• Launch Day (soon)!

    It’s getting closer!  I mean the day when the ebook of The Alchemist of Netley Abbey comes out.  For some reason I’m finding this more exciting than the launch day of almost any of the other seven in Hildegard’s series.  It feels as if there’s something really special about this one.  It’s as if something extraordinary is about to happen!

    I’ve also been reluctant to clear away my notes this time.  I keep finding little stickies bearing snatches of dialogue which never made it to the final version – there was so much more I could have put in and I’ve cut such a lot.  For instance, I became really interested in alchemy.  In Christian Europe alchemists were nearly always men even though in the days of Ancient Greece women, such as the mathematician Hypatia, worked equally with men.  Why did the Christian fathers clamp down on women’s activities?  What were they afaid of?  It has taken centuries for us to shake off the bonds of poor education and social stigma.  I hope the generation of schoolgirls coming out into the world nowadays learn about our history as women and forge ahead in a way previous generations were unable to do.  How different would science be by now if women had taken an equal role?  What other lines of inquiry would have been followed?  Would there have been a difference?  Nobody can know, we can only speculate.

    It’s for these sort of reasons I get really sick of all the nonsense about witches. I know it’s a bit of a hobby-horse of mine but it was a hot political issue and surely deserves more than to be an occasion for fake shivers of horror.  At least in the late fourteenth century witch-burning was not an issue.  It simply didn’t happen.  Only later, in the schismatic period of the Tudor and Reformation wars of religion did it become a way of eliminating the enemies of orthodoxy.  How easy it was to get rid of women who ‘mouthed off ‘ by burning them at the stake as witches!  And dear old Wyclif died before they could get to him, although they did imagine it was a good idea to dig up his body and do nasty things to it.

    The reign of King Richard II was relatively civilised in a way we might understand today.  The first public burning of a heretic was not a women but a man – and it didn’t happen in Richard’s reign but later,  when his regicidal cousin Bolingbroke snatched the crown, making it one of the first acts by the king the French always referred to as ‘so-called Hery  IV.’  His unlucky victim was a man called William Sawtre and he was burned alive at Smithfield for refusing to accept the validity of orthodox religious belief.  You could say it was a bit rich,  coming from Bolingbroke/Henry, who himself murdered God’s anointed king.  How unorthodox was that!  Later, there were wholesale burnings of and by both Catholics and their opponents.  But by now we’re in the world of the barbaric Tudors.

    Such a lot has to be omitted in a novel.  It’s not a history book, after all.  I hope there’s enough about alchemy to make Hywel credible and to open the door to another aspect of that curious and exciting medieval world which (hobby-horse again) has been dropped from the National Curriculum.

    Next time I should have a date for the launch.  Watch this space!

  • The mysterious Netley Abbey

    The new book, THE ALCHEMIST OF NETLEY ABBEY, is about to be hurled out into the cruel world.  I hope readers treat it gently.  Hildegard, the abbot and his two militant monks have been forced by fate to seek shelter at Netley Abbey where a group of pilgrims are waiting for a ship to take them to France.  A Welsh alchemist attends Abbot de Courcy but is he to be trusted?  What did Abbot Philip at Netley mean when he said spies had infiltrated his demesne?  Just a short ride away King Richard’s bitterest enemy, the earl of Arundel, commands the Narrow Seas so what are three of his mercenaries doing at Netley?  Follow Hildegard on her 8th perilous mission as she tracks down a murderer within the abbey precinct.

    Will Hildegard and Hubert ever get it together?  Will they ever get home to Meaux?

    Find out in May when the ebook emerges and pick up a book later.

    Latest on twitter where you can follow Hildegard @nunsleuth


  • Finished!

    It’s been a long haul and I can’t imagine why I thought it would be feasible to write a blog at the same time as writing the actual novel.  Impossible!  Maybe some people can do it, but not this one.  All I can do is quote Stephen King again when he said ‘write with the door shut’ – and to write alongside a blog is to write with the doors wide open and a big sign saying, ‘come on in, folks.’  Not the way to do it.

    The characters followed their own path and Ranulph didn’t end up dead.  In fact he didn’t appear at all.  Others were a surprise. Mistress Sweet and Mistress Sour were unexpected.   Lissa and Simon too.  I’d been reading A Doll’s House when they appeared and after quite a few chapters I realised Delith had crept in under the guise of Norah!

    It’s amazing how characters seep in from elswhere and then become themselves because of the needs of the plot and the story they find themselves in.  Now the pilgrim ship has finally sailed I’m going to miss them.

    All done now. I hope readers will like them.  I’ve had some lovely encouragement recently – when somebody says they stayed up half the night because they wanted to know what heppened next, it makes it all worthwhile.  Thank you for all those lovely comments.  I’ll let you know when The Alchemist of Netley Abbey is ready for the road.


  • Another week…

    Yet another week has flown by.  Been writing The Alchemist at Netley Abbey (book 8) since January 9th.  It was a long gestation though.

