Friday, September 30, 2005

On starting a new wip

This is none of my favourite times in writing. All roads are open to me. My characters are rough lumps of clay waiting to be moulded. My muse is calling, and I am ignoring the remaining unread manuscripts for a day or three. Mainly because I want to know how many I am going to have to wade through. Another (a novella) arrived today.
In August I took a class on synopsis writing from Laurie Campbell. As is her wont, she had a number of handouts. I think it total one every other day or 15 in all. Being busy, trying to finiish TSD, I gave them a vague glance. Brainstorming, interviews and the like are really only of any use when I am in that mode. Sometimes I find I can these questions and others, they are not how my mind works and I end up having a brain freeze. In writing, there is no right way, only what works for you and the girls in the basement.
However, in an effort to kickstart my muse, I began to wade through them. They are excellent. Three different types of interviews, and along with other types of worksheets to fill out. My muse wants to have fun. My muse is intersted. But first I have to decide on the heroine's name. It can change, but I stll have to have one to begin with.
Cue frantically searching through Roman name sites and books. I want someting that is still in use today, so it souds familiar. This Gladiator'sHonour's heroine was Julia Antonia. TSD's heroine is Silvana (finally spelt properly) And now this heroine, what is her name? I know a bit about her, but she is being reluctant with her name. Coy even. So I'll be mean and give her a name and see if she likes it. If she doesn't, another will come to mind.
I know most of the hero's name which helps. But I am still deciding between his nicknames.
Roman men had three or four names. Their first name which was only used by the family. There are about 16 possible names. Titus, Ciaus, Gnaeus, Lucius, Aulus, and Marcus are examples.
Then you have the family name such as Julius, Flavius, Fabius, Livius and so on. This told among other things if you were plebian or patrician.
Finally a man had a nickname which he was known by -- Ceaser, Vespasian,Falco,Valens and so on. This could be a reference to a physical appearance or something else.Strabo was given for someone had a squint.
Women;s names often consisted of the feminised version of the father's name, and possibly something else. Julia Majora. or Julia Seconda. Women however kept their father's anme and didn't change their name to their husband's family. This is perhaps because divorce was a frequent occurance and a woman was more liekly to remain loyal to her own family rather than her husband's. As a side note, I wonder when women started taking their husband's name, and was it to show their loyalty had changed?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

On being brain tired

I have a new appreciation for editors!
Over the past few days, I hae been doing not only critquing for my lovely cps but also reading for the NWS.
It is quite easy to tell whether or not a full manuscript is going to be suitable for publication or not. Or at least wit hteh ones I have read thus far. It is quite a bit harder to do reading with a view towards revision bit. How can you tell people -- this is not a romance. Or start commenting on things when it is clearly not ready for publication, but they have paid money to try to get a report...
When I am reading for pleasure, I can read a 100k book in a relatively short period of time. It takes a good six hours or so to actually read a manuscript properly and make note s on it. I can easily see what is wrong, but how to make it better?
Each time I open a new mss, I hope that this will be one that I can send for a second read. So far none of them have been for a second read. Even the one which had a second read way back in 2001. There were a lot of flaws, but I thought this woman had a really publishable voice. She simply needs the right plot. Or rather a tweaking of the current plot. Editors do this for a living and survive to tell the tale. Every day is like the end of the NWS period. They are such hard working people.
I am in awe of my editor and the fact that she saw enough in Gladiator's Honour. Fingers crossed she sees enough in T SD... The bnext one of course will be even better. I have to believe that my writing is getting better.
In the meantime, my muse is sulking at being ignored. She wants to get started on the next one. She keeps feeding me little scraps of details. Look see there is the hero and isn't he yummy.What do think about her for a heroine/ What about this time period? See isn't there a lot going on? Look at all the tension and conflict. What sort of woman is the heroine? Butthen the postman opens the door and deposits another beread asap as people are waiting.
Valerie Parv has a wonderful Muse Obediance training School on her website. Full of sage advice on how to make your muse behave.
I very merrily told Jan Jones who is organising the RNA conference that I would speak at the conference on something new and different. But what? What would be exciting? I could speak on Rome, but how many people would want to hear that? Or perhaps on warrior heroes? Maybe on effective habits for juggling several things at once.(Um after forgetting a staff committee meeting maybe not) I need to come up with something and with handouts. Possibly soemthing to do with historical writing.
At the M&B party last Friday, an editor (not mine) was talking about writers being arty people. I have neverthought of myself as arty. Creative, I suppose. Organised, yes. Disliking detail -- okay I'll admit to that. Lateral thinking perhaps. Full of ideas. Finding an excuse for a messy house, defiantely. But arty? Oh help. Arty means on another planet. While I know my dh and children sometimes think this. My eldest often comes and asks me if he can go to Moscow because once apparantly he did and I said yes, not realizing what I did. This is a source of great amusement. But I am not God's Daisy Chain type arty. I'm just me who has happens to have a vivid imagination. Vivid imaginations are best employed with writing books rather than worrying about people and situations.

