Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee A Writer's Life for Me: Tuesday Talk with Janis Smith

A writer's life for me;
A paper stack and a silver pen,
A laptop that's gone wrong again.

A writer's life is fun;
You get your name on a book, you know –
You're no longer just a so and so,
Even though your sales may be low,
A Writer's life for me!

The other day I found myself wondering what I would be if I wasn't a writer? Oh, I have had heaps of other careers – day jobs – but I have been a writer all my life. From my earliest memories I was never happier than with a pen and paper, making up a poem or story; for, it does not matter what I may do by way of employment, the fact that I am a writer is something deeper within, set in stone at the core, it is part of who I am: my vocation, my calling...my life. This was not something I wholly recognised until I was having one of my 'Why do I do this?' tantrums. You know the moments – when it seems that being a medieval gong farmer would be far preferable, and certainly far more financially profitable, than this wordsmithying malarkey. At such moments I rally on about how I shall jack it all in and spend my time restoring furniture, or sewing curtains, or... My husband's response was to ask 'How long would that last? You couldn't go a day without having a storyline run through your head from some random thing you have heard or seen’. I had to concede, he was right. It is in my thinking, my nature, to be a writer, and I am continually astounded to find that it isn't what normal folk do – weaving mental stories throughout their waking and, I am in no doubt, sleeping hours.

The only problem with being a writer is at times it can be a curse rather than a blessing, for a writer is compelled to commit stories to paper, seek an audience, and dare I say it, aspire to feel the jingle of a coin or two in the pocket in remuneration for doing such. A career as a full-time writer is becoming a rare beast, especially if you seek to do this via novels alone. A number of contributing factors, over the past twenty years, have seen the world of publishing change into a hydra of not merely many heads, but colours also, and the evolutions continue to roll at a pace that is reflective of the instant world we now live in. The heads of this publishing monster, a twenty-first-century writer has to tackle, are varied in their friendliness, or ferocity. It was always incredibly difficult to get an agent and/or publisher interested in your work, but now even more so, given the state of the industry. Mass market discounting, celebrity bandwagons and accountant analysed trending mean that obtaining a publishing contract goes far beyond simply having a truly fantastic manuscript to sell. But what care we, us scribes of the techno age, for we have print on demand and eBooks, and all the software and channels to do it all for ourselves...well that is the theory, anyhow. For those of you who have forayed into the murky waters of independent publishing you will know that plain sailing it is not! Not to mention that the facility that is open to one, as a writer now, is also open to every single citizen of this planet...and you soon discover there are an awful lot of wannabe writers out there! Readers have never had it so good!

I have a mental analogy which reflects the current state of the book publishing industry as being akin to the upended Titanic in her death throes. Having hit the iceberg of e-publishing and mass market global booksellers, the established, big name authors are clinging desperately to the ship's upended stern for as long as they can, watching their companions slowly lose hold of the rail and tumble, one by one, into the obscurity below. Meanwhile, the conventional, old-order publishers and agents have roughly shoved women and children aside to commandeer the lifeboats and make their escape as best they can, with as many first class, celebrity passengers as possible crammed in with them, picking up the odd survivor, who has proved their mettle, along the way. This literary Titanic is crewed by independent bookshops, who are stoically committed to going down with the ship, whilst a plethora of literary festivals serenade them, keeping them company, playing on in an attempt to lift their spirits and offer hope to the doomed. Meanwhile, the long-serving pulp fiction authors from the 'B' deck are throwing themselves into the churning new waves of the publishing ocean in the hope they will float somehow. So, where are the new authors, the up and coming voices? Below the waterline they labour, surrounded by the choppy waters of conventional and independent publishing that have churned in the storm of the technological advancements which conspire to sink the ship. As third class passengers, who have scraped a ticket for this perilous ride, they are stuck in steerage. When they boarded the ship they were full of hopes and aspirations, although they may have clambered aboard at the bottom, with a turn of luck and a spark of something special they could just possibly make it up to the very top deck, or at worst creep up into second class. Invisible to those above, they are left to not only find their own way out of the maze that confronts them, with lights out and the constant threat of drowning, but they are also required to cobble together their own lifejacket and raft... not to mention fight their way through the masses who are packed around them, all shouting to make their voices heard! But, it is possible to make it to the top deck, for we have all heard rumours of those who have made it out – and even though we are upon a sinking ship, there is hope – for readers man the numerous rescue boats that are streaming towards this wreck.

