Common Core supplements

Whether you’re interested in the Beekeeper’s Apprentice Common Core syllabus for a class, or would just like to see some background material, we’ve now added a whole lot of materials to the supplemental section–such as a selection of cartoons from Mr Punch Goes to War:

Food shortages

LITTLE GIRL: “Oh, Mummy! They’ve given me a dirty plate.”
MOTHER: “Hush, darling. That’s the soup.”

And a piece on Great War poems:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge…
There’s an excerpt from Maurice Maeterlinck’s classical treatise on Beekeeping (the one that appears at the head of each chapter of Beekeeper):
And now let us return to the city that is being repeopled, where myriad cradles are incessantly opening, and the solid walls even appear to be moving. But this city still lacks a queen. Seven or eight curious structures arise from the centre of one of the combs, and remind us, scattered as they are over the surface of the ordinary cells, of the circles and protuberances that appear so strange on the photographs of the moon.
Videos of the 12 year-old Great War soldier:
There is also a student packet, for teachers who want to introduce their students to the Twentieth Century through The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.   The idea of a Common Core syllabus is to give students primary source material they can build a research project around.
Or, for people who are just interested in reading them.  It’s all here.


In the beginning was the word…

and then the Author decided it was the wrong word, and changed it. Then added a couple more, after which She took those out again and changed the word back to where it had been.

This is where I am at the moment: hacking through the jungle of verbiage to create a nice smooth path for the rest of you to follow.

I sent my editor the first draft of The Murder of Mary Russell at the end of June,murder_of_mary_russell

since I was going to New York for Thriller Fest, so we could schedule a nice long talk about where the story was going and how I could help it get there. And without making this a post filled with spoilers, I can only say that she pointed out some ways of bringing the story into tighter focus, and making it more exciting.

(So if the book keeps you up all night, you know who’s to blame.)

My editor is my First Reader, the set of eyes that sees how closely what I’ve written comes to what I think I’ve written. And because those eyes are linked to a clever mind with decades of experience at making books better, she can gently point out a well-proven means of transport so I don’t end up inventing the wheel time and again. I mean, there are times when the wheel needs reinventing, and other times when it just makes for a slow and bumpy ride.

(I think about this kind of thing sometimes when I listen to people extolling the virtues of self-publishing. I can’t imagine not working with partners in this venture. What, edit myself? Read a first draft and see instantly what it needs? I might as well give myself a back massage, or perform surgery on my own gallstones.)

The rewrite is also time to take my own advice:

When you’re “finished”: the rewrite

* Whether your “finished” novel has 60,000 words or 150,000, the rewrite is the time when you go through every one of those words, to make sure each contributes to the whole.

* If you are a writer of the Organic school, the rewrite is the time to produce your outline, as an analytical tool instead of a tool for planning. It doesn’t matter if your “outline” is of the traditional I/A/1/a format, or if it takes the form of a spread-sheet time-line, a branching tree-graph, or a wall full of arrow-shaped sticky notes: breaking down just what the plot and sub-plots do—and when—can shed strong light on any problems with the plot structure and the book’s pace.

* If you did write your book to an outline, now is the time to compare the outline with the final result. Do the major plot points of your outline actually coincide with the developments of the story, or are some of the high points submerged under peripheral material and sub-plots?

* Are all plot twists clear? Can the reader see not only where they are going and where they come from, but why they are there?

And so on. (That’s from Crime & Thriller Writing.) I generally find it’s the small things that make me craziest: in The Murder of Mary Russell, there’s a necklace that plays a fairly minor role in things, and because I can use it both as a clue and a personality element, I now find that I’ve done three different and conflicting things with it. And it doesn’t really matter which I do, I’m obsessing over this necklace, in part because I have to leave it in this tripartate conflicting state until I work my way through the final sections, for fear that whatever I choose for the earlier parts will screw up the entire plot later on.

You wouldn’t believe how many PostIts are stuck into this manuscript dealing with that bloody necklace.

Maybe I’ll change it to a brooch and have done with it.

