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Friday, June 30, 2006

The Simpsons

I'm likely to be offline for the next 8-10 days (no phone connection and between houses). Here's a little fun to keep you occupied. I LOVE this video. (I initially lifted it from Rodney's blog and posted to my old blog back in March). Enjoy!

I'm already missing you guys, and I can't wait to get back to some kind of 'normality'(whatever that is) once the move is completed. Don't forget me while I'm gone!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fiction Writing Master Class


*Disclaimer: All the answers are paraphrased and based on original answers from the authors (Philippa Gregory and Bernard Cornwell). I have a memory like a sieve at the best of times. I've put these notes together to the best (or worst) of my ability.

What methods did you use when you first started writing?

Bernard: I began by breaking down my favourite books into segments, looking at what worked. For instance, I went through highlighting the elements of action, emotion, the flashback scenes. There’s a certain intuition involved when it comes to the act of writing – regarding pace etc. You’re able to recognise what works and what doesn’t.

Philippa: I went to journalist school and applied the same basic principles to the art of fiction writing. You need to make sure you know the answers to the questions of who, what, where and when and then build each individual scene around those answers.

How do you begin to write historical fiction?

Philippa: I think of myself as a Realist writing in a different time period, rather than writing simple escapism. You have to be 100% true to the period you're writing about, yet at the same time make sure that you balance the background information with your own story. I don’t think about my readers when I write.

Bernard: I agree – my advice is to write for yourself. Don’t think of the market, just write what you want to read. When it comes to writing historical fiction, it’s important to balance the Big Story – that is, the historical background of the period, for instance, the big events and politics of the time; the atmosphere; the attention to detail – with the Little Story – the story of your characters' lives and the actions and interactions they’re involved in.

How important is history when it comes to writing historical fiction?

Bernard: Primarily, you have to remember that you’re a storyteller, you’re not a historian. If people want to read the history of the period then they’ll go to the library and get one of the hundreds of non-fiction books that exist. You don’t necessarily need to stick rigidly to the history of the period but you DO need to incorporate it into your story’s timeline. However, at all times you should be as accurate as possible.

Philippa: The historical background is extremely important to your novel – it has to be 100% rigid. I always keep my characters as close to recorded history as is physically possible (for instance, my character of Mary Boleyn in 'The Other Boleyn Girl'), but at the same time you have to remember that your character is an imaginary creation.

What’s the most difficult thing about being a historical novelist?

Philippa: The hardest part of being a writer of historical fiction is the difficulty of getting your reader into the scene. When they first come to a particular sequence, they’ll feel ‘outside’ and distanced from it. Once you have them settled into the narrative it’s fine, so the biggest challenge is drawing them into the scene. It’s definitely easier when using a first person narrator – as I did in my novel 'The Queen’s Fool'.

Bernard: Being authentic is important. But the difficulties are the same when writing in any genre. I always have a handful of techniques that I swear by. One of these is the 'door in the wall' technique. For instance, when writing my Sharpe adventures, I’ll typically have Sharpe walking down an alleyway with a dead end. Metaphorically you understand. He’ll turn round and find himself with his back to the wall in an impossible situation, with certain death facing him at the other end. Now, when you’re writing this kind of scenario, you can devise a 'door in the wall' – an unexpected escape route that allows your hero or heroine to extricate themselves from the situation. Then you can simply go back to earlier in the novel and mention this door beforehand; that way your readers won’t feel cheated because they’ll click and remember it.

How do you research your books?

Philippa: I start off with research because it’s the most important thing. My biggest piece of advice though is to write critically – don’t fall in love with your time period because you’ll be sidetracked by your emotions. You have to stand back and think about the period logically – what was the climate of your period? What motivated people to act the way they did in those days?

Bernard: 80% of my research comes from books. Either borrowing them from the library or ordering them; you need to really get to grips with your subject. The other 20% of the research comes from trips to museums and visits to the actual locations where your action is taking place, although of course the latter isn’t always possible depending on your budget.

