Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Big Cover Up

It's a while since I blogged but I have a good excuse. I have been working extremely hard; I have to write while the creativity is flowing and it has been gushing lately. As a result The Forest Dwellers is coming along nicely.

As the end of the first draft nears I have been considering possible covers. Peaceweaver was published with You Write On and the only flaw in the process was the cover which I feel is too plain. It was selected as the best of a bad lot provided by the publisher and it just doesn't 'say what it does on the tin' so this time I am determined to come up with something more suited to the genre.

The cover of a book encourages a prospective reader pick the thing up in the first place so it has to draw the eye, then, when they turn it over, the back cover blurb needs to be so irresistable they are hopelessly hooked. I have spent hours scanning stock photo sites for a suitable picture but the only thing that grabbed me was by a photographer who has stubbornly ignored my emails. So, (I hope) I have gone one better and cut out the middle man, so to speak.

I have purchased a gorgeous early medieval gown from Ebay, it is being flown all the way from the USA. I always try to buy local produce but this was one item I couldn't find in the high street of our local small market town.

The next trick will be to persuade my eighteen year old daughter to come to the woods and model it for me while I take some splendid photographs. She should be quite easily persuaded and, as she is a beautiful, slim, natural blonde, I am confident she will do the gown justice. I won't have to worry about copyright and, more importantly, will be able to have exactly what I want on the cover.

Publishing my novels has opened so many new avenues; I learn new skills everyday and these days I am never bored or find myself with nothing to do. The only thing that puzzles me is why I didn't get serious about my writing years ago!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Historical genre

I had an email from an agent who said that sellling historical novels to mainstream publishers is very difficult. Another lady, a writer friend, told me I am wasting my time writing historical novels because the market is flooded with them. Both comments are probably accurate but does that mean I should throw down my pen and give up?

I don't think so. It wouldn't be possible for me to write in the modern world; it is an alien place to me, I am far more at home among codpieces and longbows than I am i-pods and blackberries. Giving up writing is not an option either so I shall continue. I often wish I could think of a quick witted reply to those sort of negative comments but I never do, not until later when the conversation is long over. When I was in the shower that evening I remembered that five out of the top six novels shortlisted for the Booker prize last year were historicals and, isn't the whole literary market flooded? Isn't it always a fight to get your writing noticed? Of course it is but that doesn't mean we should all quit! I have decided that the best way to go forward is to remember the reason I began to write historical novels in the first place; it was impossible to buy the sort of novel I wanted to read. There aren't enough quality historical novels on the market.

Oh, there are plenty of over wordy, romantic bodice rippers but nowhere near enough gritty, meaty, historically convincing works. Once I have had my yearly dose of Bernard Cornwell (hurry up with the next in the Saxon chronicles, Bernard!) I spend the rest of the year trawling the pages of Amazon for something new. Simon Carrow writes very well, Jack Whyte's arthurian books are brilliant but I have read them all and there seems to be little else coming through. Sharon Penman's books are about the best written from a woman's perpective but the books that I really love are, unfortunately, male orientated, the female charaters are usually secondary. There must be other women out there who want to read about historical women that aren't swooning all over the place or meekly submitting to male domination. So I sat down to write novels for those women.

In Peaceweaver, Eadgyth is at the mercy of her male dominated world but she isnt submissive. She is raped, beaten, imprisoned, captured, tormented but she puts up a brilliant fight. Her main grievance is that she has never been allowed to make a decision for herself but, in the last few lines of the novel, I provide her with the opportunity to make one that will shape her life.

My females in The Forest Dwellers (WIP) are rather more actively self reliant than Eadgyth. Despite unimaginable drawbacks Aelf and Alys fight back, using their own individual weapons. They embody the vengeance culture of the Anglo Saxon world they were born into and use it against their Norman oppressors. The men in their lives are disempowered, not by strength of arms alone but by feminine stubborness and resilience.

So, if anyone, reader, agent, publisher agrees that there is indeed a gap in the market for books of this type please get in contact. silentwhisper1@aol.com

