Alex's Historical Fiction
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Monday, March 27, 2006
Job updateJust a few minutes after I posted my blog, and emailed the Manager to ask when I might hear about the outcome of the job, the post came! And it's a 'no' as I suspected. In this latest round of job hunting I've had:
*been offered a job I really didn't fancy and turning it down (one person alone in charge of a whole shop, and not enough pay for it by far)
*having an interview and a near miss (the woman in charge was so kind about it)
*a no to interview (had to put I'd left my last job due to sickness on the application form)
* an interview and a no (fair enough; I didn't think I was properly qualified)
So I've had the whole spectrum. I guess getting interviews for 75% of the posts is good, but I am very choosy about what I apply for. Of course, what I'd prefer to do is have a proper job in my chosen profession, rather than needing part time posts to support my dubious freelance work. That way, I could focus properly.
I don't want to discuss itNo, I'm not referring to the lack of a 'no' regarding the job I went for. Waiting for the chop is probably worse than actually getting rejected. What's wrong with a quick phone call? The one time someone managed to do that for me, I was actually quite grateful they'd saved themselves time, paper and a stamp. And the experience was relatively positive, in fact. Sometimes a swift no is a relief.
But I digress ... It's to do with discussing history. I think that if my areas of interest actually had some hard and fast dates, I might be interested in exploring interpretation of the evidence. But the 5th-6th century hasn't really got anything tangible to discuss. There are certain sources one has to be aware of, but that's about it. It's more a matter of opinion. I have my opinion, and other people have theirs. But the latter often don't think it's opinion, they think they've based their theory on fact. Er, no! But try telling them that. It is therefore, a pointless exercise. Arthurnet is often the place to find the unhelpful discussions I am referring to. As Carla said, it's a jousting match!
Just occasionally, someone comes up with an interesting angle, and I have pause for thought, but that's exceedingly rare these days. I had even heard about the Sarmatian theory (which led to the recent King Arthur film) before it gained some notoriety in the late 1990s: it was mentioned in a newspaper sometime in the 1970s - I have the cutting somewhere ...
Sunday, March 26, 2006
A cemetery of secrets
Saturday, March 25, 2006
SoD's datesEeew! I've had to change my keyboard due to spilling half a cup of tea on the other one, and this one's all rattley. I took it from my old Viglen computer/warhorse. Serves me right ... At least the keys have never got worn on this old one though.
On Gabriele's blog Carla asked about when SoD was set. That's a good question and worth exploring, as it brings up pertinent questions about the chronology of this period.
SoD includes Camlann, and the founding of Bernicia. Camlann gets dated anywhere around 530-40 (and sometimes earlier) and the traditional (probably entirely bogus) founding date of Bernicia is around 547 - so sue me :-) I would of course point out dating niggles in any Author's Note, but I'm hardly likely to get shot for monkeying around with hard and fast dates, as neither of them are. Scholars can argue till their blue in the face about king lists, chronicles, interepretations, whatever, in the end there are too many variables. It's like trying to catch a sunbeam. It suits me to put those events at those dates. I'll not be actually quoting particular years in the novel, as it is.
One good example of the date free-for-all is the king lists of Deira, which have, to say the least, been fiddled with. There are several versions, one of which includes Westerfalca, who will be appearing in SoD. The starting date of the list is very uncertain, but I'm reasonably happy that the archaeology is pointing to a very strong 'kingdom' pretty early on. I'm more concerned about whether to call Falca a king so early on or not, than worrying about what some sources/myths/interpretations say happened in a particular year. This is a novel, not a history book, and in this era in particular, all bets are off regarding hard and fast dates. It is both a pleasure and a bane.
Talking of absolute dates during the 5th -6th century being a fantasy, the entry in Wikipedia is amusing/confusing, just for starters. Bernicia gets Esa at 500 for example. But where's Deira, with it's early Anglian cemeteries and settlements? Earliest 'king' Aella in 559? Hit the serious books, and it gets much, much worse.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Roman skeletons in the papers!The Sunday Times have brought their coverage of Roman burials forward to 26th March, aka this weekend. Apparently, it will be on the front of their magazine, if you want to check before you buy! As far as we know, the Timewatch proggie is still on Friday 7th April, though there's no confirmation of this so far.
