A quick catch-up with Criss Cross

I self-published my first book in January 2013, so  nine and a half years ago.

(note to self, you should have waited until January 2023 so you could do a 10-year anniversary post.)

(note back to self from self: I might still do that, no one will remember that it was only six months earlier that I did this post, will they?)

The book was Criss Cross, and it was the first book of a trilogy called initially the Posh Hits Murders then I changed that rather clunky title a few years ago to the Friendship Can Be Murder mysteries.

Why did I self-publish?

I finished the book in 2012, (congrats, self, it’s been ten years…) and finding that people were still rather scornful of self-pubbed books – and still are today, btw – I tried to persuade around thirty publishers and agents to take it. The responses varied from dusty silence for months on end with tumbleweed rolling by, to responses two or three weeks later of ‘Sorry it’s just not for us, so sorry, but no,’ to responses by return of mail, saying, in effect, ‘Hell no!’

Some people said, ‘We enjoyed it but it won’t sell, it’s not commercial enough. It doesn’t fit into a genre.’ (True)

Lots of them said, ‘Good luck with that.’

And so that was why I thought I would ‘give it a go’ as a self-published author. Whilst waiting for replies from the latest victim, I had read quite a lot about self-publishing and thought it sounded like something even I, technologically challenged as I was, could do. So I did.

It was a long and difficult process as I had never done anything like that before. I knew very little about editing, or formatting of manuscripts. I was still working full time, so I had very little time to do anything ‘extra’, and I had no spare cash to pay anyone to do anything for me. In those days I didn’t know any other writers either so I had no one to ask. I learned it all from a book. and from research on the Interweb.

And then apart from the technology, I had another issue: I was really really scared!

What if people didn’t like it?

What if I discovered that I was genuinely a terrible writer?

What if the publishers and agents had been right and it was a huge failure? Well that one at least wasn’t too much of a problem – if it flopped, who would know or be worried apart from me?

It took a while to overcome my fears and just go for it. But eventually I got tired of wondering ‘what if’ and just – did it.

And yeah, it’s not made me a millionaire. I sell something like 100 of my Dottie Manderson mysteries to every one of the Criss Cross books I sell. But every month I sell a few, a nice little handful of eBooks and paperbacks and even large print paperbacks.

And yeah, not everyone likes it. One of my earliest reviews – which could have stopped my writing career right there if it wasn’t that I am super stubborn and contrary, was a one star review that said ‘This is the worst book I have ever read.’

Quite honestly they did me a favour. Because that was exactly what I had been dreading all that time, so once it came, everything else seemed okay. And by that time book 2 was out, followed by book 3 and book 1 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries.

I think most writers dream of getting an offer from a publisher to publish their works. That’s never happened to me and I don’t know how I would feel or what I would say if it did. I kind of just kept on with the self-publishing as it seemed pointless to waste time trying to place my books when they could be ‘out there’ within a day or two. I make a nice living now from my books. Currently I have ten books published and two more about to come out later this year. I’m not a millionaire. To be honest I’m okay with that. I love the creative control of my books and I enjoy working with other authors to edit or proofread their works or to offer ideas or support.

And I have received so much help from many lovely authors. Now, I quite often get emails or message from readers telling me they like my books. I usually apologise first. then thank them.

Readers, you have no idea how amazing it is when someone tells you that something you came up with out of thin air has given them pleasure. Thank you, wonderful readers, for your kindness and support too.

What’s the book about?

So what’s Criss Cross about?

Loosely speaking, it’s a murder mystery. But it’s written in the form of diary entries by the protagonist, Cressida, and is from a limited-ish first person point of view.

(And those are some of the aspects of it that were not commercially viable for a publishing house.)

She’s terribly posh and entitled, and has a plan to kill off her mother-in-law who is making her life a misery.

I can’t really say it’s a mystery as quite a lot of what happens is told to the reader directly by Cressida. But of course, she herself doesn’t always know what’s going on, so there is that element of mystery. But there is a strong chick-lit vibe, and there’s romance.

(More reasons why it’s not a good choice for a publishing house.)

