Quillpen, inky fingers
One writer ponders ...
on words-smithing or being happily distracted from the task in hand
and on the wayward nature of her Muse
and on the wayward nature of her Muse
I have deliberated before on the wayward nature of Mrs Muse, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that moving from one end of the country to another might perturb my penning pal. We moved from Cornwall to Fife in July 2019, and since Mrs M has been endorsing the notion of a new novel set in Scotland, one might have expected her to be waiting on the doorstep of our new home. But there wasn’t not a peep from her all summer. She showed briefly at Holyrood Palace in August; she’s a sucker for anything royal. But after a quick tap on the shoulder, she scarpered again. So, when a month later in September I decided to head up the M90 to Innerpeffray Library, I wasn’t expecting company. But then I wasn’t expecting the day to unfold as it did either.
Innerpeffray Library came highly recommended by a fellow bibliophile and I was looking forward to a pleasant day’s road trip with books as a bonus. With an overview of where I was headed, I let the Sat Nav tell guide me. My relationship with it being troubled, when it directed me off the dual carriageway not far outside Perth, I was immediately suspicious.
‘Turn right to Roman Road.’ It didn't look likely, was signposted something else entirely.
But round two sharp bends, there it was! Only a bloomin' Roman road; straight, classic width, ditches either side bordered by beautiful woodland. Wow!
A few miles on I had to stop when the trees dropped away as, high on a ridgeway, I faced a breath-taking view over the Strathearn. I was just about to get out of the car to take a photo when four police motorcyclists, driving in formation, swept past easily doing 50mph. Incongruous on a rural lane, they were clearly enjoying a Roman road too.
'Well I never!' I thought, took my picture and drove on.
Before long the brown sign for Innerpeffray Library sent me down a potholed track. A turf path though trees, a red squirrel bouncing ahead of me, led me past ancient yews surrounding a tiny chapel where a rash of goose-bumps swept me from head to toe. Around another corner stood the Library.
‘Hello! You took your time!’ said my precocious afflatus.
Beautiful books and friendly faces greeted me. A lovely volunteer explained the Roman origins of the site and the library’s history. I took a sharp intake of breath: 1680, a date central to my next novel. I had been looking for somewhere to ‘place’ the female protagonist. Even if Mrs Muse hadn’t been elbowing me in the ribs, I’d have known - this was it!
The weird coincidences continued: the gentleman giving me a tour of the reading room originally came from the Roseland on Cornwall’s south coast. That might account for his choice of pages in Camden’s ‘Britannica’. But his finger, pointing straight at Pendennis, the castle at the core of my books? No. THAT was extraordinary. There was more.
The exhibition in the display cases was on ‘Emigration’. A member of the Library had researched and highlighted a name amongst the many hundreds in the borrowers’ registers. Haxton. Ours is not a common surname anywhere so, of all the names in Perthshire, the odds of that had to be pretty long.
I was still shaking my head in disbelief when a charming couple came in. We were introduced. Roman re-enactors, they live about 500 yards from our new address. When they shared an experience that Mrs Muse began applauding with gusto, I beat a retreat on ‘overload’!
Deliberately taking a different road back to the A9, I found myself approaching the junction that I’d taken so warily almost exactly two hours earlier, but from the opposite direction.
There, sweeping across the carriageway ahead and disappearing into the trees, were four police motorcyclists. The same ones? I’ve no idea.
All I could hear was Mrs Muse yelling, ‘They aren’t police riders! They’re the ghosts of Romans, horsemen, and they continually ride the same route on one day every hundred years. They’ve just updated their steeds ...’
I don’t care where she’s been, but Mrs Muse is definitely back!
When the annual Gorsedh Kernow Holyer an Gof Awards for literature were presented on Thursday 11th July I suddenly discovered that I had more than one cause for cheering. Obviously, in the middle of the Royal Cornwall Museum I didn't leap about yelling with glee … but not because I didn't want to. With a dodgy knee, warily teetering in kitten heels - and sporting a bronchial infection that could reduce me to a breathless wheezing wreck in seconds, leaping and shouting were out of the question.
No! Not only had the third book in the Pendennis trilogy, To Untie a Sealed Knot, been nominated in this prestigious listing of publications relating to Cornwall, but TUASK had been awarded a prize!
Exposed to All Villainies had been nominated in 2015, while the sequel, A Cord of Three Strands, received recognition as a nominated work in 2017.
For 2018 the panel of judges for the Holyer an Gof Awards decided that Daniel Edward’s story was so worthy of acknowledgment, they created the new notion of a runner-up in this category remarking that the author ‘had truly mastered the art of show not tell.’
