MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Thursday 31 October 2013

Trick or Treats for my Thursday Thoughts

Oh dear, some not very bright people deserve a few tricks.... LOL
Quiz Questions, Wrong Answers:

Jeremy Paxman:
What is another name for 'cherrypickers' and 'cheesemongers'?
Jeremy Paxman:
No. They're regiments in the British Army who will be very upset with you.

Jamie Theakston:
Where do you think Cambridge University is?
Geography isn't my strong point.
Jamie Theakston:
There's a clue in the title.

 Stewart White:
Who had a worldwide hit with What A Wonderful World?
I don't know.
Stewart White:
I'll give you some clues: what do you call the part between your hand and your elbow?
Stewart White:
Correct. And if you're not weak, you're...?
Stewart White:
Correct - and what was Lord Mountbatten's first name?
Stewart White:
Well, there we are then. So who had a worldwide hit with the song What A Wonderful World?
Frank Sinatra?

Alex Trelinski:
What is the capital of Italy ?
France is another country. Try again.
Oh, um, Benidorm.
Wrong, sorry, let's try another question. In which country is the Parthenon?
Sorry, I don't know.
Just guess a country then.

 Anne Robinson:
Oscar Wilde, Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Archer have all written books about their experiences in what: - Prison, or the Conservative Party?
The Conservative Party.

DJ Mark:
For 10, what is the nationality of the Pope?
Ruth from Rowley Regis:
I think I know that one. Is it Jewish?

Bamber Gascoyne:
What was Gandhi's first name?

GWR FM ( Bristol )
What happened in Dallas on November 22, 1963?
I don't know, I wasn't watching it then.

What's 11 squared?
I don't know.
I'll give you a clue. It's two ones with a two in the middle.
Is it five?

On which street did Sherlock Holmes live?
Er. ... ...
He makes bread . . ..
Er .. ......
He makes cakes . . ..
Kipling Street?

Which is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world?
I was really after the name of a country.
I'm sorry, I don't know the names of any countries in Spain ..

What is the world's largest continent?
The Pacific.

James O'Brien:
How many kings of England have been called Henry?
Er, well, I know there was a Henry the Eighth ... ER. ER ... Three?

Paul Wappat:
How long did the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel last?
Contestant (long pause):
Fourteen days.

Presenter: What is the traditional fruit for Hallowe'en?
Easter eggs?

Blessed Be to all who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge
and are waiting to greet us again one day
Hallowe'en is not a spooky time to be afraid of ghouls, ghosts and witches.
It is a time to remember family and friends -and beloved pets - who have gone ahead of us to the Other Side.
Remember the good times, the smiles and the laughs and think of those we miss with affection. 

A Prayer for Passing : click here for the Link

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Tuesday Talk - Secret Additions

I haven't much spare time today, so rather than sit here trying to juggle several things at once I'm going to give a link to a link you might not be aware of.

My 'secret' page.

Technically it is an Additional Material extra website, where there are a few things of interest.
Such as:
  • And talking of animation - especially to amuse you (but be careful it is very addictive) go to THIS EXTRA PAGE  & follow these instructions:
    • Read the introduction 
    • Make sure your sound is ON
    • On the top bar where it says "Stirring music to accompany the series" click the black  > arrow on the left. 
    • On this same top bar click the ? on the right
    • Gently move your cursor over the image of the ship

    • Guaranteed to provide relaxation and enjoyment!

Tuesday 22 October 2013

my Tuesday Talk Guest: ALISON MORTON

How to write the world of INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS

Alison Morton is the author of  INCEPTIO, an alternate history thriller published by SilverWood Books in March 2013
Shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award and  B.R.A.G. MedallionTM honoree Alison is here to talk about the next in the series: PERFIDITAS which was published on 17 October 2013

Thank you very much for welcoming me to your blog, Helen.
[My pleasure Alison!]

When I wrote INCEPTIO, the first of my series of Roma Nova thrillers, I wanted to produce a cracking story full of suspense, mystery, heroism, humanity, Roman values and the odd touch of humour. The characters had to be well-defined and realistic, true products of their societies. The second in the series, PERFIDITAS (Latin for betrayal), came out a few days ago and retains those elements plus hefty dollops of rebellion and treachery. So far, so historical.

But it’s not quite the historical timeline we know. Looking at a familiar part of our world, North America, we find in the Roma Nova books that New York is an Autonomous City in the Eastern United States (EUS) that the Dutch only left in 1813 and the British in 1865. The New World French states of Louisiane and Québec are ruled by Gouverneurs-Généraux on behalf of Napoléon VI, California and Texas belong to the Spanish Empire and the Western Territories are a protected area for the Indigenous Peoples. These are background details as the New World is only the setting for the first chapters of INCEPTIO. But as J K Rowling knew, you might not put it in the books but you need to have it all worked out in your head.

