Saturday, October 31, 2009

Istanbul 4: cisterns, cruise and claustrophia plus a good meal

When I first started looking at Istanbul, I could not figure why anyone would want to visit a cistern, even if it was Roman. Basically they are not very exciting -- places to store water. Umm I was wrong.

We went to Basilica Cistern on the Monday morning and it was utterly magical. Unlike the other cisterns I have seen, the Basilica cistern still has water and is lit in low light. It feels like you have accidentally strayed onto a set for some fantasy movie. In the water, the carp swim about making ghostly shapes while every so often water drips on your head. In one section of the cistern, two gorgon or Medusa statues lurk. One is tilted and the other upside down. No one knows why they are there or why they were placed in such a fashion. The logical reason is that the Romans reused bits from other places in the Empire but it is more fun to speculate on a paranormal reason, particularly as the iron stain on the statue showed up only when I took the picture!

The cistern was built in 532 by Justinian and was used to store water for the Great Palace. It was forgotten about some point before the Conquest in 1453 (Turks say Conquest whereas the West often says Fall of Constantinople). Then in 1545, scholar Petrius Geyllius was told by locals how people were lowering buckets to get waters and even catching fish from their basement and the cistern was rediscovered! However, it was not treated with respect and became the dumping ground for all sorts of things including dead bodies. The cistern was restored somewhat in the 18th century and then in the 1950s (it features in the James Bond film -- To Russia With Love) Eventually, it was opened to the public in 1987.
After emerging blinking into the sunshine, we went for a tour of the Bosphorus. Now you can either take the ferry and spend 7 1/2 hours doing the whole thing or you take a more expensive private boat. We opted for a private 2 1/2 tour and sat down in the van to wait, having been promised that the boat was about a minute away. The driver of the van could get a job on Harry Potter's night bus! One minute speeding through traffic and then slamming the breaks on. Luckily the cruise was far more peaceful as we saw various palaces and wooden yalis from the late Ottoman period. The boat stopped just beyond the Bosphorous bridge and we had lunch in Asia.
After the cruise we walked up to the Grand Bazaar. Unlike Sunday when only tourists were about, the Bazaar area was completely crowded. Great masses of humanity pressed down as shop after shop displayed items until they ceased to have any meaning. It felt a bit like shopping on the day after Thanksgiving and this was just an ordinary day. The Grand Bazaar is no place to window shop. It is place to go if you have a specific item in mind. All I wanted to do was escape!

Later, we went out to dinner at the Terrace restaurant in the Hotel Armada near the walls of the Topkapi Palace behind the Blue Mosque. As we walked there, a cavalcade of cars passed us -- sirens blaring from the two lead police cars and blacken windows in the limos etc with an ambulance bringing up the rear. They had just emerged from the Topkapi as far as I could figure.

With its conference rooms etc the hotel felt far more like somewhere that a spy would stay and I was pleased we were staying at the Sultanhan. However, the terrace restaurant was fabulous with its excellently prepared Turkish tasting menu, discrete waiters and wonderful views of the Blue Mosque on one side and the Bosphorus bridge on the other. Just the right place for a memorable final meal in Istanbul.

In Other News:

I drew the two winners from my October Reader's Contest -- Minna who won Carla Capshaw's debut The Gladiator and Roberta who won a book from my backlist. Both winners have been contacted.

My next newsletter goes on the 15th when I will run my annual writing mentor contest, and have a signed copy of The Viking's Captive Princess up for grabs. So please sign up for the newsletter if you haven't already.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Istanbul 3 -- bookshops, Byzantine and bazaars