As the story moves on, the body count piles up, because stuff just happens, as Cressida quickly discovers. Outwardly self-sufficient and uncaring, she is really a fairly lonely person who builds herself a family, and it is these relationships that she wants to protect at all costs.

It’s humorous, a bit snarky, but warm and occasionally poignant. Each story leads on from the previous one, these don’t quite work as stand-alones, I’m afraid.

If you fancy reading a bit more, you can find a sneak peek here.

NB – just to let you know, I’ve been toying with the idea of continuing this series, so who knows – watch this space, it might end up a series.

***

Book Shelter Blues

DSC02093

Secondhand. Preloved. Used. Old. Whatever you call books that are not new, it amounts to the same thing: neglected; unloved; abandoned; discarded. Even the ‘amusing’ epithet of ‘preloved’ simply indicates love that has been given then withdrawn. No longer loved.

Yes, I know that many people see these places as Aladdin’s caves filled with wonder and possibility. Not so for me. For me, a secondhand (let’s call it what it is) bookshop is a bit like going to an animal shelter. My first response in both cases is always one of dismay – there are so many here! Secondly, I think, ‘how can I possibly save them all?’

I went into two such shops today.

In shop one, I was frustrated by the lack of genre categories or alphabetical ordering. I felt I had to scan the entirety of the store to be sure I didn’t miss anything vital. As it was, when I paid for my ‘finds’, or as I prefer to call them, my ‘adoptions’, I couldn’t shake the certainty that I’d missed something. But the ‘usual guy’ was on holiday and the woman standing in for Usual Guy was not versed on what was where. She laughingly told me that if Usual Guy had been there, he could have immediately told me where any of my chosen authors might be stationed. Ha ha! Oh my aching sides. Not.  They also had an overflow into an empty shop front next door – and even though I could see literally dozens of boxes heaped up, she wouldn’t let me go in there and poke about, and neither could she tell me what was there. I took my five rescue-books and left, slightly disgruntled.

The second shop was somewhat different, and yet, underneath all the glamour, exactly the same. It was squeaky clean and neat as a new pin. I see books neatly stacked on actual shelves or laid out in boxes, spines uppermost, and the boxes have labels such as ‘Romance’ and ‘Family Saga’, and also ‘Romance and Family Saga’. I stand in the doorway to get my bearings and the proprietor bustles up in a housecoat, carrying a duster.

She asks if I’m looking for anything in particular. Really all I want to do is browse. How can you tell someone that you won’t know what you want until you see it? But I fear she is not really, in spite of the location, a bookish person. I have a sense that browsing is not to be encouraged, and I drag my ‘little book of books’ out of my bag. I tell her I have quite a long list. She’s not bothered by that. She’s waiting. So, under pressure, I panic and begin to blurt out a few names.

‘Patricia Wentworth!’ I feel a bit like Harry Potter frantically trying to come up with the right spell. She gives me a sad smile, and shakes her head.

‘Not done much for a while, has she?’

‘That’s because she died in 1961.’ I explain. I could tell her the day and month, but I’m not convinced she’d be interested, so probably for the first time in my life, I just shut up.

She nods. ‘Ah.’ It appears that being dead is a major hindrance to having your book in stock at a secondhand bookshop. I’d have thought it was the perfect spot, but no. I’m a bit worried about continuing with my list, as I feel most of my favourites are a bit on the no-longer-with-us side. But she is looking at me with an air of expectation. I’m not sure she’s really helpful, I think she just wants to get back to the dusting.

‘Victoria Holt? Mary Stewart?’

That smile again. The same shake of the head. Sorry. I look at my list again and wonder if there’s any point in carrying on with this charade. I feel already know the answer, but perhaps due to some previously-unnoticed masochistic tendency, I ask anyway.

‘Ellis Peters?’

‘Nope, not him either.’

‘Her,’ I say and turn away, intensely irritated. I scan the shelves. They are packed with books by people who are dead – how come my authors aren’t here?

‘Try the clearance boxes out front.’ She suggests. I nod. Somehow even as I rummage through these boxes I know I’m wasting my time. Eventually I give up.

