Happy New Year!
Welcome to the first newsletter of 2020, I hope you had a great festive season and new year in whatever way you celebrate. I didn’t send any newsletter over that period because who of us doesn’t have enough to do at that time without getting even more emails?
However, here we are in January with a whole year ahead of us. Here in the UK it’s been a very soggy winter – no snow, but good grief has it rained! If you are one of the poor folk in Australia suffering from the horrific wild fires, that probably isn’t what you want to hear, but we would gladly have sent you some if we could. I live not far from the River Severn, the longest river in the UK, which rise in the northern part of Wales and runs all the way down to the Bristol Channel, and along the stretch here we have a lot of natural flood plains. So when we have a very wet season such as now, at times it can look as though we’re surrounded by an inland sea. Acres of farmland disappear under water, and if it’s a windy day there can even be waves on the water!
And all of this can be useful to an author like me. When it comes to the historical stuff, that flooding really highlights how canny the medieval builders were, because the old churches stand out like ancient lighthouses on knolls above the water – and somewhere along the line, that’s definitely going to make its way into a story. But on the fantasy side, seeing what a drowned world looks like in reality can help to make a created world more lifelike. I’m slowly chipping away at another fantasy series (or at least the first book of it) and one of the elements I’ve brought into it is flooding. Just as it has here, their approaching winter has brought a deluge long before you get to any snow and ice, and it’s good to have that other element to play with so that I don’t seem to be stepping too hard on the heels of a more famous author and focusing wholly on winter.
That’s all very much work in progress, though, and in the early stages too. What I’d also love to tell you about in this letter is a book I have coming out in a couple of days’ time. Spirits in the Oak is another of my stand-alone books, and I’ll tell you more about its creation in the next letter. For now, though, I’ll just say that this is another instance where I had my heroine filed away for quite a long time – I just couldn’t quite find her right story. But once I’d written Don’t Delve Too Deep I knew that this story would also feature an encounter with a mythical group of beings. This time it’s dryads, the spirits who live within trees, and yes, although they do originate in Classical Greece, there are legends of them in Wales too. So I hope you’ll click on the link and go and meet Jenna.
Newsletter Feb. 14th
Mythical creatures and where to find them
Welcome back to my newsletter.
In the last letter I mentioned that I have a new book out, so I thought I’d give you some of the background on that, so let’s start with the leading character, Jenna. Sometimes I get an idea for a character, but they don’t really fit into any of my larger series. In fact, sometimes I don’t quite know where they do fit initially. But the one thing I’ve learned is not to dismiss these random people, nor the ideas that come for bits and pieces of plots. They all get filed away and left to mature, nothing is wasted. Jenna was one of those people. At first I was going to have her actually travelling back through time, but somehow she always felt to me as though she was too damaged to cope with something like that – and it’s weird how some characters do just turn up and won’t bend out of shape to fit another story. But at the same time, I wanted to give her a story which would show that just because she’s damaged, she’s far from weak. In fact she has a huge amount of courage.
Well the time travel idea just didn’t work out. I couldn’t find a reason why, nor a means for her to do it, or even an era to anchor the story into. So that idea is another one filed away. But having written Don’t Delve Too Deep and had Stella have an encounter with elves in the here and now, it came to me that Jenna might also have an encounter with something/someone from out of the mythical past. The only question then was who or what.
Now around here we have a lot of beautiful old half-timbered houses – the pretty black-and-white houses you often see pictures of – but there are also new houses being built in the same style, albeit still very much the most expensive houses. And that got me thinking. The craftsman carpenters who build the real houses are very careful about where they source their oak from, but what if an unscrupulous builder illegally felled some old oaks? I knew of dryads, of course, but then went in search of whether they were part of British mythology as well as the Ancient World’s. Sure enough, there are legends of dryads in Wales, in this case definitely female and associated more with particular trees than with whole groves. So far so good.
It was then where to set this story, not least because I wanted a location sufficiently undisturbed that such creatures might have not been eradicated by modern life (at least enough so that readers could suspend their disbelief), and the Shropshire Hills fitted the bill perfectly. You may never have heard of them, but they are a beautiful wild place right on the border with Wales, and full of hidden valleys and undisturbed woods. This is the landscape of A E Houseman’s poems in A Shropshire Lad, but also heading for the landscape where the medieval poem Gawain and the Green Knight comes from – it’s because of the regional dialect that that can be located, by the way. I had found my location! All I had to do then was write the book!
If you’d like to see how the story turns out, Spirits in the Oak is available now on Amazon. I’ll talk a bit next time about what I was experimenting with regarding this release.
Newsletter Feb. 28th
Deciding how, when, and where to release a book
Welcome to the newsletter.
If you’re not a writer yourself, you’ve probably never given any thought as to how and when a book gets released – I know I never did as a reader – and of course years ago there was only ever the one way, and that was in print through a publisher. Nowadays, though, it’s far more diverse, and that brings with it a whole new set of considerations.
Obviously I want as many of you as possible to have access to my books, and I certainly don’t want to exclude someone who wants one from getting a book, just because it isn’t in the format that their e-book reader uses. But that means navigating my way around the various digital platforms.
Now everyone knows what a mighty force Amazon is in digital marketing. You just can’t ignore them because the potential sales can be huge (though I’m a long way from that as yet!). However, Amazon does have its own set of complications, not least their insistence that as an author you must be exclusive to them in order to be able to use their promotion opportunities. And there’s also the matter of ‘Unlimited’, which is Amazon’s lending option, and for which you also have to be exclusive to Amazon to enrol in. Yet by going exclusive you cut out all of the readers who used Apple devices, or whose e-readers use the EPub format, such as Barnes & Noble and Kobo.
What to do?
In the past I’ve stayed ‘wide’ – in other words, I’ve put my books onto Amazon but not exclusively, and that’s allowed me to also sell my books through people like Draft2Digital and Kobo, and get them into the non-Amazon marketplaces. However, that does then mean that for someone like myself, who isn’t yet in the best-sellers categories, my books remain virtually invisible on Amazon. So with the launch of Spirits in the Oak, I decided to try something different.
Best-selling fantasy author Tammi Labrecque releases her books first on Amazon, going exclusive for a short time, then releases them to the other platforms. This seemed such a sensible way of doing things that I’ve decided to give it a try. So Spirits in the Oak is currently on sale exclusively through Amazon, and that has to be for a 90-day period (their rules) which takes it up to the later part of April. If that looks like being successful, I may enroll the book for another 90-day block, but whether it’s in April or in July, Spirits will then cease to be exclusive to Amazon and will be released on the other platforms.
If you are buying books through Kobo, Apple, or Barnes & Noble, I hope you won’t be put off by this, and you aren’t too disappointed. If I could get the ‘Unlimited’ lending option without going exclusive, then I would have happily released this book across all of the platforms at the same time, but I can’t afford ignore it. Should this tactic turn out to be massively unsuccessful, then obviously I’ll go back to my old way of releasing everywhere at once. However so far, I do seem to be getting a little more interest this way, so all I can do is wait and see what happens.
