Monday, December 20, 2010

What's in a name....

...well! Quite a lot actually. I was struggling to find some names in Old English and decided to turn to the Old English Facebook page, and got a little help with one: Jerusalem.

Rebecca Katya Danicic wrote "hello! I just joined this group, so this comment's probably too late. However, i've just been translating 'The Wanderer' and came across the compound 'eardgeard'. The noun might mean 'city' and literally translates as 'homeland-dwelling', but it is used of Jerusalem in the triad of poems called 'Christ'."

I'm guessing this is a literary word, because Dr Stuart Lee, of Oxford University helped out here and let me know that Jerusalem was Ierusalem. How easy was that!
Normandy was Normandig, which when you know 'g' was pronounced 'y' makes sense.

The others, and a few extras I came across:

Strathclyde comes from the Celtic, Srath Chluaidh. But I found an Anglo Saxon Chronicle ref, involving beating up the men of Cumbra land

Flanders: comes from Dutch, I think,and I couldn't find a better word so I used Bruges, which was Bricge

Norway was Northweg, which means the North Way. I guess there must be a South Way somewhere....

I wanted the book to start in Viking Dublin, for a number of reasons, and finding old english names for Ulster, Connaught and Munster were quite difficult. I found a Norse name for Ulster, Ulfastir. Munster didn't really have an equivalent, but the roughly similar kingdom (which gives its name to the Meath of West Meath etc) was Mide.

Saxony: I thought would be tough, but the Old English had a fond feeling for the Saxons they left behind and (from Bede) is the name Eadlseaxum: the Old Saxons.

I really enjoyed the search, and during it I realised I've at last reached the stage of knowing enough old english to work these out, which also felt great.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All Quiet

It's very strange around here. For the first time in five years I've no book on the go. It's still with the copy editors, and the longer the process drags on, the more distant the book feels.

It's starting it's own life - out there - meeting the audience.

But I did get the cover through last week. Top blurb is a bit of filler for the moment, but you get the idea.

I love it. Feel like I've finally broken through from having pretty Chinese women on the cover of my books. Not that I have anything against pretty chinese women, and they do honour to my feminine side. But it's good to remember the masculine side as well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Eve of Hastings

Of course you knew, dear reader, that 13th October is the night before Hastings.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Babies Leaving Home

you know,. it's so long since I last gave a book to publication, (six years!) I feel something of a newb, and keep having to ask my editor: so, what happens next?

Shield Wall went to be copy edited yesterday, and it's scheduled to return n the beginning of November. It's a slightly odd feeling, like fighting a battle, where the enemy come back at you again and again and again, and then suddenly you look up and the enemy have disappeared, and you realise - almost after the event, that you've won.

It's kind of like this. I waited for my editor to come back with comments, and instead he told me the book had gone to the copy editor. It's like a child leaving home. My baby has been sent off, and for the author, this is the moment that your baby leaves home and goes off to have it's own life. And you aer left behind with the memories of the first day your baby opened thier eyes, or walked, or said Dada!

Had another bolly of course, but this is a more bittersweet moment. It's my baby, going out into the world.

But heh, it's a great book! I'm sure it'll have a long and happy life.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Light the candle, infuse the tea, put the bolly on ice

If you've followed this blog at all, you'll know what a dragged out process finishing a book is. The mss ping pongs back through various stages of editing, which ranges from story, to chapter, to paragraph, to sentence, to word and then grammar. And everything in between.

But I think Shield wall is about at the end of this process. I had a few things my editor wanted me to look at, and then I had things I wanted to look at, and I procrastinated until today, because I wanted to have a day with nothing else to do but lock myself into a room with the world and the characters, and just hang out with them, in a literary kind of way.

It went well. I was spell-checking by 3pm, and had a chance to take a long walk and see if anything else came to me.

There's a niggling reluctance now, to send it in. But it's time really, and so here goes.

Somewhere, almost out of hearing, a long slow drum roll begins.....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Larboard and Curry

Working through the last notes, I came upon a couple of interesting etymological conundrums.

