Kate Allan

The online diary of Kate Allan, author

Friday, January 28, 2005


I've just finished reading The Surgeon by Kate Bridges.
Calgary, 1889. Her vivid historical detail and setting avoid every cliche and are made real by sense-provoking detail, such as unusual sounds and smells. I want to go there myself and meet her characters. Absolute escapism.

And after all that gun rustling, and a recent discussion about whether Westerns as a genre were dead on an e-mail list last week, I now want to read a Western. I'm pretty sure I have never read a Western. Which means I should read one.

I read my first Marvel type graphic novel before Christmas - because it seemed to be a whole world I havd never stepped into - and really enjoyed it.

Frontiers marked out only by habit should be pushed back.

Late night update

Actually started by writing 3 pages of BIRDS. After going on ad nauseum last night about the critical importance of snappy opening to grab attention, I suddenly had this idea on the train home today for the opening of BIRDS, and so just thought I had better at least try and sketch it out fresh. I'm reserving judgment for now, but it could work. It's not conventional in terms of novel openings is the thing.

Then, I turned to JOURNEY and managed to finish edits on chapter 8, which means I only have two chapters to go - but there is quite a bit of rewriting required, so... the end is in sight, but not immediately imminent. Remind me never to try and salvage a story in as bad a shape as this one was again.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Talking, not writing

Yesterday evening I gave a talk to my St Albans writers group on 'marketing your writing to editors and agents' - actually I just talked about novels, and then travel journalist Gillian Thornton took over and covered non-fiction freelancing very comprehensively. After, it was rather obligatory to go to The Rose & Crown as per usual.

The evening before that I took the evening off to meet up with an old friend. Chat, chat, chat, chat, chat, chat, chat.

So... am starting on some editing as soon as I've had supper, after my little 'holiday'. :)

Monday, January 24, 2005

Frustrated... a bit

Finished From a Distance by Gloria Cook. Hmmmm. I now have to write a review of this novel. This is going to be a difficult one because there will be readers who will enjoy this book - must be - the question is who? While it was not mostly unenjoyable, it just didn't quite deliver - for me. I was never really on the side of the characters I gathered I was supposed to be. I noticed it is part of a series - an ongoing saga of the same family. So perhaps I needed to have read the preceeding two stories.

Well, I did promise myself this blog would be low on angst. However I have this shuddering desire to write. Not edit. Not write stuff I've been re-running in my head for weeks but simply not had a chance to put down on paper. Write... something new.

I think this feeling happens now and again. I think I have been here before. I think maybe I'll get over it by writing a short story or something.

Ack! It's like being addicted.

With regards to edits, did 12 pages of light editing. T'was a chore. My imagination was in cloud cuckoo land.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

JOURNEY's End... in sight I hope

The good news is that I've managed 18 pages of editing of JOURNEY today - about half heavy editing, the other half just dusting. So I'm now on chapter 7 (of 10).
The bad news is that I shall still need to get through about 10 pages a day for the rest of this week if I am to be done before I go on hols. Ack!

This made me laugh because it so reflects my new year too:

Saturday, January 22, 2005

In The Guardian Online!

Michelle Styles, my co-author, wrote in to The Guardian after they published an article by Julian Baggini about how he had co-authored a book over the internet. THE LADY SOLDIER was also written 'over the internet' thank you. :) Michelle's letter has been published:


Here's the full text ~ in case it disappears ~ :

Thursday January 20, 2005 The Guardian Virtually there
Julian Baggini's experience of writing a book over email (Touched by your absence, January 6) is not unique. My co-author, Kate Allan, and I did not speak on the telephone until after the first draft of our historical adventure romance, The Lady Soldier (Robert Hale, May 2005), was finished. Email and writing across the internet appears to be a growing phenomenon.
Our collaboration came about after discovering each other on a writing bulletin board. In many ways, not having to know the "whole person" helped keep the writing relationship on a professional rather than a personal level. We were able to concentrate on telling the story, rather than searching for inner meaning in the words of the other person. It also meant we were able to deal with problems that arose in writing, quickly and thoroughly. Michelle Styles, Hexham

Too slow

Another 7 pages of JOURNEY edited, but this rate of knots is too slow. Ack! I did, however, enjoy myself by writing in a sneeze for the heroine... but it could be just dust. And I added in a lumpy horsehair chair to add to her discomfort but I did give her some honey cake that wasn't there before. I cut some vacuous conversation and I'm also removing a major secondary character from the story, so she had to come out, but as hers was the vacuous conversation this was fairly easy.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Writing: none

You guessed it!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Anthony Andrews From a Distance

Started reading From a Distance by Gloria Cook, which I'm reviewing for the Historical Novels Review. Now, check out the cover and tell me that the light-suited hero doesn't look like Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited (Granada TV, 1981)

Cover of From a Distance:

Picture from Brideshead Revisited:

Did 3 pages of editing - severe editing. Not staggering progress but not bad for a couple of hours late evening work.

