Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Giving us back our history?

I was intrigued by the Independent's review by Jane Jakeman of Manda Scott's new book. Apparently, Scott's books are giving us back our own history. I find this statement completely baffling. The dp reckoned that it was do with the Romans having written the history of Boudica's rebellion, so Scott's books are looking at it from the British point of view perhaps? But since Scott herself says, for example in Solander, May 2003, page 19: 'our side lost' during the Roman invasion of AD43 and ... 'what Rome did to my people,' (my italics) I have my doubts that is what is meant. There's also something rather exclusive going on here.

Being part Italian from way back, I am partly expecting to be shipped back to Italy at some point for being a foreigner. And since I tend to say I'm English (on account of being born in England) I guess might have the choice to go back to Germany instead. I simply can't make up my mind :-)

The Romans are as much part of Britain's history as any of the myriad other people's who have come to this island, from the 'Celts' to the very latest wave of migrants. And anyway Ms Jakeman, fortunately, Scott is writing fiction, not history.

Monday, February 27, 2006

So many rules, so little time!

Sarah has kindly pointed out another blog about breaking the rules. This time it's from a reader's point of view. Bless the 'So Many Books' blogger - they didn't have any concept about rules (ha, I just mis-typed rules as riles - very appropriate).

My frustration about rules has a lot to do with being told by others to do this, don't do that when my work has been critiqued. And then going onto read stuff which is clearly breaking the rules I've been told to write by. Grrrr! It's better to read books that you like and work out why you like them, then keep that in mind. It tends to be one author for audacity, another for pace, and so on.

But then there are, of course, perfectly sane rules regarding point of view, etc ...

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Unloveable characters

The thoughts in my previous blog about characters doing unsavoury things were somewhat unformed. I think it's about being a little anxious that readers (in particular agents or editors) may not like the characters because of the violence they are involved in. Though I like the sound of Sarah's comment about me getting into the mindset (thank you, Sarah!) I am concerned about conservatism from those who might read the jolly old ms.

Probably, the main thing is that I love my lead characters, and that will carry us through. They have to do hard things, but are still human. In the end, I know I'll write what I like and just trust to the powers-that-be that someone might like it enough to publish it one day. Got to finish the bloomin' thing first, mind ;-)

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Miss Snark really does have a great blog. She's got a link to a piece by Anna Genoese on pitching books to editors at conferences. What's also interesting is that Anna is a Tor editor. Tor is one of the publishers I have my eye on ... As someone who hasn't got a social clue, I find Anna's blog entry a goldmine :-)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Characters doing unsavoury things

Huh! While my sinuses are just starting to clear, the dp, who got this bug after me, already has the jolly popping ears and is feeling much better. Anyway, about historical fiction ...

Well, as indicated in the previous blog, the perfidious SoD begins with unsavoury action, and generally goes on that way. Early on, the second lead (Saba) takes part in the torture of captives. Hey, with its objectionable characters, perhaps SoD is a literary novel after all ;-) However, there is a reason for this violence. The torture is to find out where assassins came from, for example, and those tortured were part of a murderous raid. These guys are generally doing what they were likely to do in that era. To humanise them, I try to balance it with lighter scenes where they're having a bit of fun, or doing something that's more day-to-day (though those scenes have to be taking the story forward in some way).

Sometimes I wonder where all this violent stuff comes from. Oops. It just appeared out of my head, unfortunately :-)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Starting too early

I'm still not recovered from my bug, but I'm doing what I often do when I'm ill - retreating into my imagination.

Anyway, I've decided that my first story, the 6th century SoD, starts too early. Only a little early, but I tried to set the scene, and it's not worth it. It slows everything right down. Once again, turning to the books I admire, they get straight down to business (Sampson and Gentle). What the heck. Go for it. SoD will start immediately with a violent death caused by the lead character, and which is a massive turning point. I'm getting to understand the lead's motivations a little more too, so that will also be in there. It's wonderful what a bug can do for the imagination :-)