The first is the word 'curry' which I have used to describe richly spiced stews. I used this word because the earliest English cook book is named 'A Form of Cury' ( written by the cook of Henry II, in AD.1390 and includes hares in talbotes and capons in coney) which delighted me, because it seemed that 'curry' had a history and etymology long before our contact with India and tumeric and vindaloo. It also seemed to reinforce the idea that medieval English cookery was much closer to the spiced food of the middle east, than our more modern cuisine.

But strangely enough, a check with the Anglo-Indian Dictionary named Hobson-Jobson, curry does indeed come from a Tami word,
kari, which meant sauce. And a check with the Oxford English Dictionary, shows that 'Cury', from a 'Forme of Cury', comes from a middle french word, the predecessor of the word cuisine. Ah well!

Another interesting one was the word 'port' for the left side of a boat, which dates from only 1855, when it was officially adopted by the British Navy. The previous word was the middle english, 'larboard' - which was the 'ladde board'. Ie the side where the gangplank went, with ladde related to the verb laden, 'to load'.

The Old English was bæcboard. Though why the backboard, as opposed to 'steorboard/starboard' I'm not sure.

October 4th, 2010

Our air con packed up half way through the night, and we threw the windows open and found that autumn had come, overnight, to Hong Kong.

There was a cool breeze, an indistinct sunrise, through drifting clouds, and a scent of smoke on the air. And - of course with autumn - a sense of passing.

Obviously, for our family, is the departure of our nanny, Rowena who is returning to the Philippines to start her own family. As we went through our morning routines, breakfast, pack and walk to school, we were aware of Rowena going through a divergent routine: pack, check passport and ticket, recheck, look forward with excitement and expectation for the airport bus.

But it's always harder to be left behind, and the air of loss is in the air, and we're hugging each other a little harder and a little more often than before.

And then, of course, there is the novel: which was batted back to me by my editor with the exhortation for 'one last heave!' but also with the 'Well done – really, really near now. You’ve done brilliant work on Eadric, Edmund , Godwin. I am really impressed.'

It's going to be finished again, today, and can't quite decide whether to go for more champagne. The problem is, really, there are a number of little stages between now and the final manuscript and I could be drunk from now till Christmas if I celebrated each one. There's proof editing, typsesetting, a few last chances for changes. Before the manuscript is printed, and published, and then the book, like rowena - or any of the friends we pick up and then misplace or lose in life - heads off towards a different destination.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Shield Wall goes live!


With the world being what it is, you can already pre-order Shield Wall from Amazon and The Book Depository - which has the advantage of providing free world wide shipping.

Who could beat that? Go knock yourself out!

What do authors do when they'd not writing?

My editor's had the book for four days now and not a peep! Shame on him!

Well. I've sorted through the boxes in the spare room, cooking more than the family can eat, and getting some exercise: as well as imbibing a touch of bubbly each night, now that hang-overs no longer mean a missed day of work. Not sure how much longer I can find things to do, but at least we have a holiday booked (first for six years no less) with our favourite Australians, in Bali, at the end of October.


By which point I will be tearing my beard out in my frustration to get back to writing. Very much looking forward to getting into the next book, and getting some pay off from all the clever threads I have set up in book one.

- Just checked email, and no he still hasnt't got back to me!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In the post

there was a time when finishing a book led to a long hour or two, sitting nervously over a dot matrix printer, refilling it with paper, removing printed sheathes and then putting it all into an envelope, and carrying you love-child to the post office, where it was sent, and mentally tracked from post to sorting office, and eventually to your editor's desk.

Comments came back by post. By hand.

Now, there is a little less ceremony. You finishing the book. Spell check, then pop it into an email and press send.

Shieldwall went off yesterday, at 149,143 words of un-putdownable action emotion and battle!

Usually, at this point (3 years, 11 months) I'm sick of the thing, but I love this book, and want to get straight back to it, just to iron out the last few little details.

And usually, finishing a novel leads to a hole in my life: like losing a lover, but with this book being the first of a series, I'm itching to get back.

