Thursday, February 15, 2007

Transfer to MySpace

Rather than flicking between the blog and myspazz (as Martyn calls it), I'm transferring over to MySpace, which is at:

and my blog will be at:

Thanks for reading :-)

Alex_Bordessa @ (remove the blank spaces around the @)

A science view of the world

Does it really matter if history lessons are history? Adam Hart-Davis, Wednesday February 14, 2007
The Guardian

Gee, thanks Mr Hart-Davis :-( Apparently all that matters is that pupils learn English, Maths and Science. That's rather disappointing for a chap who's used the fruits of the labour of historians of all shades (including archaeologists) for his tv and radio programmes. Just because his interest in science is all encompassing, history is an adjunct that can easily be dispensed with by the age of 14 in UK schools.

Though many historians would criticise the way in which history is currently taught in schools (for example, I gather it is not taught in a chronological fashion), there is no reason to dismiss it from the curriculum without a second thought. I rather suspect I've experienced school more recently than Hart-Davis, and I wasn't happy at being made to choose whether I did History or Geography O level at 14. Couldn't do both, oh no. So I did my first love, history. And was made to do a near worthless Combined Science CSE. I wasn't considered fit for a Science O Level, and yet I romped home with a good grade in History O Level. It's hard to make schoool fit everyone; I would have happily done history all day, every day, even aged 14.

Hart-Davis says that anyone can pursue history at a later date. And the same could be said of Science. With people frequently bursting into tears when they find out what their ancestors suffered in programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? is Hart-Davis really sure that people should be allowed to drop studying history at 14?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Three favourite tips

Sue Ellen Welfonder on Write Here Write Now has three great tips for writing:

1) Don’t be afraid to write bad copy – you can always fix it later
2) Use specific detail. Animal says something. Dog is better. Collie paints a word picture
3) Write as if there aren’t any critics

Not sure if they had Collie dogs as such back in the 5th or 6th century. My inner critic needs to be taken out and murdered in a most nasty manner so I can just get on with doing a bit of writing unhindered by that pernicious chatter.

I shall draw a veil over what Welfonder said about Scotland and the Scottish. All I will say is that if it was said about the English, our 'Celtic' cousins would complain ;-)

Give us a kiss, darlin'

Write Here Write Now covers the nitty-gritty in Newletter 11. Jane Wenham-Jones gives this sage advice:

Write what comes naturally to YOU. You must believe totally in the story you’re telling. If it doesn’t arouse you, why should it move your readers? Remember that your characters should be turned on in their heads as well as their nether regions – that’s where the sexual tension comes from.

Hurrah, no squelchy sex-scenes (see the rest of Jane's piece) required :-) My characters can go 'off screen' to do er, whatever they're going to do ...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A bit of an atmosphere

Isla Dewar has contributed a piece on atmosphere for Newsletter 10 of the Write Here programme:

If you are writing about a long trudge though a downpour, remember how it felt to have rain slipping down the back of your neck and your jeans sticking to your legs, and that first hideous seep of chilled water work its way into your shoes. Remember how you knew that you may be walking now, but soon you’ll be squelching. Writing about being on a hot beach, remember how you felt sweat prickle and sand between your toes.

Though my characters don't wear jeans, being out in the rain (and snow and hail) is on the menu, as is a trip or two to the beach ...

The photo on the left is of the stokehole of Chesters Bathhouse. I've camped at this fort on Hadrian's Wall whilst taking part in a show. The weather was lovely and sunny, and it was very atmospheric. Every day, at about 5.30pm, a cool breeze could come down the river - and make campfire cooking an absolute pain till it died down after about an hour or so. And as for the bleating sheep at all hours of the night ... :-)

Monday, February 12, 2007

No info dumping allowed

Elizabeth Chadwick's Write Here post (Number Nine) over the weekend was excellent, as one would expect from such a talented Historical Novelist.

One of the things I learnt quickly when taking up the writing again, but after accumulating a wealth of historical knowledge, was that the story should come first, not the history. Chadwick echoes this:

Remember [though], that the story comes first - always. The research is there so that when you write your story, readers will feel as if they are actually in the moment with your hero and heroine. With this in mind, don't dump the fruits of your research into the narrative as great long paragraphs. Use it instead as a means of experiencing your protagonists' world through their senses and their interactions with other characters and the world around them. You have to become your characters, and doing so is tremendous fun and one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer. See what they see, hear what they hear, touch what they touch, know what they know.

She's right on the mark, as usual.