After supper on Saturday, we went to the Galeri Kayseri Bookstore. The shop has the widest selection of English books on Turkey, Byzantium, Ottomans -- basically anything to do with Turkey. I was delighted to discover a handsomely illustrated book on the Harem. My husband found Barbara Nadel who is Istanbul's crime writer much in the same vein as Donna Leon writes about Venice. One of the assistants convinced me to buy Irfan Orga's Protrait of a Turkish Family which details the suffering one family had during World War One. The book was a bestseller in 1950 and remains highly readable. As I was paying for the books, I happened to explain about being an author and being here to do research. At this point, the owner came out, offered me (and the rest of the family) coffee and a chance to look at his big coffee table books in case they helped. The books were works of art and totally lovely. If I had been doing Byzantium, I would have tempted but as it was the Harem book was what I was looking for.
He also had me sign the guest book. It was slightly daunting to see who else had signed -- a variety of best selling authors, diplomats and celebrities but I duly signed, proudly putting Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical Author under my name.
One thing the bookstore made us determined to do was to visit Chora or the Kariye Museum. Although small, it has some of the best Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in Istanbul. Having served as a mosque for four centuries, it is now deconscecrated and feels empty -- despite the hordes of tourists. Like most Byzantine churches it does not look like much from the outside. But the mosaics in the inner and outer narthex are breath taking. Unfortunately some people ignored the signs and took flash photos thereby putting the mosaics in danger.

As the spice bazaar was open (much to our and the cab's driver's surprise), we stopped the cab. First we walked across the Galata Bridge and then we explored the spice bazaar. The Spice Bazaar sells all manner of spices, dried fruit and love potions as well as lokum. There is an intense smell of pepper, cloves and cumin about the place which dates from the 1660's.

Afterwards being hungry, we went to the Hamdi restaurant which has an excellent reputation for its kebabs and its location. You are supposed to book 2 weeks in advance for a table on the terrace but we were early enough and had no problem securing one. Thus we were able to watch out over the Golden Horn and across to Galata as we ate. They came around with the cold starters and it was very much point at what looks good. The kebabs were excellent and afterwards we had a selection of baklava.

In the early evening we went to the hippodrome where there are three obelisks. I will admit to wondering why there was an early 20th century piece in the hippodrome but then I read my guidebook. The Obelisk of Theodosius was carved around 1450 BC and placed in Heliopolis. Theodosius had it brought to Constantinople in 390 and it has worn rather better than the plinth. There are 2 other obelisks in the Hippodrome. The spiral column which was once much taller and had 3 serpents' heads but these were lost in the early 18th century and the rough stone column which lost its bronze plating to the Forth Crusade.

Tomorrow I will finish up the trip.

Today I am blogging at the Pink Heart Society on the ITV production of Wuthering Heights.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Istanbul -- Topkapi, lokum and Turkish baths

