Thursday, March 31, 2005

This place is filthy

Just having a quick break in between cleaning in honour of my visitor. It's dismaying how messy this place is, but then it gets easily ignored as I'm too busy doing other things (like playing on the computer!)

Last night I had a quick squizz at my synopsis and first 5000 words for the writing group competition, to see how it was brewing. I'm still moderately pleased with it, so that can't be right! Must be something really wrong with it :-) There were a few things I wanted to tweak, and realised that the lead said something that gave vital information away (to a potential enemy) so that's got to be fixed, but it's all minor.

By the end of the 5000 words I think I've manged to introduce the lead, some of the main characters, and the background. It ends with the lead getting a big, potentially life-threatening, dilemma. Will he rise to the challenge?! (of course he will) My only worry is that I may, as usual, have done it all too fast. I write worringly 'short.' The best that can be said is that I'm 'pacy' but is this appropriate for historical fiction? Thrillers, perhaps, but I'm not a thriller-type person; I rarely read them and don't enjoy them.

I finished sticking the tesserae down yesterday. Now the mosaic needs to dry out thoroughly before I grout it. I've had my nose up against it for a couple of days, so looking at it from a distance now is definitely a novelty. It actually looks quite good. I've learnt a lot about cutting the tesserae, and also about how to define the pattern, but when I do my own pattern, I'm sure there'll be another learning curve.

Anyway, thank goodness for visitors, otherwise this house would get cleaned even less ...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Not so well

Urgh! I seem to have a bug. Felt icky for a couple of days, but yesterday was hot/cold/sore throat, etc. Typical when I've got lots to do before my visitor arrives. Feel grotty, though not bed-ridden (shame!) No more messing around with writing hf till next week. However, my visitor, Sarah, is also in the Historical Novel Society, so when she's here we'll definitely be talking about the genre. She writes as well, and is very good, but takes any excuse she can not to write. This is very frustrating, as my stuff isn't particularly good - 'you write well' is damning with faint praise and has been passed my way a couple of times by a couple of sources; it just means my grammar is passable in comparison to other mss they've seen. If I could write anything like Sarah (she does all the 'show don't tell' stuff brilliantly), I'd be getting my head down and finishing my novel right now.

Managed to finish my HNS review, and have sent it off. Now onto the next book to read and review, which is a Roman mystery.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

My hands hurt!

Started my Roman mosaic kit yesterday, and now have aching muscles in my hands where I've been cutting loads of bits of ceramic tile to size using nippers. When I do my 'real' Roman mosaic activities, I shall be using a hammer & hardie (a sort of block mounted chisel). I hope it's less painful than flexing the nippers! Anyway, the stag is complete and I'm doing the border now. This will be followed by the background, then I'll need to grout it. Don't know if I'll finish it this week as I've got to start cleaning the house soon because someone's coming to stay.

I seem to have reached an end with the 6th century story which is rather bewildering, as it's been with me for rather a long time. Obviously it's very much a first draft, but I'm not sure I'll be going back over it. As my (very chaotic) apprentice piece, I think it's something that needs to go in a drawer somewhere, and possibly get left there! However I did enjoy the journey immensely. Anyway, next week, it'll be back to revising the synopsis and 5000 words of the 5th century story for my writing group's competition.

Like Kate Allan, I've also got to finish reviewing a book for the Historical Novel Society. Since the book review is due during the time my friend's coming to stay, I should really send it off before she arrives (Friday) Better get on with it then ...

Monday, March 28, 2005

Wot no Roman mosaic?

Yes it is a mosaic (see below). But no it's not Roman, and no it isn't mine (wish it was). However, I wanted to find out how to put pics into the blog, and it was the only decent digital image of a mosaic that I could find in my collection. Haven't had the digital camera long!

This example is from Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire (where there are a lot of medieval abbeys, priories, etc.). These particular mosaic floors date to the 13th century, and some were also found at Fountains Abbey.

Each tile has been moulded to a particular shape, then glazed and fired. This unlike the tiles in Roman mosaics, where they're moulded, fired and used as roof tile, in hypocausts, etc., and then effectively reused when the building was abandoned or changed use for some reason and the tiles were salvaged. However, I don't doubt that Roman mosaicists hung around tile yards asking for any wasters (the over-fired ones would have come out blue or grey, giving them another colour to play with) or broken tiles.

