A first for me – a feature in a German newspaper

Torgau paperYesterday a link dropped onto my FB author page which, once I’d realised it was a link (several hours and someone’s comment later) took me straight to an article in a German newspaper, featuring the research visit I’d made to Torgau in Saxony just over a year ago. I was travelling in the footsteps of Katharina von Bora, the escaped nun who became Martin Luther’s wife, in order to paint an authentic background to my novel Katharina: Deliverance. Although I can’t read German, and have to rely on the less than idiomatic FB translation, it seems a lovely article and I’m chuffed to bits.

Yesterday I also discovered, in the spam folder of my email, that Torgau Information Centre had written to me two weeks ago, wanting a photograph to go with the article, but  by the time I found it the piece was written and published. Moral of the story – check your spam folder more than once a month! I am hoping that they might be able to send me a scanned copy of the article that I can print out and keep – to join my wee archive of newspaper coverage that I’ve had over the last few years. For those of you who can read German here’s the link

For those who can’t,  google translate gives the gist!

So my thanks to Anja, Ursula and Katrin of Torgau Tourist Information Centre and to Sebastian who wrote the article.

 

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Munro no 3 – By Sword and Storm – will soon be hitting the bookshops (and e-readers). The proof-reader has been through it, but I still need to check anything that needs altered as a result, and I’m in discussion with Corazon and with myself re the cover. Formatter is on standby (at least I hope she is) as is the printer, (ditto). And we’re working on the possibility of some ARCs to be sent as review copies. (There are some technical hitches with those, but hopefully they will be resolved soon, courtesy of the KDP print service, which may solve the problem of getting a small number of print copies without having to re-mortgage the house).

If all goes well it won’t be long now…

In the meantime two Amazon related notifications that some of you might be interested in. The first is an article about Eoin Purcell – Head of Amazon Publishing UK – the publishing wing is distinct from Amazon marketplace.

The second is an Amazon Academy day to be held in Newcastle on the 5th June. I was an attendee at a similar event last year in Edinburgh and it was very useful and informative. This time I will be one of the panellists.  Oh, and it’s FREE. If you’re within shooting distance of Newcastle (or even if you aren’t) it would be good to see you there.

 

 

A lovely lady – Drue Heinz

The papers this week have been full of obituaries of Drue Heinz, the lovely lady who gave so generously to support writers in both the US and the UK. I was fortunate enough to be awarded two Hawthornden Fellowships (in 2011 and 2016). It’s impossible to adequately describe the experience, suffice to say they have been two of the most productive writing months of my life and I am immensely grateful for the generosity that made them possible.

Here is a flavour of the Hawthornden experience

What do you call six total strangers immured together in a 17th century castle for a month, with minimal mobile phone reception, no internet and a rule of silence for nine hours per day?   Answer – ‘Hawthornden Fellows.’

From mid-February – mid-March 2016 I was privileged to be one of those ‘Fellows’. hawthornden

I arrived on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in February, just as the light was beginning to fail. As I keyed in the code I’d been sent, tall gates swung back allowing me entrance to a long drive curving downwards through woodland carpeted with snowdrops. Beyond the main entrance to the castle is a grassed courtyard, bounded on two sides by the remains of an ancient keep and on the third by a low parapet, providing the only protection from the sheer drop of 100 feet or more to the river below. The inner door opened onto a flagged stone hallway with a welcoming open fire. Later there would be time to examine the coat of arms above the entrance, the commemorative stone plaque on the castle wall and the library, but for now the priority is to find my room and settle in.

The writers’ rooms are on the second and garret floors, the latter reached via a steep spiral staircase, so narrow that several folk have to open their cases in the entrance hall and ferry their belongings up by the armload. Each room is different, varying from tiny to very large, but all are comfortable, and have everything we need. I quickly feel at home in mine.dining_n

Our first meal was in the formal dining room with linen napkins and elaborate place settings, including pewter water goblets. It was also the opportunity to meet the other ‘Fellows’ with whom I would spend the next month. Aside from me (from Ulster, living in Scotland) there was one American, one Dane and three English, all with very different backgrounds, which made for lively and interesting discussions and unexpected insights.

