Thursday, 18 April 2019

An Ethnic Enigma

An Ethnic Enigma – Norse, Pict and Gael in the Western Isles Andrew Jennings and Arne Kruse
What happened to the native people of the islands of Scotland when the Vikings appeared over the horizon? Were the men killed and the womenfolk bundled on to the ships, leaving the land empty and ripe for resettlement? Or did they survive the Viking visitation living alongside the newcomers and ultimately blending with them? There is still no consensus about which scenario best approximates to the truth, despite it being, for many decades, a topic of debate between scholars.

Busy doing my research - mugging up on facts about Viking life in the years around the first millennium. The above paragraph about sums up the position, but of course, people taken their own  and argue the hind leg off a donkey, as we used to say, to preserve their viewpoint. I haven't decided on my stance yet, but it is always good to know the parameters of an argument. In the Viking  books I've written so far - Far After Gold, Viking Summer and Magician's Bride  and of course Alba is Mine,I haven't really had to make a decision, but I have a niggling feeling I might have to this time. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Is Ted H innocent?

Four daffodils still flower my garden, and soon they too will be gone. They were glorious in the sunshine. My one tulip is still a tight bud. (Every year I swear I will buy more to keep it company, and each year I leave it too late...)

I have one question about Line of Duty. If Ted H is innocent, why is he rushing his computer into a dodgy-looking shop that advertises erasure of pcs? Well, no, there is another question - what is he doing sleeping with the Bigelow creature? She is toxic all the way through.

The writer is doing an excellent even-handed job of making us think Ted is guilty and then thinking Bigelow and the insurance man Moffat are trying to frame him. One has to keep watching to see which will prove correct! If I'm right that two people are trying to frame him, then Ted must be innocent or why would they try?

But what about that computer? He  doesn't want his financial details known? or that he is facing divorce? Realises he is under threat and wants his private family life kept private? If so, he is too late because that man with the accent I can hardly make out has already discovered where his wife lives. John is a man under pressure, and about to crack. I thought he was about to shoot himself, and what a pity he didn't. One thing I notice: Steve Arnott is being sidelined to some extent. Except for saying S**t at regular intervals, Kate isn't doing much with her new promotion.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Binge tv

Never thought I'd say this but I've just binge-watched Line of Duty series 1-4. Three episodes per night was more than enough for my brain to keep up with, but tonight we reached the end of series 4. Now it is on to I-player and then the real live episode 5.

I remember the Steve Arnott character (Martin Crompton?sp) as the teenage chef late in the series of Monarch of the Glen. He hasn't changed much except his face might be a little chunkier. Then he was a cheeky chappy, but now I like his intensity in this production.

Watching has stopped me getting on with my editing and partaking in much chatting on Facebook. It has also stopped me promoting my books!

I am "attending" a webinar on Thursday night in the hope of learning better ways to promote. Does one "attend" a webinar? I don't know, but I've booked my place. I'll let you know what happens.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Not a happy time

Frogspawn is in our mini pond again this year. Several weeks later than our next door neighbour - but then his pond is much larger and I think that is where the local stud frog resides most of the time. Some of the trees have greened up nicely this week, hawthorn, gorse  and some of the fruiting wild cherries are in bloom and I've planted out some primroses and Dianthus - so now the weather forecasts are predicting frost this evening. I hope they all withstand the sudden cold.

I wouldn't want to be a police officer these days; not that I ever did. The tv shows such ugly scenes with enraged people yelling at each other that the officers must feel their lives are in danger every time they show up for work.

I keep thinking of the research with rats that claims the creatures will live peaceably together in one habitat until numbers increase beyond an invisible line and suddenly they start squabbling with each other because they are overcrowded. Not that people are rats; but put too many people together in one place....with nowhere to it a possibility? I hope not.

Developers put up netting to prevent birds nesting and presumably they think the birds can go elsewhere. Have they looked around them these days? Everywhere green spaces are being built on and the poor creatures have nowhere to live. I'm looking at my garden wondering if i can make it more bird friendly.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Do you talk like a character in a book?

Blossom is early in 2019
This interview with Phillippa Gregory interested me. She's talking about language in her books:

"In terms of styles of language‚ I deliberately took the choice to use fundamentally modern language‚ but quite pure and quite simple. So I don′t use slang and I don′t use modern idioms. This is to make it acceptable to a wider audience and to write as well as I possibly can without being limited by language. 

