Friday, December 28, 2012

Classy Language


For some time I've been increasingly uncomfortable with the language that modern writers put into the mouths of historical characters. While I acknowledge that stories must be written in a style that readers find easy, there are times when a writer's personal vocabulary could benefit from being channelled to mark out a character's lifestyle and personal circumstances.

Georgette Heyer plundered cant and slang dictionaries for her lower-class characters. For example, in The Toll Gate her highwayman Jerry and people who associate with him have a quite different vocabulary from that of Captain Staple, who is the son of an aristocratic family.  (However it's not a good idea to copy Heyer's expressions, because in the same way that modern computer programmers build-in redundant code she also invented her own colourful phrases to check how many rivals were plagiarising her work.)

Historic correspondence

Original letters suggest that even during the Regency and the reign of William IV, everyday polite English between people of the educated class was surprisingly like the language we write today. A glance at the correspondence between William Wordsworth and his wife Mary in the early years of the 1800s, or the letters from 1829 onward between a young lawyer, William Holt, and his fiancee Mary Cox, shows that sentences were typically long, few contractions were used (can't, won't), and the & mark often replaces and. Other than those stylistic points the language isn't noticeably archaic. Most of the time they use the formal "you" when addressing each other, and use "thee" only when writing of more intimate feelings.

Spoken language

There's considerable difficulty for writers in researching spoken language, because recorded conversations even in works such as Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor are filtered through the author's hand. They are probably a factual record of what was said, but they are not verbatim transcriptions. A further difficulty in composing historical conversations is that regional phrases and dialect would have been even more strongly localised than they are now, yet we don't want to make a character's dialogue totally incomprehensible to modern readers.

U and Non-U

In 1956 the terms 'U' meaning Upper Class and 'Non-U' meaning non-Upper Class appeared in Alan Ross's academic paper for the University of Birmingham: U and Non-U – An Essay in Sociological Linguistics. Nancy Mitford also wrote about these differences in 1956 in Noblesse Oblige.

There are some interesting distinctions made, notably the fact that the vocabularies of working class and upper class were similarly robust and forthright, while it was the middle class who used "delicate" phrases involving euphemisms and French words. This may sound strange, but compare the following lists. Which words will be in the vocabulary of the upper class, and which of the middle class?

drawing room
sitting room
looking glass

Food for thought

While some of the terms above are relatively modern, for historical fiction I hope the point is still clear: upper class characters shouldn't express themselves in fancy language, any more than working class ones should. The characters who do will mark themselves at once as middle class.

Good writing for an English "period" story should reinforce my belief in the society being described, and when the author writes about aristocrats in a way that is unmistakably middle-class, s/he loses my trust. This, in my observation, is a point where a good many modern writers (and especially writers who are not English-born) fall down.

Further reading

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hesitation waltz

I was reading out a poem in the writing class.

“Maybe the workmen
knocking down the old long-house
to build upon its footprint
stopped to help… ”

I saw out of the corner of my eye the tutor make an impatient movement. However, she waited till I had finished before she pointed out that “perhaps” and “maybe” have no place in poetry.

“Every word has to count,” she said. “If something’s uncertain, dig deeper. Dig until you find out why you’re not certain – is it you or is it something else? And if so, what?”

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I was beta-reading the draft of a novel (not one of mine). Every now and again I came across a phrase using “may” to imply uncertainty:

She wanted to stay, but common sense told her there may not be any news for some time

I don’t mind the construction of the sentence, but I want to put “might not” there. May is present tense, might is past. The Oxford English Dictionary ( says:

Some people insist that you should use may (present tense) when talking about a current situation and might (past tense) when talking about an event that happened in the past. …  In practice, this distinction is rarely made today and the two words are generally interchangeable:

I might go home early if I’m tired.
He may have visited Italy before settling in Nuremberg.

With all due respect to the OED, I think this confuses the issue. The second example reads like an extract from an essay or an academic paper, in which an author’s thoughts are usually present tense. The present form, may, is acceptable in that context even though the sentence discusses events in the past. However, in fictional narrative where the commonest tense is the past (he did this, she did that), the past form of “might” is going to make more sense.

She hoped he hadn’t recognised her, because he might cause trouble.

With the tutor’s advice in mind I usually step back when I rewrite, and try to find another way of putting the same ideas without using this phrase. This first version only suggests that the main character is timid. I might (oops) rephrase it by writing more fully:

She hoped he hadn’t recognised her. He’d been violent in the past and she was afraid of him.

Getting around the need to use either may or might results in the second version which gives us a background for her anxiety. It isn't always necessary but small edits like this can prevent us jolting the reader out of their belief in what we are writing and also offer the chance to add extra depth to our story.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

COACHMAN - a spare chapter

Not all the scenes I wrote for COACHMAN made it into the final form of the novel. Here is an extract that might have been part of the final chapter:

The day they travelled north it was a sharp, bright morning, a day on which George was impatient to drive and irritable at the thought of sitting on a train with nothing to do. To make things worse, Lucy had remembered the smoked and sooted confinement of second class railway travel, and insisted he wore his oldest coat. Its shabby appearance laid another smudge across his mood.

A four-wheeled cab waited in the street with their belongings packed on the roof, the damaged writing case among them, strapped up with an old belt. However, George would not trust his whip up there, and carried it as always with the long lash looped and tied.

Mrs Bowe had wrapped herself in a shawl to lead the farewells. Tom Thetford stood by with a stolid face, and observed the fussing as though determined that no-one should have hysterics while he was about, while Mrs Bowe made sure that Betsy had securely wrapped her few possessions for the journey. Betsy herself was bundled inside a secondhand coat so large it appeared to be wearing her.

‘Now you girls,’ said Mrs Bowe, not really making any distinction between Lucy and Betsy, ‘look after yourselves, and make sure this coachman fellow does the same. I know what these driving men can be like. Betsy – you imp – behave yourself when you get to your new home – it’s a crying shame you leaving me to instruct a new girl from scratch – but it’s your good heart, I know – and I had rather see you go and look after Mrs Davenport than get yourself into trouble with young Robbie.’

‘I never went with ’im,’ muttered Betsy. She pretended to be engrossed in stepping on and off the doorstep.

‘I should think not,’ said Mrs Bowe. ‘I told you, you’re not allowed to have followers. You’re much too young.’

‘E’s walkin’ out with Lizzie Pearson now, anyway.’

‘Stop fidgeting,’ said Lucy.

George, with a wink at her, nudged Betsy’s shoulder. ‘There’ll be a score of sturdy lads come knocking at the door when we get to Kendal.’

‘Only if you introduce them to me first,’ said Lucy firmly, ‘and I arrange what evenings they’re allowed to call.’

‘There now,’ said Mrs Bowe, ‘that’s very fair, that is.’

‘But we shan’t let you hobnob with any old riffraff,’ added George. ‘They’ll have to present calling cards.’

‘Don’t be so foolish, Mr Davenport!’

‘Well, how else are we going to keep track of ’em all?’

Betsy giggled, and Mrs Bowe said, ‘Don’t give her ideas. Oh, dear, Lucy – I shall miss you! Go well and safely, my dear. Breathe deep of that north country air. I’m sure you’re going to have a beautiful healthy baby.’

‘I’ll write to you,’ promised Lucy, and hugged her, and all three women clung to one another.

‘Damned if I’d like to be seen carrying-on in the street,’ said Thetford, and turned to discuss the cab horse with George. ‘There’s been some quality there, y’know.’

‘Showing his age in the hind fetlocks, though.’

‘Ah!’ agreed Tom. ‘Well... I daresay it’s a good thing you’re leaving.’ 

George glanced at him, surprised by his quizzical tone. ‘I have to follow the work, if that’s what you mean.’

‘No. Not entirely. Seems to me there’s a young woman we both know, as gave a fair show of jealousy when she worked at the Swan. I recall as ’ow she come out special-like to travel with you on the Albion.’

George reddened, in spite of himself.  ‘She did.’

‘Kind of flattering, but I ’ope you didn’t do nothing about it.’ The wise old eyes gave nothing away.

‘I warned her off, Tom.’

‘I ’ope you did, for Mrs Davenport’s sake.’

George realized that Tom guessed what had happened, but the old man was a realist. Making a fuss over the truth would benefit no-one. As along as nobody asked him directly, he knew Tom would keep his suspicions to himself.

‘Mrs Davenport knows,’ he said, ‘And as for the young lady – she’ll get over it.’

