen Ramsay -- A Way of Forgiving. Having finished it and enjoyed it, I will now go back and try to get beyond the second or third chapter of the Monefiore one.
I know she is a popular novelist but somehow her work doesn't resonate with me. I simply do not see the same comparision with RP as the journalist did. Eileen Ramsay is far closer to my memories of what Ienjoyed in RosemundePilcher than Santa Montefiore.
Maybe it is because I get something different out of the Pilcher books than the journalist does. Maybe because Argentina does not excite me and the book reminds me a bit of The Jewel In the Crown (which I happened to like many years ago) rather than something new and exciting. Maybe because the POV changes seemed abrupt. There was no warning and it shifted in midsentence sometimes. Who knows. But I did not get the connection I hoped for.
Maybe my hopes were too high.
It did however give me ideas of how to structure my book, so I suppose all is not lost.
But the experience reinforced my view that people see different things from an author, and see different echoes in an author's work. My opinion is only important to me. Someone else might adore that book because they happened to read it on a day when it fit their mood or life experience.
And in the lead up to the publication of The Lady Soldier, it is helpful to remember that not everyone will adore it. Some will think -- why was this published? Other might perserve and spend a few hours reading it. And still others (maybe very few) will find a real connection and will understand what drove Kate andI to write the story and why that story had to be written.
I salute those who like Santa Montefiore but I am afraid I am not joining her avid readers.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Getting much closer

Kate Allan, my co-author had to email the publicist of Hale about copies of The Lady Soldier for a talk she is giving at the Lincoln Book Festival. We had both somewhat thought it would be touch and go, and the book would not arrive until maybe 31 May, the planned publication date.
The email came back with a PS at the bottom. They are expecting the books in next week! Oh help. This means I should have them in my hot little hands by mid May at the latest.
It will then be a matter of trying to increase the sales of the book.The infamous word of mouth. Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency took two years to become an overnight sensation.
At the moment, my only hope is to make the advance and that someone, some unknown person, likes it enough to write Kate and I, a letter.

In other news: the duck is still sitting on her eggs. The incubation period must be nearly at an end. I do hope her patience and fortitude are rewarded with at least one duckling. But in the back of my mind, I remember Jemima Puddleduck and the fact that she was a bad sitter. Is this little duck a bad sitter? Has she let the eggs grow cold when she went off for her bath?

I also face a quandry with my middle child. She has done very well on a Maths test and is about to be moved back up to the top set. She lost her place last year because although her SAT score was a 5, it was a low five. Her scores this time mean that she has done about 2 years work in 2 terms. Some of this must be down to her excellent teacher and the fact that she has made my daughter enthusiastic about maths again.. Now the teacher wants to move her up, but I know my middle does not get on with the top set maths teacher. She has succeeded beyond all expectation in this class -- so why argue with success? Except my middle wants the kudos that goes with being in the top set. I think I have to bow to her and the teacher's desire, but I can't help feeling uneasy.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Sent out again

Well, I did what I knew I had to do -- I have queried more agents. It is a good feeling to know that this mss is about as good as it is going to get and is simply a matter of sending back out again, rather than the stomach churning feeling of the fact that the story could be told better.

Whatever happens, it is a matter of keeping on, keeping on.

The thing about agents is that I want one who backs me 150%, who can see that I want to develop my career and who believes in my writing. And I have to keep on trying until I find that elusive person.

As I know from my Lady Soldier experience, agents can love a book but not see where it fits in the market. And an agent's pov is most definately not the same as an editor's or a publsiher's. Luckily John Hale saw where it could fit, and hopefully he will not be disappointed with its performance.
I looked The Lady Soldier up on AOL search and was surprised to see that a variety of online book stores with it listed were the first sites to come up. I have got used to the idea that it is on Amazon, but it is on sale elsewhere as well.

I received a letter today (as well the unwanted agent package) from Hale telling me the publication date (31 May 2005) and the fact that my 6 complimentary copies had been ordered from the warehouse. It is all getting rather close.

