19 July 2014

When Yorkshire wore Yellow

Time goes quickly in Blog-World. I was almost ready to post my report on the recent triumphant visit of The Tour de France to Yorkshire, when one humdinger of a thunderstorm fried the router and also my trusty PC. Why do these things happen at the weekend? Anyway, by the time it was all fixed, Le Tour de Yorkshire had become a distant memory for most people who don't follow it avidly. (Keep on pedalling all the way to Paris, Nibali!)

Well, briefly, what a party it was! But not for us - well not exactly, although I am so pleased it went so well for Yorkshire. You see, we have a camper van and nothing is better designed for watching the Tour in France, Belgium, Italy or any other European country it passes through - except, not in the UK. What we had planned to do to park by the side of the road at least a day or so beforehand, finding the perfect spot on an uphill section where the riders are not whizzing past in a huge peleton at 40 mph.


You can sit in comfort if you want to, enjoy a cup of tea  or even champagne and strawberries and be sheltered if the weather does its worst. (Fortunately, it behaved impeccably and only rained when it got to London - so please excuse my little northern snigger.)

So we planned several suitable places by using maps, Street View and the detailed route plan of the first day's stage. In France etc, it seems you can park more or less anywhere in the countryside as long as you don't block the road. And certainly lay-bys are fine and picnic areas. You can see them in droves on TV's TdeF coverage. But not, here. All lay-bys had been  roped off and signs everywhere warned you not to park except at designated 'pop-up' camp-sites with big screens or in town squares. Otherwise you would be towed away. Of course, you could catch a designated bus from approved stops and then walk 2 or 3 miles or more to a place where you could stand in huge crowds, if you were lucky - and many were. Plus if you so happened to live in a town or village on the route, well bingo!. Now, walking to a suitable vantage point would be absolutely fine, if you're able to climb up steep hills either on foot or on your your bike  with a rucksack containing enough food and drink to last several hours and you could find a handy portaloo. (Have you ever used one of those when it's been used for more than an hour?) Since my stroke, I'm still a little wobbly on my legs. A non-starter for me.

But with a trusty camper-van, everything would have been hunky-dory. As we have a tank of fresh water, our own loo, a shower etc. And although there is no mains electricity away from a camp-site, we can use our gas-heater, cooker and kettle. Perfect.

We were sunk. We have roughed it in our youth - at pop festivals etc, but now we prefer  some comfort - not to mention independence. Why watch the tour on a big screen in a crowd when you can watch in comfort at home?

Okay, moan over. At least we were able to enjoy the Tour de France atmosphere and be proud to be (adopted) Yorkshire folk. And didn't we do well?

Now time and the tour have moved on and we are now making plans to return to our beloved French Pyrenees in 2015. We used to take our old caravan every August when our boys were small and we had a fabulous time. Next year we can travel in our van earlier in the year without having to worry about school and work holidays. The Tour always goes somewhere in that area (as well as the Alps) every year so we will plan our vantage point when we have information out the exact route.

Vive La France and their liberal approach to camper-van parking!

PS. For anyone who is still interested, I am still revising my novel in progress. It's amazing what you can do in  a camper-van. I can even see the light at the end of the tunnel. As long as it's not the Channel Tunnel and a TGF coming the other way.

01 July 2014

Out and About

I'm going away tomorrow for a week or so. In between, we shall spend one night and day in the other Yorkshire National Park (that is, The Yorkshire Dales and not the North York Moors although both contain both!) We are hoping to cheer on Chris Froome and his pals whizzing past where we will park our camper-van and give them all a cheer. If you don't know about whom or what I'm talking, you're not a cycling fan like me.

Here are 2 easy clues: (I hope the weather will be more like the first than the second. But you never know in Yorkshire!) See you all soon.

23 June 2014

Immersed in revision and lost pink sheep!

Let's face it. Because I am in the throes of rewriting my novel in progress, I have little of any interest to blog about. Unlike a writer with an ongoing publisher's contract, I have no deadline whatsoever. I have a lovely agent who has yet to make any money out of me so she is willing wait until my manuscript is the best it can possibly be to merit serious consideration. (Although I am  well aware that the time will soon come when she cannot read my manuscripts any more

So, all I can do is write the best manuscript I can and keep focused.

I am fortunate in that I choose to write historical fiction that always based on the area in which I actually live or have lived (preferably the former.)

When I was living in Harrogate and writing and researching Hope against Hope not only was the local reference library always on hand when the internet was still rudimentary, I also knew the local historians whose ears I could bend. The local newspaper always had snippets, I could cut out and keep. (Not to mention the fact that they kindly featured me and my writing successes every so often. Thank you The Harrogate Advertiser!) Not only that, but every day I walked or drove past places and buildings that featured heavily in my novel. So every time I took a seat on the top deck of the number 36 bus between Leeds and Harrogate I would gaze upon the cottage in the banks of the River Wharfe that was, in the novel, "The Ship Inn" where Carrie and May came to grief. I could retrace the flight from their old life in Leeds to their new one in Harrogate. In the town shopping or drinking coffee, I could gaze on the many hotels and feature most of them by their real names (such as the Old Swan, The Crown and, the one now renamed the Cedar Court but was once the Queen Hotel.) As I was writing and researching the novel it just so happened that a building that, at the time, was the headquarters of the local NHS trust was under scaffolding as it reverted back to being The White Hart Hotel and the perfect place for me to rename The Hope Hotel!

