Sunday, July 31, 2005

Breaking the ... rules

Kate, in her reply to my Screw the rules post, makes an interesting point - may be, you have to know the rules to break them. But I would mutter/howl, depending on my mood, what are the rules? Yes, I can (and have) read many books, but there do not seem to be hard and fast rules, as far as I can see. Particularly as I am not writing crime or romance.

Why can Jack Whyte break the rules - as dictated by the Winchester crit - and still get published? His first book was much the same (long rambling sentences, first person, etc.) so what was he doing right? Which is why I'm writing what I want rather than to a market, otherwise it would all do my head in as I miserably tried to conform to some sort of formula, and failed horribly. This way, at least I get to enjoy my story (more or less), and still fail anyway :-)

It's not to say I'm being a total lout. I am trying to find my way and work out how to do things - I wouldn't seek crits and take them seriously, otherwise - but it is my way, aka the long way. If I didn't spend at least a decade staggering around without knowing what I was doing, there'd be something seriously wrong with me ... The main problem is that I am running out of time.

Oh, and here's another person who likes Jack Whyte. The piece is actually about the House of Pendragon, Book 1: The Firebrand by Debra Kemp, which I've also read, and I have to agree with the reviewer.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Picked this up on Roman Army Talk, and it's too irresistable to leave out. It's from the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contents, 2005 Results:

Winner: Historical Fiction
Sphincter, the gladiator, girded his loins in preparation for today's games, glad to be part of the season opener since he hadn't been sure until yesterday that his contract would be renewed, given his slump during the Germans-versus-lions series but he knew that swatting Germans into the lion's pit was trickier than it looked and he told the officials that they should look at his other stats, not just Huns batted in.

Robert Peltzer
Baltimore, MD

A column of five hundred Roman foot soldiers - a column held together by the plaster of courage -- advanced on a teeming sea of rebellious slaves -- slaves who had, ironically, built most of Rome's columns, although they actually used lime and not plaster to cement the structures, and though it is perhaps more historically precise to describe the soldiers' column as bound by the lime of courage, that doesn't really have the same adventurous ring to it.

Mark Hawthorne
Rohnert Park, CA

Dishonorable Mention
"Wet leaves stuck to the spinning wagon wheels like feathers to a freshly tarred heretic, reminding those who watched them of the endless movement of the leafy earth-or so they would have, if only those fifteenth-century onlookers had believed that the earth actually rotated, which they didn't, which is why it was heretical to say that it did-and which is the reason why the wagon held a freshly tarred heretic in the first place."

Alf Seegert
Salt Lake City, UT

Now them's are long sentences!

Historical Arthur

Stephen, in his comment on my previous post, says what appeals about the Arthur Legend is all that that chivalry, romance and 'magic.' Perhaps so, to some people. But then I'm not interested in the Arthur Legend at all :-) I don't find Malory interesting - it's high medieval, outside my range of study, and I would use the same words that Stephen uses with regard to Whyte: dull, dull, dull. It's obviously horses for courses. Neither am I fussed about a historical Arthur. I am, however, extremely interested in Britain during the 5th-6th century. In deep turmoil, with the major (and relevant to today) themes of conflict and migration, this is the cauldron in which modern-day England/Scotland/Wales were mixed.

As someone writing about the period, whether it be fiction on non-fiction, I'd have to 'go there' regarding Arthur, as he is now completely embedded in the period, for good or ill. If I left him out, I would be criticised, and it looks like putting him in would draw criticism too! In both my stories so far, I've nodded in that direction, but he is not a major or influential character, and nor is he any sort of a hero. He's just one of a number of petty warlords, doing what petty warlords do in that period. There are other, far more interesting, stories to be told, in my opinion. However, I have my doubts whether I could sell the stories, even if they were well written, super and lovely. Because the focus isn't Arthur!

Friday, July 29, 2005


Still reading Jack Whyte's Clothar the Frank. He's now mentioning proper chimneys and fireplaces. He's also mentioned them in previous books. No to chimneys! Not in Roman Britain, thank you! They don't appear till the 13th century at the earliest, becoming more common in the 15th century. Clothar is set in France, and I guess that they might have had them in the 5th century there, but I doubt it.

There are things called lamp chimneys (tall pots with apertures), or ventilators, found on Roman sites, but they may only be for roof decoration and aren't common finds. They may be part of the hypocaust system, to help draw the hot air round and expel gases. Also, the flues (again part of the hypocaust system) that lined the walls to draw heat and gas round the rooms might technically be called chimneys. But Jack is evidently referring to chimneys as we know them today. However, I'm still enjoying the book; the man's a great storyteller.

btw, I tend to call the book Cloth-ears the Frank. A 'cloth-ears' being someone who isn't listening properly. When my dp saw what I was reading, he immediately started calling it Cloth-ears too. Aye, well, two fools never differ ... :-)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Screw the rules

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that once an author is published, they don't seem to have to follow the rules? Having been told off by the Winchester Comp critiquer for having one long sentence (three lines), I've just read one that's at least six lines long in Jack Whyte's Clothar the Frank! His average is probably three lines, whereas mine's about one and a half.