Where did Roma Nova come from?
In our timeline, the Western Roman Empire didn’t ‘fall’ in a cataclysmic event, but localised and dissolved like chain mail fragmenting into separate links giving way to rump states, local city states and petty kingdoms such as the Domain of Soissons . The Eastern Roman Empire survived, albeit as the diminished city state of Byzantium, until it fell in 1453 to the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

By late AD 394, Theodosius had banned all traditional Roman religious practice, closed and destroyed temples and dismissed all priests. The sacred flame that had burned for over a thousand years in the College of Vestals was extinguished and the Vestal Virgins expelled. The Altar of Victory, said to guard the fortune of Rome, was hauled away from the Senate building and disappeared. The Roman senatorial families pleaded for religious tolerance, but Theodosius made any pagan practice, even dropping a pinch of incense on a family altar in a private home, into a capital offence. And his ‘religious police’ driven by the austere and ambitious bishop Ambrosius of Milan, became increasingly active in pursuing pagans...

The alternate Roma Nova timeline
In AD 395, three months after Theodosius’ final decree outlawing pagan religions, four hundred Romans loyal to the old gods, and so in danger of execution, trekked north out of Italy to a semi-mountainous area in the direction of Raetia/Noricum. Led by Senator Apulius at the head of twelve senatorial families, they established a colony initially on land owned by Apulius’ Celtic father-in-law, and later acquired the surrounding areas by purchase, alliance and conquest.

But the new colony was attacked on all sides as invaders swept across Europe. Sometimes the inhabitants had to retreat to the highest mountains and watch their towns razed and fields torched. In the end, Roma Nova only survived by changing its social structure; as men constantly fought to defend the new colony, women took over the social, political and economic roles.

Photo courtesy of

Ancient Roman attitudes to women gave way to pragmatism. The leader of Roma Nova’s founders was married to an influential Celt from a society where women in her family made decisions, fought in battles and managed property as of right. Their four daughters were amongst the first pioneers so necessarily had to act more decisively than they would have in a traditional urban Roman setting.
Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first hundred years, eventually daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life.

Roma Nova’s continued existence was favoured by three factors: exploitation of high-grade silver in their mountains, their efficient technology, and their robust response to any threat. Roma Novan troops assisted the western nations at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 to halt the Ottoman advance into Europe. Nearly two hundred years later, they used their diplomatic skills to help forge an alliance to push Napoleon IV back across the Rhine as he attempted to expand his grandfather’s empire.

Prioritising survival, Roma Nova remained neutral in the Great War of the 20th century that lasted from 1925 to 1935. Today, while retaining the basic principles of Republican virtue, but changing to a more representational model for modern times, the tiny country has become one of the highest per capita income states in the world.

How to write in an alternate history setting
  Setting a story in the past or in another country is a challenge. But if you invent the country and need to dovetail it into history that the reader already knows, then the task is doubled. Unless writing post-apocalyptic, which is too fantastic for me, the geography and climate must resemble the ones in the region where the imagined country lies. I’ll confess: I ‘borrowed’ Slovenia for my model. 

Similarly, no writer can neglect their imagined country’s social, economic and political development; every living person is a product of their local conditions. People’s experience of living in a place and struggle to make sense of it is expressed through their culture. If that culture is as firmly entrenched as the Roman one was, then writers must research and become familiar with the past in their characters’ heads, their cultural mentality.

The key is plausibility. Take a character working in law enforcement. Readers can accept cops being gentle or tough, enthusiastic, intellectual or world-weary. Law enforcers come from all genders, classes, races and ages and stand in different places along the personal morality ruler. But whether corrupt or clean, they must act like a recognisable form of cop; they catch criminals, arrest and charge them and operate within a judicial system. Legal practicalities may differ significantly from those we know, but they must be consistent with that society while remaining plausible for the reader. But a flashing blue light, or an oscillating siren on a police car, is a universal symbol that instantly links readers back to their own world.