That might paint a fairly grim picture of publishing as it is today, but the reality is that it is getting harder and harder to find a conventional route for getting your novel into print, and non-conventional routes there may be aplenty, but they are rarely straightforward, pitfall-free paths. The problem, if you are like me, is I AM A WRITER, it is what I do, and want to do – I can't simply shrug my shoulders and go and find something else to do, as much as I would like to at times. My only choice is to explore the options and find the best way to negotiate the publishing chaos around me, and make it to the readers who are out there somewhere, in the lifeboats – keen to haul me in over the side and welcome me into their boat. There are thousands of us writers seeking the same thing, and many ways to get there, thus, collaboration must be the answer. If I share with you my experiences, and you share with me yours...with a touch of camaraderie we all might just make it through. To this end I have established a new blog, for one of the positives of the technological age is blogging, never was there a better way to share and glean information around the globe. The blog is called The Indie Writer ( http://theindiwriter.wordpress.com/ ) and I am hoping for it to become a hub of shared knowledge between independent writers endeavouring to get their books published. I don't want it to be my voice alone on there, though I will be sharing my experiences and tips from time to time, no, my aim is that other writers will swamp me with blog entries that I can post and thus together we can create an evolving guide of up-to-date information that will aid and enable other writers to perhaps make it through the labyrinth a little easier.

As an indie writer I have created my own publishing company, Wilton End Publishing, and the aim of that company is not just to publish my own work but to enable others to publish their work too, by using the means that are best for them, and discover an audience for that work. Together we can perhaps cobble together a raft that will allow us to chart our way through the roaring ocean of modern publishing and reach our waiting readers, who really do want to read our books.

So, who is with me? If you would like to send me an article for The Indie Writer I would love to hear from you, whatever your route from pen to published – ups, downs, highs, lows, peaks and pitfalls, please do share. My aim is to not only enable others through our own experiences but also to publicise as many indie writers as I can via their contribution to the blog, and her sister blog The Indie Reader...but that is a blog for another day!
If you have a blog entry you would like to have posted on The Indie Writer please email it to me at janisdsmith@gmail.com

Hi diddle dee doo
I'm a writer, don't you know
I'm on Goodreads and Amazon
And a big contract won't be long
She did it with Shades of Grey
And I'm better than that, or so they say...
A writer's life for me!

Janis Pegrum Smith is the author of
More Than Gold – A Klondike Adventure
Marigolds in Her Hands – A Romance 
and her new novel
The Book Ark –Black on White will be released in August 2014.

The creative light behind Wilton End Publishing, she is also a reviewer and Assistant Editor for the Indie section of the Historical Novel Society.

For more on Janis please go to 

For more on Wilton End Publishing please go to

For more on The Indie Writer please go to 


Honourable Pagan Queens
By Theresa Tomlinson

On the surface of it, the biased, pro-Roman, religious histories, written by a monk of Jarrow who possibly never left his monastery, might not sound appealing as the inspiration for historical fiction, but I have found myself completely hooked by the enticing glimpses Bede gives of many historical events and characters who were not at the forefront of action, but nevertheless, were extremely influential. Bede is not generally known for his championing of women, but there are notable instances when he emphasises the authority and importance of certain holy women e.g. Hild of Whitby - and hidden amongst the dramatic tales of the many kings and saints, he also gives brief impressions of other women, whose prestige and significance he quietly acknowledges. Perhaps the most surprising of all are Bede’s references to pagan queens.

Redwald was the King of the East Angles, usually linked with the Sutton Hoo burial. Sadly we do not even know the name of his queen, but we know that she was a pagan, because when Redwald returned to East Anglia from a visit to Kent and announced that he’d been baptised as a Christian, Bede tells us that ‘his wife and certain perverse advisers persuaded him to apostatize from the true faith.

Edwin of Northumbria exiled in his youth, sought shelter at the East Anglian Court, where the queen would have taken the role of hostess. When emissaries arrived from Athelfrid of Northumbria offering gold in exchange for the young prince’s murder, and issued threats of war if his demand was refused, Redwald was tempted to take the easy way out and order the murder of his guest, but then Bede tells us: ‘when he (Redwald) privately told the queen of his intention… she dissuaded him, saying that it was unworthy in a great king to sell his best friend in the hour of need for gold, and worse still to sacrifice his royal honour, the most valuable of all possessions, for love of money.