Nearly half way through JOURNEY

Feeling better today.

Edits progressing at a reasonable pace with JOURNEY. Done the first four chapters, and there are ten altogether. Hope to finish before the end of the month, so I can go on holiday with a clear conscience.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ill... so boring

Not bothered posting yesterday cos having 'flu is very boring and painful.

If you want to read something more interesting than me having 'flu, all the stuff I updated last weekend about how THE LADY SOLDIER was written, the inspiration behind the story etc is up on the website: http://www.theladysoldier.com

Writing (sort of):
Received an e-mail today from an author I regard as a living legend. My e-mail to him was rather shameless so I wasn't sure if I deserved a reply. But what else can you do with a mega-star except throw yourself at their feet? Anyhow, he was so nice, and helpful. I will have to buy all his books now. Forever.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Heros with colds?

Still ill and keep having to go back to bed. I think this must be flu I feel so terrible.

Why do people hardly ever have colds in fiction? Its not very manly to be sniffing, but when Jack Absolute, spy and hero of the novel of the same name by CC Humphreys, begins the story on a damp, and misty Hounslow Heath waiting to fight a duel, the fact he was sneezing suddenly made him real, not just another 18th century rakish cliche.

Can't think of any other significant mere colds in fiction. Heros tend to get struck down by a fever as a minimum.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Another missed day

Still feeling very wobbly and have been in bed and asleep most of the day. Everything hurts, but really being ill is very boring so I'm not going to write about it.

Printed out JOURNEY and started going through it in hard copy. I think the answer to this story's plot hole problem lies in the removal of a minor character which will free up word count so the suspense plot can be revised and strengthened.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Lost sense of time

I seem to have missed most of today by being asleep. An evil cold which started yesterday meant I thought I'd better stay at home than go to work. It was impossible to get out of bed at 6.30am, or 7.30am. Finally I managed to get up at 8.30am and drink a cup of tea before collapsing again.

Got up for about an hour mid morning but then decided I was better off in bed because moving about was so painful.

Then I woke up. My alarm clock said 5.30 but I had no idea whether it was 5.30 in the afternoon or in the morning. A very strange feeling. I shall try and remember how disorientating it felt in case I ever need to use it in a story.
Then I heard cars outside, but to be sure checked the computer. 5.30pm.

My throat feels like I've swallowed a packet of razors and it's difficult to talk or swallow. I've managed some frozen yoghurt and think I should try and do something lest the day is utterly wasted. But even the muscles in my fingers are hurting as I type this.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Clandestine (adj)

I've been checking some facts to do with the changes in the marriage laws after Hardwick's Act of 1754, which made clandestine marriages illegal in England and Wales.

Clandestine is one of the words I just like. It sounds like it should be a noun. Some kind of magical candle gone-wrong, or a decoration, only brought out for a special occasion. Perhaps part of its appeal is to do with its meaning:

Kept or done in secret, often in order to conceal an illicit or improper purpose.

Source: dictionary.com (http://www.dictionary.com)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Well, I can't talk about writing today because I haven't done any.

I knew this week was going to be busy anyway, plus I didn't get a seat on the train this morning. Can't write standing up.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Websites.... so time consuming!

Spent hours at the weekend messing about setting up a new author e-mail group to talk about marketing and promotions. Then, after thinking marketing it made me realise the Jennifer Lindsay website needed 'more'. So more hours and hours... Ended up going to bed very late last night.

It was warm today. Warm enough to nip out for a coffee without bothering to yank my heavy coat on. Athough I got rained on as I went out without my brolly. And then dripped all over my keyboard in a rather alarming fashion!

Train-writing today added probably about 300 words to the scene in BIRDS I am working on. Great scene. So visual I actually wish I could go there and really be there, not have to make do with simply imagining it. Also, there are a couple of pages written from the still observation of what is going on, and although it's deep in character point-of-view I had the opportunity to almost describe the action as if it were on television.