Byland Abbey Medieval Mosaic (made from ceramic glazed floor tiles) Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Growing organically

Unfortunately not to do with stuff planted in the ground and grown without the aid of pesticides, but it is Problem 3 with the 6th century story. Planning would have been nice, but in my Universe of Writing did not happen. After many false starts, I knew I didn't want to do any sort of chapter-by-chapter planning. It would be restrictive; even though I know I can change it, imposing any sort of structure can stifle story and spontaneity. I do a lot of thinking about what their paths might be, but it stays in my head till I sit in front of the computer. It means I follow dead ends, which are time consuming, but this shambolic methods seemed to be the way I write.

However, there was a chink of light in the gloom with the 5th century story. I was able to write the synopsis first, and even follow it up with the 5000 words that the writing group competition requires. It occurs to me that the character (definitely a bloke, so no waivering this time!) I'm writing about loves strucutre and copes well with restrictions imposed on him. But, in effect, he knows what he wants, and I know what the story is about. Result is happiness all round.

Problem 4 (what's it all about?): Not curently a problem with the 5th century story, but a massive one with the 6th century. I've now learnt that knowing what the story is about is not the same as restrictive planning. Yes, I'm sure it's absolutely obvious, but not to the likes of me.

Anyhow, today is probably going to be another writing day. I've been tapping away on the computer, on and off for a couple of days. It seems that doing the synopsis and 5000 words for the 5th century story, has rekindled my interest in my 6th century story. Added to that, doing this blog has ordered my thoughts somewhat, plus Kate, Tess and Olga's comments have been very helpful too. The time is ripe because for the first time in 3 years we have no re-enactment show on at Easter; it's fallen too early in the season, for camping, so I've gone with the urge to write and know I have the time. My partner knows that when the study door is closed, I'm writing and he doesn't disturb me. I've written a lot of words, most them not in the right order, or great English, or any good at all, but it's good to be indulging in a bit of word-play again.

A bit of mosaicing tomorrow though, else I'll be behind with my plans for the group's first show of the year at the end of April.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

6th century problemos continued

Back to the 'wonderful' 6th century story. My second problem was writing the bloody thing in first person. Apparently, many reader don't like first person narratives. But I'm a reader and I much prefer first person, so naturally went for it. So tough, that was how it was going to be. Also, if I wanted to easily conceal the fact that my lead was female, this was the way to do it. But should I have been concealing this from the reader in the first place? Big, literary sort of question! Answers on a postcard (or in the comment box) please!

I didn't want the main story to revolve around the gender aspect, and doing it in third person would probably have lead to that; would have either had to lie outright and call 'her' a 'him' or use 'her' throughout. There were other aspects I wanted to explore - in particular the notion of personal loyalty. In those times, warriors had to swear loyalty unto death to their leaders. This was particularly strong amongst the Germanic peoples, where the Chief's/King's men would stand, fight, and die with their lord if necessary (as per King Harold and his huscarls at Hastings, five centuries later). In return (the if lord and warrior were still alive!) the lord would bestow gifts - bed, board, gold, sliver, land, etc.

Another aspect I wanted to explore was ethnicity. At this time in Britain's history, it's broadly Britons vs Anglo-Saxons, with the latter rapidly getting the upper hand. My lead is part Romano-British, part Saxon (btw she's from the south, so the northerners have no idea who she is). These 'half-breeds' would have very much been the 'coming thing' This mixed ethnicity is rarely shown in novels about this period. Obviously, the mixing of cultures is also starkly relative to today's Britain, and some how I wanted to get that aspect in.

Though keeping an eye on these issues, I also wanted to tell a good personal story. I think I tried to take on too much, and not surprisingly got a wee bit confused.

The rabbit mosaic coaster went well yesterday. Got to grout it now. Then I'm onto the stag mosaic. But even then it won't be the same as the Roman mosaics; I won't be able to use paper patterns and pva glues when I'm on display! Gulp.

Friday, March 25, 2005


Writing's not on my mind today. I'm trying to do some mosaic work. I'll be doing mosaics for my re-enactment this season. The only problem is, I've never done it before! So I've got two kits. One is a coaster with a rabbit on, which I'll do first, and will hopefully be very simple. The other is a more serious mosaic kit, based on a stag from a Roman mosaic, though the tesserae are modern ceramics.

Anyway, when I've done this, I'll have something to exhibit whilst I'm making tesserae from the materials I've assembled. Via my archaeological work, I can get my hands on real Roman tile (don't worry, it's all been recorded thoroughly first, but is surplus to requirement!), but haven't managed to get hold of some stone (I'm after limestone mostly). However, I have purchased some marble from a company in Italy, though such posh marble isn't rife in Britannia, but was used sometimes. I'm aiming at being a musivaria (female mosaicist) from 4th century Britannia, gawd help me!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I second that emotion !

