Oh my goodness I am typing this as fast as I can because Mr Webmaster is harrumphing for the May Newsletter – and I confess I have been distracted by other things so am way behind.
Dare I confess to the "other things"?
The garden; the woods; planting seeds for summer veg in the greenhouse – I so hope I can grow pumpkins for Halloween down here in Devon. I certainly have enough garden space! I’ve also been patting the horses, watching the lambs, gazing at the stars, walking the dog up the lane...
In addition to all that, I have been doing some research for the New Novel – Foals of Epona. I am trying to find some information about North Devon circa 460 A.D. i.e. the post Roman/Roman-British period. So far, apart from information about South Devon (Exeter etc) I have discovered nothing for where I am in the north near Exmoor. I can’t believe that there is no evidence for anything even vaguely Roman-ish. OK so there were probably not the big villas and huge Roman-based towns, but were the "Romans" not here at all? And if they were not, and had no influence over the people of Dumnonia, where, then, were these un-Roman "natives"? I’ve found zilch on them as well. Sometimes, research is not easy.
See my full rant on my Devon Diary.
The one advantage of not being able to find any relevant information, for a novelist, is that I can simply make it up and no one will be able to contradict me – but – I want to know what the facts are for my own interest, and because you can invent a better story if you know the truth behind it.
I shall continue to dig for information, well, not literally, unless when we are doing any gardening on erecting fences in the field we happen to find a Roman pot or buried hoard of coins.
The other thing I have been busy with is the make-over of my website, although here comes another confession: strictly speaking my wonderful webmaster and graphics designer have been busy, hampered by the occasional "ooh" and "ah" from me.
Not sure which one of us it was (I suspect me) but someone happened to remark that the website was looking a little bit tired. I was also a tad concerned that most of the background information about my books was in the wrong place; I found I was directing people to my blog, not my website. While I want readers going to my various blogs, of course, it is the website which should take precedence. It’s prime purpose is to be a showcase for my books and what they are about – along with a few other interesting things about myself.
Almost like waving a magic wand, Mr Webmaster started updating all the twiddly technical bits and Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org – almost like pulling a rabbit out of a hat - produced some absolutely fabulous new graphics for the various heading banners.
And the result is sumptuous.
I can’t tell you what the technical side of doing all this updating is because I am totally in the dark where techie detail is concerned, but do go and browse www.helenhollick.net. There are lots of things to click and go to (and also look for surprise things like the clump of reeds, bottom right, taking you back to the top of page.) We have lots more information, lovely, lovely new graphics, and two worn out and stressed people who have worked like Trojans these past few weeks to get it all done by May 1st. How can I possibly thank Mr Webmaster and Cathy adequately?
The Internet is a mystery to me; it is akin to that vast unknown infinity of what is Out There beyond the stars - akin to the Universe as a whole, being a mystery to us all.
I don’t understand the ‘Net, I cannot get my mind round how this amount of information gets from A to B in an instant, but I do appreciate the amount of work it takes to produce such a superb end result, and I am very grateful for having the privilege of having my two "background team-mates" – and superb friends - being there to do all the things I have no concept of being able to do for myself.
So ‘thank you’ are two somewhat small words, but the gratitude behind them is as huge as the Universe.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
I have a busy month ahead - nothing new there, but April is a month of celebration. I reach the grand age of 60. Part of me thinks, "Goodness, I'm getting old," but another bit is saying "Wow, how did I manage to get this far, in, more or less, one piece?" I'm just a tad miffed that the UK Government have changed the pension dates, so I have to wait another three years before getting my Old Age State Pension - so I guess I'm not a pensioner yet!
April 2013 is also an important anniversary. Twenty years ago around the 16th April, a few days after my 40th birthday, I received a telephone call from my, now ex, agent to tell me that my novel about King Arthur had been accepted for publication by William Heinemann. I had been offered a deal to write a Trilogy, Kingmaking, Pendragon's Banner and Shadow of the King, for an advance fee of £30,000. A few days later the press got hold of the story. Ron, Kathy, who was only ten years old at the time, and I were whisked off to Colchester for the day, where we were given lunch, and photographed at Colchester Castle in return for an exclusive interview. When we got back home we found a whole gang of reporters gathered at our gate - I felt just like a celebrity. What is a group of journalists called I wonder? A Story of Journalists, a Scoop, a Print.?