Almost any story hinges upon implausibility – a set-up or a problem the writer has purposefully created. Readers will engage with it as long as the writer keeps their trust. One way to do this is to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative detail so that it verifies and reinforces the original setting the writer has introduced.  Even though my book is set in the 21st century, the Roman characters still say things like 'I wouldn't be in your sandals (not shoes) when he finds out.'  And there are honey-coated biscuits (honey was important for the ancient Romans) not chocolate digestives in the squad room.
For me, the most appealing alternate history stories are those set naturally in their world without info dumps or long explanations. Yes, we need clues, and yes, we need character 1 to tell character 2 to duck when a steam-driven arquebusque loaded with a radiating bullet is about to blow their head off. But we don’t need a full explanation of how that technology was developed.
Another way to connect to readers when writing from an unfamiliar setting is to ensure the characters display normal behaviour. Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar emotional needs, hurts and joys. Of course, they're expressed differently, sometimes in an alienating (to us) way. But we can identify with, for example, a romantic relationship, whether painful, instant, careful or intense - it binds us into the characters’ inner life.

To sum up, I approach the alternate history aspect from a historian’s viewpoint; there are no special powers, aliens, time slip, time travel, ghosts, or even gods directing the actions of mortals. My stories centre on people, their dilemmas and how they deal with them in the extraordinary culture they live in.

INCEPTIO Book Trailer

PERFIDITAS is available online in Kindle and paperback from your local Amazon, and in EPUB from other online retailers, or you can order the paperback from your local bookshop. 
Ditto for the first in series, INCEPTIO - the Amazon link is 

How to connect with Alison
Facebook PERFIDITAS page:
Goodreads author page:
Twitter:  @alison_morton

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Tuesday Talk : Budleigh Musing by Mark Evans

My guest today is the delightful Mark Evans - relating his recent adventures at the Budleigh Book Festival.

Mark is passionate about writing and loves history. He wrote his first novel when fifteen years old and has written many more novels and scripts since. He’s most interested in the effects of history on ‘ordinary’ people.  It’s the theme of his latest writing project, a Second World War novel, The Scent of LilacsHe likes to get his facts right, whenever he can using the recollections and memoirs of people who were actually there. He draws on his own experience as an infantry and intelligence corporal in the Territorial Army during the Cold War of the 1980s, and as a civilian defence analyst working on projects for NATO and the UK, the United States and Canadian governments. 
He’s also been a re-enactor of the early medieval, seventeenth century and world war two periods. Touch and taste it to understand it, is something he believes strongly.

Born in South Wales, he moved to London when four years old. After graduating from university as an Astrophysicist, he became an astronomer and then moved to defence analysis.  After that he was a public affairs, public relations and marketing consultant. He was also active in local and UK politics.   He believes that variety is the ‘spice of life!’
He helped set up a company to produce audio and radio works of Shakespeare, another company to make community films, and is now co-owner of a business consultancy.
But most of all he’s a writer.

Over to you Mark:

Last month, I travelled from my remote Welsh valley to the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival in Devon. The what, I can hear you say.  Where?  Actually, it was rather good.  It’s been running for five years and had a very impressive line-up of speakers, starting on the Thursday night with Melvyn Bragg and PD James and running on through, amongst many others, Peter Snow, Hilary Mantel and Edna O’Brien. The full programme is on the website.

Budleigh sea front, courtesy Adrian Pingstone,
July 2009,
Wikimedia Commons
Budleigh is a small town about fifteen miles east of Exeter, nestling in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was a great setting for a gathering of those of us who love books, and writing, and writers. Presentations by authors, and question and answer sessions, were held in churches and halls closely scattered around the small town centre. There was even a marquee on the green serving refreshments and with a Waterstones stall selling books and overseeing author signings.  So very English; somehow it reminded me of church fetes and the Womens’ Institute. And the people did too, mostly of a certain age and nicely dressed and nicely mannered. I suppose that included me, well the age bit anyway. However, don’t think it was stuffy. Most certainly not. Ever been to a WI meeting? They can be lively. And there were younger people in the audience, and younger authors too like Ed Hogan and Katie Ward.  The festival buzzed.

My favourite session was perhaps that with Peter Snow, sans ‘swingometer’, who spoke, or more accurately gushed, about his book When Britain Burned the Whitehouse.  But I found them all interesting. My only criticism is that there was little opportunity to ‘meet and greet’ informally. There was a reception for Budlit Friends, but that was in August and really only suitable for locals. The festival itself had a drinks reception after the session with Sarah Churchwell, author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and The Invention of The Great Gatsby.  In keeping with the theme, people were encouraged to dress up 1920s-style.  But this happened at the very end of the festival, on the last evening, when many people would have left.  It was very difficult to do any networking during the festival, really it was only possible in queues, so I handed out few cards and had no chance to chat.  I missed the final reception because I had a plane to catch - how corny is that? 