The cabman, his gaze fixed on the horse’s ears, stolidly observed, ‘If yer party’s wishful to be at Euston for the ten o’clock train, better get in now.’

Tom took the hint, and shook George by the hand. ‘That proprietor in Kendal will be lucky to get you. I wish you all the best, I do, heartily, and Mrs Davenport and the baby too.’

George returned his handshake, liking the old man better than ever. The two of them stood irresolute for a moment before he said, ‘Well, I’d better disentangle these women, or we’ll be here the rest of the morning.’

Mrs Bowe startled him with a hug and a hard kiss on the ear, and when he escaped to help Lucy into the shabby interior of the cab, she showered advice on Betsy.

‘Remember to make yourself useful, gel! Get up early and don’t be to call – you riddle the fires and sift the ashes... make life easy for Mrs Davenport...’

George settled Lucy in a forward facing seat, and put Betsy opposite, where she sat excitedly waving farewell to Mrs Bowe and Thetford, even before the driver called to his horse and they set off. Lucy held her head high and felt for George’s hand, all the while staring rigidly out towards the great dome of St Paul’s. He knew she was struggling not to cry, and gave her tense fist a reassuring little shake.

He wasn’t sad to be leaving London. It wouldn’t be long before Sherman and Nelson and other less canny proprietors realized, as Chaplin had done, that the railway was an implacable competitor, and then they would sell out too, and the coach routes would die, and as they died he would have to seek work in more and more remote areas, and compete with more and more drivers out of place. He’d come here with an ambition to make his name, and instead he’d found that the best part of his driving career was over.

Lucy’s hand in his was a trust he mustn’t betray again. He wasn’t an irresponsible youth any longer, who could move on at a whistle and travel light.

They passed the Queen’s Hotel for the last time, and the Post Office, and somewhere in the clustered buildings behind it, the Swan. He watched as the cab bore him away, until it turned the corner into Newgate Street, and he couldn’t see even the buildings any more.

The complete book is available here: (Amazon USA)
or (Amazon UK)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Writer’s Monday

8.30 am
Feed starving cat and pony. Muck out stable. Note that it has snowed, but the snow is thawing.

9.00 am
Sit down at computer.
Send email to wife of celebrity asking for article for charity publication which I had volunteered to edit.
Condole by email with elderly friend in Australia, who has paid me previously to do various editing jobs, but is feeling very poorly today.

9.30 am
Check writing forum web site, another volunteer job. Discover 11 spam messages selling kitchens and one sarky verse from a member about same.
Grind teeth.

Go into admin panel and delete spammers and messages. Reset 4 lots of forum permissions to disallow new members from posting without approval.
Breathe sigh of relief.

10.00 am
Discover that resetting forum permissions doesn’t trickle down to individual categories. Go back into admin panel and reset seventeen categories.

10:30 am
Email forum owner to tell him what I’ve done. The only writing I’ve done so far this morning.

10.45 am
Catch husband on the point of departing with neighbour’s Land Rover and give him two customer book orders to be posted (pre-paid order, packed yesterday and postage paid online). A GOOD THING.

11.00 am
Field phone call from one of son’s idiot friends who would like to bring a 45 foot wagon trailer and do a changeover in our yard. Tell him that said trailer will not fit, and so neither will its changeover friend. Discourage idiot boy from calling again. He will.

11.10 am
Postman delivers, snow having melted sufficiently to allow him to get here in Royal Mail van. Retrieve post, hoping to find parcel of paper bags ordered a week ago ready for a farmer’s market bookstall on Saturday. No bags.
Open envelopes.

Elderly archaeologist with a fixation on a Roman cavalry settlement in Lancashire sends 2000 word article for perusal and comment. Last corresponded 8 years ago.
File in pending tray.

Legal Deposit Library communication from Edinburgh requesting 5 copies of 2 books for Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Oxford and Cambridge. This is A Good Thing, but it’s at my expense, not theirs – A Bad Thing. Luckily just to one central address so postage not horrendous.
Contact Print on Demand service and send order through for delivery.

Local Literary group requests me to go and talk to them on topic of my own choice. They will PAY me! A VERY GOOD THING.
File in pending tray.

11.30 am
Email from Pony breed society asking me to update their web site with advertisement and photos. A Moderately Good Thing – they pay. Update site.

12.00 mid-day
Need coffee. Discover husband’s melted snow boot prints across kitchen floor.
Clean floor and redecorate tracks from door to Rayburn to fridge to chair with thick glossy, coloured pages of health products catalogue. I knew they’d come in useful.

12.30 pm
Sit down with coffee and oatcake to write blog – the first creative thing I’ve done all morning.

1.00 pm
Blog written. Must write back to the Literary group.

1.15 pm
Email from web client, with photos, requesting update of site with offers for January.

Phone call from Pony breed society requesting photos from  last issue of magazine, which I edit - another volunteer job.

1.30 pm
Thinks: Will the Literary Group believe this?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mrs Chronism and her chatty daughter Verbal Anna

Since writing COACHMAN I've had a few conversations on the topic of conversation - as in, were the words I put in my characters' mouths actually current in the year 1838?

Well, yes they were.

Weren't "mate" and "kid" too modern for a Victorian coachman to use?

Well... actually, no.

Rest assured folks - when writing of characters in a past era, the dear old Oxford English Dictionary Online is an ever-open tab in my browser. It has a fantastic Historical Thesaurus which details when words appeared in print with quotations from the earliest examples of how they were used. (And the OED online is free to access if you have a library membership card. Just type in its number to sign in.)

Words I've looked up for earliest usage have included these: (dates below if you want to guess before I tell you!)

mate - my friend
kid - child
customer - client
sandwich - bread & filling
chit-chat - idle discussion
slipshod - careless workmanship
fusty - ancient and old-fashioned
upright - righteous
cash - ready money
brat - two meanings, child, and rough apron
cocky - my friend
daft - foolish
dasher - elegantly dressed and attractive person
gob - mouth
snotty-nosed - contemptible

I've had queries about the contemporary use of mate and kid in particular, which is why they are the top of the list.

One word I encountered in a mid-Victorian carriage driving book, An Old Coachman's Chatter (1890), was the term muff. You probably are familiar with its use for a hand-warmer, often of fur. My grandmother left me a fox-fur muff, complete with a head whose jaws were sprung so you could put a scarf or a pair of gloves into its grip. However, in that book, "muff" seems to have been a term of contempt - a stupid, inept, clumsy person; a klutz; and "muffish" described something badly done, not stylishly. It was so emphatically used in Edward Corbett's advice about how NOT to drive that I just had to check to see whether it was something I could use in 1838!

So here are the answers:

mate - my friend - 1380 "man" and 1500 a term of friendly address
kid - child - 1690
customer - client - 1480
sandwich - bread & filling - 1762
chit-chat - idle discussion - 1710
slipshod - careless workmanship - 1818
fusty - ancient - 1492; old-fashioned - 1609
upright - righteous - 1530
cash - ready money - 1596
brat - two meanings, child - 1557; and rough apron - 1691
cocky - my friend - 1693
daft - foolish - 1450
dasher - elegantly dressed and attractive person - 1807
gob - mouth - 1568
snotty-nosed - contemptible - 1682

Oh, and muff - inept person - 1819.

Happy word hunting.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Take a letter

I learnt a lot about the British postal service when I was writing COACHMAN.

One obvious reason for this was that my hero George Davenport aspired to drive a Royal Mail coach. Mails were well designed and well maintained, they were supplied with good quality horses and above all they were required to be fast. Other individual coaching routes perhaps exceeded the Post Office's average speed: a commercial stage coach, the Shrewsbury "Wonder," was timetabled to cover the 153 miles between that city and London in 15 and 3/4 hours including meal breaks and changes of horses. Its arrival in St Albans was so punctual that people regulated their watches and clocks by it, and in its latter years its average speed was said to have gone up to 15mph. That exceeded the fastest of the Royal Mail routes, Liverpool to Preston, which was 10.5 mph, and it more than doubled one of Royal Mail's slowest, the Kent route between Canterbury and Deal, which only managed 6 mph; but the sheer scale of the network that carried His (or later, Her) Majesty's Mail across the British Isles has to be admired. A letter posted from London at Monday teatime could be in Glasgow early on Wednesday afternoon.

