21 March 2017


by Helen Hollick, with Anna Belfrage and Alison Morton
March is Women's History Month...

Anna Belfrage
Alison Morton
Author Anna Belfrage, during a recent online conversation, mentioned a thought about the real heroines behind the fictional heroines, another friend, Alison Morton had a joined the debate. I wondered if heroes should also be included, but March is Women’s History Month, so let’s stick to the ladies here. (We can spotlight the men another time to balance the books. Is that a bit of a pun?) In this instance, Anna was referring to the writer as the heroine - the author, the person tapping away at a keyboard or scribbling with a pen on paper (remember those?)

Anna and Helen at HNS Denver 2014
The fictional heroine usually goes through hell and back in a story, or at least some sort of trauma or disaster or romantic upheaval, or complication or… well, you get the picture. But what about the writer who is creating that character, that scene, that story? Is it a case of sitting down at a desk from 9-5 Monday to Friday, bashing out a few thousand words a day, Other Half supplying a cup of tea/coffee/wine/gin on the hour every hour? Those several thousand words flowing freely, the plot flashing along, scene after scene with no wavering? Novel finished well before the deadline date, a dutiful re-write, check for the occasional missed blooper, then off to the editor for a quick once-over?

Oh I wish!

The only bit of the above that is mildly true for me personally is the tea/coffee appearing a couple of times a day in between countless re-runs of Westerns on the TV which my husband watches with avid fascination, apparently completely unaware that he watched the same John Wayne/Jimmy Stewart et al movie the day before.

Meanwhile, I struggle during the dark, miserable, drizzly days of winter. Even the effort to get out of bed some dank, dark mornings is hard work for those of us who suffer from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affected Disorder – basically a desire to hibernate during winter.) To be creative, to find the words to write when I can’t even remember the cat’s name (I am not joking!) is hard work.

Then there is the research, particularly for historical fiction writers who need to know the facts of a period or event before they can even start writing chapter one. All genres need a certain amount of research, even fantasy and science fiction – possibly even more so, because to make the unbelievable believable the facts have to be correct, otherwise all the believability goes out the window.

For writers, meeting our new characters – male or female – is not always a walk in the park, although for me, I did meet my pirate hero, JesamiahAcorne, on a drizzly-day Dorset beach. Long story cut short: I was walking on the beach thinking up ideas for Sea Witch. Looked up and saw a vision of Jesamiah. Might have been my imagination, might have been a spirit from the past – no matter, I saw him. In full pirate regalia. And immediately fell in love.

Alison says hers have been swishing around in her head for decades ever since she trod on a Roman mosaic floor at age eleven. Firmly gripped by the Romans, she started wondering what the world would have been like if a tiny part of Rome had survived… The result is her thriller series, Roma Nova

As for Anna, she blames it all on her husband. It was all because of his family history, which involved fleeing Scotland in 1624 due to religious persecution. She started reading up on the 17th century and fell in love. (Why the 17th century? A declaration of love.) One day, Matthew Graham stepped out of her murky imagination and demanded she tell his story, which she has done, over several books in the Graham Saga..

Our characters get under our skin, into our hearts, minds, lives and very being. When it is time to finish the book, or a series – oh, the heartache of saying goodbye and letting them go! To create believable characters, to bring them alive, to make them look, feel, behave, sound real, to do real (even if they are impossibly over-the-top real) things takes dedication, skill, determination and courage.

Yes. Courage.

Writing can be a hard taskmaster. We slog away in our studies, corner of a room, spare-bedroom or wherever trying to get a paragraph – a sentence – right. We edit, re-edit and edit again and again. We spend hours writing a scene, then delete it because it isn’t good enough. I have deleted entire chapters. We wake up with our characters, walk, live, play, think of, go to bed with them (no not that sort of ‘go to bed’!) They are there with us 24/7 because if these fictional people are real to us, then they will become as real to our readers. In theory.

I am not being sexist here, but I do think women writers have a tougher time of it than do the men. Admitted I am talking in general, but many women writers already have a full-time job plus the responsibility of bringing up children and organising the family, at least this was so thirty years ago when I gave up the ‘hobby’ of scribbling my ideas and got on with attempting to do it properly with the end goal of being published in mind. Usually (OK not always) it is the woman who gets the kids off to school, does the housework, the shopping, the laundry,  goes to her own job, collects the kids from school, cooks the dinner, gets the kids to bed… We grab coffee breaks or the bliss of a quiet hour in the evening to get that next paragraph written. I’m not saying that the blokes in between work and chores also have to snatch those golden moments where they can sit and write, but I’d wager that many an established male writer wanders off to his study in the morning, saunters out at lunchtime, strolls back to his desk to emerge around six-ish to watch TV. Lunch, dinner, clean shirts and a tidy house happening via the Magic House Fairy. (Come on chaps - tell me I'm wrong!) 

At least, now, women writers can create our stories under our own name. How many of our great female writers from the past had to invent a male pseudonym to be heard let alone published? I think the term ‘heroine’ definitely applies to these brave and determined ladies of the past.

So why do we do it? Why do we spend hours doing this darn silly job of writing fiction? It’s not for the money that’s for sure. Very few writers outside the top-listers make enough to equal a suitable annual wage. So why?

Ever heard the answer to a question put to Sir Edmund Hilary when he had successfully climbed Everest in 1953? “Why did you want to climb it?”
His answer? “Because it’s there.”

