Friday, December 19, 2014

My Christmas Message

I am finally drawing to the end of revising my latest attempt at a novel. As you probably know, I only write historical novels. but my WIP is a total departure of period for me (14th century). It is my interpretation of what few facts there are about the small nuns' priory that once existed in 500 yards from home. As I come up for air, I find it's also high time for me to mull over my 2014. And what a year it's been. 

The progress of this novel has been incredibly slow and faltering. far slower than I ever intended. The third stroke I suffered November 2013 affected me in more ways than the first two. First my hands are stiff and uncoordinated and I now type as if I'm wearing boxing gloves which makes for loads and loads of silly typos. These have always been my downfall but now they are even worse. (In fact, I have found that many of the mental and physical ills I have always struggled with, (physical coordination, balance plus reading long sentences as found in writers such as Henry James as well as arithmetic I always had low marks for) have deteriorated further. I also struggle now with areas I have never struggled with before,  like spelling, vocabulary and sentence structure. That is annoying enough but is also compounded by the fact that my brain does not work as quickly or as efficiently as it used to. My brain synapses are made of weak lengths of string and can easily unravel, especially when I am tired. This has resulted  in a rethink of my writing and reading programme. I have had to teach myself patience for myself as well as others and to accept my snail-like progress. I could never undertake NaNoWriMo these days - not that I've ever wanted to. Just as well.

This all makes me think again about Julian of Norwich who has been at the forefront of my thoughts as I wrote the novel. (I'm not a believer in organised religion of any sort. If pressed, I might call myself a Humanist although I have great affection for Quakers.) 

Despite the horrid start to the year, health-wise which continued when Jon underwent a major heart operation six months later. The rest of the year became a slow and wobbly climb-back for both of us but, at last, we are both bursting with plans and ambitions for 2015.

So I shall leave you with this remarkable 14th century woman whose dates are actually later than my novel which is set in the early years of the century and well before the catastrophic Black Death. The novel could have extra-added oomph if I could have mad use of it. Only, one problem with historical fiction is that you can tinker a little when it comes to interpretation and tone but not with facts and especially not dates. 

Anyway, I leave you with my best wishes for Christmas and the New Year and leave you with Julian of Norwich's words I have have whole-heartedly adopted and on which I have based the premise of the novel as well as used as frontispiece. I dedicate it to all you lovely people who read my blog and have supported my over 2014.

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well"

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

One of the first Persephone books I ever bought was in the last century. Well, 1999, actually. It was about then they began to re-publish excellent books that had been allowed to go out of print. And what discoveries I have made between there and now; not only fiction, but glimpses into a different world, ranging from novels, both light and dark, cookery books, social history, social comedy, biography - you name it, they publish them. And not only from this side of the pond...

...which brings me to The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. It is now being re-printed as the eleventh Persephone Classic. Looking back, I have a horrible feeling I didn't read it at the time, always intending to do so at a later date. Many I did indeed but somehow missed this one. No longer. And I love it.

So, before I discuss The Home-Maker as a novel with characters, a plot and much to say, please pop over to Persephone Books and take pleasure in everything there is to know about these wonderful books.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher
(1879-1958) was born in Kansas was a home-maker (in the UK we use the term, 'housewife') who also added significantly to the household budget by her writing. She was also an advocate of Montessori children's education system. Today, much of what it encouraged is seen as vital and, yes, normal. At the time when this book was written it must have sounded very odd. Not only were children not heard, they certainly weren't seen and more importantly, weren't actually listened to. Even today, it is still rare in many societies.

The society in which The Home-Maker is set  is dominated, as one might expect, by church and chapel and the Ladies Guild. Everyone knows one another and all shop at the department store, Willing's Emporium, which sells everything. Events takes place not long after the end of the Great War.  The novel concentrates on one family: Lester and Evangeline Knapp and their three children, in descending order of age: Helen, Henry and Stephen.

