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“Winchester was a pleasant town, or perhaps Emma thought so because it was hers?”

July
 2015

Helen is currently in the USA, attending the Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, followed by the 4th July Independance Day celebrations.

This month's Journal entry will therefore be delayed. Suggest readers re-log the page on or after 7th July, when, hopefully, normal service will be resumed.

== WebMaster

Lege feliciter (read happily).


 

June
 2015

I so wanted to be able to announce my exciting news last month, but until contracts were signed I had to remain silent – albeit with great difficulty. With the official bits done though, I was thrilled to be able to announce that the entire Sea Witch Series of Voyages are to be translated into Italian – available world-wide in e-book format. As if that was not exciting enough on its own, I have also been commissioned to write a non-fiction book about pirates.

The Spaghetti Pirate, as I am calling the translation, (I can just imagine Clint Eastwood with a cutlass and pirate patch) is to be translated by Catnip Edizioni so I guess I need to learn a few basic Italion words. ‘Ahoy’, and ‘where’s the rum’ for starters.

The non-fiction, to be published by Amberley Publishing, is temporarily entitled ‘Pirates in Fact and Fiction’ (although this is too dull for a title, it will do for now). The idea is to write something fairly light-hearted featuring the truth about pirates, then comparing this to the fictional side, which will, of course, include my personal rogue, Jesamiah Acorne.

At least for the Italian Translation I need do nothing beyond ensuring the files have been sent, but before I can start the Pirates in earnest I need to get ‘On The Account’ finished. Nearly there. Then I shall start some earnest research. I have until October 2016 to write the book, which seems a long way off but probably isn’t.

My exciting real-life continues in the form of preparing to go to the USA. First stop North Carolina, to stay with Cathy Helms, then it's the Historical Novel Society USA Conference in Denver, back to Cathy’s for a few days, and finally Williamsburg, Virginia to celebrate the 4th July.

Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum in the form of a historic Williamsburg, Virginia. The 301-acre (122 ha) Historic Area includes buildings from the eighteenth century (during part of which the city was the capital of Colonial Virginia), as well as 17th- to 19th-century, Colonial Revival structures.

The Historic Area is an interpretation of a colonial American city, with exhibits of dozens of restored or re-created buildings. With the majority of people working there, shopkeepers, barmaids etc, wearing authentic costume, it is a very entertaining and interesting place. This will be my third visit, my aim being to do research on the Friday and enjoy 4th July on the Saturday.

Research? Well, yes. Jesamiah visited the town in ‘Bring It Close’, and will be returning there in ‘Gallows Wake’. For factual research, Blackbeard’s crew were incarcerated in Williamsburg gaol, tried in the Courthouse and hanged on the Green. So I have a lot to look at and Cathy Helms will be taking photos – the results will, I hope, appear in the above Pirate Book.

It is going to be a tiring adventure, but should be good fun. Well, apart from the long flight. I’ve got everything booked, and went shopping in Exeter the other day for new underwear and socks. The money exchange is all arranged; passport is in order. (Must remember to renew it next year).

Only downside, I will probably miss the haymaking here at the farm, and as I will be gone for almost three weeks I know I'll miss Devon very much. This will probably be my last big holiday though, and Devon will still be here when I get back.

The HNS Conference also promises to be fun – and hard work. I am on a panel talking about the “Brass Tacks of going Indie”, I’ve been booked to do a book-signing session and a “chat over coffee” with a group who want to chat over coffee. All that is to be slotted in between meeting old friends and making new ones, talking with people, laughing with people… And then there will be the evening banquet on the Saturday when the winners of the HNS 2015 Annual Indie Award will be announced. I know who they are but I’m keeping schtum. And I expect there will be a party or two!

I chose this month's quotation because it is one of my favourite scenes in ‘Sea Witch’. It's Tiola’s birthday and a suitor has presented her with some emerald earrings and a necklace. Jesamiah is dead jealous: it is the dawning of his realisation that he adores Tiola.

But I must leave him fuming that he didn't know it was her birthday, and whisk myself away and do some writing. My July newsletter will be sent from North Carolina.

See you in America folks!

Lege feliciter (read happily).


 

May
 2015

Maybe one day soon I’ll stop running just to catch up with myself – I’m writing this at five minutes past midnight on the 29th April. Mad scramble to get everything done is an understatement! Why so behind schedule? Playing with a puppy, and puppy-sitting, takes an amazing amount of time. As does enjoying the sunshine out in the garden.

