Thursday, June 29, 2006

Competition time

I think I may have a go at entering the Writing Historical Fiction competition that I mentioned a while back. The closing date's July 17th, and I think I've got some free time to slot it into, so what the heck. It's got to be 250 words. I've got around 100 already, so need to expand a bit. Obviously, I'll be going for the 5th-6th centuries. The main thing about the era is that it's called so many things, and I think I'll be harking on that aspect to some extent.

First day (well, afternoon) at the museum today. A gentle introduction. Definitely haven't got to grips with the till. Next week will tell, when I shall be left on my own for a couple of hours. There'll be a duty manager and another volunteer prowling the museum, so any problems and I can call for them. And I shall be calling on them, I'm pretty sure, as the till is not idiot-proof :-)

But back to competitions. Batman is applying for another job at his workplace. It's two grades above his present post, but he's the most likely internal candidate. However, it has also been advertised externally too, though rumour has it that no one with the required amounts of skills and experience has actually applied so far. Really experienced managers would think twice about moving from their present post if stable, as this one is only for five years. I'm helping with his application letter, though since he's internal, I think he'll get an interview anyway. But it's useful for him to explore how qualified (or not) he is for the post. In the end, as with all posts, it will come down to whether they really want to employ him. Nothing lost if he doesn't get; he'll still have a job. Unlike me of course. Just as well he can keep himself employed otherwise things would be desperate.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Emperor's New Clothes

Martyn has decided to stop doing his blog :-( It's a great shame, as I picked up lots of useful, and often local to York, stuff from his blogs. He also uploaded great photos. So I'm very sorry to see him go.

Meanwhile, in my quest to get out of the house (since no-one wants to actually employ me) I'm volunteering at a small local museum for half a day. So if you visit a small place in York on a Thursday afternoon, and have someone swearing at the till as she manages erroneously to ring in tickets costing £2000 each when it should only be £3.50, it's probably me ...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


The other day I was very surprised to get a blue blood donor card through the post. Apparently, you get one when you've donated 5 times. I'm quite pleased and blue is even my favourite colour. Batman's up to 25 donations - he would be. He's got the most useful type of blood (O) - he would, the ratbag :-)

Donations can be given every 16 weeks. That means I can next go end of September - just before flu season, so hopefully I'll manage it then.

Meanwhile, I'm in the throes of applying for a grant for drawings for an article. I can't do the article unless I get the grant, as the drawings will cost around £300. And that does make me feel blue. Should know fairly swiftly, as my man on the inside says they're meeting next Thursday. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Got that writing feeling

As a child, I was often ill (asthma, etc.), and to amuse myself I would make up stories. Apart from reading and listening to radio, it was about all I could do whilst in bed. As an adult, I find I do the same when I'm sick. Whilst getting over the coffee & walnut cake incident, I started to think about SoD. I haven't found an ending yet, so have been trying out different scenarios. Unfortunately, I should be doing other things, so will have to stamp on this. Trouble is, it's a darn sight more fun than anything else I'm obliged to do ...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Leslie Alcock

Leslie Alcock, a well known archaeologist, died earlier in June (see the Guardian today for an obituary). He wrote Arthur's Britain, which really set the debate about a historical Arthur alight, as well as attempting to bring the archaeological evidence for the 5th-6th century into full consideration. It's still in print today. He also dug at South Cadbury, aka 'Cadbury-Camelot' and is a massive name in early medieval studies. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have stashed Excalibur away in a suitcase somewhere ...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Online crit groups

Carla has asked about online historical fiction critique groups. My experience of these is rather mixed. In the group I joined, there was a wide range of members, ranging from the fearsomely knowledgeable and skilful, to the those without a clue of how to critique. A few were really on the ball with their history. I don't mean specifically specialists in a particular era, but those who had a good understanding of the historical field, i.e. they were well read and knew how to research.

A few (often the same few who knew their history ...) were also extremely knowledgeable about the writing game, and knew how to really critique, getting to the heart of the matter. I don't doubt that those who critiqued without much skill were just honestly saying what they thought, but it became increasingly difficult to get anything from the experience.