Breakfasts and dinners (other than Sundays) are served in the ‘hearth room’, the elm table scarred by centuries of use, the porridge served in pewter bowls. Lunch is delivered to our rooms in Fortnum and Mason baskets, and at night our chat in the drawing room is presided over by near life-size portraits of Aldous Huxley, Jean Cocteau and Truman Capote.drawing-room

paintings-in-loungeThere is a sense that work can and must be done here. And work was done, each of us finding our own rhythm, but all I think achieving our self-imposed targets, in between forays into the woods and along the river: ‘thinking’ time in which to process ideas, and to return re-invigorated. My target was 20,000 words of a new novel, for which I had no idea of plot. I came home with a storyboard covered in post-it notes and 23,500+ words of a first draft.

For almost 2 weeks there was no central heating, courtesy of a boiler failure, which in February in a 17th century castle is atmospherically chilly, despite the administrator’s best efforts. So I turned my room into a ‘cave’ covering over the windows with double layers of heavy card, the lack of natural light far out-weighed by the increased comfort. And when the sun shone, I worked in the greenhouse in the walled garden.

my-room-hawthorndenworking-in-greenhouse-2

On the last evening someone asked what we each might change when we went home? Imposing a 9-hour rule of silence would be impossible (sadly), but I hope to maintain a daytime embargo on internet use.

Would I go back? Like a shot.

Here’s the link to the Herald obituary (in which I get a mention).

http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/16132361.Obituary___Drue_Heinz__heiress__philanthropist_and_patron_of_the_arts_in_Scotland/

 

 

On this day 495 years ago

Easter Eve.

A day of preparation and expectation in many Christian churches around the world. It is also a day of waiting, of taking time to reflect on the sombre events of the Crucifixion before the joy of Resurrection morning.

On this day 495 years ago, a group of 12 nuns in a convent close to a small town in Saxony were waiting for night to fall, and for the opportunity to put their plan to flee the convent into action. It was the one night of the year when they were officially allowed to stay up late in order to undertake the Easter Vigil, offering them the best possible chance of escape.                                                                                                                                               The convent buildings are all but gone now, Marienthron

but it is possible to imagine them waiting in silence in their individual cells until they are sure everyone else has gone to sleep, then slipping through the door in the wall of the convent to the wagon that will carry them to freedom.

It was a courageous act, not only on their part, but also on the part of Herr Koppe, the Torgau councillor and merchant who provided the transport, and Martin Luther, the reformer who made the arrangements after he received their appeal for help. It was a capital offence to aid a nun in this way, so not to be undertaken lightly.

It was an action that would have far reaching consequences and the effects have reverberated across the centuries and throughout the Christian world.

For Martin Luther and for one of the nuns, the twenty-three-year old Katharina von Bora, the impact would be more personal. Layout 1

To preview Katharina’s story click here.  If you are in the UK and wish to purchase a signed copy please use the contact form here

If your dream is to live in a castle…

‘Remember the kid’s rhyme ‘I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty wee rascal.’? I can remember shouting it out from the ridge of our garage roof. You can tell I wasn’t the pretty princess type – Slaying the dragon was more my style.
But I did want to live in a castle (who hasn’t dreamt of that at some stage?)
And when I was about 10 the chance came…

A lovely castle – not really old – built in 1808, but suitably castle-shapedScreen Shot 2013-09-21 at 20.30.54and situated not too far from where we lived, came up for sale.

This to me was a happy coincidence, as my parents were looking for a new house at the time. The asking price for the castle was a staggering £12,000, which was only £5,000 more, well ok, nearly double their budget, but it came with 170 acres of land. As far as I was concerned it was sorted.  As far as they were concerned there were a few small problems…

1. How to heat it? (without bankrupting themselves)
2. How to carpet and furnish it?(ditto)
3. How to get to work from it? (without having to leave at the scraich of dawn)
4. How to hoover and dust it all? (and have time to do anything else)

I did try to give them a very good (in my opinion) argument to counter all their quibbles – but somehow the business acumen of a 10-year-old didn’t seem to quite cut it. For the record, I thought the accompanying land could easily have been rented out to some neighbouring farmer to cover the doubled mortgage. They thought more of the difficulties of how to convince the bank to lend them the money in the first place.

Why is it parents have forgotten how to dream? Anyway, as you’ll probably realise, they didn’t buy it and my dream remained just that.