Through the centuries, the Topkapi palace has been legendary. Its harem and fabulous wealth tantalized the Western world -- what was the Harem like? How did the sultan actually live?
Topkapi served as the seat of Ottoman power from the time Mehmet the Conquer started to build it in 1453 until the mid 19th century when a far more Westernised palace -- The Dolmabahce Palace -- was built on the Europeon shore of the Bosporus.
To visit the Topkapi is catch a brief glimpse of a vanished world.
The Topkapi with its various artifacts relating to the Prophet remains a place of pilgrimage for many Muslims and thus it is a mixture of pilgrims and tourists mingling in the various courtyards.
You buy your ticket to the Topkapi in the first courtyard ( 20 TL or about £10) and then you need buy a second ticket to enter the Harem (15 TL or £7.50). Although one guidebook said that the Harem would be crowded and you are guided through, we found the Harem to be nearly deserted and there was no tour, so we were able to take our time going through this fascinating place.
The tiles alone bore examination, and there were the various baths, the golden road and the Crown Princes rooms. The Queen Mother or Valide Sultana was often the defacto ruler. Wives could be replaced but sultans deferred to their mothers, and with no set rules for inheritance, these women schemed. Following the custom of Suleyman the Magnificent, the sultan's wives were once slaves. After a sultan died, his mother, wives and favourites retired to the Old Palace unless the woman happened to be the new Sultana Valide. In an interesting quirk of history, the most influential sultana of the late 18th century was one Amiee de Rivery (1763 - 1816) who was the cousin of Josephine Bonaparte and captured by Algerian pirates aged 21. She was sold to the Bey of Algiers who saw a chance to cultivate the sultan and gave her to him as a gift. She eventually converted to Islam and was renamed Naksidil. She bore the sultan a son who eventually became Mahmud II and started many Western reforms.
After going through the Harem, you enter the 3rd courtyard where the treasury and ceremonial robes are kept. In the 3rd room of the treasury is the Topkapi dagger and the Spoonmaker's diamond. The Spoonmaker's diamond is 86 carats and so called as it was discovered in a rubbish heap and bought for 3 spoons. The fourth courtyard features various pavilions including the lovely revan kiosk and the picturesque golden roof of the Iftariye Baldchin. There is also the circumcision room which was used when the princes and other notables were admited to manhood.
After touring the Topkapi, we walked down to the Spice Bazaar and found Hafiz Mustafa Sekerlemeleri which has been going as a sweet shop since 1864 and has a cafe upstairs. They serve very good baklava and Turkish coffee. Across the street is Ali Muhiddin Hacki Bekir which is the orginal manufacturer of lokum or Turkish delight and has been in the same family since 1777. Their Turkish delight is excellent!
Being tired, we decided to go to the Turkish Bath or hamam. We chose the Cemberlitas Hamami where there has been a Turkish bath since 1584 as it was only a few hundred yards from the hotel. Opting for the bath, scrub and soap massage, we were given sponges and directed to appropriate sex side. My daughter and I were given black bikinis to wear in the bath while the men went commando. Apparently the men have private cabins with leather sofas where they change but the women just have lockers in large upstairs rooms. You are given a towel to wrap around you and then make your way to the hot room where you sweat. It was funny -- when you first arrive in the hot room (which is very hot indeed), the newcomers are all wrapped up in their towels, but then you realise the pointlessness of staying that way as you are directed to lie on the large marble stand or gobektasi where you can look up at the star shaped holes in the roof and modesty vanishes. Some women obviously unused to Turkish bathing wore tons of make up and in the heat, their faces melted. You can also watch as women are bathed so you get an idea about what you are about to experience. Eventually one of the bikini clad women call you over and you get scrubbed down, massaged and foamed bathed. You then pour bowl after bowl of cool water all over yourself and can sit in the hot room for as long as you like. After wards, thoroughly clean, and wrapped in fluffy towels, you make your way back to the main room. You can either dress or you can get a drink. If you are a man, it is also possible to take a nap in a cabin. Baths are very sociable affairs and do wonders for reviving one's flagging feet!
We enjoyed the bath so much that we tried the Cagaloglu Hamami the next day which I preferred as it was slightly less crowded and the staff took the time to explain what was going on. The surroundings are just as impressive! Also the women section has little cabins with leather couches. However they do not give out black bikinis so either you go commando or you wear your underwear. The Turkish bath is not really a place for modesty... The Cagaloglu has been going since the 18th century (1741) and was featured in an Indiana Jones film as well as boasting of many celebrities including Florence Nightingale and King Edward VIII. It was at the Cagaloglu that the woman masseuse drew my attention to the fact that my left forearm is swollen.

IN other news: My arm is slowly getting better with the swelling slowly going down but I am taking it easy and my gel pad has arrived. Luckily I am still doing paper revisions which means as long as I can read my writing, it is fine!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Istanbul and me

I arrived back from Istanbul yesterday, but have discovered via the kind lady who gave me a Turkish bath that I have RSI in my left wrist. I am trying to rest it etc so my time on the computer is limited and my writing comes first.

Istanbul is fabulous and far warmer than I thought it would be at the end of October.

We arrived Friday afternoon and our hotel -- Sultanhan Hotel was just what we wanted. It is set in a very quiet side street just off the main tourist tourist street of Divan Yolu Cad. This meant all the big tourist sites in Sultanhanmet -- Agia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, The Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar and The Topkapi Palace etc were in easy walking distance. The people running the hotel were very kind and offered a welcoming fruit juice. The breakfasts were good and the view from the terrace restaurant excellent. The rooms were comfortable but without a view. This did not bother us as we slept in the rooms rather than trying to sight see from the rooms.