How much research is enough?

Bernard: I usually end up throwing 95% of it out of my books. That is, I write all of the background information, then go through and ruthlessly delete all of the stuff that doesn’t drive the story forward. But I do like to envelop myself in the period – I read history all the time. I surround myself with large maps so I know where I am physically when I’m writing.

Philippa: I only research the background to get knowledge of the period in hand. Most of the foreground comes from my imagination. I use a combination of charts, a big whiteboard and lots of different timelines so I know where I am. A good tip is to use a different colour pen for each character – that makes it easier to keep track of their progress and life.

How can a first-timer go about getting published?

Bernard: Get an agent. I thoroughly recommend it.

Philippa: The best thing is to split yourself into two mindsets. The first one is yourself as an artist in the study where you are the centre of your universe. The second is the outside view where you’re nothing more than one of a pile of manuscripts on the publisher’s desk. You have to balance between the two different mindsets. I really recommend joining the Society of Authors.

Any final tips for somebody writing their first historical novel?

Bernard: It’s important to accept that your first draft is usually going to be utter rubbish. It’s there simply for you to get the story told. After the first draft, you can chuck most of the research out and put all your details in on the rewrite. I always remember a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut, the science fiction writer. He said that “Every book starts with a question”. Make sure yours does.

Philippa: Just focus on getting to the end of the story; as soon as you arrive there, the hardest part is over. Treat history as the texture of your story and try to breathe life into it. Write as if you are there – picture the particular scenes in your mind’s eye and imagine taking part yourself. Focus on your five senses. Remember to feel it, don’t just say it or tell it. You’ll only be successful if you can convince your reader that you’re in it 100%.

*Many thanks to my DH (who was also at the Master Class and has a good memory). He helped me correlate the notes so that they made sense!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Philippa Gregory

Whenever I think about Bernard Cornwell, my thoughts automatically turn towards Philippa Gregory, simply because they both gave the Master Class together at London Book Fair 2005.

The first book I ever read of Philippa's was 'The Queen's Fool' and I've been hooked ever since.

I love reading historical fiction, and this one is the second in a trilogy, set during the Tudor period and in the Royal household of King Henry VIII. Each book can be read as a stand-alone novel, so it doesn't matter if, like me, you read them out of sequence!

">Philippa hasn't always written historical fiction. 'Perfectly Correct' is another wonderful book that most likely comes under the 'chick-lit' genre.

I have a few notes that I made from the Master Class, and if I can make any sense of them, I'll post the advice I gleaned from both Philippa and Bernard soon.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bernard Cornwell Awarded OBE

Three cheers for Bernard Cornwell for 'recognition of his contributions to literature and the furtherance of British culture abroad'.

For those who may think they're not be familiar with Bernard's work, here's a photo of Bernard on set with his hero from his bestselling Sharpe series:

And, just in case you still need a reminder (or perhaps inspiration for your next hero) here's some more pictures of Sean Bean in his role as Sharpe:

Many congratulations to Bernard .

Claim to fame: DH and I were lucky enough to meet Bernard back in 2005 at the London Book Fair Master Class.

Monday, June 26, 2006


It's nearly 5pm and I have spent the entire day on the telephone!
From 8.30am to nearly midday I was speaking to telephone companies - one who'd made an error on my bill, and the other to organise transfer of the broadband/telephone line etc. Why is it that even when you take note of somebody's name they can never be tracked down again?

This afternoon has been spent telephoning relevant council departments. I decided to email one particular department, and I have seen (through automated receipts that have been sent) my one email being deleted without being read by one person, and read by no less than four other people. I have a feeling that I may be receiving more than one set of forms in the near future!

Friday, June 23, 2006

That Friday Feeling

After my tiring Thursday (and physically over doing things), today I have no option but to take things easy. At first I hoped this would mean catching up with some writing, but as I can barely sit on the chair (because of the pain), it doesn't look like that's going to happen for a while. Rather than stress about it (like I usually do), I'm going to revel in that Friday feeling...