In addition, I couldn't critique to the level that I wanted to. I think I improved by being in the group, but I felt I wasn't doing my best for people. Membership was useful in that I could observe the standard of other people's writing, who was writing to genre, etc., and where I was with my own writing.

I don't think I'd do it again, and instead would seek out a critique partner. Ideally CPs are someone with whom you build up a rapport and whose judgement you trust. They don't have to be writing the same era as you, but know what they're about on the history, writing and critique aspects. When I start writing regularly again, I think a CP would be my best option

It may be, that crit groups are something useful to do at some point, just for the heck of it :-) They generally have a limited membership (c20), and each member has to critique a number of other people's chapters after submitting their own. Here's a well run one:
Historical Fiction Critique Group - run by Anne Whitfield.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

John Baker and a surprise

Last night's writing group talk was very interesting. John Baker was a member of the group for many years and had lots of useful things to say about writing. He began by pointing out that he could only say all the usual stuff about writing a novel: there is no one way, no formula; writers are those who write; there are a lot people who say they want to write, but don't make the time; lots of people have ideas, but don't carry them through. As he said, all very familiar, but it bears saying again, just in case there is somoneone who hasn't realised. But he also spoke about his meeting with Kurt Vonnegut. The author of Slaughter House Five visited York to lecture some time ago, and John positioned himself in the middle of the front row. After the lecture, John kept asking questions, which he confessed were rather pretentious. In the end, he asked so many questions Vonnegut ignored him, deliberately looking elsewhere to give other people a chance. But afterward, Vonnegut sent an attendant to invite John to dinner.

Vonnegut talked and John listened. The author spoke about life and writing. And the next day, they went to the Post Office to see a Counter Assistant who had caught Vonnegut's eye. The experience sounded very magical and very intense. Vonnegut and Baker still meet up, when Vonnegut is on tour. I'll always remember John Baker's talk.

Oh, and the competition ... It's just as well Martyn didn't manage to put an entry in. The competition had only two entries, so they cancelled it. I was quite disappointed, as it would have been good to hear Baker give some feedback; I think it would have been very well considered. Baker said that competitions like this were a valuable chance to get feedback. That was precisely why I entered last year, though haven't had a chance to act on the comments. But as a group member pointed out, it's hard to get something as long as novel out every year. Even though it was only the first 5000 words, really the person is planning on completing it. Hence six entries last year, and only two this year. On the bright side, I get to keep the cup another year :-)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sword in a Suitcase II

Further to my blog earlier in the week, I have found a picture of the lost 7th century sword of Bamburgh. It can be found on the ever realiable BBC News website, and was posted yesterday. Looks like a real (deadly) sweetie; yet more Anglian bling :-)

I was very good ...

I actually managed to part with some books, bravely putting them in the charity bag and waving them off the other day. But I've bought two more historical novels. Oh dear.

The first is Bernard Cornwell's The Pale Horseman, book 2 in his King Alfred era trilogy, now in paperback. I managed to get a signed edition from Waterstones, so may well keep this one

And the second is Simon Scarrow's The Eagle's Prophecy, 1st century Romans. This is one which, in the first edition, used some of Lindsey Davis' Falco characters and portrayed them unfavourably. Not surprisingly, Davis objected (scroll down to Copyright Issues) and insisted that the references be removed.

Still off-colour, as the cake works its way round my system. Trouble is, if you realise you've made a mistake, you can't take the action back, and you just have to wait till it calms down.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Yesterday, and a bit today, I've been feeling rather off-colour. The only thing I can trace it to is that I ate a piece of cake! I should have known better, as it was a quite a dense coffee and walnut sponge. Since the pulmonary embolism and attendant hard line medication, I've had trouble with my digestion. Cutting out wheat (in particular bread and any pastry), improved the situation immensely. However, I have got away with having the odd slice of light Victoria sponge. So thought I'd get away with this coffee and walnut indulgence ...