And as I walk away, I’m pretty sure two whole shelves of Jean Plaidys and Catherine Cooksons shouted after me, ‘Take us with you!’ and ‘come back!’ and possibly even, ‘Help!’

It’s the ones left behind that hurt the most.

***

Write on, as Gerry and the Pacemakers never said…

This is how I was feeling a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully I now have that wonderful ‘almost-there’ feeling. 

 

The dreaded middle-of-the-book slump. The urge to give up and get a proper job strikes yet again. Why am I doing this to myself, I ask. I sit in front of the keyboard and think. I can’t even remember the names of all these characters, let alone what they look like. My plot feels simplistic and obvious, my prose isn’t wowing me.

Staying focused is the hard part now. Two-thirds of the way into the book, and I am into self-doubt territory. The desire to write something new, something easier is strong. But I have to press on. This is not the time to listen to voices telling me to stop, telling me what I’m writing is rubbish. This is not the time to be concerned with quality or to agonise over the aptness of a phrase.

There are ways of coping – mechanisms for dealing with the tough parts of the experience. I could try Dr Wicked’s Write Or Die, set it on Kamikaze and write, write, write, furiously, for the allotted time before the programme deletes my words and they are gone forever. I may not churn out Proust or Shakespeare, but at least I AM still churning. Anything – even ten words – is better than writing nothing.

I could go for a walk, take some time off, watch TV or read a book, do some chores around the house, I could do ‘research’ – ie sit looking at stuff on the Internet. Just taking a break will renew my energy and strengthen my sense of purpose, so long as I don’t allow myself too much time away.

But then, sooner rather than later, I’d have to sit back down, take up my pen or put my fingers on the keys, and carry on with my story. I have to believe in my ability to tell my story and believe that it is a story only I can tell. Mary Wibberley, a British writer of romance novels, wrote a book many years ago which changed my life. It was the first how-to-be-a-writer book I ever read, and it taught me to believe, hope and above all, to write. It was called To Writers With Love, and in it she likened the writing process to that of mountain climbing. Her best advice?  “Don’t look down.”

Don’t look down means not stepping back from the ‘problem’ and seeing too big a picture, allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by fear and a sense of something too large to be scaled. It means not getting dizzy but staying focused. It means keep battling forward, one step at a time, until you gradually reach your goal. Don’t allow yourself to become paralysed by the enormity of your undertaking, but move forward slowly but steadily, overcoming difficulties one at a time. Don’t get discouraged by looking around you at the achievements of others, or by listening to negativity or malice.

So, as Gerry and the Pacemakers didn’t say, but no doubt would have, had they been the cheerleaders of an Indie author: Write on!

I will battle on, through this Slough Of Despond, until I write those wonderful words that bring me such joy and a sense of accomplishment: ‘The End’.

***

Routine – the nemesis of creativity

I recently read somewhere that routine hinders the creative process. To really be creative, we need to let go of organisation, routine and any kind of rigid preconceptions or framework, to allow ourselves freedom to explore in any direction and form that appeals to us.

I couldn’t disagree more strongly. If you think that routine is a hindrance and obstacle to being truly creative, I’d like to invite you to reconsider.

I suggest that it is routine that brings freedom and that freedom is often to be found within boundaries, not outside of them. Because parameters do one great thing for us, yes, even us creative types. They give security. And if you feel secure, you have the freedom to be creative.

All art is created within boundaries. Or a framework of conventions, if you prefer to call it that. Mozart created wonderful music. Yes, undeniably, he was incredibly creative and had a flair for genius. But. Musical composition is, in many ways, one of the most rigidly ‘controlled’ art forms in that very deeply-held conventions dictate the agreed (not necessarily explicitly agreed) common elements that must be adhered to, in order to create any form of music. Sonatas have a specific set of rules, if you like. All sonatas have common elements that make them what they are. Similarly, concertos, arias, opuses and symphonies all have elements which dictate how they are created and underpin the very stylistic identity of a given piece of music.