I felt so proud that after ten years of struggling to write the story I wanted to read I had, at last, been recognised as a legitimate author.
The laugh is, I am still struggling to be recognised!
I've had a lot of lovely people help me along the way - too many to mention, but a couple stand out as extra special: my family heads the thank you speech, followed by author Sharon Kay Penman who gave me the courage to get started. My editor/advisor back then at Heinemann, Lynne Drew, and now Elizabeth Chadwick who boosts my sagging confidence every so often, and is treasured because she gives an honest opinion. Not always the opinion you want to hear - but the one that is needed to be heard! Thanks to my webmaster who has supported me in many ways, and Cathy Helms my graphics designer who is indispensable as a designer and a friend!
So now, before I burst into tears like any true-blue Oscar Star, I will change the subject, apart from saying thank you to the people who are even more important than those mentioned above: You, my readers. Without you, none of the past twenty years would have happened.
Readers of my Devon Diary blog will know that we lost our old dog, Rum, a short while ago.
Living here in this marvellous County, with 13 acres of ground it didn't seem right not having a dog around the place, and the gap in our lives was a bit too open and empty, so we decided to go to the Dog's Trust at Ilfracombe, where we met Baz, a collie cross, mostly black with white chest and socks. He was found abandoned, wandering as a stray, and despite a microchip no owner could be found. The registered people on the 'chip said they had "given him away to new owners, who obviously did not change the registered address" - if the story is true. Which I doubt.
It's a long time since we had a young dog and it takes some getting used to an animal that is young and bouncy and raring to go. Poor old Rum could only manage a slow walk. It is odd that Baz doesn't appear to bark; we've only heard him "wuff" once, but he has had basic training. He sits, comes, lays down - goes to his bed. He was thin when we got him, but otherwise in good condition, so it doesn't make sense that he was abandoned. Someone, some-when must have thought enough of him to give him basic training? I wonder whether his owner, perhaps an older person, died and the remaining family couldn't be bothered with looking after the dog, so just chucked him out. I won't add any more words here because they are rather rude - the sort of things my Jesamiah would say.
Baz is terrified of the car, however. He won't go anywhere near it if the engine is running or he thinks we are going to make him get in - so there is some sort of trauma there which we will have to address. We'll have to because we want to take him for a run on Instow beach! Otherwise, he has settled in very well; he is asleep beside my chair in my study as I write this, his belly full with dinner, his legs twitching as he chases rabbits in his dreams. I think he is going to be a very loyal, trusting, long-term friend. Coming to live with us here, he's landed the Doggie Lottery as far as he is concerned.
Mind you, the cats are not so happy about it! They are encamped upstairs, with the occasional grumpy gaze down the stairs wondering if That Dog has gone yet. They'll get used to him, though.
We're settling in here in Devon as well, it is starting to feel like home now, not a holiday cottage, although I still, occasionally, feel like tomorrow we will have to pack up and "go home". I often feel a little disorientated, especially at night; doors on the left that I think should be on the right, light switches not where I expect them to be. I suppose this is a common thing when moving house.
I'm intrigued that the night sky is not as dark as I assumed it would be. There are no streetlights here, only our own outside lights, but when in bed with "lights out" - apart from a couple of night lights on the landing - the sky is often quite bright, even when overcast. To the north the horizon is light, probably from the reflected lights of Barnstaple about fourteen miles away, and on moonlit nights the sky is bright enough. I walked up our lane the other evening to take the dog out before bed-time and discovered that the battery in the torch was nearly dead, so turned it off - and I could see perfectly clearly. The only problem is seeing Baz because he is black, but he has a couple of metal discs on his collar now, so I can hear them tinkling as he trots along.
