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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Advantages of a Book Blog Tour

I'm about to embark on another Virtual Tour with my new YA book, Shadow on the Highway 
(FREE on Kindle this week only! US  UK )

This will be the third blog tour I have done with my historical fiction books, and I'm really grateful to all the bloggers who are participating, and to Amy Bruno of HVFT who organises the schedule and generally keeps me on track. My first blog tour I organised myself, but it was enormously time-consuming, and now I hire someone to do the prep, which leaves me more time to concentrate on writing guest posts and promoting the tour.

I thought I would highlight the advantages of doing a blog tour, given that there are now so many blogs that readers are often overwhelmed by the sheer number, and end up not reading any at all.
The main point I want to let authors know, is that if you are looking for the blog tour to hard-sell your books, then you will probably be disappointed. 

Blog Tours build sales slowly as they are about relationships built over time with your readers, and about what is now called in the trade your 'author platform'. (Most people I know still think of a platform as a place to catch a train!) Virtual Tours are a chance not only to put your book out there online (where every body is, these days it seems), but to listen to the feedback from readers. Book Review bloggers read to a punishing schedule, often many books every month, and as such they are expert readers. They will soon spot any flaws in your book, and when several of them all say the same thing it is a chance for you, the writer, to address the problem in your writing.

I am excited to hear whether bloggers will notice a difference between my adult and teen titles, and what they will highlight as a great part of their reading experience.

For me as an an author the main advantages of a Book Blog Tour have been:
•    To get reviews and feedback from many different people, which tells me what the people who are attracted to my genre of fiction like and expect, and often quite clearly what they don't like!
•    To gain exposure on different blogs to their loyal followers, who are all people who read and are interested in books enough to read a Book Blog
•    That often, reviewers post up their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and other online sites, leading to a higher profile for the author and more attention to older titles
•    A chance to chat to readers through comments on my guest posts and bring more life and vibrancy to the book blog hosting me

Whilst on the book tour it is tempting to tweet every review, highlight them all on facebook, and generally drive your regular readers crazy. Of course your hosts on the tour will expect you to promote their blog whilst you guest with them, but this can be a turn-off for your regular followers. The strategy that works best for me is to highlight each blog once, and then return to promote it after the blog tour has finished, so that way you can keep in touch with bloggers after the tour has ended. I do this, even if the blogger has left me an unfavourable review - after all, they committed their time to reading your book above other choices they may have had.

A Book Blog Tour is a wonderful way to increase your networking profile on Google and in search engines, and as a platform builder it is second to none. People are still reading my posts from my first blog tour which was three years ago, and I am returning to some book bloggers for the third time, proving that they are looking forward to sharing my latest book with their readers.

You will find the schedule for my tour if you click on the banner -
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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The State of English Roads in the 17th Century

As Shadow on the Highway is about highway robbery, it features a lot of travel by horseback, so I thought I'd share some snippets of my research. Anyone with information to add to my growing collection of data about Stuart roads, I'd be glad to hear from you. Thanks to Hoydens and Firebrands, where this post was first published.

Even though it has been a dry summer, the roads near my house are full of pot-holes thanks to a wet winter and not much money spent on road maintenance. But how were roads and highways maintained in the Stuart Era? 


Most goods were transported from the ports to the interior of the country by pack horses and so tracks were the routes most commonly followed. There were no signposts in the 17th Century, so you had to either know the route already or employ a guide. Most roads passed through areas that were still deeply forested, and would in no way resemble the sort of roads we have now. In Henry VIII's reign the use of the heavy waggon and springless cart became more common, and as prosperity increased there was more need for wider roads. A large waggon was also more economical for transporting items in bulk. The dust surface of these new broad roads became mud in winter, and so in 1555 the Statute of Philip and Mary was passed which provided a strategy for maintaining the roads.

17th Century routes through the towns and forests
of England, hunting horns denote forests
This act, which lasted right through Stuart times made the parish instead of the Lord of the Manor responsible for the upkeep of the highway. What this meant in effect was that if a road passed through your parish, it was your job to keep it in good condition. In order for this to work, each parish had to appoint a Surveyor of Highways. His duty was to inspect the road, and should it need work, he could call on each of the parishioners to do six days of road mending. Materials could be legally taken by the Surveyor from anyone's land for this task, and stones, rubble or earth removed without the landowner being recompensed for damage to the property. Naturally the Surveyor of Highways was not a popular person, as very few wanted to spend six days labouring and his inspections usually meant trouble as he took materials for repair from local landowners.