Now I am tempted to take a long detour at this point and show that this is exactly the same as the genre conventions in writing, but I won’t, as I’ve already waffled quite a bit, and I want to keep this blog fairly to-the-point (wow, who’d have thought it?).

Sometimes, I just go with the flow, letting words pour onto the page. There’s nothing actually wrong with that, but it doesn’t make for good reading, it rarely fits neatly into a novel, and I am a novelist, so that is what I need to write. Unfocussed, meandering writing is great fun, very cathartic and can help you to improve your writing overall. But for ‘everyday’ working writing, you need focus, not indulgence.

Within a framework, we have the freedom to be creative. Routine can be just such a framework. I’m actually not a very organised person with regard to my writing. But I have discovered that an established routine is my friend when it comes to cracking on with my WIP and meeting deadlines.

Why?

If you are organised, you can relax and focus on the job in hand. You make the most of your time, and have something concrete to show for it, so productivity is improved and you feel good about what you’ve achieved. Which makes it more likely you’ll do it again tomorrow. In addition, good output leads to increased confidence and positivity, and as many writers know, these are commodities that can be hard to come by.

Planned routine is anticipated, your subconscious inner writer is actually hard at work long before you sit down at your desk. You know what is expected, and what your intentions are. This means you ‘hit the ground running’ and are ready to go straight away with no need for warming up or getting yourself in the mood.

As I’ve said already, routine planned writing leads to increased output and measurable results, you see the word count piling up and you see that you are moving towards your deadline or goal. This gives you the impetus you need to write through the tough sections of your book, those tricky little scenes and the mid-book blues.

For me, one of the main advantages to this type of organised approach to work is that I remain ‘current’ with my WIP. I literally don’t lose the plot. By that I mean I don’t lose track of characters and plot strands the way I do when I’m here and there and all over the place writing whatever takes my fancy. The resulting draft is more seamless, the scenes transition more smoothly, and small details are less likely to be overlooked.

They say it takes six weeks to develop a new routine: three weeks to break old habits, and another three to establish new ones. Give yourself six weeks, starting today. Who knows, by the time we reach mid-April, you may be firmly in the Routine is my Friend camp.

***

Paper Love

dscf0369

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about the therapeutic 🙂 qualities of stationery. You might remember not so long ago I was quite excited about a new notebook. (That one’s full now btw!)

What is it about notebooks, pens, sticky-notes and highlighters that is so exciting? Don’t try and pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about–I know I’m not the only one. The stationery aisle in the supermarket is always my first call and I spend hours trawling through stationery stores in town, even when I don’t need anything.

Is it a throw-back to our school days, when at the beginning of autumn–for those of us in the northern hemisphere–we used to get all our new bits and pieces in readiness for the new school year? Remember how the first page of a new notebook always had to be perfect? Your neatest writing, no mistakes, or crossings out or red pen from the teacher? Or, leading on from that, is it a sense of starting over, a clean slate, albeit a paper one, neatly ruled and bound with a pretty cover? A sense of new possibilities?

Possibly we just love having all the tools we need to marshal our ideas onto the page, and feel that these items bring a sense of order and readiness to our endeavours. We feel prepared and able to achieve our goals.

It’s not that I’m materialistic, I don’t buy everything in sight. Sometimes I don’t need anything, so I just go window-shopping. Having fun.

I like to have a set of A5 80 to 100 page notebooks when I’m working on a new book. It helps me to locate the right ones if they’re all the same colour, the covers work as a kind of code for each project. And for the first draft of a novel, I need about five of those. I also like the ones with a card cover, so I can write on the front of the book the working title and the volume number of the notebook. To avoid rummaging on my messy desk for a scrap of paper with a vital note on it, I often print up notes from the Evernote app on my Kindle, or I print up lists of characters and I can staple these inside the front cover to refer to when writing. I still do most of my initial draft on paper before I move to the computer.

In some ways then, the lure of stationery is inexplicable but it is important to me. Paper seems so much more ‘alive’ than an electronic document. I couldn’t be without my notebooks and stickies.