For example‚ if I was to write a novel set in France and there were French people speaking French to each other − I wouldn′t put that on the page in French‚ I′d put it in English − and the reader understands as it′s part of a convention of reading a novel‚ that when someone is speaking Russian or French you don′t get a page of Russian or French − you get it in English.

If someone said to me that the past is a foreign country‚ it seems to me that it speaks a foreign language. So in terms of any notion of thee and thus and thy‚ superfluous words‚ I tend not to use them as it′s so strange to the modern eye. You also gain nothing by using them and the chances of rendering them correctly are very slim.

In the case of early modern society we don′t know how they spoke‚ we know how people have written down Shakespeare plays‚ but we don′t know how people actually spoke or what they sounded like. We do believe however that Anne Boleyn maintained the French accent throughout her life as she believed that it made her a bit special‚ I mention this in the novel. But in terms of how actually people spoke‚ we don′t know‚ so I won′t even make a guess."

Some authors do attempt language as they thought it was spoken. Patricia Finney is one of them. I once tried her book  Firedrake's Eye, but didn't get very far with it. More of a struggle than a pleasure in my view, but of course, others love it. She "endows her players with a rich language--essentially modern English lightly laced with fanciful syntax and Elizabethan vocabulary."

On Nov 26, 2003 Roz Kaveney wrote in the Telegraph : "The books' language is a triumph. Finney finds a workable compromise between anachronistic slanginess and a verbose rhodomontade that would probably more accurately represent much of Elizabethan speech."

Now rhodomontade is not in my trusty dictionary, but rhodo means rose coloured. However, the internet tells me it means "pretentiously boastful or bragging." Still, it doesn't tempt me to go find the book and read it. Would you?

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Self-Editing Your Novel

Since I’m doing so much editing at the moment, it fills my mind. Different writers do different things, but if you choose to do your own editing rather than pay for it, then some thoughts here might help.
I spent a good few years as part of a critique group of a fluctuating number of perhaps 12 to 15 writers, so I got to see a lot of stories of various types, written by all sorts of people. What I saw there helped me to become a better writer. By spotting the good and bad in others, I learned to (hopefully!) spot what is good and bad in my own work.
After plenty of time has passed since you raced the words down and typed The End, take up your printed pages and a marker pen. As you read, mark the words you’d like to remove, the sentences you want to rejig, etc. At this stage, find the problem patches but don’t do anything to your computer copy. Plot inconsistencies should leap out at you. Make a note of them, and later, check your basic plot-line. Did she die in 1542 or 1568? It’s important. The two dates might be mentioned forty or more pages apart and be a slip of the memory as you were writing. 
Holiday this time last year
About now I’d start up the computer and begin to make the changes I’d marked – always double checking that I really agree with the decision as I go. Sometimes I stick with what I had originally!
Then I do a second read through, using a different colour marker pen for the second run through. I'd do the same if I did a third run through. Occasionally I spot a first marker where Word has not saved the change I made.
Consider your plot from a readers’ point of view. Is it believable? More importantly, does it work? If there is confusion, I do chapter summaries, which helps me to spot the detour where the plot went off-line You may prefer a grid or chart of some kind and it really doesn’t matter. If you can follow the logic of the plot, that is good.
Once this is done, it helps to look at the balance of the book. Too much of one character? Too much on one scene? An important character gets little attention? Mark this up for attention later.
As I get closer to the story and the characters, I can see where I need to deepen the character – or omit repetitive stuff. It is easy to say one thing and almost repeat it word for word 100 pages later. Spot these and remove, leaving the one which works best.
My style of writing has changed over ten years. When I re-edit an old story, I find I am removing a lot of when he spoke, she got up, turned and glared, glanced, strode; crossing the carpet was a favourite! Now I omit them or incorporate them more gracefully. It certainly lowers the word count! I think I now have control of point-of-view and showing and telling; psychic distance was a more recent discovery but made complete sense once I knew what it was.
The latest versions of Word offer better help with grammar etc and spelling; there is also a read aloud facility and when I’ve made the changes I shall sit down and let the computer read the whole thing to me. That should encourage me that I’m getting there. There may be odd things to correct like including hyphens, punctuation and the odd spelling error, or a missed word. 
But essentially, this is what I do. How many times I do it depends in the book!

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Historical romance v Historical novel

Nicola Cornick has recently written an interesting blog piece about historical romance versus historical novels.