This system did not work particularly well and meant roads were often impassable in bad weather. Particularly bad were the routes in and out of the capital. But in 1656, tired of the responsibility of maintaining The Great North Road, the people of Radwell in Hertfordshire petitioned the Quarter Sessions for help, because this was the major route in and out of London. Probably as a result of this, Parliament passed a bill that gave the local justices powers to erect toll-gates on a section of the Great North Road for a trial period of eleven years, and allowed that the revenues collected should be used for the maintenance of the road. 

This being a success, to assist in the repair of roads, after 1663 groups of wealthy landowners were given permission by Parliament to build or improve a stretch of road and then charge tolls to get their money back, thereby allowing them to make a profit. These were called Turnpike Trusts. At first these toll roads were short and acted as short cuts, often bypassing a village and thus reducing its trade. 

File:Hyde park turnpike toll gate.jpg
18thC print of Hyde Park Turnpike Gate
At some places along main roads, houses and gates were set up and a tollgate keeper lived alongside the route. These turnpikes continued to multiply slowly until by 1872, when the system was finally abolished, there were approximately 8000 turnpikes in operation.

A turnpike gate was a large gate which revolved on a spike and after the individual had paid his penny to use the turnpike the gate would revolve allowing access to the newly created turnpike road. Typical charges in the 17th Century were one penny for a horse and sixpence for a coach. Exempt from the charges were mail coaches, foot passengers and people in a funeral cortege. Because it was possible for brave horsemen to leap over the gates without paying, the gate was sometimes replaced by what soon became known as a 'turnpike': a wooden bar with spikes on top. 

Of course I will have to include this sort of a leap over a Turnpike in my next book!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Historical Fiction - the problem of too many Elizabeths

My latest novel in progress features a cast of real historical characters most of which have the real name 'Elizabeth.' My main character is not called Elizabeth, but her mother is, and her sister. Her aunts on her mother's and father's side are also called Elizabeth, as is her employer for whom she works as a lady's companion.
The Charity of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary :: Edmund Blair Leighton - History painting ôîòî
The Charity of St Elizabeth Of Hungary
Edmund Blair Leighton 
This is a real problem for historical novelists who are stuck with a cast of characters who all have the same name. I have taken the obvious way out which is to call them all by variants - so we have Aunt Beth, Aunt Eliza, Liddy, and yes, you've guessed it, Elisabeth (but spelled with an 's'.) Oh, and 'Mama' (who is also an Elizabeth, but I try to avoid using her actual name!)

Here are a few more common abbreviations that were used in the 17th and 18th centuries: Bess, Bessie, Beth, Betsy, Betty, Elisa, Eliza, Ella, Ellie, Elsa, Elsie, Elyse, Libby, Liddy, Lydia, Lilian, Lilibet, Lilibeth, Lillia, Lillian, Lisa, Lise, Lizbeth, Lizette, Lizzie, Lizzy, Tetty.

I imagine the general population had exactly the same trouble in knowing who was who, and that's why all the diminutives sprang up. But to add to 'Elizabeth mania', and not content with the English version, the pesky name crept into English at this time as these exotic variants as well:
Isabella (Spanish), Lise (Danish), Isabelle (French), Lisa (Dutch), Liliana, (Hungarian), Elísabet (Icelandic), Eilish, (Irish), Elisabetta,  Liana, (Italian), Belinha, (Portuguese), Elspet, Elspeth, Ishbel, Isobel, Lileas, Lilias, Lillias (Scottish) and Bethan or Bethany (Welsh).

Originally Elizabeth was the Greek form of the Hebrew name 'Elisheva' meaning 'my God is my oath'. The name appears in the Bible in two variants, but Elizabeth as a name was originally far more common in Eastern Europe where the twelfth century saint, Elizabeth of Hungary, made it fashionable. She was a wealthy princess, daughter of King Andrew II, who used her riches to help the poor. One day during Mass she placed her crown on the altar as a sign of renunciation and to symbolise her humility and poverty. In 1228, she renounced her position and the world entirely, and took vows as a Franciscan penitent.

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I
In medieval England the name was occasionally used in honour of the saint, though the Spanish version, Isabel, was much more common, until of course England went to war with Spain. Then of course English parents preferred the version used by our own Queen Elizabeth I. The centuries following Elizabeth's reign led to a great flowering of Elizabeths, as parents wanted to bestow upon their girl children the health, wealth and wisdom of the deceased monarch. For centuries afterwards, during the Civil Wars and upheavals of the 17th century, Elizabeth's era was looked back upon as a Golden Age, and girls were named after her in the hope of her long life and good fortune - hence my problem!