Sunday, April 10, 2016

David Cook (Soldier Chronicals) interviews Margaret Muir (Under Admiralty Orders Series)

In February, I was pleased to answer questions put by David Cook, author or the Soldier Chronicles Series.
Her is a transcript of that interview which appears on his blog:


I am delighted to announce that Margaret Muir is the next author in my new series
Margaret has called Australia home for 43 years but was born in Yorkshire. She writes under the by-lines of Margaret Muir (historical fiction) and M.C. Muir (nautical fiction) as she discovered that male readers would not to entertain traditional sea stories written by a female.

Tell us about your first novel? When did you start writing and why?

I was a late starter. For most of my life I never read or wrote but, when made redundant from a life-time profession, I decided it was time to do the things I had always wanted to do. One was to write a book – another to sail on a tall ship.

The tall ship adventure came first and, during that first voyage on the Indian Ocean, I witnessed the bioluminescent particles in the sea and was mesmerised. This inspired me to write a scene set on a sailing ship. Slowly a story idea evolved around this image and the idea blossomed into my first novel – SEA DUST.

At the same time as my tall ship adventures, I embarked on a B.A. (Writing) in order to hone what writing ability I might have. By the time I graduated in 2004 my manuscript had been accepted by a London publishing house. It was released in hardback in 2005. Since then I have averaged writing a book a year.

Are you self-published or traditional?

As indicated, I was traditionally published by Robert Hale Ltd in London. This, though exciting at first, provided little return for my efforts and offered limited input and control over the publication process. As a result, in 2010 I left Hale Books and took up the challenge of self-publishing. Producing both e-books and paperbacks, marketed by Amazon, I have not looked back since.

How would you describe your self-publishing experience?

Initially it was challenging and I needed help to have my MSS formatted. But over the last five years self-publishing, for both Kindle e-books and Create Space print books, has become very easy. Amazon and Create Space accept WORD documents, which means a novel can be uploaded within minutes and will appear for sale on the internet the following day. Apart from self-publishing my manuscripts, I create my own covers at no cost. My only expense is having my work edited by a professional.

As a traditional author the publisher sold only a few hundred copies of my books. As a self-published author I have sold thousands.

That’s a brilliant achievement, Margaret. So working with a traditional publisher, did you have an agent?

I felt lucky to obtain a London agent for my first manuscript however, looking back, the contract he arranged with Hale was disappointing – only a few hundred pounds advance and 10% royalties. But at the time, being a new writer, I thought I had won the lottery. Furthermore, Hale only published small numbers in expensive hardback editions specifically for the British Library so my books never made it to the shelves of a bookshop. Soon after the agent died and the agency folded, I turned to self-publishing.

How many books have you written?

I have written 14 books in total – My first four English historical fiction novels (published by Hale) were set in Yorkshire and directed at a female readership. The next four titles, and my current work in progress, are nautical fiction seafaring adventures set during the Napoleonic War. These books target a male readership. Because of this, I write this series under the by-line M.C. Muir.

My short publications include a non-fiction book on goats, a YA fiction, both a short story and a poetry collection, and a few children’s stories.

Who is your favourite character of your books and why?

I have two – one female and the other male.

Emma Quinlan, the protagonist in SEA DUST, was my first imagined character. Set in 1856, her life was a struggle against a background of adversity. With the responsibility of a son to think of, her story is one of escape seeking a new life. It is a journey story in more ways than one and, in a way, reflects some of my own feelings and experiences.

Oliver Quintrell first appeared in FLOATING GOLD as a Royal Navy captain aboard HMS Frigate ‘Elusive’. His adventures have now sailed through 4 books and will continue. He is admired and respected by both officers and men under his command. He is astute in his judgement and a stickler for abiding by Admiralty orders. He bears physical and emotional flaws and has a streak of cynicism running through his veins. Published reviews reveal that readers relate to the fact he has human failings.

Now, Oliver Quintrell – the protagonist in the Under Admiralty Orders series – where does he come from? Is the character based on anyone you know?

Oliver Quintrell is a figment of my imagination. He is, however, the type of man I admire – a strong silent type. His character has grown and strengthened over the course of four books and, though I cannot visualise his face, I feel I know him.

Have events in your own life made their way into your stories?

I think so. To write convincingly, you must write about places you have been and things you have experienced – love, loss, grief, joy. My first story, SEA DUST, was a young woman’s search for a new life, and like me she escaped England and sailed (I flew) to Australia. While one’s personal experiences remain guarded, veiled emotions easily spill onto the page.

You are obviously a sea-faring veteran to write such vivid scenes. What is it about your love of the sea? Have you always felt akin to it?