The crit also exhorted me to: 'read everything you can lay your hands on, to work out how other people put their words together'. As if I hadn't tried to do this already! But reading Mr Whyte's book - he's hardly setting a good example now is he? I'm obviously just not reading the right books ;-)

But this is why I'm not going for any more crits until I have a complete first draft. This sort of stuff will stop me from writing any sentences whatsoever.

Then I pick up the Writers' Forum magazine, and it's headlined 'Screw the rules says top author'


Confused and Bemused of the UK

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Clothar the frank

As part of trying to get myself in the mood to write again, I've chosen to read Clothar the Frank/The Lance Thrower by Jack Whyte. It's a doorstep of a book. This is because Jack Whyte takes his time (just a little bit!) telling a story. It is set in the 5th century, but it's very much Jack's 5th century. His Romans tend to use equipment that's from the early Empire, rather than the late, and there's loads of other historical inaccuracies that I could take him to task on. And I've just read a bit where he mentions the spatha (which is much more of a late Roman sword) but he says its specifically for stabbing. Wrong! It's long, often used by cavalrymen, specifically for slashing from horseback - it's difficult to stab from horseback (ahem!) But a good swipe with a long-bladed spatha as you swing by the infantry often literally causes them to lose their heads. It has a sharp blade, and is a close relative of the long sword used by the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, who tended to fight on foot. Now the gladius - that was used for stabbing, and was the stock-in-trade for the the early Roman Empire infantry ...

However, Jack's one of those writers, who have won me over through the power of their story-telling. I've read most of the previous books from the Camulod series, and they are very uneven (I've currently read through two long chapters where it's just one character reminiscing to another) but generally they're good fun. A fair few are in first person (as is Clothar) which suits me just fine :-)

Friday, July 22, 2005

In the mood

Diane mentioned that she's reading within her genre again whilst beginning to rework her book. I think this is a great idea, and am currently scanning my bookshelf to choose something that will draw me in. It's possible I'll re-read Henry Treece's 'The eagles have flown' Set in the 5th century, a few years back I managed to get hold of a copy. I'd read it as a child, and re-reading it, I realised how influential it was in my view of the era! Artorius isn't really a hero and is rather dangerous (ahem!). Strangely, I've never managed to finish Treece's adult novel 'The Great Captains' set in at the same time, or just a little later.

In addition, I've noticed I haven't felt the urge to play some of my favourite music (mostly classical or film scores) so I think I might put them on again, just so it's in the background when I'm working on my essay. I normally write my fiction with music on, so the inspiration might seep through sub-consciously. It has to be the right music, either something that hums harmoniously in the background, or something that contributes to the mood of the scene or chapter I'm writing.

Note that I did not say I had Writer's Block! I don't believe in it; most of the people who tell me they've got writer's block actually have something which they could fix if they wanted to - whether it was lack of confidence, lack of time, can't find ideas, etc. The main thing is to be brutally honest with yourself, and work out why you're not writing. Hmm. That sounds rather tough, but actually I tend to be supportive to other people and try to encourage them (honest!). It's me I'm tough with, though even then, I'm not beating myself up over it. Just acknowledging there's a problem and seeing what I could do about it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

And again ...

London blasts cause chaos on the Tube. Fortunately, no fatalities this time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Reading outside the genre

Over on Wendy Woo's blog, Wendy has some excellent reasons for not reading outside the genre that she writes in. The main one is that it dilutes her focus. I have to agree here completely, even though I'm not writing creatively at all at the moment! Within historical fiction, I also like to read those books which are set in my particular area of interest (Late Roman to Early Anglo-Saxon Britain), but there aren't many books set in this era. So I do actually read quite widely within the genre. Reviewing for the Historical Novel Soc helps as well, as that I get offered books ranging across all periods. The ones I'm currently down to review are set immediately post WW1 and WW2.

But when I do get books set in my period, for similar reasons to Wendy, I'm either narked by how bad they are (normally the research is, shall we say, 'hopeful' rather than accurate) or downhearted as they write so well, when my stuff's rubbish. With other eras, I can be more objective and learn a bit more, be it about writing or another period. Wendy Woo is concerned about apeing another author's style, but I don't find that much of a problem (chance would be a fine thing ... )

Meanwhile, writing at all would be nice at the moment, but I'm really not feeling at all inspired, plus I'm doing the historical essay. The deadline is next week, and I reckon I won't make it. There's always next year!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Foot in naalbinded sock and Late Roman boot

See what I mean about not being able to see much of the sock? At least it also hides the knot-bumps :-) btw, it was difficult taking pix of my own foot y'know. So if the angle looks odd, you know why ...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ssssllloooowww progress

Just picking up the threads of a history article that I'm supposed to finish by the end of July. It's based on a project I did for University a decade ago, and needs to be made good enough to publish. There are a fair few things to add, plus I need to rewrite some aspects, and I also need to format it in the journal's house style. Urgh! It's really a case of getting down to it, and then my enthusiasm will get set off, with a bit of luck.