***

 

Night and Day now available for Kindle pre-order

Night and Day is now available for Pre-Order on Amazon for Kindle ebooks by clicking on the links: Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca at a price of $2.99/£2.31/CDN$3.87. It will also be available from other Amazon international outlets and through Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.

This is the title of my new book, introducing a new 1930s mystery series with a new female amateur detective, Dottie Manderson. The Kindle ebook will be released on 27th October 2016 on Amazon for Kindle ebook, and a week or so later for the paperback and other ebook versions such as Nook, iPad, mobi, pdf and word doc, with the second book of the series The Mantle of God appearing in spring of 2017, and book three, The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish coming out in the autumn of 2017.

If you’d like to read the opening chapter, you can read it here.

A huge thank you to everyone for their encouragement and support.

all three

Slang and Colloquial Speech

shutterstock_156638180

 

So – slang. What is it? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is “informal nonstandard vocabulary”. In this post I take it to mean text that is riddled with idiomatic, nonstandard language signifying a specific regional or economic background.

Whilst it can add colour to your writing, it’s all too easy to overuse slang, and my advice is to use it sparingly. Rabbie Burns got away with it (or did he?) in his works, as did D H Lawrence and a host of others known for using nonstandard speech patterns to lend ‘flavour’ to their writing. You can quickly create a sense of an individual’s character by slipping in some slang or ‘specialised’ language.

But for the reader nothing is more exhausting than having to go back and reread a passage over and over again to try to find the sense of nonstandard text. Vernacular can make your writing dense and unclear as the reader struggles through a succession of unfamiliar words and phrases that disrupt the flow of your epic work. Also consider whether you are actually demeaning or weakening a character by introducing slang or colloquial speech into their dialogue. Do you want them to be seen as Cockney Number Two, a stock character, or as a realistic individual?

I fell foul of this myself when creating a character in my book Criss Cross, Mrs Hopkins aka Mrs H, a housekeeper/cook  is a Londoner of working class background. I piled lots of slang and colloquialisms into her speeches which not only was akin to throwing obstacles in the path of my readers, but also made my character appear foolish and a mere caricature, which was not appropriate as she was to become an important member of the ‘cast’ of my trilogy.

I queried it with Mrs H as soon as she presented me with the bill.

‘He found nothing?’

‘Nuffink at all, Mrs Powell, not so much as a sniff of a mouse or rat.  He were ‘ere a good hour hand a ‘arf.  Very furrow, I must say.’

Maybe that wasn’t too bad, a bit tricky though, but later:

‘That’s why I’m always ‘ere.  I don’t know ‘ow I fort we’d get away wiv it, but I just ‘oped …  I mean, you’ve got a lot of room up in the attic, and not much up there.  So when the bank repossessed our ‘ouse a month ago, we jus’ fort, I mean, we know it’s wrong, ‘course we do, but we were desperate.’

But she couldn’t go on talking like this and still be taken seriously as a fairly main character, so I had to ditch a lot of the slang later on. After all we don’t want her to sound like she’s just stepped out of the original film version of Mary Poppins, do we? By the way, no one apart from Dick Van Dyke talks about ‘plates of meat’ or ‘apples and pears’. Please, if you’re not cockney yourself, don’t try to make others that way. Leave it in the hands of the professionals.

In my mind, the slang and colloquial speeches of Mrs H – and later Mr H – reflected the way they themselves were viewed by my main character, and as her respect and affection for them grew, so their speech changed until the nonstandardness of their dialogue disappeared completely. In my mind! Sadly this ‘clever’ idea remained deeply entrenched in my mind. In the minds of my readers, however, it was just pointless, annoying and inconsistent. So I had to revise some of the worst examples whilst leaving a few little snippets in for flavour, without overwhelming the reader or turning every conversation between those characters into a lesson in deciphering some strange code.

And speaking of inconsistencies…next week I’m going to talk a little more about that very thing!

The Silent Woman – some background

DSCF9509

When I first began to think about and make notes for my paranormal novel The Silent Woman (still in progress), I began to think about speech and silence.