You know it was very strange; I was honoured to have been asked to deliver a short presentation at the ceremony, as To Untie a Sealed Knot was nominated, but I really didn’t expect anything else because the standard of the nominations was so high. Besides which I was busy wondering how many VocalZone pastilles I could stick to the roof of my mouth before they became a speech impediment rather than an anti-cough measure!
When my name was called out I think I may have given out a very unladylike squeak - or maybe a croak - but at least I didn’t have time to get nervous!
Cornwall’s history has always been the inspiration for storytellers and will continue to be for centuries to come, with a strong sense of place, be it myth, moorland, coast or – for me - castles.
If you've explored the website you know that I also love forgotten facts, collect them. You know too that the first novel stemmed from one fact, that, in a largely forgotten siege in 1646, of 1000 Royalists inside Pendennis 200 were women and children. History will probably never record their names, or why they stayed and while historians may deal in facts a novelist can speculate!
Exposed to All Villainies, its narrators three women, was a tribute to the forgotten women. The problem was that, having given the characters a voice, a growing band of avid readers now wanted to know what happened to them. A Cord of Three Strands saw them survive the perils of the civil war only to face the unrest of rebellion two years later – and to confront a villain who, despite this author’s best efforts, managed to get away.
My duty was clear and To Untie a Sealed Knot was penned.
Events unfolding in the third book mean the girls can't tell their own stories, so Daniel Edwards, an individual that readers of Book 1 might just recognise, takes up the narrator’s role.
“Warfare gives men plenty of experiences they could do without. Even earning respect will get a man noticed when it might not be in his best interests. I got noticed, and by one of the highest lawyers in the land no less. He gave me a job to do. At the beginning it all seemed simple enough, even though it was a task tightly proscribed, for correctness’ sake. But matters seldom run smooth and circumstances change. And my motives … well, let me simply say they were … knotty.”
Frank Ruhrmund called this novel a fitting close to a remarkable and powerful trilogy and a ‘rattling good read’. I am thrilled to think that the Holyer an Gof judges agreed!
To Untie a Sealed Knot is dedicated to my Mum and I only wish she'd been there last night. She was there for the book launch on July 15th 2017 but died in the September after a short illness. She'd have been absolutely overjoyed to hear about this prize.
Dan Daddow’s Cornish Comicalities by Alan M Kent, published by Ryelands (Halsgrove) was the winner of section 3, and also won the Holyer an Gof cup.
I am sad to have to report that this blog is a prime case of A.D.A or Author Displacement Activity. It’s not procrastination or distraction and there’s no excuse for ADA today. I am happy to report that Ms Muse has been around for the last few days, for which I am grateful but it is true to say that I haven’t been as attentive as I should.
Instead I have been emptying an outhouse space in preparation for a downstairs WC to be installed. It was an essential task if I am going to persuade Mr H that it needs doing sooner rather than eventually, so not really an ADA.
Then, with autumn definitely upon us, I needed to swap the contents of my wardrobe over, tuck the lovely linens away and drag out an assortment of woollens. Some of the knitwear could do with a cull but it kept me snug last winter when I was deep into writing A Cord of Three Strands. If the yarns are right for telling yarns they have to stay. I don’t know if the bohemian-looking grey cashmere wrap is really Ms Muse’s style but I daren’t offend her by sending it to a charity shop.
So, that wasn’t really an ADA either. It would only qualify for ADA status if I had elected to iron everything before hanging it up and I didn’t.
The house is tidy; my writing hut is swept for spiders’ webs; why the ADA? Where’s the problem?
Well, silly as it seems, it is my narrator. His name is Daniel Edwards and he’s got journeys to make. The stalemate is because it transpires that he doesn’t like horses.
Now, readers may think it somewhat mad to be listening to a fictional character, one that I am entirely responsible for making up. But I am sure I’m not the only author who ‘hears’ the populace of their stories. It has happened before and nobody was more perturbed by it than me. Nevertheless, I can’t make them do something out of character any more than I can predict when Ms Muse will turn up. I just have to be prepared - and so I am respectful of Dan’s lack of enthusiasm.
It wouldn’t matter except that in 1649, when To Untie a Sealed Knot begins, he’s not got a lot of choice. Mare or stallion; gelding or mule - that’s what’s offer on the equivalent of the 17th century garage forecourt. He doesn’t trust either end of any of them, wouldn’t know how to ‘work’ one and thinks they’re expensive, uncomfortable and unpredictable. He may have a point; the last time I rode I was just into my teens. A feisty little pony who liked to toss her head pitched me between her ears three times in the space of an hour’s trekking on Exmoor. With my dignity severely bruised I have never been back in the saddle.