Edit: the dp tells me that he's just heard that the Timewatch programme will be shown 21st April.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
A stranger in my own landA friend has kindly passed me her copy of Boudica: dreaming the serpent spear by Manda Scott. I haven't started to read it yet, but have read the Author's notes.
My main problem with Scott (and I've read all three of the previous Boudica novels, btw) is that she seems to think that since Boudica lost back in the 1st centry, this island has been tainted by all that has come since. This, of course, implies that any peoples who have arrived here from that time onward are a malign influence. This means the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, the Jews, the Hugenots, all other immigrants, and presumably right on up to the present day.
Scott says: 'Our land may have been ruled by the natural inheritors of Rome. They may have spread their influence across the globe, their need to control all that they do not understand ...' Who is the 'Our' in 'Our land' Am I included in that statement? Or am I one of the 'natural inheritors'? You calling me a pikey? You disrepecting me? Am I bovvered though?
Either way, there's a distinct whiff of exclusion going on here.*
Hey! I've just found out that the way I've been loading photos was limited by my browser. Now I'm using a different browser, it's much easier to upload photos, eg, of the lovely Lauren.
*Note to self: in future, don't read these sort of mystical historical fiction novels, else you'll burst another blood vessel.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
All dressed up ...There I was in my (comparative) finery, and I didn't take my underfleece off. I managed the outer one, but didn't fancy exposing my arms to the chill. It's a cold day, and the place I had my interview wasn't particularly warm, so I daresay I looked my normal scruffbag self. Except underneath it I was wearing a nice dress, tights (even!) and my new shoes. Reckon I haven't got the job, though I can see that they will have probably interviewed others who won't fit into the ethos of the place (a small historical charitable venue). But in the end, I don't mind if I don't get it..
It's just that I reckon I probably said the wrong thing, and made a fool of myself as usual. That's what bugs me, though I was pretty relaxed in the interview itself. At least I manage that these days, which helps. Then I can go away and berate myself at my leisure ;-)
Anyway, I chose to walk back home. Oh yes! My foot wasn't moaning, so I thought I'll have a trot. In the new shoes too, though I had my trusty old trainers with me just in case. But the foot did good, so that's something I am happy about.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Only a passing acqaintance ...It just shows how rarely I go to the hairdressers! Yes, the trendy one round the corner was open. But it was as I suspected; they weren't interested in a dry trim. Now, I don't like to have a wash, cut and blow dry. The reason: I am allergic to some shampoo. I only use certain types at home. So I went into town early and lucked out finding a nice place that was open and would do a dry trim without getting sniffy. Whilst nattering to the hairdresser, she said that a lot of hairdressers are closed on Monday. Duh! News to me:-)
Oh, and I got the shoes I wanted. And my foot stood up to the rigours of a long day, and a walk home. So things are looking good. I shouldn't say that else tomorrow I'll wake up to a ticked off foot ...
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Thank goodnessMy practical side has set in, which means I might have a chance of getting the job :-) Got a lot of stuff to do with regard to being decently turned out. Got a dress (!) to wear, but no decent shoes. So tomorrow I'm in town looking for a pair of shoes that will support my iffy foot. It is behaving much better, but I don't want to get anything too flimsy.
I've also got to address the hair cut problem. The hairdressers I normally use are closed on Mondays, but there's a new place just round the corner from here. However they might be a bit trendy for someone with long hair who just wants a good trim!
Don't want to go into town on Tuesday, as I already do Tescos then, but also I'll want to revise and put the finishing touches to my presentation then. I've already got a draft - good grief
Saturday, March 18, 2006
'Tis doneYee-haaa! My last booked talk is done. As ever, I enjoyed the rest of the event, but as for my own talk - I always feel I'm not good enough. And that's what makes me dislike lecturing. I have absolutely no perspective on my own performance. I can be told it was good etc., but I have a genuine sneaking suspicion that people are just being kind. Ho hum.
