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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Christmas Won't Start Here Until Advent Sunday, But...

Pic #1
Phew, where has this year gone? I promised myself I'd self-publish a Christmas novella last year. It was all ready to go, then my mother fell ill. Everything else was on hold after that.

...the same can't be said for working on Christmas stories. Magazines need copy in midsummer. The biggest publishers schedule their book releases over a year ahead. Independents and self-publishers have more leeway, but Christmas books released in October can build up plenty of momentum before the Christmas-book-buying-market hits the floor on December 26th.

Since January I've been working so hard on my non-fiction project for Pen and Sword Books, Struggle and Suffrage: Women's Lives In Bristol 1850-1950, today is the first chance I've had to look up from my keyboard.

I might be able to manage a release in time for Christmas, but doing anything in a rush is never a good idea, is it? My Christmas novella Highland Hideaway is practically finished, but it still needs editing, and a cover. Both those things take time.

Pic #2
I'm still adding bits to, and amending, the final manuscript for Struggle...  so I'm concentrating on every word, dot and comma of that book at the moment.

I love the autumn It would be a relief to send Highland Hideaway away for editing, instead. Then I can take my time to find a cover design.

The top picture accompanying this blog isn't romantic, but I came across it while I was combing through Pixabay. Isn't it stunning? It reminds me of when I lived in Somerset.

Barn owls love the farmland there. We only get Tawny owls among our Gloucestershire trees.

Pic #3
The second and third photos are more suitable for a romantic novella, but they'll need some work before they're can become book covers. Highland Hideaway is about a city girl who is marooned in a blizzard with a notoriously tough and uncompromising wildlife photographer. You'll never guess what happens...although there are a few dramas, twists and turns along the way.

Which of the pictures do you think would make the better cover, and why? There's a book from my backlist on offer for a comment picked at random on 1st November!

Monday, 28 August 2017

I'll Sparkle, If It's The Last Thing I Do...

...and it nearly was!

I wrote here about the conflict of interest I suffered ahead of this year's Romantic Novelists' Association Conference in Shropshire. Two members of my local Marcher Chapter were leading sessions, but as they were both scheduled for the same time, I had to choose between them. I did think about spending half the hour in one lecture theatre then nipping across to catch the last half of the other talk, but that wouldn't have worked. I wanted to immerse myself in whole talks, not spend my time looking at my watch.

 It was impossible which session to choose, so I flipped a coin.  Joanna Maitland and Sophie Weston's  Add Sparkle to your Manuscript won. Joanna and Sophie run the popular Libertà blog, covering all things bookish.

I took my seat in the comfortable seats of the university's largest lecture room and settled down for a light-hearted canter through the English Language and how it should be used. Instead, I heard those dreaded words; "This workshop..."

Aargh! I love our Marcher Group workshops, as we work on our pieces at home, and only submit them when they're (to the eye of their creator anyway) perfect. I always avoid spontaneous workshops, where you have to whip something up on the spot for the benefit of a group of strangers. classing them with other forms of torture such as diets and editing. I didn't book this weekend away from my desk to work! This was supposed to be a holiday! Didn't Joanna and Sophie know that?

Actually, "Sparkle" wasn't like that at all. It was a fun session, encouraging us to turn a deliberately terrible made-up extract of writing into something exciting and readable.  I can't go into too many details as Joanna and Sophie use some of it on their highly successful Sparkle Days, but you can read their account of the session I attended here.  

Like all the best workshop sessions, "Sparkle" taught me as much about myself as it did about my writing. The reason I hate workshops, I discovered, is because I can't bear anyone to see my work until it's completely finished. I couldn't bear to read something out that I'd whipped up in five minutes, on command.  Completely finished, as every writer knows, is a state that no piece of writing ever achieves. However much you fiddle and fuss with it, you'll always find some new reason not to send your literary baby out into the cruel world of beta readers and reviewers.  I know I do.

Maybe if I spent less time agonising over every line, I'd get more writing done. I must force myself to attend more workshops. 

I can't believe I just wrote that last line. What's the single biggest thing that would improve your writing?



Monday, 21 August 2017

Getting Social at the RNA Conference

Getting up early on a Saturday morning has never felt better than it did during the weekend I spent at the Harper-Adams University, for the 2017 Romantic Novelists' Association Conference. . First there was the prospect of a lavish, leisurely breakfast, instead of my usual hurried snack. Better still, I didn't have to worry about preparing  it, or washing up afterwards.

If that wasn't enough of a treat, Nicola Cornick, current Chair of the RNA and Sarah Morgan, winner of the 2017 Romance Writers' of America's RITA for her long romance, Miracle on 5th Avenue, were giving a session on using social media.

Facebook has more users than any other social media platform. The finer point of it are a mystery to me. I started with a personal page, then added an author page, but I'm not sure how to get the best out of either page, if I'm honest. What are your own Facebook tips? The more you use it the better, was the message I got from this conference session.