Monday, September 26, 2005

And it's off

I emailed the latest mss to my editor today. My editor had very kindly said -- no problem, take your time. But I had finished it to the point where she does need to see it. Undoubtably there will be spots where she has questions. Editors are like that. There is no mss that has been written that can't stand a little revising. My fingers are firmly crossed that she doesn't see something fundamentally wrong, a chasm.
At the moment I am totally in love with my hero and heroine. Hopefully they and their predictament will make my editor feel that way as well. I teared up at several parts, but then I always tear up.
I figure that I won't hear one way or the other until Christmas time. My editor is a busy woman. I don't have the clout of a UK Medical author who said that if she hadn't heard within three days, she was on the phone to her editor, asking. Equally, things happen. I know my editor has the mss and she'll get to it. She has many more authors than just me.
Now I have to critque one of my cp's partials. I am waiting for another's full. Also I have a mss for the NWS to do. Then I have to start my next one -- another Roman. That would make three. And I would want my editor's input on whether she wanted more Roman or maybe a Regency or two and then back to Rome if the interest is there.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


On Firday, I w ent to my first Mills and Boon Author day. It was absolutely lovely.
First I was rescued out side the RAF club by Natasha Oakley and Trish Wylie. As we walked into the crowded room full of very famous people, I was very pleased to see Kate Hardy who introduced me to my very lovely editor. Kate is a marvellous person who really encouraged me when I first decided to start being serious about my writing.
At lunch I sat next to the thoroughly lovely Caroline Anderson. They did a shuffle the places and I had my pudding next to Sophie Weston and Lucy Gordon. Both of whom are ever so friendly. I got to chat to fellow historical writers Nicola Cornick and Louise Allen.
Then my editor took me off for a cup of tea before the reception along with Paula Marshall. You must have reservations for the Ritz five weeks in advance! The very nice frock coated gentleman pointed this out. The Ritz now does five sittings for tea starting at 11:30 in the morning. How that consitutes tea, I don't know. So we went to a little tea shop on the corner and had a lovely time talking about the NapoleonicWar and history in general. It was gently pointed out that I did not have to be a sober and diligent author, and therefore should drink champagne. Because of my nervousness, I had not dared touch the wine at lunch. I decided that I was pretty safe following my editor's and Paula's advice.
After getting lost (ever so slightly) we arrived at the reception at the same time as a group of editors from M&B. It was absolutely lovely to be able to put faces to names. I was really pleased to meet the rest of the historical team -- Jo Carr and Maddie Rowe. Jo had shoes to die for on. And Maddie had the most wonderful silver sort of cardigan on. They have all seen the cover of Gladiator's Honour and apparently, it is really good. Emily Rushton among others told me that.
I can't wait to see it.
Gladiator's Honour (Honor) will be in retail in the US -- second half of 2006 (September?) but I had several glasses of champagne at that point. Pictures are on Kate Hardy and Julie Cohen's blog. They were taken rather later in the evening.
There was a lovely toast and a presentation of Jessica Hart's Rita and Lucy Gordon's Reader's Choice award as well as several milestone awards for huge number of books written. The whole team spirit was fantastic. Rather than just a detached author writing a book, I really felt like I was a welcome part of the whole enterprise. A really nice feeling.
I was so pleased to see Julie Cohen who just is wonderful.

After Biddy picked us up, we went to an Italian restaurant and drank more fizzy stuff, plus had a great meal.We then stayed up very late talking which was fun. Luckily I remembered from my mis-spent youth about taking two paracetmol after drinking champagne to avoid a bad head in the morning. And I didn't suffer.
Biddy has a fantastic caff right near her flat. Think Withnail and I. Very old fashioned and popular with cabbies and builders. I had the set breakfast with real fried tomatoes, and thick builder's tea. The man in pink had a fantastic voice. he managed to look good even pouring the tea. And was very polite.
I then travelled back up to Newcastle where my dh and youngest picked me up.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tomorrow = London

Tomorrow I take the plane to London and the AMBA day. It starts with lunch and getting to meet/renew acquaintence with some of M&B authors and the senior editorial staff. Then it is champagne and canapes with the rest of the editorial staff. Finally I get to help celebrate Biddy's birthday month. Then I catch a flight home at Saturday lunchtime.