I’ve had a number of important local issues to sort out, several chapters of On The Account have been written (don’t all cheer at once), and I have also celebrated my birthday. Sixty-two since you ask! Our celebration meal at the Stags Head, near South Molton, was – as always when we go there – scrumptious.

Looking at that short list does not seem to explain the disappearance of time does it? Add into the equation the month-long A-Z Blog Challenge which I participated in. Ah, there go quite a few more hours. The idea was to blog every day during April (except Sundays) with each item having a theme titled A-Z. I decided to do the blog on my Leaning On The Gate Devon Diary.

Some letters were quite a challenge but I included posts about Fat Little Ladies, Ghosts, Here Be Dragons, On the Shelf, Quack and Hiss, Umberleigh & Z-Shaped (and Time!).

I think it was a success. The stats seem to say so; over 5,000 page views for the month. Most visitors came from the United States but six were from India, ten from the Ukraine and more than two hundred from Switzerland. What happened there, I wonder, to attract them in? Total page views since I started my Devon Diary in 2013 are over 54,000 – not bad at all.

The most popular A-Z post seems to have been M for Moorland Mousie, my entry about Exmoor Ponies. Why Moorland Mousie? Click here to find out. What’s more, I have sold a few books through it. Not hundreds, but enough to be pleased with the hard work involved.

I have also been to the Wrexham Carnival Of Words, a book festival at Wrexham in North Wales. The part I was involved with was ‘Romans To Redcoats’, an afternoon of Historical Fiction-based talks and panel sessions, the Highlight being a Skype session with California-based Patricia Bracewell who also writes about Queen Emma.

I was there to join a panel session debating whether King Arthur is fact or fiction. Sorry to say, if you are a ‘fact’ supporter, that the vote cast in favour of ‘fiction’.

The festival was great fun, the hotel comfortable, the people attending - authors and visitors - wonderful, although the journey there and back was somewhat tedious. I must clarify that the travel was tedious, not the company! I was escorted home by writer James Aitcheson. I say escorted; he happened to be going in the same direction as far as Bristol.

I’ve met with James several times, mostly at the 1066 re-enactments at Battle in Sussex as he writes a series of superb novels on the aftermath of 1066. Highly recommended.

I first met him before he was published. He came along as a visitor to the re-enactment, saw me in the English Heritage tent and asked me about writing. I recognised his enthusiasm straight away – one of those moments when I just knew the young lad standing in front of me was going to achieve his goal. I told him to go home and write. And he did.

It’s rather nice to know I’ve helped several such talented writers reach success.

It can be a hard slog, this somewhat daft job of “authoring”. I went through a patch of not writing for about six months before I was picked up for publication. When I did eventually discover the confidence to start writing again I found myself – quite unexpectedly – describing a battle scene. It ended up as the opening chapter of Pendragon’s Banner, the first line of which is this month's quote.

A Word to the Wise:
  Bookmark my H2U Newsletter Blog. I have some exciting announcements coming up soon!

Lege feliciter (read happily).


 

April
 2015

Welcome to Spring!

It has blown in with a rather gusty entrance, especially today (28th March); the wind is roaring past my study window and the trees are bending about as if they are doing some weird disco-dance. Sometimes at night the wind sounds like the sea the way it swoops in and rises and falls through the branches. I usually have a bedroom window open, even on the coldest night, but it got closed last night because the curtain was flapping and it looked like a ghost flying about. Not very conducive for a relaxing night’s sleep!

Talking of ghosts… (oh I do love these convenient links!)

I am not sure if I’m utterly barking mad or excited about taking part in a month-long blog-hop challenge over on my Leaning On The Gate Blog. It looked fun, and I have every expectation that it will be – but if you glance back to my January Resolutions I had promised myself that I would not take too much on. So here I am about to embark on a daily blog post.

Yes I think barking mad is probably right.

The idea is it will be an A-Z Blog, for every day during April except Sundays. Those taking part blog about something with the appropriate day’s alphabet letter as a key to the title. So on G day (April 8th) I’m going to be blogging about ghosts. Also on my proposed list are…. Well pop across to my H2U news to get a taster of what is to come or contain your excitement and follow the daily input on the Leaning On The Gate Blog.