Er, no, by mid afternoon I felt nauseous and bloated, and by the evening I was feeling very anxious for no obvious reason, and extremely tired. This morning wasn't too clever either. I don't think I've got full-on coeliacs (I get on tolerably with oat cakes, for example) but I certainly won't be having any pieces of cake, Victoria sponge or nay, for a while. Thank goodness I'm not allergic to chocolate :-)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sword in a suitcase

The things archaeologists do, or rather don't do, but should:

Bamburgh sword nearly ends up in skip
The importance of proper archiving procedures was illustrated by a story in the Daily Telegraph on 19 June, which reported that the seventh century pattern-welded Bamburgh Sword narrowly avoided being dumped in a skip by workers who were clearing the house of the late Brian Hope-Taylor.

The sword was rescued by former students who had gone to the house after hearing that Hope-Taylor’s books were being sold off. They found the sword in a suitcase that was about to be loaded into a skip. The sword was originally found in the first ever excavation at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, in 1960 and is now back there on display. Paul Gething, from the Bamburgh Research Project, said: ‘We had no idea it would be such an exceptional sword and the only one of its kind ever found. It is a dream come true.’

Currently can't find a photo of said sword. There's also an interesting photo of another old Bamburgh archive on the new project's website. Unfortunately, there are are few places like this. I've worked in a couple of such stores, having to almost 're-excavate' them myself to find anything. Archaeologists are drowning in data. I hasten to add, not all archaeological archives are like this by a long stretch.

Oh yeah - and I've finished my report! Hang out the flags, sing the national anthem, and jump up and down. I sent the electronic copy out yesterday evening, and followed it up today in the post with a print out and an invoice. Onto the next, much smaller report ... Then an article, then the book and then ... I'm free of my archaeological obligations. Judging by how long it took me to do that medium sized report, I should be out on parole by about, oh, 2026. In Britain, I think my time spent in archaeology is around 5 life sentences (since they let them out so quick these days) The only thing is, I still haven't worked out what I did wrong in the first place to deserve it.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Not quite the World Cup

Last year I won the local writing group's novel writing competition. Though I got the small cash prize on the night, I didn't see the cup till earlier this year. Finally, I've managed to get my photo taken with it. And I have to say, Batman is not exactly David Bailey, but then the subject is not exactly a supermodel, either ...

Anyway, next week the writing group is having the results of this year's novel writing competition. When I won the competition, the prize hadn't been awarded for two years. It seems it's being awarded annually now. I'm making a point of taking the cup back next week, so that the next winner can have it right away - or at least see it, before it's whipped off to be engraved. I haven't entered, so can just enjoy listening to the adjucation. The judge is John Baker, so presumably people will have entered the first chapters of their crime stories. But perhaps not. Should be interesting.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Five Historical Figures MEME

Martyn's fault again. But it's a relative easy MEME if you're interested in history.

Five historical figures I'd like to meet, in no particular order:

1. Ambrosius Aurelianus, 5th century - Just to check out when he actually existed, and to confirm he was victor at Badon*

2. Akhenaten, aka Amenhotep IV, Egyptian Pharaoh, 1530s BC - Introduced the concept of one god to Egypt. Somewhere between the 1970s and 2000s he's moved from a Christ-like figure (when my mother had to study him for her teaching course, so I also read the books) to a bonkers tyrant (the last tv programme I saw). Either way, his Hymn to the Sun is said to be similar to some of the Psalms ... The only one of my five with any sort of contemporary pictorial representation, btw, despite being the oldest by far.

3. Edwin of Deira & latterly of Bernicia, Bretwalda, 7th century - Courage in the face of adversity, boundless energy, warlord extraordinaire, hedging his bets with Christianity. Got a v good mark from Bede. How did Edwin cope with one of the most dangerous jobs on offer - being a king in the dark ages

4. Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, 1st century - Governor of Britannia during the Boudica revolt. Literally kept his head against all odds. Bet he'd be as scary as I think he was

5. Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, 10th century - A woman in what was very much a man's world

* Not interested in meeting 'King' Arthur as he's a myth and not historical

Would love to know who other people would like to meet, if they want to have a go

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ballet Russe

Just picked up a programme from City Screen and have found that they are showing the documentary Ballet Russe. This is the sort of thing they should be showing, but I'd virtually given up hope. So I'm glad it's finally on. I like a bit of ballet, and will be going to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet when they're on at the Theatre Royal next month.

