Friday, April 29, 2005

Set fair?

The weather forecast for this weekend keeps changing. Looks like it may rain on Saturday, when we're setting up for the show and is then changeable for the rest of the time. Temperature should be warmish though, which is nice of it!

The shoe crisis has not abated, so that I will have to wear my old pair (which don't have a good 'platform' to walk on), as the ones the shoemaker supplied are too tight for me to insert any padding should I need it ... Once he's sorted out this pair, it's unlikely I'll be using him again.

We're more or less packed and ready to go. All the stuff's piled in the front room and come Saturday we'll stash it in the hired van, and we're off to Bolsover Castle!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

North and South

Toward the end of last year BBC 1 ran a period drama called 'North & South' based on the book by Mrs Gaskell. They didn't advertise it very much, but those of us who watched it were entranced for four weeks. It's set in the mid 19th century, and the heroine is forced to move from the softie south up to the hard north, complete with its growing industrialisation. Basically, it really is 'trouble at mill'!

I've just managed to get hold of the DVD and watched some of my favourite scenes again. Yes, this is a romance, but in fact it's the mill scenes that catch my eye. In particular, when the heroine first visits the mill, it's an alien world (for her, as well as the viewer). The machines, the workers, the noise, and the cotton flying in the air like snow, or white cherry blossom. And then at the beginning of the 2nd episode, as the titles are running, it's the mill again, the noise, the machinery, the adults following the loom movement, the children defluffing the machines and scuttling out backwards before the loom wheels snap towards them. In amongst the workers, as the cotton flies, the hero's hard-bitten mother patrols, and the accompanying music is sublime. I actually cried because it showed me how awful the conditions were. One of the characters dies because the cotton dust has clogged her lungs. Gaskell was writing in the 1850s, so this isn't a historical novel per se. It's extremely powerful.

The romance too, is good, with the actor (Richard Armitage) playing the hero having been awarded a 'Darcy' rating of 9 out of 10 in a recent poll! Altogether, a wonderful production from Auntie Beeb.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Shoe saga & hello sister

Hmm ... The re-enactment shoemaker more or less admitted that he's cocked it up. He's done a temporary upper; I think he was hoping I'd accept it, but the leather's a suede - not around in Roman times - and very dark, so won't do in the long run. That will cover for this weekend (just about) then he's taking them back (yes, he b****y well will) and will (hopefully) do them properly. He's done two pairs of shoes for the Dear Partner and they've been fine. Yet the two he's done for me in the past - one was too tight and I had to let the seams out, and the other pair were OK, but still a bit on the tight side, so I could only get a certain thickness of socks in them. Do you get the pattern here? I think that for some reason, he can't do women's shoes. How odd! Since this present pair of shoes were to be exactly the same as the DP's (only a bit smaller) I thought there'd be no problem. But patently there is.

Any writing done? No way, pal. Not this week; I'm too busy sorting the normal day-to-day business with the re-enactment stuff on top. A little bit of Late Roman reading but that's it on the stuff that actively contributes to writing.

btw, a grand 'hello' to my sister, who will hopefully drop in on this blog from time to time. Polite comments only please, sis :-)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Heat & Shoes

Went to get my new pair of re-enactment shoes today (after being told to pick them up by the maker) to find he hadn't finished them. In addition, when I tried one out, it was clear they were going to be too small! This isn't going well at all, but at least I had a chance to have a fitting. I deliberately had these made because they have a good platform for me to walk on - I currently have a problem with my right foot, and this style of authentic Late Roman boots have a nice thick sole to walk on, which will help support it. I hope they're ready and fit properly by Tuesday, when I'm going back again. If they don't fit, or are too tight and squash my foot up, I won't have them. My old shoes, apart from having less of a stout sole, are rather worn, to say the least ...

Meanwhile, the weather up here is lovely. Everyone's already stripping off as if it's the middle of Summer. It won't last, as rain is due again soon. Only to clear up again for next weekend, I hope ...

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Don't panic

With a week to go to my first re-eanctment show of the season, I am making sure our kit is is good order. This entails linseed oiling down any wood work (tent poles/spear hafts), giving the leatherwork a good coat of leather feed (shoes, belts), cleaning metalwork (weapons, domestic knives, brooches, etc) Should have done it at the end of last season (September) as well as now, but too much was going on at that time. Will also be checking clothing, to make sure it's in a state of good repair! Then over this week, the equipment will graduate downstairs into the front room, ready to be loaded on the van next Saturday. Just hoping the weather will be good over the bank holiday weekend ...

