Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A quick shufty

I've had a read of the prologue and the first chapter of Usipi. I agree with Gabriele - it is overwritten. It's slow to start, and hasn't really picked up by the end of the chapter. I think the author has dutifully set his scene, but there's too much information being imparted at such an early stage. None of the characters appeal to me either, so I'm not drawn into the story. Obviously, I can see where it's leading, and suspect it should have started later, perhaps with the actual mutiny. I'm afraid it was like another one of the those short stories where as soon as I start reading, I can tell it's not going to set the world on fire for me. Shame :-(

Monday, January 29, 2007

Usipi: A Quest for Home

Picked this up on one of the noticeboards:

Drafted into the Roman army and forced to campaign in northern Britannia against their will, German warriors of the Usipi tribe decide to mutiny. With an island full of angry Romans to the south of them and hostile Britons to the north they capture three warships and embark upon a daring voyage to their homeland and freedom. Their path will not be easy, as they confront their own inexperience, dissension amongst their ranks, the forces of nature, hostile action from both the Britons and Romans, and finally the twin spectres of disease and starvation. Based on a true story recounted by the Roman historian Tacitus (whose father-in-law Agricola commanded the army from which they mutinied), this is the story of a quest for home.

The book can be downloaded here. However, it's being released at three PDFs a week, or you can buy it via Amazon. It's being done on a Creative Commons Licence, so the downloads are free. See what you think of the prologue and first couple of chapters.

Busy weekend

It was Resident's First Weekend in York, so it was very busy in the Small Museum. Because the locals can get in free for two days, it was extremely lively on the Saturday (our buggy parking space was packed to the gunnels at one point), and still pretty busy on the Sunday. I was Duty Manager on Saturday, and found myself running around trying to find things for a lot of the time, as well as ensuring the volunteers went for lunch and covering in general. Sunday, I was volunteering, and was asked to steward in medieval costume. It's the first time I've done that. The costume is fine (some people feel like idiots in kit; since I feel like an idiot all the time, it's not a problem for me) but I always get the suspicion I'm not pitching my spiel at the right level. I'm OK with adults for the most part, but with kids, I'm never sure quite sure if I'm on the ball. I invite them to have a look at things, and try out the crafts, but ...

I must say, on the second day, I didn't have quite the energy I had on the first. Back to normal next weekend, when I'm Duty Manager on Sunday, the opening hours are shorter and I daresay we'll have less than 20 people through the doors. But then again, I may be tempting fate to say that ...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Memorable endings

Susan, on her blog has listed her ten favourite endings to books. I contributed the last few lines from Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset, but another one has come to mind:

One flash of sweet memory as the darkness swoops. Hild's young face, walking into St Peter's in York, where I set her free for baptism. Joy shining in her eyes.

I have done this, if nothing else. I gave Hild to Christ, and all Northumbria after.

Black pain.

Pray for my soul, Hild. Hold fast to Northumbria.

Carla will know what that's from :-) For those who don't: Fay Sampson, Flight of the Sparrow. It's one of my favourites because it's entirely apt for Edwin's character, it's about Northumbria, but also because it shows what a novelist can do. Sampson takes Edwin up to the moment of his death. None of this often too self-aware 'I'm writin' me memoirs' business. Love it.

A problem sorted

When I had a character called Ida in one of the scribblings sent in for the writing course I went on ages ago, the comment came back:

Is this character a homosexual, because his name infers it

Oh please :-) So immersed am I in the zone of strange Anglo-Saxon monikers, it never occured to me. Ever since then, I've been on the look out for these oddities. There are a lot of male AS names that end in what is thought of the more feminine 'a' Anyway, I later decided to call him Idehere as it might misdirect (for a moment) any rather keen readers who'd cotton on that this was a king-to-be. But he would be back to Ida later on in the story all the same.

It's just occurred to me, I could spell it a different way: Ider. So at least it doesn't look like a girlie's name, and I don't get any resistence to it, should the story go - er - any further. It still gets pronounced the same way, to my mind. Or am I barking up the wrong tree? Those who appreciate the era won't have any problem with Ida, but hf writers seem to get an inordinate amount of flak for anything that is 'unusual', in particular difficult or odd names.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

In praise of Holst

I've just listened to The Bringer of Peace a radio play on BBC Radio 4. It was about Gustav Holst, who is known really only for his Planets Suite. This is a shame, as there are other, really good pieces by him. Unfortunately, they are ruddy difficult to get hold of. Despite his name (he called himself von Holst, for much of the time, but more of that later) I think he's very much a British Composer of his time, ie. the early 20th century. He has own particular very sweet tone (his use of orchestra can be very delicate) and the overall impression is of a very good natured and sensitive person. And this is very much what the play put over, funny enough. The play can be listened to for seven days.