Trouble is, I don't quite have enough brain power to work on it. And when I do feel well enough, I have several other things that need doing urgently. Doing this blog has knackered me as it is. Back to coughing and sleeping and imagining.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Eh. Diane's tagged me again. I must plot my revenge:

current clothing: scruffy black trousers & fleece
current hair: uncombed (am avoiding it as it hurts to comb long hair when one's sinuses are bunged up)
current mood: sane
current refreshment: tea, as always
current annoyance: the sun's on my computer screen!
current avoidance: outdoors
current smell: nothing (my sinus is blocked up)
current thing you ought to be doing: having another snooze
current thing or things on your wall: postcards of a spring lamb, and a crannog
current IM/person you're talking to: the dp, as usual
current jewellery: the ring I exchanged with the dp
current book: Jack Whyte's 'The Eagle'
current worry: will I finish that report by the end of March?
current love: chocolate
current longing: ditto
current disappointment: too numerous to mention
current lyric in your head: I wish I had an angel by Nightwitch
current music: music to the film Black Beauty (I'm not well at the moment, y'know!)
current favorite book: Bloody Foreigners: the story of immigration to Britain by Robert Winder
current undergarments: white knickers and grey vest
current desktop picture: Bamburgh Beast
current plans for tonight/weekend: hopefully some light re-enactment shopping at the Jorvik Viking Festival, if me and the dp (yes, it looks like I've passed the bug onto him) are well enough

I shan't nominate else this time round, but be warned ... ;-)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Expert reader

Good grief! Very shrewdly, I was sent a taster short story set in the sub Roman era. So I applied my so-called expertise. I was able to jump all over it, just on the the writer's lack of knowledge of the era alone.

Having had a go at short stories myself, I know how much effort is put into shaping these things, so it's a shame I was able to pick at this story so easily. I suppose one of the reasons for doing the Expert Reading (could shorten this to ER, which might be appropriate!) is to learn what works and what doesn't. In the various short story magazines, you only get to see the publishable ones, of course.

Anyway, after this taster, I am pretty sure I can do the job. Even if called on to give a paid critique, I can say useful stuff as to why it got rejected. In the case of the taster, to put it very briefly, I would have advised more reading about the era (the grasp on material culture in particular was very poor - porcelain in Roman Britain, I don't think so!) and more attention to focus, characterisation, dialogue and pacing.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

It's cold inside!

No, my central heating hasn't broken down. But I've certainly got a bug: hot, cold, sniffly, muzzy head. Just starting to emerge from it now, but not before I managed to send a rather more feverish than normal email to someone. Ooops! My finger slipped whilst I was typing and it got sent. It's work related, and was about something I'd requested in November, which has still not appeared. So ... Will be picking up the pieces on Monday, I suspect. Bad girl. It may require an apology.

Anyway, meanwhile, there's lots of interesting historical fiction related stuff going on at the moment. I might become one of the Historical Novel Society's Expert Readers for their short story programme. However, I am concerned that I might not be up to it skills-wise. Especially seeing the email that's been circulated - we might have to do paid critiques, should people request them. That sort of brings what is involved home to me. Presumably, we'll need to follow something like the checklist from Writers' Forum.

Also, Mary Sharratt - author and HNS Reviews Editor - has just started a historical fiction blog dedicated to authors who are re-writing the role of women in history. It may be worth a look and will be going on my blogs to read list for the time being.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The scoping exercise

In her blog, Sarah identifies some of the daft activities that organisations get up to. Why don't those organisations invest in staff, which in turn makes it so much easier to provide good service to the public?

And of course, we've got a great useless activity in archaeology: the scoping exercise. Broadly speaking, it means spending an awful lot of money (in archaeological terms) asking archaeologists what they have that needs doing - it could be specifically to do with researching finds, sorting out archives, training, etc. It'll have a title like: The research agenda for Roman archaeology in Borsetshire for the next ten years or Training needs for pottery specialist. Everybody's expectations rise. At last, something's going to be done! The obligatory report appears. And ... nothing happens.

There's no money to carry out the work they've identified. Well, frankly the money for the scoping exercise should be used on at least carrying out some of the research or whatever was being 'scoped' in the first place. We all know what needs to be done. Every archaeologist I know is trailing behind them a long list of grey literature, that needs to be written up, but for lack of funds they can't. The scoping project is surplus to requirements, unless there is a real pot of money at the end of it..

Everytime I hear there's another scoping exercise in the offing, I switch off and have a short fantasy on what I could have done with the money wasted on the 'scoping exercise': writing up important fieldwork and put the information about the publics' heritage into the actual public domain, that sort of useless project!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Gabriele's Storm over Hadrian's Wall sounds very consistent (see her comments on my leadership post) with what I had in mind about leadership.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A small lesson in leadership

I've just resigned from my involvement in some voluntary work. And the reason I resigned: poor leadership. Not my own. I'm too aware of my shortcomings in that department, so generally avoid it these days. There has to be a good mix of control, knowing when to let people have their heads, and 'reward' for services rendered. Not so of the leader involved here. This leader expected people to carry out work which the leader didn't, and the leader, when questions were asked about anything, treated people with disrepect. Minions tend to vote with their feet under this sort of leadership. I'll be keeping this well in mind for my writing.