Before my first sail, I’d had no connection with the sea. But sitting bow-watch on a tall ship, in the middle of the night, witnessing the sea’s magic, had me completely hooked. Since then, I have made numerous voyages on tall ships, including on Cook’s “Endeavour” replica; on the colonial brig, “The Lady Nelson”; and most recently on the Dutch tall ship “Europa” along the Australian Bight. I’ve also sailed across the Atlantic on a barquentine though that was a more modern passenger vessel. And all this despite the fact I am as sick as a dog for about 36 hours whenever I sail. But Lord Nelson also suffered from seasickness so I believe I am in good company.

Which authors have engrossed you?

I love the swashbuckling adventures of Rafael Sabatini (1875-1950). They transport me to another time and another place.

What writer or book has had the biggest influence on your work?

The greatest influence on my nautical writing is C.S. Forester’s ‘Horatio Hornblower’ series of nautical fiction books.

What book are you currently reading? Why that one and what it’s about?

“List, Ye Landsmen” by William Russell Clark (1894) – a story of intrigue and adventure aboard a sailing ship in the mid-1800s. I have only recently discovered Clark’s works written in the Victorian style and will be reading more of his titles (57 books).

Where do you read and where do you do your writing?

My fiction reading is limited to bedtime. Non-fiction research reading is as required.
I write at a desktop computer but whenever or wherever ideas grab me, I write them down in longhand.

Do you agree with the statement: write about what you know?

Most definitely. Good writing must incorporate all the senses and to best convey the feel for a location – the smells, sounds and sights – it is imperative to have been there. The Internet is a great source of information, but it is no substitute for personal experience. Furthermore, to convey emotion demands you delve into the depth of your heart and soul in order to write with honesty and conviction.

What challenges do you face when writing? Are you easily distracted?

I am fortunate in that I live alone and when in writing mode I will write for 6-7 hours every day without interruption. At times however, between books, I suffer from writer’s block and my mind is completely devoid of ideas for weeks. At the time I fear I will never write again. Fortunately, this eventually passes.

As an author are you self-employed or do you have another job?

Though I am now of pension age, ironically, I subsidise the government paying tax from my book earnings.

Okay, now tell us what has surprised you most about writing?

That people read my books. That they enjoy what I write and ask for more. That I make money from my writing.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

Writing is a lonely occupation, but I was a loner before I became a writer, so it suits me. For me, writing for a traditional publishing house was both constricting and frustrating. I much prefer the independence which self-publishing provides and also the income I receive from book Royalties (70% as a self-published author as against the 10% as a traditionally published author).

What is the most exciting experience you’ve had as a result of writing?

I have been amazed at the reader response to an Amazon promotion on my box set, YORKSHIRE GRIT. This promo, which ran during January 2016, boosted the titles position to #2 on several Amazon UK rankings. Apart from selling over 3000 copies in four weeks, it has also recorded over 200,000 pages read by readers who have borrowed the book through Amazon Prime. I know this will not continue now the promotion has ended, but it was a thrill to see this title being so well received.

What do you like doing when you aren’t writing?

I love to travel (by sea). Unfortunately my tall ship sailing days are over. Today I enjoy cruising the seas to discover and experience new and exciting locations for forthcoming stories. I enjoy research and study and love to learn. I also enjoy participating in writing events and this year will be attending the Maritime Writers’ Festival in Weymouth, Dorset, UK in March. And in September, the Historical Novel Society’s Conference in Oxford.

What advice can you give to other writers?

Learn your craft thoroughly. Practice your craft. Write, write and rewrite. Be prepared to accept criticism and rejection, and keep persevering. Expect little or no monetary returns initially. When they do come, the rewards may be small and it may be years before they are substantial so don’t give up the day job yet!
Write for the love of it. Write from the heart.

Thank you, David, for the opportunity of sharing this Q&A with you.

No, thank you, Margaret, it has been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. I could have talked with you all day.
To connect with Margaret you can find her on facebook and her website below. Her book titles are on Amazon worldwide.


www.margaretmuirauthor.com

Monday, December 07, 2015

Respected Publishing House - Robert Hale Books closes after almost 80 years in business


On 1 December, after almost 80 years in the publishing industry, Robert Hale Limited, a well-respected London publishing house, closed its doors for the final time.
Very traditional and somewhat old-fashioned (in the best sense of the word), the company gave several authors, including myself, the opportunity to embark on a successful writing career.
 

I remember clearly, after my first book - SEA DUST was published in 2005, I visited their offices in Clerkenwell Green in the busy publishing district of London and met Mr John Hale, son of the company’s founder Robert Hale. At that time, John Hale was a man of quite advanced years so it did not surprise that a few years later he handed over the helm to his editor in chief.