Another day, another rejection

Today's post was not very welcomed. My full Roman mystery was returned by the agent.

In the end it boiled down to the fact that it was not to her taste. But she did think it was well written and I have delveoped some interesting characters.

The thing with agents is that they have to love the work and also see a definate commercial market for it.

So it is back to sending it out. Three more agents to query. Maybe I will eventually find someone who falls in love with it.

For right now I know I have spent enough time on it, and that I doubt I could get it any better. The time is better spent writing something new.

The only thing I have to lose is postage.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Making the unlikeable likeable

I am currently reading Vanity Fair out loud to my daughter. She is devotee of Rebecca and Gone With the Wind and so I thought I would introduce her to one of the first anti-heroines -- Thackery's Becky Sharp. (I also felt it best to read it to her -- at least in part -- so she can understand some more of the comedy)
In the hands of a lesser novelist, Becky Sharp would appear unsympathetic and without redeeming feature after all she is a social climbing selfish manipulative person. But Thackery contrives to engage the reader's sympathy.
In the first instance, he does this by introducing the vile Miss Pinkerton and her silly sister atthe start of the story. I don't know if the villianess in the Little Princess was based on this woman as perhaps such women are stock in trade. Miss Pinkerton has made a great fuss over the departure of Miss Amelia Sedley, and Thackery goes on about how she always gives her departing pupils a copy of Johnson's Dictionary. He also has a rather pompous letter from her to Miss Sedley's parents. However, when her sister brings a copy to be signed for Miss Rebecca Sharp, she refuses. A few pages later, when Miss Jemima hands Becky the Dictionary on the sly, the reader can feel a thrill as she tosses it back over the garden wall. Equally, Thackery exposes Miss Pinkerton's flaws by having Becky speak to her in French.
Thackery uses the character of Miss Pinkerton to create sympathy for Becky. She has attempted to grind Becky down and to use Becky as an unpaid music tacher as well as a French teacher. Because Miss Pinkerton has been odious, Becky Sharp gains the reader sympathy. It is very important in my view that Miss Pinkerton appears first and is horrid to her sister as it creates a certain impression in the reader's mind. If it had been done the other way around, I don't think the character of Becky Sharp would resonate as clearly. Say if the reader was introduced first to Becky packing and waiting for the coach that will take her away from all this. It is the fact that Thackery creates a caricature of an over bearing, self-important headmistress first that gives Becky her punch as it were. In the first chapter, Becky appears as a minor character, rather than the major character and it works.
It is certainly a lesson to me -- when creating a potentially unlikeable heroine, you need to put her in a position where the reader will be rooting for her from the outset, rather than letting the reader discover her good qualities as the book goes on.
As Vanity Fair goes on, Becky will become more manipulative, scheming and in general less likeable but because the reader's first impression of her is someone striving against the odds, the reader retains a certain amount of sympathy. You can understand why she is acting this way, why she feels she has no alternative.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Getting closer

The date that The Lady Soldier is actually published winds its way ever closer. As it does, the PR necessary to help spread the word of mouth starts moving up a gear.
At the beginning of March, Kate Allan, my co-author went and gave a speech at the International Napoleonic War Fair. Because of a mix up with postcards not being printed properly, she ended up handing out first chapters of TLS. It would appear that this is was a good move. Several people came back and pre-ordered the book on the strength of the first chapter.
Because some reviewers wanted an electronic copy, I had gone through the mss, making changes so it was as close to the final version as possible. Then Kate had it transcribed into Adobe Acrobat. This means the first chapter (see the Jennifer Lindsay website for more details) is now available for anyone who wants to read it. Hopefully this will help spread the word of mouth and make more people aware of it.
Kate says that it is being talked about on one or two lists that she belongs to, but where she has only lurked. So she thinks they don't know she is there. I am resisting the urge to join and look. It is a very strange feeling to think that people are discussing the book. Writing is such a personal thing when you are doing it, but then when it is published, it becomes no longer yours.
I know there will be people who dislike it as no one's writing pleases everybody all the time. My big hope is that somewhere, someday it will provide a few hours of amusement or respite for someone. If it touches just one person, then the hours both Kate and I spent will be worth it.
I have no idea what my reaction will be when I finally hold the book in my hands. Will I even dare read it? Will I see all the flaws? Or will I be able to approach it as I do books by other authors?
My big hope at the moment is that we will earn out our advance. I want it to repay the faith John Hale put into the book.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Escapist Literature