Budleigh Salterton Literary festival is one I’m told, of over 340 local such gatherings held across the UK each year.  It was well organised.  And the lovely folk in the Tourist Information Centre were so, so helpful.   Worth the big ‘thank you’ box of chocolates I dropped off on my first morning for helping arrange tickets and taxis.  I hope all the other local festivals are as well served.

The festival is mainly an amateur event, but only in the sense that nearly all the organisers and staff involved are volunteers. In terms of standards, its very professional.
As Peter Snow commented, it’s great to see the British tradition of DIY upheld in this way.
And they’re doing it again next year. 
I’m going.  I suggest that you do too.

} Helen: I hope to be there!

Next week: Alison Morton is my guest

Tuesday 8 October 2013

The Dilemma of the Common Comma

A short while ago there was a discussion on the Historical Novel Society's Facebook Page about the difference between US & UK English. We all know that our use of spelling is very different - colour/color; harbour/harbor etc. and I think most of us are also aware of different words - in the UK we say 'dived in' the US is 'dove in' but reading comments and reviews on and it has become apparent that there is also a difference between punctuation as well.

This is particularly showing itself in the more 'scathing' reviews. Comments such as "this author needs an editor' and 'this author has no idea how to use punctuation, especially commas, correctly' are becoming (unfortunately) all too common. 
These sort of remarks seem more prevalent on (i.e. US readers/reviewers) rather than here in the UK. Either we do not notice, or the slight differences do not bother us as much.

I asked my US editor, Michelle Kelley for her opinion and this is her response:

"In regards to the use of commas in the UK vs the US--yes, American writers do tend to use commas more often than their English counterparts, but that can likely be attributed to American editors! It's an important part of our training, and the proper use of commas can be found in the first chapters of every reference manual sitting on our bookshelves. Serial commas are encouraged, but more importantly, we are taught to use commas for clarity; mainly, to separate clauses in a sentence. 
When I am reading, I may not consciously notice punctuation, but I certainly do notice when it is missing. It can be quite frustrating when I'm caught up in a fantastic scene; my emotions and adrenaline are racing when suddenly, I'm jarred out of the moment to re-read a sentence. I started to read it one way, but the lack of punctuation caused me to interpret it differently by the time I'd reached the end. Now I'm confused, and by the time I've figured out what I think the writer meant, the spell is broken. I find myself re-reading sentences more often with UK authors for this reason. 
The purpose of commas - of all punctuation, really - is clarity of thought.
A well placed comma, semi-colon or em dash tells a reader exactly how you want the words to be read. Leave it out, and readers are left to their own interpretation.  I believe punctuation is one of the most important tools of a writer's trade, yet many writers are either uncomfortable or unfamiliar with how to use punctuation to effectively manipulate their audience. When I am editing, I work with the writer to make sure their ideas come across as they intended. Most of my suggestions involve re-arranging words and offering punctuation for stronger impact. It is my job to help improve a story and make it the best it can be. 
Along with Helen's book 'Discovering the Diamond', which I thought offered some excellent advice and examples to novice writers, Strunk and White's 'The Elements of Style' is still one of the best reference guides out there for punctuation. It's a small book, less than 100 pages, and teaches the basics with examples that are straightforward and easy to understand."

Thank you Michelle

My UK assisted publishing manager, Helen Hart of SilverWood Books says:

"I completely agree with Michelle about the clarity issue. That's really the whole reason for commas. They group and separate clauses, words, and phrases. I'm a big fan of the Oxford comma (or, to our US friends, the "serial" comma). Without it, we'd have some very odd sentences - I read a comment the other day which said without the Oxford comma, the sentence "I'd like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God" would have indicated a fascinating parental pedigree where the speaker's parents were none other than Ayn Rand and God…
However, in the UK there has been a gradual move towards a "cleaner" page from a typographical perspective. This means in the UK editors, typographers, writers, and anyone else working with text tends to try to reduce punctuation unless it's vital for reducing ambiguity."

For fun, take a look at this quote from a 1923 edition of the American Bar Association Journal. The "they" in the first line refers to lawyers. 

You'd never get away with such sexism nowadays...

My UK editor, Jo Field, adds:
"All I would say to people is this: Read Lynne Truss’s excellent book, 'Eats Shoots and Leaves’. She dedicates a chapter to the comma in an informative, hilarious way. I use it as my bible and could not hope to better it. I just wish someone would write something similar on the use of capital letters, which is also very different between American and English writing, e.g. My Lord v. my lord.  King/Queen v. king/queen. Sir v. sir, and so on. But as I always maintain, my purpose as an editor is not to prove that I have a superior grasp of the rules of English grammar (only wish I did!) but to ensure there is no ambiguity to trip up the reader. And the purpose of the comma is to further that aim, not break up an over-long sentence to stand in for a full stop!"