Despite his disapproval of her pagan ways, Bede’s warmth for her decency and sense of fairness seems to leap from the page.

Cynewise was Penda’s queen and though her actions are not referred to directly by Bede, he does mention her clearly in a paragraph that again suggests that she was a woman of considerable power and status. Penda’s battles with both Oswald and Oswy of Northumbria continued for many years and eventually their disagreement came to a head at the Battle of the Winwaed, at which Penda was killed. Bede comments that Oswy’s son Egfrid, who was 10 or 11 years old: ‘was at that time held hostage at the court of Queen Cynewise in the province of the Mercians.’ It is a tiny mention, but it tells us a great deal. Penda had a named wife who was considered to be queen of the Mercians, she held her own court and was given the responsible position of being in charge of hostages. Hostage taking was common practice between warring kingdoms and it seems to have been used as a guarantee of friendly behaviour from the other side. When Oswy led his followers into battle against Penda he was putting his young son’s life at risk. As soon as Cynewise heard of her husband’s death, she would have been well within her rights to have taken her revenge by ordering Egfrid to be put to death – but Egfrid survived to become King of Northumbria on his father’s death. We don’t know what happened. Had Cynewise become fond of the young boy put into her care? Did she use him as a bargaining tool for her own safety or that of her sons? I have speculated imaginatively on the possibilities in BETTER THAN GOLD.

Both of these queens are shadowy figures mentioned extremely briefly by Bede, but we learn a great deal from his writings about their times, families and descendants.
ACHA was the daughter of Aelle, King of Deira. Bede mentions her only once as Oswald’s mother: ‘Oswald was nephew to King Edwin by his sister Acha; and it is fitting that so great a predecessor should have had so worthy a man of his own blood to maintain his religion and his throne.’

Acha’s life must have been fraught with difficulties as her husband Aethelfrid killed her father, took over his kingdom and drove her brother into exile – and yet she somehow survived, continuing to have further sons with him. On Aethelfrid’s death his sons fled North West to Dalriada where they were given protection and educated on Iona. The youngest son, Oswy, was only four at the time and so he cannot have travelled north alone. Was it Acha who took her sons to safety? Aethelfrid’s closest companions and war-band would have been expected to have gone down fighting at his side.

BEBBA is usually thought to have been Athelfrid’s queen and possibly to have been a Pictish Princess. She is mentioned twice by Bede, but only in the briefest manner as the queen who Bamburgh was named for. When speaking of Oswald’s relics, he says: ‘They are preserved as venerated relics in a silver casket at the church of Saint Peter in the royal city, which is called after a former queen named Bebba.’ This smallest of references does tell us that Bebba was a woman of power and prominence, who appeared to be in charge of her own fortress and had it named after her.

We do not know what she did to deserve such an honour, but this sort of uncertainty provides the perfect space for much imaginative thinking on the part of a historical novelist. Was Bebba Athelfrid’s first wife and Acha his second wife? Did Aethefrid have two wives at the same time? As a pagan this would be quite feasible. Was there enmity between the two women? I have speculated on the possibilities in THE TRIBUTE BRIDE and was pleased to see the idea that I went with mentioned as a valid theory by Max Adams in his book THE KING OF THE NORTH – The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria. If readers would like an in-depth, but very accessible study of these times, I’d recommend Max Adams book to them.

My latest fiction ideas are inspired by exciting recent archaeological discoveries – e.g. the Staffordshire Hoard and the mysterious Street House burial close to where I live – as well as a study of the works of the Venerable Bede, but I struggled to persuade publishers that this period could be presented to readers in an accessible and exciting manner – ‘such difficult names’ they said, ‘too complicated a period!’

Despite the lack of enthusiasm for this period, I was unable to let my ideas go, and so finally, with the support of my agent, Caroline Walsh, I self-published two adult historical novels using ACORN DIGITAL PRESS in both eBook and paperback form.

However, more recently, with the publication of BETTER THAN GOLD (Children’s Historical Fiction, due in November 2014 from A&C Black) I have hopes that traditional publisher’s reluctance towards 7th Century settings might be shifting a little.  