They are a loving couple we are told. As is de rigeur, Lester has a clerical job in the accounts department of Willings. Evangeline cooks and cleans and cares for the children. Helen and Henry attend school. Stephen is not old enough. Although they have enough to eat, they are well-clothed, thanks to Evangeline's talent with a needle and cooker. Only, all are miserable and some have medical problems. Lester loathed his job and is not very good. Both he and Henry have problems with their digestion and must eat bland food. The youngest, Stephen, is even though to be an impossible child, naughty, even wicked. He is prone to outbursts of hysterical crying and fits of wild anger. Even the perfect, clever, efficient Evangeline is always on the go and suffers from eczema.

Of course, there is a major crisis. (no plot spoilers here.) The result is that Evangeline becomes the wage-earner and Lester, the home-maker. And, with a twist at the end, their health and happiness, both mental and physical improve beyond measure. What begins as an emergency measure becomes essential. Many people have seen this as a novel that advocates women's rights, but this novel is as much about men's rights as well. What's more important the main thrust is children's rights.

As Lester thinks it through: "How about the children? Did anybody suggest to women that they give to understanding their children a tenth part of their time and real intelligence and real purposefulness they put into getting the right clothes for them? A tenth? A hundredth!" The living, miraculous, infinitely fragile fabric of the little human souls they live with - did they treat that with the care and deft-handed patience they gave to their filet-ornamented table-linen. No, they wring it out and hang it up to dry as they did their dish-cloths."

I actually find that Evangeline is the least sympathetic character in the novel. Even though she becomes a happy and fulfilled woman, who is also able eventually to love and enjoy her children, everything she stands for is far less interesting and impressive to me than what Lester learns about his children. I also fail to see that the marriage is a truly loving relationship because they never understand the truth of the situation at the novel's conclusion. They both realise the truth of the situation but they do not talk about it together. Perhaps the point is not so much them, but human society in general.

PS. I cared about Stephen the most. To me he is the most interesting, engaging and sympathetic character in the whole novel. Lester notices that, despite his early struggles handling his intelligence, he is the outstanding member of the Knapp family. Many other readers have remarked on the scene where Lester watches him learning to handle the mechanics of an egg-whisk (without any egg). You must read this short section, if nothing else, if you want to understand the beast way to understand children learn without adult intervention (or rather) interference.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'm up to my ears with revision/editing my WIP...

...but I'm still reading because I can't not read in the same way I can't not breathe.

So, if, like me,  you're interested in anything to do with writing and reading, I would like to recommend Where I'm Reading From by Tim Park. If nothing else, it gets writers and readers discussing, agreeing and disagreeing. I'm all for that.

It's a compilation of articles first published in the New York Review of Books.

Here's the blurb:

"Should you finish every book you start?

How has your family influenced the way you read?

What is literary style?

How is the Nobel Prize like the World Cup?

Why do you hate the book your friend likes?

Is writing really just like any other job?

What happens to your brain when you read a good book?

As a novelist, translator and critic, Tim Parks is well-placed to investigate any questions we have about books and reading. In this collection of lively and provocative pieces he talks about what readers want from books and how to look at the literature we encounter in a new light."


If my house had enough bookshelves and I had unlimited time to read every single book published by ONE publisher, that publisher would be Persephone Books.  If you haven't heard of this publisher (if not, why not?) please take a mo and visit the lovely website. You will soon tell if it's your sort of publisher. If you're not, that's fine. But I absolutely adore everything about them. And have lots of its books (all with such wonderful wend-papers, bookmark etc.) My only complaint is that I have never been in the shop and probably will never get there - unless I'm asked by anyone willing to may my travel and accommodation expenses. Well, an old girl can dream. After all, that's one of the reasons  why I love to write fiction. 