I see The Times (it is known as The Times not the London Times simply because it was the first in the world -- same reason UK stamps don't carry the name of the country) that Danuta Kean, the chairman of the judges for the RNA award has said more. I do so agree with this woman and her criticism of the lit-crit boys.

All literature is escapist by definition. It is fiction, not non-fiction. At some level, it provides an escape for the reader from their current situation. Why are disturbing images better than upbeat? Why is a happily ever after less realistic than absolute depression? Fiction embraces both tragedy (where everyone dies) and comedy (where everyone lives). The forms have been set since the Greeks.
Why are angst and depression more profound than growth and love? Why does being optimistic about the world not count for as much as unrelenting pessimism?
The books that ultimately become classics generally show the strength of the human spirit, the fortitude and triumph against the odds. All these happen time and again in romance as well as in so called worthy books.
I fail to see why the greatest of all human emotions is constantly dismissed as trite. Is it because the critics are uncomfortable with the thought that emotions matter?
Ultimately what the critics think initially is no guide to the longevity of a work. Many of the classics were panned. Austen was asked to write something more profound like history. Dickens was dismissed as a hack. I wonder about some of Shakespeare's first night reviews. Was Romeo and Juliet universally loved? What about the Comedy of Errors or Taming of the Shrew?
Luckily for writers of happy endings, the public has refused to listen to the oh so superior council of the litcrits and continues to buy romance and optimistic literature, thus keeping in print books that the lit-crits dismissed. Other books that the lit-crits praised to high heavens have failed to make the advances. It is more likely that the oft reprinted book becomes a classic than the critically acclaimed only one edition book.
I know the type of books I want to write and read. And I refuse to apologize for it.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Attitudes towards romantic fiction

As today is the annual major award presentation for the RNA, there have been several articles in the media about romance. Radio Five did a fairly schmaltz piece with one of the readers for the award -- a male who rarely reads romance.
What is he doing judging the best romance book of the year one might ask? In many areas of life, one expects to be judged by ones peers or at least by someone with experience of the subject. What would the dog world say if Crufts was judged by someone who had once owned a Labrador? Or better yet who had never owned a dog but did like cats, so one could have an objective opinion? Is it any wonder that the shortlist contained some unexpected names?
Why is it that people feel it is okay or de rigor to sneer at romantic fiction? Particularly if that fiction is written by a woman. Tony Parsons gets plaudits for being able to think like woman. James Patterson is quite happy to reach number one with his weepies. But women are either ignored or derided. Sometimes it seems to be the woman writer is still the little woman, the her indoors.
What is it about the publishing and literary establishment that they feel sneering at one of the most successful sections of their industry is acceptable? The movie industry as well when it seeks to justify some piece of fluff says -- oh well this is better than Mills and Boon. Huh? Have they read M&B lately? Do they know how well crafted some of those books are? Do they know that probably more people will read the M&B books worldwide that month than will ever see that movie?
What is wrong with the masses reading? Is not counter productive to denigrate someone else's harmless pleasure? What is wrong with escapist literature which makes readers feel good about the world they live in?
The only way to stop this sort of thing from happening is to stand up and loudly proclaim what a load of nonsense certain misanthropic people are pleddling.
Romance empowers women. It is written by women for women. It shows women at their strongest and not merely appendages of men as in many novels by men. Because the main focus is the woman reader, the heroine has to more than stand around and look pretty.
Intelligent women read romance.
They should be able to read it without apologizing or justfying to anyone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Today has been one of those annoyingly awful days. I discovered once again I have forgotten to order the oil and we have run out. This means no hot water and no cooking facility until the nice people at the fuel place bring more oil.
You would think after 8 years I would remember. I would love to say it has to do with a sudden increase in usage, but we converted the Aga to oil six years ago and I still can't get it right all the time. Some of it I am sure is that I let it really run down last time and thus forgot I would have top up earlier.
I always feel so stupid when this happens. I long for the days many years ago when we lived in area serviced by British Gas and I didn't have to think about oil or tanks. But that sort of thing is impossible here. Gas never quite got to this village. It will never get here. And thus I make mistakes and feel dreadful about it.
Luckily, we do have an immersion heater and so we can have hot water for washing.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Nail biting time