Meanwhile, back on the interview front, I've just got written details, and I'm expected to give a five minute presentation on how I would organise an event. FAB, as a friend of mine would say. The only thing going for me on that front is a good eye for detail. If it's my own stuff at home, I tend to be sloppy, but if it's proper work, well I want to do my best for the people paying me. But before the interview on Wednesday, I've got to get my hair cut and find something decent to wear. All this while I'm still struggling to finish my archaeology report ... I'm running out of time!
Friday, March 17, 2006
Feeling betterFeel better than I did yesterday, thank goodness. My brains don't feel like quite the sluggish soup that they were, which is making it easier to finish my notes for the talk tomorrow. Someone's offered us a lift, which is great, especially if I'm still a bit off physically. This is the last of my booked lectures, which is a relief. I've gabbed way too much in the past few months, and now it's time to do something comfortable with computers and papers.
Still not particularly taken with the job interview next week. Though I obviously put in a good application (at the last moment I realised what I could say in the covering letter), I don't think I'm wonderfully well qualified. That is not a good attitude to go into a job interview with. Also, explaining why I left my last job can only be a worry for the potential employers, and I think these people will ask. Yes, people get sick, but it will take a lot more from me to convince them I'm the one to do the job because of that.
I've only tended to be successful at getting jobs when I have really not been concerned about getting it. Any other frame of mind whatsoever, does not work for me - whether it be worries about not being qualified, right through to actually being confident. Lack of concern probably passes for confidence in some eyes, and I'm just not 'there' with it at the moment. Still, there's a few days to go yet, and I might pull myself round :-)
Thursday, March 16, 2006
All's right with the world, sort ofAh! Got my replacement copy of the Historical Novels Review, and a right rivettin' read it is too, as ever :-)
Meanwhile, I seem to have a bug. Just in time for this weekend's talk (of course!). There have been a couple of programmes on radio about asthma and they said it's due to a faulty immune system. Tell me about it. On top of this, I've got an interview for a job next week. Trouble is, I hardly feel like I'll be able to hold it due to the various ailments, even part time, if I was offered it, that is.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
WorkmenThe dp had a run-in with a gas engineer today. The latter said he would turn up by 9.30am. Nope, at 10.15 the dp had to go out, so he rang the workman:
Gas Engineer: 'I'll be there in a few minutes'
The dp: 'I've got to go out now. I'll call you later'
End of story :-) Met his match there, did the Engineer. What was the workman's problem? He initially said he'd be there at 9am as it was. Was he unable to pick up his phone and make a call saying he would be late? Being late is understandable, it's the not being kept informed that's the hassle.
We've all been there of course (in the UK at any rate). Taking precious time off work for some chap (sic) to come and do something on the house. And then they muck you around. They make it unnecessarily stressful. I had my fill of it when we first moved into this house. I was in between contracts so it was me who managed the whole thing - plumbers, gasmen, painters, etc. They drove me bonkers. 'Ello luv' they'd say without a murmur of apology as they arrived hours late ...
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
My name is EarlI like the sitcom My name is Earl. Apart from it being funny, I do like the broad theme of taking responsibility for one's actions.
Some of the funniest things are visual, eg. Earl absolutely never having a good photo taken. He's always got a strange expression on his face, normally with his hair awry and one eye half closed. I sympathise - why do you think I've got a rather old photo on my blog? It's the only half decent one I could find :-)
Monday, March 13, 2006
Going postal (grrrr)OK. It was fine that the new issue of the Historical Novels Review delivered to an HNS member in Nottingham by Wednesday last week. However, my patience was stretched by Saturday when it still hadn't turned up at my home in Yorkshire. And then this morning (Monday), I see from the HNS discussion list that someone already has her copy in ... Australia.
Thanks, ever so, for your great service over the years, Royal Fail and Parcel Farce. I only live around the corner from the sorting office, but it might as well be a million miles. They're always pulling the 'sorry we called when you were out' stunt (aka 'we waited till you were out') wouldn't mind but I'm at home virtually all the time at the moment. There's been a couple of incidences of post going through the wrong door of late. If the Review went through my neighbour's door, I won't be getting it any time soon, as he's died and the house is currently empty.
