Starting Over is 5 today!

Five years ago today my debut novel, Starting Over, was published by Affinity Rainbow Publications.

flowers

A lovely bunch of flowers from my mother to celebrate the occasion (and champagne from my wife).

Here’s an excerpt from a blog posted in January 2015:

When the book came out in paperback I gave a copy to a friend, a former English teacher. Weeks passed and she didn’t mention it, and I was afraid to ask. Then just before Christmas my partner and I were enjoying a glass of mulled wine in a local café and my friend’s husband came in. After ordering their drinks he sat down at a table nearby. Looking over, he recognised me, and to my surprise said, “Oh, I’ve read your book. Really enjoyed it. But it was a bit steamy.”

I really didn’t think there were any major ‘steamy’ scenes in it. No shower scenes, anyway. But then my brother, who was reading the book while visiting my mother at Christmas, kept saying things like: “Oh my god, they’re doing it in the kitchen.”

Neither of these men could be considered part of my target audience and had no previous experience of reading lesbian fiction. So even the mildest contact between two women might be considered ‘steamy’ and my brother clearly thought nothing other than cooking could possibly take place in the kitchen.

bookshop

Another first – seeing my book on the shelf of our local bookshop, The Book Case in Hebden Bridge.

The first reviews from experienced lesfic readers were very much on the positive side, so I was greatly encouraged to continue with this writing adventure.

Two of the early reviews for Starting Over:

Rainbow Book Reviews

Wilde Times Tavern

I’d already completed a sequel and Affinity accepted it, somewhat reluctantly, with the proviso that sequels didn’t often do well. But that didn’t stop me from writing a third book to complete the trilogy. Sales of Arc Over Time and Carved in Stone were pretty dire – so I can only conclude that – a) my publisher was right, and b) readers weren’t as invested in the characters from Starting Over as I was.

I recently reread all three books for the first time since they were published. And, you know what, I really enjoyed them. (What a great bunch of characters!) It also helped me make the decision on which of my books should next get the audio treatment. It will be Starting Over and Nicola Victoria Vincent has agreed to do the narration.

Book signing

Signing the first paperback copies.

So, if you’re looking for a not too steamy romance with archaeology and a bit of Romano-British history thrown in, why not take a look at Starting Over.


The Starling Hill Trilogy

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Books by Jen Silver…available from Affinity Rainbow Publications, Amazon, Bella Books, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple iTunes


 

Working in magic

Vindolanda is a magical place—a site occupied by the Romans over several centuries. Evidence from the ongoing archaeological digs suggests that it was in use before Hadrian’s Wall was built.

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First view of Vindolanda approaching from the east

This was my third year of taking part in a volunteer session and each time, even though it is ten days of unaccustomed physical work, I am always reluctant to leave.

It is such a privilege to be part of the excavation team. Scraping away at the soil with a small trowel, uncovering pieces of pottery and animal bones, nails, boot studs—and if we’re lucky, a coin or a ring—it is a thrill to think that these objects have lain undisturbed for almost two thousand years.

digging

I was working in the fort, known to be the last stone fort built on the site, as I have done for the last three years. Hard to believe that four years ago it was a grass-covered field. Layer upon layer has been removed to provide the archaeologists with a growing portfolio of evidence of how life was lived in the fourth, third and second centuries.

A large part of the fort was a barracks for the cavalry and the soldiers would have slept with their horses. On the second day, I was working in the decurian’s house. His position entitled him to more luxurious quarters that even included a section of under floor heating.

Visitors often stop by the fence to watch the excavation in progress, usually to call out—‘have you found anything?’ The more knowledgeable ones add—‘of interest?’ I didn’t mind the questions as they afforded a chance to get up off my knees for a few minutes to explain what we were doing. One of the visitors made me laugh when she said the kneepads I had placed on top of a wall section looked like a large bra. I told her they were useful for when I needed to lie down to excavate.

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Kneepads

Along with the team of diggers there’s a post-excavation crew who work tirelessly cleaning and cataloguing the daily finds.

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Some finds – before cleaning

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Some finds – after cleaning

Excavating the fort is relatively clean work compared to working in the vicus, the civilian settlement. The moist conditions here help preserve the artefacts. This year alone, over 400 shoes have been taken out of one ditch. But extracting these requires painstaking sifting through each barrow load of claggy mud. Dog and cat bones were also found—no human remains as yet.