On 29 march I posted the full off to the agent. On about 31 march I started checking the Post Office tracking system.
It had not been delivered, according to the PO computer. I check the next day and then the day after and the day after that. Still nothing.
All right, I thought, nothing to fear, she is probably on Easter Holiday or something. She'll be back on Monday. Schools are back on Monday.
So this morning I try again. Nothing.
I telephone the agent and get a recorded message. She is away from her office.
What to do now? The nice lady at the Post Office tracking place has told me I have to wait until 16 April before I can report it missing and they can investigate.
I get the idea that maybe just maybe the agent is using the mailing address as a blind and everythng is forwarded to somewhere in Cornwall (or the darkest Kent) and maybe they can't forward recorded delivery...I try telephoning again. After all, if the worst comes to the worst, it will be the secretary.
A real live person answers. Not the secretary, but the Agent.
She is very pleasant.
Yes, the typescript is there (received and signed for 31 March), but she has not had a chance to look at it yet. I explain my PO fears and the tracking system. She understands...I think.
So now I know she has it, and knows the name of it. She will read it eventually.
I hope I didn't sound too gormless and that she does love it when she reads it.
So now the worry that the PO has swallowed it is replaced by the other potentially bigger worry -- will she love enough to take me on?
I have to keep telling myself -- it is not something i can change. I did my best. It is in God's hands.
Funny, the thought does not stop me biting my nails.

Humming along

There are times when I write and everything seems to hum. Words flow and I get my pages done much more quicklythan antcipated. today was one of those days. It is not the start I planned but it should work. It means the novel starts about two thirds the way through time-wise but the non-linear start should work.
In other words I know a lot more now that I did. I want to write this story but I want to write it well.

I have just finished reading Eileen Ramsay's Somewhere, Someday. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Now I shall have to find her other books to savour. I enjoyed how the two love stories were intertwined around each other. And the style did remind me a bit of Rosamunde Pilcher. It was a feel good story. A story which celebrated life and love.

However now the sunshine and the blue skies are calling. The blossom is in the air and the birds are singing. I have done my pages and so I can enjoy and indulge in gardening without feeling like I should be writing.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Character Sheets

Yesterday Julie Cohen's blog reminded me of the characters sheets in Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. They are designed to make you think as is the rest of the book.
Last summer I found the character sheets really intriuging but there was some piece of my own tool box was missing, preventing me from using them as much as I should. I knew there had to be a way to get more out of them. To really make them work hard and justify the amount of time one spends creating them. So I put them to one side and concentrated on other things. Now as I work with the Regional Saga, I am finding them of much more use. My appreciation of the craft has grown so that I can actually use the character sheets and enhance my writing, rather than simply writing things down and leaving it at that.
This is possibly because I have read The Wisdom of the Enneagram and thus have a better idea of the physiological reasons for certain character arcs. Also, Donald Maass and his book and workbook have helped.
In many ways, Donald Maass and Kate Walker are compatible and complementary. The things I learnt from Maass about nodes of connections, upping the personal and private stakes, creating symbols and layering the plot feed right into Kate's character sheets and her philosophy of always asking why.
One of the great questions on the character sheet -- what does the character look like? Not who so I could fall back on the old movie/television personality trick but what. What means a simile. What means thinking about animals and objects. What means making the character my own, rather than attempting to describe someone else.
The what is his or her most important material possession is one which ties into creating symbols. One has to know why that possession is important and how it can be used in the story. What layers of meaning can be prescribed to this object. For example, if the hero's most important possession is teddy bear. That teddy bear has to appear several times and take on more meaning. In TLS, Jem's most important possession is her brother's watch. It serves to remind her of other times, but equally it serves to remind the hero of another life. It also reappears several times in the book. In the RS, Rose's most important possession is a locket she inherited from her maternal grandmother. Having created it, I need to use it until at the very end it becomes imbued with much more significance.
All this work should in theory make the writing easier. There are always points where one gets stuck and has to rethink. Having done some of preliminary work now, I should be able to say -- oh that is why that is happening. Or I can bring out that aspect of her personality.
So many thanks to Kate Walker for writing the book and to Julie for reminding me of the character sheets.