    Hildegard and the boys are well settled into Netley Abbey but there’s a heat-wave, nobody is what they seem, tensions are running high and then the Hand of God comes down…Next morning Hildegard seems to be the only one to keep her cool.

    Must put all this into appropriate idiom.

    Am feeling quite tired but what happens next keeps me going.

    It’s also good to know there are people out there waiting to read this book.  Thanks, guys!

  • Day 14 or 15

    I can’t believe the time is going so quickly.  Another day at the screen.  Scenes coming thick and fast.  How I’ll hold them together is anybody’s guess.  Too many ideas.  Will they weld nicely or fall apart in my hands?  Only time and patience can answer that one.  Real life, as it’s called, is quickly acquiring the aura of fiction while fiction seems more real than the other stuff.

    Hildegard and the monks have all now arrived at Netley Abbey but what lies in wait…..?

  • Blogging and writing

    I admire those people who can keep a blog going and write a novel at the same time.  I’ve realised I can’t do it.  It’s got to be one or the other.  I’m still getting the ducks in a row but there’s always one that refuses to come down when called.

    Steven King advises:

    Write with the door closed.  Rewrite with the door open.

    Sound advice and I pass it on for your use if needed.

    He also said:  don’t seek praise from groups.  It only feeds your ego.  You’ve got to stand aside to let your novel grow.

    I can’t better this advice so I’m not feeling too guilty about leaving off for a while until I get a respectable number of words down.

    Remember the Saxon salaute in Hangman Blind ?  Ge be!

    Till next time.

    I think this is Day 9 by the way.  I’ll keep a tally out of interest.

  • How I write or how (not) to write a novel: Day Seven

    Counting the days like this is really keeping me up to the mark.   I couldn’t resist starting yesterday though.  It was what I call a mosaic-ing day.  Bits of dialogue and stray scenes beg to be written down as they appear, fleshing out (yes, that!) the characters and causing things to happen. It’s a sort of pointillist exercise, creating the scene and who’s there.  The alchemist has a name.  He’s Hywel.  His litle side-kick who may or may not live to see another day is Jankin, a gutter-kid with a lot of potential and no home.  He’s wary of Hywel but slowly coming to rely on him.  Hywel’s mind is on proto-science, alchemy, and he’ll give a lot to discover the answer to all his questions.  But how much will he give?   How far will he go?

    Hildegard is coming in tomorrow.  I’m really looking forward to getting her and the brothers back into the action.  When we left her at the end of The Scandal of the Skulls she, the abbot and his two militant monks were just leaving Salisbury to return north to the abbey of Meaux.  It’s summer.  They’re delighted to be going home.  We’ll have to be quick to keep them in sight as their horses are fresh from the stables and raring to go.

  • How I write: Day Six

    Can’t wait to get started but one or two things need to be straightened out before I summon up a new file.  For one,  I’m not sure I’ve even got my ducks together in one pond, let alone sitting in a row.  For two, who is it for?  I asked my editor that question, wondering who she was pitching it at, and she smiled and said, people like us.  By that I assume she means readers of  genre fiction but this  always confuses me.  Bearing in mind that there are no rules (see yesterday) I suppose it’s not a bad idea to have some vague inkling about the sort of novel you’re writing. What genre is it?  Even lit. fic, is a genre these days.  This must be crime, yes, because there’s always a body, but if the death isn’t caused by illegal means is it crime then, as such?  this is where  sub-genres come in  –  mystery, suspense, thriller, detection, whodunnit and so on.  There’s even police procedural which for my own books set in the reign of Richard II, I’d dismissed until recently until I saw that  it might have some go in it.  Medieval lawmen went about things in as measured, thoughtful and rule-bound way as the police do today.  They wrote it all down.  They just used different names for what they did and the role they fulfilled.

    That aside for now, all I know about The Alchemist at Netley Abbey is that there’s a busy little port down there on the Solent receving shipments from across the Narrow Sea, there’s an alchemist doing his stuff, and there’s a body of a monk with possibly other bodies in the pipe-line, maybe literally.  And there’s Hildegard, Hubert and Co conscious of the ever present danger to their beloved young king, Richard II.  Oh, and there’s the great Owain Glyn Dwr of course.

    Purists scoff at anybody who breaks their rules but I hate being bound by arbitrary nonsense.  My real interest, anyway, lies in the long and tragic reign of King Richard II himself and for me  his death transcends all others.  We shall never know the truth about how he died and it seems blindingly obvious that Henry of Lancaster, usurper Henry IV, gave the order to get rid of his cousin to Swynford, his half-brother, who was constable of Pontefract Castle where Richard was imprisoned, but beyond those facts nothing is certain. There are offical accounts, chronicles purporting to tell the truth written up by Lancaster’s paid men, and stray documents and comments that need explanation, but  I want to go into that more fully when Hilegard reaches 1399, the year of regicide.  She has another ten years to go yet .  Although  the forces of darkness are never far away you might ask where is the mystery if we already know how it ends?  Well, there’s what you might call collateral damage, beginning with Hangman Blind.  Now, in book eight, first off is a corpse called Ranulph.  But how and why did he get that way? And what has this to do with the king?