The Royal Mail was assisted by laws such as the automatic right of way of the Mail coach on the road, its exemption from stopping to pay toll at toll gates, and the outlawing of letter carriage by any other means. The Mails were not just the best-organised and quickest method of transporting letters and parcels across the country: they were a Royal monopoly. While the Mail coachman was employed by the proprietor who supplied the horses, and was not directly responsible for the Mail, the guard was a Royal employee whose duty was to protect and carry the mails forward even when blizzards and floods might stop the coach itself - and these men carried out their duty so conscientiously that some of them died doing it. George, my coachman, was lucky not to encounter such conditions in his brief spell in this work.

Top two Iillustrations by John Sturgess in The Coaching Age

The annual procession of Mail coaches took place in May each year up to 1838, as shown in this drawing on the cover of COACHMAN. The 27 London Mails assembled in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The bang-up teams were provided by the coaching proprietors or lent by wealthy London "whips" and they trotted proudly through the streets of London to the West End of the city. They stopped to salute the Postmaster General in St James's Square, and then the reigning monarch in St James's Palace, before going on a circuit through Hyde Park and coming back into the city via Regent Street and Trafalgar Square. I decided that if George wasn't at that time a Mail coachman, he would be far better able to observe what was going on, and interact with people, which of course he could not have done as a driver on the coach, except at the assembly point.

In their daily work the Mail coaches all left London at the same hour each evening, 8pm, which enabled them to cover the busiest part of their route when the roads were quiet. This meant that the London inns which horsed the Mails were jam-packed with horses and staff up to 7.30pm, which was when the coaches went round the block to be loaded at the General Post Office in St Martins le Grand.

Illustration by Pollard.

They were a popular sight, hence George's admiration of them loading at the Swan with Two Necks. (The name of the inn is a corruption of "Swan with two NICKS" - the beaks of swans on the Thames are marked with notches to indicate ownership, and the two nicks, one either side, denote the Vintners' Company who were, of course, innkeepers!) Mails from provincial cities, however, left at all sorts of times, depending on the distances they had to cover. The Mail from Carlisle to Newcastle, for instance, left at 7 in the morning in company with the Scottish coaches for Edinburgh, Glasgow and Port Patrick, and reached its destination around 1 in the afternoon.

Another aspect of my story that had to be researched was postage itself. George had left Lucy behind in Carlisle when she was ill, which meant he had to keep in touch by letter. In order to put these little snapshots of their lives into the right places, I needed to know how long it would take to send and receive responses. Alan Bates' Directory of Stage Coach Services 1836 was invaluable as my starting point. I began to feel rather like a trainspotter as I flicked forward and back through the pages of Mail coach timetables.

I also needed to know how much Lucy would have to pay for her letter from Carlisle to London. In 1838 postage was still priced by distance and by number of sheets of paper, so even though I didn't have an example available I was able to calculate that one sheet cost 11 pence to travel that distance. In an era when the coach guard was paid ten shillings and sixpence for a week's work, it's clear that sending a letter over a long distance was not something that every person could have done, which we now expect almost as a right.

My grandmother owned old letters which had been written at that period of time, so even as a child I knew that there had been an age in which you either cut your letter short or you "crossed" the lines. Crossing meant writing on the same sheet of paper a second or even a third time, with the direction of the 2nd or 3rd set of lines being at 90 or 45 degrees from the first set. The Penny Post that was then being planned must have been a great improvement on this system.

My grandmother had a seal ring and several sticks of sealing wax. I never discovered how old they were but I do remember that they were bright red, hard and brittle.

During the re-writes of COACHMAN I discovered an antiques web site with Victorian seals for sale and I'm afraid lust overcame me. With the excuse that it was my birthday I splashed out and bought myself one. Its handle is delicately turned mother of pearl, with pierced silver mountings that hold the amethyst stone that forms the seal. I felt it must belong on a lady's desk, but even so when it arrived I couldn't believe how tiny it was. The jeweller must have gone half blind carving the black-letter "M" into its flat surface.

Well, I had to have a go with it, didn't I? I bought some sticks of sealing wax: two red and one gold, both of which would have been used in Victorian times, though a lady might have preferred the gold, or rose or some other colour, to the red.

That's when I discovered that modern sealing wax is softer and more flexible than the old wax I remember. The sticks I bought have a wick in the middle. Even when it's lit it is not very easy to use. There's an edge of danger in lighting a stick of wax in the midst of your correspondence and computer equipment, and a great deal of dexterity involved in handling the dripping wax. You have to get the blob to fall in the correct place on your document and then set the seal (right way round) onto the blob at just the right moment when it's beginning to set but has not yet hardened. It's difficult to get the M the right way up by ceiling-mounted electric light, but when I did it by candlelight it was very easy to see because the light is closer to desk level. Sealing a folded piece of paper to create a postable, private letter is tricky, but here's a photo to prove I did it. Complete with blobs that went astray in the process! Turning the corners under into a point like the flap of an envelope means you only need to seal it once.

And I'm still finding little round red test seals with an M stamped on them, hiding in my desk tray. I'm too fond of them to throw them away.


Victorian Historical Novel - COACHMAN -

"K M Peyton meets Malcolm MacDonald."

Good-looking and ambitious George Davenport travels to London with his bride Lucy, determined to make the most of his skill in driving a four-in-hand of horses. It’s 1838. Queen Victoria is crowned, and England is at peace, but it isn't a good time to be a coachman.

As George finds employment with William Chaplin, the “Napoleon of coaching”, the first railways are about to open across the country. Their competition will kill off the road-coaching trade. George loves both his work and his wife, so he has a lot to come to terms with… even before the boss’s daughter starts to stalk him.

Bates, A (compiler), 1969, Directory of Stage Coach Services 1836
Beaufort, Duke of, 1890, Driving.
Cross, Thomas, Autobiography of a Stage Coachman.
Dixon, H.H., 1895, Saddle and Sirloin.
Harper, Charles G., Stage Coach and Mail in Days of Yore
Harris, Stanley, 1885, The Coaching Age.
Mountfield, The Coaching Age
British Postal Museum and Archive
Vintners' Hall - Swan upping

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Next Next Big Thing (November 2012)

Lancastrian author Deborah Swift has tagged me in this blogging "chain" where authors write about their Works In Progress. Deborah is a "Word addict, book addict. Nature, art and poetry fan, and writer of thought-provoking historical fiction." I'll drink to that.

I joined in The Next Big Thing previously with a blog post about COACHMAN, which was then almost ready for publication and so is now out in paperback and for Kindle.

However, I'm now doing National Novel Writing Month and I'm starting afresh!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

1.) What is the title of your book?

2.) Where did the idea come from for the book?
In 1995 I had a novel published by J A Allen, AGAINST THE ODDS, and I've often thought of continuing the story of the two main characters Madoc and Sian. As it's now nearly 20 years since that book ended, this year's NANO was a great excuse to find out what has happened to them in the meantime.

3.) Under what genre does your book fall?
I am finding the characters pushing me into a murder mystery! I've never tried this genre before but it's one I read quite a lot. It won't be a police procedural, because I just don't have the background for that. I want to look at the way such a big event is both a result of change and an agent for change, in family relationships. It's also interesting to put my characters through a bit of hell, and yet set it in a local backdrop.

4.) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I would rather not type-cast, since it's better for readers to picture their own versions of heroes and heroines. Physically, many of my characters resemble people I have known at some time in my life. Although authors try to insist their people are entirely fictional that can't ever be true - we just hope nobody recognises a character trait that's been lifted. But if someone offered me Daniel Craig to play Madoc I wouldn't object! That's not only because he is famous and good looking. Daniel Craig is a Cestrian brought up on Wirral, as am I, and Madoc worked there for a long while in AGAINST THE ODDS, so their backgrounds would mesh.

5.) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Sian Owen's 18 year marriage to Madoc is in the doldrums and she has a brief fling with businessman Charles Humphreys, but it changes her life more than she expects when Charles is found murdered.

6.) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ve self published the last 3 of my books and will do the same with this, though not until it's ready. I think nothing does a greater disservice to self-publishing than badly edited and badly produced books. As it happens, I’ve designed the covers for all my books, including those produced by mainstream publishers. So it has been quite good fun to go it alone. It would be nice if an agent picked up my writing, but for now I’ll slog on with selling myself.

7.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I'm four days into NANO and have only got 7,000 words so far (and I'm procrastinating by writing this) but the outline is there for the rest. Having chosen the murder mystery structure I'm finding I have to be far more strict about which scenes I include at which points in the narrative - sticking far more closely to the 3-act pattern of stage drama. So my lifelong love of Shakespeare and the stage is of some use after all. Who knew?