Her lovely blog stimulated me to sort out my views on the subject.
I think both extreme ends of the range of books set in a historical period are easily recognised and acknowledged by all, but it is the section in the middle where controversy rages.

On the far left we have category romance, where the romance is the only thing the author and the reader, presumably, is interested in. Category romance specifically does not want sub-plots and sub-characters running off and doing interesting things, taking interest away from the hero and heroine. The author must focus on the couple in question. These days, interest does not stop at the bedroom door. More and more blow-by-blow encounters are detailed inside the bedroom - or the equivalent. It must be an age thing, but four and five pages of these encounters often have me skipping over them. But I digress. My taste in sex scenes may be a little less graphic, but that isn't what the post is about.

The other extreme is of course the literary end. These books are often three and four times longer and detail all sorts of other things beside the central romance - if there is one. C J Sansom manages to write almost 450 pages without a central romance featuring at all and I love his books. Cornwell's Sharpe has a few stabs at romance but there is so much more about daring-do, war and skullduggery. Writers like Forester, Clements, Winston Graham, Mitchell, Gabaldon and Parrish follow a similar pattern as we head towards the more middle of the range works.

This where the lines blur. Readers will put authors  in differing places on the line. Some will say Gabaldon is literary because she has great swathes about the American War of Independence in her Outlander series. So did Mitchell in Gone with the Wind, but in both those books, the central theme is the love affair between Claire and Jamie, and Scarlett and Rhett. We could be very analytical about it and put every title on a sliding scale of romance v literary-ness, but who has the time? Certainly not me! It is a task for each reader according to their personal taste, should they chose to do it.

The other thing that affects the argument is the male-female reading bias. In general terms, though not everyone fits into these divisions, men like action, women like romance. Men like tighter writing, women want feelings explained. Men's reviews still  seem to have more kudos than those written by women. Men, of course, review the Sansom, Forester, Cornwell "serious" type of historical novel. Perhaps they write better reviews? I don't think I've seen this type of historical novel reviewed by a woman, but they must, surely? If not, they ought to.

PS ~ Perhaps Byron had the answer when he said "Man's love is of man's life a part; it is a woman's whole existence." Follow that through and you have an answer to the basic question, though you may not like it.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Gloomy days for Indie publishing

Gloomy days for indies

Facebook is abuzz about posts from Nora Roberts and others who have revealed the plagiarised, ghosted, pirated scams going on in the world of publishing. The scams have now moved into audio where Audible pays on hours listened just as Amazon pays on pages read; scammers run "loop systems" where the book just plays for hours and hours and... consequently the pay-pool for genuine audio is reducing.

In retaliation, readers are saying that therefore any book offered for free or 99 cents is ghost-written and isn't worth tuppence. Yet many indie writers have, in the past, been advised to offer a 0.99p series leader as an enticement to bring readers into the entire series. The pundits said it was a solid marketing technique; they also advised offering the book for free for a while to encourage reviews and possibly ensure an Amazon ranking. 

Now readers are saying they will never look at 99 cents and free books again. This is a sad blow for the genuine indie writer and publisher, who works very hard to write every word of their offerings.

Saturday, 23 February 2019


Those who live in the north of England know only too well who the Border Reivers were! They inhabited  the counties that glare at each other across the English-Scottish Border: Northumberland, Cumbria and Durham; Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Dumfriesshire.

The Pennines form the backbone of the Durham Dales and proved a barrier, though the Eden Valley provided an easy route to rich pickings. Every northerner knows the story of the monks at Blanchland in County Durham who cowered in their church as the Scots raiders passed by on their way home to Scotland. Relieved, they rang the bells in thanks. The Scots heard the bells, turned back and raided the little village hidden in its deep valley.

George MacDonald Fraser described the reivers in his book The Steel Bonnets: “not the most immediately lovable folk in the United Kingdom. Incomers may find them difficult to know; there is a tendency among them to be suspicious and taciturn, and the harsh Border voice, whether the accent is Scots or English, lends itself readily to derision and complaint. No doubt there are Cumbrians who are gay, frivolous folk, and Roxburghshire probably has its quota of fawning, polished sophisticates; they are in a minority, that is all.”

