About Me

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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy Christmas?

Happy Christmas? 
Like Pollyanna (which was shown on TV a few days ago) I'm sitting here trying to find things to be glad about. I watched the movie while I was cooking. I get so fiendishly bored with cooking that I have to find ways of distracting myself. I sometimes find myself wishing that - like Deborah Meaden of Dragon's Den fame - I could say 'I don't cook' and mean it.

One day ...

Some time just before Christmas, my business debit card was hacked or cloned or whatever and some nasty piece of work tried to buy £350 worth of goods somewhere in the USA. Unfortunately for them, RBS's fraud detection systems are excellent and they put a stop to two suspect sales immediately and contacted me.

'Did you spend £350 at 6 o'clock this morning in the USA?' asked the pleasant young man who was dealing with the problem.  At which time I was, of course, fast asleep in bed on a cold and frosty morning. I'm now wondering how it happened. What website was hacked into? Where might the card have been cloned? This is a card that is used so infrequently that any anomalous payment is going to show up almost immediately. I use it exclusively for business but for most online transactions I use a credit card. Business postage, a local saleroom where I know everyone and they know me, a supermarket filling station where it's never out of my sight? I just don't know, but perhaps, at some point in the past year, my attention slipped and I keyed it into a foreign website.

Anyway - card has been stopped and a new one will arrive in the New Year.

Apart from that, my husband has a chest infection on top of a nasty cold and given that he already has a severely compromised immune system, he seems to have cracked a rib with coughing. Son is also in bed with same hideous cold, and is running a temperature. Other friends seem to have suffered from a string of annoyances ranging from huge to small. And a few other things - too complicated to go into here - have gone wrong as well.

Meanwhile the sainted EU has made sure that my eBook prices will have to increase from 1st January with the imposition of a hideously complicated (not to say ridiculous) new VAT system.

Like Pollyanna I suppose I can be glad that the sun is shining and the house is reasonably warm for a 200 year old cottage that can, let's face it, be a wee bit chilly at times. And by the way, wasn't Hayley Mills good in that movie? With the wrong young actor it could have been revolting!

Or I can be glad that the man-flu two are feeling a bit better. Or that RBS is so quick off the mark.

Or that eBook sales over Christmas were not too bad at all. Meanwhile, I've printed out the missive from Amazon about VAT and am looking at it in horror, knowing that I'll have to wrestle with figures some time soon. They'll do most of it for me, but I need to know what's what.

Just as I need to have a major business meeting with myself very soon, and make plans for 2015. Even though the best laid schemes and all that. Which reminds me of my first and most important writing project of the year...

Knitted crib and Christmas music



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

New Way of Blogging for a New Year

The view from my cottage window.
I'm taking a little break for Christmas - and let me take this opportunity again to wish you a very happy and peaceful festival - and a New Year that brings you all you could wish for you and yours.

Oh, and a little publishing success wouldn't go amiss, if that's what you're after. Or a lottery win. That would be nice.

But before I sign off for a few days, I've been thinking about making some changes to this blog - posting more often, but not so many carefully crafted (and let's face it quite long!) posts. Well, maybe once a month. But these days, we seem to be drowning in 'how to write' or 'how to publish' or 'how to find a publisher/agent/the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow' posts. I don't know about you, but I'm getting a bit bored with it all. Besides, this was never meant to be a 'how to' blog although my pretty extensive experiences of writing, publishing and being published - as well as being rejected - may occasionally be helpful if that's what floats your boat.

Anyway - I've decided to do something a wee bit different. During 2015, I'm going to blog as often as I can find the time about whatever takes my fancy. I have two or three big projects on hand. I'll be researching, writing, reading, writing some more, trying to earn a living, trying to earn a better living - as well as buying and selling antiques, which is the other way I try to earn a living. Most of the posts will be shorter - and some will be very short - but more frequent. I hope. Let's see how we get on.

I plan to blog about the difficulties, the disappointments and frustrations, as well as the good stuff.  Or maybe I just mean the realities. And what it all feels like. And why - when  push comes to shove - I've never really wanted to do anything else.

Meanwhile, for a whole week, from 24th December, you can download my big Eastern European historical novel The Amber Heart onto your new Christmas Kindle for a bargain price. You'll find it here in the UK and here in the US. Hope you enjoy it.

www.wordarts.co.uk


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Writing Christmas


This piece of furniture, dated 1626, is 200 years old than the house!
I'm still in the middle of Christmas preparations here in this small Scottish village where I live and work. The tree is trimmed and so is the house. This old house seems to enjoy Christmas as much as we do. 200 years and the stones themselves seem to appreciate holly, ivy, the softness of candlelight. Whenever we have a powercut - and it happens from time to time in very windy weather -  I always feel that the house really loves a return to candlelight. You can almost feel it settling down with a sigh of contentment. And if you're as imaginative as I am, you can sense some of those previous inhabitants too, although the house has always felt peculiarly calm and happy.

It's a house in which people have stayed for a long time.

Sometimes, in a world where the news seems to be a constant barrage of devastating tragedy, political hatreds masquerading as religion, and misery of all kinds, this community seems like a sanctuary of sorts. Not always - because what place is? But mostly. And sometimes all you can do is gather friends and family about you, love and care for those closest to you, and hope, somehow, that the light spreads a little.

The old Polish setting for my novel: The Amber Heart
I miss my late mum and dad at Christmas. Well, I miss them all year round. But Dad loved Christmas and we always celebrated in the Polish as well as the British way. Christmas Eve was magical and a little of that magic still remains.