Meanwhile, I'll keep reading my review books (got another one yesterday, but it's fiction set after the 1st world war) and look to when I can get back to scribbling. After some discussion with the dear partner, we've decided not to go to one of our re-enactment group's shows. He needs to visit his parents anyway, but I'll be staying here, so I might get some writing time after all! That'll be at the end of May, but I don't know if I'll have had time to to the requisite reading/planning for the next phase of LoTR to actually start writing. Even if I haven't, I can still make more progress than I thought I would. Hurrah!

Friday, April 22, 2005

What the!

Just been checking my diary for the next couple of months, and am dismayed to see that it's unilikely I'll have any spare time to write :-( Snatching small amounts of time here and there is not my bag; I need acres of 'space'. The times when I've written most easily have been when I've known I was going to have several days free in a row. It's not worth me trying to snatch time, I'll only end up extremely frustrated. So, nuts! I think I'm gonna sulk.

That said, there are some writing things on the agenda, such as the results of my group's writing competition 25th May. I was going to use any feedback on LoTR for revising the synopis and first three pages to enter the Writers' Conference competition, but see that the bloomin' closing date for that comp is 27th May! Nuts, again!

Can't moan too much as I have two Late Roman / Arthurian books to review for the HNS which will very much keep me in contact with LoTR's subject matter. One of the books has already proved useful for planning the next phase.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I think I'll go and lie down in a darkened room

LoTR now has nearly 13,000 words. Which means I've averaged around 2,500 words a day for the previous three days and I'm knackered. It's probably the intensive staring at the computer screen while I write/ type. Got to the end of the first phase, and when I take up the lead's story next, he'll be a couple of years down the line. At this rate, for me also it might be a couple of years, as he's tired me out! I can already see there are things I need to re-jig, in particular one of the older character's age and the addition of people who should be around at this time, but will resist the urge to fiddle at this point, so I don't get bogged down. Aargh! I just want to concentrate on writing this sucker, but real life gets in the way ... Now it's time for me to do everything I've been neglecting for the past three days. Rats and Double Rats!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Good grief, LoTR now has over 10,000 words to its name! I got rather excited yesterday, as something I'd been planning to put in worked out very well. Not saying the scene is properly written, but the concept fitted in easily. Eeek! I might even have some semblance of control over my material (gosh, that would be nice). With Dark Age/'Arthurian' stuff, as LoTR is, you're always casting a glance over your shoulder regarding the legendary aspects, and this time I've integrated it without too much effort. One character has also surprised me with something I hadn't realised, but, again, it all fits in well. I must be heading for a fall; things can't keep on going right for very long.

However, this first, scene setting phase, will be coming to an end soon (shame!), and I'll need to stop and think out how to approach the main part of my lead's career. Planning is required as this part is semi-fixed (everything's open to interpretation in 5th century Britain, which is both a blessing and a bane, but I need to choose my path carefully.) I won't go back to reivse the words I've already written, otherwise I'll get bogged down and lose sight of the bigger picture. After seeing others paralysed, blocked and stalled by wanting to get everything right first time or thinking too much about 'the market,' I want to get the story down first. Frankly, I want to know what happens next!

Currently got some smashing books to review for the HNS, both of them non-fiction, both of them about things Late Roman/'Arthurian' I'm a pig in the proverbial at the moment :-)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Kate has commented that the tesserae making business looks a little dangerous. Yes, well, it is! I've got a hole in the index finger of my left hand - it could have been worse, I might not have been wearing a leather glove :-) Since I didn't know how the material would behave, I also wore an eye shield, though I won't be wearing it for re-enactment events (but the glove will stay, and might not be anachronistic anyway) Mainly I'm concerned with the health & safety of event visitors. I shan't be whacking tile and stone anywhere close to them. The marble sticks, however, are somewhat more manageable and more predictable, so they're a possibility for doing close to the public. I'll see how it goes, but I think I might be ordering more marble sticks from the suppliers

Still progressing with LotR.. Got 7200 words, and am into Chapter 2. It's very much a first draft and I'm trying not to worry overly the 'show not tell' business at present, though I know it's not my strong point. Too many years of writing dry academic reports; that's my excuse

Monday, April 18, 2005


Urgh! After some brief sun, we're back to the gloom and rain. However, this does not stop the resident pair of collared doves getting 'rude' on our trellis. Unfortunately, the trellis is just across from my study window so I keep getting an eyeful of the x-rated goings on :-)

Done a bit of writing for LOTR (aka 5th century story) yesterday. I'm really putting the lead character through the mill at the moment - rejection everywhere, but he's a resourceful lad, so will come through (eventually)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Tesserae making debris Posted by Hello

Have hardie, will mosaic

Feeling much better today. My face has stopped 'burning' and it looks like it's now going to settle into lots of dry skin (yummy - not!)