Qualities such as those he described were forged in harsh times which passed by most of Britain. From the late thirteenth century to the middle of the sixteenth, the Borders were frequently a war zone. During those times armies marched in both directions across the Border lands, burning, stealing and despoiling as they went, for armies must eat, and the people of the Borders bore the brunt of it.
When the army seized a man’s crops and livestock, there was nothing he could do to support himself and his family but relieve his neighbours of the goods he needed. If the neighbour was in the same situation, then they joined forces and foraged further afield. Nationality was not a consideration in such desperate times; Scot raided Scot as readily as they robbed the English, and the English were not averse to raiding an English farm if needs must. Scots helped the English raid north of the Border and Englishmen aided Scots raids south of the Border. Families such as the Grahams had members straddling both sides of the line and no one ever knew for certain which side they would support on any given day.
In times of peace, the raiding went on. Habits once formed, died hard. Feuds developed, some across the Border divide and some within it. The Maxwells feuded with the Johnstones in one of the bitterest and bloody battles known in Scotland, yet now no one knows how or why it began; possibly a power struggle for supremacy between two powerful tribes that turned the Debateable Land into a wasteland according to Lord Dacre in 1528. Twenty years later Lord Wharton was busily fanning the flames to secure England’s interests and both clan leaders found themselves in and out of English prisons on an almost regular basis.

National policy tried to stop the lawlessness. The Borders were divided into six administrative areas known as the Marches and England and Scotland each appointed three March Wardens whose task was to defend against invasion in time of war and put down crime and maintain law and order in peace time. Some were good men and others were the worst raiders of the frontier. A Warden often used one reiving family to help them catch another. Tracking thieves on horseback in the dark across trackless and boggy wastes was not an easy task and no Borderer was about to betray another Borderer unless it brought him profit or it played into his feud.

Sex took no notice of national policy and intermarriages across the Border were common. Cattle rustling and protection rackets abounded. The words blackmail and kidnapping came into the English language via the Borderers. Overpopulation of the more fertile dales and greedy landlords contributed to the problems. The Tynedale custom of dividing a deceased man’s land among all his sons resulted in a situation “whereby beggars increase and service decays.”

Homes all over the Border were makeshift things in many cases. Often burned down, they were rebuilt astonishingly quickly out of clay and stones, sometimes turf sods with roofs of thatch. Larger villages had more substantial dwellings of stone and oak timbers. The Bastle was smaller, ( built on the same lines as a peel tower, which was more secure still; built of stone with massively thick walls. There was only one entrance at ground level, with two doors, one a yett – an iron grating - and the other of oak reinforced with iron. A narrow curving stair known as a turnpike led to upper floors. Usually they curved clockwise so a defender retreating to an upper storey had his unguarded left side to the wall; the man attacking up the stair was at a disadvantage with his sword arm to the wall. The Kerrs, notoriously left-handed, built their turnpikes anti-clockwise. or

The standard of living was generally higher in towns such as Berwick or Carlisle, but the daily food ration of a soldier in the Berwick garrison in 1597 would not satisfy us today; he received a daily ration of a 12 oz loaf, 3 pints of beer, 1½ lbs of beef, ¾lb of cheese and ¼lb of butter. If that was what the English army lived on, consider the diet of peasant farmers whose crops have been trampled into the mud by an army passing through.

The people of the Border have not changed much in four hundred years; the Descendants of the Elliots, Armstrongs and Fenwicks, Bells and Nixons, Scotts, Maxwells and Kerrs are still living roughly where they were in the sixteenth century. It is not exaggerating to say that they form a distinct cultural and social bloc that is different from the rest of the British people.

There are poems, songs and tales told about the famous names that have come down through the years. The names alone give a flavour of the times: Kinmont Willie, Black Ormiston, Hobbie Noble, Fingerless Will, Nebless Clem, Willie Kang, Bangtail, Fire the Braes.

Friday, 15 February 2019

A few days ago I was lucky enough to be featured as a guest on Mary Anne Yarde's blog - 
and the result was so good I decided to copy and paste the whole thing here. The website is a vast one, with loads of book chatter and information. Do check it out!