Duck status -- still sitting on the nest.

Friday, April 08, 2005


The beginning of the new wip has to change. I have realized that it doesn't work for a number of reasons and more importantly I have realized why it doesn't work. I have also begun to get more of a handle on the ebb and flow of the story. What the important plot points are and when they should occur. I know the ending sequence. Now it becomes a simple matter of writing it, but I am pleased in a way to be beyond the phony writing stage and about to begin the real stage.
It is one of those -- it doesn't work this way, so I am going to try that way times. A true Thomas Edison moment.
Apparaently Thomas Edison said when he invented the light bulb that he hadfound 10,000 ways it did not work first. Sometimes, it is only through trying and failing that one can eventually succeed.
So now I know two ways this wip will not start and why it does not work that way. Hopefully the third attempt will allow me to press forward. Certainly the new idea has caused other ideas to come thick and fast.

In other news it is snowing here. At the moment one of the ducks -- a cross breed East India Runner and something else is sitting on a nest of eggs. She has been sitting for a little over two weeks. We know where she is, and are trying not to disturb her. It is about as safe as duck could get except if said duck was in the duck house. She is nesting under the nest box on the hen house.
Now with the snow and cold weather comes the worry that it will be too cold for the eggs to hatch. (Yes, I know we could get an incubator but that would mean actually getting serious about hatching eggs instead of letting nature take its course)
It would very pleasant to have ducklings, but if it doesn't happen, that's nature. Of course if it doesn't happen, I will have to deal with the rotten eggs. They will be bagged up and carried gingerly to the tip. I have no wish to risk the breaking of such an egg.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Smithsonian

The Smithsonian magazine arrived yesterday. This is always bad for my concentration. Each magazine is packed with more story ideas than I could possibly write.

For example, this month has an article on the Hope diamond and its chequered history. The Hope diamond was originally part of the French Blue, the centre piece of the French crown jewels that was stolen in 1792.
The French blue was originally 67 carats, cut from a rough cut diamond of 117 carats found in India in the 1660s The Hope diamond is 45.52 carats. This means that roughly 69 carats were cut from the original and that other diamonds might be related to the Hope. Several other diamonds have claimed descent from the same stone as the Hope, but recent research shows that probably there were no sizable diamonds...

Another article deals with the development of the polio vaccine and the conditions people in New York during the 1920s suffered. Polio has been around since the Egyptians but became a serious problem in the 19th century due to improved sanitation and indoor plumbing. Before that, the theory goes that people were exposed to low levels of the disease and generally developed immunity.
There are other articles on recent Roman finds at Leptis Magna in Libya and the wonderfully evocative mosaics of gladiators that were found there -- as well as the problems of conservation as well the new Indian memorial at Little Big Horn (a place for ghosts if ever there was one) and the Beer emergency in the 1920s and medical beer as a way to circumvent Prohibition.
All worthy of a novel in their own right. Not to mention the half dozen of so ideas from last month's magazine and the month before....
My beloved sister has been sending me this magazine as my birthday present for the last several years. It is always with a sigh of relief, I open the renewal notice. I much prefer the magazine to the National Geographic -- perhaps because the range of articles is wider or perhaps because there is a greater emphasis on history. Whatever the reason, I always consider the time spent reading it, well worth the effort (despite the renewed clamoring of story ideas)