The Scene of the crime....socks and all!

And something entirely random for Mid Autumn Festival

Sunday, September 5, 2010

tolkien professor

It's funny where ideas and inspirations come from, and I cam across Corey Olson's podcast, The Tolkien Professor, recently and found it very informative: not least because it allows me to enjoy the works without actually having to read them; nor even that Corey Olsen is a professor with a phd in medieval literature, which gives him fabulous insights into the way Tolkien crafted his stories - but also (and I was talking to one of my postgrad students about this recently) - the way Tolkien framed and structured and thought about his stories was very different to the way we think now in the modern novel.

This is great - as it allows new depth and insight into a story - and offers an alternative to the more generic way of telling stories propogated through creative writing courses and hollywood script writing clinics.

Grump over. If you're at all a fan, go and subscribe, some really interesting material there.

Back on the book front, I managed to finish five chapters last week and send them over to my editor: which means I've polished fourteen overall and with seven to go. Hoping to finish it off by the end of the week, but who knows.

Catching up

You might have noticed, my life stopped in March. I'm not dead, of course. Still kicking! But it was in March that my in-laws arrived... (Blair and Marie - Only kidding!)

No. In March I started reworking my novel. And it's been a long and challenging and fun process, during which I've blithely missed deadline after deadline, and my poor editor's blood pressure has gone sky high.

Luckily for him, I've almost finished - and I've learnt a lot this year about writing and stories, and feel a little dumb that it's all taken me so long. It'll be four years in November, I think, which isn't bad for 'literary fiction' (hate that term) and appalling for pulp deadlines, which range about 3 months a book.

What's been slightly surreal, is that publishing takes about 9 months to wind into action. And as I've been cutting and resculpting, strange web pages have been appearing all around me, selling a book I haven't finished yet.

Of course, the amazon pages are just gratifying - if not a little odd when you're hot in Japan, because when my mother asks why haven't I finished, yet again, I can just send her to the page and prove that this book does exist.

But much more warming and encouraging are nice comments from readers on the historical fiction forums, where they've noticed my forthcoming series, as well as saying some really nice things about Passing Under Heaven.

It's lovely to read nice things about books you wrote a long time ago from people who aren't related to you. And I feel a little guilty it's all taken so long. But I have been busy, and am delighted to say I'm now full-time at the English Dept of City University Hong Kong.

We're also expecting our fourth child in January, 2011, so 2011 is looking like a really exciting year.

It's way too early for new year resolutions, but is it too late to fulfill ones I made last New Year?! In January I promised myself I would blog once a week, and so, very late on in the year, I'm getting my life back from my novel, and letting it go off into a life of its own.

And in that fabulously rambling way, I'm promising my readers something to perk up thier mondays...

Friday, March 5, 2010


Friday again, huh!

I’m nose deep in editing my latest novel at the moment, which lives under the title Shieldwall, but almost definitely wont be published under that name. It went to market a 200,000 word door-stopper, and like rose bushes and apple trees, needs a little bit of pruning to really bloom.

I’ve been though all kinds of music for this novel. I started off with a mix of medieval songs and Gregorian chants, as well as some Anglo Saxon music that was sung at the Coronation of Edward the Confessor. Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack to INto the Wild, Steeleye Span, of all things, as well as Ganbold.

What's blasting away at the moment is the finest track for editing for action, thrill and momentum: Mozart's Requiem!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

Can the real Ganbold, please step forward

I started off this novel, about four years ago with a selection of music that seemed to conjur up the cold and the dark and the brilliant candlelight of Anglo Saxon England. A little historical research threw up songs in Latin from the coronation ceremony of Edward the Confessor. Then there was the wealth of Gregorian Chant and a few songs that Sinead O'Connor recorded with the monks of Glenstall Abbey, which were piercingly beatuiful.

But as i sit down to but this story and these characters into their definitive shape, I'm going back to the strangest music I have, and which I picked up in a hut in Mongolia: Ganbold.