 Twitter is the next most popular social media platform, but it only has a fraction of the followers that Facebook has. Having conversations when you're limited to 140 characters is a bit restrictive, but it can be done. Instagram is more popular with young people than Twitter, so you need to know your readership. Nicola, Sarah, and most of the audience agreed that Pinterest is nothing but a time suck. It's lovely to look at and absorbing to dip in and out of the various boards, but before you know it an hour has gone past and your word count is nil!

If you'd rather be writing than surfing the net, Nicola and Sarah's advice was to concentrate on Facebook, and maybe one other platform. Make sure you have an author Page, and use it for your writing business, in preference to your personal page.

 I came straight home after the conference, and created this Canva image to redirect people to my author page rather than my personal page. I used a picture of Alex when he was a baby, and added an invitation. It was really easy to do, and only took a few minutes. Thinking of things to add to my Facebook page every day is going to be a lot harder.

Visit my Facebook Page at http://bit.ly/FacebookAuthorPageCH, and  let me know what you'd like to see there!

Monday, 14 August 2017

A Stitch In Time

There were two sessions about using fabric as inspiration at the Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference. Carol McGrath spoke about Fabric, Embroidery and Tapestry as inspiration for historical fiction, while Elizabeth Chadwick spoke about going beyond the dressing-up box to explore daily life in times gone by. Both were very different in tone, but equally fascinating.

Elizabeth suggested immersing ourselves in the period by studying the depictions of daily life in embroideries. Fashion, musical instruments and  hunting are shown in detail, created by the people who saw all those things every day. It all helps to bring authenticity to your fiction. Then there's the potential romance contained in how the pieces were made: the lives of silk-workers, the dyers, weavers, the times in which they lived and loved, and the people for whom they worked  And that's before you've considered the object of the craftwork.

Carol McGrath recounted the story of how she had been intrigued by a figure of a woman worked into the Bayeux Tapestry. There are only three women depicted in the whole 70 metre (more than 231 feet) long embroidery showing of life before and during the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. Carol has woven a series of books around the possibility of them being Harold's intended queen, his sister, and his "handfasted wife", who is shown fleeing with Harold's son from their burning house. It was a brilliant idea for a series, and the novels make compelling reading.

I'd love to be able to create a piece of beautiful needlework, but I don't have the time, the patience, or the skill. Do you do enjoy craft work? What craft are you most proud of completing?

Monday, 7 August 2017

Agents, and How To Find Them...

Felicity Trew. Photograph by John Jackson.
The first session I went to at the Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference this year was Felicity Trew's presentation about the work of an agent and how to write the perfect submission letter. Felicity works for the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency.

A good agent will be your supporter, cheerleader and confidante. They will create a publishing schedule for you, spacing your books out so you aren't releasing them too close together. They'll guide your career, and help you create a "brand", or rework one that isn't working

When it comes to writing your submission letter to an agent, keep it calm and professional.  Begin with the word count, and the intended audience for your book. Bring all your skill as a storyteller into play, but keep all the information you include concise and relevant. Distil your plot into about three lines, and put this at the top so your prospective agent knows what to expect. Show that you've really researched your agent, and your market. Give a brief history of your writing history, and your inspiration behind the book you're pitching. Give links to your online presence. Keep your spell checker on, and make sure your letter is as perfectly laid out as your manuscript.

Which do you find harder—writing fiction, or writing the letter that goes with it?

Monday, 31 July 2017

Going Wild In The Country— The Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference 2017

It's taken me two weeks to recover enough to write about this—yes, it was that good.

Around two hundred and fifty members of the Romantic Novelists' Association converged on the Harper-Adams University in Shropshire for three days of talks, workshops, networking and fun.

There were sessions on the role of an agent and how to write the perfect submission letter, using images from embroidery and tapestry as inspiration for historical fiction, how to make social media work for you, how to revive your backlist, how technology can help writers and many more. The Gala dinner was the social event of my year so far, and the bookstalls were packed with new titles.

I'll be posting notes here about some of the sessions I attended, so subscribe to my blog by clicking top right to catch them.

The food (one of my favourite areas of study!) during the conference was fantastic. Harper-Adams are used to catering for healthy, country appetites so we began the day with pastries, toast and toppings, a choice of about a dozen cooked items from bacon and eggs to hash browns, plus porridge, fresh fruit, yoghurt and cereals. The lunches and evening meals were all great too. The amazing gala dinner on Saturday Evening of Beef Wellington was particularly good.

The Amazing Raffle-Prize Quilt 
There was only one disappointment. Two members of my local chapter of the RNA, Joanna Maitland and Pia Fenton, were each offering sessions. They were scheduled at the same time, but in different lecture theatres. Joanna, along with Sophie Weston, showed how to add sparkle to your writing. Pia and Anna Belfrage talked about how to make Timeslip work. I wanted to go to both talks, not only to support Marcher Chapter members but because I was interested in both topics. In the end I had to toss a coin because I genuinely couldn't choose. The Sparkle session won! Luckily, Pia offered to give us a quick run-down of her session at a future Marcher meeting.