Once I've posted this, I'm going back to bed and indulging myself with hours of reading... bliss.

Three guesses as to what I'll be doing for the rest of the weekend though...

Enjoy your Friday feeling, after all, it only comes round once a week.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tired Thursday

I have reached the point where I am feeling overwhelmed by everything.

We visited our new house yesterday and it was very depressing. To cut a long story short the previous tenants wrecked the place. The agents have faithfully promised that everything will be in order before they hand over the key - in eight days time no less!

I'm not convinced. They've achieved very little during the past three weeks, so what's going to make the next 8 days any different?

I feel so tired/fatigued right now that I can't face the thought of not only having to get our own property up to scratch, but being left with a tip in the new place to sort out before we can even think about moving in.

DH, bless him, is ferociously trying to finish TWO TMAs that are due in the next few days, so that he can then concentrate on packing etc. And I thought I was under pressure! Not only that, but he's trying to keep my spirits up too.

Well, I'm overdosing on the prayers, and with a little help from Him upstairs and my family, I can only have faith:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

USA Readers Read On:

I've been catching up with some of the writers' groups I belong to, and I came across the following information from Charlotte Dillon's Romance Writers Conference (Social).

Help support the Fight Against Cervical Cancer by ordering a completely FREE bracelet kit! It doesn't cost anything, not even shipping.

For every kit ordered Merck Pharmaceuticals is donating $1 and has pledged to donate "up to $100,000 to the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation for cervical cancer awareness and screening programs".

As Charlotte says, it's all legit, so why not pass the message on...

The Latest Craze...

... to hit the home of 'she who shall not be named', is the home sauna...

Be warned, it could be coming to you next!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

It's All in the Name

Liz Fielding recently posted how difficult it can be to find a suitable name for characters.

I have a huge headache when finding names for my characters. My current heroine started out as 'Chloe'. I've always loved this name, and I thought it was original in that I do not personally know anybody with this name. However, when dd heard me reading part of the mss aloud (as I'm prone to do from time to time to check its readability), she went pale and pleaded with me to change the heroine's name.

I'd completely forgotten the bad experiences my dd had at the hands of a person with the same name. As Liz points out in her post, names can conjure up certain connotations in the reader, and these may not always be good. On this occasion I allowed my dd to dictate that I needed to find another name for my heroine - in fact she helped me choose one. 'Chloe' has now become 'Kate'.

For this manuscript, Kate does suit the character, but I still can't help feeling that at some point in the future 'Chloe' has a story to tell. I'm even hoping that should my dd ever read the story, it will finally eradicate her not-so-nice memories and replace them with the characteristics that I'm sure the majority of 'Chloes' have.

As for finding names for my heroes, that is even more of a nightmare!

How do you generate names for your characters, and does the naming process come easier to you than it does to me?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Deed is Done

Yesterday we took DS to look around his new school.

I've looked around many schools over the years but this one was the largest ever. It even beat the school DD went to when we lived in London.

This new school has approximately 2,000 students - 550 in DS's year alone. Pretty scary when his current year only has approx 150!

We were all somewhat surprised and very impressed with this school. It offers so many opportunities for the students. Considering its size we were expecting chaos and noise during our tour, but everything was organised.

The icing on the cake for DS is the school uniform. It's comfort all the way - polo shirt (no tie), and black trainers are allowed (DS currently has to wear the whole shirt, tie, blazer, shoes etc.).

Fingers crossed, everything looks like it's going to work out fine.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Ideas4writers was originally launched in August 2002 to provide writers with numerous ideas and plenty of advice.

From 1st August 2006 they will be relaunching as a book publishing company.

For those of us who never became full paying members, ideas4writers are offering one last chance to become a full member without needing a voucher (which can only be obtained from buying one of their books).

Lifetime memberships are being offered for a one-time only payment of £4.99! The advantage is that you can also pay via Paypal as well as other methods.

