Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Happy 3rd birthday Pink Heart Society and contests

The Pink Heart Society blogzine is three and there is a drawing for a whole host of books.
So you might want to go there and post a comment!

Speaking of contests, I am in the midst of writing an article on the Vikings for the Medieval Chronicle's Nov/Dec issue. The Medieval Chronicle will be running a contest where one of the prizes will be signed copies of my Viken trilogy.

And yes, I know I need to do my newsletter. Carla Capshaw who has written a wonderful historical inspirational -- The Gladiator has kindly offered to send a copy to one of my newsletter readers. She sent an advanced copy and it is a good escapist read. I look forward to many more exciting books from her. Anyway the newsletter should go out towards the end of October.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Start of school year illness

My daughter caught something and was ill over the weekend -- cold/flu type thing with a horrid cough. She spent most of the weekend comatose.
Being an equal opportunity bug, it has now infected everyone...SIGH. I do not have time to be sick.
My daughter reported that about 25% of the school is off with it as well.
It is lots of liquids and rest. Ho hum. But every school year is the same. The children go back and end up picking up something nasty!

Hardy had to have a bath yesterday as he rolled in rotten duck egg. My only consolation is that there are no skunks in Northumberland or he would find one... Hardy was not best pleased with me for the bath. He sulked for most of the afternoon.

My wip is going on but I am starting to wonder when my revisions for the other one will hit.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Yesterday, I reached a milestone -- my eldest went off to university. It was a bitter sweet moment but mostly I am very excited for him. Both my husband and I had a great time at university and hopefully he will as well.

The odd part for me was returning to the campus as a parent. The last time I had been there, it had been as a young bride as my husband went back for a career day and I tagged along. But before that it was 25 years ago. Ack! The strange thing is what survived and what did not as there has been a ton of building work at Lancaster. One would have thought the Athletics Union noticeboard would have changed but it was there (or a successor). Parts of the spine were the same and are still covered with posters. However the Nelson Mandela coffee bar is long gone.
And I know 25 years ago, I never thought to be sending my first born there. 25 years I never thought about children etc. Odd sensation.

I do think they did the welcoming bit very well and the whole atmosphere felt lovely and friendly. Lots of posters up and tons of reps around. It seems to be on the whole far better organised than 25 years ago. There again, 25 years ago, most people arrived by a special express train (v Hogwarts in some ways) and this time there were tons of cars and vans.

Once again, I took my camera but totally neglected to take pictures. I was far too busy experiencing the whole thing.

But now I am dreadfully behind on the wip and so must write.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

At the Pink Heart Society today

Today I am blogging about power songs at the Pink Heart Society. In the course of researching the blog, I learnt a movie version of Wicked is in production. It is rumoured that it is the original cast which would be excellent. I believe it is supposed to appear in movie theatres in time for Christmas next year. But just having it in production is good.
My daughter and I went to see Wicked back in April 2007 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am pleased to say that it is still playing at the Apollo Victoria and is a great introduction to musical theatre.
And I thoroughly recommend the cast album with Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel. Inspirational.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind and philanthropy

Heidi Rice has done a piece about the movie Gone With the Wind for the Pink Heart Society. In common with many people, she expresses her disquiet at some of the portrayal of the South and slavery. It can make for uncomfortable viewing, particularly for those who do not realise that the GWTW was responsible for the first black woman receiving an Oscar -- Hattie MacDaniel as Mammie. The bar was set very high in 1936 and fortunately for everyone, MsMacDaniel proved she was more than capable of leaping over it.
GWTW is also a movie that was made in 1936 and is very much of its time. It is easy to forget that back then, the American Civil War still caused problems and the old wounds festered. The Civil Rights movement had not happened.
For Margaret Mitchell, the book was not about glorifying that period but about survival and looking at how some people survived war and some did not.
However, what Heidi discovered and I did not know is that Margaret Mitchell used the money from Gone With the Wind to help out Morehouse College, in particular she paid the tuition for dozens of black students to become doctors. Martin Luther King Jr is the most famous of Morehouse's alumni ( King attended Morehouse during the period that Mitchell was actively giving btw) and even today the college educates African American men to take on the challenges on the 21st century.
Margaret Mitchell's support was done very quietly and with little fanfare. She also helped to establish the first black hospital in Atlanta and was a tireless worker for human rights. The Mitchell family has continued to support Morehouse and did eventually endow a chair there.
Practical things done without fuss.
Margaret Mitchell has gone up in my estimation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A sloe year