There's a short history of the Ballet Russe here. Some of the most famous names in ballet, music and art were associated with this company during the first half of the 20th century. Including: Stravinsky, Nijinsky, Pavlova, Prokofiev, Matisse, Cocteau, and Picasso. And so on. Heady stuff.

City Screen is also showing Vertigo in 70mm. I'm probably going to that as well. It's my very favourite Hitchcock. And that score by Bernard Herrmann is pretty much a perfect match. It's one of those films that I never fail to get drawn into.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Yorkshire Bloggers Webring ...

I've just about managed to join the Yorkshire Bloggers Webring. Yesterday, Blogspot didn't seem to be republishing my template, but all is well now. I feel honoured to have been invited, especially as I'm really an interloper, born in Hertfordshire (best county of that name, at any rate). But at least I do actually live in Yorkshire. But I am not a tyke. I am a softie southerner, and proud of it - I think ...

Meanwhile, yesterday I was out and about. I went to Tescos on the Free bus as usual. How exciting ;-) But my favourite companions weren't on the bus. I like to have a natter with Irene. Hope she's OK. Her garrulous friend Molly also wasn't there. I wonder what these ladies are up to? Probably another impromptu trip to the seaside, if I know anything about it :-)

After my food shopping excursion, it was home for a few cups of tea, then out again at 4pm. More shopping, this time of a specialised kind. I seem to be having trouble during my sleep at, er, notably certain times of the month. I clench my teeth, or tense up my muscles. I really only know about it when I wake up, with a headache, or pain somewhere else. So cue a visit to Tullivers. The nice young man (yes, I'm woman of a certain age now, so I appreciate helpful people ...) on the counter recommended Passiflora Complex, so I'll see how I go with that.

And then at 7pm on to a special tour of the York City Museum, and the refitted Kirkgate Victorian Street. It's been rejigged, so that it really tells a story. If you haven't been for a while, it's time to go again. Just doing my bit for York tourism ;-) But honestly, it's well worth a visit. I didn't realise, that when the Kirkgate Street was first opened in the late 1930s that it was the first of its kind to display its collection in this manner - a recreated street, with shops. Also, the collections were, then, very recent, but Dr Kirk knew that collecting the material was relevant social history. Bravo!

And on the way back, we caught the Purple Peril, aka the ftr for the first time. It only got us part of the way home as it doesn't run down our street. But it has great novelty value; it's a bus that thinks it's a tram. So my evening was complete.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

It made I larf

It's all Martyn's fault. He mentioned the Myer-Briggs personality tests. So I went and took the one he mentioned. Definitely a laugh out loud situation as I recognised some of the traits I have to live with. It's just a shame that all the recent job interviews have come to nowt (today I got confirmation that the university library don't want me, btw), as the organisations who have refused my services are obviously missing a good thing ;-) :

ISTJ - Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging
Inspector Guardians look carefully and thoroughly at the people and institutions around them. Making up perhaps as much as ten percent of the general population, Inspectors are characterized by decisiveness in practical affairs, are the guardians of institutions, and if only one adjective could be selected, “superdependable” would best describe them. Whether at home or at work, Inspectors are nothing if not dependable, particularly when it comes to examining the people and products they are responsible for—quietly seeing to it that uniform quality is maintained, and that those around them uphold certain standards of attitude and conduct.

Full ISTJ report here.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The me-book

The Grumpy Old Bookman reminded me to check out Susan Hill's blog. Apart from being a novelist herself, Ms Hill runs a First Novel competition (closing date August 1st). One of her recent blogs addresses the question of what aspiring novelists are writing. Some of them are writing me-books. Books as therapy. All well and good, except often these novels don't make interesting reading. In particular this struck a chord:

Now there is a place for the novel as therapy. Writing problems and distress down is a good way of distancing them enough to begin to deal with them, writing worries down makes them seem more manageable - so why not write down your angst in fictional form ? No reason at all, so long as you keep hold of the fact that very few people will actually want to read it, in the form of the paying public. Me-books are the sort that drain the life and energy out of the soles of one`s feet ... Alas, very few of our me-book submissions have any sense of humour - I get the feeling, indeed, that they would regard that as rather a low thing to own to and heavy irony is about as near as their authors get.

