When History came to Life – Scotland’s History Festival 2014

After many years as the ‘Cinderella’ subject, history has been making a comeback. Authors of historical fiction are beating all comers in the big prize stakes, our TV schedules are full of (less than accurate) dramatizations such as The TudorsScreenshot 2015-02-05 09.05.46 and Reign, and currently the excellent adaptation of Wolf HallScreenshot 2015-02-05 09.07.09 and accessible documentary-style histories abound – who wouldn’t immediately recognize Neil Oliver’s flowing locks? Interest in history is alive and well and perhaps never more so than in 2014 when we remembered the start of The Great War.

There are now at least six festivals devoted to history in the UK, and they bear little relation to the dull history lessons I remember from my school days. From History Live at Kelmarsh Hall – an all-round ‘experience’ including the sights, sounds and smells in the living history encampments and re-enactments; to Harrogate’s History Festival, focusing on writing and writers. North of the border November is History Month, with PreviouslyScreenshot 2015-02-08 11.22.11 – Scotland’s History Festival delivering 140 events over 18 days in six towns – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Dunfermline, Moffat and St Andrews. I was proud to be part of the programme.

As the introduction to the 2014 programme said: ‘History can shake the entire world – or just yours. It’s the story of nations, the clash of armies…and the scar on your knee where your brother pushed you on the rocks when you were seven. History hasn’t finished, and neither have we.’

That comprehensive view of history was reflected in the variety of events which were on offer, from workshops and walks, to tours and talks, from exhibitions and discussions, to music, art and theatre. It’s impossible to cover them all, but to give you a flavour…

Walking tours included Edinburgh’s atmospheric, underground Vaults;Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.27.48 the Secrets of the Royal Mile explored the closes, wynds and Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.31.07courtyards of Old Edinburgh; and the Dean Cemetery Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.29.08explored the host of fascinating characters interred there.

Historical novelists Andrew Williams, William Ryan and Edward Wilson discussed the shadow world of spies and secret policemen from WW1 to Vietnam; Shona Maclean, Marie Macpherson and Louise Turner talked about riot, murder and reformation; and Register House unveiled the story of the Kaiser’s Spy and the landlady who help the authorities to snare him.

Politics in Rhyme was much more entertaining than the real thing; and Stirling Castle hosted the FlytingScreenshot 2015-02-08 11.46.12
a verbal war between two of James IV’s makars, described as ‘a brilliant, beautiful and bawdy battle of verse and verb, originally written to please a king’.

There were four days of events celebrating the life, work and travels of Robert Louis Stevenson,Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.35.21 this quote is definitely one to live by, and a series focusing on significant women- in war: Weapons and Wounding; in education: Watt Wonderful Women – a talk on Heriot Watt University’s trailblazers; in trade: Women in 17th Century Fife Trade; and in drama: Miss Julie, Strindberg’s classic play.

As you might have expected in this centenary year, war was well represented; Leaving it all– Scottish soldiers’ wills and appeals against military service in WW1 a refreshingly different angle.

Food and drink weren’t forgotten: from The History of Gin and Distilling to Fireside Feast a three course banquet served in Riddle’s Court, in Edinburgh’s Old Town, similar to one that was served in 1598. (One I was sorry to miss.)

A host of events focused on family history: Getting Started with Family History Research, and the more unusual Hospital Records for Family Historians.

If your taste was for the creepy there was the Dark Truth Tour, Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.37.57or Ghosts and Ghouls.

Glasgow focused on the Irish connection; Dunfermline, on Andrew Carnegie; and St Andrews hosted a variety events in honour of St Andrew’s Day.

For children there was The Reluctant Time Traveller with Janis McKay (21st) and a varied schools programme; and two events for writers: Writing Your Story, Writing History with David Simons and Chris Dolan; and my workshop event: Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.40.17
History in Historical Fiction – Icing the Cake or Main Ingredient. I had the opportunity to present it twice – once in Edinburgh and once in St Andrews, the latter a particular pleasure for me returning to the old haunts where I’d spent my student days. And amazingly, one of the participants had gone to the same school as I had in Ulster, though not at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed both events – I hope the folk attending did too! The feedback was good, so I guess they did.