From time to time we passed through the village where the said castle is, and I could never resist looking down the drive and feeling like a fisherman thinking of the ‘one that got away’. And as children do, couldn’t resist reminding my parents (yet again) of their lack of foresight in passing on the opportunity to live there.

One consequence of their failure became evident when I drove past one day and found that the new owners, whoever they might be, had put an (in my opinion, monstrous) glazed extension on the side of the castle that faced the road.  It was a bitter blow to think that my parents could, indeed would, I’m convinced, under my tutelage, have saved the castle from that.  Now anyone who knows me well, knows that architecture is one of my ‘things’, has been since I was about 5 years old, and I am particularly passionate about buildings not being scarred by inappropriate additions. I am not anti-modern architecture per se, and there are architects whose work I have loved ever since I studied History of Art and Design at ‘A’ Level – Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, to name but two, but it irritates me even to look at additions that don’t either fit or complement an existing building. ‘The phrase ‘monstrous carbuncle’ comes to mind, though that is probably the first and last time I will ever quote Prince Charles…

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit another rather lovely little castle, as part of my research for the Munro series of novels. It has a picture postcard, fairytale exterior, and dates from 1625, though sadly much of the interior was remodelled in Victorian times. It is also a very liveable, family-sized castle, and I do hope to use it in my novels when I reach that period. Screenshot 2017-11-01 10.48.18

If you have children who have watched the programme ‘Danny’s Castle’, it was filmed here, in fact, they were setting up for filming on the day I visited. (I clearly missed a trick when I was trying to badger my parents into buying a castle, for that option for essential, additional income didn’t occur to me.)

‘The person who currently owns and lives in this castle is descended from the original Plantation family and was able to pass on some legends about it, at least one of which is so delicious that it will definitely make it into my book when the time comes. (I had intended to be in 1625 by now, but some of my main characters, by going walkabout to France, have delayed me.)

And that first castle of my dreams? Well … years on my father now admits that, yes, as things turned out, it would have been a sound economic proposition to buy it, and he rather wishes he had…

Two books in the Munro series are available Turn of the Tide and A House Divided, no 3, as yet untitled (I really struggle with titles) should be out by February, having been further delayed by Katharina: Deliverance, a novel based on the life of Martin Luther’s wife, timed to coincide with the Luther 500 anniversary on 31st October.

 

 

 

Count down to Katharina – or of Swedes and scanners…

The cover art was the first part of the jigsaw that is the release of a new book to be sorted. It took quite a bit of work – on my part to chase down an image of Katharina that could legally be used, and on his to manipulate the images and footer about with colour etc. (I’m not good at envisaging colour without seeing it, so I asked for lots of alternatives, and he was as always, endlessly patient with me.) So here I should give a big cheer for Clifford Hayes http://www.hayesdesign.co.uk – I’m not sure if I’m his most picky client, but I’m probably not his easiest.

And one for Sweden – and the National Museum there, which has been sufficiently enlightened to decide to release digital images of 1000s of artworks in their collection into the public domain. All they ask is appropriate attribution. It took a bit of time trawling through to find that they had a copy of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1526 portrait of  Katharina von Bora, but it was a wahoo moment when I did.

Katharina ImageIt wouldn’t have been my first choice – this one would: a portrait held in the Wartburg in Saxony. But the photo I’d taken on my mobile phone, while good enough for use here, wouldn’t quite have hacked it for the book cover – resolution and what-not. And even if it had been, getting permission to use it, while it would have been straightforward enough, certainly wasn’t economic.

I spent several weeks here writing to the Wartburg and various other places which held a similar portrait, requesting the possibility of getting a high-resolution digital image and the permission to use it. The images themselves were very reasonably priced – average 14 Euros, but using them was another matter – think in £100s for a single use, limited print run, more if I wanted bookmarks or business cards, or, or… Net result – how ready was I to sacrifice an arm or a leg? So it was at the end of several weeks of searching that I stumbled over the Nationalmuseum (

So it was at the end of several weeks of searching that I stumbled over the website link to the Nationalmuseum (Stockholm). They hold a version of the same portrait, though the dress isn’t two-coloured – which I rather liked – especially as green is my favourite colour, but, in the circumstances, I could live with that. I also knew I wanted a Wittenberg skyline as the background to the portrait, but that the designer found on the 123RF site, which could be used for a modest fee, so we were all set.