In the mean time, if you want to read another of my modern-day ‘magical realism’ books, and you haven’t found them already, The Rune House and The Room Within the Wall are available through the sellers where you normal get your e-books from, and there are also the first two books featuring Bill Scathlock on general release too.
Newsletter 13th March
We’re turning into ducks!
Welcome to the newsletter.
In the first letter of this year I mentioned how the Midlands, where I live, had had a battering from winter storms, but little did I know that worse was to come! On February 10th Storm Ciara came piling in off the Atlantic and absolutely drenched us. And then only a week later, Storm Dennis battered us with high winds and torrential rain making for a very soggy end to the Valentine’s Day weekend, with Storm Jorge piling in at the start of March and soaking us some more. So this time around I’m not going to talk as much about books and writing, but giving you an idea of what it can be like to live with British weather, and why we tend to obsess a bit about it over here! …You’ll notice that weather does tend to crop up in my books quite a lot.
For those of you not familiar with UK geography, that cut in below the bump of Wales is the Severn Estuary, and crucially, it happens to face south-west, which is where the prevailing winds come from. (I live in the bottom beige patch next to Wales!) So just as with the Clyde estuary up on Scotland’s west coast, when the winds and storms start building up in the Atlantic, both estuaries act like a big funnel for them when they hit the UK. But also, Wales is mountainous – okay it’s not like the Alps, the Rockies or the Appalachians, but then these are very old rocks that have been worn down a lot more – and it’s where several rivers rise, including the Severn.
So what that’s meant for us is that the Welsh mountains got a drenching, and then all the flood water from there came down to us folks in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire where the ground was already saturated from our own rain. And it happened fast! Twelve hours, that’s all! Seven severe flood warnings – floods which are a danger to life – were issued along the River Severn and its tributaries, the rivers Teme, Lugg and Wye, and that’s serious stuff (seven is a freakishly high number all at once). Part of the reason for that is that these aren’t gently meandering rivers; they come down a pretty steep descent from the mountains of mid-Wales. And so this is the Teme a mile or two down the road from me on 17th Feb. No visible river, just an inland sea.
My poor friend Mary’s house is just in the row on the very far mid left of the photo, and it went through her house in a few hours to over three feet/one metre deep! And the water is orange. Yes, I did say orange! All the rich clay from off the farmers’ fields around the river gets ripped off and into the river. And it stinks! You broom it up and it flows back together just like jelly – yuk! Thankfully she got all of her books upstairs in time (like me she has a veritable library), and there’s just her, a dog and two cats, so no kids to worry about, but I’ll be part of the mop and bucket squad when it goes down enough to get inside. At times like this the writing has to go on hold.
I took this photo standing on the old main bridge in Worcester, and you can see by the bits of bushes where the river bank normally lies. But that road between them and the hotel is normally three lanes of very busy traffic. Here’s another view…
Normally I’d be squashed flat by trucks and buses standing here!
This is the old bridge, and the worry has been that the pressure of the water if it reached the top of the arches would be enough to sweep the bridge away. So the excitement of getting to work on the first Monday and a couple of days since was that we had to get shuttle buses across the bridge. All regular traffic was halted anyway, and only one bus was allowed across at a time because of the vibrations they cause. The last time this happened we got hoisted up into army trucks to be taken across, but this time the army was out helping rescue people in the more rural areas.
And I know the UK gets a lot of rain because of being an island surrounded by sea, but even for us the rain levels throughout February were abnormal. When you get nearly three times the usual amount, the ground is saturated, and this was where we were mid-Feb. So everything that fell after that was pretty much floating on top of the ground, not sinking in, and in that nominal month leading into March, we’ve had periods of 36-48 hours when the rain quite literally hasn’t stopped. And in mid Wales where there are some major reservoirs which supply the Midlands cities with water, the normal trickle of water over the top of the dams has turned them into miniature Niagara Falls! If you go to THIS link on You Tube you can see what I mean!
But this is Britain – forty miles north-east of here in Birmingham (the UK’s second city), people were wondering what all the fuss was about. So these aren’t the vast, sweeping storms of the American mid-west, for instance. Wales is approximately eight thousand square miles – about the same size as New Hampshire or Massachusetts. Yet when you get a month’s worth of rain in one day, what we’ve had happen here is the result.
So the next time you find me writing about floods, you’ll know where the experience comes from.
Newsletter 29th March
That virus thing & meeting fellow writers
Welcome to the newsletter. We’re living in strange times, aren’t we? I know all of you are spread far and wide, but there can’t be many who aren’t in the lock-down situation by now. So the first thing I want to say is stay safe – we’re all in this together, and it’s not forever.
Therefore in the spirit of keeping things positive, I want to tell you about an amazing experience I had back on the 9th of March. I didn’t say anything about this in the previous newsletter because I wrote that in advance, and put it up to auto deliver knowing that that was going to be a very busy week for me. Consequently, on the Sunday before, I went down to London and met up with a huge number of other indie authors. The conference had been planned to coincide with the London Book Fair, but of course that got cancelled in the light of C-19. For a while there was some debate about whether we would happen, and the government advice at the time was taken note of, yet in the end we went ahead. There should have been close to a thousand of us in the Queen’s Hall in the Southbank Centre, but understandably those who had underlying health issues, and also those who were coming in from far away and were worried about getting back, in the end didn’t come.
Nonetheless, about six hundred of us still turned up, and I’m so glad I went. It was a wonderfully uplifting day. Writing can be a very isolated business, especially if your family don’t quite get what you’re doing, so to be surrounded at every turn by fellow authors who all get what you do, even if they work in very different fields, was incredible all by itself. But on top of that we had an amazingly informative and inspiring day from the speakers and organisers, so I just want to give a public thank you to everyone at Self-Publishing Formula for the Live show. If you have any aspirations to write yourself, do come over to Facebook and join out SPF Community – we’re a very welcoming lot.
Rather less good was me deciding to go exploring on the Tuesday since my train home wasn’t booked until the late afternoon (because I’d been expecting to go to the Book Fair). Being the medievalist that I am, I went hunting for the old stuff and was thrilled to have finally found the Templar Church in the Inner Temple (where all the top barristers and lawyers now hang out!) when I came to grief. I stepped onto what I thought was just normal paving slabs and went flying. The bare trees beside it had dropped pollen all over the pavement and it was like black ice! I had to be hoisted back to my feet by a posh lawyer and his secretary, and then sat on a stone plinth for a while working out how the heck I was going to get home when my right leg was swelling up in spectacular fashion. Well I won’t get into the trials of getting home, but it turns out I’ve got a hamstring injury. The whole of the back of my thigh and around the back of my knee turned amazing shades of purple, and I spent the best part of two weeks able to do nothing but sit on the sofa with my leg propped up – thank heavens for laptops!