He was of Swedish extraction, with German connections. Unfortunately, being called von Holst was not a good idea come the First World War. This was the time when the British royal family chose to change their German family name to Windsor, after all. And a whole other bevy of British royalty also changed their names, eg. from Battenburg to Mountbatten. Holst was reported for taking long walks, and asking questions near the village where he lived. Due to his short-sightedness he tended to get lost, then asked the locals where the pub was as he was in need of a beer. Fortunately, the local police decided that this gentle teacher and composer was unlikely to be a threat to national security.

Besides The Planets, a lot of his other music is based on English folk tunes, very much like his friend Ralph Vaughn-Williams. A Somerset Rhapsody, for example is very much what I would expect a British composer of the early 20th century to produce. He also does some very exotic stuff, again in vogue at this time, but he really does have his own voice.

It's well worth tracking down his stuff. Blast! I've just found out that my CD of his ballet music for The Perfect Fool is faulty. I shall have to get another recording. There's a good one with The Planets, The Perfect Fool & Egdon Heath conducted by Previn. I like Previn; his recording of Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet is my favourite (as a conductor he seems to err on the side of warmth, which I like), so I'll go with his Holst recording too.

From Somerset Rhapsody onto the Japanese Suite. Holst is so mercurial. In the radio play, he says that Mercury is his planet; quite right if his music is to go by. Knowing all too well what is in The Planets as well, I suspect that my 5th century novel now has a source for its theme music ...


Had a flurry of snow yesterday, and it didn't really settle. A bit more today, and then it rained. So no settling snow. Just as well. For Batman on site yesterday it was 'permafrost' - the soil iced up overnight and then didn't defrost at all during the day. It doesn't help that his trench is in the shadow of a large building, so does not get the sun. Consequently, the soil can't be dug properly (they need to go carefully, looking for changes in the surface and, effectively, shadows in the soil) and the earth at the top of the trenches was also icy, which meant people moving about were slipping. Upshot: trench unworkable and a health and safety hazard to boot. So much for working in the winter (now that it's truly come). Batman and his team were re-deployed. Some went to areas of the site that were in the sun - it was quite warm when the sun came out - and others checked records.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get an article written. Difficult when I need to sit at this computer in the cold, upstairs. It's that, or turn on the central heating during the day. Don't want to do that when it's just me in the house. Think I might try to draft the article by hand (!) and then perhaps type up this evening. Trouble is, I've got used to the ease of composing straight to computer. Perhaps my next computer should be a laptop, then I could sit in the lounge, with the gas fire on.

Brrr! I'm off to defrost. Keep warm chaps :-)

Monday, January 22, 2007

I survived

Phew :-) I managed to survive my first duty manager session at the Small Museum. Had all the right keys, got into the right places, found the till and float, got past the stroppy till (it didn't want to work, but I pressed the 'Clear' button which sorted its head out), and had a very quiet day. There was some faffing about with lights, but an off-duty staff member kindly dropped in and that was sorted out - found the switch for one area, and put a halogen light in another area where the lights had failed for some reason. The museum is a law unto iteself, and things decide not to work sometimes. There were very few people in, but I wouldn't like to confess what the takings were. At least the till balanced. I thought I was 50p down, but then remembered that the float was 50p down when I counted it this morning, so it aint my fault. High drama indeed ;-)

It is York's quiet time of year at present. Even Betty's wasn't packed out by 10am on the Sunday morning (I know cos me & Batman had breakfast there before I went to the museum). But very soon, business will pick up and it'll be hectic until about this quiet time next year. Next week it's the Resident's First Weekend, where on brandishing their York cards, York residents will be able to get into many of York's major attractions for free. Do other cities do this sort of thing, I wonder? I think I'm due to be in on one of the weekend days as manager, and the other day I'll volunteer, as the museum is likely to get very busy (in stark contrast to this weekend). Not long after that (February 14th -18th) it's the Jorvik Viking Festival, and the city will be heaving with visitors and 'orrible Vikings. Back to normal then ...

Friday, January 19, 2007


Yes, I know NaNoWriMo is in November, but there's nothing like thinking ahead :-) I'm seriously thinking about doing it, so I have something writerly to aim for. I'd have to clear the decks of anything archaeological. Anything with any sort of deadline would have to be done before then so my brain doesn't have an excuse to get majorly distracted. Should be doable ... But then there's the matter of the subject of the perfidious-manuscript-of-doom. Frankly my view of SoD (6th century) has changed so much, I could perhaps start again. Hmmm. And I really must find a better title than SoD, which btw stands for Sword of Deira. It was suggested by Batman, so it's his fault. I think it's a historical fantasy cliche type of title. But it's stuck as it abbreviates to SoD, which is all too appropriate on occasion, especially when I get frustrated with it. Trouble is, I couldn't think of anything better, which in its turn was not a good sign. Will have to mull some more.