The first night we walked down the Blue Mosque as the sun was setting and the evening call to prayer began. Never having been in a Muslim city before, it was interesting to hear, but it is loud and I can see how it can be intrusive. Turkey is a secular state and there is this tension between the secularists and the Islamists. One place it is played out is in the head gear. Head scarves are banned in parliament etc. The fez also was banned by Ataturk. However, you did see women wearing head scarves and long coats, even the occasional burka.

Not being sure of prayer times etc, we did not visit any mosques but their minarets give a graceful appearance to the city scape.

For supper we went to Mosiak which is housed in a wooden Ottoman house with tables outside on Incirli Cavus Sokak off Divan Yolu near the Pudding Shop. They serve Modern Turkish food. So we had meze -- a series of cold salads, borek -- fried cheese pastry and aubergine to start. I then had a lamb and aubergine kebab while my husband had the black plum and lamb stew, my son -- manti a sort of Turkish ravioli in a spicy yogurt and I forget what my daughter had. There was only room for Turkish coffee at the end as we were full. The food was excellent and the waiters very helpful.

Saturday was a busy one -- Agia Sophia Museum which looks like not much from the outside but takes your breath away from the inside. They are busy restoring parts so the scaffolding is up. It is also deconscecrated and has served as both a church and a mosque. The Byzantine mosaics are fantastic and must have been hugely impressive as I know what St Marks in Venice is like. Dandalo (the doge of Venice who led the Fourth crusade which sacked Constantinople) is buried here.

We walked along the Sogukcesme Solak which has a pretty collection of Ottoman houses hugging the palace wall to the Topkapi Palace. But my wrist is giving out and so I will do that in the next installment as it is truly one of The Places in the World to visit, particularly the Harem.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Away until the 28th

I am off to Istanbul until the 28th -- researching an upcoming book. Pictures and details will follow so people can live vicariously. I am planning on visiting the Topkapi Palace and the Harem etc etc. Plus doing some Byzantium things. I sort of blame Carol Townend as she went earlier this year and put the idea in my head. Luckily my husband thought it an excellent idea...

In an ideal world, I would have finished my mess in progress and the revisions for HRG would be in. Neither happened. My editor is being lovely.There again, she is going on holiday AND she wants the best book possible from me.

Why is it that you suddenly want to write when you have no time?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Rpmantic Times review for The Viking's Captive Princess

The Romantic Times released its December issue and reviewed The Viking's Captive Princess.

It received Four Stars and Kathe Robin said:

She (Styles) maintains the myth while adding sexual tension, nonstop action and spice.

Given all the pain that I went through with this book, getting a review like this means that I was right to do it. It is all about trying to get the book to deliver the best story possible.
It gives me a spur to try to get the current one the best it can be! Because for me, it is not about resting on my laurels but about trying to improve. I have definitely not mastered that mysterious medium called historical romance yet. So today is yet more bleeding on the page and trying to make sure the light romantic touches are there.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An essay to inspire better writing

A few weeks ago I happened to discover a blog by a former editorial assistant, now editor --Editorial Ass. It provides much entertainment and actually helped me conquer my anxiety about deadlines and revisions etc. And because we operate in slightly different areas of publishing, I do not share the same views on the necessity of agents. But I digress.

She happened to highlight a lovely essay on writing -- Annie Dillard and the Writing Life by Alexander Chee. It is well worth reading and will hopefully inspire people to write better or to think about how they write and why. It is about the possible rather than the impossible.
The bit about active verbs reminded me as ever of Strunk and White. But I would humbly suggest that there is a world difference between stroll, saunter and walk with painful slowness, measuring each step against the last. Sometimes adverbs are a necessary part of the English language. Precision in language can be a good thing when not taken to extremes and ten dollar words.

I am thus planning on putting in a few good hours on my revisions and truly thinking about them and the way they need to be handled. Do I really want to count verbs on the page though?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eye candy

I have the Male on Monday slot on the Pink Heart Society today and have devoted it to the Greek model Alexis Papas.

