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 ...