That left me a lot of thinking time, and I was still anchored to the sofa when the C-19 restrictions really bit here in England. What I consequently decided was that I would release a book I had waiting straightaway and for free. This is the prequel to my Guy of Gisborne books and features a young Brother Tuck’s exploits in the Holy Land. I had been about to put it out for a long pre-release, but then I thought of all the people whose jobs have suddenly become very precarious, and who might desperately want something to read, yet couldn’t justify spending much on books right now. (If you are one of those, my heart goes out to you, it’s a terrible position to be in.) So I have uploaded Heaven’s Kingdom to the various platforms. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t allow free – or at least until you convince them that people are getting the book from somewhere else because it’s free there. But on other platforms like Apple and Kobo there are no restrictions. For all of you, though, I have created a free link for you to download this book. It will take you to the site where you got your free books on signing up and you can just download which format your reader uses.
Follow the link HERE to get your free book!
So that’s all from me for now. I hope when I write again things will have improved, but for now, stay safe.
Newsletter 10th April 2020
Dark lords and what to do with them – or not!
I hope you are all staying safe and that those you care about are well too. I’ve recently looked at the data for those of you who signed up for these newsletters, and have realised that the majority of you have come this way via my fantasy books. So given that I’ve not talked a lot about fantasy in the newsletters this year, I thought I’d redress the balance.
I don’t think you can be a reader of fantasy and not be aware of the dark lord theme. From Tolkien onwards, fantasy stories have been populated with powerful forces for evil who our favourite heroes and heroines have to struggle to overcome. However, there are a lot of us fantasy writers out there nowadays, and when you start digging into plotting a fantasy series, one of the hardest things can be to come up with something original to pit your characters against. After all, nobody wants their readers to pick up their book, start reading, and then think, ‘oh no, not that again! Couldn’t he/she have come up with something better than that?’
So when I decided to sit down and start on another fantasy series, the first and most important question for me was, what are they fighting against? And with that then comes the next question of, how do they defeat it? Against an evil overlord with his army you can pitch your own heroes with their trusty allies, but again, how many times can you write that without it becoming stale? How many variations are there?
When I started writing what would become my Power & Empire series, I’d already decided that I would move away from one overlord to what in effect are a cabal or elite group. This made things far more interesting because it allowed for each of the members of my group – the Abend – to have their own agenda, and for them to not all to be pulling in the same direction as one another all of the time. So of my nine seriously ‘bad guys’, four of the male ones are war mages. These are the hawks, the ones whose solution to pretty much any problem is to pick up a weapon of some description. But there’s a fifth male, Anarwd, who isn’t a war mage. He’s the plotter, the schemer, and sometimes he’s so conniving he actually creates some of the knots he gets tied up in.
And then there are the four witches – Masanae, their leader, is an aesthete, cold and calculating. Magda, like Masanae is very old and can remember a time when their power went unchallenged, and was once every bit as strong power-wise as Masanae, but at the start of the story she’s more than a little unhinged, the cause of which becomes clear by the end of the series. Then there’s Helga, Masanae’s former acolyte who has risen to become one of the nine Abend, but where as Masanae is the scalpel, forensic and detached, Helga is the one who revels in torture. And the final member of the four at the start is Geitla, self-indulgent, more interested in what hedonistic pursuits her status brings her, but again, as the story progresses you begin to find out more of why she is this way.
For me, working with these nine very different characters was a lot more interesting than just having a Sauron-like figure, who you never meet and cannot know, aside from what his actions reveal. It allowed for chinks in their armour which could be exploited, and if right up to the very end it is not absolutely certain that they will be vanquished, this certainly gave my heroes and heroines things to discover about them along the way.
But I didn’t want to repeat this in another series. I’d already skated pretty close to that with the Menaced by Magic quartet, and although my thirteen warped high-priests and priestesses were different to the Abend, by the time I’d finished these books, I felt that I’d done about as much as I could with this variant on a dark lord.
Yet a fantasy needs something for its heroes to strive against, and it needs to be something that’s more than a little otherworldly, if not overtly magical. This is what I’ve been working on with regard to a new series, and I’ll tell you a bit more about that in the next letter. For now, though, I’ll leave you with another question. How do you wrap up a fantasy series without a big battle? At the end of Power & Empire, a goodly chunk of the final book, Unleashing the Power, is taken up with a truly huge conflict – and I must confess that at the time I’d always wanted to write one of those great big battle scenes! And I wrapped up The Rite to Rule (last in the Menaced by Magic series) with a conflict of sorts, though that’s more of a clash of different kinds of magic. But does there have to be a battle as long as there’s a truly satisfying ending? Do you as readers still want a big battle at the end? I’d genuinely like to know.
Newsletter 24th April
Shall we do battle?
Following on from the last newsletter, I thought I’d take you through some of the plotting and planning I’ve been doing with regard to a new fantasy series. One of those things that you really need to have sorted in your head before you start writing is ‘where’s it all going to end?’ Right from the opening scenes of what became Chasing Sorcery, I knew that there was going to be a huge battle between the would-be conquerors of the Islands, the DeÁine, and their armies of slaves, and the pulled together forces from different parts of the Islands, led by my heroes and heroines. And similarly, I knew from the start of Menaced by Magic, that although I wouldn’t be writing a set-piece battle, that the end would be a clash of forces of a kind.
However, this time around I’ve been pondering over having a natural event as the great insurmountable problem. If you read my earlier newsletter on our local flooding, you won’t be surprised to read that I had the idea of a deluge bringing something with it, and that that ‘something’ would affect how people behave and react. As a tool for disrupting all of the social norms in my fantasy world it’s great, because it affects every layer of that society. It allows the great leaders to fall, and people from the lower levels to rise to challenges they might otherwise never encounter.
But how to wrap it up? This has been a conundrum I’ve been wrestling with. To have something just dissipate isn’t much of a climax for any kind of story, and I can’t imagine it would thrill many epic fantasy fans – I have to say that’s not even a particularly exciting ending to contemplate writing! So at what point – and possibly more importantly, how – to write a satisfying ending? And that’s a pretty important decision to make, because if I play with the permutations of social disruption, it has the potential to easily run to four or five books. But after carrying readers with me for that long, they need a suitably rewarding finish. You can’t end a series of that length with a damp fizzle – you need an epic explosive end!
Alternatively, I could cut the span of the books, and have a conclusion where the new alliances have been made, where things are as good as they’re going to get for several years in my fantasy world, and have a clash of forces as the ending. That might have you thinking, ‘isn’t that a big battle, then?’ and to some extent you’d be right. But in this instance, there would be no defeat of the ‘big bad’ which had caused all of the trouble. This would be the resolution of how the people of this land would carry on and be able to survive the largely natural disaster (albeit with ‘magical’ side-effects) rather than a conquest of it. There could still be a battle between opposing forces of their own – but does that satisfy? Is that a good enough ending to a series?
I have my heroes and heroines all lined up, but the creative challenge is to give them something worthy of them to fight. And that – certainly at the moment – is still work in progress!
What you can get your hands on right now are the books in another of the joint author promotions. This time it’s called, ‘Paranormal Detectives and Haunted House Mysteries’ and if you follow the link HERE you will find plenty of other indies authors like me – who knows, you might find a new favourite character amongst them? The promotion runs from 16th April to 16th May, so there’s plenty of time to go and have a look.