After hours, the campus came alive with people socialising at the students' bar, The Welly Boot. It's a great opportunity to meet up with old friends and make new ones. I'm very shy and find socialising difficult, so I spent every evening in my room writing up my notes. I'd been a member of the RNA for years before Ann Ankers persuaded me to attend my first conference, which I did on a single-day ticket in 2014.  I was hooked from the minute I arrived. Everyone is so friendly. For every conference since then I've been one of the first to arrive, and almost the last to leave!

I enjoyed every minute of The Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference 2017, and got 110% out of my attendance.  There's no doubt I could have made it 200%, if I'd spent more time socialising after hours.

I've made a resolution ahead of #RNAconf2018 to join in more of the fun, and spend less time writing up my notes. Why not join the RNA, then you can hold me to my resolution!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Too Much Of A Good Thing!

A pre-natal courgette!
Back in the spring, I had a gardening disaster. Not one of the four courgette (otherwise known as zucchini) seeds I sowed came up. We all love chocolate courgette cake, so disaster loomed. There were four more seeds left in the packet I'd used, so I sowed them. Then I bought a new packet and sowed four more seeds just in case. Of course, all eight germinated!

When that happens, you're supposed to save the best plants and throw the rest on the compost heap. I couldn't bear to do that. Keeping all those seedlings was a dangerous move.  I usually grow only three plants each year. When they get the hang of producing courgettes I have trouble keeping up with the harvest. At least one hides under those big, beautiful leaves until it's grown to marrow size.

Yesterday, I picked the first courgettes of the season. The plants are bright with dozens of flowers, so there will be plenty more to come. I've been gathering recipes in advance, so it was time to try the first one. The weather was so wet and miserable, I made courgette and cheese soup. Luckily, it was lovely. Given the poor summer weather and the prospect of wheelbarrows of courgettes to come, we could be enjoying it several times a week!

I always make soup in large quantities as it's cheap, easy, most sorts will freeze, and this one is just as good to eat next day. Making two meals at one time is a great time-saver, too.

COURGETTE (ZUCCHINI) AND CHEESE SOUP—serves four, twice.

3 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 courgettes (zucchini) unpeeled, but washed, dried and cut into big chunks.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
5oz/150 grammes of cheese- I use whatever's in the fridge. Feta or blue cheese are both good.
A handful of fresh green herbs, chopped finely. I used mint and chives.

Heat the oil in a large, deep pan. Add the courgettes and garlic. Stir, then cook over a medium heat until everything is soft and beginning to colour.

Pour in the stock, then simmer for five minutes.

Cube or crumble the cheese, according to texture, and add to the soup along with the chopped herbs. Stir over a low heat until the cheese is almost melted.

Remove from the heat, blend, check seasoning and serve.

In a perfect world,  each bowl of soup would be topped with a swirl of cream and a pinch of chopped fresh herbs reserved from the ones that went into the mixture. We didn't have any cream to add last night, and I forgot to keep back any herbs for decoration but the soup tasted delicious all the same!


Monday, 10 July 2017

Fruit and Fibre

I've been so busy with my non fiction project, the time has slipped by and I haven't had a chance to post any blogs here for ages. One day has melded into the next and before I knew it, here we are: the week of the RNA conference. Getting ready to leave the family to fend for themselves for four days means even less time for non-writing work.

I've been trying out some new recipes to make sure there are plenty of nibbles in store while I'm away. Neolithic bread was the first thing on the menu. Einkorn flour is what kept the builders of Stonehenge going. Einkorn is a primitive grain that doesn't have much gluten, so it's made into a no-knead bread which needs a delicate touch. The texture is almost like cake, as the dough can't support air holes, and the taste is wonderful—helped by our home-produced sweet chestnut honey! It goes very well with Cheddar cheese. Here's the recipe I used: http://livesimply.me/2016/08/30/how-to-make-einkorn-bread/.

Fired by the idea of hunter gathering, we finally remembered to take a container with us to collect wild raspberries on today's dog-walking expedition. We walked a mile and a half, searching all the way, and this is our haul. I think we need a smaller bag!


Monday, 19 June 2017

The Good Old, Bad Old Days...

It's easy to imagine that all Victorian women did was needlepoint until either consumption or childbirth carried them off. That's not true. Frances Prideaux is an example to us all, as I discovered during research for the Pen and Sword book Women's Lives in Bristol, 1850-1950, which is due for publication next year. 

Frances Helen Prideaux, M.B, B.S. Lond. and Licentiate of the King and Queen's College of Physicians is a fantastic role model for all women. When she was at the height of her powers in 1885, she was a phenomenon. 