I would also suggest two more  useful books for UK writers:

and of course: 

a couple of related articles:
Writing Reflections
Viva la difference

Tuesday Talk to look forward to:
15th October - my guest Mark Evans has thoughts on the Budleigh Book Fair
22nd October by  Alison Morton as my guest

Thursday 3 October 2013

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Tuesday Talk Guest: Mary Tod

My Tuesday Talk guest today is M.K. Tod
- over to you Mary:

My Year of Reading Top Historical Fiction Authors
Many thanks to Helen Hollick for inviting me to write this guest post and for her support during the past year. (Helen: my pleasure!)

Mary Tod
Last year’s historical fiction survey revealed a top 40 list of authors. Some authors were already familiar to me—Elizabeth Chadwick, Sharon Kay Penman, for example—others like CW Gortner, Deanna Raybourn, and Helen Hollick were unknown. Discovering new authors is a gift and having a list with several new names felt like Christmas.

So, what did I read?

I chose not to read deceased authors on the top 40 list for no other reason than to manage the effort involved. Here are the books I’ve selected from a few authors yet to read:

Diana Gabaldon – one of her Lord John Grey series (since I've read almost all of Outlander)
Margaret George – Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles (such a tragic figure); I loved her earlier novel Mary, Called Magdalene
Hilary Mantel – Bring up the Bodies (to complete the Wolf Hall story)
Colleen McCullough – The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet (I haven't read this Australian author since The Thorn Birds)
Lindsey Davis – The Course of Honour (another new author for me)
Sarah Waters – The Night Watch (WWII is up my alley)
John Jakes – On Secret Service (because I enjoy spies)
Jean Auel – I’ve read all (no pun intended) of her books.

What did I learn?

Favourite historical fiction comes in different flavours: mysteries, romance, war stories, fictional or real figures, quiet stories or those that play out with fury. Some of the most compelling ingredients are seamless and evocative historic detail, effective characterization, plot twists and turns, strong pacing, realistic dialogue, and tumultuous times.
Each and every one of the authors on the top 40 list has mastered these ingredients.

About Mary:

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon (US, Canada and elsewhere), Nook, Kobo, Google Play, iTunes and the iBooks store. 
(see below for more detail)

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Unravelled retail links

M.K. Tod contact links


Two wars, two affairs, one marriage. In October 1935, Edward Jamieson's memories of war and a passionate love affair resurface when an invitation to a WWI memorial ceremony arrives. Though reluctant to visit the scenes of horror he has spent years trying to forget, Edward succumbs to the unlikely possibility of discovering what happened to Helene Noisette, the woman he once pledged to marry. Travelling through the French countryside with his wife Ann, Edward sees nothing but reminders of war. After a chance encounter with Helene at the dedication ceremony, Edward's past puts his present life in jeopardy. When WWII erupts a few years later, Edward is quickly caught up in the world of training espionage agents, while Ann counsels grieving women and copes with the daily threats facing those she loves. And once again, secrets and war threaten the bonds of marriage. With events unfolding in France, England and Canada, UNRAVELLED is a compelling novel of love, duty and sacrifice set amongst the turmoil of two world wars. 

 “M. K. Tod’s skilful debut novel spanning two world wars deftly illuminates the subtle stirrings of the human heart as movingly as it depicts the horrors of battle. Poignant and generous, Unravelled gives us Edward, scarred by war, and Ann, alive with longing, two people bound by the heartbreaking bonds of a marriage forged in the crucible of secrets and war.
Barbara Kyle, author of Blood Between Queens.
A compulsive and convincing read: a story of webs that were innocently woven - and lives that subsequently become unravelled.”
Helen Hollick, author of historical fiction and historical adventure. 
An engrossing historical saga. With narrative insight, compassion, and a strong sense of time and place, M.K. Tod observes the inner workings of a marriage as it’s affected by the uncertainty and tumult of both world wars."
Sarah Johnson, Historical Novel Society Book Review Editor.
Wartime relationships have always been compelling reading, and M.K. Tod’s Unravelled beautifully evokes an era of heightened tension, in which her characters’ decisions become all the more heart-rending. A well researched and very enjoyable book.”
Anne Easter Smith, author of A Rose for the Crown, Queen By Right and Royal Mistress
A beautiful rendering of the healing journey of two war torn hearts.” 
Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Golden Dice and The Wedding Shroud

Helen: lovely to have you as a guest here Mary - I have to say how much I enjoyed Unravelled - excellent read!