I may wait till the afternoon, and if it doesn't arrive by then, I will have to be troubling the HNS to despatch another copy. I am not a happy bunny.
Yours, in sure and certain knowledge ...
Sunday, March 12, 2006
There's snow business ...Aha, snow again. It settled, but I think it's now all melted. Probably just in time to freeze overnight. Be careful on the roads tomorrow morning. guys.
I got an email from Fish, about All the King's Horses, and lo-and-behold, the publication has now appeared on Amazon. Perhaps I was too quick off the mark, as 5th March is listed as the publication date. Unfortunately, it's got one of those extra 'sourcing fees' on it, but I'll go for it, I think. If I buy something else, I'll at least get free postage. Trouble is, I've already ordered Misa Criolla and Stargate Atlantis from the local music shop. There must be something else I want to read/listen to ... ;-)
Saturday, March 11, 2006
AllergyFor some reason, something's set off my allergies. Don't know why, but since the end of last week, I've come out in dermatitis, general blotches, and puffy eyes. Cue the anti-histamines, but as soon as the tablet runs out, I start getting the symptoms again. So no forgetting about it, and I'll be taking them as long as it takes.
As ever, it's trying to work out what's causing it that's the real problem. Sometimes it's related to the time of the month (so to speak) and I am within that range at present. But it doesn't happen every month there's just a tendency for it to happen within those two weeks, so I dunno. I'm having roasted vegtables (using olive oil) regularly at lunch times at the moment. Could it be that? The olive oil is not the normal one, I got it hurriedly when I ran out. Dunno. Dunno. Will just have to stop the olive oil veggies and see if that helps ...
Friday, March 10, 2006
Roman decapitation theoriesGabriele asked about any theories for the Roman decapitatd burials. There are lots, including burial rites specific to soldiers stationed in York, local burial rites, pagan rites, gladiators, the lot. Not a lot of previous work seems to have been done on decapitated burials, so there's not much literature to consult on the subject.
Hopefully the theories will be in the BBC's Timewatch series on April 7th, with a feature in the Sunday Times on April 2nd. However, this remains to be seen, as we've been given all sort of dates, but those are the dates we're hoping for. The dp is agog to see the expert's scientific conclusions; he hasn't been told yet! Presumably, they might be able to give the origins of the skeletons. If they don't cover the actual decapitation theories in the programme or online newspaper, I'll jot them down here.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Three secrets. Two women. One grailThe blurb above the titles for Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. I've heard this book was what the Da Vinci Code could have been. Still not interested in the Da Vinci Code, I got Labyrinth as it was going cheap at Tescos and sounded intriguing, especially as it opens with a woman digging on an archaeological site. What a sucker :-)
Anyway, I'm hardly out of the Prologue. A couple of niggles so far regarding the archaeological side of things. A buckle being used on an early medieval cloak - not sure about that. An arrowhead as closely dateable as the late 12th-13th century? The use of tweezers: either plastic or metal tweezers are not a good idea out in the field as they can easily damage materials, especially as the digger is often uncertain what they're handling at that point. But this is a dig in France, so perhaps they do have cloak buckles, amazingly well dated arrowhead and use tweezers there. What do I know? I'm still reading :-)
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Soundtrack crazyAnother CD I'm after right now (besides the Mercedes Sosa Misa Criolla) is the original soundtrack music to Stargate Atlantis. In particular, it's got a wonderful choir on the main title music. I rather wanted it for Christmas, but it wasn't available in the UK at that time. It's something straight out of Russian 19th century music - Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, someone in that range. The chorus is a little muted and restrained, almost as if the composer, Joel Goldsmith (son of Jerry) is working up to something larger. It's a: go on, you know you what to! sort of situation. Much potential. Very lovely. Me want.
