Replay of Secklow Sounds radio interview

I can’t remember if I posted this interview or not when it was made – but the very wonderful host, Mick Bannister, has just pointed me to the direct link, so here it is; I hope you enjoy it.


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Desktops, then and now :)

Erik Kwakkel has a brilliant post on the mediaeval desktop, here:

If you’re not following Erik, I recommend him – his scholarship is unassailable, and his posts are brilliantly readable!

This post talks about the issue of needing to read two or more books at once. My favourite solution is the book wheel – here’s a picture of my current desktop. What do you think, one book wheel or two? :D The red “book” is my kindle, whose search facilities are one of my favourite attributes of the e-revolution. And what I’m working on is another revision of Wimer the Chaplain, my 12thC historical fiction piece, which is firmly on the PC, in the cloud – now that’s cheating!

Seriously messy desk

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Single lady…

I am apparently now single, and have been since the 7/8/2014, although the court neglected to inform either me or my solicitor.

I am still working out how I feel about this…


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Why I get such pleasure from going detecting…

I came across a lovely quote in the week, about why people go fishing. Now, I don’t do fishing – I think I was about 14 last time I caught a fish – but this is pretty well why I go detecting;
Fishing provides that connection with the whole living world. It gives you the opportunity of being totally immersed, turning back into yourself in a good way. A form of meditation, some form of communion with levels of yourself that are deeper than the ordinary self.
Ted Hughes

I had the most amazing experience on the field tonight. I parked the car, started detecting, and ground to a halt to watch the two adult buzzards and last year’s youngster, riding the wind swooping up the valley side. The female has particularly lovely markings, similar to these:

Photograph courtesy of Aviceda { creative Commons Attribution}

Photograph courtesy of Aviceda { creative Commons Attribution}

It started chucking it down; they went off to sulk in a bush, I retreated to the car. The rain was coming from one side, so the windscreen and one side window were completely rain-obscured. The other side was dry, though.

I noticed some fast movement on that side, and watched enthralled as a stoat and a baby rabbit danced a most elegant pavanne, with fluid grace. Well, that was only going to end one way; the stoat made the killing move almost in touching distance of the car, and stopped to catch its breath for a while, completely unaware of me.

stoat-wallpapers-4Stoat. Photo by Marsch

Soon it trotted off, without eating the rabbit, and I was annoyed at its wastefulness; but it reappeared with two clones – presumably its kits – further down the slope. They sat and waited, apart from a brief bout of twining round each other, whilst the original went back and dragged the rabbit – easily as big as it was – down to them, and out of sight under a bush.

The rain stopped as abruptly as it had started. The buzzards launched themselves again, and flew off. It was too late to do much detecting, but it didn’t matter; I had been immersed in nature’s beauty for long enough, and was completely at peace.

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A poem for your delight…

The wheat field I was detecting on earlier in the year is being prepped for oil-seed rape; soon there will be no sign of this year’s crop. Here’s a poem to remind me how beautiful it was… I learnt this poem by heart as a schoolgirl, and love it still; I particularly like the last two lines.
So here, my friend, is a blade of corn for you…

Real Property, by Harold Monro

Tell me about that harvest field.
Oh! Fifty acres of living bread.
The colour has painted itself in my heart;
The form is patterned in my head.

So now I take it everywhere,
See it whenever I look round;
Hear it growing through every sound,
Know exactly the sound it makes —
Remembering, as one must all day,
Under the pavement the live earth aches.

Trees are at the farther end,
Limes all full of the mumbling bee:
So there must be a harvest field
Whenever one thinks of a linden tree.

A hedge is about it, very tall,
Hazy and cool, and breathing sweet.
Round paradise is such a wall,
And all the day, in such a way,
In paradise the wild birds call.

You only need to close your eyes
And go within your secret mind,
And you’ll be into paradise:
I’ve learnt quite easily to find
Some linden trees and drowsy bees,
A tall sweet hedge with the corn behind.

I will not have that harvest mown:
I’ll keep the corn and leave the bread.
I’ve bought that field; it’s now my own:
I’ve fifty acres in my head.
I take it as a dream to bed.
I carry it about all day….

Sometimes when I have found a friend
I give a blade of corn away.

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When the lights went out…

Tonight I spent the best part of an hour in the dark, except for one lighted candle, thinking about what the First World War would have meant to my relatives alive at the time. They lived such different lives…

For my maternal great-grandfather, WW1 would have been much less important than the fires of revolution brewing in Russia. He died on 25th October 1917, defending the Winter Palace in St Petersberg in the first wave of the Russian Revolution. Ironically, his cousin the Emperor was away reviewing troops… his daughter, my Grandmother, was looking after my Grandfather, who had a heart condition, on their country estate, escaping both the war and the Revolution. It wasn’t until 1925 that the revolutionaries worked down the list of aristocrats far enough to get to my Grandmother – Grandfather had died, leaving 5 children under the age of 6 – thus shifting us all to the UK.

For my paternal Grandmother, the war brought liberation, from her small-town Irish country origins. She ended up in the major children’s hospital in London, as Matron – and then had to go back home after the war. She must have been stifled ten-fold, because my father – illegitimate – was born just a few years later; she was literally thrown out of the Catholic household into the snow, pregnant, without a coat. I am proud to wear the ring she bought herself on my wedding-ring finger; she described it as her “get lost!” ring, to scare away unwanted suitors : )

I also spent a lot of time thinking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict raging at the moment, and mourning the lives lost of the innocents involved. At least the boys and men killed in WW1 signed up for it, however futile their deaths; but the children killed as they slept in schools this week were pure collateral damage. Appalling. Perhaps we haven’t moved on very much at all.


