Thursday, 30 September 2010

Ghost Tours at Ham House

Ham House on the Thames Riverbank at Richmond is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year.

Built in 1610, and occupied by the Murrays from the 1620's until handed to the National Trust in 1948 by the Tollemache family, William Murray, Gentleman of the Bedchamber and reputed 'whipping boy' to Charles I received the house and grounds as a gift from his Royal master. His wife, Catherine Bruce Murray fought off several attempts by the Sequestration Committee during the Civil War to seize the estate while her husband was in Oxford with the King. The Murrays put Ham in trust for their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband Sir Lionel Tollemache.

Despite this clever manoeuvrings, Lionel and Elizabeth still had to compound the estate - i.e. pay Parliament its full value of £1,300 pounds in the early 1650's.

Elizabeth was a renowned as a political schemer during the Commonwealth, and made herself into a friend of Oliver Cromwell, with whom she is reputed to have used her influence to save the life of John Maitland, the future Duke of Lauderdale after his capture at the Battle of Worcester. She married Lauderdale in 1672, six weeks after his wife's death which scandalised London at the time, and apparently Ham became a centre for The Sealed Knot, and the Masons, of which her father and second husband were members. A favourite of Charles II, eventually Lauderdale fell out with him and the famous South Front gates, constructed for his royal master were locked forever against him.

John Evelyn, the 17th Century diarist described Ham as, 'Sweet Ham' and it being furnished like ‘a great prince’s’ and is the only house in the country that has its original silk wall hanging, some of which glitter in the candlelight from the silver thread woven into the fabric. After Lauderdale's death, the Duchess was forced to take out mortgages, and sell her jewellery, court dresses and garden statuary. Crippled by gout and embittered by years of legal wrangling with the Duke’s relatives, she died in 1698 at the age of seventy two.

One of my favourite parts of Ham is Elizabeth Murray's private closet where she kept her Bible, books and tea-making paraphernalia. On Halloween, they are conducting candlelit night tours of the house, and if Elizabeth's ghost really does walk the hallways, this is the night she will appear.  How can I resist?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Birthday Blues

Just about now, the title of this blog is particularly appropriate and I'm definitely getting in a mess. This could be author overload, but I have a feeling age has something to do with it!

I am trying to knock a novel into shape ready to present to my agent - she instigated the premise and I am prepared for her to say, 'That isn't quite what I was hoping for', well OK I'm not, but that could explain why I'm stalling and keep re-reading the ms.

I have a book release next year and my editor will want to begin edits soon - very soon - I also have three book reviews due, three blog posts scheduled for the coming weeks as well as a few outstanding critiques and - oh yes - a husband whose feeling neglected - not to mention the house!  'How can you forget where you put the hoover?'

And another thing, it's my birthday on Saturday and the family have organised a small party to take me to this lovely restaurant - and I am too depressed about the impending number to be enthusiastic! Can't I just make one up? Or even better start subtracting numbers instead of adding them?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Crit Groups-Love 'Em or Hate 'Em

Having mentioned online crit groups on my blog in the past, I recently received e-mails from aspiring authors soliciting my opinion about them. Some are wary of subjecting their work to strangers who may tear apart their confidence as well as their manuscript, while others want to know if unbiased feedback will tell them whether or not their work is publishable.

Without my critique groups, I would never have grown as a writer – what they have taught me isn’t something you can learn from textbooks. The groups in which I participate, include writers of varying ages, sexes and nationalities, and the fact we are at different stages of our careers is an advantage - when you line edit a more skilled writer, you learn from their techniques, and by critiquing new writers who have yet to learn the basic rules, it helps you see why those rules are necessary. It's easier to see mistakes in others' work - you're often too close to see the flaws in your own writing.

Feedback can be inspiring, frustrating and hurtful at the same time. One thing to ask yourself is: Do you trust your critique partners? – I have some wonderful critiquers who edit my work not to score points, or show off their own research and superior writing skills; their intention is to genuinely help me make my work the best it can be. Which is of course what I do for them, although you have to remind yourself that whatever you say is your own opinion - not holy scripture.

I received a critique once from a very young writer. My in-built prejudice told me that you need to experience life and its adherent pain to be able to give your characters credible emotion, so I opened it with a cynical eye – only to be staggered by their insight. When I thought about it, I realised the critiquer was the same age as my character – so they got inside their head in a way I couldn’t.