At a time when schooling for girls was often seen as a waste of money, Frances had the best possible start in life. She was born into a family living in Clifton, which is an affluent part of Bristol. Bright and inquisitive, her potential was spotted straight away. In an age when women were treated like children and seen as chattels, Frances had the twin benefits of high intelligence and a support network few other women could boast, even today. She sailed through her education getting top grades, and took medical school in her stride. 

Frances had the work ethic of Noel Fitzpatrick, TV's Supervet. She was always busy, and in the rare moments she wasn't working, she was thinking about work. No job was too difficult for her. As a student, and then Professor Scholar at Queen's College between 1869-73, she was respected and liked by everyone. In 1884, she gained honours in obstetric medicine, and was placed third in the list of candidates at the examination for Bachelor of Medicine.  There's no doubt she would have gone on to even greater things, but she died at a tragically early age.

Photo by Frederick Hollyer,
by courtesy Wellcome Library
In October 1885 she was elected House Surgeon to the Paddington Green Hospital, and started work on November 2nd. On Saturday 21st, she woke up with what she thought was only a sore throat. She went into work and insisted on carrying out all her duties as normal, but she obviously wasn't well. By Monday 23rd, exactly four weeks after she'd started her new job, her condition made one of the senior surgeons at the hospital think she might have diptheria. 

Despite her protests, Frances was sent home from work. Where she could have contracted the disease was a mystery, as there were no known cases in the Paddington Green area at the time. These days, vaccination programmes reduce the incidence of diptheria to a few thousand cases per year worldwide, but in 1885 it was widespread. The glands in your neck swell up to a massive size, while a thick grey membrane blocks your throat, making breathing and swallowing almost impossible. Today, sufferers are put in isolation,  then given the miracle cures of antibiotics and anti-toxins. In the nineteenth century, those vital drugs didn't exist. 

A team of medical experts did everything they could to save Frances, including a laryngotomy to enable her to breathe. Despite their best care, she died within a week, "after terrible suffering". It was Advent Sunday, and the day before her final medical exams.  

The doctors who tended Frances were devastated, especially as she was fully aware of what was happening almost to the end. Despite barbaric-sounding treatments such applying corrosive lotions to her already inflamed throat, she stayed calm and brave. A glowing obituary was published in the British Medical Journal on 8th December, 1885, and a scholarship in connection with the London School of Medicine founded in her memory.

This is part of a longer piece on Frances which appears in Women's Lives in Bristol, 1850-1950, to be published in 2018. To find out more, follow this blog using the button above.

Monday, 12 June 2017

From Slaves To Sisterhood—Women's Lives In Bristol, 1850-1950

Last Friday morning, I did a couple of hours work on my computer, then drove Son Number One twenty miles to his consultant's appointment at the hospital. After collecting a bag full of free prescriptions, we came home. He went up to his room to do some private study before his exams, while I went back to work on my current work-in-progress. 

None of that would have been possible in the period covered by my current project for Pen and Sword Books, Women's Lives In Bristol, 1850-1950. I would still be living in the house where I was born—assuming I'd survived the birth of my first child. Without the miracle of medication taken for various health problems since then, I wouldn't have lasted beyond the age of thirty-five. 

The internet, personal transport, antibiotics and many other innovations have changed everyday life so much. Things we take for granted would seem miraculous a hundred years ago. Only a decent lifespan before that, Bristol was famously thriving on the three S’s—Slaves, Smoking and Sugar. Back then those evils weren't recognised as such,  but revolution was in the air. 

When campaigners against the slave trade, including Bristol women Hannah More and Mary Carpenter, inspired the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, it knocked out one cornerstone of the city's economy. 

The Industrial Revolution came to the rescue. Bristol stopped relying on men and women toiling at piece-work in their own homes, and became an industry-driven metropolis. The Kennet and Avon canal brought in raw materials that weren't as exotic as tobacco and sugar, but could be turned into products everyone needed, rather than luxuries. The mechanised manufacture of paper, textiles and soap demanded a huge workforce. Large factories sprang up all along the River Avon from St Philip’s Marsh to Bedminster and beyond, employing the latest technology. The smaller, more nimble fingers of women made them the first choice for jobs needing accuracy and speed on production lines and in operating machinery.  

Life in Bristol improved—at least for some. A steady stream of  employable labour abandoning poorly-paid seasonal work on the farm came looking for steady, indoor jobs in factories. They settled in the cheapest lodgings. These were damp, disease-ridden courts bordering the River Avon far below the heights of the rich, beautiful Clifton area. Boats heading out from Cork, filled with families   escaping the Irish Potato Famine made the Port of Bristol their first destination. Desperate people make cheap employees. Desperate women and their children are the cheapest labour of all. 