NaNoWriMo actually has a section for historicals, so that makes it feel friendly for starters.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Since a couple of blog-friends have gone onto Myspace, I thought I'd try it out. The results are here:

I think you can't see all of it unless you're invited to become a friend, or request to be one.

What I liked about it is that you can choose to have a music track on it. There's plenty of choice, and I went for Split Enzs' Six months in a leaky boat, though I nearly went for Run DMC's It's like that - perhaps on another another day. Couldn't work out how to link the videos in though, but they are on my favourites list. It's also got a blog facility, and I'm wondering if I should stop posting here and go over there instead.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fascinating street update

This is only to re-assure Martyn that he missed nothing by not moving here (unless of course he has moved here, and I'm about to refer to him by accident ...) One of the members of The School of Stupid Parking may well be the newbies on the block, in which case perhaps they have an excuse. A couple of doors down from us the house was sold, around September. However, the new occupants are a complete mystery. But, I keep seeing one of the vehicles in the School of Stupid Parking hanging around there. They can't fit the estate-size car in their parking bay, but at least now they are now parking on the correct side of the road and not impeding the flow of traffic up and down the ski slope (aka street, except we haven't had much snow of late, but there you go). The newbies have been christened, by me, as The House of the Yapping Dogs. Yes, there's a couple of patently small dogs that bark away maniacally at certain times of the day, and the sound is newly coming from that direction. The fact that the School of Stupid Parking car has a dog? cage in the back has led me to put two and two together, doubtless to make five. Ah, it's all go round here. What is our house known as I wonder? The House of the Strange Recluse, probably.

I'm working at the Small Museum on Sunday, and the Saturday after. Apparently this may be a fairly regular thing. It's strange how the things I go into with no expectations (volunteering was really all I thought I would do, and it was enough to put that on my cv) tend to work out, after a fashion. And yet those where I go in hell-for-leather, putting huge amount of effort in, working all hours that god sends, etc., just don't flower whatever I do. It's almost if I don't aspire to it, I get it (a spectacular example is Batman; I never even thought about a partner and took it as read that I would troll through life on my own). But if I do aspire to it, I sure as heck aint gonna get it (vaguely consistent good health, archaeology, and latterly some nice library work).

I shall have to cultivate a goodly lack of aspiration regarding creative writing. The trouble is, the moment one sets pen to paper (or finger to key) surely that means there's some aspiration going on? Perhaps not. I've already given it a very low priority due to the lottery nature of getting things published. So maybe I'm getting there. When I have totally smothered any expectation, I will be able to venture forth with a light heart and do as I please, without worrying about publication or some such.

Cripes, I've got an article to write, so I'd best get to it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

It's only a film ...

I recently caught the latter end of a discussion on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 about Mel Gibson’s new film Apocalypto. It was archaeologist Mark Horton versus film critic Cosmo Landesman:

'The film,' Mark Horton said,‘was a farrago of half truths and colonialist misconceptions as well as confusing aspects of Mayan and Inca culture and being anachronistic by some 400 years'
‘So what. It’s only a film,' said Cosmo Landesman.
‘If so why not promote it as a fantasy instead of having actors use the Yucatec Maya language?’ countered Horton, who also pointed out that the film incorrectly presents the Maya as internecine thugs and makes no mention of their achievements in science and art, their calendric systems and the links between spirituality and their agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Mayan cities.
‘So what? It’s not an archaeology lecture,' said Cosmo Landesman.

Hmph. This was a sort of re-run to the objections over King Arthur, which was advertised as being the true story. In his review of Apocalyto (see link on his name above) Landesman says: The whole film looks authentic; it smells authentic.

To some extent that's what a really good historical story should conjure for the reader/audience. When it comes out on DVD, I daresay I shall have a look at it. But knowing Gibson and his history, I shall take it with a pinch of salt and try to appreciate the story he's showing and telling, and see if it captures me as it patently did for Landesman.

Undiscovered authors

If you've got a whole book sitting around unpublished, why not try entering Bookforce's Undiscovered Authors competition? I say a whole book, as the closing date's 31st January 2007. So get that synopsis written and send it all off ASAP (after checking the entry requirements carefully first, of course).