PS Just seen the link given on the HNS email list pointing to Lynne Truss's article called You COULD make it all up. In some god-forsaken corners of history (no centuries named, no pack drill) one has to make it all up :-)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

It's on this afternoon

I like musicals. I don't know why, but when they're on the goggle-box, I'll nearly alway clear the decks and settle down to watch. Particular favourites are: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (love the songs and there's top of the range dancing), West Side Story (same again, but more edgy), and Kiss Me Kate (songs and dancing again). But in general, I like any musical, the whackier the better (Kismet ...) And today it's Camelot. Particular reasonance for me, it being King Arthur an' all. I get the sick-bag out for How to Handle a Woman, but otherwise the musical's a naughty pleasure. Shame Richard Harris can't sing, but he does very well, as does Vanessa Redgrave (good grief).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Writing is a craft not an art

Friday's Write Here post was written by Roger Sanderson. He writes medical romances for Mills & Boon. While emphasising that his ideas might not suit some, he makes a good point. Just setting off not knowing where you're going is a recipe for writer's block. He advocates starting with a plan. Write the blurb for your book, then write the synopsis. Having laid the foundations, then proceed to build/write your novel. Writing is a craft. Very sensible.

I'd love to be able to do that, but the hard line planning would kill it for me. I want to be arty - or rather the inclination is to just do it and discover as I go along. That said, I have recently done a retrospective plan for Kingslayer (aka SoD). I have 26 chapters so far, with the ending still not thought out. But it's still good to see the chapters, which have brief (some times very brief) notes as to what happens. Surprisingly, the middle looks more full than I thought. I was under the impression I had a typically saggy middle there :-)

Actually, the main reason I did the plan was to get the times of year correct:

Chapter 1; Battle at river, Kai's appointment to Derventio; AD 535 Spring
Chapter 2; Derventio, Anglians arrive; AD 535 Spring/Summer

(I've done it in the form of a table, but it won't come out for Blogger.)

I didn't want summer ocurring directly after winter or some such. I remember Elizabeth Chadwick saying she realised that one of her heroines was having an abnormally long pregancy, so was able to remedy that well before publication. So knowing at least the season and the year is useful. And talking of Elizabeth Chadwick, she's doing Write Here's weekened posting. It's on the very apt subject of writing historical novels with a dash of romance.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Farewell Britannia : a family saga of Roman Britain

Quite by accident, whilst browsing on York Library's catalogue, I came across this blurb:

Farewell Britannia : a family saga of Roman Britain by Simon Young
Brilliant young historian Simon Young has invented a multi-generational family, part Roman, part Celtic (invaders intermarrying with natives) to tell the dramatic story of 400 years of Roman rule in Britain. Vivid historical detail is balanced by a real feel for the psychological depth of the individual stories.The narrator is writing this 'family history' in 430 AD, realising the Romans will never return. He chooses 14 of the most interesting, but not always the most admirable, of his ancestors. The big events of Roman Britain are all here: scouting for Caesar's expedition in 55 BC; the Roman invasion in 43 AD; Boudicca's revolt and the massacre of 70,000 Romans; the Pict attacks on Hadrian's Wall; the great Barbarian Conspiracy of 367; and the sudden cataclysmic departure of the legions in 410. But there are plenty of non-military episodes: spying on the Druids; a centurion dreaming of retirement with a young slave he has bought; an ambitious wife on the northern frontier; a bad poet in Londinium; infanticide in Surrey; a young Christian girl facing martyrdom in a British amphitheatre.

Sounds promising. Unfortunately, the book isn't out yet, and nor could I work how (or if) I could reserve it when in comes in :-(

New neighbours

It's official: we have new neighbours. Late last week there were certain bangings going on, and early this week there were definitely signs of something afoot. Then yesterday we had a note through the door from the new owners telling us what was going on. Very nice of them to warn us, in fact, a great start. Judging from their names, one or both, may not be British; in fact they've been so thoughtful in posting the letter, I suspect they definitely aren't from these there isles ;-) Currently there are two workmen clattering about, and I recognise one of them as being one of the people who stood in the garden peering at the roof a few months back. The neighbours themselves are due to move in mid-March. Gulp.

I've been having my 'moving' dream again (where I have to pack quickly and shift, i.e. what I had to do for over a decade in my so-called archaeological career) and I suspect it's buried anxiety about how these new people will behave, and being prepared to move if need be. But as I said, a promising start and if I know they're in, I'll pop round to say hello. Hope they don't both have cars, else we'll never have space to park the hired re-enactment van when we need it. In which case we'll have to join the School of Stupid Parking, if only whilst we load/unload the darn thing ...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Exercise books

When I was a young 'en I used to scribble my stories in school exercise books. The other day when I saw this sort of A6ish size school exercise books I had the urge to buy them and start scribbling. I sat on the urge, realising they wouldn't work with the way I write now. For one, I tend to type directly onto computer :-)

But yesterday I succumbed to a pack of cheap A4 size exercise books. They alternate between blank and lined pages. I thought I could use them for writing or perhaps planning (I have a vague rising urge to do this in preparation for NaNoWrimo), or for something else entirely.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Write here, write now - goes on the Web

After I sent on the three posts that Gabriele missed, lo and behold, Write Here Write Now decides it's having so much trouble with its emails that it's putting the posts on the Web. Tcha! Typical. Anyway, the previous posts, and the rest, will be here.