I am rather exited about all this. It is a chance to really feel like a M&B author. Also, a chance to try to understand what is actaully happening at M&B. I am also curious to see what these editors actaully look like.
I have p[ruchased make up for the occassion. And have decided on my flats rather than my rebellious boots because of the problems of going through security at the airport.

My current wip is almost there. But undoubtable my editor will find places it needs strengthening. I had hoped to get it out the door today but that is NOT going to happen. It will probably go Monday afternoon. Then I can have a few cleaning days off. My study is rather a mess. I suspect it will take my editor some time to read it, which give me a chance to make a good start on the next one. I only hope my editor will like it.

I drove yesterday. Not a problem. It helped that I was annoyed with my dh who suggested I might need to take remedial lessons! Men! He wasn't in the car. He didn't know what happened. Yes, I know in theory you do try to keep cars on the road, but when the car in question has started to fishtail and the decision is do you spin into oncoming traffic, or do you hope the verge will stop you -- I chose the verge. At least the two vans who stopped to help us were not hit. That accident could have been so much worse.
Equally I did not swerve around any of the dead rabbits on the road. Adventuresome lane changes may be off the menu for some considerable time.
Now all I have to do is wait for the sales invoice etc from the Renault garage, and then send all the insurance items off. Then wait to see how much they are going to offer.

I see that Galvaston is predicted to be hit by a catagory 5 hurricane. Isaac's Storm by Erik Larsen details what happened on 8 September 1900. Horrifying scenes. But they did not learn. Walmart was built where once an orphanage stood. The sea wall is only 17 feet high. The predicted storm surge is 175 feet. Technology helps but does not lessen the hurricane's power to destroy. My thoughts are with everyone affected.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Two days on

Many thanks for all the messages of sympathy and support.

The annoying part now is waiting to see if they are going to total the car, and if they do that -- how much are they going to offer. Thanks for a lovely public spirited man I know now the car did not roll but merely tilted at the end. Luckily, the bushes stopped it from rolling. So my fingers are firmly crossed that the car can be saved. It depends though on how much it will cost to repair. Any more than 60% of the value and they will probably prefer to total it.

I go through stages. Other than the ache in my right side where I Must have hit the door handle, I am pretty much okay physically. Sometimes, I relive the accident. The worst was when the car was zig zagging. You always think -- well if I had done this or that, I'd be fine. In my case, if only I had stuck to the outside lane, instead of worrying about what be coming up fast behind me.

Chances are I will not have to face this sort of test again.

After speaking with my insurance brokers, I felt weepy. I had to answer all sorts of questions. The hardest part was that I did not have a full copy of the policy in front of me. Where has the booklet gone to? All I had was the certificate of insurance and the renewal notice. I did however have the other car's policy. Most car insurance policies tend to be very similar. I can understand charging a deductible for new drivers and drivers under 25, but I am over 25 and have held a full British drivers license since Feb 1989. Hopefully the broker will send out another booklet and I can clear this up. When in doubt, go back to the policy as it tells you very clearly

I have just phoned the stupid body shop. They say that they are now not picking the car up and don't know who is picking the car up. Where it is stored thinks that the body shop IS picking the car up. I have telephoned my brokers who are clueless and who will try to get some sense out of the inusrance company. Argh!!!!!!!!

In the meantime, my dh is talking about taking the week off. He was already taking Friday off and there is not much work in his calender. His reasoning is that I need him at home as I am injured. Wonderful thought, but this usually involves telling me to rest and not go on the computer... I am NOT a good patient.

At the moment all I want is everything to be settled with the car and to be able to go forward, instead of being in limbo.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Car accident