To quote from their newsletter: "If you've been putting off joining or thinking that maybe you'll join "one of these days" - well that day is here! You have until 30th June, otherwise it'll be too late. Don't miss out - do it now" Click here to join.

I am one of those people who've put off joining. But not anymore! Lifetime membership is worth £299, so I figured £4.99 from my Bon Jovi tickets was worth the investment.

Tempted to join me?

*DH has just pointed out that it sounds like I work for them, LOL! I don't. This is one of those occasions where I feel the quality of what they have to offer is too good to keep to myself.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

When I first read this book I loved the tension and conspiracy in it. Then I did some of my own research into the author and the plot etc. A week ago I also wasted three hours of my time at the cinema in the hope of proving the critics wrong and discovering that it was a great film. How wrong I was. I'm a great believer in the saying from Thumper's mother in Bambi, "If you ain't got nothing nice to say, don't say nothing at all." Therefore I will leave the damning review of this film to my DH:

"I was left feeling underwhelmed by Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, but nevertheless went to see the film version with high hopes. Sadly, I was left watching a totally lacklustre movie that forgets some of the fundamental rules of film-making; for instance, making the storyline interesting, pacy and exciting, all golden elements that director Ron Howard totally bypasses. Look back over this guy’s filmography, I realise that, out of all his films, I’ve only ever enjoyed two, which were Ransom and Willow. Both had a zest and sparkle which is sadly lacking in this bloated, over long blockbuster.

The list of faults which this film possesses is an endless one… the music is derivative, the script cheesy and unappealing (Hanks delivering the line “you are the last living descendent of Jesus Christ” is hands-down one of the worst lines in movie history). Howard is so keen to avoid upsetting anyone that all of the controversy surrounding certain passages in the novel disappears, and we’re left with a boring run-through instead. Also, this guy has no idea of pace. After the movie climaxes at around the 1 hour 45 minute mark, we’ve got yet another FIFTY minutes of boring exposition to sit through. It really tests the patience. Even Howard himself seems to get bored with his film at times – witness the shots of Hanks and Tautou walking through London (complete with BRIGHT RED double decker buses, post boxes and telephone boxes, seemingly in EVERY street in our capital – more spoon-fed UK fantasy for the US audience). Instead of having his protagonists just walking with a normal tracking shot, Howard decides to use special effects to blur the people in the crowd around them, turning them into what appear to be shapeshifting spirits. What the hell is the reason for doing this? In a film that strives for realism, this is a total misstep that left me scratching my head. Ditto Hanks’ “vision” in the chapel that takes place straight afterwards.

The film keeps all the clich├ęd action scenes from the book intact, except they’re even less interesting up on screen – a car chase is ruined by dodgy shaky-hand camerawork, and a tense stand-off resorts to the contrivance of a flying dove to allow our heroes to escape for the umpteenth time. Plus that annoying aeroplane escape is intact (complete with comedy-accented British policemen) and feels as much a cheat as ever.

The film’s stultifying climax is one of the worst I’ve had to sit through – even worse than the sentimental pap that marred the otherwise perfect Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The ‘joke’ where Tautou dips her toe into a pond is cheesy beyond belief and, possibly realising that there is zero chemistry between his two stars, Howard eliminates the romance between Langdon and Neveu that we found in the novel. Speaking of the stars, Hanks (complete with greasy, false-looking hair) gives his worst performance to date; unless it was his intention to make the college professor seem entirely boring. Tautou, who was so good – even perfect – in Amelie, seems stilted and unsure of herself. The only actor I really liked was Paul Bettany as Silas; his self-flagellation sequences are among the most powerful (and wince-inducing, come to that) in the film, and he evokes the only sympathy you’ll find here. Two British old hands, Ian McKellen and Alfred Molina, deal with their roles in different ways: Molina is emotionless, whilst the impish McKellen comes across as a prank-playing granddad, sniggering at the fun of it all, and somehow looking wrong when he dons his flat cap. It’s left to Euro-actors Jean Reno and Judgen Prochnow to give the most interesting performances; although Reno is left on the sidelines, his beating of a flight controller at the airport is another powerful moment, whilst Prochnow’s shifty banker is present in the only interesting bit of action.