8.) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I would like it to be as good as Josephine Tey's BRAT FARRAR, though the storyline is only similar in that there is a murder associated with a family who own horses.

9.) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Sian Davies and Madoc Owen were two characters I liked very much when I wrote AGAINST THE ODDS, and I've always meant to follow up on what happened after they married. Knowing your characters really well makes writing a great deal easier. Also, following them up means they can be nearer to my own age and experience, so I don't have to make so much up!

10.) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s a love story about a marriage that survives. (I'm beginning to see a recurring theme here.) How does a middle-aged marriage get over that falling-apart that happens when the kids are growing up and wanting to fly the nest? Is it possible for trust once broken to be reforged?


I originally sent this on to Mary Witzl but she is not blogging at the moment, being fortunate to have so much work she can't keep up with it all: "I've been lucky enough to find almost more work than I can do teaching English and Japanese, proofreading, editing, and, especially, writing. I am writing this to explain why I'm disappearing: I have so little free time now that I have to spend it on writing." Isn't that fabulous? Good luck, Mary, and remember to breathe!


Since Mary's busy life means she isn't blogging I will suggest you go on to read Kathleen Jones' blog. Kathleen has recently published her first historical novel, The Sun's Companion (reviewed here) but she has been writing since she was a child and has published ten books including six biographies and a collection of poetry. She lived for several years in Africa and the Middle East, where she worked for the Qatar Broadcasting Corporation. Since then she has written extensively for BBC radio and contributed to several television documentaries. Kathleen is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow. Her biography, "Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller" was published by Penguin NZ and by Edinburgh University Press.

--and also--
Suzie Tullet. Suzie says of herself: "Going Underground is my first novel and its setting was inspired by my observations of the Mod scene, having been married to a Mod for quite some time now. Of course, it's not a social critique in any way, it's an entertaining physical and emotional journey that uses the fun and nostalgic elements of Mod to weave a very human story - elements that we can all enjoy and identify with. I'm a full time writer, lucky enough to live between the UK and Greece. And when I'm not tapping away on the computer creating my own literary masterpiece, I usually have my head in someone else's."

I shall add links to a couple more authors' blogs very shortly.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A cob is a cob is a cob

I've been trying to explain to a carriage driving list in America that the word "cob" in Britain covers a multitude of animals. So, I thought I'd stick up a blog post about it.

It depends where you are and what you are doing, whether you hear all
the varied uses of the word "cob".

As a general term it means a stocky, powerful, active *type* of horse
"suitable for an elderly gentleman to enjoy a day's hunting" - ie, not too high off the ground, broad, loads of stamina, weight carrying and comfortable and above all well mannered. Breeding is not an issue - they can be part TB, part Shire or Clyde, part pony. They are shown trimmed out, no feather on the heels, mane often roached and tails pulled and cut fairly short (a nod to their hunting purposes). Not a breed as such. Often called a "show cob." Power, stamina and good manners make a cob a good driving animal for a country turnout.

"Coloured cob" means a broken-coloured/pinto/piebald/skewbald horse and usually one with a lot of mane, tail and feather. They are heavy-boned, often with a Fell or Dales pony close up in the ancestry but also Clydesdale further back. These are the type that came over from Ireland in the 50s and 60s and became popular with the tinker/potter men and are now famed as "gypsy horses" (before that, a gipsy horse was usually a Clydesdale cross, black or brown with white socks!) They have a couple of registries for *type* and are rapidly becoming a pedigreed breed in their own right though I can't say whether their stud book is a closed one - I suspect not, since I know people who sometimes breed small coloured cobs from registered Fell ponies. Shown in full mane/tail/feather as a "traditional" cob but occasionally trimmed out and shown as a "show cob". There are also "coloured" horses that are NOT necessarily cobs and these are referred to as "non-traditional" coloureds - they are shown trimmed.

Traditionals make good driving horses for trade and exercise/leisure/pleasure classes, and of course the bigger sorts can pull a "van" of any of the gipsy varieties. Non-traditionals have famously been included in coaching teams and competitive (HDTA/FEI) tandems.

Confused yet?

"Welsh cob" and "Welsh pony of cob type" are the stocky, active horses and ponies from Wales with historic pedigrees recorded by the Welsh Pony and Cob Society. They are a breed, although "Welsh pony of cob type, Section C" is for cobs under 13.2 hands and "Welsh cob, Section D" is for cobs over 13.2, and it depends on their height rather than their breeding which section they are registered in. "On the basis of height certified by a Veterinary Surgeon, the Society may sanction:
4.1 A transfer from Section A to Section B of stock which has grown over 12 hands.
4.2 A transfer from Section C to Section D of stock which has grown over 13 hands 2 inches.
4.3 A transfer from Section D to Section C of stock, seven years old or over, which does not exceed 13 hands 2 inches."(Registration regulations for Welsh ponies & cobs)

Often these are referred to a Section D or Section C cobs, with "Welsh" assumed from the word Section. (One of my gripes is that the Sec D cob in particular often doesn't look cobby any more but like a plump Arabian. And an Arabian is NOT a cob by any stretch of the imagination.) They vary from "hot" to "placid" as driving horses - can be very good, can also be very bad, and while they move spectacularly when seen from the side they often dish or plait at either front or back or both although the requirement for "true" straight movement is still mentioned in the Welsh breed standard.

Therefore!!! when you hear people in England talking about "a cob" they may mean one of several things. If you ask them to be more specific they will define what they mean by saying "show cob", "coloured cob" (traditional or non-traditional) or "Welsh Cob" (plus its section, C or D).

Here endeth the lecture.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Have just taken Jackdaw E Books' first phone call from a pukka bookshop: I totally fluffed it because they enquired if we were North Pennine Publishing. However, the order is processed and packed with our brochure, business card and invoice inside it.

Roll on November, NANOWRIMO and all associated bookery.

Jackdaw E Books

Saturday, October 27, 2012

DRAGON BAIT - free this weekend

Dragon Bait

Get this book free - 27th and 28th October 2012 - free e-book promotion

This one's got humour and horses that fly.

Princess Andra volunteers to act as bait for the dragon ravaging her father’s lands, on condition that she is released from an arrangement to marry a foreign prince.

Unfortunately the Knight Rescuer who turns up is not the trusty old retainer she expects, but an unknown conservationist who wants the dragon, not the lady. After that very little goes according to plan.

GENRE: Comic fantasy
Click here if you are in UK (you normally buy from the site)
Click here if you are in USA or India (you normally buy from the .com site)

If you take it please leave a review, and consider buying our other books! Jackdaw E Books

Friday, October 26, 2012

What's in a Mane?

This is one for native pony fans, and particularly those who like the Fell pony in all its currently Very Hairy glory.

Recently a friend posted a pic of a Fell mare, Linnel Pearl, who was champion ridden Native pony in 1936 at Islington - with no spare hair showing. (Nice photography, by the way - square on to the mare, and one step to the rear, which is far more flattering and representative than the modern habit of taking The Head On shot to get rider and horse faces together, and thus making feet and body appear tiny by comparison.)

Notice also that she had a star and white markings on both hind heels.

Anyway, here's the 1936 photograph, of Linnel Pearl trimmed-up for the show:
People who viewed it were surprised at how "thoroughbred" the pony looked in the trimmed state, and thought she looked quite different from a modern Fell pony. So I Photoshopped in the feather and mane and tail she might have had before trimming:
What do you think of her now?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

They're not fit let out on their own

Visitors staying in the converted barn are mostly delightful, but...

I have to say I worry about the common sense of some of our guests. We stipulate that the accommodation is non smoking; so most of our visitors don't smoke. If they do, they tend to smoke outside, so I put out a bucket they can use for their cigarette ends. Given our rainy climate the bucket usually has water in it. The trouble is, this seems to then extend their use to the dog's water bucket and the horse's water trough as extinguishing places. I can't believe that liquid nicotine and ash can be good for either of them. Today there is plastic picnic cutlery in the dog's bucket, too.

I have put up two notices on the stable doors that say "Please do not feed the horses." There are various reasons. One is that I've got greedy Fell ponies who are curious and will take something offered by hand which they would refuse if they met it in a bucket. They will very quickly learn that strangers offer food, and strangers' hands then become a target. I hate pushy horses who are constantly bullying for treats. Another and stronger reason is that when we have small children staying - and we frequently do - a greedy, nippy horse taught by the ignorant "feeders" would be dangerous to innocent patting, stroking hands. Yet another reason is that we had a group of smokers last year (ciggy butts in every bucket and trough) and I think they must have given one of the ponies tobacco to eat. That weekend Mr T had "the runs" something horrible for 24 hours, despite no change of diet. Townies just have no idea what is sensible to feed to a horse or how or when to feed it. And no consciousness of the dangers of their own ignorance.

