Historical glossary

It’s been pointed out to me that I tend to use a lot of Elizabethan vocabulary in my novels without translating it – I try not to, honestly, but it just slips in.

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This is the place to redress that problem. What words would you like me to explain?

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I’ll also cough to it when I’ve made something up… [“cough to it” – confess/admit something. Modern thieves’ slang.]

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dag – a 16th century pistol which can be wheel lock or matchlock, but usually has a large heavy ball on the end of the grip to balance the weight of the barrel and also provide you with something to hit people with when it’s been fired/misfired;

hobby – small surefooted Northumbrian pony, very good-doers and extremely tough but not very fast;

Big family party!

Last weekend I drove a total of 600 miles so I could join the rest of my family for a big party at my brother\’s house. I think there were 26 of us, three generations including my mother and my lovely aunt, my late father\’s sister. Both my brothers were there and my sister, over from New York, with her kids and step-kids; all but one of the cousins (who lives in Sidney, Australia) were there, and their kids and boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses… I\’m not sure it was 26, it could have been more, to be honest. I keep losing count.
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We do this regularly, about once a year or so. It isn\’t always at my brother\’s place – sometimes we take over an entire winebar for the day. Food is eaten, large amounts of wine and beer are drunk, the noise must be deafening if you\’re not used to it because we all have powerful personalities and we all love to talk.
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I must say this one was a marathon seven-eight hours – punctuated by extended hugs and goodbyes to people who had to take trains back to uni – and I was one of the last to leave, as usual. Well, I didn\’t want to go. It had been such a lovely day.
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Plenty of discussion and disagreement, but no quarrels and a lot of laughter. Yes, I know, I\’m smug and I naturally think that my family is better than everyone else\’s, but I also think there are things we do that make it easier to have a successful family party.
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Nobody has to come – we come because we want to, but if someone can\’t make it, there are no recriminations. Everybody missed the cousin in Australia because she and her kids are (of course) beautiful and brilliant – but maybe she\’ll be able to come next year. We don\’t do the party on an official holiday like Christmas because different people have different commitments and it\’s too complicated. We generally seem to do it in January or February when everyone needs cheering up and travel is a little bit cheaper.
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I say \”we\” but of course, I haven\’t organised one because I\’m inefficient and I live in Cornwall. Usually my brother or my immensely talented cartoonist cousin Simon sorts it out. Lots of work goes into it – but intelligently with sensible delegation so no resentments boil away in the background.
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Perhaps one of the things that helps is that we all get together regularly. This means that when we have to meet for big family occasions like weddings and funerals, we get along well in emotional circumstances because we already know and like each other. I have never forgotten that, when my husband died ten years ago, everybody turned up for the funeral – all of them, cousins and aunt as well as my brothers and sister, travelling long distances – which made me feel very supported and comforted.
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So I recommend the practice. Don\’t wait for a funeral. Do it now: pick a date, hire a winebar or a pub if nobody has a suitable house, invite absolutely all of your family, cousins, nephews, uncles, aunts – the lot. Make a regular (if rare) thing of it. If you don\’t all get along the first time, don\’t worry, you will the time after or the time after that.
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I know some families have deep rifts running through them. Perhaps that makes it harder, but surely it\’s still worth trying if at all possible? If you\’re lucky enough to have Family, they are the people you can\’t choose, true – but they can still be your friends so long as you meet them for a big party every so often.

