Friday, 3 July 2015

Welsh folk tales - Gelert

Prince Llywelyn of Gwynedd's favourite dog is Gelert, a fearless hunting dog and loyal friend and companion who was said to have been a gift from King John of England.

Llywelyn leaves his baby son with a nurse and a servant while he embarks on a hunting trip with his wife. The nurse and the servant go for a walk in the mountains leaving the baby alone and unprotected. After a while Llywelyn notices that Gelert isn't with the hunting pack. Reasoning that the only place Gelert would go is back to the lodge, he calls off the hunt and heads back home.
As the party is dismounting, Gelert comes running out of the lodge towards his master, covered in blood and wagging his tail. The princess, calling her child's name, faints. Llewelyn rushes in to find the cradle overturned, the bloodstained bedclothes thrown all over the floor, and no sign of his son.
Filled with anger and grief he draws his sword against the dog. As Gelert dies, he whimpers and his cries are answered by the sound of a baby crying from behind the overturned cradle. Llewelyn pulls aside the cradle to find his son unharmed and the bloody body of a huge wolf next to him. Gelert had killed the wolf as it tried to attack Llewelyn's son.
From that day onwards Llewelyn never speaks again. Filled with remorse, he buries Gelert in a meadow nearby and marks the grave with a cairn of stones, though he could still hear its dying cries.
The village of Beddgelert (Gelert's grave) in North West Wales is thought to owe its name to the legend, although there is no evidence of the story having a historical basis.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Too many cooks...

You know the rest!

My first four novels were written straight from the heart, with no real reflection involved until they came back from my beta readers. Hell, I didn't even know what a beta reader was when I wrote my first one (and second), so I had hardly any input from anyone until my little darlings were ready to fly. I trusted my instincts and for the most part my betas were happy with what I produced.

Then I write my fifth novel, and just as I'm starting it I come across Scribophile. And what a fantastic group of writers they are! They've made me a better and more thoughtful writer, and I can't thank those of them who critiqued my rabid scribblings enough.

But now, like a child with the bike stabilisers removed, I need to let go and trust my instincts again. I'm starting to lose my way and my focus by trying to please everyone. I'm getting sucked into revisions of early chapters before I've gotten even half the book written. One person loves a particular scene, someone else has a constructive comment. Which is all well and good until yet a third person has a different comment about the same scene, and I end up chasing my tail trying to do the rewrites and it becomes a mish-mash of everyone else and nothing of me.

So what I'm saying is, join a writing circle, let others help you with the process, but don't lose sight of the bigger picture - your story.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Welsh National Anthem

The Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers), is amongst the finest anthems of the world and a song steeped in history. It was written by Evan James and his son James, two modest tradesmen living at Pontypridd in the mid nineteenth century. Every time I hear it I get goosebumps!

Here's a YouTube link if you want to listen to it...

And here are the words in Welsh if you want to sing along. English translations vary, but I quite like this one. And there's a phonetic version at the bottom of the page 

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi,
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr* tra mad,
Tros ryddid collasant eu gwaed.

Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad,
Tra môr yn fur
I'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau.

2. Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd,
Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i'm golwg sydd hardd;
Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si
Ei nentydd, afonydd, i mi.


3. Os treisiodd y gelyn fy ngwlad dan ei droed,
Mae hen iaith y Gymry mor fyw ag erioed,
Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,
Na thelyn berseiniol fy ngwlad.

O land of my fathers, O land of my love,
Dear mother of minstrels who kindle and move,
And hero on hero, who at honour's proud call,
For freedom their lifeblood let fall.

Wales! Wales! O but my heart is with you!
And long as the sea
Your bulwark shall be,
To Cymru my heart shall be true.

2. O land of the mountains, the bard's paradise,
Whose precipice, valleys lone as the skies,
Green murmuring forest, far echoing flood
Fire the fancy and quicken the blood.


3. For tho' the fierce foeman has ravaged your realm,
The old speech of Cymru he cannot o'erwhelm,
Our passionate poets to silence command
Or banish the harp from your strand.