This morning on mucking out I've found a paper plate in the stable. What part of "Do not feed the horses" don't they understand?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review: THE GILDED LILY by Deborah Swift

The Gilded LilyThe Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hadn't read the preceding novel by Deborah Swift so I came to this with an open mind. It's well and cleanly written with a good understanding of what both London and Westmorland must have been like in the 17th C. The dynamic between the two sisters keeps everything flowing along. I have to say I was rooting all along for Sadie, with her blemished face and gentle, skilful nature. I was relieved that after being locked in a rented room for several days she was able to escape (and this may be a crass thought - but I wondered about the sanitary arrangements :) ) Despite all the jeopardy that Ella's bull-headed, impulsive behaviour brings, it does give the plot its central power and also its resolution. Mind you a lot of the time I wanted to give her a resounding slap for her selfishness. I wanted to like her and couldn't, and that's really the only reason why I haven't given THE GILDED LILY five stars. It's a fine read and towards the end is a real page turner.

England, 1660. Ella Appleby believes she is destined for better things than slaving as a housemaid and dodging the blows of her drunken father. When her employer dies suddenly, she seizes her chance--taking his valuables and fleeing the countryside with her sister for the golden prospects of London. But London may not be the promised land she expects. Work is hard to find, until Ella takes up with a dashing and dubious gentleman with ties to the London underworld. Meanwhile, her old employer's twin brother is in hot pursuit of the sisters.

Set in a London of atmospheric coffee houses, gilded mansions, and shady pawnshops hidden from rich men’s view, Deborah Swift's The Gilded Lily is a dazzling novel of historical adventure. (less)
Paperback, 336 pages
Expected publication: November 27th 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published September 13th 2012)

1250001900 (ISBN13: 9781250001900)

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review - The Sun's Companion - Kathleen Jones

The Sun's CompanionThe Sun's Companion by Kathleen Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my kind of book - clear, understated, chronological, full of little details that bring the immediate pre World War 2 era to life. Anna's and Tamar's lives are given alternate attention so that the gradual unfolding of the story retains my interest. Although they enter the book as barely-teenagers and are shown as relatively powerless in their society/families due to youth and being girls, neither of them is a cypher and they each have distinct characters and ambitions.

In many ways this novel is about the shadows that lie beneath each character's story. Tamar is never quite sure whether she is Sadie's legitimate daughter or not; Anna takes years to recover from her childhood rape in Germany. Kathleen made me deeply sympathetic towards both of them as they journey into the war years and womanhood. The people they meet, love and hate are all solidly realised and have their own motivations. Anna and Tamar are not high minded fantasy heroines, but real and believable people who cope in realistic ways with the necessities of wartime life.

I shall look forward to reading the sequel.

View all my reviews

Kindle Edition, 439 pages
Published September 8th 2012 by The Book Mill
It's 1935. Tamar Fell has no family - or so she's been told - and she relies on the friends she makes as she's dragged from lodging house to lodging house by her mother - the reckless, beautiful Sadie. Then Tamar meets Anna Weissmann, exiled from her own family by European politics, and they forge a friendship that will last through bereavement, failed love affairs, internment, betrayal, and the dislocations of war.

Monday, October 8, 2012

An absence of dragons

Blissful, that’s what it is.

After six months of rain, cloud, wind and mud that even an Englishwoman couldn’t call Summer, we have our third day in a row of sparkling October sun. I’ve opened the windows and changed the bed, and the sheets are actually washed and out on the line and not drooping round the house.

I like working from home. There are drawbacks of course. One of them is a tendency to eat breakfast at the computer while I catch up on Facebook, or check that the writing forum hasn’t gone berserk. I do this mainly to postpone reading the e-mails that have come in overnight.

The wet, miserable summer has meant I’ve done far more writing than normal. I’ve polished three books this year – copy edited, proofed, typeset, be-Kindled, covers designed and uploaded to print on demand, and ten of each delivered last week as potential giveaways and samples. I’ve built myself another web site and got my tax return in early. I’ve registered for an American Employee Identification Number and filled in forms to stop Uncle Sam withholding 30% from my earnings over there.

On Friday I enveloped my sales brochures, trade terms and promotional blurbs for bookshops and broadcasters. On Saturday I posted them.

Now I feel like a mother whose children have been miraculously swept away to their grandparents. It’s a curious sensation, to have nothing driving me. The crystalline beauty of crocuses and colchicums isn’t urging me to poetry. My ambitious young coachman isn’t fighting off women, my grumpy old bat isn’t cuffing her grandson for misbehaving, my princess isn’t flying a mission across country on a dragon. I’ve stopped to brush up the crumbs of cereal from under the desk. The house in my head is empty.

I suppose this is what’s called peace.

I know it won’t last. The advertising will kick in and people will start asking for interviews and talks and books (with any luck) will start selling. I want to do NANOWRIMO, and I’ve only got three weeks to get a plot sorted out, but whether I do or not, I will certainly gather up some rejected story and start re-building it.

Only not today. Today I’m going to submit to peace. I’m learning a Welsh tune for the harp, and my head needs to hold nothing more. A lost battle, remembered by a lament a thousand years old.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

National Poetry Day: 4 October 2012

It is possible to "name a star" after someone. Since July last year, there is one called Naomi.


I missed you by a quarter of an hour.
I should have hurried through my morning shower,
missed eating breakfast in the sleepy sun
or read no emails, or replied to none;
denied the summery procrastination
of that prettier route to my destination.

I miss you from the house when I arrive –
everything silent that was once alive.
The nurses meet me at the stair. Their kind,
practised updating powerblasts my mind.

I miss you from that waxy sleeplike face.
Your thin hands curl without their living grace –
no mischief – tickling doctors, climbing trees
or treating dollies for your own disease.
It's you with self subtracted. And I wail
till my throat hurts me like a swallowed nail.

I'll miss your heart, the things forever not –
the family, the life you’d yet to plot,
the cure you’ll never find – the future star
that cannot now outshine the one you are.

Requiescat Naomi
31 August 2005 – 15 July 2011

Video links about English coaching and driving (Bluffers' guide part 3)
The Bowman and Sutherland families - preview of the TV programmes recently on Sky. The Sutherlands do chuck-wagon racing, the Bowmans do Horse Driving Trials and Coaching; they had a go at each other's sports. The English section starts at 6 mins 11 seconds. This is a late 19th C stage coach (not a Mail) with hand-lever brakes operated both by driver and guard. Notice the horses are in full neck collars, unlike the breast collars that are popular for modern competitions.

If you're quick you can spot me and my daughter at 8:39 and 9:04 (we were in costume, though I admit NOT with any degree of accuracy) on the coach at Naworth Castle. We were aboard during the gallop up the hill to Naworth (black and grey lead-horses).
and - One of my mare's early driving show classes. Notice that my carriage is well balanced and well built so it makes very little noise over the grass, and you can hear Ruby breathing in rhythm to her movement. Other people's carriages are much more noisy. - a little schooling at home with my late grand-daughter Naomi. - this is a curricle, albeit shown in Spain, not in England. To be totally correct as a privately driven vehicle it should have straps from the horses' collars, not chains, to the head of the pole out front. Notice how the weight of the groom behind is needed to make the turnout balance over the axle. You can't drive one without a groom back there.

And for stylish pure English driving and rein handling: The carriage parade for Trooping the Colour 2012.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Bluffers' Guide to Horses and Carriages (part 2)

In the TV series "The Tudors" 19th century carriages were shown conveying certain grand personages about on behalf of Henry VIII. WRONG. This was the point at which I began to shout at the screen. Coaches were not in use even by Royalty until his daughter Elizabeth I's reign, and they were uncomfortable, jolting unsprung things suspended on leather braces. Elizabeth complained of being badly bruised from being thrown about in a coach that had been driven too fast, and she was a fairly hardy lady. There was no glass in the windows at this time (guess why) and wheels were shod with iron rims.

17th Century
Lots of authors forget that in a city, it was often convenient to travel in a sedan chair. Of course it didn't allow of company unless on foot, on horseback or in another sedan chair, but it had a lot of advantages over a horsedrawn carriage in the city. It was narrow and manoeuvrable so it could take you to places many carriages could not go, and the motive power understood speech! Also, in London and other cities based on a major river, watermen provided a taxi service up, down or across the water. John Taylor the "Water Poet" complained in "The World Runs On Wheels" that hackney carriages were taking away the ferrymen's business.

