At last I’ve got the historical characters almost sorted.

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As I’m now on the home stretch when it comes to the historical side of my current WIP Autumn 1066, I now have nearly all of the actual historical characters sorted. There may be one or two minor ones I’ve missed. Only further research on my part will determine that.

The whole story has led to one specific date in the history of my homeland, England. That date is October the fourteenth 1066, and the battle that determined our fate as a nation for many centuries afterwards. As I’ve mentioned previously (that’s if you have been bothering to read my past updates) it actually occurred seven miles northwest of the coastal town. Even so it is still referred to quite incorrectly by historians as the Battle of Hastings.

When I downed tools yesterday morning I had begun to assemble the players on both sides, led by Harold and William respectively, on the site in Sussex where it took place nine hundred and fifty-one years ago. This morning I begin writing about the battle itself, after I’ve posted this for you to read that is…

But what about your fictional characters, I hear the more inquisitive among you ask? You’ll just have to be patient won’t you. In other words wait until you get to read it for yourselves, when I publish it as a paperback.

Am I having fun with this one? Duh – what do you think? Of course I am. I can’t wait to begin the fictional side of the story. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

More later

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I honestly don’t know which is worse…

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…a story that moves at a snail’s pace, or one that has been deliberately padded out. Both are a big no no in my book, if you will pardon the pun. And yet many of today’s writers are guilty of using one or both practices, egged on by online proponents of both.

Anyone who has ever read any of my books can confirm that I wholeheartedly embrace fast paced writing. I for one do not want to wade through endless pages of off piste ramblings. So why should I make my readers suffer in the same way? Even my latest WIP Autumn 1066 is fast paced.

When it comes to a book’s characters, personally I do not need to know every minute detail about any of them. Just the salient points. Over the years many who have read and reviewed my books often complain about what they see as the minimal amount of information I disclose about my characters. Why is that? Because I tend towards the trickle method throughout the story. Why do I do that?

Ask yourselves this question – when you first meet someone new, do you insist on knowing everything about them? No of course you don’t. You want to get to know them gradually. Unless that is you are a nosey parker! In which case, the chances are that the other person will lose interest if you get too pushy, and move on. When you meet a character in a book, treat the encounter the way you would in real life. Be grateful for what I give you and fill in the rest by picking up clues in the book and using your imagination!

If you are one of those individuals who prefer to read pages and pages of agonising detail with little or no action, may I suggest that you stick to the writers of yesteryear.

I hate to break it to you but writing has moved on. We are now living in the twenty-first century, not the nineteenth! Today’s pace of life is such that before we know it, the world has changed beyond recognition and already passed us by. Hence the need for fast paced writing to capture the average busy modern individual’s fleeting attention span within two minutes or less…

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This is a stupidity free zone!!!

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These days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore sheer stupidity!!!

How many times have you heard something said that totally annoys or baffles you? Here are a couple of classic examples said by people of learning, in particular several of today’s historians, who quite frankly should know better:-

‘Sir Christopher Wren built St Paul’s Cathedral.’ No he didn’t. He designed and oversaw its construction. Neither did Henry VIII build Hampton Court.

The same goes for anything said about Isambard Kingdom Brunel.   Isambard_Kingdom_Brunel_preparing_the_launch_of_'The_Great_Eastern_by_Robert_HowlettHistorians and others still tend to insist that he built the ship Great Eastern amongst other things, not forgetting the railway lines across the United Kingdom that he contracted to provide. But, just like Henry VIII and Sir Christopher Wren, Brunel did not actually get his hands dirty physically building anything he is acknowledged as being responsible for!

Even today there are still a lot of overprivileged chinless wonders living in rarefied circles who still insist on pronouncing names like Cholmondeley as Chumley, while at the same time perpetuating the myth that the construction of great houses such as Petworth pictured below, is solely down to their aristocratic owners rolling their sleeves up and turning to with hammer, nails, chisel and saw.