Historical Fiction author, Jen Black, is talking about the inspiration behind her fabulous series — The Scottish Queen #MaryQueenofScots #HistoricalFiction @JenBlackNCL

Historical Fiction author, Jen Black, is talking about the inspiration behind her fabulous series — The Scottish Queen

Mary, Queen of Scots: "Mary in captivity,"by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1578

I always wanted to write and the stories that interested me always seem to be set in the past. Even at age eleven I was an avid Mary Queen of Scots fan and later I supported – and still do - Richard III.
I didn’t have the confidence to attempt writing until I was thirty and even then, I kept it very much a secret enterprise. It was hard work with a typewriter and Snopak!
My favourite author will always be Dorothy Dunnett, and it was reading her rather austere conception of Marie de Guise that set me researching and thinking about the character. Dunnett’s conception was a very good one, but I began to think of a softer, warmer personality and she slowly grew in my mind. Matho was a minor character in Fair Border Bride and several people told me how much they liked him and why didn’t I write about him?
So, I did. I brought the two characters together in this trilogy. The everyday facts are as close to history as I can get them for everything but the relationship between the Dowager and Matho, because Matho is entirely fictional. I hope Marie had an Englishman who helped her but I doubt it!

The SCOTTISH QUEEN trilogy is filled with action, romance, loyalty and betrayal; set against the turbulent English-Scottish wars of the 1540s, complex characters surround the infant queen of Scotland. Powerful lords fight for their own survival and Englishman Matho Spirston becomes entangled in the plots that surround the valiant Dowager Queen struggling alone to save her daughter’s crown.

Abduction of the Scots Queen
(Scottish Queen trilogy Book 1)

Encouraged by Henry VIII’s promised reward, Matho and Harry set out to abduct the infant Scots Queen and bring her to England even though Matho thinks they have as much chance of success as a "duckling chased by a fox.” Others pursue the same quest – namely Meg Douglas, King Henry's headstrong niece, who flatters Matho into helping her and at the same time snares the interest of Lord Lennox, who alternately woos her and the Dowager Queen. The adventures that follow are swift paced and full of twists and turns.

Amazon UKAmazon US

Queen's Courier
(The Scottish Queen Trilogy Book 2)

Against a background of political intrigue and Tudor violence, love is not easy to find or sustain. The Queen Dowager repudiates it, Lord Lennox balances Meg’s attributes against those of the Dowager and the lures of Henry Tudor. Matho Spirston falls for Scots lass Phoebe, the English invasion of Edinburgh brings disaster, Meg nurses her guilty secret and Lennox makes his choice.

Amazon UKAmazon US

The Queen's Letters
(The Scottish Queen Trilogy Book 3)

Grief-stricken, Matho puts his life in danger when he volunteers to deliver the Dowager Queen's letters to France. Dodging assassins, befriending teenager Jehan and saddled with the Dowager’s illegitimate, outspoken niece, danger intensifies when he sets out to unmask a powerful enemy and the hangman threatens once more. Meg achieves her dearest wish, but finds it is not all as she imagined.
Amazon UKAmazon US