Volunteers and visitors come from all over—Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Europe, and all parts of the UK. Volunteers’ ages for this particular session ranged from 19 to 79. It is a fantastic experience, not just the digging, but also spending time with people who share the same enthusiasm for this period of history—being able to see it, feel it, touch it.

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A misty morning in the fort

I didn’t know that the excavation bug would take hold during my first dig session in 2014. The main reason for going was to undertake research for my debut novel, Starting Over. The sequel to this book, Arc Over Time, was released during my second visit in 2015. I told one of my trench-mates about my writing and he promptly downloaded Starting Over when he got back to where he was staying. This year I felt more comfortable telling anyone who asked that I wrote lesbian fiction when I wasn’t excavating. Although I don’t expect a massive upswing in sales, it did feel good to be able to talk about it and I was encouraged by the positive responses.

This magical place continues to linger in my memory until the next time I visit and I hope I will be able to do so for many years to come as more secrets of the past are revealed with each layer of soil removed.

chesterholm

Chesterholm – part of the gardens behind the museum

Detailed information about the extraordinary work carried out at Vindolanda is available on the website and blog. And if you’re in the area, it’s worth taking the time to walk around the site and visit the museum.


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Book links:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Notes from Trouser town

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book called Juliana by Vanda, which is set in early 1940s New York. The narrator in the story is initially a naïve young woman who doesn’t understand her attraction to a talented singer, Juliana, and fights the idea that she is one of ‘them’ – the pariahs that mainstream society then considered homosexuals to be. Still the case, I know, in many places now. But there was no public recognition at all back then.

Vanda’s portrayal of the times has been well researched. And I know I’ve read about it before – the time when women could be stopped by police and asked to prove that they were wearing the requisite number of items of women’s clothing. But in Juliana, the author really brings home the terror of just wearing trousers in public that could to lead to not just verbal and often physical abuse but also the threat of being imprisoned. (Read more about Vanda’s work here)

juliana

I was never subjected to abuse of this kind growing up as I did, mainly in Canada. At the schools I went to there wasn’t a uniform but girls were expected to wear skirts. In winter I would wear trousers to school with the understanding that I would change into a skirt when I arrived. However, I would try to get away with keeping the trousers on as long as I could.

The one time I was challenged about wearing trousers at work happened almost thirty years ago in London. My boss didn’t seem to mind that I wore trousers in the office. Then one day we were attending an event at Canada House and I spent an enjoyable few minutes conversing with the Canadian High Commissioner. The next morning my boss called me into his office and asked me if I was trying to make a statement.

I didn’t have a clue what he meant. He had to spell it out for me. It turns out he was enraged by the fact that I dared to talk to the CHC dressed as I was. I have no idea how I responded to this verbally but I’m sure the bubble over my head would have said, “silly old fart”, or words to that effect.

This was at the time when I had just started seeing the woman who is now my wife. I told her about my boss’s comment and that evening she came over to the office after everyone else had left. We took a great deal of pleasure in making out on his office floor. Thinking about that still makes us smile…it’s the little things…

Nancy Spain also came to mind when I was writing this. Rose Collis’s biography of her was called A Trouser-wearing Character. One of the stories told about Spain is that when she appeared on TV she was allowed to wear trousers as long as she was seated behind a desk.

If you’re wondering about the title of this blog, Hebden Bridge, near where I live now, was known as Trouser town. Mills in this area were famous for manufacturing corduroy fustian cloth. When considering a suitable installation for the town’s square, a large-scale replica of a fustian knife was eventually commissioned. The sculpture also serves as a giant sundial with the point of the knife facing north.

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The fustian knife sculpture pointing North

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History in the square

No surprise then that this year’s Hebden Bridge Arts Festival had a Trouser town theme.


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The Jen Silver collection

Where to buy my books:

The Circle Dance: Affinity eBooks /Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books/ Smashwords / Apple iTunes

The Starling Hill Trilogy:

Starting OverAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella Books / Smashwords / Apple iTunes

Arc Over TimeAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes

Carved in StoneAffinity eBooks / Amazon US / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Bella BooksSmashwords / Apple iTunes