So when I was thinking about a Christmas 'special offer' for my readers, the book that came to mind was my novel set in mid nineteenth century Poland: The Amber Heart.

It isn't wholly set in winter, of course. There are plenty of summer scenes, plenty of Easter celebrations. But when I think of it, it seems to be a snowy landscape that comes into my mind. So much of it was based on the stories about my family that dad had told me over the years. I wrote them as fiction of course, changed them, shaped them, wove them into a different story entirely.

The Amber Heart is set in mid 19th century Eastern Europe - an unfamiliar but magical setting. It  follows the fortunes of an array of characters whose lives are disrupted by the turmoil of the times. But first and foremost it's a love story.

Maryanna is a Polish landowner’s pampered daughter, born and brought up in the beautiful 'pancake yellow' house of Lisko, while Piotro is a poor Ukrainian estate worker. The lives of these two people from vastly different backgrounds are destined to become hopelessly and tragically entwined from the fatal moment of their first meeting. 

At one point in the  novel - after a series of devastating events - Piotro is travelling hopelessly, painfully on foot, through a wintry landscape, when he is given traditional hospitality by a Polish family on Christmas Eve: 

'After the meal there followed a convivial few hours with vodka and violin music. One or two of the women lead the company in singing traditional Christmas songs. They were mostly sweet and sad lullabies to the Christ Child: ‘sleep baby Jesus, my little pearl, sleep my heart’s darling.’ Piotro recognised the melodies and even knew the words of some of them, but he was shy of singing aloud and he only mouthed the words along with the singers. They made him sad, brought a lump to his throat, though he couldn’t have said why.'

For the week beginnning 24th December, The Amber Heart will be on special offer in Amazon's Kindle Store - a big book at a bargain price. Or here, if you're reading this in the US. A good, long Christmas read. 

Meanwhile, let me take this opportunity to wish all my readers and subscribers a very happy Christmas and may the New Year bring you all you could wish for yourselves. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Why You Shouldn't Boycott Amazon

Old and new: teddies and Kindle
As Christmas approaches, I've been encouraged by a few colleagues and even one or two friends to boycott Amazon. They've called it a monster, a parasite, and a few other nasty names besides, some of them (oddly enough) while making enthusiastic use of it as a distributor.

Do they realise, I wonder, that in calling for a boycott of Amazon, they are in effect, calling for a boycott of the small cottage industry that is me and thousands, perhaps millions of people like me? Literally cottage industry in my case because I live and work and file my tax returns from a cottage. But I distribute - among other places - on Amazon.

If they don't like Amazon's tax arrangements, then they need to lobby politicians to change the law, but they are going to have to do it for all those other mega corporations that do exactly the same kind of legal tax avoidance. As the director general of the CBI says, if the government wants a different result from the tax system, it must change the rules. Mind you, we should be very careful what we wish for.  The latest EU changes to VAT on digital downloads are certain to have the presumably unintended consequence of driving more and more small businesses away from distributing their product themselves and into the arms of the big companies. One can only assume that they were drafted by a bunch of elderly and ridiculously well-paid denizens of Brussels who have no idea how the internet works. Unless there is a change of heart, from 1st January, not only will eBooks cost more, (apologies to my readers, but since my prices are quite low anyway it won't be too draconian) but most EU based digital businesses - people selling everything from knitting patterns to training manuals online - will either have to decide to trade exclusively via the likes of Amazon or not trade within other EU countries at all. The alternatives, for a micro-business, will be so costly as to be utterly unrealistic. On the whole, I've been a supporter of the EU, but when they make cross border trading this stupidly problematic, you've got to ask yourself what's the point? This is the first time that I've genuinely started to think that in any referendum, I might well vote to leave!

Amazon is my main distributor for my self published work. And one of the distributors for my publisher too. Other distributors are, of course, available and I use some of them, but the truth is that at present, nowhere sells as well for me as Amazon, and no other distributor pays me the monthly sum of money that allows me to carry on writing fiction and occasionally publishing elsewhere.

The garden of my 'cottage industry'.
All the same, I don't actually 'love' Amazon although I may joke about it. There are precious few people in the world I love and I can't think of a single company or organisation that merits that kind of affection although I'll admit that T K Maxx gives me a bit of a buzz.

But I do respect Amazon. They sell books for me all the time. And they pay a decent share of the proceeds on the nail, every month, with great efficiency.  Even in the middle of the recent VAT hideousness, they have done what they can to make things easier for the small trader.

There are thousands of people like me in all kinds of businesses, large, medium and very very small. If you want to boycott Amazon for Christmas, that's your prerogative. But don't then kid yourself that you are supporting small businesses, cottage industries like mine.

Because you're not. You are damaging them. Damaging us all: the writer, the chocolate maker,  the coffee roaster, and the fabulous loose leaf tea blender I've just discovered while researching this post, as well as the artist, the crafter, the toymaker and the herbalist. I don't expect they're supporting an Amazon or an Etsy or a Google boycott either.  Many of them have nice little 'high street' or rural shops that are also supported by online selling  Because that's the way it works these days. Even small shops sell online as well. They sell in as many ways as they possibly can. Except to other EU countries, from their own websites after January. That's one boycott I'd be willing to support.

Meanwhile, I'm off to buy some tea. From a small business, a cottage industry really. Probably via Amazon.