Archive for the ‘Being ‘A Writer’’ Category

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Meanwhile…

October 17, 2013

WhCover of The Secrets of Life and Deathile I’m busy talking, two friends will be sending their new books out into the world this month. Good luck to Rebecca Alexander, whose debut THE SECRETS OF LIFE AND DEATH has just been launched by Del Rey. My copy hasn’t arrived yet but I’ve read some of the early chapters of the book that Rebecca’s working on at the moment, and they’re gripping.

Cover of Perfiditas

Alison Morton’s PERFIDITAS comes out today – the sequel to INCEPTIO. What would have happened if Rome had never fallen? Well, Latin homework would have been a whole lot easier. And we’d never have heard of Edward Gibbon. But that’s my take on it, not Alison’s. Hers is far more creative. Find out more – including what Simon Scarrow and Sue Cook say about PERFIDITAS – here.

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Events, dear boy,* events

October 12, 2013

[*or girl - Ed.]

For those of us who sit hunched over a computer all day, a chance to get out and meet real people is very exciting. I’ll be taking part in  several events over the next few weeks so if you’re able to join us, please come and say hello.

16 October – 7.00 pm at Barton Library (Barton le Clay, Bedfordshire) “Writing the Romans” with Henry Venmore-Rowland. Henry is the author of “The Last Caesar” and “The Sword and the Throne,” bringing to life the tumultuous events of AD 69 when Rome had four emperors in one year.

17 October – 7.00 pm at Putnoe Library, Bedfordshire – Crime Through Time. I’ll be discussing the appeal of the Romans and the Tudors with Rory Clements, author of the John Shakespeare series (yes, John is the brother of the more famous William, and a great character in his own right).

November

1 November, 7.00 pm – “Leeches and Prayer – the Medicine of the Past” part of the Thames Valley History Festival.   Join me and Karen Maitland, author of the superb “Company of Liars”, at the Natural History Museum in Eton College – a venue where we are promised real leeches.

2 November –  Heffers Classics Festival – in association with Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas. Such an honour to be invited! (When you see the lineup you’ll understand what I mean.) I’ll be talking about “Stories in Stones” – the tales that have slipped down the gaps of history. That will be the (relatively) easy part. I’ve also agreed to speak for Dido in a balloon debate about who was the greatest character in Classical Mythology. I’m still wondering why I said ‘yes’ to this. Unlike everyone else on the panel, I’m neither a classicist nor an Oxbridge graduate. Surely poor Dido has suffered enough? Details and tickets here.

Also in November – an eager horde from the Historical Writers’ Association will be descending on libraries to help celebrate  The Reading Agency ‘s History Month. Here’s my part in it:

7 NovemberUPDATE – the  afternoon visit to Honiton Library in Devon is now CANCELLED – sorry! But I will be doing the following visits the week after…

12 November – an evening at Calne Library with Ben Kane. Ben’s a very entertaining speaker so it should be good!

13 November – on a panel at the beautiful Bristol Central Library with the Vikings, two 19th century women, and the British Special Forces. Or at least their representatives – Robert Low, Kylie Fitzpatrick and Mike Williams.

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Last month I didn’t know what a Blog Hop was…

August 12, 2013

…and now I’m about to be in one. Ladies and gentlemen, for your entertainment and edification, this coming Thursday a varied group of writers will be presenting a round of blog posts entitled:

Blog Hop logo August 15 to 19 2013

Goodness knows what will be on offer as to the best of my knowledge, hardly anyone knows what anyone else has chosen to write about, However, rumour has it that there will be book giveaways. My piece will be posted here on Thursday along with links to all the others, and  I’m looking forward to some good reading.

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Fiction and Fakery

July 22, 2013

I was going to start this post with the Goebbels quote, “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.” Unfortunately it turns out that Goebbels probably never said it. According to this site, what he actually said was, “The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it…” Of course he may not have said that either, since I’ve only picked it up from the Internet, but it suits my purposes.

This is all by way of introducing a marvellous article by Charlotte Higgins in Friday’s Guardian. It begins thus (and this IS a genuine quote, copied and pasted):

In 1747, the sensational discovery of an ancient chronicle redrew the map of Roman Britain and gave us place names we still use today. There was only one problem. It was a sham. 

You can enjoy the rest of the article  here.

The antiquarians of the day were taken in, and despite what seem (with retrospect) some obvious blunders, De Situ Britanniae (On the Situation of Britain) was not exposed as a fake until a hundred and twenty years after its  alleged discovery.

Its author, Charles Bertram, drew on ancient sources to make his work convincing, and there’s no doubt that he intended to deceive. Whereas writers of historical fiction are honest folk who draw on ancient sources in order to weave new tales in and around the accepted ‘facts’…er, it’s all sounding rather similar, isn’t it? Except that reader and writer usually agree on the rules of the game. We all accept that much of what’s inside the book is made up. While we ‘believe’ in Marcus and Esca and their attempts to regain The Eagle of the Ninth, we all know they’re simply an invention of Rosemary Sutcliff’s imagination. However… I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve assured me that the Ninth Legion really did vanish in Scotland: something that now, in the face of evidence discovered long after the book was published, seems highly unlikely.

Sometimes we believe what we want to believe.  And sometimes an invention is useful.  It is, after all, very handy to have a collective noun for the range of hills that stretches up the spine of Britain. And the fact that it sounds remarkably similar to the Appenines, which stretch up the spine of Italy, might suggest a Roman source. Or an inventive mind…

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What about a newsletter?

