Old Mr. Grimsby, a lonely widower with little to do now he's retired, makes a hobby of listening to stories and writing them down.
He asks the people around him for their stories, and they tell him strange tales and funny tales, of dancing shillings, of clever women who fall in love with handsome fools, of a boy who learned to speak the language of birds…
Mr. Grimsby writes them all down.
Sergeant Lamb, an old soldier who fought at Waterloo, tells him of a soldier who found a quiet lane leading from the midst of a battle’s din, and followed it to Heaven and God’s chair…
A dying woman tells him of a murdered girl whose hair was used to string a fiddle, and how that fiddle cried out for justice under the touch of the bow…
Then, as he walks home late one night, Mr. Grimsby falls in with a large black dog, which speaks to him, and tells him a story to pass the time as it leads him out of this world and into the next…
In one of Heaven's many mansions, Mr. Grimsby meets the Virgin Mary, who pours the tea and tells a story about a rich man and a poor beggar. “Our Jesus told me that one,” she says, before demanding a story from Mr. Grimsby in return.
He tells a tale he fondly remembers his wife telling their children. And when he's done, there is his wife, come to find him, and ready to tell another of her stories.
Everybody has a story.
A collection of folk-tales, retold by the acclaimed writer, Susan Price. Here are old stories, wise, funny and sad, of life, death and rebirth; of loss and love.
For all lovers of the folk tradition.
That's the blurb I came up with for my latest e-book, 'The Story Collector' (with cover, as usual, illustrated by Andrew Price.)
I have to confess, rather guiltily, that as a conventionally published author, I gave little thought to the blurbs which had the job of selling my book. Often, I disliked them, considering that they gave away too much of the plot, or came on too brash, with too hard a sell.
I've been reconsidering my position on that. Like anybody else with something to sell, writers have to do something to make their book stand out, or appeal to buyers. Why, after all, should anyone even take the time to look at my book, rather than another, let alone buy it? I have to make an effort to engage them, to tell them something about it that might gain their interest. So I've been brushing up my blurbs.
When writing a blurb for a book, I've learned, you have to give your prospective buyer an idea of who the main characters are, and what the big problem they face is. What's the setting, and what are the characters' main goals?
What's the central core of the book? What is its emotional driving force? - revenge, love, seeking a new home?
You need to give a sense of the dangers or uncertainties facing the characters, to give your prospective buyer a sense of the excitement, supernatural chills or suspense they might experience as they read.
It's as much a skill as writing the book - and quite hard to do for a collection of re-told folk-stories. The Story Collector has the 'frame' story of old Mr. Grimsby, collecting stories from the people of his neighbourhood, but these characters are all very lightly sketched in, so as not to detract from the stories that each of them tells.
The task of identifying the central core of a story was easier with other of my books. Take 'Ghost Drum', for instance:
The Ghost Drum: Book 1 of The Ghost World Sequence
Winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal
In the freezing, endless darkness of a northern Midwinter, a shaman knocks at the door of a tiny wooden house where a slave-woman has given birth to a baby girl. When the shaman leaves, in her magical house that walks on chicken legs, she carries the baby with her.
The Czar of this frozen land, terrified that his new-born baby son will one day take his throne, imprisons the child, for ever, in a tiny room at the top of the royal palace’s highest tower.
Chingis, the slave’s daughter, is raised and trained by the shaman who took her, and learns the ways to and from the Land of the Dead. In her dreams she hears the crying of Prince Safa, lonely and half-mad in his imprisonment.
She frees him – but in doing so, challenges powerful enemies.
The Imperial Princess Margaretta moves to ensure that no rivals are left to the throne she has seized.
The bear-shaman, Kuzma, the harvester of the ice-apples, is jealous of the new young witch and lends his powers to Margaretta.
Against a setting of Artic cold, darkness, starlight and the brilliant jewel colours of folk-art, this is a fantastical, cruel fairy-tale of shamans, shape-shifters, battles of magic, peasants and kings.
Chingis, the slave’s daughter, and Safa, the princeling, both long for the freedom to live in their own way, but can they survive the malice of their vicious enemies?
Can Chingis’ shaman training help her to save Safa from execution for treason? Can her fierce will to survive enable her to find her way back from Iron Wood in the Land of the Dead?
It may be far from perfect, but I think it does do a better job of drawing in potential readers than the much shorter, simpler blurb I first published with the book.
Here is the blurb I first wrote for my book, Christopher Uptake:
‘Merry England’, during the reign of Good Queen Bess, was a police state. It was a crime to miss attendance at the state church on Sunday, and a crime to hear a Catholic mass. It was a crime to be ‘a free thinker’.Here's the rewrite:-
Christopher Uptake, a young playwright, is an atheist. Living and writing in the crowded city, he thinks it has escaped notice that he never attends church – until the red-haired man appears at his door and gives him a choice: spy on your friends or be tortured and executed.
From then on, Chris plays a desperate game, trying to spare his friends yet save his own life…
Christopher Uptake: The Life and Times of a Godless Play-Maker
"Chris, you're guilty! You're an atheist!"
In the 16th Century, your faith, or lack of it, could get you killed…
Christopher Uptake, an outspoken free-thinker, is easy prey. The penalty for atheism, in Elizabethan England, is death.
A scholarship boy, Chris is sent from home to undergo a grim, rigid schooling. He hopes University will be better, but the rules are as strict and the teaching as dull.
Chris escapes to the noise and life of the streets, and to the colour of the theatre he loves. His talent attracts the patronage of wealthy Edmund Brentwood.
But Brentwood, a Catholic, is involved in dangerous Tudor politics.
Enter a ruthless spy-master, who hunts down and destroys Catholics, and who threatens Chris with arrest, torture and execution as a heretic, unless he spies on his friend.
Chris tries to warn Brentwood, but learns that his patron is also a dangerous man.
Caught up in these plots, can Chris escape with his life?
And yes, since you ask, my sales have increased...
The Story Collector:
THE GHOST DRUM:
The first chapter of this book can be read here.
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