Religion came to the rescue of nineteenth-century Bristol. The pioneering Methodist John Wesley’s mission in the city made it a magnet for non-conformists. Like their Anglican contemporaries, Methodist women were subordinate to men, although they were encouraged to take a much more active role in worship. They spread the word, supported the life of their church and played leading roles in education. They were vital to the success of the Sunday School movement, knowing that where children are led, there's a chance their mothers will follow. 

Fry's—you came for the chocolate, but stayed for the social reform...
With slavery abolished, Mary Carpenter’s Unitarian background drove her to open ragged schools for the poorest of the poor. Later, she created reformatories to train offenders as domestic servants. Great Quaker families such as the Frys and Sturges spent their money improving the minds and conditions of the Bristol poor. Businessmen and entrepreneurs followed the money to the city. Its multiple supply routes by road, rail and water made it easy to import raw materials, and export the finished articles. These men brought their wives and children. Many were non-conformists, who bonded with the local Methodists and Quakers to create a wide network of men and women determined to do good.

Knowledge is power. With the introduction of compulsory schooling, and the examples set by intelligent role models such as the Priestman sisters and the Sturge Sisters, Bristol women became unstoppable. Education led to ambition, and the realisation they could find a life beyond overcrowded squalor in the Pithay, or the Dings. 

United in optimistic bloody-mindedness, Bristol women fuelled Barton Hill’s Great Western Cotton Mill strike of 1889, created a major hub for suffragette activities, developed a network of cooperative societies, and helped win two world wars with their work on the Home Front. 

Individually, they were resourceful, inventive and brave. Cobbler’s daughter Mary Willcocks had a ten-week flirtation with royalty which took her all the way to America before she returned to Bristol, and the life of an honest woman. Pauper Ann Howe exposed institutionalised cruelty at the mighty Bedminster Union Workhouse. Bristol inventor Sarah Guppy showed Isambard Kingdom Brunel where he was going wrong with his initial design for the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Frail, deaf Ada Vachell worked all her life to create opportunities for those even more disabled than she was.

The women of Bristol have proved themselves unbeatable.

You can find out more about the inspiring mix of saints and sinners who have called the city their home in my forthcoming book for Pen and Sword, Women’s Lives In Bristol 1850-1950.

Follow this blog to find out more, and sign up for my occasional newsletter. You'll find a form at the top of this page.


Monday, 5 June 2017

A Rest Is As Good As A Change…

By Henriette Browne
For the last four months, I’ve been putting in hours of extra work a week while trying to write two books at the same time. 

My first job each day is to collate the research I’ve done so far for my major non-fiction project, Women Of Bristol, and add to it. All that work is done on the computer. When I need a break from the screen, I curl up with a pencil and a big refill pad of lined paper. It’s the way I like to write fiction, so that’s how the next book in my Brackenridge Series, Dead Woman Walking, is taking shape.

Last week, OH had a week’s holiday. He was going to spend it doing repairs and maintenance around Tottering Towers, but I led him astray. Apart from rain over the Bank Holiday weekend, the weather was fine and dry. It seemed such a shame to stay indoors working, so the two of us spent seven days roaming the countryside. 

Bees hard at work
As a result, I didn’t write a word all week. I can’t remember the last time that happened! Not only did I do nothing, I was guilty of doing what my old English teacher used to call doing less than nothing by distracting OH, too. I took him out to lunch a couple of times,  and persuaded him to visit the open day at Jekka McVicar’s Herb Farm with me. We visited a garden centre, which meant another lunch out for him, and some retail therapy for me. 

Delicious, and good for you, too!
I ended last week with a total word count of zero, but a dozen new plants. Our apricot crop set the seal on the week by ripening all at once. It's just a little tree, so there were only three fruits. I sneakily ate them all myself. Call it gardener’s perks! 

Today it’s back to writing work, but I love it so much there’s no danger of the post-holiday blues. I feel tons better for my break, and can’t wait to get writing again.


What’s your favourite remedy for working too hard?

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Making A Start

Balloon Fiesta Flights Over Bristol
I love writing, and for the past few years I've been working in the soft and seductive landscape of romance. It's been a lovely and productive time for me, and you can see a full list of my published books (together with their cover art) here.

Much as I love fiction, my career started with non-fiction and to be honest, there are times when I've missed it. So when I was offered the chance to write the Bristol edition of Pen and Sword Books' Women's Lives, 1850-1950, I jumped at it. I was born in what used to be little more than a village half-way between Bristol and Bath, so this was an opportunity to go back to my roots in more ways than one.

The first thing I did toward my new project was to open a spreadsheet and start a timeline. The top row is national events. For example, I've included the censuses from March 1851 onwards, to the publication of George Orwell's 1984 in 1949. The second row of my database shows milestones in the history of Bristol between 1850-1950. The third row is notable details in the lives of Bristolian women.

Then I had a brainstorming session, listing the seven major areas of interest: education, home life, health, entertainment, working outside the home, entertainment, and finally politics and protest. The Women's Lives, 1850-1950 series will be published in 2018, to coincide with the centenary of the first women being given the vote in England.