Well known author (at least in the Arthurian novel field) Helen Hollick is now with Bookforce's Discovered Authors, having taken her backlist to them for republishing. There's also a new novel by her, The Sea Witch, about pirates. She explained the reasons why she decided to go into Print on Demand in the recent Historical Novels Review (Issue 38,pp7-8). It says that there's a full version of the article on her website, but for the time-being I can't find it, despite looking. But the upshot is that her agent wanted her to write books which didn't appeal to her so she decided to go elsewhere with her Sea Witch manuscript. I like the new covers to her Arthur books. Some of the ones to the small paperback re-issues under Arrow were rather icky and/or indistinct, including the one that I think has been called The Purple Puke. The best cover was the one to The Kingmaking, which was on the trade paperback by Heinemann, and which I own :-) There's an HNS interview with Hollick from several years back here.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007


In yesterday's My Mentors column (Guardian, 13th January) Lindsey Davis wrote about the people who helped her to get published. Firstly her boss in the civil service knocked her English into shape. Then a judge of a writing competition wasn't able to give her the first prize, but took an interest. The judge also advised Davis not to give up the day job, but it was too late by that point. The judge was an editor, who eventually gave her a list of recommended agents. She put the best one at the bottom of the list, as she expected that agent would be too busy to take Davis on. After working through the list, Davis came to the last one, who took her on. Twenty years on she is still Davis' agent. Davis also still has the same editor that the agent found for her - he's more interested in plot, whereas Davis focuses on characters, so they work well together.

One of the reasons Lindsey Davis had such difficulty finding an agent was that twenty years ago the Romans were considered "difficult" but she fortunately found an agent who had the vision to see that what Davis was writing had a future.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Write here, write now

Just seen this mentioned on the the HNS discussion list:

How about spending the most boring month in the year, February, doing something crazy and creative?

In February 2007, you could be writing the novel of your dreams with Write Here Right Now, Radio Scotland's 'write a novel in a month' project.

Last year 1000 writers all around the world signed up to take part.

This year we're bracing ourselves for many, many more.

You commit to writing 1000 words a day.

We support you with daily emails of encouragement from some of Scotland's best-selling and best-loved writers.

Further details at:

It looks like you could subscribe anyway, without doing the 1000 words, so I've added my email ... The HNS list email also said that this year's theme is Romance, so if that's not your bag, the 28 emails might not be of interest. I'm intrigued to see what they define as Romance.

btw, Writing came number 2 in BBC1's survey for its programme What I'd Really Like to Do. Acting came number 1 and Archaeology came number 3 (cripes!)

Monday, January 08, 2007


An old gentleman made me smile today. I had zoomed into the local supermarket and picked up some bananas. I half noticed a chap then going to root in the banana display himself. Just as I paid for the fruit, the old chap said to me: 'Thank you for choosing the bananas. I haven't had any for a long time' He then brandished the bananas in his hand. Somehow, I'd reminded him he liked bananas, and very kindly he told me so. I nodded and smiled, and kept smiling as I trotted into town.

I've been volunteering at the Small Museum since Wednesday last week, so haven't had time to post recently. Anyway, all my hard work is paying off, as I've just been asked if I'd like to do some Duty Manager work at weekends, as well as functions that are already in the offing. This contrasts starkly with all the recent interview failures, so I'm grateful. Unfortunately, there really isn't any opportunity for anything like a permanent job at the Museum. Whilst I'm floating about, patently interviewing badly, it's a god-send to have something positive come my way.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Favourite things 2006

Olga has listed her favourite things of 2006, which is a good, upbeat, way of looking at things. I could have a long list of what I didn't like, on both a personal and more outward view (I think it's been a particularly bad year), but I'm not going there.

My favourite things of 2006
1) Living with Batman. I've been with him for 27 years, so I guess another one wasn't too hard to bear ;-)

2) Discovering YouTube. It's great seeing clips of old (and new) favourites, eg. John Curry skating for gold in the 1976 Olympics (it's a US clip, but the US comentators loved him), bonkers pop song Star Trekkin', Six Months in a Leaky Boat by Spilt Enz (banned in the UK in 1982 after the government thought it was a commentary on the Falkland Islands War; I now sort of associate with the Antarctic - South Georgia, New Zealand, etc. and with those over-packed boats Terra Nova and Endurance), clips of Strictly Come Dancing again, clips of Dr Who (such as my Dr Who moment of the year - The Cybermen trying (and failing) to strike an alliance with the Daleks) and so on.

3) Tracking down Mercedes Sosa's version of Misa Criolla

4) Meeting up with my friend whilst at the Festival of History; we'll have to meet up more often this year! Hope the weather will better ... At the same event, there was lots of fun winning sexiest soldier competition (mostly due, I think, to one of my group skipping along with his shield and armour - just for once it wasn't me mucking about!)

5) Finding a place that does really nice gluten-free coffee & walnut cakes. Yum

What were your highlights, I wonder?