Having published my first five titles, I am grateful to Hale Books. I parted from them amicably in 2010 mainly due to the fact their target market was the British Libraries. As such, their books were printed in hardback only and were expensive ($54.00 each shipped to Australia). Unfortunately Hale did not publish its historical fiction in paperback and the company was slow to entertain the opportunities of the fast growing e-publishing market.
 
On leaving Hale, I self-published my Hale novels in both paperback and as e-books and have subsequently added several new titles to my list.

For the editorial staff who guided me in the early years, particularly Gil Jackson, I thank you and wish you all the best for the future.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Whitby, Yorkshire, where legacy of the Jurassic Age has brought wealth and devastation.



Even at 187 feet (57 m), the towering face of Whitby’s East Cliff high is no match for the constant bombardment from the treacherous North Sea. The crumbling cliffs which characterise the rugged Yorkshire Coast have given rise to shipwrecks, tragic loss of life and even tales of vampires. But those rocks, which have showered down from the face of the cliff, have revealed secrets held for 176 million years.  

Robin Hood's Bay - a few miles south of Whitby
Ancient fossils fall regularly from the cliff face and fossilized footprints of dinosaurs have been found on the Whitby and nearby beaches. Stretching 35 miles (56 km) north and south from the mouth of the River Esk, this section of North Yorkshire’s forbidding coastline has been named the 'Dinosaur', 'Fossil ' or 'Jurassic Coast'.
Recognition of the town’s links to the Jurassic Era is seen in Whitby’s coat-of-arms. It features three fossilized ammonites. 

 
Whitby – or - Hwitebi (meaning “White Settlement” in the ancient Norse language) is located on an area that was once a swamp where “three-toed carnivorous Theropods and Britain’s oldest plant-eating Sauropod Dinosaurs” roamed and flourished.
“A dinosaur backbone, which dates back about 176 million years to the Middle Jurassic period, was found on a beach at Whitby after it fell out of a cliff face.”
Petrified bones of an ancient and almost complete crocodile have also been discovered together with many other fossilized specimens.

But in more recent years (17th to 20th centuries), it is two legacies of the Jurassic era that has helped Whitby prosper commercially. The most important is Alum – “a product that brought both wealth and devastation to the Whitby area”.
While alum has various uses, its prime use in Britain was as a dye-fixer (mordant) for wool. The woolen industry was one of England's primary industries – especially in Yorkshire.
From the late 15th century, alum had been imported into England from the Middle East and Papal States. The history of its usage dates back to 1500 BC when the Egyptians used the coagulant to reduce the cloudiness in water. 

Ruins of 12th Century Benedictine Monastery stand on the East Cliff
With the discovery of alum shale in the Whitby area in the early 1600s, an industry was founded to process the shale and extract the key ingredient, aluminium suphate. Urine was used in processing.
“This was an important contributor to the Industrial Revolution. One of the oldest historic sites for the production of alum from shale and human urine is the Peak Alum Works in Ravenscar, North Yorkshire.

“Unfortunately, however, by the 18th century, the landscape of north-east Yorkshire had been devastated by this process, which involved constructing 100 ft (30 m) stacks of burning shale and fuelling them with firewood continuously for months. The rest of the production process consisted of quarrying, extraction, steeping of shale ash with seaweed in urine, boiling, evaporating, crystallization, milling and loading into sacks for export. Quarrying ate into the cliffs of the area, the forests were felled for charcoal and the land polluted by sulphuric acid and ash.”

Jet shop and workshop on Church Street
Whitby’s second commodity, dating back to the age of the dinosaurs, is lignite, a black semi-precious stone that is polished to make pieces of jewellery. It is known as Jet.
Lignite is also found in shale. It was heavily quarried in the area in Roman and Victorian times, and led to the development of a thriving local industry that was at its height in the mid-1800s. Workshops were set up in Whitby to produce ornaments and mourning jewellery.  Local boys and women were employed in the workshops to hand-polish the stones. Black Jet jewellery was made popular by Queen Victoria on the death of her husband Prince Albert. (See my earlier post)

Today, Jet is still polished in the town but there is little demand and Whitby’s future economy will depend on a proposed wind farm (the world’s largest) to be constructed on the Dogger Bank in the North Sea.


Sources – (Ref: Wikipedia – Alum)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Whitby's bridges from 14th century



The River Esk at Whitby in North Yorkshire flows into the North Sea. It is a tidal estuary.