Rating: 2/5"

Hmm... say no more. (Except save both your time and money)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Message for USA Readers

Do you fancy your chances of winning one of Kate Walker's bookbags and a signed copy of one of her books?

Jump across to her blog, and you may discover that you are her magic number...


Today's the Day...

...when we officially begin packing!

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the prospect, I'm excited. We still don't have an official moving date, but suffice to say it will be before June is over.

The bit that does threaten to overwhelm me when I allow myself to think about it, is that we are planning a D-I-Y move. We have time on our side because we pay rent on our current property until August.

The plan is to transport what we can in the backs of our cars, and on the 8th July the cavalry (in the form of my mum and her partner) will arrive with a van to make a few round trips with the furniture.

Okay, I'm not thinking that far ahead yet.

First things first, I'm off to start the packing...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Clear Your Mind

I have spent the entire morning organising my email accounts and it's amazing how much clearer my mind feels.

I have finally set up my Outlook box to take my email messages on my main computer. This is already happening on my laptop, but while I'm in better health I've not been using it.

What a difference a bit of organisation has made! Okay, it's taken me hours (I've downloaded over 2,000 messages), but I now have a clear inbox (although I still have a pile of posts to catch up on from various writing groups).

Everything has its own folder, and I'm going to ensure that I don't let my emails ever get in such a state again. Although I have a feeling that this may wind up like all my other best intentions - good for a week or two, and then back to square one!

How organised are your emails?

Saturday, June 10, 2006


I urge everybody who blogs to go and read this post.

Brenda Coulter is warning about a certain website who are blatantly stealing other bloggers' posts and passing them off as their own.

I am horrified that these people (and many others) are getting away with this. I'll leave Brenda's post to explain...


Many thanks to April, Stacy, and Sharon, for sharing their thoughts and comments (see entry posted Thursday 08 June).

I've never considered leaving myself a phone message or recording a memo on my mobile when inspiration hits me when I'm out. I bought half a dozen notebooks today (and pens), and I now have one in every room of the house (even the shower-room, LOL).

I also realise I could be more organised with my files on the computer too.

All great advice, thanks :-)

Not Such A Bad Day After All

I wasn't looking forward to today for several reasons:

Yesterday I came crashing back to reality from the cloud I've been dreaming on (don't ask).

Today should have been BON JOVI day (say no more).

Being Saturday, DH is working all day (although after yesterday's 'reality' check, I was determined not to miss him for one second).

As it turns out, today hasn't been the horrendous day I'd imagined it would be:

DD and I dropped some paint over to our new house. This means for the first time since we've been in rented, DD has a say on what colour she wants her bedroom. She's chosen apple green, and I'm also hoping the tins of paint will stretch to the room DH and I will be using for our office.

The woman from the property letting company is lovely. Their decorator is giving the house a coat of magnolia, but she said that if DD wants to choose a colour (and we provide the paint) then the decorator will paint it. The same would've applied to DS too, if he hadn't said (in front of the agent) that he wanted his room black! For that little 'joke' he's stuck for the forseeable future with the artistic magnolia!

DD and I didn't get home until 2.20pm, by which time I'd missed England's only goal! Now, this may sound strange, but I do love watching England matches. This is the only thing that DH and I don't have in common. He loathes football. Last time I watched the World Cup I was living in my own house in London, and DH cringes every time I remind him that I even got into the spirit of the occasion with the England flags etc. [Sigh] I miss London sometimes. Nobody in our cul-de-sac is flying the flag, and as we are currently in a bungalow (to DH's relief), somehow the effect doesn't feel the same so I haven't bothered.

Anyhow, I've had a better day than I'd anticipated, and England WON! WOOHOO! Who'd want to be at Milton Keynes being frazzled by the sun and queuing for hours to get out of the car park at the end of the night?!