Complete and utter poppycock!

The owners commissioned others to design their grand houses and ornate gardens. Then a workforce of builders were employed to construct the former. big-3-9-2010125726P7680508Petworth-Hse076-J-Miller-06 Regarding the latter, Capability Brown and other landscape designers of his time only ever drew up the landscape plans for many of the ornate gardens surrounding the UK’s stately houses. Then employed teams of navvies and plantsmen to construct them as per the plans.

Then there are the things university educated radio announcers (in particular those employed by the BBC) say without realising how stupid they sound. Such as saying something along the lines of “you have just been listening to Valery Gergiev conducting the Royal Philharmonic.

This begs a simple question – how in hades can you hear someone waiving their arms in the air like a demented banshee? What they should have said was, “you have just heard Beethoven’s fifth symphony being played by the Royal Philharmonic, conducted by Valery Gergiev!

Then there is the proliferation of utterly cringworthy Americanisms such as “he disrespected me!” Sorry to burst your bubble, but what ‘he’ actually did was to show his disrespect for or to you! The same goes for a particular pet hate of mine and other writers such as newspaper reporters, the words going forward. Click on the words highlighted in red to read a newspaper article on the subject.

What complete idiot thought that one up I wonder?

Do yourselves a huge favour. Think long and hard before you open your mouths in the future. If you hadn’t already realised it, many abhor stupidity in its many forms. In that regard I’m no different.

One last thing – whether you choose to do this is entirely down to you. From now on whenever anyone inappropriately inserts the word ‘like’ into any given sentence within earshot of my lazyboy chair, I won’t hesitate to slap them around the head or throw something at them, given half a chance…

For god’s sake people, unless you want a thick ear, do please get these things right!!!

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Men – please pay attention!

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Scarlett Johansson

The other day, purely to prove a point to myself, I deliberately posted the above photograph of the American actress Scarlett Johansson on her Official FaceBook Page as an experiment. As I have always believed, a considerable number of males using the FaceBook site, in general are not necessarily interested in written posts. Nor pictures of other people’s kids, holidays or pets, come to that. I’m sorry ladies, but there it is. While you love seeing them, most males don’t…

So far the photograph has received well over eight hundred hits, likes and comments from men across the planet. By comparison, I’m lucky if one of my blog posts gains twenty hits even though the number of people following this blog is 636.

What does it say about the average male using Facebook? It tells me something that all woman already knew. When it comes right down to it, we’re all suckers for a beautiful face. In other words we’re utterly normal. I’m no different to any other mere male where female beauty is concerned.

Before any of you ladies feel the need to remind me, I’m familiar with the old saying – beauty is only skin deep. There is another specifically for married men to remember – you can look but don’t touch! Even you ladies have to admit that she is a lovely looking example of womanhood.

Because she is the highest grossing actress in Hollywood, what she is like to live with is anyone’s guess. While looking at various photographs of her on FaceBook, a few words immediately spring to mind. One is demanding, the second is fiery, and the third is diva…

A thought just occurred – my normal blog posts are lucky to get more than a handful of likes or hits on FaceBook. Maybe in the future I should add a photograph of a beautiful woman to the version of my posts sent to the site if I want other men to read them.

I wonder what the chances of that happening are? Slim to none I’d say.

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A thought has just occurred…

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…no, wait a minute. That’s not strictly true.

I’ve been thinking for several years now about why today’s generation don’t read as much as my own did, and still do come to that?

For instance, why do so many of the one, two or three star book reviews on Amazon and other internet book sites, often written by ordinary members of the public, focus on how any given writer approaches dialogue between characters in particular? Why is it that they they feel obliged to go on the offensive?

I believe I know why. Today’s generation relies heavily on visual images such as in films, on television, and even via the Internet, particularly channels like YouTube, for any story to have a chance of gaining their attention.Think about those annoying video clips some writers are forced to put out by their publisher in the vain hope of attracting prospective readers?