Sometimes, a critiquer simply won’t ‘get’ your story. They misinterpret the actions of the characters, ask irrelevant questions, cannot understand the motivation or the direction of your story and comment that they don’t like the colour of the curtains in the heroine’s bedroom. Of course this could be because you haven’t explained it properly – in which case look at your work again. However, these are the ‘thank them and move on’ critiques. We are not all going to enjoy or even understand each other’s work – that doesn’t mean their writing – or yours, is no good. You are simply on different pages - excuse the pun.

If I am a bit stuck with where to go next with my work in progress, I hit the groups and read a few chapters to give myself a fresh aspect on the nuts and bolts of writing itself: sentence structure, dialogue, physical descriptions, scene transitions and techniques I can apply to my own writing. After three or four critiques I am anxious to get back to my own work again.

My groups helped me me get over the, ‘everyone must love my writing,’ syndrome us authors tend to suffer from. No one understands a writer like another writer, and my relationships with these people, most of whom I haven’t even met [but not all] is unique and I can honestly say I wouldn’t submit anything to a publisher until they had seen it first.

This post wasn’t intended as a tribute to my critique partners, but perhaps that’s overdue anyway – so my heartfelt thanks to you all – and you know who you are.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Krakow Waltz by Kate Allan

I attended a booksigning last night for my agent Kate Allan's new book, Krakow Waltz published by Wild Rose Press.

Book Blurb: The Honorable Miss Annabel Wells needs to marry to save her reputation. Yet even in her dire straits she cannot bring herself to accept Mr. Henry Champion, an ordinary English gentleman without property or pedigree, no matter what she feels about him. She marries a Polish count but when her husband is killed in a duel and Henry comes all the way across Europe to her rescue, can there be a second chance for love? Leaving behind the drawing rooms of High Society London where he's feted as a Waterloo hero, Henry Champion finds more danger lurking in the dark streets of the city of Krakow than he bargained for.

We started the evening at a local cafe and then adjourned to a pub adjacent to the bookshop for an hour where the RNA members gathered. We must have looked strange, this bunch of middle-aged women drinking wine and fruit juice amongst a pub full of hard drinking locals who looked like they were advertising a tattoo parlour.

The writers were an interesting crowd, among whom were Melanie, who writes as Louise Allen for Mills and Boon, Jane Holland, and three other lovely ladies of the RNA called, Jill, Lyn and Lin, whom I didn't get much chance to chat to - must stay longer next time. However, when someone throws into the conversation they have just released their hundred-and-something book, I tend to melt into the shadows and not mention my paltry efforts!

Melanie and Jane gave us an entertaining half hour on the subject of stalkers, advocating pseudonyms because if you write under your own name you attract this peculiar species. Theirs follow them around to conferences and writers groups and add crypic, and sometimes threatening comments to every blog on which they appear. Melanie's stalker says she has made life impossible for small men as all her heroes are six foot or more! She also has one who cknows who the names of all the Mills and Boon cover models.

So that's it then, I know it will have made the grade as an author when my first stalker shows up!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


The second draft of my 17th Century Historical Biographical Novel is finished! – quite a mouthful that doesn’t really say what the book is about does it?
This is not my first novel, therefore I am deprived of the euphoria of having come to the end of a complicated project, because experience tells me now is when the hard work begins.

I have to decide which parts of my masterpiece need to be altered, condensed, or horrors - cut out completely?
What? All those carefully constructed sentences I spent hours agonising over are to be consigned to the recycle bin?
Yup, afraid so – if they don’t move the story forward... yeah, yeah OK I hear you internal editor.

I know the rules, following them isn’t as easy as one might think: As I write, I feel I am creating atmosphere, describing period clothing to give the reader an image, drawing a bygone way of life – but in editorial terms these are ‘backstory’, ‘exposition’, and, ‘laundry lists’

Does the first grab the reader and entice them to want more?
Weeelll . . the first paragraph does- I think.
Does the first sentence help with action to lead the reader towards the plot?
I passed that one – possibly.
Does the paragraph sets the tone, the scene, introduce the character and continue the action from the first sentence?
Hang on, I only have a dozen or so words here, how can it do all that?
Keep thinking action and character development, with pertinent details.
Got this one taped too – well I think so.
Content editing means taking out what doesn't work, and improving what does.
I think I need another opinion on that
Expand on emotion/sensory details and check research for consistency.

OK, I can do that
And all this on top of checking spelling, grammar, punctuation, POV, improve descriptive phrases and replace repeated words.

The good news is writers are individuals and being a meticulous one, I revise chapters as I write and when I receive critiques from my group. So when some writers need six or seven drafts to get it perfect, hopefully I can stop at three!

Finished my manuscript? No not really!