I had a car crash.
I had dropped my dh off at the Newcastle train station because he was going to a meeting in York. I was on the way home, going along the A69 (think a two lane each way highway busy with Saturday morning traffic) when a large black dog ran out into the middle of the road. I swerved to miss it. Then becase I thought someone was coming up on the other side, I swerved back in.Mistake. I managed to lock brakes, trunedinto the swerve, went up a bank, rolled the car and stopped. The car was lying on the passenger side.
The younger two were in the car. We always wear seatbelts. They were fine.
My first thought was no one is going to stop. How am I going to get out of this? People, wonderful people stopped. One man helpd my middle child out through the window. Then I clambered out. My youngest climbed over the seats and out through the window. The man then climbed back, turned off the car, rescued my handbag and mobile. I am afriad the books my children were reading were left behind.
We were taken by ambulance to the hospital but x-rays showed only minor bruising on the middle's ribs. No games until they heal. She is not unhappy.
I feel a bit stupid. Why didn't I just move over into the far lane instead of worrying about the person behind me. If I had hit the dog, there was every lieklihood I would have been rearended.
I am not sure what happened to the dog. Someone said that another car hit it. In some ways, I hope that is the case as then its owners could be traced as their neglect caused the accident to happen.
It is going to be a nuisance while we get a new car sorted. The insurance have already said that they won't pay for a courtesy car in the case of totalling. We had also paid off the car back in July.Argh!!!!
But I am happy my children are fine.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Recharging batteries

Today I went to the RNA Northumberland meeting. Unfortunately Anna couldn't make it. One of the highlights for me is always the drive in the car with Anna, but I did cope.
I stopped at Barter Books and most everyone else who was going to the meeting was there. We may be able to talk the lady behind the counter at Barter Books into joining us as she wants to find a writing group. The best surprise was that Melinda Hammond, an author of ten swashbuckling romances for Hale was holidaying the area and had decided to come to the meeting.
We had a long discussion about writing -- blockages, brainstorming, and jump cutting of scenes. It was very useful to hear other people's takes on a variety of things, plus hear about people's news.
Everyone has volunteered to help at the workshop, so that is good news. But it is back to the nail biting and hoping that more people decide to come.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Next Round

I have finished one round of edits. Now it is time for the next one. The paper edits. I read through the mss, with pen in one hand and ruler in the other, making notes for changes as I go on. In this way,I hope to catch many of my mistakes and make for a more exciting read.
After I finish that, I have to go through the mss at random, using a different colour of pen, making sure that there is tension on each page.
After that, the changes are put on the computer and I will be done. Cue cheers.

Tonight I have a meeting. One of the things that will be discussed on the school's response to a child with food allergies. Since Friday, I have done a lot of thinking about it. On Friday, the head of the school sent home a notice requesting six discrete types of food not be sent to school -- Tracker bars, roast peanuts, Snickers, Mars bars and peanut butter. This is to protect a child who is severely allergic to peanuts. I saw red. If he is going to ban foodstuffs to protect this child, he needs to ban ALL nuts and nut products, plus any products made with peanut oil. Or indeed any product that might have come into contact with peanuts. This includes all cereal bars, bags of mixed nuts, trail mixes, biscuits with nuts, bakery goods, all nut and chocolate spreads, anything made with nuts and most chocolate bars. A large number of processed foods also contain peanuts. In order to know you have to read lists of ingredients. These lists change. Sometimes, mistakes happen. Recently oreo cookies were filled with a peanut flavouring and labeled as being original. A mistake on the production line but one which cost someone a life.
Banning a few items ultimately does not help that child. It simply means that a false sense of security develops.
Given the population of the school, such a ban is unworkable. There are 385 children plus staff. All of whom have to remember to be vigilant -- every day. Also there is a question of what happens if another child with a food allergy to milk or egg enters school. How do we treat them? It is simply impossible to ban everything.
By far the best way, is to insist on a cross-contamination prevention program. It was proved in a John Hopkins research paper that eating peanuts under normal cafeteria conditions does NOT put allergens into the air. But sometimes smears and traces of food are left on tables by messy eaters and a child can accidentally get foodstuffs on their hands. The best way to clean such things up is through ordinary housefold cleaners. Also all hands should be washed with bars of soap. Antibacterial rinses do not remove all traces.
At the moment, there is no system for washing tables, nor is there soap on a regular basis in the students' toilets. This is an accident waiting to happen, despite the head's pleas for people not bring in a few food stuffs.
Additionally ALL staff need to be trained in the use of epi-pen and the child needs to be encouraged to responsibility for his/her own allergy (ie eat only safe foods, eat in a clean place and not trade food).
All well and good but why was I so annoyed? Why did I feel so threatened? Simple answer -- I used peanut butter. Peanut butter for me is an important reminder that my children are also American children as well as British. When I first moved over here, peanut butter was difficult to obtain in Northumberland. It is not simply a snack, but a food I use extensively in preparing my children's school lunches. To be singled out when other food stuffs were not, got me angry. It got me even angrier when I discovered that other measures of basic hygiene were not being taken. It made me feel that my children were being singled out as they are some of the few that take peanut butter to school. Why peanut butter and not nutella? It bothered me that the head who is a friend dismissed my protest with the words -- it is not a cultural issue, it is only a snack and he is having to give up tracker bars. Actually peanuts and peanut butter is used extensively in African,West Indian, Asian cooking in addition to American cooking. In Middle Eastern cooking, pine nuts are often used. Pine nuts and sesame are related to peanuts and people with peanut allergies need to actively avoid these. How can he understand the significance to me when it has never come up in conversation before?
And how can he claim to be trying to save a child's life when he has not done the basic medical research and is not employing best practice?
Every few years or so, I encounter this. It is not that people mean to be unkind. It is simply that people failed appreciate that someone's culture and food might be different. Multi-cultural is not dismissing other people's concerns with a few glib or emotive words.
My heart goes out to the child and its parents, but the school has to make this child safe rather than paying lip service. The only way the child can be made safe is through proper hygiene and avoidance procedure by that child. That child has to take responsibility for his/her own allergy. IMHO. Ultimately their life depends on it.

