Joey the Labrador

I thought long and hard about sharing our experience with Joey the Labrador during the past 72 hours. Part of me thought it was too cold and contrived to talk about that many tears and that much stress on a blog post.  The other part of me is aware that since I started Writing with Labradors just over a year ago, hundreds of people have not only read, but interacted with me about my writing, my life and more than anything else, my dogs.  Toby and Joey, my elderly labradors, have become firm favourites with a large number of people and our new arrival, Oscar, has been hugely popular.

Eventually I’ve decided to share.  The story isn’t over yet, we’re still up in the air and we’re hoping for a good outcome but we still don’t know for sure. But my beautiful Joey has given us a major fright and I can’t go on sharing pretty photos of them all without telling the story.

About 48 hours ago, Joey’s back legs suddenly stopped working. This isn’t uncommon with labradors; Toby has bad arthritis and falls over occasionally, although much less so since we started giving him joint supplements. But with Joey it was sudden and shocking and he seemed in agony.

We’ve been backwards and forwards to the vet several times. Yesterday morning he couldn’t get up at all and we cried, all of us, on and off, waiting for the vet to open, knowing that the time might have come, far too soon and totally out of the blue, to say goodbye to a beloved member of our family. Joey is twelve and not the oldest of our dogs and to be honest we didn’t expect it to be him.

It took three of us; my husband, my son and myself to get him into the car and down to the vet. My daughter stayed at home, crying over the other two dogs. We promised her that if it was bad news we’d make sure she had time to say goodbye.

The vet, who is fabulous, came out of the surgery to examine Joey in the back of the car. He was fairly relaxed, wagging his tail. Eventually she asked us to get him down and on his feet if possible so that she could check his reflexes. I felt a bit sick, knowing how painful it was going to be for him, but Jon and Richard did it and he stood there, letting her move his legs about.

“It doesn’t seem neurological,” the vet said, finally. She sounded slightly surprised. Joey looked up at her intently. Then he gave a little woof and went for a walk.

Joey wasn’t on a lead. He couldn’t walk; it seemed superfluous. We all stood there watching him in some surprise for a minute. My brain came back online first.

“He’s not going to stop,” I said.

Nobody moved or spoke.

“He’s going,” I said, starting to move. I had flip flops on and I couldn’t run.

“He can’t run,” Richard said, watching him.

“He’s bloody running,” I said, tripping over my own feet.

At that point, the wisdom of taking an active nineteen year old became obvious as Jon raced across the car park and caught Joey on the curb before he went into the road.

Having rediscovered his legs, Joey tripped around the car park (on a lead) did what he needed to do and came home with us. So far the vet has diagnosed a severe arthritic flare up, probably exacerbated by an injury (chasing a new puppy around possibly?)

Joey is home now. Yesterday he was not running around, or even walking. He was clearly in pain but he could get up and down when he needed to and he’s got a shedload of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. His tail is still wagging.

This morning, Joey came out into the front garden. It seemed difficult for him and he flopped down again and wouldn’t move. I was starting to get anxious again, it was a long time since he’d done a wee, but nothing shifted him. Nothing until Jon came past with Oscar on a lead, taking him for his morning walk. Suddenly Joey was up and at the gate, looking expectant. I got the point and got his lead. Outside the garden, we didn’t go far, but just watching him mooch around on his feet and behaving normally was a joy.

Oscar curled up with Joey
Oscar cuddling Joey

Oscar has been unbelievable with him. At first he seemed confused that his friend wouldn’t play but now he’s just cuddled up to him, happy to be close.

By this evening, Joey was almost back to his old self. He has started requesting to go for a walk, only very short ones to the end of the road and back, but so much more than we expected. This evening at feeding time, we found him sitting at the top of the three steps to the utility room. While Anya and I were still working out how to get him down without hurting him he stood up and walked down them as though he’d never been injured.

Writing with Labradors is in shock. It’s one thing to know that your old boys are getting on. It’s another to find yourself face to face with the reality of losing a dog that you adore. We still don’t know the long term prognosis for Joey although it’s looking very good at the moment. But it has given us a reality check.

The boys enjoying the sun this afternoon

I love my dogs. There is no part of me, that is ready to say goodbye to any one of them although when the time comes I will do the right thing. In the meantime I feel as though I’ve just both dodged a bullet and had a rehearsal for what might happen in the future.

 

Writing with Labradors. They don’t live forever but while they’re with me, I love them to bits.

 

The Arrival of Oscar – Guest post by Toby from Blogging with Labradors

The arrival of Oscar has changed everything at Blogging with Labradors.

I can’t believe it’s been nine months since my last guest post. High time the labradors got a say again, and a lot has happened during that time.

You’ll be glad to hear I recovered very well from my foot operation last year. In fact, despite all the humans’ very personal remarks about how old I was, I recovered a lot quicker than she did from hers. We quite enjoyed it, Joey and I, she was trapped on the sofa for weeks with not much to do apart from make a fuss of us and call for tea every now and then.

It’s been a good ten months at writing with labradors. She’s now published her ninth book, An Unwilling Alliance, which is partly set on the Isle of Man and gives very good descriptions of a lot of the places I used to go when I was a bit younger. Quite liked the bit where the heroine fell down Peel Hill, I must say, it happened to me in my youth and it’s very long way to roll…

Still, life has been good, the sun has been shining a lot which is good for my arthritis and the younger humans have been doing something called exams, which seems to involve sitting around looking at books, papers and little white cards. The important thing for me is it keeps them in the house and making a fuss of us labradors.  Things were bimbling along nicely I thought, until a few weeks ago when she goes off for one of her periodic trips on the boat.  She usually comes back with a bag of candles from Ikea and eighty-five more books about the Duke of Wellington, but not this time! No. This time, she turns up with THIS!