The version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People that I’ve used is published by Penguin Books. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price revised by R.E.Latham

Fiction with Anglo-Saxon settings
A SWARMING OF BEES by Theresa Tomlinson – published by Acorn Digital Press Ltd 2012
UK Amazon 
US Amazon

THE TRIBUTE BRIDE by Theresa Tomlinson – published by Acorn Digital Press Ltd 2014
UK Amazon 
US Amazon

BETTER THAN GOLD by Theresa Tomlinson – published by A&C Black (Children’s Historical Fiction) November 2014-07-16

WOLF GIRL by Theresa Tomlinson – published by Random House Children’s Books (Young Adult Novel) 2011

Tuesday Talk - More Puns

I am probably going to get readers leaving mt blog  in droves after publishing these dreadful puns...

1. King Ozymandias of Assyria was running low on cash after years of war with the Hittites. His last great possession was the Star of the Euphrates , the most valuable diamond in the ancient world.
Desperate, he went to Croesus, the pawnbroker, to ask for a loan.
Croesus said, "I'll give you 100,000 dinars for it."
"But I paid a million dinars for it," the King protested. "Don't you know who I am? I am the king!"
Croesus replied, "When you wish to pawn a Star, makes no difference who you are."
2. Evidence has been found that William Tell and his family were avid bowlers. Unfortunately, all the Swiss League records were destroyed in a fire, and so we'll never know for whom the Tells bowled.
3. A man rushed into a busy doctor's surgery and shouted, "Doctor! I think I'm shrinking!"
The doctor calmly responded, "Now, settle down. You'll just have to be a little patient."
4.. An Indian chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the Medicine man. After a brief examination, the medicine man took out a long, thin strip of elk rawhide and gave it to the chief, telling him to bite off, chew, and swallow one inch of the leather every day.
After a month, the medicine man returned to see how the chief was feeling.
The chief shrugged and said, "The thong is ended, but the malady lingers on."
5. A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insisted on complaining to the local civic official, who apologized
profusely, saying, "I must have taken Leif off my census."
6.. There were three Indian squaws. One slept on a deer skin, one Slept on an elk skin, and the third slept on a hippopotamus skin. All three became pregnant. The first two each had a baby boy. The one who slept on the hippopotamus skin had twin boys. This just goes to prove that the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides.
7. A sceptical anthropologist was cataloguing South American folk remedies with the assistance of a tribal elder who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for any case of
constipation. When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the elder looked
him in the eye and said, "Let me tell you, with fronds like these, you don't need enemas." 

And before you ask.... 
No, I didn't write these
I stole them from some other person
who also needs to get a life

Oh Lordy, or perhaps not...

Tuesday Talk: Jeffrey Manton on Titles... 
no, not book titles, Nobility Titles in Historical Fiction...

Titles are a minefield. Hidden from many and yet ready to explode for those in the know. Does it matter if you get them wrong? Well, no, not really - and my saying goes something like this: ‘Those who matter don’t care, and those who care don’t matter.’ Only it does matter in Historical Fiction. Really it does. I read book after book, so painstakingly researched, and such evident labours of utter love by the writer, and then they wade in and get all the titles wrong. Now look, what’s the point of getting that illness of 1856 right, or the wicked sister who stole a country - in that gown of pale blue satin recorded in Prince Whatever’s diary - and yet get the titles all wrong?

'Arise... sir...um, baron.. earl...viscount...
oh damn it, Galahad, just get up!"
I hear you yell at me: ‘you trainspotter!’ - but if you’re seriously writing to make a reader live and breathe the period then rank mattered.
And you’re not in period if you don’t care.

Now, in all fairness, most of the howlers are post 1700s Britain because that’s the basis of everything we know today. If you are working in the Elizabethan period then just about any gentle-born woman would be ‘my lady’ and the King was often addressed as ‘Your Grace’. You have more leeway way back then. But if you’re doing anything from Jane Austen onwards then it matters. So, I’ll start with the prevalent mistakes and come on to foreign ranks...

Lords and Ladies
The ubiquitous howler - the wife of a baronet or knight (Sir John Smith Bt. or Sir John Smith) is not Lady Jane Smith. She is Lady Smith. Again and again this mistake is made. She will be addressed as ‘my lady.’ Their children will not have titles but the boys will be John Smith Esq. Oh...and knights don’t pass titles to sons but baronets do. 
I know it’s a minefield.
Keep up.