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Do you find that when you're not physically writing, you are mentally writing - constantly?

I've really got to discipline myself to jot down every striking thought I have when I have them. My laziness in not doing this is losing me many potential articles and stories. Where do these thoughts go? I kid myself at the time that they'll still be there when I'm ready to write them down. I never learn. They disappear EVERY time!

How do we learn which thoughts to spend time focusing on, and which to throw away?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Ever felt like a yo-yo?

This is how I feel right now. My head is in writing world, but that dreaded thing called 'real-life' is still getting in the way. I'm going up and down, up and down - is it any wonder I feel dizzy?

Real life isn't so bad at the moment. It's just a matter of needing to deal with the necessary evils relating to our forthcoming move.

The good news is: healthwise it's looking like I'm at the start of a 'good spell'. (not 'normal' good, but good for me). This means that so long as I take frequent rests in between tasks, I can accomplish lots of little things.

The bad news is: My DS (aged nearly 14) has no alternative but to change schools. I was initially gutted by this. But as so often happens in life, things tend to work out for the best. DS has so far been very mature about it. We'll still be close enough for him to retain social contact with his friends, which helps.

My son is very switched on. He sees this as a perfect opportunity to cut some 'deals' with me. In other words, little things that I can do for him that will make him feel better about having to change school.

DS: "Does that mean you'll let me buy another PS 2 game before we move?" (He's had a ban on buying any more because he has a birthday coming up at the end of July, and because I don't want him distracted during the times I need his help with the move).

Me: "Umm. I could be persuaded..."


"But that doesn't mean you can buy just any game. You're still not allowed Grand Theft Auto or any other '18' certificates."

DS: "Oh. But I can really buy a game before we move?"

Me: "Yes."

We are both happy with the outcome of this deal. DS is getting to buy a game (with his money I hasten to add!), and I'm relieved that he's taken the news about the change of school so well. As a bonus for me, it was great to see he now doesn't even bother trying to argue about the '18' games.

So, when my head isn't in that magical writing place, I'm busy researching school prospectuses etc., and from tomorrow I'll be phoning around making appointments to view respective schools with DS.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

It's All Still There!!

As I write this, I'm letting out a HUGE sigh of relief. I've added just over 500 words to my mss.

I know that's not much to shout about, but it's a major achievement for me. Both characters seem to be co-operating. I could sit and right a load more, but I'm enjoying that all too rare feeling of knowing that when I next have some 'Sacred Writing Time', it's all there waiting and ready to flow.

Jacqui's advice is speaking in loud volumes to me, and when I practise it, it works! Okay, I'm not yet achieving the 1,000 words a day, but I know I will. Here are my writing excuses for yesterday: (yes, I really did write a list like Jacqui advises us to do!)

1. I need to finish cross-stich for Mother-in-law's 60th Birthday card.
2. I need to make a special card for my friend who has just had a gorgeous baby boy.
3. I need to spend time on the phone with my mum, reading a chapter from 'The Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle.

I wrote that list at 10am yesterday morning. I decided to dedicate the hour between 11am and 12pm as my 'Sacred Writing Time'. Guess what happened? DD phoned from college at 11.20am to tell me she'd finished her art exam. If I collect her (a 20 min drive away) she offered to help me get the food shopping done and promised she would spend the next two days helping me at home.

Now, it's not often I get an offer like that! I haven't been out the house in over two weeks, and I've not driven for even longer. I had to make myself go. Also, it was nice to have the opportunity to spend some time with DD (DS is at his dad's for the half term week).

Not only did we do the week's shopping but I took her to see the outside of our new house. As luck would have it, the lady from the Agents was there overseeing the new kitchen being designed and installed, so I was able to show Charlotte around. (More on that later...)

By the time we got home (I treated us to lunch out too) it was nearly 6pm and I'd overdone things. I had to accept that I just wasn't going to manage any writing.

How did you get on?