    Ah, here’s another duck flying onto the pond.  Let’s wait and watch for the others.

    Back tomorrow.


  • How I write: Day Five

    I’m at that stage I call the accummulation of random facts.  It involves reading, of course, and a lot of lying around half-asleep.  I wake up in the middle of the night and scribble sentences in a big A4 hardback notebook.  Random scenes begin to emerge.  Sometimes they’re no more than a glance between characters.  Sometimes snatches of dialogue or descriptions of a place with its particular atmosphere.  What I should be doing according to the standard ‘how to write a novel’ course is fleshing out my characters and refining my plot lines.  When I taught creative writing a few years ago in London I began with the line:  there is one rule for writing a novel , at which every pen became poised, only to say:  there are no rules.  Philosophically, of course, it’s ambiguous, but you get the point I’m sure.

    I’d planned to write chapter one on Monday morning but am being pulled by wild horses towards starting tomorrow.  Hildegard is eager to get up and at ’em.

    A point worth remembering is that words are not sacrosanct until you make them so.

    Meanwhile I read Chaucer writing about his astrolabe yesterday.  His son, ‘lytel Lewys,’ must have been a bright spark.  At the age of ten he was begging his father to show him how the astrolabe worked and Chaucer, good dad, decided to write it out for him like a little lesson, beginning with a description of what the astrolabe looked like and how it should be held and then going into ever more detail to demonstrate what it could do.  Apart from being able to measure the altitude of the stars, movements of the sun, timing of the tides and so forth, it could be used for astrology.  Chaucer set his constant fix on Oxford, that hotbed of Lollardry, so-called.  The scholars were free enough in King Richard II’s time to follow their researches into the seven liberal arts of which astronomy was one, without danger to themselves – until Arundel decided to hound them out.  This led them to a small fenland port on the river Cam where they set up shop again.  I believe there’s a unniversity and a science park there to this very day.  It was ten years later after usurper Henry IV seized the throne that burning at the stake was introduced into England as punishment for pioneering scientific thought, or indeed, any thought at all.

    I really need a stroll round Netlay Abbey to find out exactly where the guest quarters were and how the brothers got down to the quayside to unload their imports.   Fat chance though.  Car still kaput.


  • Birthday time: Day Four

    It’s King Richard II’s six hundred and fifty first birthday today.  I hope he’s celebrating somewhere in the ether.

    It’s also Epiphany but one of those, personally, is somewhat far off today.

    This whole blog-and-write entrerprise is already foundering.  I usually spend the first few days before starting chapter one by getting into the zone but it seems as if everything is conspiring to drag me back to the world of trivia – fridge breaking down, orders not being delivered, being overcharged in stupid shops, Ten Weeks That Changed England not downloading properly and would-be readers blaming me, and worse, car not working and the RAC who are supposed to help made me waste an hour on the phone yesterday, the only result being that my car still won’t go and their telephone operatives still need further training.  How is it possible to write with all this mundane stuff going on?  I’ve always seen the need for writers’ retreats but don’t fancy travelling overseas at this time.  Why are there so few retreats in England?  ( I bleat). There used to be the great St Deiniol’s Library in the Welsh Marches, perfect in every way until it was ‘modernised’ and turned into a ‘hotel with books’ as one of the habitues described it.  I don’t want a hotel, with or without books.  Couples sitting silently opposite each other at breakfast.  Everybody avoiding eye contact.  Conversation level zero.  It used to be full of erudite fellows with a sharp line in banter.  Outside the solitude of the library you had to be on your toes. Sadly that was yesteryear. Where are they now?

    Moan, moan, moan.

    I’ll never write anything in this frame of mind.

    At least Amazon have just rung me re my call for help and a charming woman in the Caribbean sorted out the problem in under ten minutes.  Ten Weeks is now completely downloadable and if it’s not on your ebook device a short call will bring help.  It’s a free download for Hildegard’s fans on Amazon prime.   Great system. Very grateful (the RAC could learn a lot).

    Next, deal with the car.  (Trip to Netley Abbey scrubbed for now)..

    Deal with car tax.

    Deal with Waitrose.

    Deal with unexpected bill.

    Deal with prosopagnosia training.

    Deal with the day’s food. (Forget wonky fridge for now.)

    Think about lovely phone call  last night (more later, I hope, re Dragon of Handale).

    Go to gym.

    Then think about The Alchemist at Netley Abbey.

    The WIP somebody called it.  The Work In Progress.  More like The WNIP.

    On the positive side I’ve at least started reading the Dennis Wheatley for his slant on the occult.  Not very relevant but a good read.  No wonder he was a best-seller in his day.  It’s a bit dated but even so he pitches right into the story on page one with strong characters, cliff-hanger chapters and, 100 pages in, an ever more labyrinthine plot.  Not characters mindlessly killing each other but real moral dilemmas, or at least real if you accept the existence of a left-hand path.

    After lunch it’s going to be Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe.  Read it ages ago but couldn’t make sense of it.  This time will try harder.

    Nowhere near The Zone at present.

    Chapter One on Monday seems very very far away.