My thanks to an on-line friend, Mark, who mentioned this month's quote to me. Our dog doesn't have to wait to be happy any more.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Well, we've moved from London to Devon and we love it here. Absolutely l.o.v.e. it! The scenery is beautiful, it is fantastic having the horses at the end of the garden (including a new addition - a genuine Exmoor pony) and the quiet is. quiet. Not for a million pounds would I move back to the Smoke now.
I'll not go into detail about moving, or the subsequent various adventures as you can read it all on my Devon Diary, Leaning On The Gate. Don't forget to scroll down as there are several entries, and lots of photos. Suffice to say here that Pickfords Removals, especially the Gaffer, Mick, were wonderful. They got us in despite the heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures. And a thank you to the wonderful people at High Bullen Hotel for looking after us so warmly (literally!)
There is also one sad entry. We had to take the very hard decision to have our old dog, Rum, put to sleep at the end of February. He was at least fourteen years old - probably older. We did not know his exact age as he came from the Dog Rescue Sanctuary, having been badly treated as a pup. At least he had a few weeks of enjoying the Devon countryside, ambles up the lane and sniffing all the smells.
He was a lovely dog, always 'laughing' always wagging his tail. A good mate. Old age caught up with him though. He will be missed very much.
As mentioned above, we now have an Exmoor Pony. His official name is Mischief, but he somehow managed to acquire the nickname of Squidgy, and of course it has stuck. He is an absolute darling, but as with all ponies he has a mind of his own.
It took me a while to sort my study out - I still have two bookcases and several piles of books to get in order, but at least all the cardboard removal boxes are now unpacked and disposed of. Because of the snow I told the removal men to store everything I was unsure about - in addition to all the books, computer equipment and numerous pictures - in the study. Which resulted in about seventy boxes piled from floor to ceiling. No wonder the old floors in this place are bowed!
However, I am now more or less back on track work-wise. E-mails are up to date - although only getting in by the skin of my teeth with this month's journal update! One of these days I will start writing the next novel. I have been thinking about it. Honest pirate I have.
Ah, there goes the 6.20 p.m. Tarka Line train clickety-clacking along the valley towards Exeter from Barnstaple. Our nearest stop is Umberleigh, but you have to ask the conductor to ring the bell as it only stops by request. I assume if you are waiting on the platform for it to arrive you leap up and down waving your red flannel petticoats as in the Railway Children? ('Get off the line Bobby!' )
I have discovered that it is not a good idea to move house when a latest book is due to be published. Rachel Malone held the fort for me, and will be doing a few more marketing promotions on my behalf, but this is not the same as being personally involved in a new release. Never mind, it was exciting to get back on line after British Telecom hooked up the phone and I found Ripples was available for sale from Amazon, the Book Depository, etc.
I've received some very encouraging reviews for this fourth Sea Witch Voyage - which takes place on the North Devon Coast, not far from where I now live. But even with reviews I am always nervous when a new work comes out. What if this is the one that is a failure? Hopefully my Jesamiah will win through, work his charms and do his pirate-piece. Reviews and comments always welcome on Amazon if you would like to add something by the way - especially the nice ones!
Missing the release did not matter too much, although it is always rather a let down when after all the hard effort in the preparation, on publication day nothing happens. In the days when I was first published I received flowers and champagne from my publisher Heinemann. I don't think that happens now. The excitement begins, for me, with the start of a promising Blog Tour. My fingers are even tighter crossed for some supportive reviews from the variety of Review Bloggers.
I have one confession to make, a huge error on my part. Because of being distracted by the move I did not notice that the required credits were not added for the man who took the photograph of that wonderful sunset used on the cover of Ripples In The Sand. Purely an oversight, but most rude on my part. So, to Simon Murgatroyd, thank you so much for permitting me to use your beautiful photo taken on Instow Beach. I intend to write a full article for my main blog about the cover on Tuesday 19th March for my (usually) weekly Tuesday Talk feature. Another apology will be added there. Must admit to a red face here.