From The Queen’s Letters

May 25th 1544, Dieppe
Matho landed feet first, fell onto his backside with a thud that snapped his jaws together and slid toward another drop. A voice called out nearby as he fell over the edge of the roof, dropped into something wet and smelly, and re-bounded onto the hard, cold cobblestoned yard. Pain sprang up in his shoulder as if someone had hit it with a sledgehammer. Snatching a short, swift breath he knew from the stink that he had landed on what the Aydon farmers would have called the muck heap.
The voice came closer; French phrases that meant nothing to him. Making careful movements with one hand jammed against his shoulder, he rolled to his knees. The satchel containing the Dowager’s letters hung askew, and the strap dug into his neck.
“Monsieur! Monsieur!” A brisk volley of rapid French followed. The stable lad, his torch held high, loomed up beside him.
“Help me up,” Matho croaked. His newly learned French had deserted him.
A warm hand helped him to his feet. Matho, bent like an old man and none too steady on his feet, stood in the inn yard and gazed open-mouthed at the thirty-foot drop he had survived; then the rosy glow that lit the sky above the building caught his attention. Sparks flew up against the indigo sky and the hollow roar of the flames grew louder as a portion of the roof gave way.
He half-turned, lost his balance and grabbed the lad’s arm to stop himself falling. “D’ye speak English?”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“My French is not good.” He took a deep breath to steady his heart, still going at a gallop.
“Many English arrive in Dieppe. They speak no French.” The youth’s tone was either an accusation, or dismissive; most probably both.
Matho rubbed a hand across his face. “Aye, well. There’s no call for it back home. What’s yer name?”
“Jehan Bourdain.”
“Help me get my horse, Jehan? The whole lot is going to be burning soon.” He gestured to the smoke and flames stretching high above the roof of the inn and decided against helping douse the fire. The layout of the place was unknown to him, his French had deserted him and his back pained him every time he moved a certain way. In his present condition, he would hinder more than help.
Still gripping the flaming torch, Jehan disappeared into the stable.
“Is there not a lantern you can use, lad?” Matho called, stumbling after him. “You’ll set the stable afire with that thing.” He spied a horn lantern on the window ledge, reached for it and grimaced as a pain, like a hot wire, ran through his back.
Since Jehan was busy saddling his horse, Matho lit the fat candle inside the lantern and doused the torch in a bucket of water.
“Are there other horses here?” he called, breathing in the warm, musty smell of horses, hay and oats.
Muffled by wooden partitioning, Jehan’s voice drifted back to him. “One horse only. The Scotsman took the other before the fire broke out.”
“Well, my advice would be to get yourself and the other horse well away from here before it burns down.”
“I cannot leave. I have nowhere to go.”
“Go home.”
“This is home.” Jehan led Matho’s horse, saddled and bridled, out into the yard.
“The inn belongs to your parents?”
“My parents are dead. I work here, and sleep with the horses.”
Matho grunted. There was no need to ask how the parents had died. The sweating sickness had taken half a village not far from Corbridge last winter, and Phemie’s aunt in Edinburgh much more recently. Such things were commonplace, but unlucky for the lad. “Well, get as far away from the fire as you can.”
Sparks whirled dangerously close on eddies of hot wind, and the roar of the flames grew louder. Harried figures hurled bucket after bucket of water into the building, yet the fire glow captured one window after another. A man staggered out, coughing, and sagged to his knees in the middle of the yard. Four men followed him, a bundled shape carried between them.
“Hurry, lad. Let’s be away from here. And get the other horse. We can’t leave it to burn.”
He checked his pack was tied behind the saddle, soothed his horse and limped across the yard with the tense, trembling animal nudging his back in its hurry to be away from danger. Jehan followed with a sturdy chestnut on a lead rope which he thrust toward Matho.
“I get the saddle.”
Before Matho could complain, the lad raced back into the stable and reappeared with a saddle clutched in his arms, a bridle and a large bag slung over one shoulder. Grinning, he speedily tacked up the horse. “Now we go, yes?”
A roar rent the air, and fierce light lit their faces. The horses snorted and skittered sideways.

“Christ, the roof’s fallen in.” Matho stared at the doomed inn, hardly aware that Jehan had mounted his horse. “And the straw’s alight,” he said with resignation, watching a spark land in the straw bale by the stable door. A shy, tentative flame sprang into life. “Come on, let’s get away from here.”

Jen Black

Jen lives in the lovely Tyne valley between Hexham and Newcastle in north east England, a stone’s throw from the Roman Wall and with a castle that dates from the 1100’s round the corner. Writing and photography are her main interests and walking her Dalmatian Tim twice a day keeps her fit. She has a degree in English Language & Literature and managed academic libraries for a living. Her father’s family have been traced back to the 1700’s on the Welsh and English border—a place she has never been, but her maternal grandfather worked in Skye, and there is one Scottish great-grandmother in the family tree, so if ever there’s time, perhaps there’s more to learn on that score.

Connect with Jen: WebsiteFacebookTwitter.

Posted by Mary Anne Yarde at 07:00
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Labels: #MaryQueenofScots #HistoricalFiction #Inspiration #Historical #Scotland


Jen Black12 February 2019 at 11:42

Great to finally see it up, MaryAnne!


Penny Hampson12 February 2019 at 17:18

Your books sound exciting, Jen, set as they are in such turbulent times. Will be going on my TBR list.Reply

Mark Noce13 February 2019 at 00:34

An intriguing historical figure for sure, but she scares me a little too ;)Reply

Jen Black13 February 2019 at 15:28

Let me know how you get on with them, Penny.....Scares you why, Mark?


Mary Anne Yarde13 February 2019 at 17:29

Great except, Jen and a lovely post!Reply

See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx

Friday, 8 February 2019

Change is Everywhere

In spite of the Brexit challenge, we have gone ahead and booked the Shuttle and the hotel in Abbeville to get to the mill in June. Tim has had his rabies booster and will have his blood test to ensure it has "taken" in a months time. 

There comes a time when  the only thing to do is throw the hands in the air and say "Sod it!" let's do it anyway. Who knows what will come from this political mess? We don't know what the vet in Vergt will be saying about returning Tim to England, but we will have to sort that out when we get there. From his point of view - the vet, not Tim - I cannot see much changing, except that no doubt his fee will have gone up.