But it means I felt up to playing with the hammer & hardie (for making tesserae for mosaics), and the sun managed to come out, so I was able to do this outside (see photo above). Made lots of mess, but think I'm getting the hang of it. Having emailed Lawrence of Legio II Augusta previously, I'd got lots of tips, plus my own experience with recording/beating up tile helped, I suspect.

The material breaks where it wants too. I found that certain types of tile fabrics are more likely to be easier to work with than others. Chalk is great - it's so fine grained, that it'll split more or less where you want it to. Sandstone shatters too easily, so a good accurate hit is essential. Also had some Italian marble sticks, which broke pretty well. However, mostly I am planning to work in stuff local to Britain, so tile and limestone is what I'm after. This doesn't come in pre-cut sticks, so I reckon I'll have to be spending a fair amount of time whacking it heavily to break it down into manageable pieces.

Just came across reports of this mosaic found in Caesarea Looks lovely (the birds are somewhat better picked out than the Rudston ones!) and was made around the 5th century!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Doomed, doomed

Still feeling very grotty with the ?food allergy. Got a lovely crop of spots all over my face, and keep wanting to sleep. Can only wait it all out.

Read an amusing article in the Guardian today. Apparently, Sagittarius tends to be the least wealthy of the star signs. Pisces is the second least wealthy. I'm Sagittarian, and my dear partner is Piscean. And we thought our lack of wealth was to do with being archaeologists ;-)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

More mosaic mania

This blog seems to be more about mosaics than writing! It's mainly because I'm trying to get set up for my mosaic display by the end of the month. Anyway, the pictures below show the 'tools of the trade' Unfortunately, it looks like I won't be able to practice using them as the weather's horrible at the moment, and making tesserae should probably be done outside - we don't have a large workshop and I'm not prepared to have bits of tile lodging themselves in various places in the house.

On top of that, I've had an allergic reaction to something I ate, and my face is blotchy, and generally I don't feel too well. So I'm waiting that out as well. Grrrr!

Hardie mounted in a wooden block Posted by Hello

Mosaic hammer Posted by Hello

Hardie (mosaic chisel head, unmounted) Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Non-productive day

Not done much today on the writing front as we went into town to get some items for the mosaic making display. Kate asked what will happen to my completed mosaic - it will be part of my display when I do the Roman re-enactment shows. My dear partner is currently putting some beading round the edge, primarily to protect the tesserae on the edges of the mosaic. We could easily adapt it to hang on the wall, and it might come to that, when I've got a few mini-mosaics made from completely authentic materials. The Stag is all made from ceramic tesserae which would not have been the case.

In her blog, Kate says she has to have a proper title to the work she's doing before she starts, otherwise she's not happy . After my experience with the chaotic 6th century story, I'm inclined to agree. It had a 'working' title which was so I could easily refer to it (it was, funny enough, abbreviated to SoD, which I said often, and with feeling!) The 5th century story, virtuous as ever (and I hope it stays that way) already has a proper title, and has had for many years. Like Kate, I don't want to say what it is, but its abbreviation is: LOTR! No, it's not 'Lord of the Rings,' or Lord of anything come to that, but anyone familiar with the subject matter of the story, would realise how apt the title is.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Duhh day!

The dear partner is off this week, as he's got loads of time off work to take. He's doing lots to get prepared for the first re-enactment show this season, which is at the end of this month. It's also a chance for us to get together to plan our holiday for this year. We're going 'darn sarf' to have a look at some sites we haven't visited for ages, including: Fishbourne Roman Palace, Rockbourne & Bignor Roman Villas and the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum. Many of these places have been substantially extended or refitted since we last saw them (back in the 1980s), so it'll be nice to see what's been done with them.