Thoughts about #bookshops

I finished at #Waterstones on Christmas Eve and now I\’m back in the #Costa coffee shop, scribbling away and drinking espressos. #JamesDaunt are you listening? Here, for what it\’s worth, are some of my thoughts about bookshops and Waterstones in particular
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Firstly, I\’ve worked in all sorts of places and most of them are full of nice people struggling to do a good job despite the best efforts of management. Waterstones, Truro, was different: the people were even nicer and so was the management. You can rely on what I say here: if I\’m still enthusiastic about the place after working Christmas Eve there, that\’s pretty impressive.
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Secondly, there is a persistent feeling of doom hanging over bookshops as ebooks motor into the sales figures. I talked to quite a few customers about this. People love their little ereaders, they love being able to download books instantly, they love being able to change the print size and they love being able to take dozens of books with them everywhere they go. Age doesn\’t matter here – in fact it\’s older readers raving about ereaders which they find easier to hold and lighter to carry. Youngsters like my son actually prefer large lush hardback books with beautiful pictures on which they spend eyewatering sums.
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So not only are ereaders here to stay, they\’re going to munch up some of the book markets. This is why so many publishers are in a flat spin: their business models are broken and they don\’t know what to do about it.
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A lot of them are moving into ebook publishing as fast as they can – a good start. Some of them are also trying to stiff the writers along the way, which is very silly of them. Even writers can count and add up. The Society of Authors is fighting for 40% – a much higher share of royalties than you get with physical books because, once you\’ve set it up, which isn\’t that costly, you do not have materials, printing, warehousing or transport costs.
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Which is the point of this article. How are bookshops – those wonderful bastions of intelligent social life and civilization – going to cope with ebooks on top of the competition from huge Internet tax-dodgers like Amazon?
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I\’m certain that bookshops will survive ereaders, just as theatres survived movies and TV. People will still want treebooks – big beautiful illustrated ones, non-fiction, children\’s books. I do think mass-market paperbacks will disappear, though, and become about 80% ebooks. Recipe treebooks will go the same way, perhaps, but art books, craft books, gardening books – perhaps they\’ll still be around. Self-help and travel guides – ebooks. Big reference books that survive – treebooks. And so on.
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I say, make friends with ebooks. Invite them into the shop. Put a barcode on the shelves so people can come into the shop, see a book they might not have thought of reading until they saw it, and download it immediately to their ereader. That way the bookshop gets the money not the tax-dodgers and I can continue to sit and drink coffee and write in one of the two most civilized places in Truro.

ICT Procrastinationitis pt 3

I was going to go on about the 1980s brave new world of word processors. I was going to explain how I started off full of enthusiasm until I discovered the horrors of learning how to use things like the um… Philips 5something or other and the Canon something else. How on one system, hitting F6 would reformat the paragraphs and on another systerm F6 would reformat your hard disc. How you had to memorise a series of ctrl + commands which kept changing. How incredibly easy it was to wipe everything you\’d just spent all day working on. How you used 5 inch floppy disks which smelled weird and have now succumbed to mould.
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I ended up learning to use a Vydec which was about the size of Spock\’s station on Star Trek and had green letters on a black screen. It is now so totally forgotten, there isn\’t even a mention on Wikipedia. This was latest technology at an American lawyers firm in the City. I spent most of my time typing and retyping the specs for a new battletank engine (based, I think, on an enlarged two-stroke motorbike engine) for the senior partner who was utterly unable to string more than three words together without having to correct four of them. I don\’t think he liked me generously offering to just write the damned thing for him. I\’ve no idea whether he was a better engineer than lawyer, but he was not happy in the law. Eventually they fired me – after being a lot more patient with me than I would have been – and I never touched a Vydec again.
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So Steve Jobs was certainly a genius but my experience of ICT is utterly different from that of most youngsters who start using computers in kindergarten and usually win. This means that when I\’m offered a list of choices I have no idea what to choose and I panic if I don\’t find the thing I want where it\’s supposed to be on the screen. This is because I\’m subconsciously convinced that I only have to hit F6 the wrong way and I\’ll nuke the Western world.
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Be patient with me. I would much rather write books than learn how to handle WordPress and set up an ebook. Maybe I should do a website translating Computerish words and try and give better instructions than the ones I\’m finding at the moment which assume blandly that you already know what a WYSIWYG is.
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Obviously it\’s a kind of poisonous insect found in New Zealand. Everybody knows that.