Monday, April 04, 2005


Well, I officially started writing the regional saga. I formatted my file and typed chapter one, plus a couple of pages.
I did this knowing it will all probably change several times. I don't think I have submitted (let alone sold) anything where the beginning has remained consistent through all drafts.
But it is a start. A baby step. 350 more baby steps and I will have the first draft. The agent who asked to see it said that she wanted to see it when it was completed. So completed it shall be.
You have to start somewhere. It is the starting that is the important thing. It says to my muse -- right let's begin. Let's stop playing and start showing up. let's start thinking about writing more than one paragraph.
Over the past few weeks I have done a lot of thinking about the why am I writing this. In the end it boils down to one thing: I am interested in exploring the theme. I can't write unless the idea excites me and starts to take over.
There are lots of other ideas floating around in my brain, but this one is being forward and pushing itself into my conscience. Luckily, the Edwardian period is one I am interested in -- for one thing the house I live in is from 1908. I could try to analyze it and ask if the agent was not interested would I be writing the story?The answer again is yes as I do figure I can sell this story pretty easily --ie there are other agents/editors.
But all that is down the road a piece, first I have to get the thing written and then polished to perfection.
It is the starting that counts and the determination to see it through.

In other news: the chartered surveyor has been. The house is not falling into the dene. One of the wedges under the stairwell has fallen away and the stairwell has slipped causing plaster erosion. So it is a maintenance job rather than an insurance job. Annoying in the short term, but in the longer term, if it had been subsidence or landslip from the dene, the house would have become practically worthless.
But the man was very nice and we chatted about old houses and their quirks. His basic point was that old houses move and were built to take moving into account. New houses move but the builders forgot this little principle and so you can have much greater difficulties with wear and tear caused by thermal contraction.
The children are being relatively well behaved today. the youngest has a friend over. They simply went climbing in the dene while the man was here. Luckily the mother understands about wet boots and muddy clothes.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pontifex Maximus

Pope John Paul ll died last evening. By all accounts he did not go raging into that dark night, but accepted death with serenity, calmness and diginity. The suffering the man endured was great. Not only the physical suffering of a once very active man but also the mental suffering of a man whose words were often twisted to suit others' purposes. He bore a very large cross. He has gone to meet Jesus and to a new life, a better life. In this day and age, it can be hard to think of things beyond this earthly existence. And yet, it is what Christainity is all about -- faith and the gift of eternal life.

There have been something in the order of 265 successors of St Peter and I would hate to think how many Pontifex Maximus the waters of the Tiber has seen.

The title Pontifex Maximus (or high priest) that the Pope bears is Roman in origin. In Roman Republic times, it referred to the high priest of Jupiter. Julius Ceasar famously held the office. I believe in the Roman Empire it was held by the Emperor.

I am not sure how or when the head of the Christain church took on the title. I suspect it was probably by in the 5th or 6th century. There is a theory that the Western Roman Empire never truly fell but became what is today called the Roman Catholic church. One can make the case (as indeed my Roman history professor, Jackson Bryce did at university) that the final date for the collapse of the Roman Empire was 1978 when Pope John Paul l refused to be crowned with the double crown of the Roman Empire.

If anyone is wondering how the election of the new pope will happen, Dan Brown's Angels and Demons takes the election of a new pope as one of its major strands. It is a page turner but the basics about the Sistine Chapel, and the smoke is there. This book is much more pro Catholic church than the Da Vinci Code.

Pope John Paul ll dominated Roman Catholic life for over a quarter of a century. He helped bring about the collaspe of Communism in Eastern Europe and has been a strident voice for human rights and the dignity of the individual. He believed in the sanctity of marriage and that life is sacred (both these ideals if you will primarily come from the teaching of Jesus -- there are very different from the ethical beliefs of first century AD Rome) He reasserted the authority of Rome over the RC community, but he did not turn the clock back. More than any other pope he reached out to other faiths. Instead of hiding in the vatican, he travelled and met the faithful. He managed to annoy both conservative and liberal alike -- probably meaning he got it about right. He was true to the spirit of the Vatican ll.

