Sunday, 24 July 2011

Hatfield House

Hatfield House

A fortnight ago I visited Hatfield House with a friend and made notes.

When visiting a stately home, personal items always make a great impression on me. In one of the display cases are Queen Elizabeth I’s straw garden hat which has an intricate pattern, a pair of her gloves and a pair of silk stockings, which are believed to be the first pair made of silk to be worn in England. In another display case I saw a small, round silver box labelled as King Charles II’s counter box. Such personal items bring historical personalities to life, and so did Queen Anne’s coronation chair. The chair is of particular interest to me because I researched Queen Anne’s life and times for my novel Tangled Love set in her reign. The chair is ornately carved and padded with red and white fabric. Unfortunately, because it is cordoned off, I could not examine it in detail.

Visits to houses such as Hatfield House are inspirational. When I tread not only in the footsteps of the famous, but also in those of their guests, relatives and servants, I imagine my characters in similar places.

From the grand rooms to the re-created Victorian kitchen and scullery and the grounds, which include a modern day organic garden, everything delights the visitor.

The history of Hatfield House stretches far back in time. The original manor was given by the Anglo Saxon King Edgar to the church of Ely. The old palace at Hatfield, a residence of the Bishop of Ely, was built between 1480 and 1497.

The bishop’s old palace, a quadrangle, was one of the first brick buildings. Today, only the banqueting hall or Great Hall, with its oak and chestnut roof and arched windows set high in the walls remains. (The bricks from the rest of the building were used to build Hatfield House.)

After the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII appropriated the Bishop of Ely’s palace and used it as a residence for his children.

In my mind’s eye I can visualise Mary, daughter of Henry and his late brother’s wife, Katherine of Aragon, waving from the tower to her father Henry, when he rode past Hatfield house looking the other way after he divorced her mother.

At first Mary’s half sister, Elizabeth, lived a wretched life at Hatfield House after her mother, Anne Boleyn’s execution. At one time, she outgrew her clothes and new ones were not provided by her father. Fortunately, Henry VIII relented and her childhood and that of her younger brother Edward were happy.

The Lady Elizabeth, survived Protestant Edward and unpopular Roman Catholic Mary, but not without facing ‘trials and tribulations’.

Perhaps Hatfield House is best known for the occasion on which Protestant Elizabeth sat reading under an oak tree when she received the news that she had become queen. “It is the Lord’s doing” she said, “and it is marvellous in our eyes.”

There are two portraits of Queen Elizabeth I at Hatfield House, the famous rainbow portrait, in which she wears a gown embroidered with eyes and ears, which symbolise that she saw and heard everything in her kingdom. The other is the ermine portrait, named for the gold-crowned live ermine, a symbol of purity and virginity.

When I looked at the pale, inscrutable face of the queen in each portrait, I asked myself if, in spite of the many non fiction and fiction books and films about her, if anyone knows what Elizabeth the woman was really like.

James VI of Scotland and I of England succeeded to the throne and exchanged Hatfield Palace for Theobalds, the residence of his own and the late Queen Elizabeth’s first minister, William Cecil’s son Robert Cecil.

Small, sickly Robert had a crooked back and a passion for building. With bricks from three sides of Hatfield Palace he had Hatfield House built. No expense was spared to create the stately home which I and my friend enjoyed visiting.

Rosemary Morris
Forthcoming releases from Muse Publishing
Tangled Love set in Queen Anne’s reign. 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child set in the Regency era. June.2012

Monday, 18 July 2011

A Novelists Road to Publication

A Novelist’s Road to Publication

Most published novelists agree that it is extremely difficult for a new author to find a publisher.

I wrote my first novel when I was a young woman. The first publisher I submitted it to accepted it. From there everything went downhill. I did not know that the date of publication should be included in my contract. Without this the publisher could withhold publication indefinitely. When I signed the contract I was living in East Africa and gave power of attorney to my brother. That was my second mistake. The publishing house had moved country and the new editor was not interested in my novel. Unfamiliar with the publishing world my brother accepted payment in lieu of publication.

Very discouraged, I continued writing and had a few minor successes. Many years later, after leaving Kenya and living in an ashram in France, I returned to England, my late husband encouraged me to continue writing.

I took his advice and was grateful for his encouragement. ‘Keep on writing, darling,’ he said, ‘one day you will have a novel accepted and then all your previous novels will stand a good chance of being accepted.’

Hopefully he was right. Years later, he would be pleased and proud because two of my historical novels, Tangled Love and Sunday’s child have been accepted.

I’ve always had plenty of ideas but I needed to refine my writing skills. Over the years I have read books on How To Write, attended two writing holidays in Wales, joined the Romantic Novelists Association of Great Britain New Writers Scheme, submitted my current work to critique groups and critiqued other peoples’ work as well as joining a Writers’ group.

In 2007 my historical novel Tangled Hearts was accepted by an online publishing house which subsequently went out of business. However, the publisher taught me a lot about publicising my work on and offline. Unfortunately, it was a bitter experience for more reasons than I will share, and the experience included non-payment of my royalties.

Determined to achieve my dream of finding a reliable publisher I continued to write and research my historical novels. Another author told me about MuseItUp Publishing. I submitted my novel Tangled Love, previously published as Tangled Hearts, to MuseItUp. Tangled Love set in England in Queen Anne’s reign (1702-1714) will be published by MuseItUp on January 27 2012.

Several months after signing the contract for Tangled Love, I submitted my historical novel Sunday’s Child set in the Regency era between 1813 and 1815 prior to the Battle of Waterloo.