How do leaders get to be where they are? To what extent can the leader mistreat those who serve them? The companions of Anglo-Saxon kings were often well-rewarded for their services. Their great kings are called great because they are 'ring-givers' In my small case, the 'ring' would have been a 'thank you' on occasion :-)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Dreaming the serpent spear

There's an advert in today's Guardian declaring (and I'm trying to replicate the colour and the size of the font):

Her final battle consumed three cities

Her story will consume us all

The epic tale of Britain's rebellion against the super
power that was Rome

Oh. OK. Since one of those consumed cities is my home town, I have mixed feelings about this :-)

The book in question is Boudica: Dreaming the serpent spear by Manda Scott.

From the outset, I couldn't get into the books. Frankly, at times, to me, they read like New Age psychobabble. But just occasionally I would get caught in the moment - such as when the Romans imprisoned Boudica's family. This was in the third book, and such catchings were few and far between. There's much in the way of dreaming or shaman-type stuff (see Scott's website on this) and sometimes the Iceni seem to be more like Native Americans than Britons. I'm a little tempted to go on a dreaming course to see what it's all about. You never know, it might change my life!

is the fourth and final book. I'm waiting to see how Boudica justifies killing Roman and British civilians in such a brutal manner, i.e. consuming three cities. Anyway, there's an excerpt from the first chapter online at Bantam. The book cover is not the one in Britain; it can be found here. I gather Scott will go back (forward?) to the present for her next book, but I wonder if she will go back to a historical after that? At one point she mentioned thinking of doing her take on Hamlet.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Losing a Roman :-(

Yesterday's Times said that the Lancaster Tombstone may well be sold Abroad. This is a great shame, particularly as it's so unusual, and it's also in relatively good nick It's going to be reported on in British Archaeology. Hopefully, there'll be so much fuss about it that it will remain in Britain, preferably in a museum close to where it was found. Most archaeological finds aren't this spectacular, and the developer wouldn't even bother thinking he/she could sell them at a profit.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Last one!

I'm currently working on my last lecture. Since part of it is showing a relevant video (which I had as a back-up for the past 5 weeks in case I underestimated the amount of stuff I had to talk about), and the students doing a short talk, it's relatively low impact. Just the way I like it!

Also got a University wage slip and it shows holiday pay. This sum is not quite a whole hour's pay, but is a substantial part thereof. Since I didn't think I was teaching enough classes to get this, I'm chuffed. Perhaps I should teach another class next year ...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wasting time

Sometimes I reckon doing anything else other than writing is wasting time. Obviously, we all have to earn a living, clean the house, cook meals, tend families, etc., but anything on top of that could be construed as avoidance. Trouble is, there are too many other things going on!

In my case, getting involved with the lecturing has not been a good idea - pay not good; any other benefit doubtful. Yet it's all I've done since mid-December. I'm also looking critically at the re-enactment. Particularly as currently I'm on the sick bench, it is proving a financial black hole. It takes up a lot of time as well - preparing for the events, ensuring you have the right kit, have packed the right stuff, etc. We're bound to do some shows this year, as quite rightly, the dp wants something bordering on a holiday.

I like to watch tv. There's a lot of really useful stuff on there, some of which feeds into writing (I'm starting to get rather analytical about drama, which is a good sign, I think), and some of it on an archaeological level. But should I actually be upstairs tapping away at my computer?

And that's another thing. The WWW. Again it feeds into my interests, but do I really need to frequent the various boards, discussion lists, etc? In lieu of actually being in the outside world, it's nice to drop in on other people and find out what they're up to. Reading: another killer leisure activity, but again essential to broadening my interests and informing my research. So many books ... So many things to find out about.

Recently, I dropped doing commercial archaeological reports, and this has freed up a lot time. It was at the expense of getting paid (!) But these superficial reports (all that's required by the client, btw) were doing very little for the research aspects of my finds work. So I then took on some lecturing for the experience, and was tempted into writing up a finds report for publication (aka the Holy Grail of Archaeology) ...

So when do these 'relveant' activities tip over into just being displacement habits - when I really should be writing?