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I love this editor…

Work gave me a prorata’d bonus this year – the amount wasn’t enough to do any of the big projects I’d like to do. Also tipping the balance was the fact that yet another agent had inhaled the query and first few pages of Wimer, and then faded into a black hole once they’d had the full manuscript. So, I blew my bonus this year an a editor.

The next issue, of course, was which one? And having chosen one, what’s the name for the kind of editing I needed? I liked the look of one recommended by, I think, Writers Village – although don’t quote me on that – and sent her an email. The response was quick, friendly, professional; she asked enough questions for us to decide that I didn’t need a copy editor, nor anyone to check the historical facts, and that she could help me.

So, I sent my baby off into the void, and contemplated my fingernails. On time, the report came back; 11 pages of carefully reasoned advice, interspersed with humour and compassion. The verdict; I can write – but the story is lacking conflict and is often from the wrong POV. These things I can fix – and I’ve never had the experience of laughing out loud whilst being clipped around the ear before!

This lady will get more of my custom:

Thanks, Hilary!

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What lies beneath: new discoveries about the Jericho skull


How fascinating, that the skull was plastered at all – and that we have found several of them, implying many more have been lost in the intervening 9,000 years! Even more interesting, that the lower jaw was removed. You can see problems in plastering with this great flappy row of teeth – and if you bound it, the binding would show above the plaster. The people who did this clearly knew what they were doing, with different densities of clay inside and outside the skull; ergo, had done it before – perhaps many times. Even the fact that most of the plastered skulls we have are male could merely be an artefact of the thousands of years of danger; more gracile skulls would be more easily damaged.
So, as a writer, I’m free to speculate as to why, and what they looked like. I imagine a loved one’s body being laid to rest on a sky-platform, exposed to the elements and chance predators for the year it would take the family to return to that spot; then the cranium carefully rescued and treated to its plaster coat, complete with lips and ears. Equipped with those, you can speak and listen… Were they painted, too? Would you add, say, a distinctive scar or mole to the plaster, or once dead, was everyone the same?
I think that, given a nomadic lifestyle, these people would have been left as markers of territory, able to curse any stranger who wandered by without permission. Can you imagine climbing a hillside, rounding a corner, and coming face-to-face with rows of skull-people, their blank eyes seeing both you and the other world simultaneously? Enough to send you screaming!

Originally posted on British Museum blog:

Alexandra Fletcher, curator, British Museum

It’s always a problem for museum curators to find ways of learning more about the objects in their care without damaging them. For human remains, it’s even more complicated because there are additional questions of care and respect for the dead that have to be carefully considered before any research can be done. However, by studying their remains we can find out an enormous amount about the people of the past; about their health, their diet and about the religious practices they carried out.

The Jericho skull shown with face forwards. The eyes are made from shell.

The Jericho skull shown with face forwards. The eyes are made from shell.

The so-called Jericho skull is among the oldest human remains in the British Museum collection. Thought to be between 8,500 and 9,300 years old, it is one of seven Neolithic plastered human skulls found together by Kathleen Kenyon during excavations at Jericho in 1953. The site is…

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Description—How to Make Readers Fall In & Never Escape


If you’re a writer and don’t read Kristen, you should; this post is a classic example of why.

Originally posted on Kristen Lamb's Blog:

Sidewalk chalk art near Regent’s Canal in London.

Sidewalk chalk art near Regent’s Canal in London.

Today we’re going to address a topic that—GASP—I don’t believe we’ve ever covered in almost 800 blogs. Namely because it is a tricky one to address. We’re going to talk about description. For those who never use description or very sparse description? Don’t fret. That’s just your voice. Readers like me who looooove description will probably gravitate to other books and that is OKAY.

Personally, I’m not a fan of austere modern houses with stainless steel everything and weird chairs no human could sit in and most cats would avoid, but? There are plenty of people who dig it. I also don’t like a lot of knick-knacks and clutter. Makes me want to start cleaning.

Same with books. Not too little or too much. Yeah, I’m Literary Goldilocks.

Plain fact? We can’t please everyone. Description (or lack thereof) is a component of…

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Things I’m looking forward to over the summer!

As well as more mundane things, like the Cosmos in my garden blooming, and having the house to myself so I can cook on my braii Every Single Day if I feel like it – I’ve got some really fun things planned over the summer!

I’m starting July off gently, with a karate training session-cum-get together on the beach, plus a couple of days’ leave just to chill in. I may get organised enough to weed the garden or start a couple of the paint projects I have in mind; or the harvest may be in, giving me access to some super countryside. I have to spend a week in Milton Keynes towards the end of the month, but that’s good – I’ll accrue enough time off in lieu to take a whole week off (note comment re harvest :) )

August is headlining with the World Science Fiction Convention in London over the Bank Holiday weekend – apart from all the fun of the con, I’m attending a writer’s workshop, which should be cool too! Plus my eldest and her boyfriend are going, so I may meet them in corridors or at the bar occcasionally!

September is the Historical Novel Society’s convention, again in London this year. I hope to have Wimer polished to my current level of the art by then, and to wave him at some agents there – plus just generally have a good time.

Then October is bronze casting workshop month. I am SO looking forward to this – I can claim it as writing research, making the self-indulgence acceptable to my inner critic, and I have the BEST idea for a bracelet design to make. Assuming I can become competent enough in wax carving between now and then to actually accomplish it… but my darling artist daughter has been drawing the shapes for me, simplifying them so that even Mum can make them :D

And throughout this, of course, is weaving my newfound pleasure in the pub, and my longstanding love of the particular bit of countryside I’m studying. A lot of joy in my life!

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