Anyway, now for the past 6 years, I have been living in the village of Rosedale Abbey with its traces of a priory for women. I have made it a Cistercian establishment but it could have been another - it has not yet been proved. Being a fiction writer as opposed to a historian makes life easier in many ways!.

So, like when I lived in Harrogate, I can visit the churchyard and about the village and walk past the former water mill plus the two small rivers flowing through the village and what walls remain of the priory and exercise my legs as well as my imagination! So I went out in the sunshine armed with camera and imagination and commune with my novel.

A few of my recent photos are dotted around this blog post.

I have plans for future historical novels set in the village at key strategic moments in history such as when Huguenot glass-blowers lived and worked secretly in its hills (16th century) and much, much  later when (late 19th and early 20th century) it became a heavily-populated ironstone mining area.
And so to finish with a big smile...

If you're anywhere in the North York Moors now and until September, look out for Lost Pink Sheep and claim a prize. I have spotted two around and about our village. One outside a B&B establishment and another in a shop window. Keep looking for pink sheep anywhere in or near the National Park!

13 June 2014

Torn in two by Amazon

Of course I'm not talking about the might river and its rainforest, people...

I am a now big Amazon customer for many complicated reasons. But I am increasingly feeling guilty. What with the way they use tax evasion and their row with Hachette and therefore solidarity with their authors. But what on earth do I do as a book-buyer as well as a writer- even though I'm not a big seller (hollow laugh)?

I do so agree with this Telegraph article. And have even left a comment on it. I wish I could cure my addiction but I don't know how. Public Libraries used to be the answer. But not now - even if I could get to one as I don't drive.

PS I have tried to download an article from Neil Gaiman saying that he is "pissed off  with Amazon." But I was jinxed. Try Googling it if you haven't already read it.

Yet another of life's interruption

Recently - if you follow this blog regularly - you will know I am currently deeply immersed in rewriting my novel in progress and also that my husband, Jon, recently had a major heart operation.

Two days ago he was re-admitted to hospital feeling awful. Tests and blood taken by the armful (see Tony Hancock's sketch) and he definitely has an infection but it is not known yet if it's viral or bacterial. As you might imagine, this blog has had to take a back seat - not to mention my work in progress.

I wonder if prolific writer and journalist, Charles Dickens ever felt life intervened and put the kibosh on his writing ...ah, but then he was a man, wasn't he?

02 June 2014

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

This is a revised and expanded version of my review on Amazon.co.uk of The Minituarist by Jessie Burton. I have said before somewhere here that I am fortunate at having been chosen (I have no idea why) as a reviewer for the Amazon Vine Programme. It has introduced me to some brilliant novels I might not have come across - The Light Between Two Oceans comes to mind. The Miniaturist published in the UK by Picador on July 3rd this year and I only have a review copy so will buy it in due course. Incidentally I love the cover because it is perfect in every way.

So here's my longer version:-

When I looked at the others Vine reviews of 'The Minituarist', I was somewhat surprised that so far there was only one UK reviewer so far who only gave the novel 3 stars. I. in fact, commented on her review even before I'd finished reading the novel. (My opinion has not changed. ) The US Vine reviewers are similarly churlish. Even the best review damns it with faint praise, giving the criticism other reviewers have remarked on – historical inaccuracy. So it’s high time someone raved about it although I am not sure I am the well-equipped enough to do it. I: am not an expert in Dutch history by any means but it has spurred me onto finding out more, which I consider one of the advantages of reading the best historical fiction

At the heart of this novel is a na├»ve young girl, who, to begin with, still uses her maiden name, Petronella Oortmann. The author has ‘created’ her from the real historical owner of a cabinet house (a type of doll’s house, which can be seen in the Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam.)  It is through Petronella's young and somewhat naive eye as the novel opens that we see the world around her. And what a world! The Dutch city of Amsterdam rivalled Britain for its travel, its discoveries and its trade by the Dutch East and West Indies companies, which came first and was rivalled the British East India Company which developed in time into the British Empire. I have studied the background avidly since reading the novel and discovered that, during the time-line of the novel, The Netherlands was enjoying ‘a golden age.’ not matched since. The Netherlands were a force to be reckoned with.