We had a new family friend for two weeks: a second dog called Tess from the dog’s trust in Ilfracombe. She was a lovely little dog and will make a fabulous family pet – unfortunately she has had to go back because she chases the cats, chickens and ducks (although she thought twice about the goose. See below.) And not just chasing, she actually got hold of Mab the cat and a duck – if we hadn’t been on hand both would have ended up injured or worse. We gave her as much chance as we could but we couldn’t take the risk; what if she got out and went into a neighbouring farmer’s field where the lambs are? Unsettling for her, sad for us, but it would be even more so if there was a tragedy. Hopefully she will find a nice home with a family where there are no other pets. She was a nice little dog, a pity things did not work out. Baz got on with her fine, although he did give the impression occasionally of thinking; ‘Hm, you still ‘ere? When’re you going ‘ome?”

The good news is that the Dog’s Trust were delighted with our full report so should be able to easily re-home Tess, and we might be getting a six month collie pup instead. Poor thing has been passed from pillar to post already in his little life. Why DO people get high-energy dogs when they live low-energy life-styles? We have had collies before (any of my friends remember dear Nesta and Tugger?) but we were up stable yards and walking with Kathy while she rode the ponies every day. I didn’t really want another big-ish dog, but hey, we have thirteen acres!

It is so wonderful to see the changing landscape now that it is Spring: the colours alter almost hourly depending on the mood of the weather. Yesterday morning the sky was a pale blue with a bank of silver-grey cloud dawdling along behind the hills. The sun was illuminating the ridge as if a series of spotlights had been erected – it is amazing how many different shades of green there are.

We have dozens of birds tweeting and twittering from dawn till dusk, mostly squabbling over the birdseed and fat balls that my husband hangs from the hazel tree and a rose arch (which I call The Gallows). From my study window I can see sparrows, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, there’s always a robin, often two collared doves, woodpeckers and nuthatches, and, way, way up in the sky, lazily circling, there are frequently a pair of buzzards. At night there are several Tawny Owls. We have only seen two Barn Owls though; they are in decline, almost an endangered species, for rain and bad weather, along with being hit by cars because of the nature of their flight, has taken its toll. But Owls will be one of the topics of my A-Z Blog Challenge. Today, the clouds banked up, the wind turned into a huffing gale and the rain bucketed down.

All is back to normal for Devon weather then!

Unfortunately we also had an unwanted visitor in the orchard during the week. One of our white hens got taken by a fox last week, then two days ago Foxy Loxy came back for a second course of duck. He reckoned without the goose (who has been re-named Boadicea as it is more fitting!) She let off such a racket that both Kathy and I went running out and there was Foxy loping down the orchard with a squawking duck in its mouth.

I shouted, Kathy yelled, the dogs barked… and believe me, as Fox has now discovered, you do NOT want to get in the way of a very, very, very angry goose.

Fox dropped the duck and fled. Thanks Boadicea. Nice one.

Lege feliciter (read happily).


 

March
 2015

March 6th 1052 was a day of mourning in England – at least for some. On that day in history, Emma of Normandy – Queen to two Kings of England, mother of two more – passed away. She was at least in her 60’s although we do not know her exact age. I expect this is most inconvenient for historians: as a writer of historical fiction I find it downright annoying. Still, at least fiction writers can get away with making things up if the facts are not there.

One thing I am not making up: our goose. Guaranteed to raise laughter. She really is a silly goose, I can quite see where the saying comes from. Her name is Bernadette, although I have to be honest, she might be a Bernard. We’re not sure, but we’re sticking with Goose, not Gander.

Bernadette Goose lives in the orchard now that the Build is finished. She wanders about alongside the hens and the ducks, although they are two distinct rival gangs. The Webfoots and the Clucks. Think Romeo and Juliet: the Capulets and Montagues. Or West Side Story, the Jets and the Sharks (hum or sing various tunes from the famous movie if you like, but I suggest this one from YouTube) Not that the goose, or the hens can click their fingers, but you can bet your life that Goosey would if she could! She waddles around as if she is a plump queen surveying her Queendom. Woe betide anyone who encroaches into her realm. Even if that does include myself or son-in-law Adam when we go to let them out of their Overnight Suite Accommodation of a morning. She hates us. We are her minion slaves, or in her eyes, the Cops of New York’s West Side: Officer Krupke of course!

She hisses, pecks and attacks Adam’s wellies and my dressing gown. (What? You expect me to be dressed at 8ish in the morning?) It is probably my white dressing gown that started the whole ‘Peck the Humans’ routine. It is large, white and fluffy. To Bernie I resemble a giant goose. Adam, she just hates. She chases him. His fault, he shouldn’t run!

And Kathy? Well Goosey adores Kathy. Kathy is Juliette, or Maria… and this one from West Side Story just IS the goose: YouTube “I feel pretty”.

