Wednesday, 29 September 2010

My Writing Group

Today I would like to talk about my writing group, The Cwrtnewydd Scribblers. The picture on the left is not one of the members :)

I had lived in Cwrtnewydd for about 14 years before I discovered it had a writing group. To be honest, we live in such a small farming community that I didn't expect much from it beyond some congenial company and cake, but I have never been so glad I joined anything in my life.

The group was started about eight years ago (I think) by Brenda and most of the original members still attend every week, some write with a view to publishing, others purely for pleasure, some write only prose, others prefer poetry. For me, the best thing about the group, apart from the cake, is the support. We go over work together, making constructive criticism and suggesting changes and generally nudging each other on which helps us all to think positively. Negativity is strictly not allowed.

Every week, unless it is held at my house, I walk along the pretty country lanes to either Margaret or Rachael's house. I pass wild flowers, meadows, trees, cattle and cottages that seem to doze in the afternoon sunshine. Once we are all assembled we gather about a table and take out our pads and pencils.
Brenda writes wonderful mystical stories and has recently had her first book of poetry, Late Blackberries, published by Lapwing. She is currently working on a romantic novel.

Rachael's ambition is to be published in the Romance market and I feel it in my bones that that day is not long away. She posted a very strong entry into the recent competition held by M&B and is sure to do well. Her male leads are very interesting indeed ...I wonder where she carried out her research :)

Margaret concentrates on short, very witty stories which often surprise us with a nifty punch or a jaw dropping surprise at the end.

Sue Moules is a poet of some standing in our part of the world, she has had many volumes published, her latest The Earth Singing is available now from Amazon and other book stores.

Iris is compiling memoirs of her childhood in Dorset which, so far, makes compelling reading. The anecdotes are peppered with small instances of social history that should not be forgotten.

Most of you know my genre of choice so I won't go into detail on it. Before I joined Cwrtnewydd Scribblers I was alone, writing for my own pleasure and my husband was the only person to see it. I had submitted a few, badly prepared manuscripts but had no real clue how to go about it. Since joining I have had Peaceweaver and a volume of poetry, Waving at Trains, published. I have learned to shamelessly self-publicise myself and the group, we all have websites and blogs and I how have an extensive catalogue of work AND an agent. I think we have all learned that it is better to write as part of a group.

The HOT NEWS is that Cwrtnewydd Scribblers is publishing a collection of their work, the profits of which are going to Air Ambulance, Wales. The booklet is to be called Of Cake and Words and is an eclectic mix of short stories and poetry.

For further information contact me or visit our web page:

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Story Teller or Historian?

I read a lot of reviews, both of my own work and that of others. Sometimes, if I have enjoyed a book enough, I will review it, if I don't like it, I keep quiet. I have noticed in the course of my reviewing how very harsh some reviewers are.

I am not talking about constructive criticism, which is always welcome, but churlish, sometimes nasty nit picking. My mother taught me that if you can't say something nice then it is best to refrain from comment, so I am often greatly shocked at the destructiveness of some reviews.

Every writer, be he good or bad, puts his soul into his work and deserves respect for that. I have read comments that could, at the very least, make a writer throw away his pen for good when all he may need is a few more revisions, a little more polish. If a person has the urge to write then write he jolly well should and sit-at-home-on-their-bums-reviewers should bear that in mind.

I have never had a nasty review myself (yet) luckily, the people who don't like my work have been brought up as I have. Admittedly there are some dreadful novels out there, full of inaccuracies but everyone makes mistakes. It is not a crime. We are all on a learning curve.

The criticism that bugs me most is, 'well that would not have happened' or 'this did not happen that way, it happened this way.' What these critics are forgetting is that 'History is bunk,' made up of opinion, hypothesis and supposition. Historians can only guess at what it was really like.

We can't know what it was like to live in a wooden hall with no santitation, no medicine, faced with famine, childbirth, pestilence and war. Novelists are only guessing, just like the historians and the written record only provides a useful glimpse into the past. In many cases the chronicles are the work of just one man, one opinion, one view of events and every view is biased one way or another. There must have been a million alternative undocumented perspectives and, when it comes to women, well, nobody bothered to document them.

One criticism I have had in the past is that my women are too forceful. 'Women had to do as they were told,' being the usual cry. But we dont know that, we know that were expected to behave in a certain way but that doesnt mean that they did. We have expectations of our youth today but I dont know many who live up to them.

There are plenty of instances where women have acted outside the acceptable parameters of their society, women who led armies, betrayed and brought down their husbands rule, undermined a kingdom. It is these women I keep in mind as I write.

I have always read historical novels and I still do. I love them. There are a number of authors that rank high in my estimation but there are also those who don't. I grew so sick of simpering heroines falling at the feet of superdooper males that, in the end, I invented my own.