The title came to me – I don’t know how, just out of the blue – and because this has happened before, I decided to do some research.  There is the famous case where I named a character Ben Sherman, thinking the name just sounded so ‘right’, not realising that was the name of a famous fashion designer … So now I do a quick check on the Interweb for names, titles etc.  No point in publishing a paranormal mystery called The Silent Woman if there are already three paranormal mysteries with that name. (And with that in mind, I always try to be flexible about names and titles, ‘just in case’.)

So I turned up some interesting stuff.  I came across an old pub sign, The Silent Woman.  As I still had no idea what my book was about, I found this full of possibilities.  There were other pub signs with parallel concepts – The Quiet Wife, The Honest Lawyer etc.  They all depict a decapitated person.  The Silent Woman carries her head under her arm or sometimes on a tray in front of her.  This is the only way you can keep a woman quiet, or a lawyer honest, is the implication.

There is a kind of mythology about silence and the deliberate withholding or enforced withholding of speech.

The Silent Woman may appear to be consensual, as silence is often construed as agreement, but in this case, it has been ensured that she cannot speak up for herself.  Nags and gossips were ducked like witches, or a scold’s bridle was employed to prevent speech, particularly nagging.  (without which we’d have no Minette Walters – ooh folks, The Ice House is showing again – Daniel Craig from way back.  Though my favourite bit is right at the beginning where the Labrador has rolled in or eaten some of the freshly discovered corpse 😉  eww!  )

So in some quarters it seems silence is not only welcomed but preferred.  Hence we ‘suffer in silence’.  Children are ‘seen but not heard’.   We women give the men in our lives ‘the silent treatment’ when they have done something wrong. And we mustn’t forget too, that even the fool, when he is silent, may be deemed wise, according to the Bible.  There are loads of bits in the Bible about speech.  Like how the tongue of a nagging woman is like the constant dripping of water wearing away a roof.  Notice nagging is something only women do.

In my book, the beheaded woman becomes a vengeful spirit.  She may have been silent, but actions, we are told, speak louder than words.

Silence can be non-disclosure, the enigma of Mona Lisa.  Silence, as I have said, can imply complicity and agreement.  But silence is alienating, and can mean an inability to engage in social activity, leading to isolation and solitude.   This is something us only-children have to learn to deal with, the lack of socialisation.

In Susan Glaspell’s play ‘Trifles’ (also known in prose form as A Jury Of Her Peers) a woman’s only companion is her pet bird, and when the bird is killed by her husband in a fit of temper – well (spoiler alert)  let’s just say it didn’t bode well for his future existence.  Men are sent to investigate, and end up having to take their wives along.  The women quickly unravel the truth and conceal it by their complicit silence.

So silence – is it ‘Golden’?

As Ronan Keating says “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.”

Fear – the creative tool

palhaço blog

When I talk about writing, and my own version of it, I talk about beginning with ‘what if’ and going on from there.  But sometimes I ask myself other questions.  Questions such as, what would I kill to protect?  What is the one thing we all need? How would I feel if … ?  I have to get inside my main character to be able to write my story.

Another useful question to ask yourself when embarking on a new project – or I should say – when looking for a new project – is ‘what am I afraid of?’

Fear can be a terrible, paralysing emotion.  But conversely it can galvanise you into action like nothing else on earth.  It can be a useful, creative tool.  Sit down in a quiet corner and ask yourself in all honesty, ‘what am I afraid of?’  Getting too ill to care for myself?  Losing a loved one? Losing my mind?  Not being able to pay the bills?  Being paralysed?  Home invasion? I think most of us fear these big things.  But what about small, more intimate fears?  Fear of losing your hair?  Fear of being stuck in a job you hate for twenty years or more?  Fear of not being able to turn the cheek one more time? Other fears?  Spiders?  Worms?