I felt this month's quote, above, was very appropriate. Penalty for the crime of not reading Ripples In The Sand (or any of my books, for that matter) will be keelhauling.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Boxes. Lots of boxes!|
Right at the time when this Journal needs to be updated, my family and I are in the middle of moving house. We have completed the task of transferring the contents of our London home into boxes, and removing those boxes into our Devon farmhouse. Somewhere in the middle of one pile is a box containing a computer and the Internet router. Until that particular box is located, unpacked and plugged in, I would like you to be patient and refresh this page from time-to-time to see when the Journal arrives.
Whilst waiting, you can have a look at our new location on the Windfall Farm blog. The horses have arrived, been shown their new stables and field, and are calmly exploring the grasslands.
So, the bridge behind us, the one that leads to London, has been 'burned'. As you will see on the blog, our farm has its own little stream, amongst many other desirable features, causing thoughts to turn to the bridges which lie ahead.
Lege feliciter (read happily).
Happy New Year to all my friends and readers.
Another new year. I cannot believe how long I have been writing these monthly newsletters now - too many to go back and look, that's for certain. Although if you would like to browse the archives allow yourself a couple of days to do so!
There was a bit of a last-minute rush for me just before Christmas because I thought Ripples in the Sand, the Fourth Sea Witch Voyage, was ready for publication. All it needed, I assumed, was a final proof-read. I had taken the decision to send it to a different editor to my usual trusted Jo Field as it is always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at a proof copy to pick up those last minute errors that have been missed. Unfortunately I have now learnt a big lesson - don't send your work to an unused, untried editor whom you do not know, and who does not know your style. While doing an exact and precise job, following the rules etc, this editor missed the point of my style and consequently changed far too much, thus altering my writer's voice. It seems the semicolon is now out of fashion, so he changed most of them to commas or full stops. This is probably perfectly correct English, but it changed the emphasis of the sentences. "Jesamiah sipped the rum; grinned", became "Jesamiah sipped the rum, and grinned" or "Jesamiah sipped the rum. He grinned". All say the same thing, but in a different tone. I prefer to have it the way I wanted it in the first example, so I had to plough through the manuscript putting everything back as I had written it. In consequence, some of the punctuation has now been messed up, and the book still needs a final proof-read.
The team at SilverWood Books worked their socks off to get a version out on Kindle before Christmas - my appreciation and gratitude to Helen Hart, Sarah and Jo - so at least all of you with a new Kindle for Christmas can obtain a copy to read. Full details are here.
I am endeavouring to get the hard-copy book format out as soon as possible in the New Year.
My other dilemma is that we have got our removal date - mid-January, so I will be off-line for a while during part of January. Which is not a good idea when a new book is out! Still, I have one or two lovely people willing to step into the breach to cover for me.
Moving is a little nerve-wracking. Apart from the underlying thought of "Are we doing the right thing" regarding moving house, moving County and facing a completely new life-style, the mere logistics of the removal is already somewhat daunting! I didn't realise, for instance, that the whole thing will take about five days. Two for the removal company to pack up and load, one to travel from London to Devon, two to unload. Then there is the unpacking - deciding where everything should go. The finding out how everything works - we will have a Redfyre cooker (like an Aga) which will be fun to discover how to use. Add to that my husband's racing pigeons have to be transported, then we will have to re-erect their pigeon loft. The chickens will have to travel in a basket, and live in a shed at the new house for a while until we can build a proper fox-proof run.
The two cats will not like the fact that I am going to put them in a cattery for a few days over the moving period. They will hate it, but they will also hate strange men in the house and furniture walking about. Kathy is going to bring them down with the horses in the horsebox when she comes the day after we've gone off with the furniture. One blessing, she will not be able to hear the meows of protest coming from the cat baskets, as the horsebox is a bit rattly and noisy!
At some point I need to get on and write my next book - I intend to do my Arthurian spin-off - the first in the Madoc the Horseman series, but I am so torn to get on with Jesamiah's next adventure!
What a pity novels are not written by magic. I could sit here and wave a magic wand at the keyboard and create two books at once (and maybe turn a few bad reviewers into toads while I am about it.) That's not the way it works, however, authors create the magic with hard work, attention to detail and a huge sprinkling of fairy-dust imagination.
Wish me luck with the move. The next newsletter will be written (eventually) in Devon
Lege feliciter (read happily).