Unlike last year, the sloes have had a bumper crop. Apparently it is a function of the cold winter we had last year.
Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn, in case any one was wondering.
The location of a good sloe bush is generally kept quiet. I have met people carrying bags of sloes who pretend they are just going out for a walk and are not in fact carrying anything. Sloe gatherers are even worse than mushroom pickers.
Sloes make a good gin -- giving it a slight almond flavour and a wonderful pink colour. Sloes taste terrible to eat raw and I do not know who first decided that they worked in gin.
Basically gin is 8 oz (250 g) sloes -- picked over, washed and pricked with a silver fork to 1 pint (10z/500 ml) gin. Add 2-3 teaspoons of sugar to taste. Then store in a sealed jar in a darkened place. You are supposed to shake the bottle every day but really it does work if you leave it alone.
You can drink the sloe gin around Christmas time but it tastes better if left. I have a friend who gives sloe gin as a work in progress.
Damson gin or plum gin is made on same principle. You could use brandy or whiskey. Buy the cheap own store varieties...
What the fruit does is to soften the taste of the alcohol...
Lemon whiskey is also easy to make and is a secret ingredient in a good bakewell tart. The peel of 2 lemons is infused in a 3/4 pt (8oz/400ml) whiskey or brandy for 48 hours, strain and then a cooled syrup of 1/4 cup sugar to 4oz water (boiled for a few minutes to make the syrup) It is ready to use and is good for colds or alternatively as a flavouring for custards.

I spent yesterday evening making a litre or so sloe gin. I need to make some lemon whiskey.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Some authors make you stay up late

I should have known by the name on the front cover.
I should have known when my daughter kept coming down saying that the book made her cry.
But arrogantly I thought I could read a few pages...and then go to sleep.
Umm no, India Grey's latest had me turning the pages and reading. Tears flowed down my face. Thoughts of sleep vanished. I had to get to the end.
India is really growing into her talent. Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride is a lovely escapist read. Just do not read when you need sleep...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A conspiracy of electric appliances

With a small and lonely hiccup, the vacuum cleaner refused to work. Despite repeated attempts to restart, it stays stubbornly quiet with only its warning light flashing. I have checked the hoses, the filter and everything else. All clear. It must be the motor.
Why are my electric appliances dying on me? With the tumble dryer, I could go green and hang out the washing, but the hoover? Can electrical appliances conspire? And if so, what next -- the washing machine?
I have bought a new Miele Cat and Dog as it uses the same bags as before (having just laid in a year's supply of bags!) and three dogs plus five humans make such items a necessity. After a round trip journey to Newcastle, I discovered that John Lewis will deliver to Waitrose in Hexham if you order on online. Drumming of fingers here.

And I suppose it is better than exploding light bulbs and green flashes which was last year's problem.

But I am behind and my deadline is looming.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Youngest son 1 Mole 0

Should I feel miffed? My youngest declared his intent to lay mole traps when the mole appeared. He cited being a boy scout. I allowed him as the return of the mole made my heart sink.
He duly laid his traps (clw traps) -- yesterday. This morning he came rushing in, demanding I inspect as one had sprung.
I did and it was R.I.P. mole.
The mole has now gone to wherever moles go. And my youngest has become the mole catcher in chief.
His only comment was that if he was going to be chief mole catcher, he ought to be paid the going rate...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Article in Tynedale Life