Having trouble getting your tonsils round the Welsh words? Try the phonetic version instead!

My hair-n wool-add ver n-had eye
Un ann-will ee me
Gool-ard buy-rth ah chant-or-yon
En-wog-yon oh vree
Eye goo-rol ruv-elle-weir
Gool-ard garr-weir trah-mahd
Tross ruh-thid coll-ass-ant eye gwide

Gool-ard, gool-ard
Ply-dee-ol oiv eem gool-ard
Trah more un veer eer bee-rr hore-ff buy
Oh buthed eer hen-yithe barr-high

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Recipe for Bara Brith

Sorry I've been away for a while, but I've been concentrating on publishing my latest novel, The Medium Path, and doing research for my new manuscript. Visiting various places in order to further my research (strictly necessary, of course!) has made me realise anew what a beautiful country I live in, and how rich the history and culture is. So, I'm on a one-woman crusade to put my lovely country on the map and celebrate my Welshness, so I thought I'd share a recipe with you.

And I promise not to be so lax in the future!

Bara Brith translates to ‘speckled bread’ and is a rich fruit loaf made with tea.Yes - tea! Produced all over Wales, the spiced fruit loaf is delicious when spread with salted Welsh butter.

  • 450G/1lb self raising flour
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 175g/6oz Muscavado sugar
  • 1 medium size free-range egg
  • 1tbsp orange zest
  • 2tbsp orange juice
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 300ml/½pt cold tea
  • 450g/1lb mixed, dried fruit
  • Extra honey for glazing

Put the mixed dried fruit into a mixing bowl, pour over the tea, cover and leave to soak overnight. The next day mix together the sugar, egg, orange juice, zest and honey, add to the fruit. Sift in the flour and spice, and mix well. Pour the mixture into a buttered loaf tin, 1.2L/2pt. Bake in a preheated oven at gas3/160c/325f for about 1¾ hours. The loaf should be golden in colour and firm to the touch in the middle. Baste with honey whilst still warm. Allow to cool thoroughly before storing in a cake tin.

The recipe can be altered by adding a few flavours. When soaking the fruit, substitute ¼ of the fluid with a whisky liqueur. Replace the honey and fruit juice with 2 tablespoons of marmalade. Alternatively, replace two tablespoons of fruit with chopped stem ginger, and replace the juice and honey with lemon marmalade, and the orange zest with lemon.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Stories aren’t just about words

I’m someone who really likes to get her teeth into a big, fat, juicy book. I’ve been known to pass over a book if the spine isn’t wide enough. I don’t like thin books, books with not enough pages in them, books with too few words. I don’t like short reads – no short stories, no novellas, and I eye shorter full length novels with suspicion. Why? Because I’ll blast through them in less time that it takes to eat a meal. To me, a short novel is like a starter – it has whetted my appetite, but where’s the main course? I don’t want to settle down for a darned good read, only to find it’s over before I know it.

I like lots of pages, books with lots of words. But is this the best thing for the story being told?

For example, I recently reviewed a novel of around 315 pages. The story itself was sound enough, but the way it was told wasn’t. And that was because there were too many words in it. Words that add nothing. Words that in reality detract from the story. Useless, filler words. Words like ‘just’, ‘that’, ‘felt’, ‘seemed’. Words that slow the writing down. Waffle words.

In this particular novel individual sentences aren’t streamlined enough. Ten words are used when five would have done a better job. Here’s a typical example: “Whiskey seemed to be the only remedy to dilute the memories that haunted his mind.” How many ways can you come up with to convey the same idea but in a more succinct way. I came up with six.

Another example, and one of my personal dislikes, is using ‘feel’ or ‘feeling’. For instance, “she felt her knees give way.” Take out ‘felt’. It’s not needed. It’s her knees, so of course she’s going to feel them give way. Instead, “her knees gave way”. Sharper, more concise, and less annoying for the reader.