So there we go. Meet Oscar, my new little brother and the latest member of the Writing with Labradors staff. I must admit, when I first saw what she’d got, I was pretty unimpressed. I mean she has two perfectly good labradors already. A bit old and creaky in places, and Joey seriously needs to lose a few pounds, but we’ve still got what it takes. Why does she want another one?

Joey took to Oscar a lot quicker than I did. I mean, I didn’t dislike him, but he’s a bit noisy and a bit full of it, and like all kids, he doesn’t know when to stop. I had to tell him off a fair bit in the first week or two, and I certainly wasn’t sharing my bed with him or my sofa or having him lounging all over me like Joey does. I always knew that yellow lab was soft in the head.

All the same, I’m starting to get used to him. It’s sort of fun having a youngster around. To start with, I just watched when Joey played with him in the garden. I’ve not seen Joey move that fast for years, I didn’t know the old fatso still had it in him. But it reminded me of the old days when we used to play together like that. And after they’ve finished playing, we all have a sit down together and it feels sort of right, somehow. Like he belongs here.

Still, I wasn’t planning to get involved. But we’ve been outside a lot lately with the weather being so great. They sounded as though they were having so much fun. And one morning I just couldn’t stop myself. Silly old fool at my age, and I’ll feel it in the morning, but by gum it was good fun.

So here we are. Three of us now, not two, and life has got a bit more exciting. Theres a lot of responsibility with having a youngster to take care of. Weve had to teach him about the beach and the park and the glens. Eventually well have to teach him to swim. Ive not really been in the water for a couple of years, but I got in with Oscar down at Groudle the other day and I must say Id forgotten how much I loved it.

2018 is going to be a good year for Writing with Labradors. Welcome to the pack, Oscar. One day maybe she’ll let you do a post of your very own…

 

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors

Fireworks in London
Fireworks in London

Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors.  It’s New Year’s Day on the Isle of Man, and it’s raining, windy and freezing cold.  In some ways this is a relief because if it had been a nice day I would have felt obliged to go out for a walk and I don’t feel like it.

It’s been a very different and very busy Christmas this year, with Richard’s family with us for the whole of the holidays, and then entertaining friends to dinner last night.  I’ve had no time to write, research or do anything else and in some ways that’s been quite hard.

I think it has probably done me good, however.  Time away from the current book has given me the chance to think through what I’d like to do with it and I feel a lot clearer about where it is going.  I’m very happy with the few chapters I’ve written and research is going well so I’m looking forward to getting on with it.  I think my head may have needed the break.

It’s made me think a bit more about how I schedule my writing time going forward.  I’m very privileged that I don’t have to hold down a full time job at the same time as writing, but I do have a very busy life with a family, my dogs, a big house to maintain and accounts and admin to be done for Richard’s business.  I’m aware that it’s very easy to let things slide when I’m in the middle of a book, but I realise that I need to be better organised both with the various tasks through the day and with time off to relax.

This year I’ve edited and published seven existing novels, with all the associated marketing and publicity, I’ve written an eighth book from scratch and published it and I’ve started a ninth.  I’ve handed my Irish dance school over to my two lovely teachers to run, I’ve supported son and daughter through GCSEs and AS levels, my old fella Toby through an operation at the age of 13 and I’ve had a major foot operation myself.  I’ve toured the battlefields of Spain and Portugal where some of my books are set and I went to Berlin, Killarney, London, Hertfordshire, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool.  I lost a very dear old family friend and went to his funeral.  And I’ve gained some amazing new friends, some of whom I’ve not even met yet, although I’m hoping to this year.  I’ve set up a website and an author page, joined Twitter and Instagram and I genuinely feel I can now call myself an author, something I had doubts about in one of my first posts on this website.

It has been an amazing year and I’m so grateful for all the help and support I’ve received.  I’ve not won any awards, although I’ve had one or two reviews which have felt like getting an Oscar.  Still, I’d like to do the thank you speech, because it’s the end of my first year as a published author and I owe so many people thanks for that.

Lynn and Richard
Love and Marriage

I’m starting with the man I married, who has been absolutely incredible throughout this.  He set up my website and taught me how to use it, and has always been there to answer any questions about technology.  He spent hours designing the new covers for the Peninsular War Saga and he also took the photographs which are gorgeous.  He drove me through Spain and Portugal, scrambled over battlefields and listened to me endlessly lecturing with more patience than I could have imagined.  He has celebrated my good reviews and sympathised over the bad ones.  He’s been completely amazing this year – thank you, Richard.  You are the best.

My son is studying for A levels at home and shares the study with me.  That’s not always easy, as during research I tend to spread out from my desk into the surrounding area, onto his table and onto the floor.  He has become expert at negotiating his way through piles of history books.  He is also a brilliant cook and will unfailingly provide dinner at the point when it becomes obvious I am too far gone in the nineteenth century to have remembered that we need to eat.  Thanks, Jon.

Castletown 2017
Castletown 2017

My daughter is my fellow historian and brings me joy every day.  She mocks my devotion to Lord Wellington ruthlessly, puts up with my stories, lets me whinge to her and makes me laugh all the time.  She drags me away from my desk to go for hot chocolate and to watch the sun go down, watches cheesy TV with me, helps me put up the Christmas decorations and corrects my fashion sense.  Thank you, bambino.

There are so many other people I should thank.  Heather, for always being there and for offering to proof-read; Sheri McGathy for my great book covers; Suzy and Sarah for their support and encouragement.