Steel springs made an appearance in the 1660s, and Sam Pepys remarked on them on a coach in London. He bought himself a private 4 seater carriage and two black horses, and probably employed a man to drive; and he seems to have been happy with his purchase, despite having to pay £2 to replace the glass in a window.

Commercial coaches were starting to appear on the roads. These were "stage" coaches which changed horses at inns along the road. One "stage" of its journey would be anything from 8 to 15 miles depending on the nature of the terrain. In winter, warmth for the passengers' feet was provided by filling the floor with straw - it works, but could be infested with livestock ranging from woodlice to fleas and even mice, depending on the diligence of the stable staff in providing clean straw.

18th Century
By 1688, stage coaches ran from London to 88 different towns and by 1705 this increased to 180. However, Mail coaches were not seen until after the Post Office adopted John Palmer's suggestion to convey letters by coach instead of on horseback, following a successful experimental run from Bristol to London in 1784.

Smart light two wheeled vehicles for private use, such as gigs and dog carts, became popular from the 1800s onward. Four wheelers such as the various forms of phaeton were common. But for independence and access to open country, to make your own way to a destination, you rode - and were liked all the better for your active character, as opposed to being carried lazily about by carriage.

As for the curricle, that vehicle so beloved of the romance author, like a tandem of horses driven to a gig it was racy and showy and difficult and inherently unsafe... so beware which of your gentlemen you put at the reins. It was an owner-driven carriage. (I mean, you don't buy a Ferrari and let a chauffeur drive.) And don't forget that with a pair or team your whip, no matter how skilful, needs a groom behind him. Why? Common sense and safety... and the blasted curricle wouldn't balance without him.

Manpower and brakes
A gentleman driving his own carriage and four would have had one man, and more likely two, to see to tangles or mishaps with the horses. In Regency Buck, the hero tells off the heroine for driving his team with no groom to help her, because her passenger has an injured arm. Georgette Heyer knew her stuff.

Not even an exceptional "whip" - male or female - would ever have driven without a servant, because early coaches and carriages had no brakes. Down gentle inclines the horses could hold the carriage back with the harness, but on steeper ones the footman or guard got down and fitted an iron drag shoe under the gutter-side hind wheel. At the bottom of the hill, he got down again, the whip backed the team so the carriage wheel rolled off the shoe, and the guard picked it up by its chain and hung it on the hook again - not touching it, because it was hot from the friction! The guard or groom had to deal with broken harness, kicking horses and so on... or just to hold the horses when the driver and passengers got down at their destination.

19th Century
Hand or foot operated brakes were late Victorian inventions which eased the work because the coach did not have to stop. They could still only slow the coach downhill; when loaded it weighed between 3 and 4 tons and the wooden brake shoes only operated on a 6 inch by 2 inch area of each wheel rim, so brakes couldn't stop it completely. Equally, rubber tyres for wheels were not invented till the 19th century, and they were solid, not pneumatic. Vehicles with rubber tyres tended not to have brake-blocks because they pulled the rubber off the wheels.

The idea of a "parking" brake didn't arrive until the advent of the internal combustion engine... a carriage you could turn off when you stopped. There are contemporary stories of coach teams being left unattended at inns, and taking fright or assuming a noise behind meant they were to start, galloping off with the coach with no driver at the reins... Horses require manpower, time and knowledge. Therefore - pretty please, authors - your characters driving a carriage can NOT abandon it at the roadside like a car, unless you want to plot a horrendous accident. You always need someone to take charge of the horses.

If you've got to describe a carriage drive or even a ride, it probably pays not to be too clever. Even simple things are very easily got wrong! For instance, you all know reins are for steering, and probably that traces come back from the horses' neck-collars to pull the carriage... the difference between the two purposes may seem obvious, but I've seen a mainstream published novel confuse the two.

Coachmen and good drivers held the reins in their left hand in an understated, workmanlike English coaching style and steered by turning the wrist, or by helping with their right hand which also carried the whip. They wouldn't drive with a rein (or two reins) in each hand; not unless you want to set them up to be ridiculed by their fellow drivers. For sheer style, watch any video of a British Royal parade with coachman driven carriages... the 2011 Royal wedding, or Trooping the Colour.

There is a big difference between sporty owner-driven carriages like phaetons (yes, and gigs and curricles), and sober coachman-driven carriages like barouches. It's very easy to get lost in their subtleties. For instance: pole chains. They were used to steer and stop commercial coaches, carriages and coachman driven vehicles, while pole straps denoted owner driven private vehicles... Probably best not to go into it too deeply unless you are prepared to read specialist books. Even the sainted Ms Heyer occasionally got things wrong.

Phew - I'd better leave waggons and farm carts and commercial trade carts for another day.

There, that got your attention, didn't it? I saved the best bits for the end.

Don't forget we have three genders in horses who are used as transport. There's the intact adult male, the stallion; the female, the mare; and the gelding, who is an equine eunuch and was probably "attended to" fairly brutally at the age of 18 months or so. Most working horses were geldings, whose lack of sexual interest made them easy to manage even for inexperienced staff.

Mares are the natural leaders in a herd situation - so they can be bossy. If they aren't in foal they come into "season" every three weeks from early spring to late summer, which means they may be distracted as well. Stallions have a sex-drive that rises and falls with time of year - up in early spring and throughout the summer, down again as autumn comes. To deal with either stallions or mares successfully takes tact and good horsemanship. So please don't have your heroine ride a stallion, unless you can also write about how she manages him in the company of strange mares, who will flirt by peeing at him if they're in season and try to kick his teeth in if they aren't. (Don't you love how horses can be upfront and obvious? My two favourite Fell ponies have been mares.)

In Black Beauty Anna Sewell tactfully fails to mention such matters, so generations of readers may well have assumed that Beauty's lack of sexual commentary simply meant that he had excellent manners, and that he was capable of retiring to stud and begetting. This is, sadly, very unlikely.

One final note
A horse in war, in a carriage, hunting or doing any other kind of work will NOT neigh or whinny when in a stressful situation - eg, battle or accident. You may hear a snort of fright, or a grunt of pain or effort, then the sound of hooves galloping rapidly away. Unlike movie heroines, horses do not scream.

Monday, October 1, 2012

You didn't know I was limited, did you?

In order to garner my Amazon Kindle sale money earned in America, I am going to have to approach the USA IRS and ask for an Employee Identification Number. If I don't, then the IRS will withhold 30% of my earnings as tax, and I certainly don't want 30 dollars of every hundred I earn going into the coffers of the White House for Mitt Romney nor even the rather nicer Barack Obama. Our own HMRC is going to try and knock tax off the remaining income for having been earned overseas anyway.

Running down the list of how-to's here from David Gaughran I noted that I might need to be a "company."

Although I'm a member of a committee that runs an equine breed society as both a charity and a limited company and so I am technically a director, I've never incorporated myself before. It was a scary thought. My husband was self employed for forty years and never traded as a limited company. But I shall be sixty in a couple of months. I'm a big grown up girl. I can do this!

I had already printed my books with the press name of Jackdaw E Books.

I was very cautious. I went to the Companies House web site with expectations of it being complex and expensive, but in fact it wasn't. I only entered my own name and address details. I said I was the director and had no secretary, that I owned 1 ordinary share and it was worth £1, and that there were no other shareholders.

I had to give various snippets of information like the first three letters of my mother's maiden name, in lieu of signature. At the end of the form, which validates the data and corrects you if you leave anything out, I waltzed off to PayPal, paid £15, and the deed is done. I am now "Jackdaw E Books Ltd" (with no full stop).

Since this ought to enable me to save $30 on every $100 from Amazon I reckon it was well worth doing. I'll have to post the company details on the web site, but that's easy enough, once they send me the company registration number.

I just have to make that transatlantic phone call now. Does anyone know what time it is in Philadelphia?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Bluffers' Guide to Horses & Carriages (part 1)

I've joined several forums for historical novelists recently while I've been completing COACHMAN. Reading some of their book previews on Amazon it has dawned on me that while historical novelists seem interested in being authentic about costume and weaponry, I've only found two who have any direct knowledge about horses, and one who understands carriages.

Given that until the start of Victoria's reign (or William IV if you are a Liverpudlian) the fastest means of transport anywhere was either a well bred horse or a well-horsed carriage, this seems rather strange. It's a bit like writing about modern London and not knowing that you can get your character across the city far more easily by Tube than by Ferrari.