As for SG Atlantis itself, as a series, I remain neutral. I love SG 1, where there's almost constant delight with what they get up to. Just seen the last of series 8 and it was right on form. In the coming series, I gather there's much more in store, with Farscape veterans Claudia Black (who was in one amusing ep in series 8) and Ben Browder joining the show. However, Sam and Jack won't be to be around as much :-(
But SG Atlantis ... Well, I like scientist Rodney (or Rodders, as I call him, in tribute to Only Fools and Horses ) but sometimes the character is given stuff to say that doesn't quite fit him. And in general series 1 was like that. Perhaps it'll settle down in the next series and give the characters full rein.
Talking of Farscape, I note that Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars has somehow snuck onto Channel Five - showing this Wednesday. Channel Five keep sucking up stuff from other channels. SG1 is shown on Channel 4, but Channel Five showed SG Atlantis. At one point they were running concurrently, but in SG1 the discovery of Atlantis hadn't happened yet. The bear-of-little-brain got a tad confused again!
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Close, but no cigar, yet
Monday, March 06, 2006
The Info dump
A quote from Michel Faber's Foreword in All the King's Horses and other stories:
The problem is, its not easy to write fiction set in bygone ages without doing all the things that good narrative sense tells us not to. Those who learn too much from the past are condemned to repeat it. That is, those who have carefully studied, eg, 17th century Flemish butchers as background research for their story are often condemned to tell us every little thing they've learned about butchery, the Flemings, and the 17th century in general. They may flatter themselves that this is precisely what they've avoided. They may assure us that what they show in the narrative is only the tip of the iceberg, and that the vast bulk of their research is actually submerged, unstated, implicit. They may speak disparagingly of those other historical writers who just can't help pointing out period details twenty times per page. But then you start reading, and before you know it, you are inundated with information that the characters themselves would never remark upon. Illiterate peasants mention, in the course of unlikely conversations, what year it is and which king is on the throne. Pampered ladies who, in real life, would have regarded their servants the way we regard the electrical cord behind the fridge, feel honour-bound to describe everything their maids are doing. Everyone seems bizarrely compelled to analyse every aspect of their daily lives: the composition of their clothing, the contents of their food, the manufacture of virtually every object they touch. And, of course, every sentence spoken by everyone is stuffed with archaisms. Even Babylonian slaves and Vikings orate like pompous Victorians.
Yes indeedy! As an archaeologist, I'm a material culture heavyweight, so I have to be very aware of describing things in minute detail - it's my day job, after all; it's what I do naturally. Very possibly, in my writing, I've gone the other way and have too light a touch. I'm not sure. But I do actually like a good sense of period in the stories I read. However, archaisms are not welcome, neither is crossing the status boundary line without a second thought. I don't necessarily like stories which are essentially timeless. Faber goes onto praise the winning story in the anthology as being able to be set in Iraq, as much as at Agincourt. I'm hoping that the story (when I manage to get hold of it ...) will also sweep me away with its brilliance, whatever the setting.
Misa criollaOn BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs this week it was the turn of thriller author Jack Higgins to choose his 10 recordings. On the whole I loved his choices, but in particular one was stunning. Although I have long been aware of Misa Criolla by Ramirez, and loved the rhythms of the Gloria section, Higgins' chosen recording was exceptional. I had to check out the full details on the Beeb's website. The lead singer was Mercedes Sosa whose wild tones against the insistent chorus were amazing. This religious music is a little heady to say the least.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Miss Snark steps up to the plate armourMiss Snark has been asked a market question to do with historical novels. As usual, she gave a thoroughly sensible reply. However, I am amazed at the question, which seemed to infer that there weren't any new authors in historical adventure. There are of plenty of 'new' names (as opposed to a grandfather clause that the enquirer refers to). People like Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden and Julian Stockwin who have appeared in the last few years, for example.
Above all, Miss Snark says: 'You have to write the thing that fills you with passion.' I agree with that, as well.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Writing on instinctWil commented that writing skills are part instinct. I think he's right. When I wrote my piece for the writing competition, I followed my instinct. I had some idea of what to do in the 5000 word excerpt allotted. I knew it should end on a major, and preferably perilous, dilemma for the main character, which would hopefully leave the reader wanting to know what happened next. It might be a no-brainer for others, but for me it was exciting, particularly as it paid off. Similarly, the beginning had to be intriguing, plus I easily got conflict in the first few pages. But the thing is, the whole piece wasn't at all forced. It just seemed to be how the piece wanted to be written. I presume it was to do with large and regular doses of reading, and knowing what works for me and what doesn't.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Honorary 'Brit' (sic)Why not go ahead and take 'The you could live in England Test'? I passed with flying colours. Just as well, since I live here ...