Once I had this organised, I slotted all the information I mined from the Bristol Archives under one heading or another, cross-referenceing as I went. It's saving me a lot of time. As I was working, I met some female family historians who were kind enough to give me some anecdotes for my book. It all added up to an invaluable start to my project.

Now I have to collate all this information, and work it up into a text worthy of all these remarkable local women. Given that the years 1850-1950 was a century filled with innovation, bravery and self-sacrifice, shot through with the down-to-earth humour of Bristolians, that shouldn't be too hard.

My only problem will be what to leave out. I've got enough material for half a dozen books—not just one!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Setting Up With Scrivener

I wrote here about my new non-fiction project for Pen And Sword Books, Women's Lives: Women Of Bristol 1850-1950. This will involve a lot of research and will stretch out over several months, so it's vital that my work should be well-organized. 

Some people are methodical by nature. I'm not, but working with the dedicated writing package Scrivener developed by Literature and Latte makes it easy to keep track of things. Instead of having box files, ring binders filled with notes and jottings on odd bits of paper, I collect everything together in one Scrivener project. Each chapter is given its own file within this Scrivener document, and so far I've created other files within it with the main headings of Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Contacts, interviews and Images.  Each of these is further sub-divided so in theory, nothing can get lost—unlike notes scribbled on the back of envelopes. 

Each time I come across a useful website or find a quote, I can store it in the appropriate information file. Although the manuscript pages of my Scrivener project will only accept text, video and audio links can be stored in other parts of the 
Bristol Docks

I've already got general headings for my chapters such as; Education, Work, Family Life, Health, Leisure, and Active Citizens, and I'll sub-divide these as work progresses. The big advantages of working with Scrivener is that I can summarise each chapter as a synopsis of my ideas. These can then be displayed in Scrivener's 'Corkboard' mode, in the style of index cards. There's a facility to colour-code each of these, so I can see at a glance where I am—not yet started, notes, first draft, revised draft, completed and so on. 

Scrivener has a useful split-screen mode, which comes into its own for cataloguing. While I'm writing or editing a document displayed on the top half of my computer screen, I can add sources or create an index entry on the lower half of the screen. 

You can read my top tips for working with Scrivener here

Finally, if you've got any gossip about a woman's life in pre-1950's Bristol, I'd love to hear from you! Add a comment below...

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review, "The Big Sleep" By Raymond Chandler.

Bogart And Bacall
If you're a regular visitor here, you'll know that, while I love to read, it takes me a long time to finish a book. What with writing full-time, family life, my garden, and looking after our dog, hens and  bees, I rarely time to sit and concentrate. As I'm a slow reader anyway, I've generally lost the thread and have to go back a page or two from when I last put the book down. Half the time I seem to be going backwards, which can be very dispiriting.

I received a wonderful haul of twelve books as Christmas presents last December 25th, so I've decided to post one review per month. That will encourage me to keep reading!

You can find my review of the first book I read this year, Cryptozoologicon Vol I, here.  I wanted to alternate non-fiction and fiction, so my second review is of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

The Big Sleep is the first outing for Chandler's Private Detective Philip Marlowe, first published in 1939. My copy is the 2011 Penguin reprint, with a forward by Ian Rankin.  The Big Sleep is a book very much of its time, which was an age long before political correctness. Anti-hero Marlowe drinks, smokes and wisecracks his way through a plot that has more twists and turns than a maze. 

Marlowe is employed by wealthy General Sternwood to foil a blackmail attempt on his younger daughter, Carmen. In other (apparently unrelated) news, Rusty, the husband of Sternwood's older daughter Vivian, has disappeared. There's a long and convoluted road littered with corruption in high places, heavy drinking, gambling, violence, smoking, swearing, and several bits that would never get past the politically-correct lobby today, but if you can get past the name-calling, this is a great read. Marlowe eventually draws almost all the threads of the convoluted plot together, and ties them up neatly. One loose end left dangling is Who Killed The Chauffeur. If you can't work it out, you're in good company. Howard Hawks, director of the 1946 film The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, quizzed the author about it. Chandler confessed that even he had no idea! 

Despite a long list of characters, every one of them has a vital part to play and there isn't a wasted word in the whole book. In common with all great stories, The Big Sleep transports you into a different world, peopled by well-drawn characters and set in a location far beyond anyone's usual existence. Not many of us are likely to get mixed up in murder, illicit sex and a pornography racket (thank goodness) but we can all enjoy watching knight-in-sightly-tarnished-armour Marlowe bring his own sense of honour to bear on this serpentine plot. 

I could fill pages with great quotes from this book,  but here's one of the best:

“Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.” 

The description of Marlowe opening up his office first thing in the morning is a classic, and the idea of driving in Californian orange groves (flat tyres, torrential rain and all) really drew me into the story. Wow. That's what I enjoy in fiction— local colour!