Anyway, Persephone Books has ambitions to make one of its most popular titles The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canley Fisher into a best-seller. So, they are inviting readers to ask for a free copy - yes a free copy - and blog about it or tweet about it using the hash-tag (#homemakerbook). They are about to republish it as a Persephone Classic and as an e-book. Why not join in? Your can also join in on the conversation on their forum here

So, although I already own a copy and have read and enjoyed it, I am going to re-read it and blog about it. I would love you to ask for a free copy so you can join in the discussion with me. This will probably be in January  2015 at which point I hope to have finally submitted the finished version of my WIP to my agent. If you hear nothing more from me about it, you will gather it will have reached the end of the line. My fingers are crossed as I am an optimist with plenty of plans. But I shall never stop writing and reading.  I may pop into Twitter and Facebook from time to time and am happy to reply to emails from my friends and fellow writers but otherwise I shall be busy writing or, as it's winter, ...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


You've asked me splendid questions and I so wanted  to reply...but yet again I can't add any comments on my own blog for the moment either using Chrome or Explorer! So I'm adding a postscript which I hope will help.

The Harrogate History Festival only began in 2013 and is. as yet. far less crowded, frenetic or boozy than the Crime Festival nor does it overwhelm the town and fill every hotel. However,  it is rapidly becoming THE place to go if you write, read or are interested in any kind of historical fiction. In the same way the Crime Festival also features 'real' crime and the detection of crime (I seem to recall interviews with a criminal pathologist and also a detective on police procedure in previous years), the History Festival also features talks by and interviews with historians and museum curators. In 2013, THE  sell-out events was a talk by the determined lady who discovered Richard III's bones interred in a municipal car-park in Leicester.

The main difference is the time of year. Although the weather was unseasonably warm this year, it is held in October so no sunbathing on the grass or quaffing iced Pimms in the shade! (instead, this year, we got a horde of Vikings storming us in the dark brandishing flaming torches!)

And in the same way as the Crime Festival features all kinds of crime writing from, say,  Scottish 'Noir' to a reappraisal of Agatha Christie, (who famously was discovered incognito in the very hotel where both Festivals take place) the History Festival  is for every kind of historical fiction writer or reader. There's something for everyone. After all, what you did yesterday is now history. So the range is wide-open.  And it'n not only the kind of history you learned at school. You can enjoy alternate history. (The Germans invaded Britain. The Confederate Army won the American Civil War etc etc. Steam-punk is a historical fiction genre. So, if you're a historical crime writer, or whether you write about Romans. Vikings, Incas, Greeks, Nazis, Victorians or the Swinging Sixties, you're welcome. As for time-slip, the keynote speaker in 2013 was Kate Mosse who wrote the Labyrinth series. The sky's the limit when it comes to historical fiction as well as crime. 

Do come. I hope to see all of you there in 2015. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Harrogate History Festival Miscellany

It's hard to believe it all happened over a week ago. It's only now I've come down to earth and can put it all into perspective. These events are always do that to me (poor old soul).

So where do I start?  Well, you'll get a clearer picture than anything I'm going to write if you read Alison Morton's accounts Read parts one and two here. It was great to meet her again this year and we both had a whale of a time even though she skipped off in the middle to speak at the RNA chapter meeting. (I've almost forgiven her.) Alison is an inspiration to all historical fiction writers;  and full of humour, knowledge and clear thinking, all of which I lack these days.

First of all, praise and a wreath of laurels should be garlanded around Manda Scott's brow. She is the doyenne and the brain that launched the whole event and she continues to be a brilliant organiser and grande dame. She is so busy and yet totally unflustered. In a word, she is brilliant.

I am going to pick out some of my highlights, in no particular order. (That is, as they occur to me.) Manda interviewed the inimitable Sandi Toksvig in a conversation called Desert Island Books. In it Sandi chose 8 books in the manner of the enduring radio programme. Some of them relate to her childhood reading and others books she has found inspiring or thought-provoking - or both. I jotted down some books I was was prompted to read for myself as well as those enjoy again: such as my all-time favourite: Dickens' Bleak House. It was a wonderful evening. That was on the Friday night.

I shall now jump back to the very first evening when the whole proceedings were given a rousing opening by the arrival of a torch-bearing horde of Vikings that had marched through Harrogate before arriving at the Old Swan. These were actually some very well-informed and entertaining Viking re-enactors, some of whom I chatted to and quizzed after the opening event which was the awarding of the prize for the best début historical novel in 2014. (More of which later. Well, I did say I would be doing everything out of order.)

