Beta readers…do we need them?

anita dawes and jaye marie

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When I first began to blog, back in 2012, it was to promote my sister, Anita’s books and I had no idea how anything worked. All I had to go by was the fact that everybody seemed to be doing it, so how hard could it be.
So I set to it with a great deal of determination (and patience) to learn whatever was necessary to do the job. Didn’t think it would be too difficult, after all I had just mastered the art of formatting and uploading a load of Word files to Amazon. And Smashwords and Goodreads.
It was beginning to look quite easy, but that was about to change.

Although I love to read, and do a lot of it, I must admit that in the beginning I read more ‘how-to’ books than any other kind. Most of these were very good, and I would not be…

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Turnips. It’s all about the Turnips.

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No, it’s not a selfie on a Monday morning but a good old traditional vegetable of the British countryside, the humble Turnip.  Yes, I’m giving it a capital T as I fear it is overlooked, under-estimated and its’ importance in Halloween completely ignored.  It deserves elevation to a proper noun, in my humble opinion 😉

Anyway, I digress.  So, here we are again, celebrating Halloween.  American style.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the American way; many young children enjoy the dressing up and the innocence of knocking on doors hoping for sweets.  I do live in hope that most of the population will realise this isn’t actually what Halloween is about.  Originally a pagan festival of celebrating life, honouring the dead and the cross-over into the darkest part of the year, one must remember how much superstition dictated the lives of our ancestors.  However, the celebration also respected the power of nature, gave thanks to food on their plates (entwined with Harvest celebrations) and a general understanding of gratitude.

Known as Samhain in Old Irish, Hop-tu-Naa in the Isle of Man, Calan Gaeaf in Wales and Kalan Gwav in Cornwall, one can see how these age-old names pre-date christianity.  Many pagan celebrations were overtaken by christianity to make them more acceptable in the eyes of the early church (namely Easter and Christmas here in the UK).  Most of these are now very commercialised, too much in my opinion, that the real meanings are lost in all the hype.  It takes a bit of internet digging around nowadays if you really want to know why kids dress up and knock on doors for sweets; why you get chocolate eggs in April or why Christmas is a time to get what you want (assuming you’ve outgrown the Santa theme).  Yes, have fun but also show remember to have gratitude.

So back to the humble Turnip, the once-used jack-o-lantern of old.  According to  The Oxford companion to American food and drink (p.269. Oxford University Press, 2007) immigrants to North America preferred the native pumpkin due to it being softer and easier to carve (did they even consider taking Turnips with them I wonder?!).  Apparently, pumpkin carving wasn’t officially recorded until 1837 anyway.  So the pumpkin may take all the glory but the Turnip is where it’s at!

I’ll stop going on about it now, especially as I don’t even like Turnip.  Here’s a couple of photos for you instead – if any of these knock at my door, I’ll just let the dog bark I think! 

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I think old style costumes were much more authentic – and scary!

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Sleep well …

History Snippet – St Anne’s Church, Syston

 

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The gorgeous St Anne’s Church, Syston, Sth Gloucestershire on a sublime Sunday autumnal morning.  Who would have believed that this place of tranquility and beauty was the site of Cromwell’s troops firing at the door?!  The marks of which are still visible today …

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The village of Syston – I am using the old spelling here, the modern day version is Siston although both are still used locally – lies just seven miles east of Bristol (the site of Bristol Castle).  Yet deep in the Sth Glos countryside, it is classified by South Gloucestershire Council (1989, 2010) as a Conservation Area due to its natural beauty and historical buildings. It is also just a few miles from the famous Battle of Lansdown 1643 (a Snippet about that can be found here https://louisewyattsmusings.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/battle-of-lansdown-5th-july-1643-near-bath/), hence the reference to Cromwellian troops leaving their marks on the church door.