Then there are the many, many people online who have helped me with research queries, answered beginners questions about publishing and shared my sense of the ridiculous more than I could have believed possible.  There are a few of you out there but I’m singling out Jacqueline Reiter, Kristine Hughes Patrone and Catherine Curzon in particular.  I’m hoping to meet you all in person in 2018 and to share many more hours of Wellington and Chatham on Twitter, Archduke Charles dressed as a penguin and the mysterious purpose of Lady Greville’s dodgy hat.  A special mention also goes to M. J. Logue who writes the brilliant Uncivil War series, and who is my online partner-in-crime in considering new ways for the mavericks of the army to annoy those in charge and laughing out loud at how funny we find ourselves.

The new book is called An Unwilling Alliance and is the first book to be set partly on the Isle of Man, where I live.  The hero, a Royal Navy captain by the name of Hugh Kelly is a Manxman who joined the navy at sixteen and has returned to the island after Trafalgar with enough prize money to buy an estate, invest in local business and find himself a wife while his new ship is being refitted.  It’s a tight timescale, but Hugh is used to getting things his own way and is expecting no trouble with Roseen Crellin, the daughter of his new business partner.  Her father approves, she is from the right background and the fact that she’s very pretty is something of a bonus.  It hasn’t occurred to Hugh that the lady might not see things the same way…

The title obviously refers to the somewhat rocky start to Hugh and Roseen’s relationship, but it has other meanings as well.  The book moves on to the 1807 British campaign in Denmark and the bombardment of Copenhagen, in which Captain Kelly is involved.  The Danes were unwilling to accept British terms for the surrender of their fleet to avoid it falling into the hands of the French and as an alliance proved impossible, the British resorted to force.

In addition, there was something of an unwilling alliance between the two branches of the British armed forces taking part in the Copenhagen campaign.  There is a history of difficulties between the Army and the Navy during this period, and given that the Danish campaign required the two to work together, there is an interesting conflict over the best way to conduct the campaign.

An Unconventional Officer
Book 1 of the Peninsular War Saga

The naval commander during this campaign was Admiral James Gambier while the army was commanded by Lord Cathcart.  While Captain Hugh Kelly served under Gambier in the British fleet, a division of the army under Cathcart was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Brigadier General Stewart and consisted of battalions from the 43rd, 52nd, 95th and 92nd – the nucleus of the future Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s Peninsular army.  In An Unconventional Officer,  we learn that the expedition is to be joined by the first battalion of the 110th infantry under the command of the newly promoted Major Paul van Daan and An Unwilling Alliance looks at the campaign from both the army and naval perspective, filling in part of Paul’s story which is not covered in the series.

I am hoping that the book will be published at the beginning of April 2018 and it will be followed by book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga, An Untrustworthy Army, covering the Salamanca campaign and the retreat from Burgos some time in the summer.  After that I will either get on with the sequel to A Respectable Woman which follows the lives of the children of Kit and Philippa Clevedon or the third book in the Light Division series, set after Waterloo.

We’re hoping to go back to Portugal and Spain this year for further photography and battlefield mayhem.  I’ve got some new ideas for the website and will be publishing several more short stories through the year.  My first research trip is in a couple of weeks time when I’ll be visiting Portsmouth and the Victory, the National Maritime Museum and possibly the Imperial War Museum if I don’t run out of time.  And the Tower of London for no reason at all apart from the fact that Wellington used to enjoy bossing people around there.

Writing with Labradors
Toby and Joey – Writing with Labradors

My final thanks go to the real stars of Writing with Labradors.  Toby, my old fella, is thirteen now and survived a major operation this year far better than I did.  Joey is eleven and needs to lose some weight.  They are my friends, my babies and my constant companions and I can’t imagine life without either of them although I know that day is going to come.  Thank you to my dogs who are with me all the time I’m working and who make every day happier.

Happy New Year to all my family, friends, readers and supporters.  Looking forward to 2018.

 

 

The Jolbokaflod – an Icelandic Christmas Tradition

Andreas Tille, from Wikimedia

In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as  the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.

At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi.  Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.

The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. They love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world.  One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.

There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity.  In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books.  The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.

The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me.  Like the Icelanders, I love physical books although I both read and publish e-books – sometimes they are just more convenient.  Still, the Jolabokaflod would work with any kind of book.

They are also easier to give away, and this year I want to celebrate my own version of the Jolabokaflod with my readers, by giving away the e-book versions of some of my books on kindle for two days, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.  It is two years since I first made the decision to independently publish my historical novels, and it has gone better than I ever expected.  This is my way of saying thank you to all my readers and hello to any new readers out there.

Visit my Amazon page to download the following books free, tomorrow and the following day:

A Respectable Woman – The daughter of a nineteenth century missionary is torn between love and propriety

A Marcher Lord – Divided loyalties on the Anglo-Scottish borders in Tudor times

A Regrettable Reputation – A Regency romance set in Yorkshire in 1816

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s armyAn Unconventional Officer – The first of the Peninsular War Saga, a story of love and war in Wellington’s Army

An Unwilling Alliance – A Manx romance, the Royal Navy and Major Paul van Daan during the Copenhagen Campaign of 1807

 

 

 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM WRITING WITH LABRADORS

 

 

The Border Reivers

A Marcher Lord - a story of the Anglo-Scottish borders

LiddesdaleFor 300 years the people of the Anglo-Scottish Border region lived in a war zone. Invading armies caused terror, destruction and death and the ongoing conflict forged men who were expert raiders and cattle thieves, owing loyalty to none but their own clan, their own surname.  We have come to know them as the Border Reivers.

Since the Middle Ages, England and Scotland were often at war, and the people who suffered most were the ordinary folk of the Anglo-Scottish borders.  Their livelihood was torn apart by the wars and even in times of peace, ongoing tension was high and royal authority on either side could not be relied upon to keep their people safe.