 The pic is from 2005 and the mill has changed considerably since then. The large pine tree was taken down  because it was perilously large and close to the house and the west winds at storm force would have laid it right across the roof. Other trees have gone in various storms and of course, new saplings are shooting up everywhere. There is a swimming pool now instead of all the grass! Everywhere, there is change. Politics change, people change, nature changes. We can't stop it. Sometimes we can't even start it. 

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The wonderful delete button!

I still read the occasional writing blog because learning is good and I need to refresh what I know until it is totally but totally fixed in my head. This morning I found Ruth Harris's piece on deleting....] and it is well worth reading. Amusing as well as informative.

· Skillful use of the delete button will help you show instead of tell. 

· Will add to the page-turning quality of your book. 

· Will help create books readers stay up late to finish. 

She quotes Stephen King’s 10% Rule. 
From Stephen King’s On Writing:

“In the spring of my senior year at Lisbon High—1966, this would have been—I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”

“I wish I could remember who wrote that note—Algis Budrys, perhaps. Whoever it was did me a hell of a favor. I copied the formula out on a piece of shirt-cardboard and taped it to the wall beside my typewriter. Good things started to happen for me shortly thereafter.”

I think I'm going to do the same. How about you?

Saturday, 26 January 2019

The mysterious art of guest blogging

I have never “guest blogged” anywhere, but they say it is one of the best ways to promote a book. So I’ve been reading around the topic and here are some hints and tips I must remember.

Most important is to think about where your readers are likely to be? Genre is all-important. You’ll reach a lot more romance readers at “Romance University” or “Romance Divas” than general purpose blogs. Look for blogs of authors in your genre with a good reader following.

Use your protagonist’s hobbies, interests, or profession.
Location can provide opportunities. If your book is set in a particular place, reach out to travel blogs about the area of your setting. People planning holidays buy more fiction than people arguing about grammar.

The only way to tell if a blog attracts people who really might be interested in your book is to visit and read the posts. Read the comments, too. Leave comments on posts you enjoy. The best place to start querying is a blog you read regularly because you genuinely like it and have an interest in the topics it addresses.

Read the Guidelines and follow them. Write with proper paragraphing, punctuation, capitalization and spelling. Be businesslike, concise, respectful, and don’t lie. A blog query should start with a sentence explaining why you want a spot on that particular blog.

Pitches need not be elaborate. Give possible topics with a few sentences after each about your angle and why you’re qualified to write about it. Ie How to Market Books on Snapchat. I’ve boosted my sales by 25% with this method. I’ll provide a step-by-step how-to.

There’s nothing wrong if your blog has a small following. A powerful reason for guest blogging is to extend your online following. If you’ve been a guest of a big, popular writing blog like The Book Designer, Jane Friedman, Writers on the Storm, Fiction University, Romance University, etc. that’s a big plus, too.

Don’t simply offer another blogger a same material. You can offer to write on the same subject, but don’t simply offer a cut-and-paste.
If you have a time window, giveaways, contests, etc, and you want this post to be part of a blog tour, be sure to mention it.

Make sure you will be available in that time window to respond to comments.  That way you'll make connections and sell books, so if you’re not available, you’re losing sales.

The most helpful piece I read on guest blogging was by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) January 20, 2019 and there’s a lot more than my sparse jottings on her blog for those who are interested in guest blogging.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Conflict in fiction

Snowy slopes in Banff
Conflict is defined as a struggle, often an unconscious one, as a result of opposition or simultaneous functioning of mutually exclusive impulses, desires or tendencies. 
A character may have to decide between right and wrong or  between 2 or more solutions to a problem. 

  1. attraction and prejudice (Pride and Prejudice is an example)
  2. Opposing desires
  3. Mismatches and/or uncertainty
  4. incompatible goals
  5.  It is about being in a new situation where old attitudes and habits war with and hinder the need to change.

Show conflict by showing character responding to their inner compulsions.
What is your hero's desire?
What is his fear?
In the opening chapters, introduce your hero and heroine and their conflicts, both external and internal. What stops them achieving what they want? Add a killer hook, an inventive and clever inciting incident - sparkly, witty and page turning would be good. By chapter 3  the reader should know why this couple are better together than apart. Are these two going on a journey? Is it clear to the reader? What would happen if they failed to achieve the destination? Who would care?

External conflict forces characters together, but internal conflict forces them apart.