I waqsw also pleased to meet again the wonderful historical novelist, Elizabeth Chadwick whose novels I love as much as those by Philippa Gregory. She is part way through a fascinating trilogy featuring the amazing Eleanor of Aquitaine. I was able to buy the second novel in the trilogy, having enjoyed the first and can't wait for the third after which she will return - hooray - to William Marshall.

And, before I forget, how about reading Alison Morton's series of alternate Roman novels? She knows I am not particularly enamoured of things Roman, having had the Roman Empire rammed down my throat between the ages of 11 and 13 but still talks to me! 

However, I had one of those 'road to Damascus' moments when I attended a conversation between Charlotte Higgins and Richard Hobbs. The latter is the curator of Romano-British collections in the British Museum and the former is the chief arts writer for the Guardian who has written of her account of a trip around Britain in search for the impact of the Romans on the landscape. The ensuing book is Under Another Sky which I have found a fascination and inspirational read.

  On the Saturday evening, there was yet another inspirational event which I hope will become the first of many. This was the Author Dinner and the theme was food in history. In the small library three large tables had been set out to which all those who had bought a ticket had a seat. Each table was hosted by an author and I was delighted to be on Andre Taylor's table. What's more, in addition to a share in the wine to oil the wheels of conversation (not that any was needed) we each were given a hardback copy of Andrew's novel The Silent Boy which he later signed. I was seated with some fascinating fellow guests whose conversation sparkled about many topics that had nothing to do with history or books such as Yorkshire's Tour de France. Andrew Taylor was great company and spoke to every one of us individually at the table with quiet charm and  politesse. I am now an even greater fan.

Before I bore you all to tears, I can't end without mentioning that Kate Worsley won the Crown for 
Début Historical Fiction with one of my favourite recent novels: She Rises. Congratulations, Kate. A worthy winner.

I know I've missed too much out. There was so much that inspired and invigorated me and also, alas, tired me out. Thank goodness for a lovely room and comfortable bed, not to mention great hospitality (not to mention food)  courtesy of The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate. It was such a fulfilling three days, I am definitely attending next year, Deus Veult. Maybe I'll see more of you!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Harrogate History Festival 2014

I had such a good time last year that I booked as soon as I could for this year's event that starts this very Thursday! I have spent the last few weeks in nervous anticipation, dreading that something might prevent me attending. But I am now packed and prepared and once more looking forward to returning to my old home town of Harrogate to be part of things. There are even more people I am longing to hear and will buy too many books, I am sure from my much loved (and erstwhile employer) Waterstones, Harrogate, where, incidentally, I enjoyed a fabulous signing-session  for my novel Hope Against Hope.  Take a look at the details of the Festival.

If you're also attending and possibly staying at the Old Swan Hotel, do seek me out. I'll be around - probably in the bar which is not, I hasten to add not so crowded than it is during the annual Crime Festival. I can confirm that historical-fiction writers enjoy a drink but not in such quantities as crime readers and writers whom through you have to fight to get to the bar or even sit down. We hist-fictioners are far more restrained!

I will write about it when I get home on Sunday and have recovered. These writing events are always tiring, whatever the genre.

The famous Old Swan, here and below.

It's a shame the History Festival is held in October when the Crime event enjoys summer weather!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Just because I'm currently immersed in revising...

...doesn't mean I'm not still reading avidly. I have heard that some novelists daren't read anything other than their work in progress. Their reasoning? Either they're far, far too busy (some people have deadlines - lucky them) or they fear they'll end up copying the style of whichever author's novel they pick up.

I couldn't be more different. I'm never not reading a book - usually a novel but not necessarily. It could be history, biography or something for research and background reading, be it a recipe book, topography and nature. A few months ago I read all about keeping bees, now or in the past, cooking with honey etc. However, it's more likely to be fiction. As I've said before, I am book-mad, a bookaholic as it were.