Allow me to make some helpful information available!

Even for late medieval knights, war-horses were not huge beasts. (The modern Shire horse of 17 hands or more was developed for agricultural use, well after gunpowder put an end to the mounted armoured knight.) Ann Hyland proposes that the 15th C knight's "destrier" was likely to have been a sturdy cob type of about 15-2 hands. This type of horse was a "square gaited" animal who walked, trotted, cantered or galloped.

Horses for general riding were probably not taller than 15 hands, often smaller, and frequently they were "lateral gaited" or "soft gaited", which means they walked and cantered but their in-between gait was a pace, rack or amble, rather than a trot. All these were more comfortable than a trot; the pace is similar to that of a fast moving camel or giraffe, with the legs on each side moving at the same time (watch videos of harness-racing pacers). The amble was a rapid, level, shuffling movement. Over good going the rack, like the pace, could be quite fast. Horses that moved in this comfortable way were amblers or palfreys, popular mounts for both ladies and gentlemen.

Horses for racing or hunting were "coursers", ie running horses, who moved "square" like the knight's destrier; they trotted when not galloping, and even the racehorses were not large. Many early thoroughbreds were under 14 hands high.

A useful type from Shakespeare's time onward was the Galloway, originally a type from south-west Scotland. Later the term became a generic one (like Hoover for vacuum cleaner) for any sturdy, sensible small cob of 13 to 14-2 hands. They probably looked much like a Highland, Dales or Fell pony, though for practical reasons they probably didn't carry anywhere near as much hair on neck, tail or fetlocks ("foot locks") as their modern counterparts do.

Women travelling would have a choice of riding pillion behind husband or brother; rich ladies could ride side-saddle; or ride in a litter, which was a covered seat carried on 2 long poles, suspended either side of a horse before and behind.

Modern endurance horses ridden intelligently at suitable paces for the terrain can cover anything from 25 to 50 or even 100 miles in a day. This isn't just the racy Arabian types; I know a Fell pony that has completed a 100 miler in less than 18 hours. Bear in mind that the riders don't flog on at full gallop, which being anaerobic activity would rapidly exhaust the horses' energy; they go at the pace that suits the country they have to cover, and much of that is aerobic, steady trotting or cantering, with intervals of walk to allow the horse to have a breather.

Military dispatch riders galloped, of course, and covered short distances of 3 or 4 miles in a quarter of an hour (12 to 16 MPH); but ridden horses for civilian travellers over longer distances would average no more than 6 MPH, so a day's journey was probably no more than sixty miles and often much less if roads were bad. Working horses in a city were often forced to walk because of other traffic, and there were few highway regulations to ease their passage.

Unlike cars, horses do need recuperation time before they can reasonably be expected to make another journey. This involves them being groomed, fed with grain and hay, and given water to drink and a stall under shelter in which they can stand quietly and perhaps sleep - though horses can sleep standing up and tend only to lie down for short periods.

Part 2 will look at travelling by carriage and coach.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The next big thing?

English Historical Fiction Authors on Facebook have been writing blog posts based on ten interview questions about their latest Works in Progress. I thought I'd join in.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

1.) What is the title of your book?

2.) Where did the idea come from for the book?
A neighbour of ours mentioned that her family’s fortunes had been made by her great-grandfather who had been a coach proprietor in London. He was William James Chaplin (no relation to Charlie). In 1994 she asked me to transcribe a letter written by Chaplin, which a bookseller had bought at auction and brought to show her. Neither of them could read his writing, but I could… I wrote an article for “Carriage Driving” magazine about his career, but I wanted to do more with it. And it simply had to be a novel – the themes were too big for anything else.

Some of the phrases Chaplin used in that letter appear in his conversations in Coachman. Our neighbour also gave me a copy of the family tree, and permission to write the novel.

3.) Under what genre does your book fall?
Historical fiction. It isn’t really a romance in the usual sense.

4.) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

George – Tom Ellis. Chaplin – I’d love to see him played by Kenneth Branagh. For Lucy and Sarah – I’m not au fait with the names of young actresses, can’t think why. The main thing would be to portray their character, though.

5.) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Ambitious coachman George Davenport travels to London with his bride to take up a new job, but he discovers that his boss's daughter has designs on him that have nothing to do with his driving.

6.) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’ve self published the last 3 of my books. As it happens, I’ve designed the covers for all my books, including those produced by mainstream publishers. So it has been quite good fun to go it alone. It would be nice if an agent picked it up but for now I’ll slog on with selling myself.

7.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The idea has been there for 18 years! It took all that time for the internet resources to appear, like Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive, where I could read the full text of coaching books that were long out of print and hideously expensive to buy secondhand. The MS took about five months, but I kept going back and rewriting, developing the storylines, then putting it away and coming back and rewriting yet again. It’s been the messiest thing I’ve ever written, because I had to do a lot of U turns – into the history, then back to the characters. Lots of “killing my darlings” as the story itself straightened out in my head and much of my research became unnecessary. I probably have half a novel in the “spike” folder on my computer; journeys George made, and people he met, both before and after this story is told.

8.) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Malcolm MacDonald’s “World From Rough Stones” sequence. I don’t know yet whether I will follow George and Lucy any further, but I certainly like them enough to consider it.

9.) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My own great-grandfather was a coachman. I’ve been involved in carriage driving since 1985, and when I’m interested in a subject I read widely round it so I have shelves full of books about the coaching age, plus lots of stuff in PDF format.

There are many historical novels set during the age when the horse was the fastest thing on the road, and a few written about the dawn of the railway age, but there’s nothing – so far as I know, anyway – about what happened to the men who had been the Knights of the Road and whose work suddenly vanished. So I thought it was time to redress the balance. Of course, that one thread as the main theme of the book wasn’t enough; I had to make up characters and relationships that would be interesting, too. I knew I had to invent people whose lives would touch Chaplin’s, so I could show what might have happened to the drivers, stablemen and horses when railways took the heart out of coaching.

My great-grandfather was in domestic service, not on a commercial route, and he lived 50 years after Chaplin’s time, but his existence in my family tree gave me a name to hang my story on: George Davenport. And my great-grandmother really was called Lucy Hennessy, though she didn’t live in Carlisle and my relatives will no doubt be relieved to hear that I have completely invented her unpleasant mother and their unsavoury history. The religious belief that sustains Lucy in the novel is a known factor in the emotional survival of modern victims of child abuse.

Chaplin had a patriarchal number of children, including twin girls, Marianne and Sarah. Sarah was the only one of his children who died unmarried (not counting Rosa who died aged 8 and Horace who died in infancy). Nothing is known of Sarah Chaplin, so I could safely invent whatever reasons I liked to account for her spinster status. I’ve suppressed any mention of her twin sister for the sake of simplicity. My decision to make her obsessed with power sprang from her father’s dedication and the observation of a former coachman, who remarked that Chaplin’s business was founded on “systematic application ... in which the female members of the family were called to assist.”

Many of the drivers mentioned in Coachman were real people in the Golden Age of Coaching: the Ward brothers, for instance, and deaf George Eade. I’ve invented the less attractive ones like Anderson. Some of the real coachmen, such as Cross, wrote autobiographies during their twilight years for the benefit of Coaching Revivalists in later Victorian times. Their works were rich sources for this novel.

10.) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s a love story about a marriage that survives – not perhaps a popular theme today, but probably true of its time. We think now of 1837/8 as the year of Victoria's Accession and Coronation and the opening of the Victorian age, but it was pivotal in England's history because huge changes began in industry due to the opening of the railways. It’s that change which is the catalyst for many of my book’s central events.

There are threads about abusive family relationships, and about same-sex relationships which were still punishable by hanging at that time; so it’s by no means a fluffy fantasy set in a past era as an excuse for heaving bosoms, tight breeches and randy behaviour. Books like that really annoy me as they are so often inaccurate on the history, habits and behaviour of the time in which they pretend to be set.

Victoria’s Coronation year had lots of celebrations, rather like 2012's Olympics and Diamond Jubilee, so it was fun to set my characters against those colourful backdrops.


For links to other author's blogs please see my Next Big Thing post for November 2012.

HIstorical writers = hysterical

One hasty plea before bed time: I do wish that writers of historical fiction would check their facts before making their heroines attempt anything with horse transport other than sitting decoratively inside or on the box seat.