If you want a for instance, I’ll give you one! Think about how today’s generation believe that a book’s cover is all important, and not the text! They want to see pretty pictures not words! Think about why so many writers offer up their latest work’s cover for scrutinization across all social media platforms these days? Once again in a vain attempt to attract today’s generation, that’s why!

Quite frankly I can see a time in the not too distant future when illiteracy becomes the norm unless today’s generation buck up their ideas, starting with losing themselves in the pages of a book!

My friend and fellow author Bob Van Laerhoven reminded me of how vital the cover is these days, when he asked me the other day if I had thought about the cover for my work in progress Autumn 1066 yet? Even though we were both joking about it, we know that for it to sell, it will either need a scantily clad buxom young Saxon or Viking female, or a muscular Saxon or Viking warrior in his prime on the cover for it to even be considered by today’s generation! Whether we like it or not, PULCHRITUDE IS WHAT GAINS ATTENTION AND HOPEFULLY SELLS BOOKS TODAY!!!

It’s my contention that because of the highly visual age we live in that today’s generation have completely lost the means to emerse themselves in anything written down, such as a book, unlike my own generation who were brought up on the written word. In other words quite literally they must have everything spelt out for them visually.

Then there are those individuals who when they come across written dialogue, apparently consider it a foreign language. The following example is the rough draft of one particular short piece of dialogue from the story I am in the process of writing, in this instance involving two eleventh century Saxon thegns:-

What do you think Beadurof?” Colby wondered.

About what?”

The shapely hips on the comely wench yonder. Hey Aldred, we’re glad you brought your beautiful niece with you. Oh and just look at the way her hips swing? Not to mention how her shapely rear quivers as she walks. Very desirable, don’t you think?”

Aldred bit his tongue as he fought hard not to smile. Because of Cynric’s tender age and slender build, his nephew could so easily be mistaken for a young female from behind at a distance. Smirking, he briefly glanced in his direction. Cynric’s face flushed bright red with anger at the good natured jibe by one of Aldred’s oldest friends.

“If she gets cold sleeping on her own tonight or any other night, I’ll fight you for the honour of protecting her Colby. I’ll keep her warm, providing she lets me have my way with her that is. So what say you my beauty?” Beadurof replied with a grin on his face as he blew a kiss in Cynric’s direction…

So, did you imagine the scene while reading it? No? Then you are a lost cause…

As a member of today’s generation, its incumbent upon you to tell the rest of us why you find it so difficult to do the same damned thing when reading, instead of wanting it spelt out to you on a silver screen? Seemingly it’s something today’s generation are incapable of!

It would appear that for them to be able to understand the above example at its most basic level, requires that they actually hear the characters speaking, and not via the medium of imaginary voices in their heads. Plus they need to be able to see the characters portray their facial expressions and both their physical and emotional reactions.

I have only this to say on the subject – wake up idiots! What you want is utterly impossible to achieve in a book. Reading a book requires your participation as well. All you have to do is use your imagination! For your information the difference between a book and a visual interpretation of a story via a film or television script is that the former asks you to engage your brain, or if you prefer it – your mind’s eye. Whereas the latter does not. In that instance, all you need to do is to sit in a vegetative state in a darkened room eating popcorn while staring at the silver screen!!!!

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Lastly – I’ve been accused of being overly fond of description, in particular by one of my more vocal peers in the past. You know who you are. 😉

In my defence, I only ever do that when creating the back story. I’m about to disappoint the particular individual once again, when I tell them here on my blog in front of witnesses (metaphorically speaking that is) that my historical adventure Autumn 1066 will be no different. Without a descriptive background constantly running throughout the book it just won’t work. So, you can either like it or lump it while eating your Païdakia my friend.