July 10, 2013

Thank you to Charlie, who’s just asked to be added to the newsletter email list if I have one. Up till now there hasn’t been one, largely for reasons of technical incompetence. But a pleasingly short and simple newsletter from a writer friend dropped into the inbox this morning,  and if she can do it, so can I.

Unfortunately my email saying, “Yes! Welcome!” bounced back, which wasn’t a great start. Charlie, if you’re reading this, please could you get in touch via the contact page and we’ll try again?

Meanwhile, I’ll go off and find out whether this kind of thing is within the capabilities of someone with half her brain in the Second Century and a mortal dread of clicking the wrong thing on Facebook.

To be continued…

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Prima Donna Downie

July 8, 2013

This weekend I’ve been chatting with the lovely Rob Cain from “Ancient Rome Refocused” via the miracle of Skype. Rob will be podcasting my ramblings at some point  – if he can edit them into something sensible – but in the meantime something he said set me thinking. It was the very simple question:

Where do you write?

The answer to that was once, “The bedroom. When the children have gone to bed and Husband is downstairs watching TV, I turn on the computer, get the corkboard of out from under the bed so I’m sitting beside pictures of Roman sites, and get on with it.”

These days the ‘hobby’ has been promoted to ‘work’ and it gets a whole spare bedroom to itself. For some reason I assumed that as well as providing space for more bookshelves, this would also make me a more productive writer.

We’ve moved house a couple of times recently, and in the previous (temporary) house I wrote in a little room with a big view.  A glance out of the window would allow me to keep an eye on the the traffic and the occasional horse on the main road, and beyond that I could have written daily reports on the roaming of the local cattle, the extensive prowlings of a black cat, and the odd bit of excitement – a fox,  deer, a runaway ball pursued down the hill by the clattering steps of a lad in football studs, or the arrival of another huge caravan to be eased round the tight corner down in the village.  People used to ask, “How do you ever get anything written?” and I began to wonder myself. Were these happy distractions holding me back? Was my subconscious pining to offer me 3000 words a day while my outer self gazed out of the window?

Perhaps not. The new study/office/room is much more professional. Admittedly there’s a wardrobe, because it’s also the spare room, but it also has space for far more books. The perfectly pleasant view – a wall, a hedge, a flowerbed, the car – holds few distractions.

I miss them. In their absence, I have started to notice that I really don’t much like yellow walls.  Or yellow-and-green curtains. Or that black shelving. And surely the plot would resolve itself much more easily if I moved those boxes of papers back to where they were before? Thinking of paper… why hasn’t the postman been? Is it raining out there? Is it going to rain? My feet are cold. Maybe I’ll just go and work on the sofa, where’s it’s warmer.  Maybe I should give up for a while and paint the walls? I’ll be SO much more productive afterwards…

And then, watching Andy Murray power his way to the men’s singles title yesterday at Wimbledon (I had to mention it) I remembered that I am very lucky to have a room at all.  I bet Andy Murray doesn’t decide he can’t train because he’s distracted by the view, or he doesn’t like the curtains, or it’s a bit chilly this morning. I bet he just gets on with it. And so shall I.

Just as soon as I’ve painted the walls.

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Murder in the Library

May 6, 2013

Illuminated graphic with shadow of hand clutching dagger on library shelves

I’ve been saving this one for now because it wouldn’t do to post two exhibitions at once, even though we did rush from one to the other on the same day. The British Library isn’t far from the British Museum, so we hurried up there to have a look at their Murder in the Library display, an A-Z of crime fiction which runs until 12 May. Below are some heavily-edited highlights.

S is for Sherlock Holmes.

This manuscript of a Holmes story suggests that Conan Doyle was a much neater and more decisive writer than some of us. To be fair it wasn’t clear whether this was the only draft or a final fair copy, but it does raise the question of whether our patterns of thinking have been changed by working with endlessly-tweakable text on screen.

4 Conan Doyle ms

MS of “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman,” published in 1927

Incidentally, I’ve just finished reading Peter Guttridge’s “The Belgian and the Beekeeper,” where a detective not unlike Hercule Poirot meets Sherlock Holmes, now a retired recluse who keeps bees. The newcomer suggests the Great Detective may have been somewhat naive about Doctor Watson’s intentions – why is Holmes now living in poverty while Watson is wealthy?  Exactly how many wives DID Watson have, and what happened to them? Peter Guttridge exploits some of the inconsistencies in the Holmes stories to joyous effect.

T is for True Crime

These are a couple of early books about the Road Hill House Murder, which continues to fascinate modern readers in  Kate Summerscale’s “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.”

Books about the  Road Hill House murder showing a plan of the house

The penny pamphlet on the left is written by “A disciple of Edgar Poe”, who clearly had a keen sense of marketing. I’m considering issuing my next book as “a disciple of J K Rowling.”

G is for the Golden Age

The time where everyone looked like this, or wanted to:

3 Golden Age

J is for jigsaw mysteries

Do the jigsaw, solve the mystery. These aren’t unknown today, or at least they weren’t when a friend bought me something similar in a charity shop.

5 Jigsaw puzzles

N is for Nordic Noir

…which goes back further than some of us realise: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wallöö were publishing their Martin Beck novels in the 1960’s.

8 Nordic Noir

O is for Oxford

…where  M is for Morse, who gets a whole display cabinet to himself. Here are three famous faces. Not shown is Colin Dexter, but I’m told he appears somewhere in every episode, which means I can no longer do the ironing during repeats as I have to see where.

7 Morse

Z is not for Aurelio Zen, but for Zodiac mysteries, but let’s end with this:

1 Intro

The quote from Raymond Chandler sounds much like an essay question. I will add one word. “The detective story is a tragedy with a happy ending.” Discuss.

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