MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Kitty Cats and Cat flaps

Sybil Butterfly Watching
A bit of a cheat again today, sorry (the mind is willing to write, time isn't so co-operative)

So here is an article I wrote for SureFlap cat flaps.... 

Why am I advertising products on my blog page? 
Are you sitting comfortably? Cup of tea/coffee in your hand? 
Cat curled up on your lap?
I'll tell you.

We are getting unwanted visits from a prowling Tom. He is a pest. he has attacked most of the un-neutered females in the area, fights with other cats & is a horrible cat. 
My girls have been "done" so they are safe, but he has discovered their dried-food bowl in my kitchen and is as boldly as you please using the cat flap.
Bad enough putting up with him prowling around - but I'm blowed if I am going to feed him as well!

So I posted on Twitter did anyone use the magnetic cat flaps - did they work etc. Several people answered that the magnetics were OK - until the cat lost their collar, which meant couldn't get in or out. This is worrying as Sybil is always loosing hers. (Had three already this month! I swear she's selling them to the lady up the road!)

Someone suggested SureFlap - which is magnetic but is activated by the cat's implanted microchip. 
So I asked "Anyone use #SureFlap? Loads of responses, saying how good they were & how helpful the company was, plus, I had a Tweet from @SureFlap asking if I would like to contribute to their website blog.

So here it is.

I am an author. I write Historical Fiction and pirate-based adventure. I have a pleasant office, with my desk beside a window which looks out over a small patio, a pond, and some trees. The wisteria hanging down over the pergola is beautiful in spring.
My two cats love fishing and climbing; hanging from a trailing wisteria creeper is the feline equivalent of bungee jumping. The window must remain open even though they have a perfectly good cat flap. Who wants to use the public entrance when the private one is much more fun?
Mab is black and white and almost two years old. She’s more aloof than ten month old Sybil, the white and black cat. Sybil’s full name is Sybil Suitcase for as a small kitten she was found abandoned in a suitcase. When she came to us she was very frightened and hid for almost three weeks, but she was eventually lured out with toy mice and ribbons – oh my goodness does she love ribbons!
I have had cats for many years, including Basil, Poppy, Tizzy, Allie Cat, Daisy and Maddie. There was also Bootsie, who stole some steak from a neighbour’s kitchen and Bill, a retriever cat. He used to bring me presents. Not boring cat things like birds and mice. He collected pegs, string, slices of bread (meant for the birds), take-away food cartons, newspaper binder twine… all of it came in through the cat flap to be left on my kitchen floor. The worst gift was a corn cob. That inner bit of cob looks revolting without its outer layer of corn, and at first, you’re not sure what it actually is.

I realised I was a slave to my cats when I was trying to write a difficult chapter and had to keep bobbing about to see the VDU screen because Sybil was trying to catch the moving cursor. And I have sat here at my desk wearing fingerless mittens while wrapped in a blanket because Mab insists on the window being open.
Cats, Kittens and mittens – I wouldn’t be without any of them!

About the Author
Helen Hollick started writing pony stories as a teenager. She moved onto science fiction and fantasy, and then discovered the delight of writing historical fiction.
Helen is published in the UK and USA with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her novel Forever Queen. She also writes a series of seafaring books inspired by her love of the Golden Age of Piracy.
Helen lives on the outskirts of London with her husband, adult daughter, a dog, two cats, and two horses. She is investing in a SureFlap cat flap because a local tom has become an unwanted nuisance. Sybil and Mab often lose their collars so a magnetic flap will be no use – SureFlap operated by the cat’s own microchip seems the perfect solution. And the window will have to remain closed. Sorry Mab!

Mab when she was only a few months old

Now all I have to do is get both cats chipped (on the 'to do' list for when their jabs are due next month) and fit the new flap. 
My appreciation to SureFlap for their interest! 

Thursday 21 June 2012

Sharing Something Nice - Thursday Thoughts

There's been a spate of not so nice posts and comments on various Facebook, Blogs and Forums recently (had they all come from UK people I would have said it was the incessant pouring rain causing various brains to get rusty and crabby!)

So to balance the unpleasantness, I received this lovely message on Facebook a couple of days ago:

Hi Helen, 
just wanted to say that I finally brought myself to finish Shadow of the King last night. I have been putting it off cause I did not want it to end! The last chapter had my crying! And it is now my most favorite book.
 I  never read that much Arthurian fiction cause facts get moved around or focus too much on the romances, but this book was so wonderfully done!
You wove the historic in but also created THE WORLD in which they lived. I felt I could feel it, breath and see it. I wanted to crawl in it and live alongside them. I fell in love with the Arthur you created which made me fall in love with him all over again lol even though I spend most of my time working in his world it seems so much more personal now. 
So thank you, thank you, thank you! Your Arthur was a raw passionate brute with so many actions and passions to move him and those around him and that's how the world of Arthur should be shown. 
All the best, 
 Samantha Houston

US Cover

My response of "thank you for your kind words" seemed somewhat inadequate, but  my thank you was most sincerely meant.