The bridge spanning the river divides the upper and lower harbours and joins the east and west sides of the historic fishing town. For centuries, Whitby was an important crossing point and from 1351 a toll was charged for using the bridge. 


In 1609 a replacement bridge was surveyed. This was described as a drawbridge (1628) where men raised planks to let vessels pass. In 1835, the 100-year old bridge was replaced by a four-arched cast iron bridge having one arch that swivelled to allow vessels to pass through.

Between 1908 and 1909 the old bridge was replaced by the current structure, an electric swing bridge. No toll is charged.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Polished Jet jewellery popular in Roman Britain and the Victorian era



Queen Victoria was so grief-stricken by the death Prince Albert that she fell into a period of mourning until her own death in 1901 – a period of 40 years.
Not only did she adopt the outward vestiges of widow’s weeds (from the Old English "waed" meaning "garment") but she insisted every member of her court wear mourning for the next three years. Females of the court were only permitted jewellery made from jet during the next 12 months.
  
Following Queen Victoria’s example in 1861, black mourning jewellery became fashionable throughout the country. Besides being a sign of grief, due to its cost, jet was also worn as a sign of status or wealth.

A piece of Whitby jet jewellery
Whitby Jet (a form of lignite) is a fossilized precursor to coal. It has a metallic lustre and is regarded as a minor gemstone. Like coal, it was laid down millions of years ago from decomposing forests. Jet originates from wood of the family of Monkey Puzzle Tree – a type of pine tree.

This stone when polished: “has been used in Britain since the Neolithic period but the earliest known object is a 10,000 BC model of a damsel fly larva, from Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany. Jet continued in use in Britain through the Bronze Age, where it was used for necklace beads.
 
Whitby Jet was popular in Roman Britain from the third century onwards. Initially discovered in and around York, it was used in rings, hair pins, beads, bracelets, bangles, necklaces and pendants.”
Over the centuries, it was traditionally made into rosaries for monks.
 
Ruins of Whitby Abbey - North Yorkshire
Because of its perceived magical qualities, jet was also used in Roman Britain to ward off the gaze of the evil eye.” Perhaps it failed to serve that purpose, because the end of the Roman era in Britain coincided with the end of jet's ancient popularity. 

It was not until Prince Albert’s death that its popularity re-surfaced. Today we use the term jet-black without thinking of its sombre Victorian connections.

Whitby Jet shop and workshop, Church Street

When I visited Whitby last month and wandered along Church Street, I was surprised at the number of Jewellery shops specializing’s in items made from polished Jet.

Having been bequeathed a jet brooch from an Aunt who died over 40 years ago and having never worn it, I decided to find out what it might be worth.


The rectangular brooch (see above) is polished and bears the delicate engraving of a Yorkshire Rose on the face (in the photo the flash has highlighted the design but in natural light it is barely visible).
The silver clasp on the back is similar to one I saw in a Whitby shop dealing in antique pieces. I concluded that the brooch is a piece of Victorian (possibly mourning) jewellery. The similar item was priced at £450.00 (around $900).

When the shop assistant told me Whitby Jet dates back to the early Jurassic Age and is 182 million years old, I realized my piece of Jet deserved my respect.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lost items from time of Charles 1 found behind a mantelshelf




When the old fireplace was removed from this 17th century building in Whitby, Yorkshire to convert it to a pie shop, the renovators did not expect to find a vast array of objects that had dropped down the gap between the mantelpiece and the wall.
Some dated back to the ‘fourteenth year of Charles 1’, that is the late 1630s.


As promised, since their discovery, a good selection of these artefacts has been mounted in a glass case and is currently displayed at the Humble Pie ‘n Mash shop at 163 Church Street.

While tucking into a steaming pie, recently, I was delighted to discover something of the building’s history, and learn a little of the secrets the fireplace had withheld for centuries.


The first written deeds state that in 1638 the property was leased by Hugh Chomley – Knight of Whitby to John Sneaton, a shoemaker. Several old buckles, no doubt belonging to the shoemaker, were among the items that had fallen down the gap.

There were also pieces of jewellery, children’s toys, buckles, needles and hand-made nails, rings, bone combs, coins (one dated 1681), a quill pen, buttons, hair pins, pieces of clay pipes, keys, written notes and  pencils.
Included in the cache was a cutting from an old issue of the Whitby Gazette reporting a disturbing case of child abuse. 


In a recent newspaper interview, the renovator’s mother speculated over the anguish the loss of certain items would have caused and considered the arguments that may have arisen as to where the items might have gone.
There was more to tempt a hungry history-buff in this shop than a just a tasty meat pie .

Pics: MM – May 2015
Shop front – picture provided by management