Mary Russell’s War

One hundred years ago, the armies in Europe were locked head to head all along a line from the North Sea to Switzerland.german_soldiers _in_belgium copy

In the past twelve months, hundreds of thousands had fallen, soldiers and civilians alike.WWI_machine_gun_2thirds copy

An entire swath of Europe lay devastated, the technology of War was building.pilot_dropping_bomb_from_plane_2thirds copy

And Mary Russell met Sherlock Holmes.Beekeepers-Apprent11FA9AD-199x300

Yes, the e-book Mary Russell’s War is on sale today, on Kindle, here, and on Nook and other formats here.

Mary Russell's War cover4I hope you enjoy your visit with a young Miss Russell.



Fools of all stripes

Fools have always been a big part of my life. [Polite pause for a series of rude and knowing remarks.]  I did my BA thesis on fools,41cyuuH7EcL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_

and I’ve worked fools into a couple of novels (To Play the Fool introduces inspector Kate Martinelli to a Holy Fool among the homeless population of San Francisco,th

and in Dreaming Spies we meet an acrobat who speaks truth to princes) but I’ve never gone so far as Alan Gordon. I adore his series of historical novels where fools are not only spies (as entertainers, fools and minstrels are in a position to overhear words from the powerful) but the force behind international relations. Fabulous novels, beautifully researched, filled with wit, adventure, and characters you’d want to invite for dinner. The first, Thirteenth Night, takes characters from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and runs with them–long and hard.








“Twelfth Night is for revelry, Thirteenth Night is for revelations.”  Thirteenth Night is this month’s Book Club focus. Grab it, read it, join us, here.

School Daze for Miss Russell

Sorry kids, but here in the northern hemisphere, we’re getting close to the new school year. (Was that a chorus of parents saying Yay! I just heard?) So I thought I’d make another mention of the study program that two great Middle School teachers put together based on The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.


As Jake and Katye say:

This unit breaks A Beekeeper’s Apprentice into six sections, and was originally taught over the course of seven and a half weeks.  Each week, students were expected to complete a vocabulary unit, read a nonfiction piece from the time period, write an essay or piece of fiction given the nonfiction piece, and complete a comprehension packet.

These two (and their students!) did a really impressive piece of work, a fabulous resource for anyone wanting a richly textured way to use The Beekeeper’s Apprentice as a foundation for a teaching curriculum. They’ve built vocabulary lists, comprehension quizzes, and exams, and other sections of the project open doors to student research on early 20th century history, women’s studies, and an assortment of other themes. There’s even a teachers’ packet, which is as free as the student packet is (although for Teacher Packet, you’ll need to email Jake and Katye, since it gives all the quiz answers!)Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 8.42.45 PM

44 states in the US have adopted the Common Core standards as a guideline for teaching students from elementary to high school levels. As the Common Core page says, the standards are:

  • Research and evidence based
  • Clear, understandable, and consistent
  • Aligned with college and career expectations
  • Based on rigorous content and the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills

In other words, they’re an attempt to challenge students, not just drill them preparing for exams. And since teachers are free to approach it any way they want, these community efforts are essential.

The Beekeeper’s Common Core is an ongoing project, so let us know what you think of it. If you use it (either in a class or in some other way) please tell us how things went, and what suggestions you’d have for changing or adding to the program.

One of those areas under construction is the nonfiction supplemental section of the curriculum, aimed at giving students primary source material on which to base study units. Included in this version of the study packet are such diverse essays as Manners and Rules of Good Society: Or, Solecisms to be Avoided; Trenches at Vimy Ridge; To The Members of The Women’s Land Army; Gypsy Lore; Syria and the Holy Land; and Chess-Humanics. We’re in the process of adding to those, so, if you’ve found any early videos, letters, journals, photographic collections, and the like that teachers of Middle School students might find helpful to illustrate and explore areas touched on by Beekeeper, send them to me, and I’ll add them to the list.

Read about Jake and Katye’s project here, and you can download the Common Core study unit itself here.

And another generation falls into love with Mary Russell!