Last November, I appeared on BBC Radio Newcastle and a journalist from the Hexham Courant heard the broadcast. He then did an article about me. Then his colleague Emma Andrews decided that it might be good to do a lifestyle piece for the glossy magazine Tynedale Life. I duly did the interview and had the photos taken. The months (and issues) passed. And I forgot about it.
Then last week, the latest issue appeared. The paperboy never brings it as it is far too heavy and if you want it, you must pick it up from the newsagent. Therefore, I tended to think that not many people read the magazine.
Last Friday, I happened to be going to the RNA Northumberland meeting and giving a lift to two writers who live in Hexham.
'I saw the article in the magazine and brought a copy.'
'You mean the Guardian,' I said trying to concentrate on the road as it was rather busy and I was not quite sure where we were going. 'Oh I have a copy from the Internet.'
'No, Tynedale Life. My husband read the article aloud to me, it is lovely and has lots of photos.'
I managed not to hit any cars in my surprise but it was a close run thing.
Anyway, I have spent a good deal of the week as I went around Hexham, having sales assistants and others say that they saw the article. The girl in the pet shop said that she read everything. And the hairdresser said that she just liked the magazine. The women in the hairdressers agreed with her. Someone had even seen it and mentioned it when I was on the train down to London. So much for my thinking that no one reads the magazine. And it is a good magazine -- full of uplifting articles.
You can see the article here. It starts on page 18.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

AMBA 2009

I am back. The journey from London to Newcastle took 6 1/2 hours as there was fatality on the line.
However even that could not dampen the excitement and buzz I got from attending the Association of Mills & Boon Authors annual lunch. It is truly inspirational to see so many authors and the editors. I always come away with loads of ideas.
I have written about it on Tote Bags and so you can read my bit here. Some day I will actually remember to use my camera.

I spoke so much that I lost my voice!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Off to AMBA

I am down to London and AMBA. I will be back on Friday, hopefully with pictures of the one day of the year that I feel like a glam author.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Luck v opportunity

I am currently reading the Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It is an interesting read. I am not sure if it is inspiring or not.
His big idea or theory as far as I can work out is that beyond a certain threshold of ability, the real thing that matters is opportunity and hard work. It is what you do as an individual with those opportunities that counts. Having talent matters to a certain extent but it is what you do with that talent that matters. It is the drive and the desire to succeed that matters as much as intelligence or raw test scores. For example, the affirmative action programs in various law schools have shown that achievement after law school is not based on the test scores/grades that people have to get in.
Because of the nature of the human experience, certain periods in history have thrown up opportunities. Certain familial backgrounds assist in making it easier for individuals to succeed.
For example, Mozart in part succeeded because his father was a musician and determined that his son would use his talent. Steve Jobs, a co founder of Apple and Pixar succeeds because he lives near HP engineers and is able to spend time working on computer projects. The book is slightly off here as Jobs lived in Cupertino during his junior high and high school years (he went to Homestead) rather than Mountain View. You simply do not live in Mountain View and go to state school in Cupertino. Says she who grew up in Mountain View. In any case it was the Santa Clara Valley and there was a predisposition towards computing as well as raising money for start ups in computing.
The Beatles succeed in part (according to Gladwell) because they learn to play together in marathon session in Hamburg.
It is not luck but making the most of the opportunities given and working very hard.
Once you have the ability, practice does make perfect. The better someone is at something, the longer they have probably practiced. It takes 10,000 hours to begin to know what you are doing and to start understanding the whys behind things so you can solve problems quickly. And there are a lot of people who do not want to put the time in and keep putting the time in. Most people give up or find something else to do.
People who truly succeed at something have an in depth knowledge of the subject and use that knowledge. When adversity strikes, they use the opportunity to succeed or to get themselves in a position to succeed. They are not strangers to rejection, but use it. They are also very focused on their goals, rather than on the prize at the end of the rainbow.
It is an interesting book and I am about 2/3 through it.
How can I apply it to my own writing. First of all, I need to be aware of the need to practice - -to write and to keep striving. 2. I need to make the most of opportunities that present themselves and to make my own luck. Success comes from making the most of opportunities.

Right now, though I remain behind on my wip and the deadline is looming. One of the great things about M&B is that it does the author the opportunity to write and to write a lot.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Far too many plums

Why oh why do cookery writers think a recipe that uses a half kilo of plum is good to use up any surfeit? Particularly this year? We had a cold winter and plum trees, particularly Victoria plums need a period of dormancy.
My Victoria plum is groaning with plums. Thankfully my husband has discovered the joy of making chutney and my youngest is making jam. I have done crumble, made plum gin, frozen bags of it, used them in barter, and still the tree is full. I need recipes that call for 5 pounds or more.
And plums are not my favourite fruit...but as the tree has produced so many, I feel a duty to use them up.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Guardian article on Mills & Boon

Regular readers of this blog will know about two weeks ago I did an interview with a journalist while I had the flu. The journalist in question had written a first chapter and synopsis and wanted my advice. I had promised and so I did it. I think I held myself together and sounded coherent. After we finished chatting, I collapsed.