UK Cover

It takes very little to crumble an author's confidence.
One unfair, poor review or one snotty comment can disrupt a whole day's work because of the "negativity" that such remarks can create.
(Most of which are formulated because of jealousy, ignorance or plain nastiness.)
So it is lovely to get positive, pleasant feedback.

Thank you Samantha! Much appreciated.

The boy
        who became 
The Man 
        who became
The King 
       who became
The Legend

The Pendragon's Banner Trilogy

The Kingmaking
Pendragon's Banner
Shadow of the King

The lovely comment was also very fitting for my graphics designer, Cathy Helms of designed a Midsummer Solstice Arthurian themed image for my website homepage

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Fix it or Ditch it? (Tuesday Talk)

What is it best to do when things are just not going as you plan? Your main character is suddenly out of character, or not behaving as you want him or her to behave.
That scene which should be a fast paced gallop, is plodding along like a tired old donkey.
Let's face it - the whole darn plot is a plod.

Do you keep tinkering? Do you add, alter, cut and paste? 
Or do you pluck up the courage to press the delete button?

The truth is - if you are finding that paragraph or chapter boring then so will your readers.
It takes courage to delete something that you have spent hours (maybe days!) writing, but it has to be done. If it is not as good as it should be - why is it in there?
If it is not essential to the plot,  why is it in there?
If it is dull, why is it in there?

When I was writing Harold the King (titled I am the Chosen King in the US) I wrote a wonderful chapter about a scene describing the building of Westminster Abbey. It had the craftsmen and labourers going up and down ladders, the noise, the smells, the heavy stone, the sawdust from the carpenters' work... I had such fun writing it, and had spent ages on researching all the detail. My editor at the time - Lynne Drew who was then at Random House, and who is now head of fiction at Harper Collins, said it was beautifully written, but added nothing to the story which was already quite hefty in length.

I have never forgotten her saying "Do you think you feel up to cutting the entire chapter out?"
I gulped.
The hours of work that I had put into it....
"OK." I said. It went.
And yes it was well written, but the overall book is just as good without it.

For Sea Witch I deleted the first 50 pages of the original first draft. Yes, 50 pages!

My then agent did not like the book, she wanted me to write it for teenage boys - I was determined it was for grown up adults seeking arm-chair adventure. She was right about the first 50 pages though.
I had written that first draft as a historical novel, not a historical adventure. I needed pace and action to open the book, not the detail of Jesamiah's childhood.
(she was completely wrong about it being for teenage boys though... I am being proven right. Grown ups do like nautical adventures with a sexy pirate.)

So take a long, honest look at what you have written - and do not listen to friends and relatives who will always say "it is wonderful".
They are being nice, not honest.
Listen to your inner voice whispering inside your head.

If it isn't broken, don't fix it. If it needs fixing - then maybe the best action is to take a deep breath, delete it and create something better.

If you can do that, then you know you are almost there among the "grown ups" as a real writer!

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Historical Fact - or Historical Fiction? Tuesday talk

There have been some interesting discussions on Facebook recently, among them, several on the Historical Novel Society’s Group Page

As an author of historical fiction I completely agree that we need to keep in mind Historical Integrity - facts must be facts (unless you are writing historical fantasy or alternative history of course – and I see no reason to condemn these genres, they are not meant to be taken seriously, they are interesting, creative, and they are fun. To ridicule them is bigoted snobbery. )
But there is one point where I agree with some authors / readers: "if you want fact, read a non-fiction." Especially if you are researching for your own novel. Fiction is not the place to find fact. The clue is in the word “fiction”.
It is a story. A made-up tale.

I have a concern that too many authors are now concentrating too much on the “fact” and not enough on the story – creating Historical ‘Faction’. Especially new, potential authors who are not yet published - all those proclaiming on FB et al "I am writing a _real_ historical fiction novel, telling the real story.”
We can’t possibly know the reality, even from primary sources. (i.e if we followed Queen Emma’s biography written in the mid 1030’s there is no reference whatsoever to her 1st husband, Æthelred.)

I do worry that authors who make one personal choice diversion for their protagonist will subsequently get blasted to smithereens on social networks for being inaccurate:  Stephen of Galacia (I made the name up to avoid controversy) had black hair and a lisp, whereas everyone knows he had red hair and a stutter. (Even though there is absolutely no reference to this detail in any contemporary work, so why shouldn’t the author make it up?)

There have been some very public rows recently over several such examples; was X a good, bad, or misjudged man? Was Y an outright b*gger, or a saint? And woe betide if you upset his or her supporters by straying from their personal ideal belief!