He is very good eye candy...enough to make me remember why I love Greek heroes in Presents...

I am still working on my revisions and attempting to make my heroine less passive. Action provokes more action.
Oh and I have joined Good Reads in case anyone wants to friend me there. They do seem to be quite friendly and it is very easy to put in a RSS feed to this blog for example. They are also willing to run giveaways for authors (something I plan to take up shortly!) and the like...Anyway, if you like books, it is a place to check out.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Viking's Captive Princess -- books arrive

One of the great things about being a published author is when your box of books for that first edition arrives. No matter what you have thought of the book, it reads differently in print.

For me, I love the cover. The inside print cover is slightly different from the cover on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It has a yellow tinge and is darker and looks far more sensual.

There is no inside front cover picture. This is fine.

They used the quotes from the RT about Taken by the Viking and Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife for the inside praise bit -- always good for my ego. The December RT comes out at the end of the month and fingers crossed!

Then I sat and read it. It reads fine but the paper is thinner and the font slightly smaller I think. Anyway, it is about 20 pages less. Hopefully it does give a big read though. I want it to be a fitting book in this...If people want more Vikings from me, they will have to write to Harlequin and ASK. At the moment though I am enjoying writing early Victorian/Regency.
My revisions are coming on. It is more like how did I think it was good when I first put it in?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October Newsletter and Mr Rochester

My October Newsletter went out this morning. The Reader contest (void where prohibited) is for a signed copy of Carla Capshaw's debut novel -- The Gladiator. It is the first Roman set historical that Love Inspired Historical has done and is an excellent read. I look forward to reading more books by Carla. If you did not get my newsletter and think you should, I would ask you to resign up and I will forward the newsletter. There is a click through email that you do have to use. The contest closes on 31 October.

I see that Mills & Boon has done a reader survey and Mr Rochester has come top in most romantic literary hero -- beating Sharpe and Mr Darcy. Personally I have been a fan of Mr Rochester since I first read Jane Eyre way back when I first visited my great aunt in South Carolina. Yes, he is a flawed hero but he redeems himself. He is selfish and decides to grab love with both hands when it comes. Would I have been as principled as Jane and left Mr Rochester for the icy moor? The ending scene is wonderful... I may have to re watch Jane Eyre with Toby Stephens...somehow Johnny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley does not give the same thrill.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I am currently attempting to update my website. I think the new bits are there but I am not certain. The excerpt for The Viking's Captive Princess should be there. It should be. Can I see it? No. SIGH.

The builders have had to come back to redo the fireplace, having forgotten an important piece. This piece was most emphatically NOT my fault. I do not care whose fault it was. I just want a working fireplace in my living room...please.

Can I find the various bits of paper that I need to sign for my youngest and his ski trip? No. Do I even know when the highly important meeting is? No. People have been moving things on my desk...I know it. Hopefully Hardy has not eaten it. He is going through a paper chewing phase.

Tess has nearly recovered from her operation but still needs to be on the lead. Both Hardy and Tess object. Hardy keeps trying to chew Tess's lead as well as leaping in the air. This may to be to show Tess that he can...

And the revisions continue. Why are the problems so obvious once one's editor has pointed them out?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Polishing the clockface

Because writing fiction encompasses so many things and can never be fully mastered, one tends to concentrate on a few things, get them good and then move on to others. The only problem is that without constant work and polishing sometimes what was once good becomes much less and needs to work.

It is as Twyla Tharp says a clock face of skills. And round and round we go.

So I am busy working away, polishing those things I once did well but no longer and remembering to add little touches. Previous exhortations of editors do help.

Ultimately it is about getting the book and the story the best it can be.

Equally it is about remembering why or why not previous solutions worked.