In the intervening time, I have sat and worried -- had I made sense? Had I committed a Violet Winspear type faux pas that would haunt me for the rest of my career?

Tanya Gold who can write and write very well but has no desire to be any sort of novelist has had the article published in the Guardian today, so you can judge for yourself.

Some day, Ms Gold will win a British Press award but I'm not sure about meeting a gorgeous media tycoon as they do all seem to look like Rupert Murdoch!

The Viking's Captive Princess cover

The cover for The Viking's Captive Princess has shown up. Isn't it lovely? I think Judy York who did Taken by the Viking must have done it as it has the same sort of look about it. But it does not really matter as the cover is one of my favourites.
One thing I am very glad about is that the artist remembered to include Thyre's dimple in her chin. It plays a part in the story.
Anyway, I think the cover gives the right mood for the story.
Also you can see the new Harlequin Historical ident to the top left.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

10 free Mills & Boon books

Ever wondered what the M&B series are like? Here is your chance to find out.
To celebrate Mills & Boon 1st anniversary of producing ebooks in Britian, they are giving away 10 free books -- one from each series. I don't have a book in the offer but my dear friend India Grey does and it is the book that won the RNA Romance Prize this year --Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure. I really enjoyed it when I read it -- a page turning read with lump in your throat moments.
The full list is:
INTRIGUE: Diagnosis: Danger by Marie Fariella
MODERN: Mistress Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure by India Grey
HISTORICAL: The Rake's Unconventional Mistress by Juliet Landon
MODERN HEAT: Pleasure, Pregnancy and a Proposal by Heidi Rice
MEDICAL: The Midwife's Little Miracle by Fiona McArthur
ROMANCE: Adopted Outback Baby by Barbara Hannay (a 2009 Ritaa finalist)
SPECIAL MOMENTS: Father Material by Kimberley Van Meter
MIRA: Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
BLAZE: The Player by Rhonda Nelson
DESIRE:The Billionaire's Baby Negotiation by Day Leclaire
You can find out more at:

These are different books from the Harlequin giveaway btw.
There is also competition to win a Sony Itouch reader.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Road trip to Haworth

Yesterday, I drove to Haworth and the Bronte Museum. The trip from Northumberland took me through the very rainy but beautiful Yorkshire dales. There was an odd moment of panic when I took a wrong turn and discovered that I did not have my atlas with me. Luckily we recovered and eventually Haworth was found. It is quite easy once you know the right way!
There are several car parks in the town but luckily the one by the parsonage was not full.
In high summer, I should imagine the place heaves with tourists but yesterday, there were not many and so we were able to enjoy the Bronte house in peace. The rooms are far smaller than one might imagine from the frontage so it is no wonder thre is a sign -- house full come back in 10 minutes.

There are two exhibits on at the moment which are displayed in the rooms as well as the Bronte furniture. The exhibition of costumes from the recent ITV adaptation of Wuthering Heights adds to the atmosphere and one can learn a lot from it. The costume designer spent ages researching the costumes and she also made visual changes to show the character shifts. For example, Cathy's clothes become more pastel and less vibrant as she gets 'tamed' by Linton.
The other exhibition --Ghosts is of modern paintings of the moors hanging in the various rooms and that give a disconcerting note. They have spent a lot of time and effort to make the rooms be as they were in the Bronte's day and then hung these modern windswept landscapes.

Anyway, I loved their travelling desks with bits of sealing wax, pens and in Emily's case gummed puzzle acrostic labels. Charlotte Bronte was absolutely tiny - very small hands and feet. It is amazing that after her death, her dresses were cut up and sold as souvenirs. She also did not take kindly to critics. Her publisher refused to publish a preface as it was potentially libellous.
The gardens are planted in an early Victorian manner with plants that the Brontes would have known.

