Sunday 27 September 2009

A Study of Place Names

Not being a prolific or overly successful author of fictional offerings, I have always been keen to improve my skills in that respect. It pays to have many strings to a bow and, as one J K Rowling will agree, being in the right place at the right time with a good idea well written can earn a pretty penny (at the very least!) On the subject of Ms Rowling and her Harry Potter phenomenon, I discovered a couple of names which may (or may not) have inspired her writings whilst I was researching my forthcoming book on Devon Place Names. It seems there is a place in Devon by the name of Butterbeare - for those who have not read the books (can't recall hearing it mentioned in the films) butterbeer is the delicious drink the young wizards enjoy in the pubs of the local village of Hogsmead. As a place name it puts together Old English bearu meaning 'grove' with butter and thus suggests a 'place of sweetest pasture by the woodland grove'. Was the delicious grassland mentioned by the place name the inspiration for the exquisite delights of the drink butterbeer? Whilst butterbeer might not be so well known, the wizard game of quidditch most certainly will be (and is certainly featured in the films.) As with the other example this place name is not quite as that used in the Harry Potter stories, for this place name is Quoditch. Here the Old English or Saxon tongue spoke of cwead meaning 'dung, filth' and hiwisc which describes 'land to support a family'. Together they must describes 'the dirty (or well-manured) land'. There is no suggestion that either of these place names were the inspiration, yet it does show how quite unrelated subjects can give ideas to a writer. Indeed whilst writing more on the subject of place names for my next manuscript, a typographical error produced a better name for an alien race than I could ever have thought up! Not revealing what it is, I might just write that blockbuster myself!

Sunday 20 September 2009

A Full Week

It was/will be a busy ten days in the shape of personal appearances. Three appearances during this period will mean promoting three different books.

On Thursday last I was in Abingdon at the monthly meeting of the local history and archaeological society. Here I spoke for almost an hour on the subject of Place Names, and on those in Oxfordshire in particular. As usual I offered 20/25 minutes of introduction and then opened it up to the floor for a Q&A session. I was pleased with the evening and there were some searching and quite different questions from the floor. Thanks to those who gave me the opportunity to speak and to those who asked some intriguing and quite original questions.

Monday sees me travelling west, almost to the border with Wales near Oswestry and a place called Llanymynech. Here I shall be speaking on the subject of place names once more, this time with the focus on Shropshire and my book Shropshire Place Names.

Finally Saturday at 11:00am will see me at Waterstones in The Shambles, Worcester and a 'Meet the Author' opportunity to promote Haunted Worcestershire and (hopefully) sign a few purchased copies of the book. May I offer my thanks to the management and staff at Waterstones for giving me this opportunity and I am looking forward to returning to one of my favourite English cities for the first time since the spring.

Sunday 13 September 2009

An Unexpected Opportunity

As may be obvious from the published books, I have an interest in history and in particular the origins of place names. It had been my intention to write about some of the oddities I had found during my many years of research, yet a telephone call on Friday afternoon seemed more relevant considering my previous posts.

In January of this year Ley Lines Across the Midlands hit the shelves, a book I am particularly proud of for it was a different direction for me and the research in particualr was very rewarding. I was offered the chance to promote the book on a BBC local radio station, which involved myself and the interviewer having a chat at a couple of points on a route with the whole thing recorded and edited. I'm pleased to say it required little editing (indeed as were the BBC) for they made a note to the effect that I am easy to interview and (as anyone who knows me will agree) always have something to say (a plus in radio).

On Friday afternoon, together with my son I was enjoying a short break on the south coast with my daughter, my mobile rang. On the other end was the producer of the afternoon show on BBC Radio WM explaining that someone had offered the answer for chicken troubles (I never found out what those troubles were) could be explained by those chickens being cooped up (no pun intended) on a ley line and that a little research had shown I was the BBC's listed expert on ley lines. Hence would I be interested in going on air in ten minutes to explain just what ley lines are?

Of course the answer was 'Yes' and I found myself on the air ten minutes later having landed myself a eight or ten minutes slot publicising a book. Furthermore, I have made another contact or two at the BBC who will instantly think of me when they have a question of an historical nature. This will also make me more popular with publishers, who love authors with an established media reputation (it saves work for them).

Sunday 6 September 2009

Talk some more

Last week I wrote about the potential pitfalls and plusses of being interviewed on radio (and the same rules apply to television). This week I shall turn to public speaking, something else I have had some experience with.

Over the years I estimate I have delivered about fifty addresses, almost all on the subject of the origins of place names for that has been the subject of the majority of my books and that is what interests the majority of my audiences as they are nearly all groups interested in history. It is my personal choice to split my delivery on this particular subject into two parts. Each talk invariably seems to last an hour, in which case the first 20 to 25 minutes gives me the chance to explain the basics: the languages the names come from, what elements these names are comprised of, where early forms of these names are found, how we go about defining the names, and some of the more unusual examples I have discovered during my research. When the group have already advised me of any names they would like to know the meaning and/or origins of in advance, is where these questions are answered.

For the second part of the talk I throw it open to a question and answer session. This has two benefits: firstly it means I'm talking about what the audience are interested in, and secondly it gives me the opportunity to bounce off the audience's questions. My talks are not read from a script, indeed a lot of it is ad libbed, which allows a versatility and also serves to remind me of snippets of information and anecdotes which I had probably forgotten. Indeed a number of items included in the first part have come about as a result of the questioning at earlier talks.

On the downside such Q&A sessions leave me open to errors, and I have made mistakes in the past and learned from those mistakes. Having written and researched a number of books on place names (currently working on numbers 12,13,14,15 and 16) it is impossible for me to remember more than just a few meanings and easy for me to get the right meaning for the wrong place! In fact it has also led to me forgetting which county a town is in!

I have enjoyed most of the talks I have given, although there was one particularly forgettable evening! My advice would be to allow questioning at the end of the talk, but to keep it short until you become more confident working without a script, as it were. If you've grabbed the attention of the audience and you keep the time for questions to a minimum they will soon find the time to extend it, which can only be of benefit to you.