See you next time,
Newsletter 8th May
Have I got it covered?
Well by the time this goes out, the decision will have been made as to whether here in the UK we’re going into another three weeks of lockdown. We should have been heading up into the wilds of Scotland around now, and not going there affects me in as much as those brief spells out in the wide open recharge my creative batteries. Standing on a heather-clad hillside, looking out at the sea, and with the wind buffeting me, has been the start of more than one bright idea! I know for many people the issues around lockdown are with not seeing family, but I’ve grown up in a family that was so small it was hardly there, and as the older generations have gone, I can count those left on one hand, and only one of them lives within forty miles of me. Therefore the other joy of going to Scotland is being able to visit another of those remaining family members and his wife, so along with everyone else, I’ll be glad when we can get back to something a bit closer to normality.
On the writing front, I’ve been busy taking advantage of the extra time at home, but there’s one thing which has cropped up which I wasn’t expecting. I’m not in the same league as the big names as yet (not even close), but I still try to advertise as much as my budget will allow with the intention of finding new readers. Now recently I’ve been advertising Spirits in the Oak, which has gone well, and also the first in the Menaced by Magic series, whose adverts have also done reasonably well. But when it came to Chasing Sorcery, the first in the big Power & Empire series, it’s been a very different story – those adverts have tanked badly. And the only conclusion I can come to is that the covers for that series just aren’t working. In the case of adverts on Amazon people just see the cover – there’s not much room to write anything – and even on Facebook, the cover has been to the fore of the image. So if potential readers aren’t clicking on those ads, then it’s because the covers aren’t attracting them, and that’s a problem.
[Please note, the images used in the original newsletter no longer apply and so aren’t shown]
Covers are mystical things – even the big publishers don’t always get it right, and who knows why sometimes one will just grab the public imagination? But the important thing is, when it does turn out that you’ve got it wrong, not to hang onto that cover just because you love it. If it’s got to go, it’s got to go, and you can’t be sentimental about it. (Though I do confess to groaning a bit over it!)
So below you’ll see the cover I’ve been using so far. Now me personally, I liked the tough-looking characters. I wanted a woman on the cover because within the big cast there are four really significant ladies who play key roles, and several others who are significant, including some within their enemies. But again, personally, I loathe those stereotype illustrations of women who flit around covers scantily clad, with impossibly small waists and huge bosoms – my characters aren’t like that, and I wouldn’t disrespect them like that. Because of that I thought a woman warrior was the way to go. Clearly I was wrong.
So now I’m going to ask you for your opinions. Do you find the figures look miserable, as one person has said? Do they put you off? Do you prefer to let your imagination do the work when it comes to characters? (Though I never made these specific to any characters in the book).
Another alternative is to fall back on the fantasy classic and insert a sword into the cover. It’s hardly original, but it does make it very much a ‘does what it says on the tin’ cover, since there are a lot of sword fights in these stories. Looking at other covers that are out there, I’ve also taken this to more of a single colour in line with some other designs I’ve seen. Does this second cover work for you?
And then the third choice is this one, which just gives you the scene and lets the title do the heavy lifting in terms of making it explicit that this is a fantasy book. Would this tempt you more to try it?
Someone has suggested just a sigil/symbol/emblem, but these are incredibly hard to find done well, and I’m afraid are far beyond my own artistic abilities to create. I also think that they do very well for the big name authors – let’s face it, someone like George R R Martin sells whatever’s on the cover – but for a less known author like me, you do need to be both more eye-catching and more explicit. So for those reasons, I’m not heading down that route.
However, I would genuinely love to hear what you think. Do you actually like the first cover with the figures on? Or do you prefer one of the other two? You can email me at email@example.com or come and chat with me on Facebook. After all, you are the important people without whom my books would never see the light of day, so your opinions matter. And because I know that traditional publishers alter their covers by regions, it would be very helpful if you could tell me roughly where you are from – just USA or Europe or South America is enough – simply because I’m genuinely interested to know whether different images work for different audiences.
And finally, just a quick reminder that there’s still time to have a browse through the books on offer in the promotion I’m in (my offering is Time’s Bloodied Gold, but there are 14 other books in it). It’s called, ‘Paranormal Detectives and Haunted House Mysteries’ and if you follow the link HERE you will find plenty of other indies authors like me – who knows, you might find a new favourite character amongst them? The promotion runs from 16th April to 16th May, so there’s still time to go and have a look.
Newsletter 10th June
What’s in a name?
I hope you are all keeping well, and that you are surviving lock-down in whatever form it’s taking where you are. Between that, family birthdays and national holidays, I’ve been a bit distracted during May, so apologies for not having sent another newsletter sooner.
So this time around I thought I’d talk a bit about characters and names. Whatever you write, naming characters – especially the lead ones – is incredibly important. Now obviously, the name has to fit with the character’s personality, but there are also other considerations to take into account. One of the most important ones has to do with history. If you have any sort of historical element to your story, then the names of the characters have to fit in with that era, and sometimes it’s quite surprising how old or recent names can be. For instance, I suspect a lot of people would regard Jordan as a pretty modern name. Yet there are contemporary records which show that it was known and used (if not exactly common) back in the twelfth century at the time of the crusades.
A different example is one I came across when digging into my own family tree. An ancestress of mine had a second husband called Frederick, and I expected to have a terrible time combing the Victorian records because I presumed that there would be hundreds of Fredericks in the city I was looking at. Yet this Frederick, who was born in 1868, turned out to be one of only a handful of men with that name in the bustling and already industrial city of Birmingham (the UK second city, not the one in Alabama!). Like George, it’s a Germanic name, and given that in the previous century there had been a Prince Frederick, son of King George, you would have expected it to be as popular, but the censuses show that it wasn’t.
So when I’m working on my individual magical suspense stories, I’m very aware that if I have a character from the past appearing, it’s vital to check back and make sure that the name I’m thinking of would actually have been used. If you want to have a character travelling back in time, then it’s even more important to check that the name you want to give him or her wouldn’t have been one that would cause comment. Moll, for instance, in certain times and cultures was synonymous with a prostitute, so you wouldn’t want the modern heroine who goes back and falls for a lord to be called Molly or there could be some terrible misunderstandings! And you may think that it wouldn’t matter, but there will always be some reader out there who is clued up about random things like that, and who will pull you up over it. So it’s better to avoid the adverse review by checking first. On the other hand, having a modern woman called Prudence could be very useful if she’s heading back into the Victorian era, especially if you slip in that her parents were a fan of the song, which accounts for her name in the here and now.
It’s also important to pick a name that fits with the culture you are writing about. We currently live in an era where exotic combinations or contractions of names are accepted as normal, and yet even within that, there are countries where naming is much more conventional, or at least the spelling is. And when it comes to fantasy novels there does come a point when you have to be kind to your readers. Lots of hyphens and apostrophes might look great, but from the reader’s point of view, it can get awfully hard to remember who is who when you have multiple names all dealt with in the same manner, because you just don’t remember them as well as a straightforward name. I remember well reading the later books in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and having a terrible time trying to keep track of the various additional characters he kept bringing in – so I know what it’s like from a reader’s point of view!