I wrote Sunday’s Child some years ago and it went through the New Writers Scheme. The reader’s report was excellent. I revised the novel and worked on it with one of my critique groups. Having, ‘scrubbed, dusted and polished’ the novel I submitted it to publishers. After each submission it winged its way home to my pigeon loft (my office in the spare bedroom). I had reached the point when I thought I would never have another novel accepted but I submitted it to MuseItUp. To my delight, my publisher loves Sunday’s Child, which will be published in June 2012.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Online Writers Critique Groups

Online Writers’ Critique Groups

Last week I wrote about Writers Circles. This week I’m writing about my experience of the three online writers’ critique groups which I belong to.

My experience of these groups for historical novelists has been positive. However, via the proverbial grape vine I’ve heard that some authors’ experiences have been unproductive. My advice would be to search for a suitable group.

Members of the groups I belong to are not allowed ‘to flame’. They are expected to be polite and offer constructive critiques.

Each group is for writers who are conversant with the unwritten rules of writing and are seeking publication.

In return for receiving critiques, members are expected to reciprocate.

Over the years, I have made new friends who trust my comments on their novels. A few of us met in person. One charming lady and I meet from time to time, visit places of historical interest and, over lunch, discuss ‘writerly’ matters.

There are always some fellow writers on the groups with whom I am on ‘the same wavelength.’ Through them I’ve been introduced to eras I know little about and they have been introduced to the Stuart Queen Anne’s era – 1702-1714.

When I receive a critique I always remind myself that the comments in it only reflect one person’s opinion and it is up to me to accept or reject them. Sometimes I have enjoyed writing a flowery passage which a critiquer rightly suggests toning down. On other occasions flaws and inconsistencies in the plot are pointed out.

It is also useful to receive comments on unconsciously telling the reader about an incident instead of revealing it through the character, on head hopping when I change from one character’s viewpoint to another’s, too much emotion or a lack of emotion at crucial points. All this is free for the taking and helps me to improve my novels.

Achieving publication has never been easy. There are more examples of writers whose work was rejected time and time again before they became either classical authors or modern best sellers than I have space to mention. I am sure you can think of some, including J. K. Rowlings who wrote the Harry Potter series. In order to be published writers need to do everything they can to help themselves. I belong to a writers circle and to critique groups in order to scrub, dust and polish every sentence in my work.

Forthcoming release. Tangled Love (previously published as Tangled Hearts) 27.01.2012

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Writers Groups

Writers Groups

I spend eight hours or more writing and dealing with matters related to writing.

While writing there is no one to metaphorically hold my hand, encourage me and help me to improve my work in progress.

From my first draft of a novel or article I try to write to the best of my ability and avoid the many pitfalls which plague authors. By the time I have written several drafts, revised and edited my work I know it inside out, upside down and back to front, and that is the problem. I reach the stage when I no longer see typing errors and other mistakes because I am so familiar with my typescript – faulty punctuation, writing from the author’s point of view instead of the character’s and telling the character’s story instead of showing the character’s actions. No matter how interesting my novel or article is these unprofessional mistakes might result in an agent or publisher rejecting my submission.

Fortunately, there is help available. I belong to Watford Writers, which meets every Monday evening with the exception of Bank Holidays.

On manuscript evenings I read approximately 2,000 words from my work in progress and receive helpful comments. Someone might point out a weak spot in the plot, an awkward phrase or something unnecessary for which I am very grateful. After all, to achieve my goal of having more work published I need to constantly improve my craft.

Apart from manuscript evenings Watford Writers invites guest speakers or guests who conduct workshops. Last year I handed in my non-fiction article titled Baroness Orczy and Her Muse at a workshop. The feedback was invaluable. The article needed to be divided into two. I accepted the advice and used the material to write two articles, the first titled Baroness Orczy and the second titled The Scarlet Pimpernel.

At Watford Writers I heard about Vintage Script, a small press magazine devoted to past times. I submitted Baroness Orczy and the article has been published in the magazine’s first edition.

I’m so busy researching my novels and articles that I rarely venture into other fields. However, Watford Writers holds flash fiction competitions in which I have recently participated. So far, I haven’t won anything but writing something very different to my chosen field challenges me to ‘think outside my box’.

Recently, Watford Writers invited its members to submit a 500 word competition story. The theme is The Blue Door. To enter it I had to dig deep into my imagination to find what I hope is an original plot. My entry is called Paradise Lost and even if it is not placed I will still be pleased to have taken part.

Last week was one of the four social evenings held every year. A member organised a quiz – which dismayed me because I know so little about some subjects – for example sport and pop music.

Somewhat nervous I arrived at Café Cha Cha in Cassiobury Park on the quiz evening. It was a hot with a hint of thunder so we sat outside the café looking out over the beautiful park with drinks and plates of food from the buffet to which we all contributed.

I was pleased when I knew the answers to questions relating to gardening and literature but dismayed by the 25 questions about pop music.

Our group lagged behind but we had a stroke of luck. The organiser did not know that one of the ladies in our group had been a disc jockey in South Africa. We scored 50 out of 50 on that final round and won prizes. Mine was a writing magazine and a very useful computer dictionary.

So, if you can find a constructive writers circle that will welcome you, I suggest you visit it and amongst other things make new friends. If you live in or near Watford, Hertfordshire, do drop in at one of out meetings at 7.30. p.m. on Monday evenings. You will be very welcome,

All the best,


Tangled Love set in Queen Anne’s reign 1702-1714 to be published by Muse It Up on the 27.01.2012 (Previously published as Tangled Hearts.)