I present my women in, shall we say, difficult circumstances and they fight back, with what ever weapons are to hand be it by way of the sword or their sexuality. Their object is to survive. They are often grumpy, argumentative and selfish - just like real people. And I try to make the male leads multi-faceted too, you won't find anyone entirely nasty or purely innocent in my books because, ultimately, I want them to be human.

Most of my stories take place before or just after the Norman Conquest when women had status and their opinions were valued. Anglo Saxon women were not kept out of view behind castle walls. They played a vibrant, important role in society and in the Celtic parts of Britain it was the spindle, and not the spear, that ruled. Just as it should.

GEtting back to my original question Story Teller or Historian? Well, I think there is a half way place where novelists can illuminate the past in a vivid, moist manner that historians cannot. And, if they stretch reality to fit their story, well, that is ok, just as long as the reader is made aware that the novel is listed under fiction, not fact.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

A Step Forward, or Back?

I have recently been lucky enough to secure myself an agent. Susan Yearwood from the SYLA is a warm hearted and enthusiastic lady and is very excited about my work.
The Representation Agreement has been exchanged and I have placed the final draft of Peaceweaver in her hands. It is now with multiple publishers and we are eagerly waiting for a reply. A long and agnonising six weeks or more of nail biting.

I am not blessed with great self confidence and have never considered myself to be particularly lucky. Life has been a struggle for me so far and I don't really expect any different. Maybe I should have but I have never been one to pray but, boy, am I praying now!
As a result of Peaceweaver being offered elsewhere for publication I have removed the POD version from circulation and so it will no longer be available for order, except for the few copies still available through me. This new step is a large leap forward but right now it feels a bit like a backward one.

Since completing my first novel I tried very hard to secure an agent. I submitted different manuscripts to countless publishers only to receive a, 'Sorry no, its great but not for us' or, 'Sorry, not suitable.' And, what made it harder is that I am sure that, in many cases, it had never even been read. In the end, totally demoralised and spurred on by friends, I decided to self publish.
As it turned out, it was great move and I strongly advise anyone considering it that it helps an author to be noticed and is a great confidence booster. Funded by the Arts Council, I published via You Write On, a literary website that offers critiques and support from other writers. The community is a lively one and I made many friends, one, Helen Spring, author of Memories of the Curlew and Chains of Gold, is especially precious. The publishing process was rapid and the support from Ted and the team invaluable. The day that the author copies of Peaceweaver arrived was one I will never forget, even though, quite typically, I was home alone and had no one to share the initial excitement with.
I really enjoyed having a proper published book available, seeing my author page on Amazon and attending book launches and signings. It somehow made all those lonely hours at the computer worth while, I hadn't been wasting my time.
I now have many friends (I could call them fans but that sounds conceited) that enjoy my writing and constantly ask when The Forest Dwellers will be available. The members at my writing group, The Cwrtnewydd Scribblers, are immensly supportive and spread the word among their own contacts. We attend book fairs and readings and generally have a great time.
I've made a few sales too to offset the costs of publishing and promotion although, sadly, my fortune is still not quite made.
While all the promotion of Peaceweaver was taking place I continuted work on The Forest Dwellers which is now written, edited and the final proofs made. I was all set to go ahead and publish in time for Christmas but, out of the blue, along came Susan, ready and willing to represent me. For a moment I was overwhelmed and scared to let go of the reins and let her take over.
OK, I did send out to many agents from the Writers and Artists Yearbook as advised by countless other writers but I hadn't really held any hope of a positive response!
Am I happy to have a professional person believe in my work enough to sign me up? Of course I am.
Am I sorry that Peaceweaver and The Forest Dwellers will not be filling Christmas stockings this year? Of course I am.
But I have to believe that, with Susan's help, my work will be recognised, Peaceweaver will have a lovely professional cover with my name emblazoned across it in gold embossed letters and that The Forest Dwellers and The Song of Heledd will follow shortly after.
The photograph on the left is Boreas (North Wind) by John Waterhouse. I love this picture and while I was writing Peaceweaver I kept it on the wall beside me. It is how I imagined Eadgyth to look, when I was stuck she helped me out. There are many similar works of art that remind me of the women I write about. So many paintings and so many stories yet to write.
I like to think, it is too early to call it hope, that in years to come the people who like my work will anticipate my next release as much as I look forward to Bernard Cornwells.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