Something I also learned from reading that series was that you don’t need to give your readers the extended biography of every character who flits in and is only going to be in that part of the series. If you think about it, I’m sure all of you know people who you encounter in your daily life who you only know as ‘Fred from Accounting’, ‘Sally who I meet on the train in the mornings’, or ‘Bob the mechanic’. And we accept that, don’t we? We don’t feel compelled to question them about their lives so that we know where they were born, went to school, or what jobs they did before the one we know them in. So I try to keep that in mind with my peripheral characters too. If it feels natural that my sword-wielding hero would only know the sentry on duty as ‘Walter’, then why would I overload my readers with anything more? In that context, ‘Walter’ doesn’t even need a second name, because his function in that scene might only be to explain why our hero can march into a citadel unchallenged. (I hasten to add that ‘Walter doesn’t appear in any of my books, but is just an example!)
So I will try to do better and be more regular again with these newsletters, but for now, happy reading!
Newsletter 24th June
I hope in these strange times you continue to stay safe and well. The glorious weather in the UK has broken, and we’re back to normal British summer weather – in other words, it’s raining again! But at least that means it doesn’t feel quite so bad not being able to go very far.
On a personal front it’s been a significant few days. For many a long year we’ve had rescued long-dogs – that means pretty much anything crossed with a greyhound, or breeds like salukis – and in January 2019 we lost a much loved old dog. That was a wrench, but what we weren’t expecting was for our scruffy lurcher, Belle, who is approximately a greyhound-Bedlington terrier cross, to miss him for quite as long as she has. So much so that we felt we needed to bring another third dog into the family. Our other resident is an adorable nutcase of a mixture, all legs and a stunning ginger colour, but very people focused. He would be quite happy as an only dog, but that meant he wasn’t much company for Belle.
So I’d been keeping an eye on the various rescues, and had been appalled at how the racing industry had seemingly taken the closure of so many tracks as an excuse to dump dogs. I won’t go on about this, but you don’t have to dig very deep to find that some pretty terrible things happen to greyhounds when they cease to bring in the money – some even being sold on and ending up in the Chinese meat markets there’s been so much in the news about. It’s pretty grim stuff, and so I’m sure you can understand that we were motivated to adopt.
And so last Thursday, Matty came to live with us. He’s an ex-racing greyhound who is about seven years old, and we are something like his sixth home. So the poor lad is still settling in, but already he’s worked out where the kitchen is for food, and looks like being a real fuss-monster – which is great! I’ll share photos of him with you when he’s settled and not going to get worried by having cameras and phones pointed at him.
But knowing these lovely long dogs as I do, it’s inevitable that they creep into my stories, and my latest release is one of those. In Don’t Delve Too Deep my heroine, Stella, has a white lurcher called Ivan, who is something of a blend of Belle and a previous resident, Raffles, who was a stunning deerhound cross. Ivan is very much the third investigator as Stella and her new ally, Bob, try to find out what has happened to the men who went out on what should have been a simple army exercise. Needless to say, that turns out to be far from as routine as it should have been, and there are some twists and turns along the way! I hope you enjoy it, and will consider reading it even if your tastes run more towards the traditional epic fantasy, because there is a magical element in it, as there is in all of my stand-alone books.
And of course I couldn’t finish a post about my dogs without adding a brief reference to the Guy of Gisborne historical novels. Guy’s love of dogs comes from the heart with me, and the various 12th century hunting dogs he has are taken from personal experience. And one of the fun facts I picked up along the way in researching those books was about dog bread. This was coarse stuff which was used very much the way we use kibble nowadays – it bulked out the meat, which was not on the menu every day for the vast majority of people, not even if you lived and worked in a castle. It’s those little snippets which I love handing on to you all!
So thank you for sticking with me – it means a lot to me to have you reading these newsletters – and until next time, happy reading!
Newsletter 17th July
Judging the past by the present
I hope you are all keeping safe in this strange new world we find ourselves in. This post has been prompted by the Black Lives Matter campaign, and I want to say straight away that I’m fully with that. There’s no excuse in the modern world for things like stop and search (here in the UK) to be so focused on one sector of society just because of their skin colour. Blind prejudice in any form is abhorrent, and should have no place in any twenty-first century society.
However, thinking about that brought back to mind something from my days at university looking at medieval literature, and I thought I’d share that with you today. Some of you may have heard of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, and even if you haven’t, it’s the main text which all of our modern legends of King Arthur owe a lot to. Up until that point, most references to King Arthur are only in passing or in small snippets, and it took Malory – who was writing at the end of the Wars of the Roses – to bring them all together. In his case, he was making a lot of points about what it meant to be a good knight, in no small measure because there had been an awful lot of un-knightly behaviour during those various conflict.
And here we come to Palomides (sometimes spelled Palamedes – spelling wasn’t that regular back then!), one of the knights who tends to get less modern attention than ones like Gawain or Percival. You could actually miss the reference if you weren’t looking for it, but Palomides is actually black. Yet the reason why it’s not made much of in the text is because that wasn’t considered a defining feature in Malory’s era (c.1485). Far more important was whether or not Palomides behaved as a good Christian – his skin colour never comes into it. Now like the other knights in Malory, Palomides has his challenges, but again, these focus on his capacity to act within the parameters of what a medieval Christian knight should be, and amongst them the one thing which doesn’t affect whether or not he should hold the rank of a knight is his skin colour. He probably comes from the north African coast but it’s so inconsequential that the reader never gets told that about him any more than any other knight – it’s almost a case of ‘he’s a knight, enough said’.
That doesn’t mean that the medieval era didn’t have its prejudices – it most certainly did – but most of them focused on faith in one form or another rather than where someone came from, or what their skin colour was. And this is where I find it bizarre that, for instance, a statute of the Scottish king Robert the Bruce was daubed with graffiti proclaiming he was a racists. Given that the Bruce lived in the early fourteenth century and over a century earlier than Mallory, the thought process which would have had him distinguishing people by skin colour would have been so alien as to never have been part of his consciousness. Of course there’s also the argument that he would hardly have met many people from southern countries, but archaeology has shown that remains of people from the far end of the Mediterranean and North Africa (as defined by the isotopes found in their teeth) prove that they travelled to Britain back then, and not necessarily as slaves but as merchants. The remains of a North African, possibly from the Tunisia area (if I remember correctly) was found in Ipswich, a then bustling early medieval port, and this man was of above average height and build, and had been well-nourished throughout his life – not the image most of us would have of a slave.
So I think it’s important to remember that the past is like another country, and that they did things differently there. But more importantly, that they thought very differently, and the further back you go, the greater the shift from modern thinking you get.
As for slavery, well that’s a very contentious subject, isn’t it? Only last night I was watching on our regional news program a report that said that police estimated that possibly a thousand people within the region are currently subject to modern slavery, and that truly is appalling. A Polish gang has just been imprisoned for enslaving people, in this case primarily people from former Eastern Bloc countries, and not just sex workers, but workers sent out to farms via reputable agencies (who were then horrified to find out what they’d become embroiled in). In another recent revelation, it turned out that nail bars in Midland cities had a high proportion of workers who were modern slaves from southern Asia. So it behoves us all to keep an open mind on the subject with regard to modern victims.