I am interested in food allergies because I am allergic to ketchup. If I consume even a little bit, I break out in a rash. Luckily I am not contact allergic and so can allow my children to enjoy ketchup on their chips and hamburgers and other products containing ketchup. But I have to be careful. Also as a teenager, I worked in A GirlScout camp kitchen where we had several campers with allergies. This is back in the days when allergy meant an actaul reaction rather than an intolerance.Back then we had to be careful about how we prepared the food, and the camp nurse gave us specfic instructions. We prepared most foods from scratch because of the problems. And because processed was too expensive. Peanuts due to Jimmy Carter having been president were in plentiful supply from the US government. Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer and the peanut lobby was strong or so I was told.

FWIW I also think the British government's plan to use more chill-cooked foods in schools will ead to more food allergy incidents as no one will be able to vouch for exactly how food was prepared and IF there is any cross-contamination during preparation. It surprises that no one has objected on those grounds.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Fear of the odds

I received my copy of RWR on Saturday and read through it. It was then it hit -- how many people are out there writing, and what the odds are. Mostly I ignore the odds. You have to. You can only concentrate on writing the best story possible, trying to do justice in your head to the characters.
But this time, I gave a great big gulp! But now I havet o forget that and concentrate on my wip. My fingers are corssed that it will be good enough -- that the tension will be there and the conflicts strong enough.
The fears are always coming back to haunt you. YOu may know you suffer from a sagging middle or that your backstory might be muddled. And that you need to avoid repetition because it makes the story drag....then as you are working through the edits, you discover all this and think -- wh? Why didn't I see this sooner? Or how can I make this better?
There were other interesting articles in the RWR -- ones on what chapters can do for you. Some of the suggestions, I plan to put into practice at the RNA Northumberland. We can do a lot more.
There was an intersting article on multi-cultralism which made me think because I write about a culture that is very different from my own, am I a multi-cultural writer? My characters are pagan but I attend mass every week for example. They have slighty different value systems and were brought up differently to me. But the same is true of any character I would write. There again there are certain inate values that my heroes and heroines posess -- integrity, loyalty, courage. Human emotion has not changed for thousands of years. Passion, conflict and strong feeling all existed then. I just have to find a way to communicate to today's reader.

One hundred more pages of this round to go and then it is the paper round.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sometimes it comes right

This morning, I had a sudden flash inspiration. My cp had told me that the ending was weak. I had left a number of threads dangling. She wanted to see people punished etc. What happened to x y and z she asked. She also indicated her disappointment (not a good sign!) It had to be fixed but how. It suddenly came to me -- how this could be done. I t now reads much better, and I feel satisfied with the way my wip is going.
Also last night I read my new book on Merchants, traders andPirates in the Roman World and had a degavu moment. When I first started writing this, one character was named Archelaus and the sanctuary was going to be formerly of Apollo. I had too many As and changed the name and then I thought Apollo a bit obvious. It turns out that in 88 BC a pirate by the name of Archelaus destroyed the scantuary of Apollo at Delos, a trading port in the Med about where I set my fictional island. I must have read this somewhere before (I have read a lot of Roman history) but can't for the life of me remember where. But isn't it odd?