Rant over. Now I’d better get back to it. First things first – I need another cup of coffee and a smoke…

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The hidden problem with research

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There is one thing that will soon become all too apparent to you while conducting research for any fictitious historical story you might care to write. When it comes to the written records of events in days gone by, every historian you come across has an entirely different opinion, based on what they believe actually happened. You will find that they agree on some points while differing on others. This is all too apparent as I continue to research a series of three specific ancient battles, fought back to back during the short time period of barely a month here in England, almost a thousand years ago.

The only thing the historians involved do agree on, is to disagree with one another over their fellow academic’s interpretation of what they think happened. All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you. Particularly as in this instance today’s historians are at an enormous disadvantage. They don’t have access to sworn eyewitness accounts of the particular series of events I am still researching. Therefore anything they come up with can be nothing more than conjecture. I do beg their pardon – I should have said theory, the posh word academics use in preference to the aforementioned. In other words, in this instance they are relying on pure guesswork on their part…

While researching for my latest story, so far I’ve read a dozen different versions, based on what the academics involved, think happened. As I said in a previous post, the initial account about what I’m interested in was not written until fifty years after the three battles happened. In other words, just like today’s crop of historians, its highly doubtful that the chronicler(s) involved back then, were able to lay their hands on any eyewitness accounts, mainly because of the fact that for one thing, at the time in question most people could neither read nor write. Secondly, given the fact that it is highly doubtful that any survivors of the events were still alive a half century later, when the chronicler(s) wrote their account to please the country’s new masters during those troubled times, it could not at the time be accepted as the truth. Which begs the question why today’s historians defer to it???

PS – I’ve come up with a possible title for the story

PPS – as the three events I’m interested in happened in a short time frame, I’ve had to reassess the probable length of the story. It looks likely that it may end up as a long short story (novelette). At best, by adding what my fictitious characters get up to in the narrative may add a couple of thousand words.

High ho, high ho, It’s back to work I go…

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Never make assumptions

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Just to let you know that the new story is progressing as expected. As of yesterday, I’ve written two thousand words. Most of what I’ve collected together so far is from the often dubious historical accounts written fifty years after the event, which I have previously mentioned. It’s thanks to them that the idea for this story planted itself firmly in the forefront of my mind, refusing to budge. I find that certain stories have a tendency to do that. They demand to be written. Who am I to argue when a story chooses me? It’s Kismet…

Once I am satisfied that I have trawled all of the relevant historical accounts for the necessary background information to at least give my historical fiction a certain degree of legitimacy, then and only then will I begin writing from the perspective of my fictional character’s involvement on opposing sides in the story. If I’m honest, that’s when the fun begins for me.

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The day before yesterday I sent a read only copy of the historical background information I’d written so far to my mate in Abu Dhabi, believing he might like to see what I’m up to.

Unfortunately like a lot of writers of my acquaintance, he completely got the wrong end of the stick. Instead of perusing it first to see what it was all about, he immediately began critiquing. He complained about the length of some of the sentences, not to mention his difficulty in coming to terms with the period names I’m using. He was also less than complimentary about a couple of instances I have added into the mix of notes as they occurred to me, concerning some of my character’s interactions with one another.

There is a lesson to be learnt from this. Don’t send a sample of what your writing to another writer without making it plain that it is not being sent for the purposes of criticism. By the same token, as the recipient don’t automatically make assumptions when a fellow writer sends you a sample of what their new story is about. If they want you to cast a critical eye over what has been sent to you, they will make it plain. Before you engage your inner editor/critic/grammar nazi, take a long hard look at what has been sent to you in the first place. Then take a breath and step back from the incorrect assumption you made. You will find it beneficial in the long run.

Making assumptions is to be avoided like the plague. As the recipient may I suggest that you simply read it to get a feel for what is currently occupying the sender’s mind and nothing more. I thought I had made it plain to him. Apparently I hadn’t – lesson learnt on my part.

One last thing – have I got a title in mind? No, not yet. That usually suggests itself once the story is well underway. Certainly not at this extremely early stage of the proceedings…

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