A man driving a team of 4 horses would have a groom sitting or standing behind on the carriage to attend to them in case of difficulty or breakage. He would not need a heroine to interfere.

Horses attached to carriages cannot be held still by a brake - especially when at the date of the story brakes on wheels were yet to be invented. Even when brakes had been invented, they didn't work as a "parking brake" in order to leave a team unattended, not even if the heroine ties the reins to the pole (not something I would attempt in trousers, let alone in a dress). Our author is thinking carriage = car. Not so.

And for goodness' sake, tidy up typos and wrong words and run-on comma-punctuated sentences before you stick a story onto Amazon Kindle.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Historical Novel - laid bare (Part 1)

No novel has ever taken me so long to write as Coachman, which has gone onto Kindle in the past few days and will be in print shortly. Here is a taster of the background, which is included in full at the back of the novel in both formats.


In the 1990s I had the idea that I would chronicle the life of William James Chaplin, who was a huge force in the London coaching business in the 1820s and 30s.

The Dictionary of National Biography says of him:

Chaplin, William James (1787–1859), transport entrepreneur, was born on 3rd December 1787 at Rochester, Kent, the son of William Chaplin, a coach proprietor on the Dover road, and his wife, Eleanor. Chaplin was educated at Bromley, and on 11 July 1816 married Elizabeth Alston at St Nicholas, Rochester. They had sixteen children.

About 1823 Chaplin succeeded William Waterhouse at the Swan with Two Necks inn, Lad Lane, London, and he was to become the largest ever coach proprietor. In 1827 his coach business employed 300 to 400 horses; by 1835 this had risen to 1200. As well as three London inns, he had extensive stables at Purley, Hounslow, and Whetstone, and was said to employ 2000 people. In 1836 he had ninety-two coaches leaving London every day, serving all the main roads from the city. He horsed fourteen of the twenty-seven mail coaches leaving London each night. His annual turnover was said to be £500,000.

Chaplin’s vision was so clear that when the railways came to change long-distance travel he was able instantly to step back and rebuild his business in relation to the new technology. He liquidated all his coaching assets, though he kept the inns, and he went away for six weeks to Switzerland to do his planning. Once his carrier partnership with Benjamin Worthy Horne was established, he invested heavily in railways.

The few stories about Chaplin that are recorded in books by his contemporaries all show him in an affectionate light. He was largely responsible for the abolition of heavy brutal driving whips in London’s coaching trade, and despite his nickname “Bite-Em-Sly,” everybody he employed seemed to like him. He was elected MP for Salisbury, and at his death his business was worth around £300,000. A thoroughly solid, sound, clever fellow.

When I realised how damn boring that story would be – Dallas with only the nice bits on display – I knew I had to invent someone whose life would touch his, so I could show what might have happened to the drivers, stablemen and horses when railways took the heart out of coaching.

My own great-grandfather was a coachman. He was in domestic service, not on a commercial route, and he lived 50 years after Chaplin’s time, but his existence in my family tree gave me a name to hang my story on: George Davenport. And my great-grandmother really was called Lucy Hennessy, though she didn’t live in Carlisle and my relatives will no doubt be relieved to hear that I have completely invented her unpleasant mother and their unsavoury history.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Kindle Direct Publishing

I've had some books on KDP for a while - they do sell, where paperbacks don't seem to. So... I've taken the plunge and put THE FORTHRIGHT SAGA onto KDP Select - the Amazon promotions thingie - to see how it goes.

I did my first free days of Promotion from 14-16 September, while I got the paperback sorted. Yes, from Friday to Sunday you coulddownload the book FREE!

It was downloaded over 400 times in those 3 days, but whether those were people who were just tasting or people who would have bought it at £2.99, who knows?

Reviews on Amazon or elsewhere would be nice - and if you also let me know where you've reviewed, that would be even nicer.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Driving, dear Google, is not necessarily in a car

OOh you couldn't make it up.... I have just had a phone call from a youngish man wanting driving lessons, and he said he'd found our phone number through Google. I teach carriage driving, and he said he was a beginner, so I listened and looked out an appointment for him.

It wasn't till he asked for 2 consecutive days of lessons *because he wanted to drive to Oxford in the car he had just bought*, that I gently broke the news to him.

I didn't mention the fact that he needed a licence and to pass both his theory and practical driving tests. I thought it might be too much for him to take in all at once.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Time to start making a noise

Our family has a question that instantly sorts potential friends from eejits: "What noise does a bale of hay make?"

Having owned sheep, cows and goats, and currently two Fell ponies, we know that it is perfectly logical to say that a bale of hay makes a noise like breakfast. Take one into a field in winter and you will be surrounded by a drooling, bleating/mooing/whinnying mob.

The parallel question to this is, "What noise does a book make?" Of this I'm not so sure. My own books make noises like horses, most of the time, but there are a lot of people in them, some of whom talk in dialect, others who are equine experts and talk in Horse Code, and some of whom are as wild as I would have liked to be in my Church College youth, where staying out till 1 am was regarded as Wicked and Naughty, likely to get you Bad Grades (I was usually in the As and Bs) and a sign that your future was likely to be Extremely Suspect. I wish it could have fulfilled their expectations.

All of which is really a long way round to saying that Jackdaw E Books is now up and running, in order to publicise the books I have already had published, and get the new ones out there without spending my whole life pitching to agents the way we used to pitch to publishers.

Like many people who write, I dislike having to pigeon-hole what I write and shoe-horn it into a marketable "genre," when what the mind does best is to write outside the formulae.

I turn mythology upside down. I make old women solve crimes by accident instead of by being nosey. My historical hero's career looks promising but then goes downhill amid emotional complications, instead of soaring to cosy success.

I have looked at publishing services as well as vanity outfits who promise to "publish your book on Kindle" or "publish your novel in hardback" for sums that appear to start at £1,000 and roar off into multiples.

But I've taught computing and desktop publishing and web design for years. I've published for other people, including the Fell Pony Society's twice-yearly magazine. I can copy edit, proof, set up files, create covers and produce a book myself. The only things the "services" do that I'm not well accustomed to are marketing and distribution.

Enter the website, the blog and Facebook. The only thing I can't bear is Twitter. (I'm on there, but to me it's just that - twittering. Who has the time to tweet every fifteen minutes, as well as writing? Apart from HM's Press Office, the Government, Stephen Fry, Philip Schofield and Alan Sugar? Not me.) There are services available to get your books listed on the commercial databases, and if you've got a stock of stories to put out there it's much, much cheaper to buy a batch of ISBNs and enlist the services of a good printer and distributor than it is to buy the services of a company who all want your money to pay THEM for doing the same.

I'm determined that my books are not going to be a disgrace to the term "self publishing." They're going to have decent covers, containing accurately produced text that has been heated and hammered and tempered and reheated until it tells the story the right way. They'll have ISBN numbers and be available in bookshops as well as in digital form.

If I get the first few out of the way I have one print-published book that I want to digitise too.

It's truly "pain in the neck" hard work, but self publication and doing the figures myself is a damn sight more satisfying than trying to explain to an agent why I think the way I do. Once I've got these first three out of my hair and persuaded a few people to review them, perhaps I can settle down to write the rest of the stories that are in my head.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Insults a la carte

I see via Murderati that there is a "Shakespearean Insult Kit" comprising words the Bard employed. I rather enjoy Bardic vitriol. I once rehearsed in King Lear as Goneril and was joyously enabled to scream "milk-liver'd man!" at my husband on stage.

As a theatre director Ngaio Marsh must have taught many young actors to handle Will's bad language. She has fun with some of her playwright characters in various novels, particularly Dr Rutherford who scorns someone by pronouncing, "Get you gone, you dwarf - you minimus of hindr'ing knot-grass made, you bead, you acorn."

Myself, I'd be tempted to add the good old Midlands word "orts" that has been out of use now for three generations. Shakespeare used it in the phrase "abjects, orts and imitations" - things thrown aside as of no use, waste, or bad copies. The phrase has been misinterpreted as "objects, arts and imitations" but I know the word "orts" existed because my grandad used to say when you left food on your plate, "eat it up, I don't want your orts." It would combine well with some of our Cumbrian insults, I think. "Thou's nobbut an ort. Waste of a good skin."

Mind you in Cumbria we have a great many placenames and hill names that could be used as insults. Zoe Sharp suggested "Eeh, you great wet sleddle." To that I'd like to add, "E's nobbut a Subberthwaite," and "Thou's a Great Cockup."

More on names another time. I have to go now, I'm feeling a bit Witherslack.