Also, as a writer, these issues pose certain challenges. I don’t want to shy away from them, but on the other hand I don’t want to seem like I’m prejudiced against a particular group either. So for instance, in Time’s Bloodied Gold, I had an Eastern European trafficking gang working out of Walsall – a city on the edge of the huge Midland conurbation surrounding Birmingham. But I felt I had to put a note in at the end to explain that the ethnicity of the gang and the location came from actual government figures, not from any biases of my own! In my fantasy books, I try my best to include characters of all kinds, and to include all variations as normal parts of that world and which don’t need commenting upon. So you’ll find very little description of things like skin colour in my Power & Empire series, for instance, not because there aren’t people of colour in it, but because I wanted them to be such a normal part of that world and its societies that they didn’t need to be singled out on that basis.
So that’s it for now – sorry if it’s been a bit of a weighty subject this time around, but as a writer I spend a lot of time contemplating such things. Until next time,
Newsletter 8th August 2020
Art mimicking life
Welcome to the newsletter, and today I want to share with you some thoughts on writing in the current climate.
You would have to be a hermit not to be aware of how Covid-19 has impacted on so many aspects of life, but in the months since lock-down began there have been some interesting discussions between writers in online forums. By far the toughest question we’ve been asking ourselves is: how far do we go in reflecting the current situation in our stories?
For instance, for those writers who produce novels classified as ‘contemporary’, the obvious thing is to wonder whether they should now be talking about characters walking around wearing face masks? Will this become very dated and datable in the near future is a reasonable concern, and a comparison might be the banking crash of 2008. At the time it had a global effect and dominated a lot of people’s lives, but books which refer to that in the present tense are now inexorably linked to 2008 or 2009, and that’s not necessarily something you want in a work of fiction that you’re going to hopefully sell copies of for a few years. However, as the months tick on, and we’re still coping with this monster, it’s also reasonable to wonder whether it’s going to be a very long time before we get back to anything like the old ‘normal’. And if that’s the case, are books which don’t make some reference to the pandemic going to sound odd if two years down the line we’re all still wearing masks, or having to go for annual vaccinations?
Another consideration is about what people are actually buying at the moment. Although there have been a few notable exceptions, a large proportion of authors who write post-apocalyptic thrillers, or thrillers where pandemics are part of the plot, have found sales of those books plummeting. Apparently we as humans quite enjoy scaring ourselves reading about such things when life is stable and calm, but find such storylines too chilling at the moment. Art, it seems, in those cases is imitating life just a bit too closely for comfort. Instead, the genres which have done well in the last few months have been the more uplifting stories, or ones which take our readers to worlds or times far away.
And that brings me to one of my projects which I’d been working on. Back in April I was telling you about a fantasy work-in-progress where I have been experimenting with having a natural freak storm which overtakes a land, and I’d got as far as getting a first book down as a draft copy. But now I’m looking at that at thinking, good grief, this storyline is pretty much about a contagion! How many people are really going to want to read that at the moment? You see I’ve been dipping in and out of this project for a good eighteen months now, so it didn’t really hit me what I’d been writing about until I started reading what other authors were doing. But then when I found myself doing some plotting, and thinking ‘actually, by now they would be fast off the mark getting masks to wear when travelling away from home,’ it really hit me that this was a bit close to reality.
So the consequence of that is that, like all of those other authors, I’ve had a rapid rethink over this project. For the time being it’s going on hold. That’s a shame, because I’ve got characters who I love in it; but it takes a lot of hard work to bring a book to the stage where I let it out into the big wide world on its own, and there’s no point in putting all that effort into it if there’s a strong chance that nobody will want to read a story like that. If in a handful of years things have changed, then I may return to it, and I’m certainly not doing anything as drastic as deleting it. But the one book doesn’t wrap thing up enough (nor is wrap-up-able) to put it out as a stand-alone, and working on two or three more full books with no good outcome in sight isn’t viable.
Therefore it’s back to the drawing board for the fantasy books – although I do have ideas – which makes it a good thing that at least the stand-alone books are able to be ongoing works-in-progress. And speaking of stand-alones, for the moment Spirits in the Oak is remaining exclusive to Amazon. This was a tough decision because I had intended to launch it on Kobo in August, but right now it’s earning too much in page reads through the KU lending scheme to pull it out. Sadly that means it has to stay exclusive to Amazon because there’s no lending without that, and that’s their policies, not my choice. All the fantasy books, plus the Bill Scathlock books and The Rune House and The Room Within the Wall remain available on all formats, so I hope you forgive me this tough economic choice. I’ll update you if things change, but for now,
Newsletter 18th Sept 20
A Tribute to Terry
As I write this, the incredibly sad news has just come in that author Terry Goodkind has died at the age of only 72. If you aren’t a big fantasy reader, you may not be aware of him, but to those of us who love epic fantasy, he was one of the giants in the field. For me personally he was a massive influence, and so I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge just how influential he was.
I discovered Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series a very long time ago, when only the first couple of books were out, and at that point in time he was one of a handful of fantasy authors promising to write truly epic series – not just in terms of the content, but in scale too. One of the others was Robert Jordan and another George R. R. Martin, and at the time they all looked to be neck and neck in the favourites stakes. However, what (for me) put Terry ahead of the others from about the third books onwards was that at the end of each book you got some kind of completion. It’s one thing to keep your readers on tenterhooks with a trilogy, but if you are promising a ten or twelve book series, I think you have to be a bit kinder to your readers, and Terry was.
As these giant series progressed, Terry became ever more the writer I wished I could be. In terms of the actual writing, I loved the fact that his characters acted their ages. Richard started off as a young man, not a teenager, and carried on behaving like an adult and maturing as the series progressed. In contrast, Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time series started off brilliantly for me with his cast of teenage heroes, but where it all started to slip a bit was when his heroes and heroines started making decisions that no young person would. That’s not to denigrate young people at all! I simply mean that whatever the world you create as a writer, if you then say that this person or that one is very young in that world, there can only be so much time in which they can have gained life experiences. So it then sounds odd if they start drawing on knowledge of life in that world that they couldn’t possibly have gained as yet. What was more, while Robert Jordan carried on adding in ever more characters, Terry Goodkind always kept his casts manageable for his readers. Yes, you get some beautifully drawn minor characters coming in and out of the stories, but you don’t feel you have to remember every single one of them because he hasn’t signalled just how important they might become.
What was more, Terry kept up a steady production of the books – unlike George R. R. Martin! Having started the series, you could safely bet on another book coming out. Granted, not necessarily one a year – but you knew that he was working on stuff. And so while Robert Jordan kept on expanding his world, even when he knew he didn’t have long to live, and so leaving his fans in limbo until Brandon Sanderson stepped in to finish the series; and George R. R. Martin vanished off down the TV rabbit-hole with his book series still unfinished even now; Terry Goodkind remained the professional writer. He also kept up an interaction with his fans, and as the technology progressed to make it possible, began running special offers of signed editions and other goodies, never losing sight of the people who had put him in the position of being a best seller.