The Borderers found their own solution.  Families, kindred and surnames sought security through their own means, using strength, cunning and a degree of ruthlessness which was nothing less than piracy on land to improve their lot at the expense of whoever appeared to be their enemy at the time.  Over the years feuds and enmities grew to enormous proportions and loyalty to kin and surnames overrode any sense of national loyalty.  With any man and his family a potential target for depredations, it became important to know where it was safe to bestow trust.

It was a predatory way to live, not helped by the local inheritance system of gavelkind, by which estates were divided equally between all sons on a man’s death, so that many people owned insufficient land to maintain themselves.  Much of the border region is mountainous or open moorland, unsuitable for arable farming but good for grazing. Livestock was easily stolen and driven back to raiders’ territory by mounted reivers who knew the country. The raiders also often stole portable household goods or valuables, and took prisoners for ransom.

The attitudes of the English and Scottish governments towards the border families moved between indulgence and encouragement, as these martial families acted as the first line of defence against invasion across the border, to furious and brutal punishment when their lawlessness became impossible for the authorities to tolerate.

“Reive” is an early English word for “to rob” and is related to the  old English verb reave, meaning to plunder or to rob and to the modern English word “ruffian”.  The reivers were both English and Scottish and raided both sides of the border impartially, so long as the people they raided had no protection and no connection to their own kin. Their activities, although usually within a day’s ride of the border, might extend both north and south of their main riding areas. English raiders had been known to raid the outskirts of Edinburgh, and Scottish raids had been seen as far south as Yorkshire. The largest of these was The Great Raid of 1322, during the Scottish Wars of Independence, which reached as far south as Chorley. The main riding season ran through the early winter months, when the nights were longest and the cattle and horses fat from summer grazing. The numbers involved in a raid might range from a few dozen to three thousand riders.

When riding, the reivers rode light on hardy nags known as hobbies, renowned for their ability to pick their way over the boggy country.  They wore light armour such as jacks of plated steel, a type of sleeveless doublet into which small plates of steel were stitched and metal helmets such as burgonets or morions; hence their nickname of the “steel bonnets”. They were armed with lances and small shields, and sometimes also with longbows, or light crossbows and later on in their history with one or more pistols. They also carried swords and dirks.

During the sixteenth century, areas of the borders were a virtual “no man’s land”.  The Wardens of the Marches, both Scottish and English, made periodic attempts to bring some of the major riding families under control although corruption was rife and some of the Wardens were reivers themselves while many of them turned a blind eye to raiding, theft and the system of Black Rent – the origin of the work Blackmail.

The ordinary people of the borders adjusted to the system, suffered, paid, were burned out and sometimes died.  It was a time of great brutality and intermittent wars between England and Scotland only added to the confusion and the problem.  Feuds between families could last for decades and the original reason for the blood feud was often forgotten in the blood and death which followed.  Scott killed Kerr and Maxwells hunted Johnstones, and surnames across the border united against a common enemy with kinship held far higher than national loyalty.

In 1525, the Archbishop of Glasgow took it upon himself to excommunicate the Border thieves.  It is doubtful if the riding surnames were very impressed having long since given up on both church and state but the curse was ordered to be read from every pulpit in the diocese and be circulated throughout the length and breadth of the Borders.

I DENOUNCE, PROCLAIMS, AND DECLARES all and sundry the committers of the said of innocents murders, slaughters, burning, inheritances, robbery, thefts, and spoilings, openly upon day light and under silence of night, as well as within temporal lands as church lands; together with their part takers, assisters, suppliers, knowingly and of their persons, the goods snatched and stolen by them, art or part thereof, and their counsellors and defenders, of their evil deeds generally cursed, waking, aggravated, and re-aggravated, with the great cursing.

“I CURSE their head and all the hairs of their head; I CURSE their face, their eyes, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their skull, their shoulder’s, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the sole of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I CURSE them going, and I CURSE them riding; I CURSE them standing, and I CURSE them sitting; I CURSE them eating, I CURSE them drinking; I CURSE them walking, I CURSE them sleeping; I CURSE them rising, I CURSE them lying; I CURSE them at home, I CURSE them from home; I CURSE them within the house, I CURSE them without the house; I CURSE their wives, their children and their servants (who) participate with them in their deeds.

I Worry their corn, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horse, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their live goods (animals).
I Worry their houses, their rooms, their kitchens, their stables, their barns, their byres, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, and the possessions and houses that are necessary for their sustentation and welfare. All the bad wishes and curses that ever got worldly creature since the beginning of the world to this hour might light upon them. The malediction of God, that lighted upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that struck them from the high heaven to the deep hell, might light upon them. The re and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise might stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forbear and make amends. The bad wishes that lighted on cursed Cain, when he slew his brother just Abel guiltless, might light on them for the innocent slaughter that they commit daily. The malediction that lighted upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, might light upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them for their wicked sins. The thunder and lightning that set down as rain upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, with all the lands about, and burnt them for their vile sins, might rain upon them, and burn them for open sins. The bad wishes and confusion that lighted on the Gigantis for their oppression and pride, building the tour of Babylon, might confound them and all their works, for their open disregard and oppression. All the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, their lands, corn and cattle, might fall upon them, their leases (of land), rooms and buildings, corn and animals. The river of Tweed and other rivers where they ride might drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, pursuing Gods people of Israel. The earth might open, split and cleave and swallow them alive to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, that disobeyed Moses and command of God. The wild re that burnt Thore and his fellows to the number of two hundredth and fty, and others 14,000 and 700 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, might suddenly burn and consume them daily disobeyed and commands of God and holy church.