Petronella is the new young wife of a very rich and important Amsterdam world trader, Johannes Brandt and the novel begins when she first moves into his wealthy canal-fronted house which is one of the richest homes in the most prestigious area of the city, called Herengracht or The Golden Bend. But once there, she realises that things are not at all as she expects. Not only is her husband not there to greet her, he continues to keep her at arms length without any physical intimacy whatsoever, His sister, Marin, runs the household with an iron rod although it should be Petronella as the owner's wife. Also the servants don’t behave like underlings at all and the man-servant is, to her surprise, a black man which she has never seen before. Then, one day, her husband buys her an expensive present. It is an elaborate scaled-down cabinet house. Petronella's response reveals her  hurt and humiliation,. Marin is suspicious because she sees it as a waste of money and useless, apart from taking up an awful lot of room. The two servants, although baffled although they are used to Brandt's extravagances, see it as no more than a rich-man’s folly and have no interest in a toy. When Petronella eventually decides decides to get in touch with a craftsman who might make small artifacts - such as a miniature lute. This is an instrument she can play competently and longs to please her husband with it, but she is not allowed to touch or even tune those hanging on the walls in the house. When she received the package in return, it contains not only an exquisite perfectly-tuned miniature instrument, there are plenty of other items as well that not only match the look and style of the house, no-one other than the inhabitants could possibly know of, not to mention cryptic written messages that don't make sense to her...

...and so the novel takes off and becomes darker and dangerous as Petronella seeks the craftsman and slowly becomes a member of this  of this vibrant and yet, secretive city, not to mention tightly-controlled. Throughout the novel, my predictions as to where the action might lead, especially the actions of the characters, were constantly confounded. I remained uncertain of the ending right up until I turned the last page. 

This is a detailed and richly-researched and detailed novel. It is intelligently written although it is not for readers who want speedy action and easily-definable characters. Those who say it is anachronistic have not bothered, as I have, to teach themselves, through it, the history and development of the Netherlands. (Another reason why I love historical fiction.) Plus I am so tired of reviewers who say they cannot ‘love’ characters in a novel enough to ‘care’ about them. Oh dear…what a blinkered approach to fiction appreciation. Intelligent novels introduce as to people who are often flawed and always complicated—in other words, real. People love or make enemies of others for the strangest reasons to do with their upbringing, their sexual orientation and their desire to make money and not be destitute. There is no social safety-net for anyone in the past. There are no guarantees of happy endings in life. Those readers, who want the conclusion of this novel to be tied up prettily with pink ribbon, will be disappointed with ‘The Miniaturist’, especially with the miniaturist himself—or is it herself? Not me. That person may remain an enigmatic, unclear individual but that suited me. I like to think about a novel long after the last word has been read. In fact, when I by my hard-back I shall read it again.

Until then, I shall tell everyone I know how brilliant the novel is. I am delighted to discover Jessie Burton—a name to watch in the future. How jealous I am of her agent and editor. I predict great things for her in the future and hope against hope many others will share my opinion. 

27 May 2014

Trying again to drum up some interest in a writing group for Rosedale.

I never give up. So I'm trying again. This is revised re-posting of a previous appeal because, since I first asked whether a group of like-minded writers could get together every so often in Rosedale Abbey, in the North York Moors, at the newly re-opened Milburn Arms right in the centre of the village, I've had no response.  I'm now expanded my appeal to non-fiction writers and poets. Surely I'm not the only writer hereabouts?

When my husband and I  moved into the village six years ago, I was excited at the idea of living next door to it, but unfortunately, this once celebrated lovely hotel/pub two months later for various reasons and then  remained closed until last month. In the meantime, it slowly deteriorated which all the locals found heart-breaking. Since it re-opened last month, the  village had a total renaissance (although we still boast two other good inns (including  the award-winning White Horse Farm Inn.) But the walk to it from our front door for a 'swift half' involves the lower slopes of Rosedale Abbey's (in)famous Chimney Bank which the 2014 Tour de France's visit to Yorkshire  bottled out of! And unlike my husband, I am not a runner, walker or like anything physically taxing!

Back to my plans. if you squint at the map above or have good eyesight you will spot that Rosedale Abbey is slap bang in the centre of the North York Moors National Park. Teesside is shown to the north and York (not shown) is to the south. Whitby and Scarborough are only short drives away. The area is sparsely populated and public transport does not exist nor is there mobile phone coverage and although there are many published writers who live close *waves to Choc-Lit novelist, Jane Lovering whom I haven't yet been fortunate to meet.*

I am thinking of setting up a fiction writer's group.  I envisage very relaxed and regular get-togethers in The Milburn Arms which will be more chat, support, advice and encouragement than anything else. It's very early days and it's very fluid. But... if you write or want to, of whatever kind, please tweet me at @SallyZig

If you're local and want to find out more, but don't tweet, please add a comment here. I am open to any suggestions, although I myself now do not write non-fiction, journalism or even poetry although I once won a poetry prize but that was a fluke, ever repeated.. Whatever you write or want to write, please come on in! 

I don't bite.