It's what I sat down to write the first pages of The Drink and Dream Teahouse to, and I guess it was part of the alchemy when my writing first began to sing itself.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Press Release, courtesy of The Viney Agency

Richard Beswick at Little, Brown has bought UK and Commonwealth rights (XC) for two books in the Conquest series by award-winning novelist Justin Hill for a substantial five figure sum.

Little, Brown will publish the first volume in 2011. Beswick said: ‘In his career Justin Hill has won an array of awards and this is his most brilliant book yet. Set against the background of the 11th century Viking and Norman invasions it is a breathtaking evocation of feudal England, as well as being full of visceral excitement’. The deal was concluded by Charlie Viney of The Viney Agency.

Justin Hill’s Passing Under Heaven (Little, Brown, 2005) won the 2006 Somerset Maugham Award, while his The Drink and Dream Teahouse (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001) won both the 2002 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the 2002 Betty Trask Award. Ciao Asmara (Abacus, 2002) was shortlisted for the 2003 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. Hill’s work has been translated into fourteen languages and he was listed among the top twenty young British novelists by the Independent on Sunday.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Henry Treece: Viking' Dawn

I read Henry Treece when I was a boy, and during the recent BBC Open Book feature on forgotton classics, Henry Treece got a mention, and I thought I have to find those books again, and just see how well they compare to my memory.

I have a think, you see, about reading books that really grabbed you as a child. I set my students to read something they loved a year or so ago, and having spoken passionately about why it was such a good idea, I thought I should take some of my own medicine and have been fairly hooked ever since.

I liked this book probably as much as I did as a child. It's simple, short, and niocely doesn't take any of the obvious story directions you'd expect with Vikings. I was impressed, actually, with how much he manages to fit into a book of just 168 pages.

I've noticed with a lot of older writers, how they flout the current mantra of show not tell, and happily tell, tell, tell, and still their stories zim along. I like these older styles, and curiously, he uses a lot of similar expressions to Tolien, which makes me think they may well have been current lingo at the time. I'm a show and tell kind of writer, I think, and I wonder if growing up with TV has altered the way we write now.

Back to Mr Treece: he was born some nineteen years after JRRT, and died five years earlier in 1966, but I think he was writing the kinds of books that JRRT and CS Lewis approved of. Books in the manner of Haggard not Wolfe. Books that people read because they're great reads rather than featuring on academic syllabuses or adding a whiff of intellecutallity to one's aura.

Ah! I seem to have hit upon a gripe of mine. Better stop there before the rant begins.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Last Meal, M at the Fringe.

Well, amidst all the Christmas jolities this year, something rather sad happened.

M at the Fringe, Hong Kong's most loved restaurant closed.

Of course, most of you wont know M at the Fringe, or have any idea why it is such a loss. It was the place you went to sit and talk. It wasn't a place where the food or design or styish facilities were the chief attraction, though they were all unique and admirable.

The food was always fabulous, and varied and inventive. The staff were attentive without being intrusive, swift, efficient and polite. Perhaps the only place in Hong Kong where all these are combined.

It was the host of the famous literary lunches, and in my time I saw Ian McEwan, Andre Aciman, and most recently Colm Toibin. The owner, Michelle Garnaut often passed through, between her other establishments in Shanghai and Beijing, and it was a place - for us - where we went to mark special occasions, and it had become the place Elle and I went for a long lunch on Christmas Eve.

Our last meal?

Half a dozen of those freshly shucked oysters with a few glasses of prosecco; caviar and sour cream on slivers of new potatos.

We went for a New Zealand Pinot Noir, lightly chilled. For the main I had the best Suckling Pig in town, while Elle went for the Gaggle of Goose.

Not really a desert kind of person, and I think a strong cup of coffee saw me in fine singing form for the 5pm Christingle Service at St John's Cathedral.

The good news is that there willbe an M in Waiting opening some time this year, until a suitable new spot can be found, and - as every cloud is lined with suprises - we'll get out and find some other spot.

But cast adrift on a little raft of memory, will be our 2009 Christmas Eve lunche at the Fringe.