Well, for us, for fiction authors, we write our words because they are not there

(Which is why I wrote Sea Witch - I couldn't find the book I wanted to read, so I wrote it myself.)

(IndieBRAG Honoree)
The Three Musketeers um, 'Authoreers'?
So who is your favourite, or respected, or even most disliked, female writer of historical fiction? Do you agree with some of what I’ve said above – or disagree? Voice your views below  and you could win a giveaway prize! Read on...

Order Alison's latest novel published April 2017
Alison Morton has written an excellent post on Seasonal Affected Disorder and how it effects writers in particular. Then Click here to go to her blog to read why she felt it was important that the main characters in her Roma Nova series of thrillers lived an egalitarian society.

And go to Anna’s Blog to meet Alex and Kit – her female heroines.

Alison, Anna and I are each offering a giveaway 
of one of our books - so:

to win a book by Helen Hollick your choice which one. (book will be delivered via Amazon) Leave a comment on the MAIN BLOG post only (click here if you are reading this on Google or elsewhere )   check out all my books here: www.helenhollick.net

to win a book by Alison Morton go to her blog post
she says: 'To celebrate Women's History Month, and to show you what we actually produce, I'm giving away a signed paperback copy of my latest book, INSURRECTIO, featuring the ever brave (and ever fallible) Aurelia Mitela as she tries to battle the rising tide of a populist demagogue. Of course, the struggle is always personal as well as political.'

Buying link for Alison’s latest book INSURRECTIO (multiple retailers/formats)
or for all her books on Amazon

to win a book by Anna Belfrage go to her blog post

To buy the books:

CLOSING DATE for all three is 30 March 
The draw will be made on 31 March

14 March 2017

Tuesday Talk: Rotten Reviewers and other bad eggs...

We've  all had them, those rude, abusive or downright nasty 'reviews' left on Amazon or Goodreads or similar sites. Amazon is usually the worst, though. What is it that attracts downright rudeness when it comes to the nasty power of trashing a good author and a good book for no apparent reason beyond outright spite?
An author's view of the rude reviews?
Amazon is particularly annoying as there is very little you can do about these thoroughly nasty tirades. Don't get me wrong, if a reader doesn't like a book (be it mine or someone else's) that's fine - it would be a boring world if we all liked the same things, and everyone is entitled to an opinion, BUT, there is a big difference between leaving a comment like 'Sorry, not my cup of tea,' or even 'I didn't think much of the writing style. In my opinion there were too many point of view changes and the narrative didn't quite flow.' OK a bit disappointing, but if that's this reader's thoughts, then fair enough. They didn't like the book and gave a personal reason why.

Those 1 star 'this book was a load of rubbish' with no reason for the opinion given, or '1 star because the cover was torn when the book arrived' are just plain irritating and stupid. Trashing a book for spiteful reasons are just straightforward trolling. Deliberate nastiness. Best way to handle them?Completely ignore. To answer back is what they want, they want to know they've got you riled.

One rule here:

And what about the plain silly? 'This book was too full of battles, I don't like battles' when even the title suggests that's what it is about. What part of 1066 The Battle of Hastings does this reader not grasp? 

What bit of 'The BATTLE of Hastings
do you not understand
Unfortunately, crass comments are something authors have to live with - we soon learn to develop a thick skin and learn about anger management.

However, what about the deliberately misleading? The deliberate setting out to falsely trash a book and author for means of personal gain by the  'reviewer'?

I came across a recent spate of unpleasant reviews on Amazon aimed specifically at indie authors.
Said 'reviewer'  to save me getting sued or my own reviews trashed, let's call him Typo Tutor, gets hold of the e-edition of a novel, or even an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) which is an uncorrected pre-publication edition. He runs  it through his sophisticated software and comes up with a few missed typos. He then sends an email to the author and publishing company (if one was used) along the lines of  'I noticed several errors and typos in your book. I would be delighted to offer you my services to correct these.'

Now doesn't that sound like touting for business to you? (It does to me too, but apparently not to Amazon.) Naturally anyone on-the-ball receiving this sort of email will hit the delete button. Its SPAM. So no reply is sent, the email is deleted, sender probably blocked or sent to junk mail (if it didn't end up there in the first place.)

Then a Facebook and Twitter friend request pops up. 'I'm Typo Tutor: let me help you with those typos in your book!'  Again, the delete and block buttons are used. 

A few days later up comes a comment on Amazon: 'This book is littered with typos. I tried contacting the author about this, but received no reply. Poor quality, not recommended.'

In fact, said book is well written, very good quality and has only the occasional typo. But the damage is done - unless you know what to look for.

Hmm, this 'review' sounds fishy. Let's check Typo Tutor's profile - oh what a surprise, this is an editing service business! And looking further at the reviews posted by this 'reviewer'  we find that post after post reads exactly, or very nearly the same! Yes, Typo Tutor is very blatantly touting for business, and miffed with authors who block him leaves snide comments. 

But wait! There's more! Typo Tutor has left some five star reviews! 'Excellent book, perfectly presented' blah blah...  Three guesses who did the editing for these titles!

Moral: if you come across 1 star comments by someone with variations on a theme of Typo Tutor, Easy Editor, Proof Passion, or whatever, do not respond, do not leave an indignant comment 

but DO  leave a positive review for the author and DO complain to Amazon via the 'report' button. Trashing someone's excellent book in order to promote a business venture is not  acceptable!