Meanwhile, back at the computer, I'm starting to 're-model' a University project I did just over 10 years ago. At the time, my tutor gave me a 'First' mark for it (something like 80%), and said I should 'do something with it' So, finally I am. It's not historical fiction - being a survey of information about York brickmakers - but needs to be published formally, if only to disseminate the information about a major 19th century industry in York. I'm initially going to enter it for an essay competition, but many of the pieces entered for the competition go on to be published in the local 'York Historian' journal.

The project needs a lot of sorting out. For instance, why didn't I quote page numbers to the book references? Don't know! I'd written plenty of reports before doing this, so it's a mystery to me, 10 years on! I'll have to see if I've still got my original notes (think I saw the file a few months back), but if not, I'll have to chase round the libraries involved and consult the books again. Duh!!!! Then there's formatting. It needs footnotes for this comp, so I'm integrating references and appendices into those. And then there's the vexed questions of illustrations - I think some of the old maps will be out of copyright, so may be publishable, if I'm lucky. Gotta check. Will also need a nice map showing where the brickworks were, which someone with graphics skills will have to do for me (if I ask nicely)

Oh, and the 'deliberate' mistake in my mosaic: in the bottom border of the mosaic I used grey tiles, rather than white ones (as can be seen on the other three borders. I mis-read the rather grey-backgrounded guide I had! Duhh, again!

Monday, April 11, 2005

My first mosaic!

Well, there it is (see below). I didn't manage to grout it yesterday, so made sure I did it today. It's not pristine clean as the grout's still drying. Not sure about the grey grout, but that's what came with the kit. Most Roman mosaics in Britain are grouted with either pink or white mortar, from what I can tell. Anyway, spot the deliberate (ahem) mistake in the pattern??!! I'll give the answer tomorrow. On checking out Mosaic Workshop's website again, I see the pattern is from a North African mosaic, though they don't mention the date.

Since I've managed to climb out of my monthly pit of despond in the nick of time, I sent off my competition entry today. Yesterday, I dithered for most of the day, finding distractions to avoid printing the synopsis and words out. Nice thing is, the result will come fairly swiftly - there'll be a special results meeting May 25th. Hopefully, I'll be in the right frame of mind to actually go and get the gem on why I came last! btw, thanks for your encouragement, Olga; I hope you continue to enter competitions, and have success soon (I'm sure you will!)

Mosaic April 2005

North African Mosaic Stag Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A load of bull!

This mosaic (see below) is in the Yorkshire Museum. I've no idea what date it is, but suspect it's earlier than the 'partridge in a pear tree' However, the Sea Bull is lovely, and is another candidate for my mosaic 'skills' There's a good use of different coloured tesserae to make the shades on his body. The work here is rather more subtle and 3-dimensional than the Rudston bird.

Gotta grout today! I'm not sure what mosaic my stag is based on as I was sent the wrong notes with my mosaic kit. Unfortunately, my mosaic library is not yet inexhaustable and attempts to match up the design have failed. The book on Romano British mosaics in the north costs £160, so I won't be getting that any time soon. However, I note that the University of York has a copy. Since I'll be teaching a Univ Continuing Education Course in the Winter, I'm hoping to get a library card so may be able to take it home to digest at leisure.

Got a reply from my writing group in answer to my query about the novel writing competition. It seems that it's likely there will be feedback given on all the pieces submitted (not just the winners), so perhaps it's worth me entering.

A mosaic in the Yorkshire Museum

Roman Mosaic from Toft Green, York Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Taking photos of Roman mosaics

See below for one of the photos I took on my recent trip to Hull & East Riding Museum. This is a small section from Rudston Roman villa charioteer mosaic, which is probably 4th century in date, so if I wanted, I could recreate this pattern. I can't do the whole of any floor as they're way too large - that counts for taking a photo, or trying to do a mosaic! So this bird might be a manageable size.

Oh, and I keep forgetting - I've got to grout my stag soon! Next week my partner is off work, and he's promised to do a bit of woodwork to mount the mosaic hardie (a sort of chisel) in a block of tree trunk that he found on his site (he's an archaeologist too, but the tree trunk is relatively recent, since the site huts were near a rubbish dump ...) Then I'll be in business for making my own tesserae.

A mosaic in the Hull & East Riding Museum

Rudston Villa, East Yorkshire Posted by Hello

Friday, April 08, 2005

Lovely Roman

I revised my competition entry yesterday, and still like what I've written, which I'm pretty sure will mean that it'll all end in tears! I like what I've written because I love the subject matter. This bodes well for me regarding completing a full manuscript, but do I want to embark on another tiro piece, when the subject matter is the one I really want to write?