Local church information states that St Anne’s is built atop a hill, usually the indication of a much earlier pagan/Celtic place of worship.  To strengthen this idea, there is an ancient well, aptly named St Anne’s, at the rear of this hill next to a stream (Siston Brook) and what would have been a large pond serving the manor house, Siston Court:

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The peace of the graveyard can be disturbed by the baying of Llamas on a neighbouring farm but it is a very tranquil place to sit and think.  Or take a load of photos like I did!  There are mighty graves, there are ornate graves and there are very old graves:

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Past members of manorial families

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Village dwellers from the 1700’s

 

 

 

 

 

20150906_160007 20150906_152510Once grand memorials surrounded by wrought iron designs now covered in ivy.  Unable to identify who, where and why but the once-upon-a-time wealth is obvious.

 

 

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Gate from Siston Lane, unfortunately a very busy lane during rush hour and school runs.

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Entrance gate walking down from the sloping graveyard

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This would have once been a rather dominating view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The church itself was built in the early 11th century with later additions.  It has a lead font made in the time of King Rufus (1056-1100) and is one of only 38 in the country.  Unfortunately, the church was locked and I couldn’t get inside to have a look at this or the more elaborate tombs of previous lords of the manor.  The Domesday Book states that Syston had belonged to a Saxon named Anne but was in the hands of Roger de Berkeley after the Norman invasion.  Could this be who the church and well are named after?  The local church information page however, states the area is named after San-Tan, a pagan goddess of water, and this has come to be St Anne.  Whilst researching the internet, I could find no San Tan but then, this is only one of my ‘snippets’; perhaps some further research and digging deeper in archives might lead to further information.  If anyone knows of a pagan goddess with that name, feel free to let me know!

The church is wonderful and steeped in history.  It reminded me of fairy-tales, with its’ hidden doors, higgledy-piggledy buildings and aura of peace amongst the busy outskirts of Bristol.  A perfect place to step out of the rat-race and just … relax.  You don’t have to be religious to feel the special atmosphere at these places, despite Cromwell’s attempts at ruination!

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Sources:

http://www.bafhs.org.uk/our-parishes/other-parishes/409-siston [accessed 1.10.15]

http://www.bristol.anglican.org/i/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Warmley-Syston-Bitton-Parish-Profile.pdf [accessed 1.101.5]

http://www.pucklechurch.org/html/siston_court_history.html [accessed 2.10.15]

http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Ask-Gerry/story-11288167-detail/story.html [accessed 2.101.5]

https://www.southglos.gov.uk/documents/pte100112.pdf [accessed 1.101.5]

And Wikipedia for basics!

Historical Heavyweights and the Real Force Behind Them

We’ve all heard of Richard III. Edward III. Henry IV etc etc but not so well-known are their women …

 

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Three years ago I discovered a new author. I can’t remember how, a link on Facebook I expect. What caught my eye was the fact she was doing a book signing in Swindon, a couple of motorway junctions from me, so I decided to look up the book. I liked what I saw, a new type of read for me; my favourite genre (HF of course) but the main character was Anne Neville, wife of Richard III. The book being Virgin Widow. I realised I had hardly ever found anything to read about her so I promptly made the journey to Swindon, bought said book plus another about Eleanor of Aquitaine (Devil’s Consort) and had both signed by the author. In all my years of reading, this was my first effort at meeting the author for a book signing and I was surprisingly nervous. I had no need to worry, the author was Anne O’Brien and what an approachable and lovely lady she is.

 

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Her passion for her subject shines through and is animated on her face when discussing her characters. And so it should; her books are warm, succinct and full of meticulous research on subjects that aren’t necessarily widely known. I’ve since collected the novel about Alice Perrers (The King’s Concubine) and Elizabeth of Lancaster (The King’s Sister).

Anne’s books are like a breath of fresh air. Her characters had such influence on history but are always in the shadows of the main players, of which there are books aplenty. I imagine researching from primary and secondary sources for the likes of Alice Perrers, for example, is harder work than researching Alice’s man, Edward III. But Anne manages this with a smooth, interwoven flow of fiction to tell their stories. Alice Perrers is much more real to me now!

I’m yet to find another author who can so richly tell the story of our lesser-known characters in history, making them come alive, teaching readers how important they were and wanting to know more about them. Roll on the next book!

 

 

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