I’m running a Goodreads giveaway to celebrate the release of A Wager for the Widow. One copy is up for grabs here.
If you’re reading this post because you follow the blog and are expecting to read about historical romance or Mills & Boon then be aware- this post is different.
It’s only fair to warn you now that this isn’t going to be very coherent because after hearing about Terry Pratchett’s death on Thursday I’m still too sad to articulate properly. I’ve been reading the Discworld series since I first picked up Sourcery back in 1989 and was hooked. I wanted to write something to mark the event which has – no exaggeration – hit me like the loss of a friend and which days later still brings a tear to my eye when I think of it. I could wax lyrical for hours about the humour, warmth, optimism, humanity and anger in the series but there are better writers out there doing a much better job of discussing Sir Terry’s legacy and impact than I could. I’ll just descend into fangirl quoting, try to explain the plots of 40 books and then go off for a cry.
What I do do though is write heroes and throughout the Discworld series I believe one character evolved more than any other. To me he is one of the great alpha male creations in literature and I’ll freely admit to having a huge crush on His Grace, His Excellency, The Duke of Ankh; Commander Sir Samuel Vimes (Blackboard Monitor) and I know I’m far from alone.
A series of books set on a flat world that moves through space on the back of a turtle might seem an unlikely place to find a hero, but the embittered loner fighting his demons is a staple of fiction and I would argue (and will at length if given enough vodka and ginger beer) that had Sam Vimes appeared in any other genre he’d be hailed as one of the great examples of the last half-century. He’s written in the vein of Noir detectives: jaded, cynical and at rock bottom. Like them he needs a purpose in life and the love of a good woman to redeem him and across the Guards strand of novels the story of how he gets these makes compelling reading.
All alphas need a fault to overcome and we first meet Sam Vimes in Guards! Guards!, drunk in a gutter and despairing, having seen the worst and believing there is nothing better to come. He’s been ground down by years of working for psychotic leaders and as we see in Night Watch -to my mind one of the most moving and justifiably angry books written in any genre- from his first days on the job he’s lived through revolution and seen death and loss that would make any man turn to the bottle.
Over the course of Guard! Guards!, in part through his meeting with Lady Sybil, Vimes gradually begins his redemption. This will eventually lead him to become one of the most powerful men in the city while still maintaining his integrity and determination. He’s the archetypal poor kid from the slums made good and throughout the series his innate sense of justice sees him evolve into a knight-errant figure and champion of the underdog (or under goblin) who would not be out of place in any romance novel.
Vimes an anti-authoritarian cynic who constantly sees the worst in humanity (and dwarfantiy and trollanity etc- this is the Discworld after all) yet manages to remain a believer in the need to do the right thing, however hard that might be and however difficult the decisions are. He has swagger and presence; whether facing down the tyrant who rules the city, a gang of backstreet thugs or a group of civic leaders and scheming nobles who still view him as a jumped up slum dweller.
An alpha hero needs to be able to fight. Physically Vimes is tough. He walks the street of the city in battered armour and old boots even when he’s the richest man in the city. He’s capable in a street brawl, battle scarred and often beaten and bruised but gamely carrying on, chewing on his cigar in a manner reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name and waving a crossbow or dragon with extreme prejudice. When I wrote the duel between Hugh, the hero of Falling for Her Captor, and the villain Duke Stephen it was at least in part influenced by the image of Vimes wearily pulling himself to his feet for a final showdown.
He isn’t perfect- he has his faults but like all great heroes strives to overcome them. He keeps a bottle of best whiskey in his desk drawer to prove daily he can resist temptation and because these are fantasy, when he battles his inner demons he does so in the very real sense of the word.
Because these are humorous fantasy novels rather than Romances we don’t get to peek through the keyhole of Sam and Sybil’s bedroom. They aren’t that sort of books. We do, however get a clear insight into their relationship and romance and one thing is absolutely clear- this is a man who simply adores his wife. Who is devoted to her and who will do anything for her (crime solving allowing). This is a man who runs barefoot through the forest, pursued by werewolves to save his wife. A man who will fight across time itself to get back to her. A man who will crawl on his knees through underground caverns to single handedly exact vengeance on a group of fundamentalist conspiracists , all the while screaming the words of a bedtime story he’s promised to read to his son.
I defy any red-blooded woman not to read these books and fall in love with Vimes to some degree.
I first met Vimes at the tender and impressionable age of 14. Terry Pratchett said he imagined the character looking like the late Pete Postlethwaite but to me he was always a little bit Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, a touch of Sean Bean as Sharpe and later on, a bit of House era Hugh Laurie (apparently a popular choice for the role if it ever comes to the screen).
Vimes, along with Lindsey Davis’ M Didius Falco, pretty much set the bar by which all men are judged.
If I could ever write a hero with one tenth of the appeal of Sam Vimes I’ll consider myself a very happy author indeed.
That we’ll never discover what happens to Sam, or any of the other characters is one of the reasons Sir Terry’s death has hit fans so hard. There is a Disc shaped hole in the world and I’m already missing the future books that will never be written.