Western Power were here a while ago to trim back overhanging branches from the power lines. In the end we had to shut Bernie away because she was terrorising the workmen. All that hissing and flapping, you would think she was being measured up for the pot or something. There again if she keeps going for Adam’s wellies… we do usually have goose for Christmas.

On a completely separate but vaguely attached topic: I cannot believe that it is a year since Kathy and Adam got married. Happy Anniversary to you both!

The Orchard is looking a little sorry for itself. A lot of the top end was badly churned up because of the Build; not the builders’ fault, slopes of grass dowsed by pouring, persistent rain soon becomes a replica of the Somme. The grass will grow back, but skis would be good for getting down the slippery bits.

The evening of February 23rd was spectacular. We had a thunderstorm. Grumbles and rumbles echoing all along the valley and the entire panorama of the sky turning a lurid shade of purple. The previous storm, a few weeks back, tramped over the horizon in the early hours of the morning, announcing itself with the most enormous bang that shot us all out of bed wondering what had been hit. Turned out it was a power cable pole in the next village a couple of miles away.

We are prepared for storms. Power cuts are always a possibility, and the trouble with them is, we don’t lose just electricity. The pumps for the oil-fired Range and the water-filter that draws water from the well are both electric. So no power means no light, heat, or water.

Fortunately these storms usually lurk over the moors; Exmoor to the north, Dartmoor to the south – both near enough for us to hear the bangs and see the flashes. Our bit of the Taw Valley is fortunately fairly sheltered. Just in case, though, I have a couple of bottles of water, torches, candles (and matches) always on standby. A bucket is accessible in case we need to draw water from the well (not to drink unless boiled, but handy for loo flushing). The log-burner gets very hot, so with our trusty old kettle we can have tea or coffee, can warm up soup, or cook baked beans and fry eggs - make toast. Or crumpets buttered with Devon Butter.

As for Emma. I ‘met’ her when writing Harold the King, (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US). I came to like this fascinating woman and wanted to know more about her – hence, she got her own novel, A Hollow Crown. Titled The Forever Queen in the US – and frankly the better of the two editions.

I have a scene where Emma, as a young woman, fends off an angry swan that is about to attack a child. Had I known then what I know now, I would have made it a goose not a swan.

Part of my itch to write her story was a desire to explore why she and her firstborn son, Edward, (later known as The Confessor) hated each other. The relationship was hostile. And that is why I say that not everyone in King Edward’s Realm of England that day in March 1052 was mourning. I reckon Eddie put the flags out and celebrated. Silly man.

Read more here - posting March 6th 2015 - a full article about Emma.

Lege feliciter (read happily).


 

February
 2015

As you all guessed, the resolutions I so glibly made at the start of the New Year have already been broken.

This is what you will read in last month’s Journal:

1. Have a shower before 10.30 a.m. I don’t get up late, in fact I am often in my study by 8.30 but I tend to tell myself, “I’ll just answer these e-mails… update Facebook/my blog” then discover it is well past ten o’clock. Although, there is something cosy about writing in my nice snuggly fluffy dressing gown on a cold and frosty morning. BROKEN.

Well what do you expect on cold, wet, dark wintery mornings?

2. Say ‘no’ more often to things that I don’t really want to do, or do not have time to do. I know this one will be broken, because I’ve made the same resolution for the past nth years. Yes, BROKEN.

What IS the difficulty with saying ‘No’?

3. Get my newsletter to my webmaster in good time before the end of the month. Ah, maybe this one is a keep… NOT BROKEN (yet), but read on…

4. Stop gazing out of the window and get on with my writing. BROKEN.

5. Cut down on cheese and homemade scones with cream and jam. HA HA! Did I seriously intend to keep this? How much homebrewed apple and blackberry gin had I consumed when I thought this one up?

Number three is a positive (so far, but then it is only February), except I have been hampered by Outside Interference. To whit (to quote a well-known Trekkie phrase): ‘It’s the Internet, Jim, but not as we know it.’

For a good part of January I had no Internet. Everything was working fine Tuesday evening when I logged off, disregarding the slow speed I have, but then I live in a very rural area not far from Exmoor, so that is to be expected. Wednesday morning I had an eye clinic appointment at Barnstaple Hospital. Lovely staff, very efficient, appointments run more-or-less to time. Great. When we lived in London, our local hospital, Whipps Cross, was a nightmare to visit. Sensible people took packed lunches to their appointments; it was anyone’s guess when you would emerge into the daylight again.