What about childhood fears?  Fear of the dark?  Fear of statues and scarecrows?  Loved one replaced by a very convincing robotic double that only you can detect? Dr Who has so much to answer for!  Murderous clowns – thank you Stephen King!  What about getting lost?   I can remember losing my mother in a supermarket many years ago and I sobbed as the nice store manager asked me what she looked like – and with a child’s real terror I wailed ‘I can’t remember!’  I remember this with absolute clarity 48 years after it happened.  (For Spock’s Beard fans – the chilling, relatable vulnerability of the child who says ‘Mummy comes back/She always comes back to get me.’  Because if Mummy doesn’t, that is something too terrible to contemplate.  For me to write a book around that would have me in therapy within an hour.)

What about fantastical things that frighten us as adults and as children: Ghosts? Goblins? Witches? Aliens? Bats? Spiders? Sharks? Snakes? Crocodiles? Scorpions? Cockroaches? (See my post from a couple of weeks ago about cockroaches!) Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of fear, basically. We are told fear itself is the worst kind of fear.  But there is something else.  If I were to base a short story on an old fear, a primitive fear, a childhood horror, it would be the fear of being alone.

 

Harold! Nooo!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If only we could travel back in time!  Where would you go?  Who would you speak to?  Your past self, to tell them to avoid going out with Mr Nasty?  Or some famous public figure?  Would you go back in time to buy up shares in something or other, to make yourself a billionaire in the here and now?  Or would you take back a bunch of antibiotics to get rid of the plague?

I often think I’d like to go back in time to meet various ancestors.   I’d love to go on that journey from Falmouth to Deal that John and Elizabeth Reed undertook when he left the merchant navy and joined the newly formed Coastguard Service.  I’d have liked to help Elizabeth with her four or five small children on the company boat and reassure her that although the new place was going to be different, and the people in Kent wouldn’t speak the same language, that she would be okay, that she would get used to it, and to tell her to be careful of her health.  It must have been like going to the other end of the world for her in the 1830s.

I would have liked to be at Queen Victoria’s wedding, I would have loved to hear Dickens doing a reading from his own works.  I would have liked to pop down to Chawton and chat with Jane Austen about her works (even though she wasn’t in the pink of health by the time she lived there).

Mostly I think, I would have liked to have a quick chat and a cup of coffee with King Harold.  Maybe my black jeans and glam top from Evans would have been enough to convince him I came from the future?  or my self-tanning body lotion?  Big earrings?  I’m assuming my phone won’t work back then.  Maybe a pack of raspberry pop-tarts would convince him?  I would like to pop in and have a coffee with him, catch him during his brief respite in London after his victory at Stamford Bridge (the battle not footie).  I’d give him a bit of a talking to.

“Harry,” I’d say, “you’re just one man, I know not all the rough rude sea can wash off the oil from the God’s anointed, (oops sorry that’s not been written yet – note to self – must go back in time and write Richard 2 before Shakespeare gets his mitts on it).  But you can’t do it all.  Stay here for a couple of days, take in a show, do a spot of sight-seeing.  WAIT until the rest of the lads arrive, don’t go rushing off to sort out Bill from Normandy.”  Because that’s just what he did – a big set to Up North (anywhere beyond Watford), with Harold crushing the insurgents, then a mad dash South, a quick fuel stop in London, then arriving panting and short-staffed in Hastings, ill-prepared and even worse equipped to meet William in the field of battle.  Literally!  (For overseas readers, the Battle of Hastings took place not at Hastings, but a few miles inland where there is a lovely town by the name of Battle.)  “Harry, my boy,” I would have said …

“My Liege, if I may speak boldly.  Tarry a while here in London, Good Sir, rest and gather your strength.  Wait until ALL your men arrive from the North and you will have sufficient numbers to overcome this young upstart from Normandy.  allow your knights and their men time to rest and eat and prepare themselves for the conflict.  Do not dwell on William’s escapades in Sussex, another two days will save the crown and your people.  then it will be time to march on Hastings and with both weapons and strong men, you will not fail to win the day.  Also, I pray thee, don this helmet with yon strengthened visor to protect the Royal eyes from arrows.”

That’s what I would have said.  “Harry, baby, Nooo!  Fools rush in … take a chill pill.”

I bet he would have gone anyway.  You know what lads are like when you try to boss them about.