St Brynach's Church, Nevern, Pembrokeshire

I seem to be stumbling upon wonderful small churches lately. At the weekend my old fella and I hitched up the caravan and set off for Pembrokeshire. A whole hour later, all the way in the next county, we arrived at Dinas Island Farm Camping site and set up camp.
That evening we wandered down to the cove to watch the sun slip into the sea; it could have been a breath taking romantic affair but, in actual fact, we sat on a damp seaweed shrouded rock in the companionable silence that only twenty five years together can produce. Together we watched it happen, as it always happens, fresh and different every time.
The sunset was outstanding, the romance, unfortunately, wasn’t but there are compensations. Back at the caravan, while I donned snugly pyjamas and crawled beneath the duvet, my old fella made me hot chocolate and a bedtime snack. In my opinion a much better indication of devotion than insincere romanticisms – he knows the way to my heart.
The next morning we went to St Dogmaels ( I will blog on that another day), onto Poppit Sands for a picnic and a paddle and then I suggested we return to camp via Nevern as I had heard of a churchyard with a standing stone bearing both Ogham and Latin inscriptions.
We parked the car in the shade and walked through the gate. We stopped in our tracks struck by the eerie beauty of the place before progressing along an avenue of ancient Yew. The branches twisted and turned, leaned down to stroke the leaning, mossy headstones beneath. Entranced, camera clicking, we followed the path to the church.
It was not possible to continue without taking photographs, the atmosphere was awesome, particularly as one of the trees is famous as a bleeding yew. This Yew tree 'bleeds' a red liquid that baffles both scientists and arborists. Legend states that the tree has bled in this manner ever since a man was hung from the tree. Some people believe that it will continue to bleed until a Welshman sits on the throne in Nevern Castle. Sadly, that day seems long in coming. Damn those Normans.
Close by the church door is the Vitalianus stone. I love standing stones, I photograph them, draw them, paint them and write them into my novels. I love their age, the atmosphere they emit and the secrets that they keep. This particular one has been dated to the 5th century AD It bears inscriptions in both Latin and Ogham and it is bilingual stones such as this that have helped provide the key to understanding the lost Celtic language of Ogham. I just had to make its acquaintance, I hugged it and traced the marks of the ancient chisel with my finger, helping no doubt to wear it away a little more …but I could not help it!
Brynach was an Irishman who settled in Pembrokeshire, a friend and colleague of St David. The local chieftain of Carn Ingli, whose hillfort that can still be seen on top of the nearby hill, granted him the land for his church. The original church was founded by St Brynach in 540 AD but the present building is believed to be 12th Century in date. The tower is Norman but the rest dates to the 15th –16th century, vastly restored in the 18th and redecorated in 1952.
Luckily elements of ancient days exist in the walls of the church, two stone slabs are embedded in the window sills of the Trewern-Henllys Chapel. The Maglocundus Stone is 62.5 inches long with a portion broken off one end. The inscription is again in both Latin and Ogham and inform us that it is the monument of Maglocunus, son of Clutorius. It dates to the 5th century. It is not a prettily ornate thing, the writing puts me very much in mind of modern day inscriptions made in wet cement but the fact that it was carved so long ago sings out to me and I hover close to it for a long while, making my old fella impatient.
Another stone bears a carving of a cross or possibly a sword. It is in the style of Celtic knot work with two bands of carving interwoven to form the shape. The bumph in the guidebook says the origin is unknown. Above the Vitalianus stone, high up in the wall hides a corbel of a male face, the story it is part of long forgotten. In the reconstructed walls traces of the old windows can be seen and a consecration cross, made when the church was consecrated, is hidden on the exterior wall of the Glasdir Chapel.
Best of all in the church yard is the Great Cross. It has been described as one of the most perfect specimens of its kind, equalled only by Carew Cross and the Maen Achwynfan. It is an impressive thing, thirteen feet high and 24.5 in diameter, the style of decoration points to the 10th or 11th centuries. I am amazed at how well preserved the carving is, particularly the side nearest the church wall that suffers least from the wild, Welsh, weather.
On each of the four sides are blocks of interlaced symbols, representing eternity. Two compartments contain primitive crosses where an error occurs in the pattern. The upper cross having the angulated end of its left upper arm reversed, it is easy to see, once you know where to look, that the adjoining decoration has been adapted to fit.
Errors of this kind are also found in illuminated manuscripts and some historians believe that they were intentional faults incorporated into the design to preserve the artists earthly humility. It didn’t do for a mortal to achieve godlike perfection. I have always liked this explanation for it suits my romantic view of early Celtic Christianity.
The legends of the cross tell us that on the seventh of April each year (St Brynach's feast day) the congregation gathered at the cross, awaiting the return of the first cuckoo. The bird would land on the cross and begin singing to announce the arrival of spring. On one particular occasion the bird fell dead before it could herald in the spring. Of this the chronicler George Owen states, ‘This vulgar tale, although it concerns in some sort church matters, you may either believe or not, without peril of damnation.’

There is so much to see and speak about at Nevern that this blog entry could become tiresome so I will stop now. The best thing is to visit it yourself, it is a tiny building but so rich in history that it transports the visitor from the pre-Christian days of megalithic tombs and Druids through early Celtic Christianity to the coming of the Normans and beyond. Go there, take your time to look around, make discoveries and when you leave please give a donation to help preserve this tiny but sparkling gem of British history.