Thursday, 24 September 2009

Saxon Gold

Gold Hilt Fitting

It might interest my Medieval author friends, that over the past few days a hoard of Anglo Saxon gold has been unearthed in a Staffordshire field. British archaeological experts say this is one of the largest caches of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found.

The 1,500-piece find is on par with the Book of Kells, one of the best-known illuminated manuscripts in the world.Among the treasures, which authorities believe date to the 7th and 8th centuries AD Anglo-Saxon period, are sword hilt fittings, helmet pieces, crosses and a strip of gold bearing a Latin inscription from the Bible.

This gold strip carries the Latin inscription: "Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face." It has two sources, the Book of Numbers or Psalm 67, taken from the Vulgate, the Bible used by the Saxons.

The hoard is a very male-oriented, war-related collection; possibly a private cache of an elite Saxon warrior or warriors, or had been stolen from one or more. The swords themselves aren't there—the bits seem to have been torn off the weapons rather than the weapons themselves. Hard to say what that means at this point. The intricate designs, the numbers and sheer weight of the objects and the use of semi precious stones are all supporting evidence of that.

After analysis, which is expected to take months if not years, the artifacts will be displayed in a venue to be announced. Lots of museums are vying to buy the hoard, including the British Museum and English Heritage.

Fish and Eagle Detail

Maybe there will be an upsurge in popularity for Anglo Saxon based novels - who knows?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Research Is Great . . .

I was fortunate to be invited by Victoria Bradley, the National Trust Collections Manager at Ham House to talk about the history of the Murray family. Victoria kindly let me loose on her bookshelf and filing cabinet, which I thought was very generous of her as we had never met before. Anyway, I found some very interesting snippets I didn't know about that happened at Ham during the Civil War, and how the Sequestration Committee hounded the Murrays.

A few things I found contradicted other sources, including Elizabeth Murray's official biography, which means I will have to re-write at least one chapter of my work in progress, possibly two. Courtesy of Victoria, I am now in possession of photocopies of some of these documents, one of them being an almost complete survey of the plants and trees in the grounds - the detail is fascinating. One interesting point is that events are marked not by actual date, but by 'Feast of St Michael the Archangel', and 'Lady Day'.

Most of the information held at Ham is centred around the time the house was refurbished by the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale in the 1670's. The novel I hope to write is about Elizabeth's youth, her experiences during the English Civil Wars and her marriage to Lionel Tollemache.

So my search is for earlier records, specifically about troop movements in the area of Richmond and Kingston between 1643-1650. Victoria also put me in touch with the warden of Petersham Church where the Murrays worshipped throughout their lives, and where most of them are buried in the family vault.

There's more digging to do, and one place I need to visit, apart from the church, is the National Archives Office at Kew. The fact that this is still quite a grey area of Elizabeth's life is not at all discouraging. The information I have gathered so far sets a structure for the novel, but its also gives me some leeway to write a fiction-based story rather than a documentary biography. A little romanticism won't hurt.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Historical Fiction Is Back

James Frain, who played Thomas Cromwell in 'The Tudors'

According to the daily Mail, and probably other higher brow newspapers I don't read - The shortlist for the Booker Prize was unveiled on 8th September, and an historical novel by a Derbyshire born author, Hilary Mantel is the hottest favourite to win.

Wolf Hall, is the story of Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII, and set in and around the Tudor court. Literary experts [whoever they are] say its success has proved the rising popularity of historical fiction. Janine Cook, fiction buyer for Waterstone's, said: 'Historical fiction is huge at the moment. It's fantastic to see it get the recognition it deserves.' [hear hear from this blogger]

A Ladbrokes spokesman said: 'There's only one novel in town as far as punters are concerned. 'Mantel has attracted more money than the rest of the field combined.' The winner will be announced at London's Guildhall on October 6.

That's got to be good news for us all, not for the prize perhaps, but in showing the publishers historical fiction is not 'difficult to place', which is the reason I have been getting for so few novels being accepted.