The malediction that lights suddenly upon fair Absolom, riding contrary to his father, King David, servant of God, through the wood, when the branches of a tree knocked him off his horse and hanged him by the hair, might light upon them, untrue Scots men, and hang them suchlike that all the world may see.

The malediction that lighted upon Olifernus, lieutenant to Nebuchadnezzar’s, making war and hardships upon true Christian men; the malediction that lighted upon Judas, Pilot, Herod and the Jews that cruci ed Our Lord, and all the plagues and troubles that lighted on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, cursed Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus, Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants that slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, might light upon them for their cruel tyranny and martyrdom of Christian people. And all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, might fall on them for their open evil, slaughter of guiltless and shedding of innocent blood. I SEVER and PARTS them from the kirk of God, and deliver them alive to the devil of hell, as the Apostil Saint Paul delivered Corinth. I exclude the places they come in for divine service, ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of baptising only; and forbid all churchmen to take confession or absolve them of their sins, which they be rst absolved of this cursing.

I FORBID all Christian man or woman to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, standing, or in any other deed doing, under the pain of deadly sin.

I DISCHARGE all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths and obligations made to them by any persons, other of law, kindness or duty, so long as they sustain this cursing; so that no man be bound to them, and that they be bound to all men. I Take from them and cry down all the good deeds that ever they did or shall do, which they rise from this cursing. I DECLARE them excluded of all matins, masses, evensongs, mourning or other prayers, on book or bead; of all pilgrimages and poorhouse deeds done or to be done in holy church or by Christian people, enduring this cursing.

“And, nally, I CONDEMN them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of the Burrow Muir, rst to be hanged, then torn apart with dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their life gone from your sight, as might their souls go from the sight of God, and their good fame from the world, which they forbear their open sins aforesaid and rise from this terrible cursing, and make satisfaction and penance”.

The Archbishop seems to have lost patience with the Reivers and one imagines he was not the only one to do so.

In modern times the story of the Border Reivers has been brilliantly told in histories by George MacDonald Fraser in The Steel Bonnets and by Alistair Moffat in The Reivers.  In fiction, Dorothy Dunnett covered the difficulties of establishing law and order on the borders in the literary brilliance of the Lymond Chronicles and more recently P F Chisholm, alias Patricia Finney has told the fictional story of the real life Warden Sir Robert Carey in an excellent series of novels which have recently been reissued in omnibus editions, the first of which is Guns in the North.

My own contribution to the story of the Border Reivers is A Marcher Lord, set during the Wars of the Rough Wooing when Edward VI’s government under the Lord Protector Somerset tried to capture the baby Mary Queen of Scots in order to marry her to their young King.  The novel tells the story of a Scottish border lord, loyal to the Crown and a young Englishwoman new to the borders with no fixed loyalties but a wealth of experience of the mercenary bands of Europe.

The Anglo-Scottish borders are one of my favourite parts of the world.  I love the countryside, the history and the people.  Many of my books are set in the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century but I enjoyed my research into sixteenth century Scotland and I intend to return soon to find out what Will and Jenny did next…

 

Limping with Labradors – Guest blog by Toby

Blogging with Labradors

Toby

Welcome to blogging with labradors.

Hard to believe that this is called blogging with labradors and yet this is the first time I’ve been allowed my own blog post.  I mean, she’s very keen on posting ‘cute’ photos of us but do we get a say?  No.

Today she’s finally agreed to let me dictate my own post.  She can’t do anything else really.  I’m still recovering from my recent operation and while I’m lying around looking cute in her socks, she’ll let me get away with pretty much anything…

So, first a little about me.  My name is Toby, one of the two stars of Blogging with Labradors.  I’m thirteen and a black labrador, born on the Isle of Man up in Ballaugh although my Dad was an Irish show dog. She makes a lot of jokes about the Irish in me, but she’s laughing on the other side of her face at the moment since she just got back the result of her Ancestry DNA test and has discovered that she’s 11% Irish herself.  It explains nothing except the strange sense of humour and a somewhat dodgy taste for Irish folk music, but there you go.

I share the house with a family of four humans and another labrador called Joey who was adopted two and a half years after I arrived.  Joey is Manx and from a line of working dogs, which means he’s not as good-looking as me, although he’s not bad I suppose.  He used to be the energetic one, although he’s got so fat these days that his nickname is either Fattums or the King of Chins.  He’s supposed to be on a diet, but that’s a bit of a joke because he’s the most talented food thief I’ve ever met.  Generous too, he’s always willing to share what he gets down off the kitchen counters.

Joey the Labrador

My humans are all right really.  I like the young ones best.  They’re always willing to stop whatever they’re doing, especially if it’s homework, and get down on the floor to give me a bit of a hug or a tummy tickle.  They also make a lot less fuss about dog hairs than the older ones.

Both the senior humans do something called “working at home”.  This seems to involve endless hours sitting at desks staring at a computer screen although how much of it is work and how much is scrolling through cute dog photos on Facebook and twitter is anybody’s guess.  I don’t really mind, because since she started working at home, I’m never without company.  She’s moved our beds into the study with her and we pretty much spend our days in there while she mumbles rubbish about Wellington and the battle of Badajoz at the screen and piles up books on the floor because she’s run out of space on the desk.  Sometimes we go and lie on the books, just for a laugh, and pretty much every one of them has dog hairs in it and at least one muddy paw print…

We live in Douglas on the Isle of Man which is a great place to live as a dog since it’s full of beaches, glens, rivers and great smells.  At my age I don’t walk that far, I’ve got arthritis, but I do like to get out and have a mooch around and a good sniff.

During the past year, she’s started writing books.  To be honest, she’s been writing books for years but she’s started publishing them.  I have to say I mostly approve since it keeps her quiet and out of mischief and means she spends more time with us.  I also like the website and blog, since a bit of publicity never does a labrador any harm, and I’m glad she’s acknowledging how important we’ve been to her success so far.