Judging from what's said in today's post, I'm doing OK on the romance front - lots of conflict, saying (and doing) the wrong thing, misunderstanding between characters and all that stuff. The female definitely isn't a wimp either. Though I wouldn't say my two are exactly chasing one another ... That really isn't part of the story, unless perhaps at the very end. The romance isn't really the pivot of the novel though. Perhaps it should be. I quite like having the pair of them really not acknowledging what's going on. If it becomes the main aim of the story, I'll get bored and feel restricted. Hmmm.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Today's Write Here post

... wasn't so helpful. It was a bit about men writing romance, particularly under pseudonyms. Hugh Rae (who writes as Jessica Stirling, amongst others) contributed a little about how he approaches writing romance.

Tomorrow it's how to write a non-soppy romance. As one who stumbles just a tad over writing romantic scenes, I'll be happy for any advice :-)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Adventures in Fiction

Blurb straight from the website:

Apprenticeships in Fiction is a groundbreaking scheme that has already had a significant impact within the field of literary development. In the second year of the scheme, we are proud to be able to offer an expanded programme to five talented emerging novelists. Subsidised placements and one free bursary award are available to first-time writers of commercial or literary fiction, including one for fiction for young people (age range 11+).

Deadline: March 20th 2007

Found this courtesy of Read Write York, which is runing York Literature Festival 28th February-15th March. No details on the website about the Festival yet, but hopefully there'll be something worth me attending. Wonder if there'll be something on historical fiction? Ought to be, given that York's such an historical city ...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Engage me

I've had a couple of posts from the Write Here programme which I signed up for in January. Today's post exhorts the writer to engage the reader. As a reader, I want to be grabbed by the writing from the outset. In the first place, I'm likely to have picked up the book because the subject matter interests me, but the writer has to be focused to keep hold of me.

Today's author is Janice Galloway, and she says this about engaging a reader:

It’s your job, as a writer, to engage. Clasp each new traveller firmly enough by the hand to inspire trust that whatever might happen next, you can be relied upon to get them to the other side.

I'll go with that, but what I mean by focus is what she says a little later on:

Know who is telling this story. Is a disembodied voice from the future or past? A child or an adult? A main character or a minor one? Someone who hates or loves the protagonists? Who?

Know where the story happens. Is it inside one mind? Conjectured? In a specific room, city or place in time? From the end of the story or the middle or - or where?

Know how it must be told. Is the atmosphere dark or light? Reticent or bold? Through a veil of jokes, lies or desperate searching for the truth? Poetically or playground obscene? How?

I think I struggle most with knowing how it must be told, particularly with Kingslayer. I'm slowly edging toward telling it very boldly (I think the story needs it) though it's in my nature to be reticent. Throw caution to the wind - not ruddy likely :-) And yet what do I have to lose? Nowt.

It's good stuff, this Write Here, Write Now business, so I'm looking forward to the next post on Monday, though it's called: Romance - for ladies or laddies?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dirty Deed is Done

The article is more or less done. In total, it only took about 4-5 hours tops. All that time I took creating other things to do.What a nitwit :-)

And next on my avoidance list is to read and review two books by April. Fab. I wasn't really courting these books - they have been thrust upon me. The non-fiction book turned up long after I'd given up hope of it appearing, and the fiction book was actually offered to me, rather than me chasing it. And the fiction book is: The Boar Stone by Jules Watson. I read the White Mare a while back, but I wasn't sufficiently fired to chase up the sequel. At least The Boar Stone is set in the 4th century, and is set in parts of Yorkshire too. I bet them horrid Romans will come in for a bashing again ... There had better not be any lorica segmenta in sight, or there'll be trouble. ;-)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Broke the back

Sometimes I get very annoyed with myself. I tend to avoid writing reports and articles till the last moment. It drives me nuts, but I keep doing it. Yesterday, I cried off again, deciding instead that I really needed to watch Scott of the Antarctic. Oh honestly! It's amazing how I find things I absolutely have to do before writing reports. But I only watched it because today I was going to write the blasted article no matter what. And thank goodness, today I knuckled down. The back of it is broken. I have nearly 2500 words, and I had to write between 1500-2500. So tomorrow I'm safe to have an thorough edit and check I've put in the stuff that I should have. Deadline is 5th February, and I had hoped I would do it long before that.

Scott of the Antarctic was an interesting film. It came it at 145 minutes, so had to be short and straight to the point, which it was. Of course, I know a lot about the undercurrents going on, but it was a relief just to have the bare storyline. John Mills was fine as Scott. Harold Warrender was good as Wilson, and certainly physically looked a little like him. Bowers wasn't 'beaky' or ginger enough, but Reginald Beckwith was suitably 'keen as mustard'. When the film was made in 1948 a lot of people involved in the expedition (including wives) were still alive, so I think that made the film suitably respectful. I liked the way that some of the shots (in the hut and of the ice) matched so closely with some of the photos taken on the Terra Nova expedition.

As for Vaughan-Williams music to the film ... After so recently listening to a bit of Holst, I thought some of VW's music veered naughtily close to parts of the The Planet suite. However, as I said, they were composers of their time, and they are likely to sound at least a little related.