This is exactly how I feel about one of the (Print-on-Demand) Arthurian novels I read recently. I don't want to name it as to the author her novel is very personal indeed, so to criticise in this manner would be very hurtful. And yes, there is no humour in it whatsoever. There is, however, a lot of throwing of things around, grand gestures and what Carla astutely terms 'heroine abuse.' Reading her book was useful to me, as it was instructive regarding what to avoid in my own writing. And others have read it, and identified with it, so it has its place.

And on a specifically historical theme, Ms Hill says:

I am not likely to read on further than the opening chapter of a novel set in some past era which features words like ''Avaunt'' and ''Methinks'' or ''Forsooth'' - oh yes, you`d be surprised how many -

I'm dead surprised that anyone is writing like that any more, and strongly suspect that they are unlikely to be members of the Historical Novel Society.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

News from the Bat Cave

Earlier yesterday, whilst helping to fold down an aired-out tent, I called the partner Batman. I often call him Boss (and he calls me Boss back), but some how Batman seemed appropriate. And then at twilight, Batman was in the garden watering the plants - we have a water butt, well full of the recent rain-water, so no tutting. I heard him shout something out, so stuck my head out the window to see him pointing. Something was flitting about in the dying blue of the sky, just above the gardens. Batman reckons it was, well, a bat. It was definitely the right time of day, and was moving erratically, perhaps swooping for insects.

But what sort of bat? A quick search of the web tells me it may be a pipistrelle bat, which is relatively common and found in urban areas. Guess what we'll be doing at twilight this evening?

I think we're doing well with wildlife in our corner of York - a great range of birds, frogs and now bats. And I was woken by those darn noisy magpies again this morning ...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Pig in clover

Another lovely sunny day. May it never end. The Minster bells are chiming away in the background* and all is right with the world.

I was woken this morning at 7.30am by someone excitedly shouting 'Eng-land!!!!!!' It wasn't actually the partner. Since the upstairs windows are left open, we can hear any noise off the street. This was patently a neighbour and I don't know if he was just coming back from a very long session in the pub, or had just arisen and realised that today is the day for World Cup Football - it's England v Paraguay. The partner is currently outside weeding the front garden, but will be in front of the tv by 2pm, that's for sure. I take a look as well, in my red t-shirt.

But best of all, today's mail brought the latest Historical Novel Society publications - Historical Novels Review and Solander. Yummy.

*All very well, but sometimes we can hear the Railway Station announcements or Intercity trains revving up or down too :-)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Time to Depart

Lindsey Davis is on BBC Radio 4's Bookclub programme at 4pm today. She's discussing her Falco Mystery, Time to Depart (1995). Fear not, if you miss it this time round, it can also be listened to whenever you want, on the Bookclub website.

And of course, Venus in Copper is currently being broadcast on Friday mornings at 11.30. If you miss it, you can pick it up on Listen Again. However, it only gives the latest episode. So for example, I managed to catch up with episode three today (yes, even my old computer managed this, with only a couple of hiccups) but tomorrow the Listen Again ep will change to number 4. It can be found under: Falco: Venus in Copper.

My current read ...

... is Boudica: a groundbreaking biography of the true warrior queen by Vanessa Collingridge. So far, it seems to be a well considered piece, starting way back with Julius Caesar's invasion. So Collingridge is carefully setting her scene and she's also talked to various experts in the field of Celtic and Roman studies. She hasn't made the mistake (so far) of taking one particular line and making everything else fit around it. Instead, her story is a fascinating jigsaw.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I did something amazing ...