The thing that has bothered me is that up to now none of these books seems to have had much of a canine element.  I mean I know they’re historical novels, but people have had dogs for a good few years now and I can’t believe she’s neglected this important aspect of the human condition.  It’s true that there is a brief mention of a hound in A Marcher Lord” but he barely gets a few lines and there’s no character development.  It’s a shocking omission.

A Redoubtable Citadel

The most recent book is called “A Redoubtable Citadel” (where does she get these titles from) and it is published today.  It’s the fourth book in a series set during the Peninsular War.  I don’t know much about war and I’ve never thought it made much sense when you can eat or sleep instead, but people seem to like these books.  However the crucial thing about book four is that she’s finally come to her senses and introduced a dog.  It’s early days yet, but I think this one has the potential to be an important historical figure.  He’s got a good military name and I think he’s going improve the lives of the main characters no end by scattering dog hairs all over their uniforms and leaving muddy paw prints all over the tent.  I can’t wait.  Although apparently a few other things happen in this book, like battles and whatnot…

Other than that, the only other excitement in life at the moment is regular visits to the vet.  I had an operation a few weeks ago to get rid of an annoying lump on my foot and they’re all kicking off because I keep chewing off the dressings.  I’m not sure what else they expected, those things are uncomfortable.  This sock does seem to be a better solution so far and I must say I’m enjoying making a fashion statement.  She’s got an endless selection of attractive socks for me to work my way through.

I’m signing off now.  They’re cooking brunch and I’m hoping to cadge a bit of bacon if there’s any going but don’t worry I’ll be back soon on Blogging with Labradors with more musings on life with labradors…

Toby

Writing with Labradors Updates

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

Writing with Labradors updates

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Writing with labradors has undergone a few changes this week which will hopefully make the site easier to follow.

One new feature is the freebies page which now includes the first chapter of all seven published books.  It also includes the first chapter of book 4 of the Peninsular War Saga.  A Redoubtable Citadel comes out next month and takes Paul van Daan and the 110th through the horror of Ciudad Rodrigo Badajoz and puts Anne in the worst peril of her adventurous life.  Read chapter one here.

A Redoubtable Citadel

In addition to the sample chapters, I intend to upload a few other freebies as I go along so watch this space for more Writing with Labradors updates and improvements.

I’m also intending to introduce a separate travel section for those of you who are interested in history and might be considering visiting some of the areas depicted in the books.

Thanks to all of you who are following both this site and the Facebook page, reading the books and taking the time to review and rate them on Amazon and Goodreads.

If you want regular updates, articles and information on history, travel, book reviews and a few freebies thrown in, you can now join the e-mail list here.

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Writing with Labradors – the first six months

Stars of Blogging with Labradors

It feels like a good time to celebrate Writing with Labradors – the first six months.

Toby and Joey

I published my first e-book, a Respectable Woman, on Amazon kindle on 22 February which is actually rather less than six months ago.  I feel like celebrating today, though.  I’ve just received a parcel with several author’s copies of the first of my books to be published in paperback and there is something amazing about actually holding a copy in my hand.

I dreamed of being a writer when I was a teenager but back then it didn’t seem like a possibility at all.  Over the years I’ve written more words than I can remember and I made numerous attempts to find an agent or a publisher for my novels.  I often wonder how many people actually read any of what I’d written.  What is clear to me is how many people have read what I’ve written now.

Since publishing A Respectable Woman back in February, things have gone better than I ever imagined.  I’ve sold books, I’ve received reviews and ratings, most of which have been good, and I’ve had a lot of messages from readers telling me how much they’ve enjoyed the books.  I’ve set up a website and written a blog and an author Facebook page.  I’ve joined Twitter, which is something I never thought likely and I’ve begun to learn, by tiny steps, about marketing and selling books as well as about writing them.

There have been so many good things during these months that I’m a bit overwhelmed.  People have been incredibly supportive and I’m so grateful to all of you who read and comment and encourage me.

So far, all the books I’ve published were already written when I made the decision to publish independently on kindle.  This weekend I am publishing the first book which I’ve written from scratch since then and it’s a regency romance.  I have a few books floating around in my head at present, and before I started this, I admit that I wouldn’t have thought the next book I wrote would be another regency.  This decision was based purely on the success of the previous regency, The Reluctant Debutante which has proved the most popular of all my books so far.

When I began to get ratings and even a few reviews for the books I was very excited.  There is something fairly astonishing that complete strangers are reading my books and apparently enjoying them.  There was also the unpleasant shock of a bad review.  I’ve had a couple, not too many, and I now understand why experienced writers recommend that you try not to read the reviews.  It’s difficult to avoid when you’re independently published; you want to know something about what your readers think and it’s very tempting.  I am trying not to now.  I can’t change the way I write because one or two people don’t like it.  The books are selling and people are buying more than one of them which I’m guessing means they enjoyed them, so I am going to try to stay away from the reviews.  A bad review is painful; a good one feels great.  I’ve decided to leave them alone and just write.

Still, going by sales alone, a second regency makes a lot of sense.  I really enjoyed writing this one.  It was good to come up with some new characters and good to research a subject I knew very little about.  I have written a slightly different kind of heroine this time and I hope my readers like her because I really do.

My next published book is likely to be the fourth in the Peninsular war saga, which is already written although needs some revising.  A Redoubtable Citadel is the most difficult book I’ve written so far, a very emotional one for me.  I am also planning on a book with a Manx theme but there is a fair bit of research involved in that.  I have a children’s story which I want to finish, and I’ve got an idea for a sequel to one of my original books.  I also need to get on with book five which is about half way through.