Meanwhile, I've was down at the York University library the other day. Was checking out references for my article, plus seeing if they had some books on Roman burial rites. My partner is currently digging up some skeletons, and some are decapitations, so he wants to read up on current thinking. Fortunately, I now have lending rights at the library as I'm doing some Continuing Eduction teaching, so I can take out the publications, rather than photocopy like a demon. btw, the skeles are part of the same cemetery as these.

The Borthwick Institute has recently moved into a new building next to the library, and I have been advised that the records of a brick company have been deposited there in the last few months. I'll be chasing up that up on my next visit, as it would be great to see what's relevant for my article.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Had a wizard wheeze regarding naalbinding socks the other day - why not use chunkier wool so the socks would get made quicker? I still haven't completed a sock yet, due to false starts - my first one has too many duff stitches and with my second, I forgot I was still supposed to be adding two stitches at a time and went down to one double every ten - duh!

Anyway, more false starts with the chunky wool; I made the toe too big, and by the time I started to take it in for the body of the foot, it was way too big. And I did this twice; my 'toe' should be pretty small, if I have chunky wool. Now seem to have it sussed and my fifth one is OK so far, but I'm just coming to the heel. Should I expand the sock again, or will it be OK if I just continue with the same width? I have seen the socks done as a tube, so it may be OK ...

Friday, July 08, 2005


The death toll has gone up to over 50. Here's hoping it doesn't go higher; my thoughts are with the injured and the bereaved.

We'll Keep Buggering On, and it was great to see on the news that many people were back on the buses again in London today. I gather that a lot of businesses had given people the day off (transport's still difficult; people faced very long journies home last night), so the capital wasn't as busy as it could be, but there were people still flooding in. Life goes on, no matter what the terrorists do.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London, today

London rocked by terror attacks.

Olympics 2012

Being a typical Brit, I reckoned we wouldn't get the Olympics, though didn't doubt our bid team was doing a good job. But, again, sometimes, nice things do happen! What a lovely surprise. And in Trafalgar Square, as people went wild, the 'victory' music from William Walton's Henry V was played, which was also extremely apt. More apt than a lot of people might appreciate, as, of course, Henry V is the Brits vs the French, and for this Olympic bid, it got down to either London or Paris. Can't help feeling a little regretful for the French, though, as they haven't had the Summer Olympics since the 1920s, I think, and perhaps they're overdue a visit now; they been trying to get it for the last three or four times, but can't even expect to get the 2016, as it will probably got out of Europe.

We last had the Olympics in 1948. I sort of reckoned, that I wouldn't see them in this country within my expected lifespan, so as long as I'm still around in 2012, I'll be going :-)

As a downer, I have to say my fellow archaeologists were damning the games within hours of London winning the bid. Is it no wonder I can't stand the profession any more? But at least a few voices subsequently spoke up in an optimistic manner. I understand the prevailing conditions in archaeology (after all, I am actually a victim of them) but I feel so much bettter when I keep my distance from my archaeological colleagues.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Last Kingdom

Still reading Bernard Cornwell's 9th century book. Looks like he'll be including Aethelflead of Mercia at some point. I reckon there'll be three books - Aethelflead's just been born in this one. I'm over half way through, and the narrator, Uhtred, is still only 15. Uhtred is making a big thing of Aethelflead's birth so ...

As usual, the West Saxons are fighting hard for the land. They seemed to have had a hard time gaining it (in the 5th-6th centuries), so I guess they'd put up a fight when someone tries to take it from them! Funny enough, the Late Romans always complained about the Saxons more than any other of the Germanics.

When I was at Comprehensive (senior) school, we had school 'houses' Each child was assigned a 'house' and could get 'house' points to contribute to the competition for one of the 'houses' to get a cup at the end of the school year - exactly like Harry Potter's school houses. Our houses were: Northumbria (blue) Mercia (yellow) Anglia (green) and Wessex (red) Guess which house I was in: Wessex! The main competition was nearly always between Wessex and Northumbria, with Mercia occasionally butting in, and Anglia trailing beind. Which, in a way, reflects what went on in Anglo-Saxon England :-)

There were also school houses in Junior School, and they were: Winston, Leonard, Spencer, Churchill (so I have no trouble in remembering Winston Churchill's full name!) I was in Churchill (yellow) Don't know if they still do school houses these days.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Bernard Cornwell

I'm really enjoying Bernard Cornwell's 'The Last Kingdom' at the moment. I decided not to buy the hardback, and waited till the paperback came out, but now I'll have difficulty waiting for the sequel to come out in paperback! Before this, I read one of the Sharpe novels as a review for the Historical Novel Society, and then tried the Warlord Chronicles. I didn't get on with the latter as the subject matter was not of much interest to me, it turned out (too many Celts, not enough Romans), though got the first book on audio tape, which was entertaining whilst driving to re-enactment events.

Cornwell's excellent at action scenes, and generally very gritty and realistic. The first time I met Sharpe on the printed page, he was peeing into a flower bed - now that's my kind of novel! And 'The Last Kingdom' has the same ambience about it. Bravo!