Always start with a moment of change, preferably with dialogue. Reveal secrets and drop bombshells in the middle to keep readers turning the page. There should be a Black Moment at the end of the middle section. Conflict should build tension, show motivation, fore a choice and make the character grow.

(Notes, handwritten many years ago, found tucked into a diary. Possibly taken from category romance instructions, but still good for all that.)

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Gybford Affair ~ fast paced and exciting historical romance.

Renewing the cover for The Craigsmuir Affair prompted me to renew the cover for The Gybford Affair. Here it is on the right.

Claire Lyons recently published her review of the story, and I have added it below. Now that I've redone covers for two of my romances, I may as well think of improvements for the others!

I purchased an upgrade to Photoshop towards the end of last year, and it certainly makes doing them easier and more pleasureable. I suppose since I first puchased the software, there have been seven or eight upgrades and no doubt each upgrade made using the applications easier. Technology moves so fast in the area of digital and graphic art. If I were leaving school now and choosing a career, I think I would look for something  in this area. Conservation also appeals,  but I'm not sure if I would choose Art Conservation, or conservation of house and furniture. There are so many careers available today that were simply not possible when I left school

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Claire Lyons reviews The Gybford Affair by Jen Black

Today Claire Lyons reviews The Gybford Affair by Jen Black. The author has very kindly offered an e-book as a giveaway.  To be in with a chance of winning this wonderful prize, simply leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

The quiet life of Frances, Lady Rathmere, is disrupted forever the day Jack, 4th Marquess of Streatham, arrives from London and almost rides her down. At the same time a stranger arrives in the locality, makes a play for her young cousin and scandalous letters accusing Frances of an illicit liaison appear in the national press. Is Jack their author? Frances is convinced he is, and has no idea the trouble those letters are going to bring in their wake.

How liberating for a young woman to become a widow in the Regency era – no more need to marry, a certain financial independence and still welcome in Society. That is unless you have the sort of fortune that would make you a target for a despicable forced and violent marriage…
The Gybford Affair has a number of storylines, but the situation of a young widow is at its core. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast paced and exciting historical romance.  There was a good balance of drama and everyday life to give a real flavour of the period. There are plenty of characters to add moments of humour and see variety of opinions on issues of the day.
Although I felt quite confident who the main romance would be between, there is great tension as to ‘how’ these two will ever get together, and in an unusual twist marriage in itself is not the end or even the start of their story. I felt a great sense of transformation, especially of the male lead, during the book, there is a darkness that slowly lifts and it’s a very positive and happy tale despite moments of great sadness and grief. It was interesting to see the different ways the difficult topic of maternal care were discussed and experienced. It is still fascinating to me how the situation of women has changed over time, and I’m always intrigued to read about women in history and the lives they led. Although this story is focused on the wealthy in Society, their money does not prevent great some of the toughest of life’s hurdles and these are dealt with sensitively.
Of course there is a rogue who brings deceit, fear and drama to the story, and he has been created with care and subtlety. His character creates some of the more tense situations in the book and you can’t always be sure how they will end. I enjoyed the changes in pace and tension as the different threads of the story weaved together.

This book would suit those who enjoy historical romance, it’s a great romp and would be fun to read while travelling as it’s very engaging.

About the Author: 
I’m an ex-academic library manager who lives in the Tyne valley, north east England, with my husband and 6 year-old Dalmatian. I came to writing late, and stay fit (sort of) roaming about Northumberland with my dog. It is a wonderful county for history lovers (and dog walkers!). Everyone knows about the Roman Wall, Vindolanda and all their wonderful Roman finds, but it is equally amazing for castles, bastles, fortified farms and the occasional peel tower. I’ve walked and ridden over a good deal of it. The wall is barely five miles away from my home and we have met people of all nationalities walking there. I take lots of pics when I’m out and pop them on my blog. When I write I’m not out to enlighten, but to entertain and I think I’m always going to have a happy ending. I may have a few tragedies and deaths along the way, but the ending will always be upbeat.
I don’t play music as I never notice when it stops, so I can’t be listening, can I?
and on Twitter: @JENBLACKNCL

About the Reviewer

Claire has run Mrs Average Evaluates for five years now, and still writes a regular book review in a local magazine. Her passion is to share great writing and encourage wide reading for learning, pleasure and escapism. She also runs her own business, has four young children and a dog to keep her busy. You are most welcome to join her friendly FB Group, and she’s always on the lookout for Guest Posts on the website.