It is the setting of the house against the moors and graveyard that gives it atmosphere. The dining room where the sisters wrote overlooks the graveyard as does the old nursery cum children's study. Apparently at that time, the air was rank with decay and the greasy pools seeped up in the church floor. There were no trees in the graveyard. After the Brontes, measure were taken to aid in the decomposition of the bodies -- including lifting the gravestones to upright, planting trees and rebuilding the church.
The moors are great but the skyline has been spoilt by wind turbines.
We had a lovely lunch at the Apothecary Tea Rooms. The owner was wonderfully friendly. They had pictures of the Jenny Agutter movie -- The Railway Children as it was filmed in the area. On the weekends and daily during the summer, it is possible to take a steam engine ride along the railway.
It is definitely a place that I would recommend visiting as it does give insight and inspiration.

Monday, September 07, 2009

solar powered dryer

Yesterday my tumble dryer broke. Not good when one bakes one's mother's clothes to a crisp!
Thus I am now a proud possessor of a brand new solar powered dryer. It has a very low carbon footprint, is remarkably efficient and very cheap to run.
My only problem is that my husband forgot to get an essential part...clothes pegs!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Back the drawing board

My very lovely cp made a remark about my latest chapter yesterday that made me realise that I had in fact taken a wrong turning. I had lost focus on the main story and need to rethink.
It is better to rethink NOW rather than when this is delivered or even worse after I get thoughts back from my editor.
I have been there, done that and I suspect sometimes it is part of my process. It is far from convenient BUT ultimately the aim is to provide the best story possible.
So it is a change of hero and change of location and fingers crossed -- the story will be far more emotional. Just not pleasant in the meantime for me!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Emerging Ice Giants

Yesterday the Telegraph had a wonderful picture from BARCROFT MEDIA showing what appears to be a woman's face emerging from a glacier. To the photographer it represents Mother Nature's tears, but I saw it and immediately thought of ice giants from the Norse sagas. I seem to recall one story where certain nasty ice giants were imprisoned in ice to keep mankind and the gods safe. So one has to wonder if the original story teller had been inspired by something like this.
So why is she crying? And what are the consequences when she is finally released?
One of the things that does fascinate me is where did the saga writers get their stories and what inspired them.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Border collie mayhem

Tess and Hardy decided the sun room was far too neat and tidy and so they decided to knock over a few chile plants and spread some dirt about. Border collies do not like chiles!
Then they found my old pink fluffy slippers and decided to add pink fluff to the mixture.

Now that I have recovered from the flu, it will be back to the walking regime as the pair clearly have far too much time on their paws.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Terrible mother ducks

Some ducks should not have ducklings. The latest mother duck was a case in point. She sat for weeks and successfully hatched a large brood of about 16 ducklings. Despite an early loss of one duckling, we managed to get her into the duck pen and for a few days all was well. The ducklings appeared to thrive as they had plenty of clean water, food and a clean area in which to live. Then one by one the ducklings started to die of broken necks.
My husband first accused the puppies but they could not get in the pen. Then we thought about other ducks. But we ruled that out as well. The ducklings were always fine when the other ducks were around. Finally, we came to the sad conclusion that the mother duck was killing them for some reason.
We opened the pen and let the mother duck and her one remaining duckling out. The next day, my husband and eldest came on the duckling abandoned and cheeping its head off. They brought the duckling food and water but it died.
After its death, the mother duck spent the entire next day mournfully going around the garden looking for her lost ducklings.
Can ducks suffer from psychotic post natal depression?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Definitely recovering

My fever has broken and I am in definite recovery. I have also realised that today is 1 September. Thus far, the elder two males in the household have managed to avoid the flu. For this I am grateful.
This means my next deadline is 31 October (IE the end of next month!). I should be further on than I am. SIGH.

Lots of things are happening this month including the annual AMBA lunch mid-month plus the home front promises to be busy. I don't mind being busy. I do mind being behind.

The puppies are growing and I shall try to get a recent photo on. They are now hitting the adolescent stage. In some ways, this is good and in others...more teen aged angst. Adolescence for border collies is supposed to last until they are 18 months which is shorter than adolescence for humans.