Monday, 8 March 2010


I am having to squint to see the keyboard because the early sun is blasting its way through the window and straight into my eyes. Am I complaining? of course not. It is so long since we have seen it, I will not start to moan about it until midsummer at least. of course, there are drawbacks to sunshine. It shows up all the dust and cobwebs for one thing so that I am forced to either go outside or pick up a duster. The former wins of course, so the weekend has seen a great improvement in the tidiness of the barn and the potting shed. I am not going to delve into the irony of avoiding housework in favour of cleaning out a barn. It had to be done and yesterday was a good day to do it.
Part of me, the novelist part, loves those dank rainy days when you can't possibly be expected to walk the dogs or mow the lawn. The best way to spend such a day is to sit at the keyboard, and melt into another world, full of people who will do your bidding. It is a little like being God, I can make them as nice or nasty as I please. fill their lives with tragedy or triumph. Icome away happier with my own life that runs so uneventfully; nobody is going to decapitate me (she says looking anxiously behind for the axe man).
The vast majoirty of my novels are completed during the winter (or an especially rainy welsh summer) when I can ignore the outside chores and dedicate myself to my real love. This year, I am sure, will be a hot summer (we are due one). It may be so hot that I am forced to abandoned the chores and spend the long days reclined on my hammock with my laptop, inventing marvellous new ways to torture my characters.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

White and Black Sheep

My sister has been researching our family history for years now, diligently turning up brickmakers and tweenies. The most exciting thing to date has been a highway man, Joshua Hayley who was transported to Austrialia for highway robbery. His wife was a midwife. I imagine them; he dashing and daring, she, her youthful good looks fading, slapping babies arses, a bottle of gin in the pocket of her pinny.

That got my juices running for a while but then the story returned to hatmakers and school teachers. Not that there is anything wrong with those careers, after all, we will always need hats and learning provides the impetus for the worst of us to drag ourselves from the gutter.

By taking a different branch of the tree and delving a little further, some rather more interesting discoveries were made. I am pleased to report that my family does have some blue blood after all, however well watered down.

The trail of noblemen is easier to trace and so picks up impetus. A link with the Myddletons of Chirk castle made me prick up my ears, not from snobbery, but from the fact that we were now dealing with people I had actually heard of! People who are on the historical record.

Hugh Myddleton, sixth son of Richard Myddleton of Chirk, was apprenticed to a goldsmith. He became Royal Jeweller to James I, alderman, Recorder of Denbigh, and eventually MP to Denbighshire and a baronet. He is best remembered for the New River, dug from Amwell in Hertfordshire to london to provide the capital with fresh water when the Thames became too polluted. A statue to his memory stands in Islington.

There are numerous famous Myddletons,too many to go into detail here; their portraits hang in the Royal Gallery there are monuments and statues scattered around Britian. The most impressive of which is Chirk Castle that lies close to the centuries old posting road from London to Holyhead. they fought for parliament during the civil war but, disillusioned with Cromwell's rule, voted for the restoration of Charles ii. The Myddletons trace their descent back further to the Welsh warlord, Rhirid Flaid and (along another route) to the viking, Ivar the Boneless. My blood is up now, you have my interest Mr Myddleton, do please tell me more!

I studied the portraits of these long dead ancestors; they are aloof and far above me in terms of status. I do not sniff a mystery until my eye rests on one particular portrait. She 'speaks' to me, but I can't quite hear her words. I begin to read, find out who she is and why she is staring so smuggly from the canvas. What has she to hide?
Jane Needham was the eldest daughter of Sir Robert Needham (d. 1661), and his second wife, Jane (1619–1666), daughter and heir of Sir William Cockayne of Clapham, and widow of John Worfield of Barking. Like the Myddletons the Needhams were Welsh gentry.

Jane was married at the age of fourteen (18 October 1660) at St Mary''s, Lambeth, to Charles Myddleton, the sixth son of Sir Thomas Myddleton of Chirk Castle. She is a very interesting character. Contemporary accounts recall her as thrusting, ambitious and ruthless. Undeterred by her unsuccessful bid to weedle a way into the bed of King Charles ii, she then resorted to dangling the charms of her young daughter, Jenny, before his eyes.
'That isn't very nice, Jane!' I think and am forced to read on, to learn more. I turn to Pepys who mentions her in his diaries. Jane myddleton is 'indeed is a very beautiful lady' he says and I feel better. That is where I must get it from I suppose :D

On reading further I discovered that far from being loved and admired, her contemporaries (or at least those of the female persuasion) found her annoying, a girl who 'had not learned the meaning of wit or wisdom'. Rather more startling in a world of unimaginable smells, she is recorded as being 'smelly.' Pepys writes, 'she (Mrs Pierce) tells me that the fine Mrs. Middleton is noted for carrying about her body a continued sour base smell, that is very offensive, especially if she be a little hot.'
Oh, fair do's! I cry! Everyone was smelly in those days! I then began to realise that, if everyone was smelly then her stench must have been truly overpowering. Not something one hopes to discover about one's ancestors but I am now determined to discover the cause (or at least a hypothesis of the truth) of that unfortunate, scheming, ruthless, beautiful, calculating woman's personal aroma. I smell another novel!