All in all an exciting 18 days – I’m already mulling over options for a workshop or talk that I could present this year…roll on November!

Charles I and a very small coffin…

It isn’t every day I find an intriguing little snippet, but today was one of those days. This article tells the tale of the finding and opening of Charles I’s coffin- fascinating in itself, especially as it was found in vault considered to contain the coffins of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, though the two coffins in question are not inscribed as such.

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Charles I’s though does have an inscription and when opened the facial features relate to portraits of him, and the head was clearly severed, execution-style. So no reason to doubt it’s provenance.

But for me the part that really intrigues is the mention of a small coffin placed on top of Charles’ pall, covered in crimson velvet. A child clearly, but who?

The suggestion that it was a stillborn child of Queen Anne, (Charles I’s mother) while she was a Princess in Denmark seems, in my opinion, preposterous. Screenshot 2015-01-30 15.45.31

1) She required to be a virgin when James VI married her and there has never been any suggestion that she wasn’t.
2) Why would the coffin of a child likely born many years earlier have been kept and re-buried along with Charles I?
3) (Most intriguing of all) Why would this be suggested?

If anyone can shed light on this for me, or point me in the direction of further information I’d be grateful – little snippets like this can be very useful, but they can also be VERY distracting…

Kindle 1600s style.

If you think that the idea of being able to travel with a whole library of books came in with the invention of the Kindle, think again. The Bodleian Library in Oxford has just received a rather special Christmas present, which once belonged to Charles I. I so want to see this…

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What fabulous little books – I wouldn’t be able to read them all of course, even if I was allowed to touch which I imagine I wouldn’t be, but just to look at them would be great. The nearest we came to something like this was the set of all the individual Beatrix Potter books in their own case – still a treasured possession of my daughter’s.

First ever Freebie

This weekend my publisher has set the ebook of Turn of the Tide to free. It’s been exciting watching it rise up the rankings on Amazon – currently at #4 in the US rankings and #28 in the UK. Of course these are the Free Kindle rankings and I’ve no idea what (if any) the longer term benefits might be, but I have got a screen shot!!so something to look back on at least. I do hope some of the folk who have downloaded start reading soon and maybe even review – that would be fabulous.

I’ll keep folk posted as to how it goes / what happens next.

And for those who might want to download it here are the links. UK and US

Is there or isn’t there? A Guardian take on Literary Fiction.

One sentence in the opening of this article jumps out at me – ‘Jane Austen…wrote fiction to entertain and to make money. And that is what we novelists have been doing ever since, or should have been doing.’

Do you agree? Should these be a novelist’s two primary aims – 1) to entertain

2) to make money

Let me know what you think.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/apr/21/literary-fiction-clever-marketing-genre-debate

Another viewpoint – making money from self-publishing.

Why am I interested in this? Two reasons – 1. I like to keep an eye on what is going on in the Indie world, in case I ever decide to go down that route. 2. there are always some interesting points made that can equally be applied to mainstream published books.

For me in this one it is WRITE MORE. I can’t expect to develop a following if I don’t work hard at the writing. And yes I’m not going to push books out at a great rate of knots because I want to make sure they are as good as I can make them and if that means slower progress so be it, BUT it is a reminder that I need to spend more time writing and less wasting time – turn off the internet when I’m writing for example.

But it also raises a question – my publisher has an option of my sequel to Turn of the Tide – I’m happy with that. However I have a body of short stories that perhaps I could / should? put out myself on Kindle.

Any thoughts on that would be welcome.

Thanks to Lindsay Buroker for this article

http://www.lindsayburoker.com/e-publishing/ebook-pricing-worth-vs-making-the-most-money/