A carriage isn’t feasible for Dan; the roads are too bad for a start and if one horse is costly to keep, a carriage would be like running a gas-guzzling F1 motor car on the school run - pointless. So, I have arranged for a farrier to pick him a suitable mount. There seems to be a grudging acceptance of that idea.
On the other hand while I was doing some research into the early years of the East India Company, the mention of sea and sail made my reluctant traveller perk up no end. From Pendennis Castle to Bristol would definitely be better by boat. He understands ships; he’s a Bideford lad after all. It seems he’d rather face the passage round Land’s End than ride to Padstow to embark too. Fair enough! So, we’re agreed then. As often as is practicable, Dan can get from A to B by sea.
So, why the A.D.A? Why aren’t I tapping furiously, getting a few hundred words down before the next cup of coffee and marmite on toast?
Well, it's meteorological. We’re just waiting for a slant, the weather window that provides the best sailing conditions. The current south-easterly wind needs to moderate a bit. Round Land’s End will be a bit lumpy otherwise; a brisk SW to send the ship up the Bristol Channel would be much better. Meanwhile I'm blogging. So you can see, it's not procrastinating, not getting distracted..
I wonder if Ms Muse’s middle name is Ada? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Have you seen her? Ms Muse, that is. Every time I catch a glimpse of her she looks different but she’s a female, of indeterminate age, about 5’3” with hair that is … changeable (I suspect she has a fabulous collection of wigs).
I may be doing her a disservice because she might still be quaking somewhere after last night's thunderstorms, but the truth is she definitely disappears for extended periods.
Last December she was off indulging in mince pies and mulled wine and I have the feeling that in February or March, she usually ‘does’ Venice for Carnival, maybe Rio de Janeiro, sometimes both. Shrove Tuesday pancakes at home with plain lemon and sugar? I think not! It’s not her style.
I have no idea where she’s gone gallivanting now but this morning I had to resort to doing the ironing, moving furniture and making up beds for a not-very-imminent visit by the family instead of using the fist clear day for weeks to get out into the shed to write. It was the same in March so back then I was forced to redecorate the whole house. I could be on my fourth novel by now, if Ms Muse wasn’t so flighty. With nine classical Muses, Greek goddesses lending assorted know-how to fortunate artists, she could be anywhere, with any of them. Capricious madam!
I doubt if it’s Calliope, with her penchant for epic poetry, though I do have a very long daft-ditty lurking in a file somewhere. It would be grand if Callie came to give me a hand finishing it.
Euterpe and I don’t see eye to eye over lyric poetry. Can someone tell me what ‘lyric poetry’ might be? Or ‘literary fiction’ for that matter. Lyric: is that lines that rhyme, have metric measure or intellectual stature? Are they more profound than the average limerick to be found flicking through my frivolous head?
Thalia, with her comedy is more Ms Muse’s type, though I don’t think she harnesses Thalia’s inclination for pastoral poetry. Her pastoral idyll is more likely to be blowing a very loud fart-like noise using a blade of grass held between her thumbs!
Polyhymnia? Nah. Sacred poetry just isn’t Ms Muse’s style; I refer you to my daft ditties and irreverent limericks. I’m pretty sure Ms Muse wouldn’t be hanging out with ‘Nia.
Melpomene? Tragedy? Give me a break! Ms Muse has had her input on a few issues that have upset my readers who wail,
‘Don’t let anything happen to the dog!’ but she doesn’t really do tragedy.
So why did Will have to die? That is Clio’s fault. For readers who know Exposed to All Villainies, William Mattock, Hester’s husband, really did die in 1646. Clio’s field is History and what she says, goes. I can’t mess with Clio! Neither does Ms Muse which is why I don’t think they’re hanging about together.
Has Ms Muse gone off on a merry dance then? With Terpsichore? That might have been her, in the ‘Strictly Come Dancing 2016 Reveal’, trying to set up a mosh-pit in front of the band. No, sorry, that was Erato who normally does dodgy performances, extempore love-poetry, wearing nothing but a diaphanous strip of silk and a pair of dark glasses.
I have heard Ms Muse look at the stars, their lustre dusting the velvet of a midnight sky, but her reaction was to shrug and say,
‘What did you get me out of bed for? It’s naff-all to do with me!’ so I have the feeling she’s probably not with Urania studying astrology either.
But dearest Muse of mine …wherever you are… I just want to say that the ironing’s done, I’ve made the beds and the sock drawer is immaculately tidy. So could you drop by for a bit? Please.