I'm sure that those who focus properly are the ones who get their books finished. They do it to the exclusion of the sort of time wasters I've detailed above. Good on them. I wish I could be so single minded. My proposed non fiction tome could be done by anyone with enough knowledge (and I could name about three others), but do they have the focus? And the sheer will to do it? Do I?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Camp Bling

There are protestors trying to save the site of the burial of the Prittewell Prince, and they've called it Camp Bling. Priceless! I couldn't resist putting the link in, particularly as one of my leads in SoD was named after Saeberht (long before this burial was found, I might add) who might be the Prince in question. Other reports on the contents of the burial can be found here and comprehensively from the Museum of London which dug the site. There's also a nice (small priced) booklet about it, which can be bought from Oxbow, or elsewhere.

I wonder if I could use the word bling in my novel? ;-)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Getting involved in archaeology

Anne asked about getting involved in archaeology. I think I'd better give a disclaimer at this point: archaeology is not to be recommended as a career. However archaeology is a pefectly good hobby :-)

A great place to find archaeology summer schools is the American Institute of Archaeology's fieldwork webpage. Here you can search for a summer school anywhere in the world. I know that several British digs have entries for example, and there's lot of other European and American ones too. Also, many places (towns, cities, counties, states, erc.) have either their own archaeology society or historical assocation, and people can go to talks at the weekends and evenings, visit monuments, do fieldwork, research, the lot. In the UK these local societies are normally crying out for more members, so it's always worth exploring what's going on locally too. In the absence of any local societies, museums nearly always need help with their collections, and it's also worth checking them out.

Have fun!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Only two more!

Only two lectures to go. Yaroo! The series has been with me since mid-December and I'm gasping for the finish. I've decided I won't be lecturing next year. Since I'm not a natural at it, I have to invest way too much effort to get anywhere near something acceptable. It's easily outstripping any financial gains. And I've got to give out the course evaluation forms at the next lecture, so my students can give their verdict. Fab. Perhaps I'll try lecturing again in a couple of years (when I've forgotten how difficult this time round has been!)

After that, it's completing a report I had to drop for the lectures. It'll take me a while to pick it all up again. And after that? Lots of tidying up, and preparation for the non-fiction tome. Hopefully, I'll be working in a relatively comfortable zone. There's got to be one out there somewhere :-)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Romans go (to your new) home

Actually the grumpy beggars went on Tuesday. The dp transported them by taxi to their new home - travelling in style, eh?! They've been in something of a social whirl. Lying there quietly for 1700 years. Then suddenly uncovered, sketched and photographed, then yanked out of the ground without a by-your-leave, stuffed into a plastic bag and placed (not dumped, mind!) under a nice, closed and cosy canopy for a couple of days. When I had to pop out there I did say hello, but I didn't get a reply from the sullen old codgers.

Now at the labs, they'll be carefully washed. After that, some of them will be reunited with parts dug up last year. Some bits of the present bunch stayed in the ground as the builders hadn't got to their section until now. So happy story on that front. Except that they'll still need to be studied, which will mean being laid out on a table, and possibly having some analsyses - extraction of bone, dental enamel, or some such. But much of the recording will entail measurements and observation of marks on the bones.

When will all this excitement stop for them? Perhaps when the results are published. Then it may well be storage in nice boxes in a warehouse somewhere. Re-burial gets difficult with Roman skeles as we can't assume they're Christian! I've heard of large medieval collections being given another Christian burial and duly blessed, but I'm not sure about this lot of motley Romans!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sliver cup

Hurrah! I've finally got hold of the winner's cup for the writers' group novel competition. It sure is pretty, and I'll take a pic of it soon :-) Last night's meeting was an internal competition. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to do an entry, though I had an idea for a story. But it would have needed a lot of work to tease out themes and make it work. And it wasn't an historical story either, unless a memory from the 1960s is counted as history - which it probably is! It was partly set then, and then more recently. The title was/is 'In the blood' and I may yet get it written, as I'm rather taken with the idea. The competition entries varied widely, being a mixture of short stories and poems. There's one chap who writes intricate, jewel-like prose, and surely he's going to get published?

On the downside, there's no chance of doing anything remotely creative for the next couple of works. I didn't manage to write/make notes for the last two lectures, so I've got to do them from scratch. Technically, I guess writing lectures is a teensy bit creative - I have to know the subject well, work how to present, etc. But it's not really using my imagination per se. Unless my approach is wrong. Too many years of archaeology, though dulls the story-telling capabilities. When you can't make a statement without backing it up with evidence, it's hard going to say the least!

The foot is doing well. There seems to be a steady progress. The mushiness is abating, and I can see the tendons and veins in my foot now! Two weeks to go yet, to see how far the cortisol is going to take it. I haven't been so comfortable with my foot in over a year :-)