And let’s not forget that these were damned good stories that he put out! I recently came back to do another reread of the series, and it struck me all over again just how wonderfully he picks you up and takes you with him through his world. The evil, when you come to it, is all the more chilling because you get the motivation behind it. Not for him the almost anonymous dark lord, who you only ever encounter in his impact on others. For instance, Darken Rahl is all too comprehensible, if not someone you would ever empathise with, and that makes him much more of a presence within the books. Terry Goodkind could write the very best of bad guys as well as heroes and heroines.
So today I’m feeling very sad as a reader and fan that one of my all time favourite authors will not be with us anymore. Thank heavens he left us with such a wonderful and expansive legacy to keep revisiting. Therefore I’m off to go and take a dip into the amazing world of the Sword of Truth and remind myself all over again of why I want to write fantasy.
Until next time, happy reading,
Newsletter Fri 23rd Oct
A piece of inspiration
In spite of all the trials of C-19 this year, we finally managed to get a holiday up in my beloved Scotland in the last week of September and first of October. It was wonderful to revisit some of the rugged scenery of the west coast this time around, and getting all of those feelings back which inspired me to write certain scenes made me think of sharing some of them with you. So this time around, rather than talking about what’s going on and about writing, I’m going to share some photos of the holiday with you, and the excerpt from Chasing Sorcery which these scenes inspired. This is definitely fantasy, but my locations are always inspired by wonderful places I’ve seen in the real world, even if the characters encounter the magical.
This scene comes after the initial introductions of the various lead characters in the book, and is the point when Ruari Macbeth sets out with young monk Andra to both try and warn others of the plots building against them, but also to try and save the boy Andra was tutor to. The boy is both the heir to the island they are on, and also Ruari’s half-nephew, and time is against them. When you join them here, they’ve already foiled one attempt to stop both their rescue mission and to warn Abbot Jaenberht, who is the remaining religious leader whom they know to be incorruptible.
…So here we go!
The next day for the first time they were truly in the mountains. As the day wore on, the slopes of green turf and purple heather changed to rising walls of scree, which hemmed them in closer and closer. The clouds descended, wrapping them in a solitary, misty world where Andra lost all sense of direction. By midday they were leading the horses up a narrow and precarious track, with a high cliff wall on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Ruari led his own horse with the spare horse on a long-rein behind it, with Andra and then his horse bringing up the rear. In the mist Andra could only hope Ruari was still leading, since he could see nothing but the rump of the horse in front. Once or twice the horses dislodged rocks which bounced off the stone to crash down to the valley floor far below, making Andra feel faint at the thought of going the same way.
Weather closing in over the Black Cullin on the Isle of Skye, you can see the wet scree on the right shining in the shaft of sunlight (no, it’s not snow!)
He was greatly relieved when the path began to widen and the drop changed to the valley of a stream rising to meet them. However, his relief was short lived. Underfoot they now had to contend with being on the loose scree, on which they slithered dangerously. When they were almost at the top of the slope Andra lost his footing. The horse leapt past him and stood shaking on a patch of solid rock, but Andra could not stop his downward slide. Arms waving frantically, he scrabbled and tottered, scree bouncing down the mountain in his wake, as he picked up speed in his descent.
“Lie down!” Ruari bellowed at him. “Spread your arms and legs out!”
Andra flung himself face down and this halted his slide, although not immediately, leaving him many feet below Ruari and the horses, where he lay shaking with fear. Out of the eye that was not against the ground, he could see the valley floor suddenly taking a sharp downwards drop out of sight only a short way below him. Beyond the edge all he could see was sky. All he could think was that sooner or later he was going over that edge.
From the top of the road from Applecross on the mainland across from Skye – we couldn’t stop just at the moment you crest the brow, but the view is breathtaking!
He was so panic-stricken at the thought of bouncing off the rocks all the way back down the mountain, that at first he did not realize that he could hear Ruari’s voice calling to him.
“Lie still, brother. Let the surface settle again. Don’t panic, it’s not as bad as it seems.”
Hobbling the animals, Ruari dumped his sodden coat beside them and began to edge his way down to Andra in a crab-like movement, starting far off to one side and creeping closer. Suddenly a strong hand grasped Andra’s wrist making him gasp with relief, until Ruari’s movement caused another slight slippage.
“It’s no good,” Andra whispered. “Go. I’ll only drag you down with me.”
“Don’t talk daft,” Ruari replied brusquely, “we’re both getting out of here. Now just do as I tell you!”
With Ruari holding his arm tightly, they edged slowly to the edge of the scree to where there were hand holds on the adjoining rocks. Panting with the effort they hauled themselves back up to the stone shelf were the horses stood waiting patiently. Collapsing to sit on the stone, Andra was too shaken to move for some time. He felt physically sick and lightheaded. From their seat all he could see was sky and rocks, and they were swimming before his eyes every time he moved his head. Ruari came to sit by him but then, seeing how badly he was shivering, went and rummaged in his saddle bag, producing a small leather flask. He came and sat down beside Andra, dropping a reassuring arm across the monk’s thin shoulders. With his teeth he pulled the stopper from the flask and then proffered it to Andra, who took a swig and then spluttered furiously. The fiery liquid felt as though it had burned its way straight down to his stomach, rendering him speechless. Ruari grinned and made him swallow another sip.
“What is that?” Andra finally croaked.
“Up in Celidon and Ergardia they call it ‘the water of life’,” Ruari told him. “Its other name is uisge.”
“Holy Spirits, where do they get it from? Dragons?”
“No,” Ruari laughed, “they brew up barley and then they either leave it out in the winter so the water freezes and they can pour off the spirit, or they heat it up again in a copper pot with a long chimney on the top. Apparently the uisge comes off first before the water boils. I’ve been trying to replenish this flask for years, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I went to Allerdale priory’s herbalist for some salve, and found he had a bottle he didn’t know what to do with. Good stuff isn’t it!”
Andra could not think of a suitable reply, but Ruari was pleased to see the spirit had brought some colour back into his face.
“Come on,” Ruari said, after a few more minutes, “we’re almost at the top.”
“Oh Spirits,” Andra sobbed, “have we got to go back down more of this?”
“No,” Ruari chuckled, giving him an encouraging pat on the shoulder. He had forgotten that the little monk had probably never travelled in mountain territory before, and would not know even the basics of mountain geography. “This is the escarpment side of the mountain. The sharp bit. The other side is easier going. It’s still steep but it’s not so sheer, and there’s no scree.”
The escarpment on the Applecross road.
Getting unsteadily to his feet, Andra let Ruari lead him by the arm up the short stretch to the top of the ridge, while leading all three horses with the other. As they crested the summit the view took Andra’s breath away. The clouds lifted, and for a moment he was treated to the sight of ever climbing dramatic peaks rising off to their left, as the mountains marched on northwards. An arm of the mountain they were on obscured the view to their right, but ahead, the valley swept down to rolling hills, and in the distance he could see the town of Lund snuggled behind its walls, and the stately monastery sitting on a knoll above it with its back to the mighty range. To someone who had never travelled off a road before it was like being on top of the world.