 I get this a lot for my portrayal of King Arthur: I deliberately set him in post-Roman Britain and made him pagan, not Christian because it felt more fitting for the period, for a committed soldier – and to get away from the traditional image of him being a Christian, do-good king. In consequence, I have been condemned several times for “straying from the truth”.
Aw, come on! We can’t even prove that Arthur actually existed - let alone what religion he followed! I describe my novels as “What might have really happened”.
Emphasis on the word might.

If writing Historical Fiction means you have to become an academic with a degree in History (to satisfy those academics who have missed the point of what historical fiction is  – popular fiction – and won’t touch it because it’s all nonsense (and horror of horrors, probably a bodice ripper to boot) then I think the whole point of historical fiction is being lost. It is Fiction, it is not real, it is not intended as a secondary source non-fiction research book. Non-Fiction is the fact; fiction is the made-up bit.

Does it matter if the moon was full or new on the night after Anne Boleyn died? Does it matter if the Vikings attacked London when the Thames was in flood? Not necessarily... On the other hand, does it matter that it did not rain on October 14th 1066 at a certain Battle near Hastings? Yes it does matter because had it rained the outcome of the Norman Conquest would probably have been completely different. (Had it rained, the Normans would probably have never made it up the hill three times, and the English, therefore, would have won.)

However, a good novel can be completely ruined by the author making dreadful blunders. A Roman sitting huddled beneath Hadrian’s Wall eating his rabbit and potato soup? Instant switch-off because these two enormous errors make the rest of the story unbelievable. Claiming in a novel that Richard III was a demonic hunchback will probably lose you readers (although the inaccuracy doesn’t seem to have affected Shakespeare too much.)

A novel portraying William the Conqueror as a just, likeable man would send me running to the bathroom – but equally, my own portrayal of King Harold II being a just, likeable man may send Bill’s supporters running in the same direction. It is all subjective you see, up to the author to write what she/he wants to write. And it would be a dull world if we all had to write factually, and not permitted to use our own creatively,
I personally prefer good, well structured, well written, well researched historical novels that have a cracking good story,  but are written with A Duty Of Care and Integrity to fact.

I am not so keen on the present unpleasant trend for the public pillorying of authors when the not necessarily essential, or fictional, interpretation of the ‘facts’ go awry.

Having said this, if the story is just a story it is up to the author to make it quite clear she/he is writing fiction and not fact, especially if he/she makes a song and dance about her/his various degrees in historical academic research.
(New, potential authors beware – until your novel is published and others have had a chance to read/review it, maybe it might be best to not shout quite so loud about ‘mine will only have the facts’. There will be plenty of people/trolls out there looking forward to joyfully hang, draw and quarter you.)

Imagination and creativity regarding characterisation, plot and story should be embraced by all enthusiastic writers and readers of historical fiction. While individual interpretation of the “facts” should not be vociferously and often (sadly), somewhat rudely, denigrated by those with an opposing view to that of the author.

Perhaps though,  Integrity To Detail should be the key words adopted by all existing and potential Historical Fiction writers?

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Bit of a Cheat - sorry

Tuesday Talk:

I haven't got anything prepared, and I haven't got time to write something, my apologies, so I am going to blatantly cheat.
I came across this article about why many Indie written books are not as good as they could be.

It is an article by reviewer and author Patricia O'Sullivan that many Indie writers should read and take note of. So I am re-directing you to it.

and scroll down to the next entry below for more writing tips!

Saturday 2 June 2012

A Diamond of a Celebration! 

Kindle download Discovering the Diamond 
by Helen Hollick and Jo Field

handy tips for new writers

 Message from Helen:
Jo Field and I wrote Discovering the Diamond because we were both getting the same questions asked over and again : 
"What does P.O.V. mean?" 
"What is the best way to start/ finish a novel?"
"Does it matter if I use author's voice - and anyway, what is author's voice?"
"How do I go about self publishing?"
"Can you give me some tips on editing please?"
and so on. i

Finding that we were both writing the same e-mail replies Jo and I thought we would write a few useful "notes". These were of about 4 pages. Which grew to 8 and kept expanding as we thought of more things to put in - and more people asked different questions.

"Why is it important to edit?"
"What is the difference between a full edit and a copy edit?"
"Anyone can write a book can't they? It's dead easy!"
(er no, there are a lot of "technical" skills to writing a good book)

In the end we took the decision to publish our helpful hints and tips on Kindle. The little guide is written from the achievements and errors I have made during my almost 20 years of writing fiction, and from Jo's extensive experience as an editor.

We are not saying that our little contribution will help you write a 
best seller - but it might!

Amazon Comments :

‘I wished I had had this advice before I published my book.’

‘should be compulsory reading for every aspiring writer. Like the diamond in its title, it's compact but valuable, drawing on many years' first-hand experience’

‘Some real gems of writing wisdom are contained within its pages.’

‘Helen writes realistic, insightful, honest and sound advice which is refreshing’.

Got a Kindle? Get a Diamond!

Everyone can write a book:
Not everyone can write a readable book .