The challenge is to make it work with this story.
I do think each story presents a different challenge and in many ways becomes harder as you simply do not want the repetition. And repetition can creep in in minor ways. For example in relationships with secondary characters...
Still revisions are supposed to be challenging.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Psyche and Eros

It came to me in one of those long moments of illness -- the myth I had used for the current ms in revisions. Psyche and Eros. The Beauty and the Beast as well as East of the Sun, West of the Moon fairy tales owe their origins to this myth. It is also the archetypal mother in law from Hades story. In case anyone is unfamiliar with the story -- Aphrodite objected to the princess Psyche being worshipped for her beauty. She sends Eros ( Cupid in his form as a young man) down to make mischief only Eros pricks himself with his arrow and falls for Psyche. He then uses the West wind to whisk her away to be married. Psyche however as she never sees her bridegroom thinks she is married to a beast after an encounter with her jealous sisters. Following their advice, she spies on him with an oil lamp and drips wax on his shoulder. Eros is furious and states -- there is no love without trust and abandons her. Thereby setting up one of the great mother in law v daughter conflicts as Aphrodite is furious to discover that her boy has actually had the temerity to marry. Poor Psyche roams the world, accomplishes tasks and eventually ends up working for Aphrodite as a slave. Eros comes to his senses and saves her from certain death when Psyche is sent to the underworld to retrieve a beauty casket. He pleads with Zeus and Psyche is given ambrosia to drink. Aphrodite is forced to concede as her main objection was that Psyche was human. Zeus then joins Eros and psyche in eternal marriage and they have a daughter -- voluptas (pleasure or sex) A true marriage is one where the soul (Psyche) and love (Eros) meet.

There in lies the problem. I did not want to use the early bit. I wanted to use the later bit of the story and the focus was off.

It is possibly an easier fix than my editor currently thinks. There is lots to be drawn out as well. I can not believe I made a few fundamental errors!

It is helpful to figure out the underlying myth sometimes.

I feel far happier when I do.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

For the first time in 2 weeks

For the first time in two weeks, my throat does not feel like it was scraped with broken glass. For the first time in two weeks, my head is not pounding and I am not suffering from a temperature. For the first time in a week, I am able to speak above a whisper without developing a coughing fit.

Whether it was all connected or I had the misfortune of catching two viruses one right after the other, I am uncertain. All I know is that I am better. The ide has turned. And that is something.

Now to tackle the mountain of work that has piled up...

Friday, October 09, 2009

It is about the present relationship

I know that any story should be about hte present relationship. It is something I learnt long before I started getting revisions. SO why then did I write an intrigue plot that had solely to do with the past? And why did the main conflict twist itself into an overly repetitive point about who knew what when? Why can't I learn from my mistakes?

The story will become good. It does have potential. I just need to exclude the parts that detract from the central relationship... I have done revisions like this before and the story has turned out well. I have to have faith.

IN other news:
Tess is bouncing off the walls. Hardy chewed up her plastic ruff while she was wearing it. Luckily she does not appear interested in her stitches. She is far to busy chewing up her bed and other every day objects...

My voice is now a hoarse croak and I have a heavy cold. My husband however has gone one better and has a chest infection. He is on antibiotics. My chest however is clear. Maybe it is not just man flu after all but men who get things worse.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Kindle and Mills & Boon

In case you missed the announcement, Amazon's Kindle is now going to be available in the UK. This means that all of the Mills & Boon books will be available on that format. At the moment, you do have to purchase through but they are planning on having a UK hub. And because I do check my name, I can say that my UK ebooks -- An Impulsive Debutante, A Question of Impropriety and Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife are now available as Kindle books on HMB seriously believe the future is digital and are looking to support all the various platforms.
Kindle is supposed to be seriously easy to use...

My revisions hit yesterday and as predicted they are challenging, but really the story is going to be so much better. Ultimately it is all about getting the story to be the best possible. Luckily my editor knows my foibles.
Unfortunately as my voice remains gone -- now a hoarse croak -- I shan't be able to discuss with my editor until next week exactly what I want to do. I find it helpful to discuss with her my ideas. In this case, the central conflict does not currently appear strong enough and some of the motivations are from left field. But this is the fun part. This is when I try to prove that I am up to the challenge.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Throats and spayed dogs

My voice remains a distant memory. My throat aches. The doctor informs me that Laryngitis is in 98% case viral and so it is a matter of time rather than antibiotics. I have started gargling salt water, drinking honey and lemon, spraying my throat with chlorosceptic when the coughing gets too bad, sucking on boiled sweets. If it goes gets worse, I can go back...