I’d like to imagine circumstances contriving to necessitate Sam eventually becoming Patrician, a role he’d take reluctantly but one he’d shoulder in order to ensure the lives of Ankh Morpork citizens are worth living. Whatever happens he’s out there in seven books (not counting cameos) wearing old boots, giving chase and aiming to keep the promises he’s made.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to raise a glass of Bearhugger’s Whiskey Cream.
The HarperCollins Romance Festival is taking place this weekend. Here I am being interviewed on their blog. There are lots of other authors to check out too.
‘The big ginger cat of London likes eating fish and climbing the curtains.’
‘the enormous marmalade coloured cat of london likes munching his way through mounds of salmon and whizzing up and down the curtains like a yoyo’
Which sentence is correct? Which sentence is better?
According to the new National Curriculum for Year 1, the first is better because the child has achieved the objective of using capital letters for names of places. Never mind the use of descriptive language, we’re not interested in that today. Vocabulary choice isn’t even on the curriculum for Year 1 (5-6 year olds for anyone not from England) and our objectives should be based on the new curriculum and the key skills.
Let me make it clear, I have absolutely no problem with children developing these skills. I think they’re hugely important. As a teacher I work hard to raise attainment in my pupils. I want them to write legibly and grammatically. Children should be able to
write sentences by:
saying out loud what they are going to write about
composing a sentence orally before writing it
sequencing sentences to form short narratives
re-reading what they have written to check that it makes sense
discuss what they have written with the teacher or other pupils
read their writing aloud, clearly enough to be heard by their peers and the teacher
leaving spaces between words
joining words and joining clauses using ‘and’
beginning to punctuate sentences using a capital letter and a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark
using a capital letter for names of people, places, the days of the week, and the personal pronoun ‘I’
But surely there is more to writing than that? There is but I decided against cut and pasting the Transcription part of the document. The above was the Composition element. If we all work really hard we might produce a generation of children with accurate grammar and perfect spellings but will we produce children who want to write?
The new curriculum that was taken from came in this academic year. Last year I taught the same topics so had a look through my planning to see what had changed and if I could reuse any ideas. Last year when we wrote poems about the sea, we looked at imagery, we played around with adjectives, wrote sentences on strips of paper, tore them up to change the word order and looked at what happened to the sentence. We watched short films and music videos. Enya’s Orinoco Flow was a favourite as was this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1mX8ptsmBM We created characters and sent them on journeys. One day, when I figure out where he ends up, I’m going to write the pilot’s story myself.
The child who wrote amazing sentences on a wanted poster for their invented pirate got recognition for that even if they had forgotten to capitalise ‘seasick jane, the terror of the west indies’. This year, even with all my best endeavours to make the lessons fun it feels like some of the joy has gone out of it.
As someone who also loves creating stories and images and making a reader feel for a character it all makes me rather sad. Of course I want my writing to be accurate (though I know my lovely editor will pick up on my mistakes and won’t even keep me in at playtime) and wading through an otherwise engrossing book full of typos can be a labour of love, but checking the accuracy is something that comes afterwards. Once my hero has admitted he was too proud and cold to admit his feelings and the heroine has fallen sobbing into his arms after an emotional fight then I’ll go back and check for stray capitals. If all my reviews on Amazon concentrated on the accuracy of my commas I’d probably give up*.
Today Nicky Morgan, the Minister for Education, has announced a war on illiteracy and innumeracy, which is great, because we like funding wars. I just hope she’s planning to fund this war as well as the one on Terror or against places that might affect our oil supply because schools could sure as hell do with the funding! If schools fail to get every child through the tests they risk being turned into academies (taking them out of LA control and giving them to private companies to run) and Headteachers risk being sacked. This is not going to encourage teachers to allow children the freedom to explore language and creativity, or Heads to let them.
Last year I used to get little stories or poems brought in from pupils after the weekend. Not all of them were brilliantly spelled or had the right capitals and full stops but they were fun and showed a genuine pleasure in producing ideas. This year they proudly show me their alphabets written in cursive writing. To me that speaks volumes and none of them have happy endings.
*I won’t- writing is the only plan I have to get out of teaching that doesn’t involve leaving in a box (thank you to you all if you’ve bought my book, if you haven’t please do, I can’t take much more waiting for OFSTED to descend).
I love Brian Cox and it is a continual disappointment to me that, despite driving past Jodrell Bank twice a day, three times a week, I’ve not yet bumped into him.
Maybe as I’m driving that is a good thing.
Stop Press: Apparently Prof Cox is aware of the drinking game. So by not participating, not only will you be letting yourself down, you’ll be letting him down too. Do it. You know it makes sense.
Take 1 finger of drink when Prof Cox says:
- “1st law of thermodynamics“
- “Chandrasekhar limit“
- When ever Brian shouts at us from a moving vehicle. (Double for a flying vehicle – h/t @Markgfh)
- Whenever you see time lapse footage of the sky or clouds (like this) – h/t @MrMMarsh
Take 2 fingers of drink for:
- “2nd law of thermodynamics“
- Any use of props (like salt and pepper shakers) or drawing in the sand with a stick (ht Rob and @carolwhead)
Take 3 fingers of drink…
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I always said I would never read reviews if, and when I got published. I also said I’d stop biting my nails, exercise every day and only ever eat chocolate at the weekends.