That novel is actually much shorter than the 315 pages suggest. A good copy editor would have spotted this sentence (and all the others), and this author’s writing would have been much tighter by losing the excess word fat.

So the moral of the story for me is, don’t judge a book by its page length, and don’t fixate on word count in my own writing. My stories should be as long or as short as they need to be. The important thing is to tell a good yarn and tell it well.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Is there a best way to promote a novel?

As a newbie indie author I published my book, and sat back and waited for someone, anyone, to notice it. It got some downloads. Then when I made it free, it got more. Lots more. Which was only to be expected, ’cause we all love something for nothing, right?

I published another, and another, and gradually got to know the ins and outs of the publishing and marketing side of things. Common advice is that authors need a social platform. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, author pages on Goodreads, Amazon, and so on, until all an author ends up doing is posting tweets and blogs and trying to think of something witty and funny and constructive to say, something that doesn’t just say ‘buy my book’.

So how many tweets are enough? How many followers? How many blog posts need to be written before an author can concentrate on the real reason for the social media presence - writing. You might as well add the old cliché, ‘how long is a piece of string’… I don’t think anyone knows the answer to this, though most people agree there is a correlation between media presence and book sales. The problem is that all this takes time; time away from what an author should be doing - writing. It all comes back to writing, doesn’t it?

I fluctuate from spending an inordinate amount of time on social media, to hardly ever, and I can see when I am doing which by the word count on my current work in progress. It seems like I have to sacrifice one for the other. But I’m not sure social media works. Do I think I’ve sold more books as a result of a few tweets? I don’t know. Analysis of downloads doesn’t give me a definitive answer.

So I looked at it from the point of view of a reader. Am I influenced by tweets or posts where authors are promoting their novel? Not really. I tend to discover the books I read by accident – browsing the book store at the airport, going to the library, clicking on one book then finding my way to another. Maybe even clicking on an advertising link on Amazon…

Perhaps that’s the answer. Maybe I should convert the woman-hours I spend on social media and raising my rather low author profile into advertising. The downside is that it costs. The upside is that I’ll have far more time to write, I’ll publish two books a year, instead of the one and a half I’m currently running at. More books mean more sales, therefore the advertising may pay for itself.

And I can stop beating myself over the head trying to think of something to say on Twitter!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A reviewing dilemma

I read. A lot.

I also review. I don't get paid for this (although someone once accused me of just such a thing, merely because I enjoyed the book I left a review for - go figure). I do, however, get free books specifically for the purpose of leaving a review, but only from NetGalley.

I don't do review swaps. Not now, though I did once. I felt cornered, obliged to give a decent review of something that wasn't actually very good, because if I didn't, then the other author might give my book a bad review, regardless of what they actually thought of it. Tit for tat. I've since taken that review down. My conscience wouldn't let me keep it posted.

I don't respond to review requests, either. For one, I don't want to feel obligated, even if only a tiny bit, and for another, I might not fancy the genre, the style, the blurb, etc. So I choose which books I am going to read, and I leave a completely honest review.

I'm not influenced by what other readers think, either. I don't read other people's reviews before I read a novel, or before I leave a review. My response is mine, and it's honest.

But I have a dilemma, and so do some other authors: the fear of repercussion.

I don't write reviews under an assumed name (I know authors who do). I don't only leave four and five star reviews (I know authors who do). I am a click of a mouse away from being seen to be an author as well as a reviewer. And that it where the problem lies. Some authors have trouble accepting less than glowing reviews. I am one of them. They hurt. But I don't react, and I don't engage with the reviewer. Readers are as entitled to their opinions as I am - and some of their comments may well be valid. However, some authors do react. I was recently challenged over a three star review by an author, which prompted the 'Etiquette for Authors' blog post.

And there is always the fear that a disgruntled author will leave a so-so or negative review of one of my novels because I left a similar review for one of theirs. Again, I know an author that has had that very thing happen to them.

So the dilemma is - do I review under an assumed name? Or do I keep on using my own, and damn any consequences. And is the name Abook Reviewer anonymous enough?