Tess was spayed yesterday. She is six months old and I most definitely did not want puppies. Plus spaying early (before the first season) is supposed to provide some measure against breast cancer in female dogs. It will mean she does not have to go through PMT and nor will there be a mess to clean up. Neither will I have to beat farm dogs off with a stick when we are out on walks. Equally, I did not want an incestous relationship as the chance for inherited defects rockets.
With Hardy, he will be done about a year old. Males are slightly later developers and there is no medical benefit to be being done early. Thus I want to wait until he is mature and his personality has had a chance to develop. But it is important that he gets done as well. I have no wish to breed and lots of other bahavioral problems can get solved...
My main problem now is keeing an active collie quiet. She needs to be on the lead. Tess is also wearing a cone as she has a tendency to try and lick her wound. Apparently smearing it in vaseline will discourage other dogs from licking as littermates in particular will groom eachother.

I am also blogging at Totebags today about the hard work required to become talented.
And finally a picture of all three of the dogs together last Sunday in the sun room. Just because.

Monday, October 05, 2009

No voice

I have no voice. I lost it yesterday and today even yesterday's hoarse croak would be welcomed.

Calling the puppies is a challenge as they stubbornly refuse to learn to read. For them, they can't understand why I am not giving my usual commands and go bounding off as puppies do...

And rather than answering one of the children with a well timed bellow of where whatever misplaced article is, I have to go and either find them or get the article in question. They think reading my notes is funny and are apt to answer back by writing!

Plus I do like to have conversations. Frustrating in the extreme.

My mess in progress is going far more slowly than I would wish as a result. SIGH.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Conflict is more than good v evil

Last night before bed, I happened to be reading Robert McKee's Story and turned to the nature of conflict. It resonated with me.
In it he points out that a choice between good and evil is not really a choice and does not create sustainable interesting conflict. The audience will know which choice the protagonist will make and the story become predictable. True conflict comes when it is a choice between two goods that the protagonist wants or the lesser of two evils. So it is not a straight +/-
Equally, vacillating between two polar opposites becomes tiresome. Basically because the audience feels that all they have to do is wait a bit and it will be reversed.
Choices need to be irrevocable. Once an action is taken, the opportunity has gone. And will not return without a lot of heart ache and hard work, if the protagonist made the wrong choice to begin with.
So conflict happens when the protagonist is forced to make a choice. Protagonists have to be put under pressure. It is about more than simply yearning for something. When the black moment happens, the world must have changed so much that giving up and going back to the old life is not an option. You sometimes need to ask -- what are the consequences and why would my hero or heroine react in this manner? What are they giving up and what are they achieving? What do they think they will achieve and why is that different?
With writing, it is also about going back and polishing craft. You think you know something and then you discover in fact you have fallen back into old patterns as it is easier. And I do need consistently to think about the nature of conflict.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Just when I thought I was better...

Just when I thought I was better, the stupid cough has taken a turn for the worse.
I suspect it was the late night on Thursday in a cold arena and not being wrapped up as well as I could have been. ARGH!!! Sometimes I should listen to my own advice!

My lovely editor has informed me that the revisions are arriving early next week. She did not want to rush her thoughts and so is taking the time over the weekend. It is one of those things. I want my editor to give me quality editing. Taking her time is a Good Thing. And because I have seen the results of her thoughts before, I know she will be spot on and challenging me to go that one step further. So I am continuing to work away at the current mess in progress. I do believe in the story and know in the end, it will be fantastic. Right now, it is about getting the words down and having a story to work with. The fun part comes in the challenge of revisions.