I shall almost certainly finish that scene, train-written, tomorrow. And I know what scene is coming next so I can then get straight on with that. Haven't thought yet though what's best, sequentially, to happen after that.

So I might then go back to trying to face the repairs to the plot hole in JOURNEY.

Sounds like a vague writing plan for the week, though I am out and about quite a bit, so am not sure realistically how much I am going to get done.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Half four and still getting dark...

I can't wait for summer. The weather is awful today, the wind very strong. I have had no desire to go outside.

Been typing up the remainder of last week's train-writing, only about 500 words. It stops very abruptly (well, the train arrived so I had to shut my notebook and get off!) so I'm going to come back to it later and at least get the scene finished, plus go over the whole briefly to tidy up a few bits and pieces.

Quoted... from the internet!

I received an e-mail yesterday from an author asking if she could quote me in her book - some writing advice I posted yesterday to someone writing historical fiction an e-mail loop. So I agreed - of course!

Here's my quote:
'Period detail must enhance and not distract from the story. All the other bones of good fiction must be there.'

The book is about how to write for children.

Makes me think of all the historical authors I enjoyed reading as a child - Rosemary Sutcliffe, Henry Treece, Jill Paton Walsh...

Friday, January 07, 2005

No queue at the post office?

Nipped to a post office today to send off A NOTORIOUS DECEPTION to be judged for the award and there was no queue! I was in and out in two minutes. Most stressful - I'd been expecting to have half-an-hours' daydream while I stood in the queue.

Wrote a couple of hundred words on the train this morning which did nicely progress the action sequence I'm currently working on but I had to give up after getting too squashed in by people and their bags and laptops and whatnot. Intended to write tonight but work today was hectic and I'm frazzled.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Progress check

I'm just posting a quick progress check for BIRDS with the intention in shaming myself into doing more, and faster. 400 words so far this week is pathetic.

BIRDS now: 9308
Words to go: 100000+ ish

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Landing-place / landing (noun)

I was too hyper last night to focus on typing up my train-writing, so I've done it today, and ended up with 400 words from c700. It could be a little overly dialogue heavy, but it's a tense scene and terse seems right. For now.

Got distracted by checking up on some vocab details (whether I'm using the right words to describe things in the period). e.g. a landing. Answer: yes, in the 1790s this was in use for that bit on the stairs.

The super super online source for everyday domestic stuff like this is the Old Bailey Online. I found out that in the mid 18th century it appears to have been called the "landing-place" - I guess literally from its use - other kinds of landing-places are to be found on docks. By 1790s it was still being called the "landing-place" but also simply the "landing".

"as we were upon the first landing-place on the back-stairs" (from John Moody , breaking the peace: assault sessions, 16 Jan 1755) Old Bailey Online: http://www.oldbaileyonline.org

Landing-place sounds a little too quaint for this particular scene so I'm just using landing.

I love... being shortlisted for awards!!!

This is all a bit silly because I knew about it before, but on Monday I had an e-mail from the organiser of the RNA New Writers Award asking me to send in A NOTORIOUS DECEPTION. Now, because my first novel is not yet published and won't be before the award is announced in May I e-mailed back and asked whether it was still eligible. The reply came yesterday and the answer was yes.

I am going to have to have my very un-copy-edited manuscript. But that's another story...

However, I then went onto the RNA website http://www.rna-uk.org and looked at the award pages and the fact it's been running since 1962, and the list of previous award winners and then I went back to the e-mail and read it again and the reality set in that I was somehow being given something I had once dreamed only happened to other people.

My other piece of news is that I'm being interviewed by a writing magazine for a column on new writers, possibly tomorrow. They want my 'top tips' for aspiring authors. Oh help! What are the valuable learnings I can pass on...?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Back to train-writing

Scribbed about 700 words on the train this morning. Goal for tonight (after supper) is to type up and with luck it'll be about 1000 words as my train-written stuff is always on the sketchy side because I write just the key things I want to say... no editing en-route!

Very hyper today for two reasons - two pieces of good writing-related news but hate to jinx things by writing them down here... yet. Watch this space!

Back to work

Back to the real job today after the Christmas break. And back to leaving home while it's still dark in the mornings. And back to the joys of commuting into London by train.