ANyway, I am starting to enjoy my editing much more. There are still mroe editos to work through. Places my cp pointed out that it didn't work for her. It should be finished before the end of the month. But I am just feeling relieved to have finally figured out the end. And when I did, it seemed so obvious. GRRR

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Cooking and history

At the moment, I am really enjoying reading about Roman cookery, particularly every day cooking.
Eating is such a fundamental thing and the way we get food to the table, the food stuff we eat, and preparation has changed through out the years. A study of food can give a lot of insight into the culture.
Romans had precursors of pasta, pesto, pizza, souffle, baklava, panforte and pancakes. They ate a version of the Mediterranean diet -- lots of fruit and veg, olive oil and wine. The sweet and sour combination of Roman dishes laid the foundation for French cooking. Dolamades ( stuffed vine leaves) , Greek yogurt and honey,tyropitas ( cheese and filo pie) can all be found in ancient recipes. Hams, sausage and smoke fish were also used.
There are differences of course. The pasta dough was fried and then used to scoop up thick soups. There were no tomatoes, chiles or potatoes. Even old world foods such as lemons, oranges, tea and coffee were not there. Sugar in the form of sugar cane was only used for medicine. The main sweetener was honey. And carrots were not orange. They were white and were used interchangeably with parsnips. The orange carrot was developed in Holland in the 13th century for the House of Orange and is a cross between the European white carrot and an Afghanistan red carrot. Major fruits included: apples, pear, plums and apricot. Figs were important. One quibble I have with Mark Grant is that he does not understand how French beans could be dried. Of course borlotti beans, and a number of French beans are routinely dried today. I use a lot of pulse in making soup or stews.
The need to get a good supply of wheat forced some of Rome's expansion. The distribution of spices around the Empire shows what trade was like. As food becomes plainer, one see the trade routes collasping. Items disappearing off menus, only to be rediscovered later.
I love thinking -- how and what did people eat? How did they cook? What were their favourite foods? How did the preparation of such foods affect their lifestyle?
I first became interested in the cooking history when I moved to my present house and had to cope with a coal burning Aga. Suddenly modern cookbooks with their emphasis on microwaving just did not suit. The timing was all off. I turned instead to cookbooks and recipes of the American West and then to recipes from earlier times. The breath of foodstuffs has astounded me. Delicate cakes made in difficult conditions. Cooking was a real skill. You had to know how to read your oven.
Personally I find the history of cooking fascinating, but so little of it is taught in school. Understand the need to trade food, and you can understand a great deal of what was happening through out history.

The post brought an envelope from Hale -- a photocopy of the Historical Novelists Society review of The Lady Soldier. It was a good review --ending with Fans of romantic adventure will enjoy this book. So I am well pleased, particularly as HNS can sometimes be a overly harsh on historical romance -- adventure or not. Goodness knows when my copy of the HNS Review will show up.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Cheese graters have other uses

The children are back at school and the dh is at work. The house is silent for the first time in weeks. Just me and my wip. It is very much at that curate's egg stage -- some parts are good but others -- hold your nose. Still there is time and reworking and rewriting can work wonders. I am not one of those who strives for perfect on the page first time. No, it needs to be perfect on the page just before I send it to my editor and then be willing to change. Or perfect on the page when it goes to the printer.

I suspect my editor is expecting this to have been lifted by several notches by the time she sees it. Fingers crossed it will be.
My current reading is Roman Cookery -- Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens. It is a fascinating study of the precursors of many of today's Italian dishes. Lagana is fried pasta that was then dunked in soup. Pasta as in boiled in water was not invented until the middle ages. But they had the dough.
They used a lot of cheese in cooking, particularly in making bread. The grater was a very important piece of equipment. Apparently in Lysistrada, there is an intriguing reference to a sexual position known as the lioness on the cheese grater. Don't ask, because I have not seen an illustration. But the mind boggles. I may have to find out a way to work this into the story. I will now appraoch a cheese grater with a different mind.

Of course many Greek dishes such as stuffed vine leaves have their precursors in Roman cookery. And like Greek food, the Romans seem to have weighed in heavily on the olive oil. Butter was considered only fit for barbarians. Interestingly, fish sauce which is often mentioned in Apicius has proven to be less well used in overy day cooking.Apicius was sort of the Gordon Ramsay cum Nigella Lawson aspirational cookbok of its time. Most people didn't have the time or the money to make most of its recipes. Salt seems to have been used more frequently. This is just as well as fish sauce always sounds revolting.