Lady Jane Smith will be the daughter of a Duke or an Earl - and when she marries Mr John Jones she will be Lady Jane Jones with the curious anomaly that a married woman is always Mrs John Jones while her ladyship keeps her first name - and is not Lady John Jones.  And just for fun...if Lady Smith’s husband is elevated from a knight to a peer she becomes The Lady Smith although her husband is now Lord Smith, Baron of London.
Keeping up are we?

Next howler - remember the family name. The Earl of London’s daughter is not Lady Jane London but Lady Jane Smith because the original family name is Smith. Why? Mr Smith gets a title of Earl of London but his family name stays the same. They are the Smith family and may gather any number of titles within that family. The younger sons of Dukes and Earls will be Lord John Smith but usually the eldest has some additional title hanging around so he will be Viscount Whatever and his children will be The Hon. John Smith or the Hon. Jane Smith.

Dear Reader...can you imagine the errors for a young hostess or those new to the system? And that’s the point, of course. Don’t know what to call them? Get the invitation card wrong? Then you’re not one of us, darling.

The Hon. This is a howler zone as well. It’s one of those strange titles bandied around and quite ubiquitous now that the British House of Lords is stuffed full with Barons and Baronesses whose children are all The Hon. It’s really only used on visiting cards or envelopes and it’s not quite done to introduce them as ‘The Hon. John Smith’ but you can give it a try.

We also string all our titles together to show how we rank. So, The Hon. Jane Smith marries Lord Bradley and becomes The Hon. Lady Bradley. It’s the same sort of one-upmanship (or Queen-manship) as the widow of King George used (him of the King's Speech) when her daughter became Queen. Not to be outdone ‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’ became ‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’ thus getting Queen twice in her title - while Her Majesty was merely Her Majesty The Queen. It depends how you look at it, of course.

While we’re here at the top of the pecking order - the precedence goes something like this: Royal Duke, Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron, Baronet, Knight. This article won’t go into the order of decorations such as Orders of the British Empire but if you are arranging a procession in order of rank (and in all Victorian and Edwardian households you absolutely went into dinner by rank) - then somebody with a decoration would precede somebody without. Best not to go there for now methinks - but you can imagine a scene where the young hostess is puzzling this all out or makes a faux-pas and is sniggered at by her elders. Actually, come to think of it, I was sniggered at...another story.

The Countess Howler –The Earl and Countess of London will be addressed as such on invitations, and announced as such when they enter a room, but an equal won’t call The Countess of London ‘Countess’ - she will be Lady London. Or plain Jane to her friends.  And when the Earl dies she becomes ‘Jane, Countess of London’ is addressed as ‘Lady London.’
Are you still with me?

There’s more of course. It gets better with Scottish and Irish titles which can pass down the line in different ways – and the European system is for another article. There are so many areas of complication – the various German princes (some Royal and some not, some Serene Highnesses and some not) and the enormously grand Spanish system where a woman often inherits the title when there isn’t a son (seldom allowed in Britain) and a plain Grandee will outrank the highest Duque if he isn’t a Grandee to boot.
He usually is, though.

We debate back and forth on the depth of research in Historical Fiction and how much in period we ought to be. It’s a balance to keep a modern reader with you. But if you want the reader to ‘be there’ – well, rank and precedence were an integral part of life, day in and day out.
There are several guides. Or feel free to email me. I won’t always be right. There will be better guides than me. But I may be able to steer your young hostess.

Jeffrey Manton
Jeffrey reads and critiques novels and scripts with a speciality in the lives of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of Windsor. He was tutored by Orange Prize nominee Liz Jenson at the Arvon Creative Writing Foundation and mentored by Pulitzer Prize runner-up Dick Vaughan and Booker long-listed John Murray.
He worked and lived in Paris, Madrid, New York, Dallas and Boston and ghost-wrote articles for newspapers and periodicals that included the Financial Times, the Boston Globe, El Pais and Le Figaro.

A member of The Author’s Society and The Historical Novel Society, Jeffrey is an avid Facebook chatterer with writing groups, and a regular reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads and is a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews. 
He can be contacted on Jeffrey.Manton AT rspartners DOT co.uk JeffreyManton@rspartners.co.uk

Jeffrey, a most informative and interesting (if confusing!) article. Thank you sir... er.... mate. :-)