Yeah, right. That was always going to work.
A few kind friends offered to vet them for me first but I can’t help myself so every so often I head over to Amazon and Goodreads to have a nosy. As a first time author I wasn’t sure whether getting bad reviews would be worse than getting none but as Oscar Wilde said ‘There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’
I handed my revisions for book 2 in today so have got a bit of headspace to think about what book 3 is going to be, and reading reviews is a good way to focus my mind on why I write. There is something wonderful about knowing that something I’ve done has given people some enjoyment. If I had feedback like this in my other job then writing end of year reports would be much more fun!
I’m collating reviews from different places here so I can find them again easily and for anyone else who wants to have a look. Some of them were written by people I gave copies to but asked for their honest thoughts. What really pleased me about those was a couple of them admitted to not being the target audience but liked it anyway. One is from an author which makes it extra special. none of them (as far as I know) is from my mum.
I’m very excited by this one below because it is on a blog by someone who reads a huge number of books and who knows a lot about what she likes. She’s tough to please so I read it through my fingers but came out smiling at the other side.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go do a press-up and eat a Malteser.
Some great seasonal stories here.
Scroll down for an early interview on the SYTYCW site
Now I’ve got visual confirmation I’ve created a page where more information about my books can be found. Yes, I know there’s only one at the moment but I’m working on the second.
The fabulous Ms Moem of http://msmoem.com has nominated me for a Liebster award. Thank you Ms Moem!
The Liebster Award is for bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers and uses the following guidelines:
- thank the person that nominated you and link back to their blog
- display the award “badge” on your blog
- answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you
- list 11 random facts about yourself
- nominate up to 11 bloggers and let them know you have nominated them
- set 11 questions for the bloggers you have nominated
- post a comment on the blog post of the person that nominated you so they can read the post
To find out more about the award and rules: The Official Rules Of The Liebster Award.
So without further ado, on to my to Ms Moem’s questions
- What kind of lottery winner would you be? A very happy one. I’d love to be able to travel and take a few chances with different jobs.
- Which 6 famous people would you invite to a fantasy dinner party? Assuming as it’s fantasy the dead can rise again I’d want Jane Austen, Douglas Adams and Spike Milligan. Stephen Fry and Sue Perkins always look so much fun and I’d like Hugh Jackman simply to gaze at.
- Where do you find inspiration for your blogging? I only post when things occur to me. I’m writing about my writing mainly so it depends when anything interesting happens I think people would want to read about.
- What is your favourite season and why? Summer because I love the long, warm evenings sitting in the garden with a glass of wine.
- What is your favourite word? I’ve got 8 and 7 year olds, so ‘bedtime’!
- Do you have a hobby, and if so, what is it? Skiing is my main love, but I can only do that once a year. Up until recently I’d have said writing but I’m getting paid to do that now so I don’t think it counts. I’ve had a number of them that I never stick to for long. Bellydancing, fencing, zumba, painting, the list goes on.
- If you were an animal, what would you be? A lemur. I’d love a tail to wrap around myself.
- What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? Don’t worry about not fitting in with the crowd. Why bother trying to impress people you don’t want to spend time with anyway?
- Who was your favourite popstar when you were a teenager? I had a bit of a thing for Jon Bon Jovi.
- What is your favourite part of the day? The evening, when I can sit down with a cat on my lap (and occasionally on my laptop) and write.
- What is the most important thing you’ve ever said? “Please can I borrow your laptop”. See https://elisabethhobbes.co.uk/2014/02/26/the-day-i-came-out/ for why.
Now here are random facts about me
1. I named my son after a Pixies song and my daughter after a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
2. I’m still trying to invent the perfect sweet pasta dish.
3. If I could only eat one cuisine forever it would be Thai.
4. I have a nose piercing.
5. I’m a huge fan of vintage clothing.
6. I can still remember the song I sang in the school play when I was six.
7. I am incapable of recognising Tom Petty.
8. I can say ‘I love you’ in Danish and Greek.
9. I am a huge fan of graphic novels and getting a retweet by Warren Ellis made my day.
10. My dream job is owning a ski chalet and cooking for the guests.
11. I could happily eat my own bodyweight in strawberry bonbons.
Now I’d like to the following blogs
And here are my for them.
1. What thing do you always carry with you?
2. How are you with chopsticks?
3. Warner Brothers or Looney Tunes?
4. What is the first line of poetry that comes into your head?
5. What made you start a blog?
6. What was your first car?
7. If you had to get a piercing would you choose nose or eyebrow?
8. Which artist, alive or dead, would you ask to paint your portrait?
9. Fantasy date- who, where, what would you eat?
10. What is your favourite childhood book?
11. Can you roll your tongue?
Over to you then, nominees. Hope you have fun answering the questions if you decide to carry it on.