1066 and All That

The history of Britain, as any fule kno, begins in 1066 and stretches in a long, complicated, but strangely unbroken zigzag from Will the Conq to Liz the Second. Apart from kings’n’queens and a million battles, a few Things happened, such as Magna Carta or The Gunpowder Plot. Mr. Richards, our history teacher, made us learn all the dates well before we’d actually got there in the history book, so even though we were still on Richard II, we knew, for example, that Admiral Byng was shot for the loss of Minorca in 1757.

Other Things that happened were the South Sea Bubble (1720), a strange aquatic phenomenon involving a huge dome somewhere near Tahiti, and the Black Hole of Calcutta (1756), an uncovered manhole into which people fell and then spent the rest of their lives in a sewer. Although the peasants would sometimes revolt, there was no one in history apart from kings’n’queens, who generally did a couple of Things and fought a dozen battles before being murdered. One exception was Henry VII, who didn’t do much apart from end the War of the Roses, have Henry VIII (who did a lot) and be a Tudor. Kings’n’queens were either Good or Bad, and Henry VII was definitely Good, if a little boring.

Now, I’ve just finished Winter King by Thomas Penn. I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t expect to finish before 2018, so slow was my progress and so complicated the story. Here’s a representative passage: Philip of Burgundy’s unexpected death in September 1506 had got him thinking again about Catherine’s older sister Juana, whose pale, isolated beauty he had admired at Richmond the previous year, and who was now Philip’s widow. In recent years Henry had of course been pursuing Philip’s sister, Margaret of Savoy – rich, Hapsburg, and aunt to Philip and Juana’s son Charles of Castile, who was due to be betrothed to Henry’s daughter Mary. Well, after a while I stopped trying to figure out who was who and just went, “Yeah, OK,” like you do when you’re watching Mulholland Drive. And so, helped by a couple of plane flights, I managed not only to finish it but enjoy it. I’ve forgotten most of it already, but the lasting impression is of having to revise my view: Henry VII, apparently, was not just shifty, paranoid and avaricious, but a pioneer in the art of political spin. Now, if that makes you think of a recent British Prime Minister, you’re being very unfair. Because Henry, after all, didn’t take Britain into war. Tony Blair did.

Reading in a foreign language – beware!

I used to read a lot in French, not only for pleasure but because it improved my vocabulary. Now I read in English so as not to forget the words I already know. But the other day, a family moving back to the Metropole were selling their books, so we went over to see what they had. And there I came across Autoportrait de l’Auteur en Coureur de Fond (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) by Haruki Murakami. Now, I’m always up for anything he writes and since it’s translated from Japanese, it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or French. It isn’t a novel but an artful comparison between writing and long-distance running, and one immediate consequence was to remind me I need to get fit. So on went the trainers and tracksuit and off I trotted round the block, perfectly happy with my progress until boing! Some sort of muscle behind my knee that I never knew I had. So now I’m hobbling around like Long John Silver. Just thought I’d warn you – though reading in a foreign language may improve your vocabulary, it can have painful side effects.

The three R’s: Writing, Reading, Reviewing

My arithmetic skills having long since withered, my third R these days is reviewing, which I don’t do enough of. That’s partly because I don’t do enough reading, in fact, so I ought to reduce the first R to get more time for the other two. But if I did that, I’d be unhappy, so for the moment it’s staying as it is. Nonetheless, as I look ever deeper into self-publishing, the importance of reviewing becomes more obvious. A sizeable batch of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads helps to attract more reviews – it’s a snowball effect. Fewer than thirty, and you’re unlikely to make much of an impact – readers tend to dismiss them as the usual 5-star hype by friends and family. More than fifty reviews, though, and people start to take notice.

I’ve only been on Goodreads a short while, but one thing you see straightaway is that the books with the most reviews are the ones that need them least. The first book I rated (5 stars) was Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life. I didn’t write a review, though, because it already had 15,248, and I said to myself that I’d rather write reviews which could actually make a difference. So I wrote one (4 stars) for The Attic Piranhas by Marlin Williams, which currently has six reviews on Goodreads and 13 on Amazon.

Nonetheless, despite my writing commitments, I’m trying to make time for the other two R’s. I was recently a beta reader for William Chasterson’s intriguing Metaphysical Man, and I’ve just posted a couple of reviews on Goodreads. One for Clara Wiggins’s very well-written Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, the other for Casting Shadows Everywhere by L.T. Vargus. This, then, is the modest start to my Help Other Authors campaign, which others, such as The Story Reading Ape, have taken to admirable heights. And here’s a quote from Sally Cronin at smorgasbord which gives it a concrete basis: We are always hearing about the overwhelming number of Indie authors and the number of books we are competing with in the market place. However, instead of being overwhelmed, take a look at your circle of author contacts and instead of trying to make a difference to all Indie authors, how about as a group making a difference to twenty or thirty. If we all did that we would be supporting thousands within a very short space of time.

Sound advice indeed, and I’ll be posting more about the three R’s in future. Meanwhile, Amazon is asking me to rate the first issue of The World Unknown Review, volume 1. I bought it a month ago because it has a story by Book Country writer D.J. Lutz, but I haven’t started it yet. Give me a chance, guys – gotta do some writing myself!

C-A-T spells, um…

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A month and half passed before I saw him again. Amid rumours of an imperial-backed invasion by Suffolk, and as the earl and his right-hand man Sir Robert Curzon were anathematized by bell, book and candle at St. Paul’s Cross, the country remained on high alert. 

The sentences above could come from the same book, but they don’t. And no prizes for guessing which one is Patterson and which one Thomas Penn. Now I read the Patterson six months ago, it took me all of two days. I even remember more or less what it was about. I’ve been on the Penn for a month and I’ve got to page 79 (300 still to go, and the typeset’s really small). Will I finish it? Yes. Maybe in 2018, but I will (I’m stubborn that way). Time was, I could take Wolf Solent in my stride, but now I have trouble with anything more abstruse than Alex Cross. Must be the age, I suppose. Not my own, of course, the one we live in (ahem…).

Why are bees yellow?

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So you’re a writer, I see. But tell me, does anyone read your books?

Not yet. But that’s the whole point of getting onto social networks, you see. I’ve got a blog to publicise my writing, and I’m using Twitter to –

Stop! 140 characters max. Short, sharp, to the point. What’s your message to these readers you’re looking for?

Um… One Green Bottle. Available for just $4 free for next 5 mins. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity. Get it now. And I mean #now!

And you think they’ll fall for that? Oh, Bausse, whom no one’s ever heard of, has written a book. I really must read it. Very likely!

Well, how else am I going to become famous and earn a zillion dollars?

Subtlety, Bausse, subtlety! Slip it into a conversation unobtrusively.

OK, I get it! Must admit I’m pretty green when it comes to Twitter. Green as a bottle, in fact. Which reminds me: One Green Bottle avail-

Good try, but no. Look, check out today’s blogging 201 task. You’ll see for example that the best tweets are in the form of questions.

Ah, that’s interesting. Let’s see now… Has anyone else been wondering why so many bottles are green?

Good luck with that one. You’re not very good at this, are you? Have you joined any Twitter chats?

No, but I’m going to join #greenwater. It’s about algae but I’m sure they won’t mind if mention bottles.

Can I make a suggestion, Bausse? Why don’t you sign up for Pinterest?