And because I have not posted a picture of the puppies recently:

Friday, October 02, 2009

Seeing the Man who Listens to Horses

Last evening I went to see a demonstration by Monty Roberts. Monty Roberts in case you were not aware advocates non violent methods in training horses. He is all about understanding the horse and helping it overcome its demons. A real horse whisperer if you like but he doesn't whisper to horses, he listens. No cameras allowed because of the problems of nervous horses and flashes.
And yes, when you see him in action, he makes it look easy but then he is a true outlier. He has had many thousands of hours training horses and perfecting his understanding of them. There is a calmness in his manner. Where others were wearing chest protectors and hard helmets ( because of health and safety) he went into the round pen with a flat cap. He joke he was born with a hard head, but then because of his father's actions Mr Roberts suffered 71 broken bones before he was 18.
He took a horse which had never had a saddle on its back let alone a rider from a nervous state to having a rider within 30 minutes. This is not to say the horse was ready to go out riding with just anyone on its back, but rather he demonstrated how quickly horses could accept things.
Because my friend is a member of the Intelligent Horsemanship, I was able to see the private horse demo which was done by his associate Kelly Marks. She is not as skilled as Mr Roberts but then she has not been doing it as long so it was interesting to see how she had to keep going back to the basics to gain the horse's trust, but she did.
One of the things that made me laugh was in England, Mr Roberts wears a flat cap as he was told that people would not respect him and what he had to say if he wore his cowboy hat. He pointed out that the horses do not care what sort of hat he wears! However, as he did want to get his message across and not just be dismissed, he does wear the flat cap when in the UK. This is a man whose talents at race horse training etc are second to none and who ought to listened to regardless of headgear.
He also rode. To see that man and Kelly Marks ride their horses is to see what true horsemanship can do. I used to think seeing a horse spin very fast was probably trick photography. Nope. The horse was wonderful and moved on fishing line. (Although Mr Roberts got his lines tangled because it was the first night of the tour and he held them to slack as the horse spun the first time!) And Kelly Marks' rescue pony Pie was super -- jumping through a fake blowing fire to get to her and generally doing tricks like walking a teeter - totter bridge.
For me a big highlight was hearing Mr Roberts voice as he is from Northern California originally and showed plus seeing him ride Western. Made me quite homesick.
Anyway, I am thoroughly motivated about training my puppies as PICNIC (Positive Instant Connotations Negative Instant Connotations) and lightness and motivation works for dogs as well as horses.
Equally Mr Roberts is a wonderful role model -- an aspirational leader who inspires love and commands respect. Who says alpha males have to be domineering and horrid.
If you can go, go and see him do his work or otherwise visit his website and see what he is about.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Three in One --Australia M&B Historical Release

Do not ask me the rational but Australia Mills & Boon have published 3 of my books together -- Taken by the Viking, Viking Warrior Unwilling Wife and Impoverished Miss, Convenient Wife. As far as I know they have not published A Question of Impropriety which is linked to Impoverished Miss. But what the hey, all the books stand alone and it is the first time I have had a 3 in 1 stand alone so I am very happy.

Anyway if you want to know more, you can see the details (including how to purchase) here.

Lost and found

Six months ago as my cats were busy dying (and the puppies being born but I did not know that!), I lost an earring. Nothing in the great scheme of things but it was one of my favourites. The fact of it going missing somehow made the day seem even worse.
I looked and looked but could I find it? No. I came to the conclusion that it was gone forever. Forgot about it and got on with my life as searching for missing objects is not high on my priority list when other crisises are happening.
However, this morning as I was getting the dog food out of the shed, I looked on the path and there it was -- a bit scuffed but there. I then hurried upstairs to make sure that somehow the puppies had not brought down the one remaining earring. Nope, I now have a pair again.
Now I have swept that path over the intervening 6 months as have the children and my husband and nary a sign. So either it was in the feed store and got knocked out (how particularly as I cleaned the dumb thing out two months ago and nary a sign!) or there is a hole in the space-time continuum and things just reappear at random intervals. Personally I am inclined to the later as it explains a lot of things...