Monday, 30 January 2017

What Do You Know...about Bristol?

Clifton Suspension Bridge
I'm starting an exciting new non-fiction project. Women's Lives is a series of books to be published by Pen And Sword Books  in 2018, to coincide with the centenary of women over the age of thirty being given the vote in the Representation Of The People Act.

One volume of Women's Lives will be devoted to a single city in the United Kingdom. My family have strong ties with the city of Bristol, which go back hundreds of years. I was born a few miles away in a village which was then in the Somerset countryside but is now on the outskirts of the city. My first full-time job was in the Bristol offices of a life-assurance company, and after I married I  went to work for Rolls-Royce Aero in Filton

Ancient And Modern...
When I heard about the Pen And Sword project I was keen to get involved. I've been writing romance for a long time, but I started my writing career contributing non-fiction articles to newspapers and magazines. This was too good a chance to miss, so I've now started work on the Bristol edition of the series.

In writing Women's Lives: Women of Bristol 1850-1950 I'll be going back to my roots in a big way. It will mean spending a lot of time combing through the archives, but nothing beats a real-life anecdote.

Do you have any stories to share about life in the City of Bristol in the years before 1950?

Sunday, 22 January 2017

A Winter Walk—With Added Shivers...

One of our dog-walking routes
We haven't had many bitter days here so far this winter, so the wildlife has been fending for itself, deep in the woods. The exception are the grey squirrels, who try their luck every day with our supposedly vermin-proof bird feeders, whatever the weather.

Despite the big animals such as deer and badger being pretty much invisible during mild daylight hours, Alex the dog and I had quite a shock the other day. I was glad we had the company of OH when it happened.  

We keep Alex on the lead until we're deep in the woods as he can act the naughty adolescent if he spots one of his doggy friends heading in a different direction. Once he's let off to race away through the trees, we wander along looking at what's new in the forest. 

A crossbill. Guess how it got its name!
That day, we spotted a flock of  crossbills high in the fir trees. I got a new bird book for Christmas, which said  the crossbills' very dry diet of pine seeds means they often come down to drink at forest pools to quench their thirst.

There are several boar wallows on the route we were taking. It was so cold on that particular day, I thought taking a bath would be the last thing on a boar's tiny mind, so I let OH and the dog canter on ahead while I went to see if the birds would come down to drink. A short stroll took me to a pool in a large clearing. I crept up to see if there were any crossbills about. There was no sign of them, but something large was rustling about in the brambles and dead bracken on other side of the glade. That made me retreat in a hurry. 

OH and the dog spotted me moving fast, and came to see what was happening. Their sudden arrival put up the big old boar I'd heard in the undergrowth. He shot between us and sped away, disappearing in a flash. It happened so fast Alex was too surprised to react, so OH had him under control before he could think of giving chase.  
A wild boar sow and piglet

I suppose it proves that unless you come between a mother and her baby, the boar really are more afraid of us than we are of them.

Despite that, neither OH nor I was going to give chase to get a photo of the animal we saw. The picture of a sow and piglet on here comes from a brave contributor to Pixabay!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Bullet Journaling

I start off every year with a new diary, and can't wait to start recording everything from January 1st onwards. Sad to say, I've never managed a year where every single day of my diary has been filled in.  I keep a notebook with me to write down any ideas, but I usually forget to transfer them across to my diary. It's so dispiriting to miss a day (or two, or more) then come back to find those blank spaces staring up, as full of reproach as they are empty of words. 

Late last year I started experimenting with bullet journaling. The official description from Ryder Carroll, who is credited with inventing the system says:
"The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less"

I use an A4 book of squared paper, which is really useful as I can draw sketch plans of my garden, write diary entries and develop tick-box schedules all in one place. That's much less annoying than having a conventional diary stuffed with odd sheets of graph paper and lists, but it seems a bit of a retrograde step. My OH has spent the last twenty years trying to get me to store everything on my computer, but I've never yet managed to create a paperless office. With this new system, it won't be appearing in 2017, either! 

I start each month by listing the days on one page, where I include birthdays and appointments. The next page is my task list for the month, then the following pages devote a double-page spread to each week, where I make short notes on what I've done on each day.  

When it comes to actually making entries, the shorter the better. Bullet points are best, and you can develop your own system of symbols to save space. You can always include a link to where you've made longer notes. 

Bullet journaling is wildly popular, and it's easy to see why. This is diary-keeping for the Crafting generation. You can spend hours developing your own system of note-taking, and then embellishing it. There are so many stickers, stamps and other beautiful things available at places such as Hobbycraft, the idea of making each day quite literally follow your own design and letting your creative hair down is very tempting. 