Every author knows that getting the right voice for a character is a crucial part of creating an engaging story. It helps if the tone, the spark of personality, is there from the first moment of the relationship between the reader and the person on the page. It’s a little bit like catching someone’s eye across a crowded room and instantly knowing you’ll want to know more about - or avoid - that individual. That’s what keeps people turning the page.
So there’s a lot to be said for an engaging villain. I am dealing with a pretty nasty case in the third of the Pendennis books; Bartholomew Fenwick is, without doubt, a bad ‘un.
But can he be totally bad and still credible?
I had this discussion with friends over a ‘Book Club’ bash. Mixed reactions intrigued me. There were those who said that nobody is totally evil; there is usually a factor in their background that makes them that way or turned them from innocence to the dark. It is the psychological principle of Nature or Nurture.
The polar opposite reaction was that the escapism of literature allows the audience to really relish ‘interacting’ with someone who is the embodiment of foul, simply because they don’t do it in real life. Hopefully not anyway.
There was a feeling that perhaps something in the middle would be too wishy-washy; not worth reading. But everyone said they didn’t want to feel sorry for my villain because they had already made up their mind about him and were miffed that I’d let him get away with … well, what has he got away with? I won’t do spoilers!
So, what about when you character starts dictating the terms? Literally. The narrative just isn’t working then a little ‘voice’ says,
“That’s not right because I just wouldn’t do it!”
Mad? Yes it sounds that way to me too. But that is more or less what happened when I was planning A Cord of Three Strands. Until I had the right narrators absolutely nothing seemed to be working.
I can tell you exactly where I was when I actually said aloud,
“Well, I suppose Grace, Hester and Mary, that you could tell your own stories …again.”
(If you’re interested it was driving to Liskeard, on the A38 just after the Dobwalls junction, with the railway viaduct just coming into view!) From that moment the words began to tumble out, the ‘girls’, on the whole, happy to …. co-operate. No, it still sounds bonkers.
Then this week it happened again! There I was, bowling along nicely, the words on the computer screen recording the unfolding events at Pendennis in 1649 when the process was usurped by Daniel Edwards.
Readers of Exposed to All Villainies might remember that he was the Bideford lad who marched off to join the Queen’s Guard in the spring of 1644. Well, he’s back, having taken charge of an episode insurrection in A Cord of Three Strands when what I had originally planned was something quite different.
If you’ve read the ‘taster’ that opened this blog you might as well disregard the details. Dan has already managed to wangle a promotion and a pay rise out of me, with a rewrite of the first chapter of To Untie a Sealed Knot. And that’s without the spanner in the works from the results of some research at the Cornwall Record Office on Wednesday.
In the words of Homer Simpson, 'Doh!'
But Daniel seems like a nice chap, has hinted at a hidden agenda of which I thoroughly approve and he really doesn’t like Bartholomew Fenwick.
He also seems OK with the working title so for the time being, and as Mrs Muse doesn’t seem to be offering any alternatives, I might just to listen to his suggestions.
My first guest on the blog is Hannah Vaughan, from TJInternational, with some great advice on self-publishing
How to do self-publishing and do it right.
The key to successfully self-publishing a book is to approach it like a business start-up. We help writers with all types of publishing projects and the people who really see a return on their hard work are the ones who have clear goals laid out from the start. This and a positive attitude get you far in this industry.
Every writer’s route to publication is different, but I’ve outlined five essential steps to give you the best foot-up possible. Here’s how to do self-publishing and, more importantly, do it right:
Nail down your aims with the same determination Stephen King pinned his rejections slips to the wall. Then, set out a clear route to get there. Ask yourself, what is it you love best about the process? What ambition makes your heartrate surge a little quicker?
Your dream might be producing a book for personal use, getting into bookshops or winning a major literary prize, but whatever it is remain realistic and determined. Paste an image of that award on your screensaver or mark your next target word count on the calendar. We’re writers after all, we’re stimulated by visuals.
Set overall targets for yourself and then break them down into more appealing chunks. For example, your main goal might be to write the first draft of your novel in a year – a pretty daunting feat. As soon as you divide this into word count targets to achieve each month, suddenly it’s a challenge you can get stuck into. This strategy works for most goals: sending out enquiries to agents, delivering marketing campaigns, planning social media. It all becomes manageable.
When your task is to research Victorian slang for the novel and not writing the novel itself, working on your book seems a lot more fun than cleaning the house and procrastinating.
Self-publishing a book is akin to launching your own start-up business and with most things in life, you get out of it what you put in. You don’t have to know everything about business, but you do have to apply a business mindset in order to achieve the goals you’ve set out. This means forming a strategy with each element of your book’s exposure.