It’s been an amazing first six months and I’m looking forward to more in the future.  Thank you to everyone buying the books, sending me messages, engaging on the Facebook page and writing reviews and ratings – even the bad ones, since they remind me to keep getting better.

I hear the sounds of barking labradors in the distance which reminds me that it’s breakfast time.  I couldn’t have done this without all of you.  I also couldn’t have done it without Toby and Joey, my constant companions, who never forget to remind me to stop work for a meal time.

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Writing with Labradors… An Unconventional Officer, The Reluctant Debutante and Hilary Mantel

Lynn Bryant and Writing with Labradors
Local news story on Writing with Labradors

Writing with Labradors, and Blogging with Labradors came about as something of a joke when I was first setting up my website.  It’s proved popular and I’ve stayed with it…hence the presence of Toby and Joey in our local newspaper this week.

Anybody looking at this post is going to work out from the title that I’ve a few things on my mind this morning.  One of them is recovering from my birthday yesterday.  Not, as you might think, a wild night out on the town, but a rather lovely meal at home (main course courtesy of my son and his girlfriend, cake courtesy of my daughter) followed by Prosecco and Trivial Pursuits.  You can tell that I know how to live…

I spent some time thinking about publicity yesterday now that An Unconventional Officer has been published.  There was a nice article in our local paper the Isle of Man Examiner about the release and I’ve been asked to do Manx Radio as well.

I can remember one of the first posts I wrote on this blog talked about my concerns regarding publicity.  I’ve never been much of a self-publicist and I honestly thought I’d struggle more than I have, but I’ve made myself do it because once I had taken the plunge and published the books it seemed pointless just to let them sit there and take their chances.  And I’ve actually quite enjoyed it.  For anybody interested in psychology, marketing and reaching the right audience is a nice little challenge.  I’m still learning but I think I’m getting better.

It helps that the books are selling – not in their thousands, but steadily.  It also helps that I’ve had one or two nice reviews and some four and five star ratings on places like Goodreads and Amazon.  There’s something very encouraging about knowing that people are reading and enjoying the books enough to review them.  All my reviews are from complete strangers, I hope they have some idea how much it makes me smile.

One of the interesting things I’m learning is what people like.  I grew up with Regency novels and loved them, and I’ve read a few more recent ones.  The Reluctant Debutante was my tribute to those and I’ve been astonished at how popular it’s been.  I had already thought I would write another Regency just because they’re so much fun, but I’m already planning it.

An Unconventional Officer is also set in Regency times and although it’s a far cry from the London Season of Cordelia and Giles, it is about the war which affected everything during those years.  It’s a longer book than any of the others and is the first in a series which follows the men and women of a fictional regiment through the years of the Peninsular War.  I loved working on this book; it’s a bigger canvas with a large cast of characters and the best part is that I don’t have to say goodbye to them at the end of the book.

I’ve done a lot of research for these books.  Earlier I saw an article in the Guardian which caught my attention about the relationship between academic historians and historical novelists which I found really interesting.  I’m sure there are a lot of academics who dislike historical novels, particularly where they take very obvious liberties with history.  Equally there are non-academics who don’t like them much either.  And there are people who like science fiction and chick lit and thrillers and even, so I’m told, those who love Fifty Shades of Grey.  It takes all sorts.

I think I can understand the frustration of an academic historian.  After publishing a book which took years of painstaking research, gained excellent academic reviews and sold very few copies it must be infuriating to see a novelist selling thousands of books which claim to be based on history but which to a serious historian could seem poorly researched, wildly inaccurate and full of mistakes.

I do have a history degree so I’ve a little understanding of both sides of this argument.  The truth is that some historical novelists are not trying to be accurate, they’re just trying to entertain, putting characters in old fashioned clothing but not caring about period detail or anachronisms or accurate timelines.  It doesn’t mean people don’t or shouldn’t enjoy their books.  It just means that they’re not intended to teach people anything about history.

I’ve read some of these and personally they drive me up the wall.  I can cope with honest mistakes but in some cases I think writers might do better to turn to fantasy where anything goes.  Still, I refuse to be a snob about it.  There are also some very well respected historical novelists whose work is clearly painstakingly researched but I just don’t enjoy their style.  Many people do, it’s a matter of personal taste.

I’ve recently come across an author called Jacqueline Reiter, who has written both a biography and a historical novel about the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, the elder brother of the Younger Pitt who spent much of his life in the shade of his more famous father and sibling.  I’ve now read both, and it’s confirmed what I’ve always suspected that it’s very possible to be both and excellent historian and an entertaining historical novelist.  I would defy anybody on either side of this debate to be snobbish about Earl of Shadows which is the novel or to complain that the biography the Late Lord is anything other than a well-written and very scholarly work.  Both historians and novelists could learn a lot from this writer and I hope she goes on to write a lot more.

The books I’ve written so far are period specific and most of them include some real historical characters alongside my fictional ones.  I try to research as well as I can.  For A Respectable Woman I used a lot of primary sources and for “An Unconventional Officer” I read endless accounts of the war written by the men who fought it.  The problem with these is that they are frequently contradictory in themselves; they were written years after the war and people forget.

Wellington’s letters and despatches are a goldmine of information for the Peninsular War books although they’ve obviously been edited for publication.  Even so, given the immense stress Wellington must have been under during those years, did even he remember everything?

In the end, it only matters if you want it to matter.  I love reading history, both novels and non-fiction, as long as it’s well written and enjoyable to read.  I can sift through either and find what I want and the very obvious disagreements between academics over the interpretation of events means that I don’t feel guilty about putting forward my own interpretation in a novel.  My characters might well have their own views about why something happened which contradict modern historians’ thinking, but then they’re not modern historians, sifting the evidence, they’re supposed to be ordinary people living their lives in a different time and like us they’re entitled to their opinions.