Kate Allan, in her blog for 24/03/05, said that it came as a surprise to some people in her writers' circle that they could use emotion in their writing. However, I initially had a similar re-action to the writers' circle, until I saw Kate's example and understood what she meant. It's really about working at channelling emotions into writing.

When I ran a workshop on historical fiction, I deliberately chose an exercise where people focused on an artefact and imagined who might have used it or how it might have been used, or even feel (one chap did a really super piece on some medical pliers!) In focusing on an object, they did not have to overtly bring their own emotions into the exercise. From my own experience of writing conferences, I knew that some people may well not want to expose themselves very much, especially if they're beginners. In the end, there were various approaches, which were evident - the pliers man was clever in giving the pliers their own character, a woman writing about a necklace told her tale from the view of a man who had bought the necklace knowing it outshone the woman, another observed her artefact minutely, almost archaeologically. All were interesting in the their own right, and they were able to chose whether they put emotion in or not.

Some people are uncomfortable with exposing their emotions in a very public forum, like a writers' group. For example, my writers' group are doing a 'Holiday Memories' competition, and I'm not entering it! The subject instantly brings up memories of painful family holidays where my parents bickered all round Wiltshire and Dorset. And I also remember a far more recent holiday where I fell from a horse and even three years later, I am still suffering the effects physically and emotionally. Not surprisingly, I'm not wanting to go there again! I can remember other, quieter holidays, but not so intensely.

However, I am aware that I allow emotions to come out in my writing - whether unintentionally (by my choice of subject matter, by the way certain characters behave) or deliberately; for a scene in the 6th century story, I remembered what I feel like when I think I'm being ignored but don't understand what's going on, and let a character act on it - not surprisingly, she got into a very bad fight!

And anyway, regarding Holiday Memories, my 5th-6th century guys don't get holidays per se, so I'll use that excuse to duck out of the writers' group competition!!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Regrets, I have a few ...

My first attempt at writing a full novel was probably doomed from the get-go. Knowing it was an apprentice piece, I avoided using my first idea, the story I really wanted to write (set in Late 5th century Britain), I very much let my imagination run free with the 6th century story.

The lead character of the 6th century story started off as ambiguous on several fronts, including gender (problem 1), it was also written in first person (problem 2) and it grew very organically indeed (problem 3) and I didn't ultimately know what the story was about (problem 4)

Problem 1 (gender) was centred around lack of commitment to the idea of having a female warrior as a central character. Indeed, I submitted a partial manuscript to the Romantic Novelists' Assoc's New Writers' Scheme with this ambiguity still in place! It was in my mind that this character was concealing she was female, but not in any great 'secret' sense, she was just living as a warrior and was sufficiently tough to 'pass' as a bloke. But at some point the fact she was female was going to be revealed, and I couldn't decide how. However, constantly, during writing I changed my mind, and wanted to switch the lead to being a chap instead! Doh!

More of these problems later. I'd better get on with compiling my re-enactment group's newsletter. Needless to say, I do Late Roman and early Anglo-Saxon re-enactment, which helps enhance my understanding of how artefacts were used and how it feels to use them (I don't get that from coldly studying artefacts via my archaeology). For example, two cast bronze chatelaines (ornamental keys), as strung at the waist of early Anglian women, jingle together when the wearer walks. I unreservedly recommend re-enactment as a method of research. Elizabeth Chadwick, author of many excellent historical novels, also does re-enactment and I think it shows in her writing, as she easily integrates the practical aspects of her era (11-12th century) into her writing. She's also a great person to talk with!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

First blog

Faced with a blank page! What a familiar feeling. What I'd like to do with this blog is to put down my thoughts on trying to write. I'm currently preparing some pieces for entry in my local Writing Group's competition. It's to be the first 5000 words of a novel, and the dreaded synopsis.

Well, I wrote the synopsis first (which is actually a first for me!) and it went without a hitch. This is probably because I actually have some idea of what the story is about. But it's dangerous territory for me, because this is the story I really want to write. I have been writing something else for three years or so, deliberately avoiding the story as I don't want to cock it up. But the other story (about a female soldier in 6th century Britain) hasn't been going well for a number of reasons, which I'll chat about later.

Anyway, back to the story. I've just completed the 5000 word part now, and it didn't take me long (again, because I know what the bloody thing's about; it's such a relief after 3 years of pathering in the dark with the other one). I'll have another couple of sessions of tweaking the words and the synopsis this week. Fortunately, I've completed the first drafts in time for me to be able to put them away for a couple of weeks, then work on them again before the deadline on April 13th. After that, I can also use them to enter the Winchester Writers' conference in June - first three pages and a synopsis.

Eeek! I must go and get dressed. I've got to catch the free 'Granny Bus' that goes down to Tescos.