Maybe things will improve as I refine my system, but at the moment I find writing out the days of the month several times in different ways a bit repetitive. I enjoy the setting out of pages, decorating them and indexing, but it's absorbing far more of my time than ordinary diary-writing ever did (when I did it). That's a warning sign for me. If I didn't have enough time to write in an old-style diary every day, the chances are I soon won't be able to find the time to tag, colour and cross-hatch my work either!

You can find out more about bullet journaling here

Do you keep a diary? And is it online, or in a dedicated, real-life book?

Monday, 2 January 2017

Cryptozoology—The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name...



A Kelpie.  Or maybe a horse, standing in water...
Review of Cryptozoologicon Vol I, by John Conway, C.M. Kosemen and Darren Naish. ISBN 978-1-291-62153-2

My guilty secret is out. DD discovered a few months ago that I love to be scared witless at the idea of mysterious creatures,  whose natural habitat is the urban myth. She bought me Cryptozoologicon Vol I for Christmas, and it's a winner.

As a child, I listened to months of reports filed from Darkest* Africa by James Powell's expedition who were hunting for the fabulous Mokele-Mbembe. In common with the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and the Chupacabra, the shadowy dinosaur-like Mokele-Mbembe managed to keep one step ahead of all its pursuers, despite their highly developed brains, opposable thumbs and state-of-the-art equipment. Nobody Powell's team spoke to had ever seen the thing themselves, but their grandfather's neighbour's cousin's wife, or the delivery man's son's best friend knew someone who'd...well, you get the general idea.  Mokele-Mbembe was always somewhere else. It was off on its travels, rumoured to be terrorising the next village along the Congo. Funny, that.

Like Comet Kohoutek and the Millenium's River Of Fire, media excitement was in inverse proportion to results in the search for Mokele-Mbembe. Those African folk employed exactly the same technique English villagers use.  When strangers roll into town asking questions, tell them exactly what they want to hear.  Nod, and smile confidently at any pictures or maps they show you. Then point them a few miles further down the track, where they'll find someone who knows a lot more than you do. That gets rid of your pesky visitors, and often earns you a big fat tip into the bargain.


London's River Of Fire? Or tail of a Bird Of Paradise?
Three cheers, then, for scientist Dr Darren Naish and his fellow contributors to Cryptozoologicon! They aren't taken in by this sort of malarkey, whether home-grown or exotic. They set out to shine a light on the sloppy and wishful thinking that brings cryptozoology into disrepute, and their illustrated book does exactly that.

Cryptozoologicon asserts that "...cryptozoology should be seen as a mixture of sociology, psychology and ethnology as well as zoology." With this objective in mind, the book examines a selection of weird and wonderful creatures. Each is given a chapter to itself, and an illustration.  These are often quirky, and quite honestly with a few exceptions they aren't as entertaining as the text. One of those exceptions is the Chupacabra on Page 34, illustrated by John Conway. A thing more of suggestion  than detail, it stopped me going out into woods after dark for a night or two, I can tell you!

Like all the best books, Cryptozoologicon produces nuggets of fascinating (and genuine) information where you least expect it. If you've ever wondered how bats evolved or why there aren't any large, water dwelling marsupials, this book gives you the answers. It also gives a disturbing insight into how images can be manipulated. A prime instance of this is the De Loys' ape.  In one of my few criticisms of this book, Cryptozoologicon provides only a re-imagined illustration, when it needs the inclusion of the original photograph in its cropped and uncropped versions (you can find both at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Loys'_Ape).  Touted as a missing-link ancestor of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the De Loys' ape was publicised by anthropologist George Montandon, at around the time the dangerous idea of eugenics came into the public arena. Go figure, as our American brothers and sisters (every one of them sprung from Eve, whether mitochondrial or biblical) would say.

I loved this book, especially as it seems to support a theory I've held for a while. At least some of these creatures owe their existence to what the emergency services call "false alarms with good intent". 


Mum! The babysitter's here!
Imagine you are the parent of a mischievous Bronze-Age child, and living in the middle of Flag Fen. Their accident-prone antics drive you insane. Which is the best way to stop him or her from drowning—a) scream at them at least ten million times a day to keep away from the water or b) invent some terrifying creature living in the bottomless depths that will carry him/her and their friends down to its watery lair, to be gobbled up at leisure?


Answer a) relies on constant watchfulness and repetition, and every parent knows children are selectively deaf at the best of times. Accidents happen the second your back is turned, so why not recruit a watcher in the deep? One who never sleeps, and is always on the lookout for an easy meal,  mwahaha...

To sum up, if you're absolutely certain those noises you heard while camping were the mating cries of Bigfoot, and that breeze rushing past your face on a midnight walk was your close call with an Aloo, Cryptozoologicon is most definitely NOT the book for you.

On the other hand, if you're fascinated by why legends are born and develop, and how people always try to explain away the unusual, you'll devour this book like a hungry Kelpie.

* we were allowed to call Africa (and Peru) that, in the far-off days of childhood fiction.