... according to Sean Bean. Nah, it wasn't finding another reason to shop at Morrison's. I managed to give blood. The last two times I've tried, I was unable due to medical reasons. But this time, I aced it. It looks like getting through the health questionnaire is always going to be a pain due to the pulmonary embolism in 2002 - they have to check the guidelines, and will do so each time, in case policy changes. But I got through that this time. Then the iron blood test, with the sample sinking just before the bell (phew). And then the actual donation. At one donation a while back, my blood didn't flow out quick enough, but this time it was fine. My A+ is out there for someone else to use. I did it, hurrah :-)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Houses and jobs

Coo-weeeee. The over-priced house down the way from us has been sold already. Can't find the advert at present, but it was around the £192,000 mark. What I don't get is that unlike the (cheaper) house up the hill from us, which Martyn told me about, it doesn't have proper off-street parking (a small town car holding its breath is required to get into that space). The house up the hill has plenty of room, and is on the market for £179,000. Perhaps the over-priced one didn't go for the quoted amount. But I'm still surprised it's gone so quickly.

I'm feeling very laid-back about the non-job situation at the moment. I have no applications outstanding at present, and I don't care. If something likely comes up, I'll apply, but there's little point in taking any old job. It's the sort of thing that people in their 20s can do, as they're getting experience. Someone in their mid-40s can do without it - been there, done that, and definitely worn the t-shirt :-) Of course, if we were in dire financial straits I'd take anything that vaguely moved, but we're getting by, fortunately.

And, blimey, I still haven't finished that report ... June is the month to finish outstanding stuff (honest)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Library Management speak

For a part time library assistant job in a university, does it really require the the Chief Librarian and Deputy, plus the relevant senior library assistant to be on the interview panel? Either the Chief or the Deputy, but not both, surely. Anyway, I got all three, and it's overkill, guys. Still, I guess doing the interviews filled their managerial day. And it became apparent that I do not speak their dialect of library. I simply do not fit; don't know what they're on about.

I've generally found libraries great to work in. The team ethos is very much stronger than the heavily individualistic archaeological teams who'd be hard pressed to organise a p**s-up in the proverbial. Working on site, I often had the impression that I was the only one who had any idea we were working in a team, which was very frustrating. However, sometimes the library managers over-do it, and in this case they have. 'Exclusive' is the word that comes to mind. Got the message now, will not apply to that university library again.

Still, the shoes got another outing, though I'm beginning to think that though these shoes fit me very well, they may be unlucky ...

Friday, June 02, 2006

Off again tomorrow

Just as we've finished sorting out most of the mess from the show last week (there was some wet kit to contend with, as well as cleaning stuff up), we're off again on Saturday. Fortunately, this event isn't far from York, and we're coming home in the evening; don't want to miss fellow time traveller Dr Who :-)

Anyway, we're taking a truncated kit, so the bedding is being aired and stored, and there's virtually no food to be gathered. But the main thing we mustn't forget to take is sun screen. The sun is supposed to shine for a fair amount of the weekend (hurrah). Last weekend we got burnt even though it was often overcast. Since I'm involved (sigh), we had track down a lotion that wasn't going to set off my skin, so cue the E45. Its main ingredient is zinc oxide, rather than the heady chemical cocktail of many of the others. And of course we'll have our straw hats, and scarves around our necks.

My bow slap bruises are just about to disappear, and the scratches from the arrows on my left hand are starting to heal. So I'm off to get both renewed ;-)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Magpies ate my laundry

Not quite ;-) But the partner was out in the garden doing tent pole repairs yesterday. He noticed that there were a pair of magpies sitting in next door's garden. These birds seemed to be beady-eyeing the airer I'd put outside. It had my, erm, underwear on it. The dear partner was rather convinced that the magpies were interested in nicking my knickers to line their nest. Noisy, nosy beggars.

Meanwhile in answer to Carla's query, my 30 pound bow was easily reaching the targets, which were at 50 metres or so. In fact, I was over (and under) shooting quite a bit. I've only just started, so my hit rate was only around 30-40%. btw, there was some restriction on the size of the arena, and it had to be safely double fenced. At the next event, the targets will be at 80 metres, which should be a challenge for me; will report back on how the bow does. Some guys in my group have recurve bows (attested in Britannia from finds at Caerleon, Chesters, Corbridge, York, etc.) and someone has an 80 pound long bow which takes two people to string.