Top of the world – in western Scotland at least!
Ruari had great difficulty persuading Andra to move, for he was entranced by the marvellous changes in the landscape. As the clouds rolled over it, and sudden patches of sunlight appeared and then were gone into the mist again, the colours were constantly changing. Features which stood out one minute were hidden by shadows the next, while others that he had not seen before emerged into view. To Andra it was little short of miraculous, and he had a hard time concentrating on where he was putting his feet. Only fear of slipping again kept dragging his eyes back to the path, which, as Ruari had promised, became rapidly easier.
So that gives you a taster from chapter 17. Ruari remains one of the main heroes throughout the five book series, and Andra will go on to discover strengths he never knew he had, and to be key to some of the other characters being able to do what they need to do in order to save the people of the Islands. I hope you’ve enjoyed this snippet and the photos, so until next time,
I hope you are all staying safe as the second wave of Corona virus hits us all in various parts of the world. I think we must all be keeping our fingers crossed by now that a vaccine will come along soon, and allow our lives to return to something more like normal. Here in the UK we’re into a second lock-down which is supposed to last a month, but at least that gives me more writing time again! This very dark cloud has a definite silver lining in that respect.
So the first piece of news is that a new standalone will be coming later this month, and you get to see the cover first! Here it is…!
I had a real game with this one, trying to decide whether I used an image of a house like the one in the story, or just the letters, or include a face/figure. An awful lot of options ended up being discounted, with this one being the one which finally stood out. The basic outline of the story is that Cleo, my heroine, is a family history researcher who is persuaded to do a favour for a friend to dig into the past of a family who owned a house that’s about to be sold. Along the way she finds hidden caches of letters which reveal that things are far from as they seem, and she also finds romance – though that’s not the overriding theme of the book. The story also goes to historical locations in Italy and the Adriatic, so a touch more exotic than my previous stand-alone books to date! If you’re familiar with Spirits in the Oak, Don’t Delve Too Deep, and The Room Within the Wall, you’ll know how things work in these books!
Once again I’m afraid that it’s going to have to be exclusive to Amazon – financially that’s providing such a huge percentage of my book earnings that it’s not an option. However, I’m also hoping to release the third Bill Scathlock book just after Christmas, and that is definitely going to stay out on all platforms. I’m trying very hard to keep a balancing act going here of providing my books to as many buying options as I can, and yet also keeping the income coming in. So you’ll be able to pre-order House of Lost Secrets from Monday 16th November, and it will be released on Monday 30th November.
In the meantime, stay safe and well, and happy reading,
I’m with Neil Gaiman on this!
Hello, and welcome to what will probably be the last newsletter of 2020. I don’t want to bombard people during the festive season – we all have so much to do then without random emails!
However, to start with I have two pieces of news. Firstly, House of Lost Secrets is now available on Amazon. For the USA click HERE, for the UK click HERE, and for all other territories you should find this book now listed on your appropriate Amazon pages. I talked about this book in the last newsletter, so I’m not going to bore you by repeating stuff, but I really hope you like this story.
The second piece of news is that as of today, Don’t Delve Too Deep is available in all marketplaces (or in the case of Kobo, to pre-order), not just Amazon! With House of Lost Secrets going onto Kindle Unlimited for borrowing, it was an easy decision to take Don’t Delve Too Deep out of the exclusive constraints. THIS LINK is universal and will allow you to select Apple, Barnes & Noble, and others, as well as lending services like Scribd (no, I haven’t spelled that wrongly, that’s their name). I don’t like having all of my eggs in the Amazon basket, and quite understand readers wanting to support other stores – e-stores or bricks and mortar – so I try and keep as many options open as I can.
Now, on to Neil Gaiman…!
I came upon these quotes from the man himself and thought, “With you all the way on that.” What he said, albeit taking about fairytales, was,
“You don’t need princes to save you. I don’t have a lot of patience for stories in which women are rescued by men.” But also, “I like stories where women save themselves.”
And I think whichever of my books you’ve read which brought you to sign up for these newsletters, you’ll agree that my heroines determine their own fates. It doesn’t mean that they are anti-men, or never going to get romantically involved, but it does mean that they don’t linger around passively waiting to be rescued from whatever predicament I’ve got them into. And I do like to get my characters into predicaments – so much more fun! Nor does it mean that I won’t have a heroine actually being rescued, but rather it’s the lingering around doing nothing to help themselves that’s the trope I dislike. To me it’s a wholly different thing for a heroine to try to achieve something and then realise that she’s going to need help and ask for it – that’s her taking the decisions in a proactive way, not being passive.
But for me there’s another factor involved in why I don’t like the archetypal princess, and it’s to do with the social strata that princesses come from. You don’t get many princesses for your pound/dollar, whatever society you live in. They can be royal by birth or not, but what they are inevitably are some sort of social elite, above and beyond the vast majority of the people around them. And whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, as a result they have power over those people. A petulant ‘princess’ has the power to get a mere servant dismissed on a whim, no matter what her age, and so any sort of restraint or even imprisonment must, by default of her place in your story’s society, come from someone of equal or greater status than herself, and they tend to be a family member (husband/ father/ uncle/ brother). Just one or two adversaries, not tier upon tier of other hierarchies thrown into the mix as well. Princesses have options right from the start that other female characters don’t. For instance, a princess could weigh up the options between accepting a political marriage, even if it’s to someone she loathes, if it will get her to a different location which it would be easier to escape from. For an average woman, a forced marriage might only take her into the next street, not far enough away to make a difference, and certainly not into the orbit of servants not already conditioned to ignore her pleas.
Therefore what a ‘princess’ never has to deal with are the problems that the vast majority of normal women (and men!) have to handle, which could well be that dominant person close to home, plus the need to maybe earn enough to be able to eat, or to look after other family members, or even to try and rise in a job or career while fighting the limits of their social standing and their adversary. And please don’t think I’m on a feminist rant here – I’m not! This is purely about how writers like me construct believable characters. But more than that, the girl/woman/person raised away from normal life struggles is not going to be equipped to adapt to them. So their ‘Prince Charming’ might come and whisk them away, but woe betide him if he doesn’t provide feather beds in the wilderness along the way!
If you want to see what I think of princesses, pick up a free copy of Menaced by Magic, and take a look at Lyris. While she’s within the court at Al-dushara she’s an asset to her father, but the moment the social norms are disrupted, the dangers start rising, and they have to leave, she is incapable of adapting. One of the female captains I have going on the run with Lyris, Mark and Rufus is Teryl, and she is someone who has had a much more traumatic early life than Lyris, but having had to learn how to adapt when young, she carries on adjusting to the escalating situations they all find themselves in. So do I like princesses? No, I do not!
So I’ll wish you a happy festive season, for whatever celebrations you make, and the very best wishes for a safe, happy and prosperous new year, and I’ll see you on the other side!