Here is an excerpt from the -extremely long- review in The Guardian

'In Wolf Hall, Mantel persuasively depicts this beefy pen-pusher and backstairs manoeuvrer as one of the most appealing - and, in his own way, enlightened - characters of the period. Taking off from the scant evidence concerning his early life, she imagines a miserable childhood for him as the son of a violent, drunken blacksmith in Putney. Already displaying toughness, intelligence and a gift for languages, he runs away to the continent as a boy of 15 or so (his date of birth isn't known, and in the novel he doesn't know it himself).

The first half of the novel, built around Wolsey's fall from power, details Cromwell's domestic setup at Austin Friars and introduces the major players in Tudor politics. Without clobbering the reader with the weight of her research, Mantel works up a 16th-century world in which only a joker would call for cherries in April or lettuce in December, and where hearing an unlicensed preacher is an illicit thrill on a par with risking syphilis.'

I love the phrase, 'Without clobbering the reader with the weight of her research'. I'll remember that. And one other thing - Wolf Hall is written in the present tense!

Read the whole review here

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Kreativ Blog Award

I have been asked to accept and pass on this award by Ginger Simpson in the interests of author promotion. I apologise now to those on the list below for loading you with something else you have to pass on, but I for one always look at the blog lists and I am sure others will look at yours too.

Thus I hope by giving this to you, more people get to see your blog.

Rule for Passing on the Kreativ Blogger Award
It functions as a meme---list 7 of your favorite things, 7 of your favorite activities, 7 things no one knows about you.

Seven of my favorite things: my laptop, chocolate, family, gorillas, chilli, anchovies and books.

Seven of my favorite activities: writing, reading, visiting historic houses, dinner parties [giving and attending], travelling, cooking, [cannot think of a seventh, well OK I can, but I wouldn't want to shock anyone]

Seven things no one knows about me: Tricky one, as the reason no one knows those things is because I don't want them to! So I'm missing this one out as I wouldn't want to embarrass myself would I?

For the Kreativ Blog Award I nominate:

1. Julianne Douglas
2. Julie Conner
3. Kat Taylor
4. Evangeline at Edwardian Promenade
5. Jennifer Hudson Taylor
6. Anne Gilbert
7. Sandi Rog

These blogs have great book reviews, writing tips and anecdotes that entertain as well as inform. I cannot resist dipping into them when I have a free moment or when I ought to be writing, so go take a look and procrastinate for an hour or so - they are great.

More rules:
1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

Rules Are Made To Be Broken?

As many of my regular visitors know, I also write book reviews for the Historical Novel Review Blog and not simply books I buy myself. Publishers actually ask us to review books for them and post them on our blog. Yes really!

Anyway, the reason I mentioned this, was I have recently finished a novel that has evidently found an enthusiastic publisher despite the fact the writer ignored many of the rules - perhaps to be kinder I ought to say sidestepped - editors tell me are vital for a manuscript to be considered for publication.

The author constantly dips into omnicient PoV and out again, writes really short scenes which launch the reader into another location with a new set of characters before you have any vision of the previous ones, and then head hops from one character to another and back again. There is also lots of passive voice where it isn't necessary: e.g. one character asks, 'What are you recommending?' The attributions often come before the dialogue: i.e. She said airily, 'I don't really mind'.

I decided I won't comment on these issues in the review, firstly because one of policies of the HNR Blog is never to slam anyone's writing, and the fact the broken rules don't detract from its narrative. Then there is the fact, that, if the publishers are happy with the writing style, who am I to say it is incorrect?

However, if I wasn't confused about what publishers want before, I am now. Does this mean the 'rules' I have been trying to follow, and worse, impress upon other writers in my critique groups are all irrelevant? Have I been giving bad advice and their novels may have been perfectly acceptable for publication after all? And why have I been trying so hard to eliminate all these 'mistakes' from my own writing?