I was tired when I got home, and the customary eye-drops meant I could not do any work, so I put my feet up for a couple of hours. When I eventually turned the computer on, I had a connection but nothing was loading. The blue light on the router was steady. My computer declared ‘connected’ but nothing was happening beyond ‘loading’ going around and around and around. Buffering? Nope, we had very clearly hit the buffers and ground to a halt.

Certain the fault was a Service Provider problem and nothing to do with my equipment, I asked my webmaster to tag my received emails with a ‘Locked in Purdah’ notification, and took the opportunity to write.

So, Internet-less, I had two articles tucked away, three reviews of books written and took a few nice walks in the woods. Add to those this newsletter, a complete re-edit of the first half of On The Account (the next novel being written) and several new chapters completed without pause for reading and replying to emails.

Am I back online? If you haven't heard from me via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and the like, then No, I am not. If you are reading this and thinking; ‘But how did she do her journal?’ the answer is simple. There is still the old-fashioned way. I wrote it, printed it, and posted it by snail mail to my Webmaster. How he got it to this point, though, I have absolutely no idea. (You know me and my ignorance of bleh-type techie stuff…)

Maybe this No Internet business, at least for Jesamiah Acorne fans, is a good thing. Despite the distractions outside my window, writing the fifth Sea Witch Voyage - while not conversing on social media - is taking priority. At last.

We have lived in Devon for exactly two years now and I realise I have not been able to write with the in-depth concentration I require because of no longer needing to escape my surroundings. Writing was a way to block Walthamstow out. I had to live there, but could mentally transport myself to another time and place to get away from the noise, pollution and unhappiness. Here in Devon there is nothing to run away from.

So I can now enjoy the longed-for dream-come-true, but also re-embrace that other place, the World of Imagination. Maybe the Internet Disruption is a good thing – the kick-start needed to get back to writing?

Just to remind you of what you are waiting for, take a look at the Home Page graphic for February 2015.

Captain Acorne, even if he is a fictional pirate, makes very good Eye Candy for a Valentine’s Day drop-dead gorgeous hero doesn’t he? And for the guys… Tiola is a bit of alright as well!

Lege feliciter (read happily).


 

January
 2015

Woke up this morning (29th December) to a belated White Christmas – if a heavy frost counts as white, that is. I had to let the ducks and the goose out with the aid of a hammer because the door to their Night House (safe from foxes) was frozen. And then the goose spent the next five minutes complaining because the water in their little pond was hard. Add another five minutes for her screaming at the ground because it was all nasty and white. Kathy calls her Bernadette, but I think she should be ‘Mrs Bennett’ because she reminds me of the always panicking Mrs B in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. “Oh my poor nerves!”

The goose is a character, and I can quite see where the saying “silly goose” came from… here is proof: What is that other saying? “You don’t have to be mad to live here. But it helps.”

Well, Kathy and Adam are moved into their new home – aptly named ‘Little Owl Lodge’. The days before Christmas were a tad hectic as we were finishing off the last few fiddly bits, then moving furniture from the Big House into the Little House. Here’s wishing them lots of happiness in their new (literally new) home.

On another matter and as an update: if anyone missed it, the new Sea Witch Trailer is now public on YouTube – do take a look and click ‘like’ if you have a YouTube account. There were 306 views of the trailer when I looked; it would be so nice to double that – so spread the word folks!

I have a few New Year Resolutions to make, although I know they will all be broken within a few days:

1. Have a shower before 10.30 a.m.
I don’t get up late, in fact I am often in my study by 8.30 but I tend to tell myself, “I’ll just answer these e-mails, and update Facebook and my blog” then discover it's well past ten o’clock. Although, there is something cosy about writing in my nice snuggly fluffy dressing gown on a cold and frosty morning.

2. Say ‘no’ more often to things that I don’t really want to do, or do not have time to do.
I know this one will be broken, because I’ve made the same resolution for the past nth years.

3. Get this newsletter to my webmaster in good time before the end of the month.
See above for not keeping this.

4. Stop gazing out of the window and get on with my writing.
Again, see above.

5. Cut down on cheese and homemade scones with cream and jam.
Ditto…

What are your New Year Resolutions I wonder? How about ‘Read all Helen’s books again”?

Whatever your hopes and dreams – I wish you all a very Happy New Year.
May the sun shine on your face,
May the Moon light your path,
And may all shadows fall behind you.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Lege feliciter (read happily).