It is possible that he will become in due course a saint and may even be called the Great. Much in the manner of St Nicholas l the Great (not the one who inspired Santa Claus but another St Nicholas) or St Gregory the Great.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Beamish for research

Yesterday, I decamped to the Beamish Open Air Museum for a spot of research on the up coming regional saga.
I last visited in 1992 but remembered the town at least was from the appropriate era. I also remembered the tension from being there with my outlaws and my eldest having a poo in his nappy and my dh becoming annoyed because it was a cloth nappy and it went everywhere. It was not a happy trip.
Yesterday was much better. Beamish has expanded and all parts were open. We first went to the colliery village and saw the pit houses. The adult slept in the front room and the children upstairs. One house was laid out for Methodists (ie teetotallers) and the other as if a Roman Catholic family lived there (they had wine glasses on the table). The third was the house of a widow who took in laundry and whose two sons worked in the pit. The fires were burning in the RC and the widow's house. We went to the school and the children agree if reminded then of their village school. My middle informed me that the school got out the old desks from time to time. She had even had a number above her peg in the girls cloakroom.
We then took the bus (it had red leather seats) to the town. The town was pretty much as I remembered it except they had added a motor and cycle shop. The Co-op's traveling ball system of getting change fascinated the children. For a lady, the assistant wrapped a package in brown paper with string tied in a loop so she could carry it hanging off her fingers, and for a gentleman -- no loop so he could carry it under his arm. After the town we went to Plockerly manor, a 1820 recreation complete with Georgian landscape. It was the house of a yeoman. They had hams smoking in the upstairs passage, and a fire burning in the large kitchen. The *servants* had just finished the polishing of the copper kettles and these were on the long table.
We then went down to the Waggonway -- a short track such was used in 1820 for transporting coal. The younger two had a ride on the steam elephant while I waited for the eldest to finish his ablutions. We then sat in the waiting room by the fire, waiting for the other two.
We did not go to the Home Farm or the main railway station or the fair or the resource centre. All places I will go to next time I visit. As I live in Northumberland it was the same price to join for a year as it was to go for one visit.
The things I loved best were the little things -- the packaging of the food in the co-op, the houseware items and the brands used. The different sorts of flooring. The clothing. The smells. The way the tram and bus felt.
It is a fantastic resource and one I intend to use again.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Amazon and TLS

Kate Allan emailed to say that The Lady Soldier is now up on Estimated delivery date -- 1 June 2005.
It is both exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. There are moments when it becomes horribly real. Most of the time I don't think about it or about other people reading the book and maybe hating it (or more hopefully loving it). Most of the time, I simply concentrate on the small picture rather than thinking about the potential for the larger one.
As I wrote a confident email back to Kate, the whole impact of the Newcastle Journal article hit me. People might read the article and might look up the book on Amazon. Also I suddenly realized that the magazine was probably in the more upmarket hotel rooms in Newcastle and Gateshead. It is that sort of magazine, the magazine you leaf through when you are in your hotel and want to see what is happening in the area. Hopefully some of those people will look up The Lady Soldier on Amazon and then pre-order it. I also hope that it alerts the local book selling community to the book and they order it as it is in part by a local author. One can always dream.
Now, however, I have to put aside dreams and concentrate on practicalities. I need to start writing this next wip. The heroine keeps changing, but I think she is now a 3 -- although she could be a 7. The reason she is not a 6 is that 6s childhood experience means they are abandoned by the father figure rather than the mother. Rose's mother has abandoned her and her father. 7 could work as she highly energetic, filling her life with lots of things and 7s childhood experience is a disconnect with the nuturing figure (ie a feeling of abandonment). 3s also have a disconnect and feel like they have to prove their worth -- it is their acts rather than them personally which have value.
The plot begins to take shape in my mind and in the rough notes. Complications and stakes as well as connections between disperate episodes so as to create a heightening of tension.