The honey harvest is done. 40 pounds in weight or thereabouts. an average year. And as it has turned colder, I am pleased I took the time yesterday.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On being covered in a sticky film

Today is the honey harvest. Or rather the start of the honey harvest because due to a lack of Porter bee escapes (little plastic things that allow bees to exit but not return), it has to be done in two parts. Tomorrow morning, I will go raid the remaining hive.
The harvest is so-so. We will have enough honey for our needs and that is about it. I am not entirely convinced my dh's plan of using only single brood boxes rather than double (ie two) worked. We had the same number of swarms but the bee nest size was smaller, thus fewer workers.
The other problem I discovered is that somehow the Queen bee in the fourth hive became trapped in the super -- and we have a very small brood nest. I shall have to reunite this colony with the one next to it tonight.
In the meantime, I have spun out my honey. It is a lovely smell down in the garden room -- wax and fresh honey BUT there is is a layer of honey over everything including me.
One of the great joys of harvesting honey is that you do get to take a sample of fresh honey every now and then. Fresh honey is like nothing else in the world. Wonderfully sweet with the tang of wildflowers. My favourite is a little bit of honey comb.
To make matters worse, the plums are ripe. The plum tree by the greenhouse is notorious through out the village for its profusion of plums. This is because I think the people before never used to pick them and everyone would see this tree laden with Victoria plums. Me? I pick, give away and freeze. The courgette glut continues unabated, joined now by a tomato and chile bonanza. Fried green tomatoes are actually rather good.

I have start reworking TSD and can see what my editor meant by a bit of repetition. She was being kind. I need to nake it flow better. It was too static. Hopefully I will get through this round of reworking within theweek, and then comes the paper read through, and then the random read through. And finally, the I am totally sick of finding errors read through.

By answering my editor's question about a rough time estimate with the promise it would be in before 30 September, I have bought myself time. It also means I can enjoy my lunch with other authors and the senior editors later this month without worrying about whether or not my editor has looked at my full. There is also a party I get to go to. It will be my day for swanning around, being I am A Lady Novelist rather my usual guise of Mother and chief housemaid cum gardener.

The younger two have gone back to school. They were very excited about this. I suspect they were getting bored. It is good for children to get bored. It forces them to think creatively.

They also like being out of the house when I am editing. I have a tendency to play a single tune over and over again-- when I am taking a break. For The Lady Soldier it was a tune from the Sharpe CD. Love Farewell. With Gladiator's Honour, it was John Spiers and Jon Boden Prickle Eye Bush. The children have hidden the CD. I am not sure what I will use this time...

Monday, September 05, 2005


My editor has asked for the full. Now I have to polish, polish, polish.
I also need to change the hero's name as it is too close to the last one.
Still it is a matter of polishing rather than writing.

On writing the end

I have nearly finished the wip. Ok, I have finished the last chapter and only have the epilogue and author's note to write. Each of which are half-written. There is a slight hesitation here to write the epilogue as it may change but I shall give it a go. I need to go through and make sure all the threads all tied up neatly. But the story proper has ended.
There are still tweaks to do, but the story is about 80 k computer count, which is where I want it. There were times over the past few months that I wondered if it would make it that far. At one point -- I thought oh, no, it will not be long enough, but it is.
Now I simply have to wait for my editor to decide IF she wants to see the rest of it. She did encourage me to finish it...
I also have to decide what to write next and start perculating ideas as I get this one polished up.Do I write a premise for the next Roman one? Or do I finish my saga? Or...
It is a wonderful feeling when one gets to the end, a moment to be savoured, before the hard work of polishing begins.

I see that the HBO Rome series had good for cable ratings for its first programme. Hopefully that will continue. The number of people watching the first programme equalled the number of people who watched the finale of Six Feet Down Under. If HBO feel they have a big enough audience, they will commission a second series. Then maybe a few more fans of the time period will be created.

One of the ways the romance community is helping out with the relief effort is to have a critque and book auction. If you go to you will see a list of authors, agents and editors who have donated books and critques. It is a little step towards helping but lots of little steps and small kindnesses add up.

I have wonderful memories of New Orleans as I spent one of my first proper grown up holidays there -- visiting my brother at Tulane University in 1983 (such a long time ago now). Even back then they worried about the levees breaking. Luckily for my peace of mind, he was living at the time in Garden City, one of the older areas above sea level but I do really remember the city and its special atmosphere. I understand from my mother that all of his friends had left the area and so were safe.

Hopefully now the misconception that somehow technology can strip Nature of its power to kill and destroy has been totally laid to rest. Respecting the power of Nature is always a good start.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Hunters of Banna

Yesterday, I took the younger two to Birdoswald or Banna as it was known in the Roman period period.

Of all the Hadrian Wall forts I have been to, this is the one where if there was a King Arthur, he probably lived. Of course the archaeologists would never say such a thing.