As for inadvertently copying someone else's style, it has never happened to me. I can't do party tricks or impressions or speak in another accent from the one I'm stuck with now. I  admire certain writers more than others, love certain paragraphs and read them twice while trying to pin-point why they work so well. But I can't copy them. however much I wish to. I write like me. It's either good or bad, boring or even interesting, depending on the reader. I can't do anything else. I am what I am although I'me always learning and improving - I hope.

Anyway, here are a few books from the many I've read lately and loved for different reasons. But don't ask me to judge which I enjoyed the most.

I won't give any reviews or recommend you read any of them. But I have read them all with differing amounts of admiration. All all had their good and bad points and will appeal to different readers. Some you may hate. And - surprise, surprise. They're all historical novels.  .

Here is the exception. to my list. I have yet to read the following novel. But I will. It's on its way. Its companion (and first novel) is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. As I loved that novel to bits and because the reviews of 'Queenie'  have all been favourable, I'm bound to love it, too. I'll tell you later...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Welcome to my new blog

I hope all my friends and anyone who might like to follow my journey to continued publication have arrived here safely.

For those of you who haven't a clue who I am, this brief introduction may be useful. (Please feel free to skip it.)  My previous blog (The Elephant in The Writing Room) can be found here. I will keep it on-line for a while in case anyone might want to look back at my struggles, joys and woes, both personal and writing-related. But it may well disappear before too long.

My writing journey has been a steep learning curve and any success has been hard won. I began writing around the time when I turned 40 and chose to join an adult education course run by the local authority. It was called Writing For Pleasure and Profit. I was lost for words when I read that was how the inestimable Della Galton began. You can read her interview for The People's Friend here. Many thanks to Kath McGurl aka womag writer who brought it my attention.

Unlike Della, I was very naive. I hadn't got a clue that 'ordinary' people like me could write fiction for magazines. When I was heard others in the class listing their successes, I was astounded and decided to have a go. But, being an ignorant twerp, I immediately sent five stories to "Bella." magazine and actually believed I would get a big cheque in return. Honestly! That was how stupid I was. Needless to say, they were returned pdq with a standard rejection slip.

And so began the arduous climb of writing loads and learning, understanding the business and, more importantly, the skill not to mention the art. The way slow (basically because I am not a confident writer, am easily discouraged by put-downs and need encouragement - but not flattery.) Over the years, I have come across sharks and false friends but have also managed to notch up a few wins and places in decent short story competitions. I was so lucky at that time to get to know the lovely Jo Derrick, who has helped me more than she will ever know, has never let me down. Thank you, Jo, from the bottom of my heart. I love you.

Then I won a short story competition in which the first prize was the publication of my novella 'Chasing Angels.' Thank you Brian Lister and your wonderful Biscuit Publications - alas no more.

(One day I would like to revamp it as a full-length novel - if I ever get the chance.) I was fortunate when Myrmidon Books published my novel, Hope Against Hope. a few years after that  I am still very proud of it although I feel I could write it so much better now although I look back on the whole experience with mixed feelings.

Alas, shortly after that, the wheels fell off.  A fractured hip heralded several years of ill-health (three strokes and repeated infections) plus a ghastly year of a total inability to write - and a "why the heck do I bother?" feeling. Then my husband of over 40 years became very ill (through an illness he contracted when he was a teenager) and underwent major heart surgery earlier this year. It was a bad time. However, he is now fully recovered and I am back to writing again. Hooray! Oh, but it's been tough.

For instance, a novel (The Lark Ascending) that was submitted to several publishers before the centenary of the Great War was rejected (but with several nice letters of rejection) but now the moment had gone and it languishes unpublished. I was then encouraged by my agent to change tack and have now almost finished a novel set in the 14th century. I am quite confident about it (yet well aware of how a writer's hopes can be crushed by repeated rejections, bad luck and the vagaries of the market - not to mention poor writing.)

So, now seems the right time for a blog re-vamp although nothing much will change. So...please continue along (or join) this rocky road with me. I need all the friends I can get.

Looking back; looking forwards

So it's that time of the year when we review what we did in 2017 and plan what we will do in 2018. All I can say is...