I think I’ve done enough musing about marketing and the meaning of life for a while.  Now it’s back to the writing, which in the end is what I love doing most and the reason that all this is happening.

For regular updates on this site including history, travel, book reviews and plenty of labradors (and a few freebies thrown in) please join the e-mail list here.

 

Ways to Write: the value of a good displacement activity.

Quill pen

I’ve been musing this morning about displacement activity.  It’s going to look as though I’m writing two blog posts in one day here.  Technically speaking the other one was written yesterday and uploaded just after midnight, but we’re splitting hairs.  What it tells us is firstly that I ignored all my good resolutions about getting to bed at a sensible time and stayed up researching the battle of Talavera and cooing over my new book cover.  Secondly that this morning I don’t want to deal with reality.

As a displacement activity to avoid writing a blog post, which is in itself a displacement activity, I looked up the official definition of displacement activity.  There were a lot of very technical psychological definitions, some of which involved monkeys and a fair few mentioning seagulls but we’ll skip those.  The Collins dictionary, usually a safe bet, tells us that it is “behaviour that occurs typically when there is a conflict between motives and that has no relevance to either motive” and I thought that was pretty good.  But this time the Cambridge dictionary has them beaten.  Apparently what I am doing here is  “an unnecessary activity that you do because you are trying to delay doing a more difficult or unpleasant activity”  They even go on to give an example; “When I was studying for my exams I used to clean the house as a displacement activity.”

Seriously?  There are people out there who clean house as a displacement activity?  No way that I could have predicted that!  My list of displacement activities is enormous and varies from gardening to reading the new Jodi Taylor or joining in a chat group about Irish dancing.  A lot of the time it involves writing; I’ve seven full length novels which tells you how popular a displacement activity that is.  But house cleaning?  I don’t think so.

This probably gives you a clue about why I’m writing a blog post so soon after the last one.  House cleaning has been happening now for about three days in it’s theoretical form, but the house still looks as though Napoleon’s army has been retreating through it in a bad mood.  I’m away over the weekend for a few days to go to a friend’s birthday party, leaving the teenagers in charge again.  Knowing the mess they’ll be able to create in four days I would at least like to leave them with a clear space to create it in.  But actually doing something about it is beyond me.

Thinking about displacement activity (and once again not picking up a vacuum cleaner, please note) leads me to think about writing and the dreaded writers block.  I seem to have read a lot about how to overcome it, and the advice is so varied that I have come to the conclusion that every writer has their own way of dealing with the problem.

It doesn’t often happen to me.  If it does, I will tell you now that I don’t clean house to get past it.  Simply looking at the dishwasher is the best way to get me back to my desk.  I’ve found personally that if I’m stuck, the best way is to write.  Sometimes I write complete rubbish which gets deleted the next day.  If I can’t even manage that, I’ll write something else.  My computer is riddled with excerpts from books, sometimes a couple of paragraphs.  Writing about two characters and struggling with a scene, I will open a new document and write something different about them.  How will they be in two years time?  What happens to them?  What would they do in these circumstances?  Sometimes I delete these scenes the following day, sometimes I read them and realise I’ve come up with a genuine idea and they get stored.

This is particularly useful when writing a series.  I’m getting to know my characters over an extended period of time which gives me the chance to develop them.  It also makes me curious about them; not just the main two characters but a whole host of subsidiary ones.  I particularly like to write the opening of another book if I’m stuck on one.  It makes me feel as though I can get past it, and look forward to what happens next.

Sometimes I just need to write something completely different.  I have bits and pieces of at least a dozen novels neatly categorised and filed away.  I recently went through them and ruthlessly deleted a large number which were written years ago when I honestly wondered if I would ever manage to complete a novel.  The only good thing I can say about them is that I have improved…  Still, there were one or two which I think I’m going to go back to and work on at some point.

The other thing about writing a series, is that personally I need a break.  Sometimes I am so immersed in Napoleonic Portugal and Spain that it is genuinely difficult to come back into the real world.  I remember when I was really getting into writing the first novel we went to my sister’s house for Christmas.  I had a lovely time, but I was still desperate to get back to my writing and found myself sneaking off at odd moments to type a paragraph or two.  By now the man I married is wise to me and has firmly stated that this weekend with friends will not require me to bring my laptop.  He’s right of course.  Although he will have his…

Since I can’t stop writing completely, it helps to have two books on the go at once.  I’ve been busy revising my three standalone novels in between rewriting  ‘An Unconventional Officer’ and that’s been fairly therapeutic.  Now that they’re done, I’m resorting to incessant blogging in between dealing with the battle of Talavera but I want to start a new novel as well.  I could go back to one of my excerpts and see what I can do with them or I could come up with something new.

I’m tempted to go Manx.  We’ve lived on this beautiful island now for fifteen years and it’s home but I’ve never written about it.  I know snatches of Manx history, but recently I went to see a play about the Manx hero, Illiam Dhoon and for the first time it made me think that there is a lot of potential for a local novel.  I like the Civil War period; I studied it at University, and wouldn’t mind revisiting it.  Vikings are fun, but I’m not sure that they’re my style.  But we do have the Stanleys, who were given the island in 1405.  They didn’t spend much time here, too busy meddling in English politics, but I’ve always rather had views on the Stanleys (being a Richard III fan) and I’ve got some ideas.

Stars of Blogging with Labradors
Blogging with Labradors, starring Toby and Joey

All of this suggests that writing, rather than housework, is going to remain my favourite displacement activity for some time to come.  Although if I get desperate, the labrador looks as though he’s up for a run….