Here is the finished cover – and I’m more than happy with it. Job done? Not quite.

Layout 1

 

This is the first of two books about Katharina and the designer wanted to work on both covers simultaneously, which was going to be a significant saving for me, so a no-brainer. However, that meant there was one more image to track down – a suitable picture of Martin Luther, which in my book (no pun intended) meant one in which he didn’t look too old or severe, or ugly, or…  Fortunately, one of my reference books had a picture of him on the cover that fitted the bill, and, joy of joys, the Museum in Stockholm had it as well.

 

 

But if my part in choosing Martin’s portrait was easy, the designer’s part in using it wasn’t.  The rather attractive portrait shows Martin with his hair curling around his face in fine wisps. Cutting him out of the background of the portrait without either losing some of the hair, or retaining some of the background was going to be challenging.  Finally, after a lot of discussion, we decided to make the background colour of the central section of the second book a version of the background colour of the original portrait. Problem solved. And after two days agonising over a title – always one of my biggest problems, no matter what I’m writing – the cover for Katharina: Fortitude was ready.

 

Screenshot K2

Here’s a sneak preview. This one should be out towards the end of 2018…

There was one other issue that needed to be sorted and this is where the scanner comes in. I needed a map of the important places in Saxony for inside the front of both books. Now, I’ve laways loved drawing maps, so it wasn’t a huge problem to produce the map myself, but getting it into a suitable format in terms of reproduction, resolution etc for print was a different matter. I took about 4 hours and many attempts before I was happy with the map – not the layout, but the little illustrations to go with key places that I’d set my heart on. Wittenberg wasn’t a problem, a wee sketch of the Town Church worked well for that, but I did struggle with the Wartburg and with Hartenfels Castle at Torgau. Once I had the map I tried to get a good photo of it, without any shading, but couldn’t, even with assistance from someone with a really good camera. The solution, or at least part one of the solution, was to scan it via one of those all-singing, all-dancing giant photocopier/scanner/printers – the ones that take up half the floor space in an office.

Now, I’d drawn the map with a black fineline mapping pen on white paper. When I sent the image to the printers to check it as a precaution, before the formatter dropped it into place, I found that the jpg format the copier had produced wasn’t what was needed. So here’s my third shout-out – for the printer who obligingly altered the file I’d sent into the appropriate format. The final issue was chopping the map in two, so that it went over a double page spread, and that the printer was happy to do for me too. So a huge thank you to the technical guys at Anthony Rowe. T. IMG_3973white

Katharina: Section Breaks.

Now call me obsessive, (OH often does) but when my first book (Turn of the Tide) was published by Capercaillie I was asked what I’d like for the section breaks. ‘Tower house.’ I said. What  I got was undoubtedly a tower, but it was an English tower, not a

English tower

 

 

Scottish one. However, I didn’t discover that until I saw the printed books, and by then it was too late to protest. I consoled myself with the thought that a) it was more appropriate than asterisks or a random curlicue would have been and b) probably I’d be the only person to notice. (True.) Until I pointed it out, of course, which I couldn’t resist doing.

When it came to the second book (A House Divided) I determined to do better. So the artist who drew the map for the front of the book also produced a line drawing of the tower house that featured on the cover – Greenknowe near Gordon, about 7 miles from where I live. This was the tower that was the model for the exterior of the Munro’s house, Broomelaw, and it became the section break motif. The other contender, Smailholm tower, which was the model for the interior of Broomelaw, had a much less interesting roof line.

Scottish tower house motifAnd finally when Turn of the Tide was reprinted the tower house was inserted there too – result.

For Katharina I wasn’t sure what I wanted as a section break motif. At first I thought I’d use a cross, but decided that would it be too thin, then the Luther rose, but that didn’t seem quite right, given Martin’s place within this story. Finally, I settled on a curlicue, and discovered there are dozens, if not hundreds of examples to choose from. Which was when inspiration struck again.

Here is one page of my (many) attempts to draw what I wanted…

Curlicue attempts

and here is the final curlicue in print form

Curlicue in book

I’m pleased with how it turned out, but I wonder if anyone, other than me, will work out why I wanted that particular shape?