The 6th century story was always a learning piece and ultimately expendable, though I still love the characters and it was with great regret that I put it aside. The 5th century story is much closer to my heart and I don't want to cock it up. Apart from writing the synopsis and 5000 words without turning a hair, it has also had a title for many years, so it seems very real to me. Most published authors seem to have at least four unpublished tomes in their bottom drawer, so theoretically, I need to do at least three more 'loss-leaders' first before going onto this one. I need to think a while.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Just get on with it ...

Right, today's the main day for revising my 5th century story synopsis and 5000 words for my writing group's competition (closing date 13th April). I'm still worrying that I've hurried things in the 5000 words, though I didn't actually hurry them per se - I just wrote at the pace I normally do! It's not to say I don't concentrate on some passages that I think are particularly important. In the end it doesn't matter, as I am very interested to see where the rest of the story is going to go. Having written 5000 words, with other stories, I have often found my interest wane, but this is from my pattern of years back and perhaps now I've changed in outlook - or I am cannier in my choice of subject matter! Giving myself goals (like entering competitions) seems to be a spur in getting going, which is a good thing.

I can't expect my entry to win anything - there are some fearsomely good writers in the group. There's a clever young man, who writes witty, amazing stuff. Then there are others, a little older, who write excellently told stories. I seem to be the only one writing historical fiction. Oh, it's grim up north :-)

I see Kate Allan is on the front of 'Writing Magazine' for May! I think she's done very well in publicising her books. More power to her elbow!

Gotta go, I hear my last Roman calling ...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Journey's End

Whilst my friend was in town, we also went to the theatre and saw the touring production of 'Journey's End' It's set in an officers' dug-out in 1918 in the First World War. I've wanted to see it for a while, particularly as the author, R C Sherriff, wrote a play called 'The Long Sunset' which is set in the mid fifth century. 'Long Sunset' has not been produced for many a year, though was on the radio in the 1970s (but I managed to miss it, due to being in a school play!!!) My friend managed to pick up a copy of the play in a second hand bookshop just a few weeks back and has kindly given it to me.

Back to Journey's End, though. Since it had its first run in 1929 (barely 10 years after the end of the war), I'm not sure if it counts as historical fiction. The language used sounds authentic - 'topping', 'cheer-o' One of the main characters is Captain Stanhope who's only 21, but is in command and the most experienced officer there. He's turned to drink because of the pressure, but still functions very well as an officer and is loved by his men because he looks after them. The actor, Tom Wisdom (photo on the website), got just the right note of panic in his voice when he was angrily shouting at something to do with the war that he couldn't control.

Also in the cast was a certain 'Mason' who looked after all the officers' cooking. Those of us who have seen 'Blackadder Goes Forth' will have been strongly reminded of Baldric at this point. Of course, Blackadder would have been based on Mason. Some of the comic moments in Journey's End' were surely the basis of Blackadder's trench comedy: 'What sort of soup is it Mason?', 'Er ... yellow soup, sir' Even Blackadder ended tragically, with the men going over the top (very powerful as this serious scene counterpointed all the idocy and mirth that had gone before)

With 'Journey's End' we knew it would end badly (the title's a giveaway for a start!), but this production is very well done. Some of the archiac language might have been annoying or even amusing, except the cast were so very believeable and they illuminated it. Very moving, and worthwhile seeing.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Neglecting the blog

I've just waved my friend off at the station after a whirlwind tour of museums since last Friday. We've a lovely time visiting the Yorkshire Museum, the Royal Armouries in Leeds, and the Hull and East Riding Museum. I think both of us are now officially knackered :-) Anyway, I've now got loads of digital photos of Roman mosaics, which I'll download from the camera soon.

Because our mutual interests include historical fiction, there's been lots of writing chat. My friend's writing is not going too well at the moment, and she keeps getting snagged into writing for 'the market' Being in the HNS, it means she's privy to a lot of information about the publishing industry, and it's easy to get into thinking that you should be writing what the publishers and agents want, even when there's no guarantee that they'll take your book if you do! It's a bind, and I think the only thing writers can do is write what they want, otherwise they are prey to all sorts of problems, including 'Writer's Block' which is otherwise known as 'succumbing to pressure and risking a lack of confidence in one's abilities.'

Since I've also neglected to get the washing done, I think I'd better stop being opinionated and get on with some practical stuff!