Yesterday was a bank holiday and I should have made some more progress besides the small revisions I made to a scene from BIRDS.
As I was woke up this morning a possible answer hit me to the key lack-of-logic problem with JOURNEY which needs solving. Needs further thought but I feel very positive it could work and with luck I'll have a plan I can action by the weekend.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Books or bookshelves?

I'm feeling virtuous having cleared out a pile of clothes from my wardrobe to go to the charity shop.

However, there remains the problem of my books. I must have a couple of hundred stacked up now in piles because I have no room on my bookshelves.

So, do I have too many books, or not enough bookshelves?

At this rate of knots...

It's still not cold enough to be winter! I have the window wide open.

Yesterday I managed about 500 words of BIRDS, which means... I'm not writing it fast enough. I need to start thinking along the lines of producing 3,000 words a week if I want to get it near to being finished by April. This means I need to write for an hour a day. However, because I work full time and have a long commute I am typically out of the house 12-14 hours a day. An hour an day sounds like so little but I somehow need to find it.

I also must, in the next two weeks, sort out the final problems with JOURNEY* and send the full manscript off to Dundee (DC Thomson). I suspect, because I have already completely rewritten JOURNEY and its still not right, it might have been easier to start from stratch than take an old story and try and bring it up to standard. I think, for my next story for them, this is what I shall do.

* JOURNEY is a short romantic suspense novel set in the Regency period, which I queried with DC Thomson for their My Weekly Story Collection series last year, and they requested to see the full manuscript.
DC Thomson are publishing my short novel A NOTORIOUS DECEPTION, again a romantic suspense set in the Regency period, probably later this year.

To cuff (verb)

Occasionally I use a thesaurus when I have a word /s but can't think of anything quite right to express what I want.

I love the visual movement of clothing. A man's coat, for example, can show the anger in an exit, or the arrival of masculine power. In the scene I've been writing I wanted it to hint at something sinister about the character of the man wearing it.

None of the verbs I could think of seemed to work.

The coat slapped his calves.... no
... lapped against his calves... no
... hit his calves... no
... swished... no

The thesaurus had it - cuffed

cuffed his calves

I like cuffed. Because of the suggested violence. Pretty sure I've never used it before as a verb.
It sets the coat in opposition to its wearer. Even his coat hated him...!

Writing is hard

It's late.
Writing can be so very hard.
Frustrating - because of the diffculty of representing in words the emotions I want to portray.
Upseting - because feeling my characters' emotions is so very close to feeling them yourself.
Lonely - because I am communicating with a Word document on the screen in front of me, that flattens what I try and out into it into black courier new font, laid out double-spaced on a bright white background.

Oh! And I promised myself this blog would not record my angst!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Aeroplanes mostly

It seems, from looking out of the window, a little early for nine thirty in the morning. The sun seems very yellow against the red bricks of the houses opposite and with the bare trees it looks crisp outside.

However, I must do an hour or so of writing before I shall have to quit to start preparing for friends who are coming for lunch.

Yesterday I managed, very slowly because I was tired and fragile, to rewrite the opening scene of BIRDS - which is an aeroplane crash - and happens in 1913. I first sketched out the scene before I had really done the research - so sketch was exactly the right word! A great book was Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation by Eileen F. LeBow. I only intended to dip into it to get the relevent info but ended up reading it cover-to-cover. The first woman to gain a pilot's licence was in 1909 and the book tells the stories of the various pioneer female aviators up until the First World War.
I also found the de Havilland museum which is near me in Hertfordshire very useful when I went there a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the earliest aeroplanes there date from the 1920s but the exhibition of the story of the de Havilland family and how they initially became interested in aviation was fascinating.


Having posted on a couple of boards and groups yesterday about my blog, I've discovered several more writer friends have blogs - it seems more popular than I thought. But then again, are writers simply more likely to have a blog because they are writers?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy new year!

Now that I've had two cups of coffee, the sensations caused by drinking too much champagne too late last night have faded. As my husband is still asleep, and his plans for later today involve going to a DIY shop (or three) I should really try and make some progress on BIRDS* - my mainstream women's fiction novel - and get my writing year off to a good start.

Last year was a cracking writing year. My new year's resolution for 2004 was to 'get published', and I did. In fact I sold two of my novels.

My key writing resolution for 2005 is to get BIRDS written and then try and get an agent.

* Code name. Because book titles aren't copyright I'd rather not share the real titles of works-in-progress in the public domain.