The places associated with King Arthur in this area are more around Housesteads, and he is supposed to have spent a winter at Corbridge.
But neither site suits. Among other things Housesteads was an infantry fort, and Corbridge was too well known -- it would have been mention if Artos had originated from there.

If Artos existed on the Wall, he was more than likely a cavalry officer and thus stationed at one of the cavalry forts -- namely Chesters or Birdoswald.

Birdoswald was a cavalry fort. In the late period the I Aelia Dacorum were there. There is no sign of them ever leaving. Although they probably maintained relations with Dacia, it is thought at the end, most soldiers were recruited from the surrounding area. An inscription was found from the Hunters of Banna. The term hunter was only used in the late period of Roman occupation.

The two granaries were converted into halls and when they fell down, timber halls were constructed. Chesters does not appear to have such things happening to it BUT much of Chesters was destroyed/excavated in the 19th century so precious information could have been lost.

In the south granary several high value objects, including a woman's earring from the 4th century were found. It is one of the few places where evidence of timber framed halls has been found along the wall. One can only imagine that it belonged to a war-leader and his followers. Why it was abandoned for a period is unclear, but there is a break in the record of occupation of several centuries.

Interestingly, Birdoswald boasts the only indoor drill hall to be found in the whole of the Roman Empire. Given the weather conditions of the Wall, it is not surprising that they had one. It survived in part because people assumed with its columns, that it must be a church.

As the site was looted for stone to build the farm house, only the foundations now remain.

Birdoswald attempts or at least makes an attempt to show who the site was used during the ages. They have also keep most of the buildings covered as good examples of excavated Roman forts buildings are available nearby and the turf is keeping the building in an excellent state of preservation. The children enjoyed scrambling over the site. But the youngest expressed disappointment as he likes Corbridge because he can climb in the drains.

The site is wonderfully evocative. Very much in a place where time forgot. Gilsland Spa was last popular during the Georgian period. Sir Walter Scott proposed to his wife there. The stone he proposed on is now as the Popping Stone (ie he popped the question) and has been chipped away at by souvenir hunters. You can still stay at the hotel -- the Gilsland Spa Hotel where he stayed. It is also possible to stay at the youth hostel on the site. I shall have to make a trip back when it is not the height of tourist season and there are very few people, so I can truly appreciate the atmosphere.

I gave in and bought several books -- one of Merchants, sailor and pirates in the Roman World, another on Roman Cookery for modern day kitchens and the third a guidebook. The younger two got a medieval activity pack.

The wip is nearly finished. I am on the last chapter but will have to go back and change a few things. It has taken longer than expected to get here, but I do think it might be starting to come together -- rather than being a piece of dreck.

The new hens had to be captured with the fishing net again But the ducks went into the duck house with ease. The new hens seem to be getting bolder and made an apearance on the lawn this morning. The Light Sussex hens gleamed in the sunlight.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Getting the hens in

last night, I played fun and games with the new hens. The old hens went in the henhouse no problem. The new ones were spotted by my dh wandering around in the Dene looking lost. Cue a hasty retreat by my dh, and a call for the fishing net from me. My eldest and I managedto herd the errant hens up to the hen house and then one by one I caught them with the fishing net and popped them into the hen house. I thought my eldest could do the last one -- a goldenline. Um -- no. Round and round the chestnut tree he went with the net, but the bird eluded him.
He then thought the bird had vanished, swore it had disappeared into thin air. I heard a cluck, reached my hand down and captured it. It had decided to hide in the chestnut tree right by my feet.
My eldest then professed that after the hens, the ducks would be easier to herd. Wrong again. One duck had to do the full routine (out of the pen, up by the torn bush, over to thewall, down, along the perimeter of the fence and in) three times before it would go in. Thus proving ducks are difficult.
After that I went back to reading Wings of Mercury by Patrick Keigh Fermor. In case, anyone has not discovered him, he is simply one of the most eloquent travel writers writing today. His descriptions of Greece and his journey through Eastern Europe just before WW2 are fantastic. He was also one of the British officers who served on Crete and helpd organise the kidnapping of a German general. Would that I could write descriptions like that Few well chosen words andthe scen comes alive. Pure magic.
At the moment my children are fully paid up members of Squabble, Bicker and Quarrel, that well known firm of professional debaters. School starts next week. This will help.
The water is off today as the water companuy is replacing a valve. in the mains. I am taking the opportunity to go to Birdoswald, a Roman fort recently acquired by English Heritage and featured in their current magazine.