Thursday, March 02, 2006
No rules - oh dearie meHere we go again, but for the last time for me, at any rate: rather than mislead anyone, I will categorically say that there are creative writing rules - whether they be to do with grammar, pacing, focus, pov, and any other particular skill. If you can't write properly, quite correctly it won't get published. End of (the poorly written) story.
Of course, some people do write good stuff that doesn't get published. May it's just not right for the market at the moment. There is another way, and that's to write for pleasure, so it doesn't matter if it is rubbish or good, but at least you've pleased yourself.
As an 'expert reader' for the HNS, I'm now onto reading my fourth short story. So far, none are publishable, and I'm really looking for reasons to say they're good, as I know how difficult it is to write the b*****s. The main problem with the stories so far: focus, the lack of it. Closely followed by clunky dialogue, and detached/uninteresting lead characters. Also, the latest tale spells the one of the main character's names in two different ways, and is generally poorly edited. Well blimey, I think I've just pointed out stuff that appoximates to rules.
To say there are no rules only encourages people to think that dashing off a story or novel without regard to learning the craft* is acceptable. In fact it's perilously close to saying 'Everyone has a book in them.' Yes, but are they capable of actually writing it?
There are skills involved, and those skills are based on rules (eg. this is what you can do to try for that effect, etc.) or interpretation thereof. May be you're lucky enough not have to actually learn them, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us can do it without thinking hard (and if you're a bear-of-little-brain like me, gosh it hurts) It's almost contravening the Trade Descriptions Act to say there are no rules. No rules implies that no effort to write coherently is required.
There are a few areas of creative writing that I can see don't have rules:
* The story you choose to write (which may or may not be fashionable for the market at the time perhaps, so think carefully if you really want try to get it published; it's a judgement call)
* And the way you choose to put it together (you can choose your approach, but do you have the skills to bring it off in a manner that is competent and appeals? Ah, we're back to the rules again)
Oh, and of course rules are there to be broken, so you can always console yourself with that cute rebellious thought. Sadly, slaveish devotion to the rules doesn't work - as in life, there are too many local variations to keep up with - but awareness of the basic scope of them does actually help your quality of writing and sanity. It's people saying there aren't any rules that pushes me over the edge ;-)
And for those who think it's worth reading rules on occasion, here are Elmore Leonard's very useful Ten Rules of Writing.
btw, for these short stories, I'm keeping notes on the type of story, what's wrong (or even right?) with them, etc., so I can see the 'problem' and other trends. Should be very interesting. Of course, what I'm really looking for is something to knock me wee socks off, that can go to another person for a second reading, and even actually get published. I'll blog it when it happens, but don't hold your breath ...
*There, I've used the word 'craft'; which I think is terribly arty-farty, but actually fits in this case. What have I come to?
Musical marathon: A ten-minute guide to the ring cycle
There was a great piece on Wagner's Ring Cycle in the Independent, March 1st.
My favourite quote is:
"Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour." Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), in 1867.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
The High Life - Oh dearie me!Was it only me and a few others who watched the BBC's comedy The High Life back in the early 1990s? I love it, and fortunately taped it, so I can watch it when I want (and if I can find the video; I must put it onto DVD soon though). Apparently there is a commercial DVD of it anyway.
Of course, Alan Cumming went on to become a biggish star in the US. The series had me rolling on the floor and I could sing the Air Scotia theme tune off by heart at the time. My favourite catchphrase was: Wat's wrang wi yer push? Which might need some translation: 'What's wrong with your puss?' Aka: 'What's wrong with you, sour-face?' The immortal 'Piff paff poff' ditty was surely the most catchy 'Eurovision entry' the UK never had. Here's another website.
And it's not historical fiction either - oh dearie me!