The important thing is to do your research. If you’re planning on submitting to agents, start a spreadsheet of the ones who are appropriate for your novel, research their profiles, follow them on social media and make notes as you go. This is the difference between an amateur enquiry and a professional one.
When you market your book it’s important to always give people value. Whether it’s a personalised thank you letter for a book review, or a preview of your next book only available to your email subscribers, make sure they feel like you care. After all, you’ve found your niche audience so they’re already interested in your content, you just have to stand out from others in your genre.
Why is it you go to particular coffee shop or buy a particular brand? I bet it’s the personable customer service supported by a quality product, right? Just like a business start-up outstanding customer service should be incorporated into every aspect of your self-publishing project. This will make you stand out from the rest and help you stick in the reader’s memory.
People need to know you’re not just any other Romance fiction author. You’re the credible author whose writing offers the reader an escape ladder from mundane reality. Of course it’s important to use other people’s skills to drive your book forward, but it’s important you don’t get ripped off! Make sure you get to see proofs of your book at every stage, read the small print and trust your gut – how do you evaluate your relationship with them?
Stories have the power to challenge, comfort and inspire the world. Now is the time to take your writing seriously and self-publish your book. The tips above will give you the best foundation for getting started and once you get your story under the nose of the right person, great writing speaks for itself.
Hannah Vaughan is Marketing and Editorial Assistant at TJ INK in Padstow, providing advice and professional publishing services for independent authors. TJ INK love to help passionate writers craft, publish and thrive.
I loved a girl once; a lass with raven dark hair and eyes the colour of warm honey. I gave her a ribbon. Green it was, to tie up the silky hair that used to escape from her cap when we went a-walking along the banks of the river Torridge.
I often wondered whether she still had that ribbon. Or, when I marched away as did so many young men, did she tie it as a charm, like the tokens at the wishing wells, so that the pain of her memories would ease as the coloured threads faded.
Years passed. Then, one day I saw that very same girl, unmistakable, alive, mingled amongst a thousand luckless souls, the rag-taggle Royalists who marched out of a Cornish fortress on the Fal. She did not see me. Once again, she slipped through my fingers. But from that moment I vowed that, come what may, I would seek her out.
When I found her it was not how I had I had planned, going down on one knee, like a knight of old, when I came to ask her about that little gift. Amidst the commotion of neighbours responding to an alarm, she could not be heard, she could not say if the ribbon had been lost, nor tell me if it was faded. Nonetheless I promised to buy her a new one - if she would just give me a sign.
Yet I was on my knees as I pleaded with her to once again do me the honour of walking out with me. The Torridge was a way away but we could find another river bank instead, to sit together on a couch of soft mosses under dappled sunlight.
As I held her body close, I begged her not to leave me, this woman who should be my life’s partner.
She did not answer, lying limp in my arms, her blood staining my breeches and the scrubbed floor beneath us as the mocking laugh of a villain and the whimpering of a child were replaced by the clatter of hooves that faded into the distance.
I Betwixt Hammer and Anvil
When I was a youth I had no sense of my own mortality. I believed in a cause that I held unassailable, one for which I was prepared to fight, even to die. Of course, I had no expectation of having to make the ultimate commitment. Nor will I deny that the fact that my convictions were in complete contradiction to all that my father held true also had its appeal. As I marched from Bideford under the King’s standard, back in ’43, I was ambitious and cock-sure of nigh on everything.
As the years passed I found my convictions a lot like my armour - dented. I can't claim to fight for a cause any more. But my motives ...well, there's the rub for I doubt if Parliament, ‘King’ Cromwell or the man who thinks he has me under his thumb would approve of my motives at all.
True, I changed my uniform for that of the army of Parliament for the promise of pay. Turned coat? Aye, but just as many would think me just a professional soldier, no more the callow North Devon lad. I learned to comport himself as an officer who earns the respect of his men - that is what eleven years of civil war does for you though war gives men experience they could do without and earning respect gets a man noticed when it might not be in his best interests, then matters can get complicated. Yet I would never have supposed that Fate could deal me such a curious hand.
That’s how I found myself ankle deep in paperwork, mired in an investigation at the directive not of the military but of one of the highest lawyers in the land, set on a task proscribed so tight that should it o’erstep the boundaries, a court-martial would be kind in comparison to the consequences. That was at the beginning. As I said, my motives … let me simply say they are … knotty.
There’s a phrase that I first heard on the lips of a certain woman of my acquaintance which says I got caught betwixt a hammer and an anvil. I could hardly have put it better myself - not in polite company anyway.