Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Elemental - Guest Post by Prue Batten

Being a writer is at best for most of us, a part-time job. Really, it’s true. Let’s be honest. We’d love it to be full-time but the reality is that for all of us, life intervenes. It might be that the dogs need walking, a family member needs to be cared for, or we have doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping to be done, or maybe the lawns need mowing or the toilet needs cleaning!

Or – we have to go to work. To the job that pays the bulk of the bills.

At least that’s what happens in my life.

I’m a writer to be sure. I’ve written six books and last year won a silver medal for fantasy in the USA. I currently have two books as finalists in another USA award and that’s affirming. The books, bless them, have had their share of success on Amazon globally, ranking in Top 100 Paid in various categories over the years. Last week, a new historical fiction was published  (Book Two of The Gisborne Saga – Gisborne: Book of Knights). And in between life’s demands, I’m working on shorts for a hist.fict anthology published by the popular Inkslingers UK group.

But I have another life – a real life.

 My husband and I have a working farm and that requires its own dedication. Here in Australia it’s winter, and where I live it’s a very dry winter – half the rain we had last year. So with pregnant ewes due to drop in a month, we’re feeding out to our woollie ladies every day. We have to get the girls into the yards regularly for drenching, mineral blocks need to be put out and the girls need to be moved to fresh paddocks every second day. Whilst I may not be helping my husband every day, I keep the home fires burning – literally. When we have the shearers here for crutching (two or three times a year) or shearing (once a year), I provide all the food they need, and if we’re low on labour, I help pen up and move sheep from yards to paddocks as they finish each mob.

We have gardens too and I adore my gardens. I like the rhythmic cycle of the seasons – walking out into the garden in the depths of winter and seeing the lush growth of the hoop petticoat daffodils, freesias heavy with promise, buds swelling on the trees and my broadbeans rocketing towards the heavens! And my infant fig tree – already promising to give me more than the 42 figs from last year. It’s reassuring that in a fickle world, something is so regular – spring follows winter, summer follows spring and so on.

I write hist.fict based in the medieval era and hist.fantasy which has loose roots in the Middle Ages and it’s quite odd how my farming and gardening life has contributed to the ‘feel’ of the era. Despite mechanisation of farming, there are things one can’t get away from. The heat, the cold, the touch of wool, the smell of smoke in the hair and on clothes, the feel of a horse under saddle, horse sweat, sheep dung, hay, the sound of creaking leather, stars at night, dew, frost, wind, blazing sunshine – birth, blood and death. I can hold barley heads in my hand or roll them between stones to see flour emerge. I can feel the joy of harvest, the tiredness of hard day’s work when every part of the body screams with pain, exactly the kinds of things my protagonists feel every medieval day. I get to see life at its most elemental and I have to say that it’s all there in my books.

Once someone said of my writing that it was 'in 3D and surround sound ... in the very best way.' It’s precisely all aspects of my life that have made it so, even farming. What a blessing!

Part of the first chapter of Gisborne: Book of Knights

‘Good morrow, good fellow,’ quoth Sir Guy;
‘Good morrow, good felow,’ quoth hee,
‘Methinkes by this bow thou beares in thy hand,
A good archer thou seems to be.’ Child Ballad #118

‘And when a person seeks the viridity of virtue, the Devil tells him that he does not know what he is doing, and teaches him that he can set his own law for himself.’ Hildegard von Bingen. 1166

Chapter One

The bells for Prime began to ring in the far-off chapel of Saint Julien in Cazenay and I had still not slept. I sat by the small window, a plain aperture, my hands cradling my rambunctious son’s chemise. I should have mended it before the candle burned to a stub but had been less than diligent and so I set it aside as William muttered in his sleep. But then the rhythm of his contented breath crept around the room and I offered a quick prayer for my son and his father – I would not offend my beloved Brother John of Saint Agatha’s at Moncrieff by giving up on God entirely.

Oh Guy, where are you? Already your son grows and does not know his father. He holds out his arms to Peter and Ulric and throws kisses upon them but not upon you.

There had been no word of Gisborne for an age and I shrank a little with each passing hour until I realised such behaviour ill-fitted a felon with a price on her head, and so I sharpened my wits and my manner and resolved to become someone on whom Gisborne could rely. We were two outlaws, he and I – destined to wander far from England’s shores in order to live and the pity of it, the goddamned shame, was that we might not live, let alone wander, together.

When the news finally came, it shook me the way autumn gales shake the last of the fruit from the trees. Word came sneaking to us along the labyrinthine intelligence channels Gisborne had created and it was short and pointed.

With the royal alaunts snapping hard on his heels, he had been forced to seek sanctuary in York and by the rules of sanctuary he had then to be tried by an ecclesiastical court. Almost exactly what my loyal and most dear friend, Ulric, had forecast months before.

Such an event as this – the trial of the King’s man– took time to organise and Ulric leaped to horse to make the journey back to England.

‘I would not see him stand alone, Ysabel. He shall know that we are at his shoulder.’

He left in a welter of pebbles.


Horse’s hooves rang like a warning as St. Julien’s bells faded and I stood, my fingers biting the stone sill hard.

Ulric, my brother-in-arms.

I knew it was he because my heart warmed and chilled all in one. I thought to run to him even though I could imagine his exhaustion and his travel-pocked face, because I wanted to ask him. I needed to know. And yet fear held me back. Quite simply I was unable to articulate a very simple question.

So I watched him from the window, paralysed by my own insecurity. Watched the shadows as he led his horse to the barn, Peter lighting his way, the torch flaring as they settled the animal and moved to their sleeping quarters.

As dawn slid across the sky in the wake of my friend’s arrival, I prayed that today we would surely find out if Gisborne was alive. I had only to stiffen my spine to hear it from Ulric’s mouth.

William sighed as he rolled over, his eyes opening and immediately searching for me in the shadowy room.

‘I’m here, William. Always here.’

There was no early morning smile, merely intense scrutiny as if he dared me to prove that I would always be there. And then he held out his arms.

‘You’re a heavy boy, now.’ I picked him up. ‘And a little wet, I think.’

I laid him on my bed and changed him in the pewter light of the early hours, washing him with water that Biddy had infused with calendula and vervain. His clothes lay in a chest with dried lavender and he always smelled fresh and clean, unlike some of the village children who had the taint of the garderobe about their little legs. He played with the wooden horse Peter had carved, chanting ‘Ounthee, Ounthee, Ounthee!’ and making trotting motions.

Dressed, he demanded to be placed on the floor and swiftly made his way to the door by supporting himself on pieces of furniture. No quite walking, not far away, each step he made was a practice for the real thing.

‘Gwenny, Gwenny!’ he yelled, not the least concerned the bells for Prime had only just opened the eyes of this transient family.

‘William, stop!’ I growled. ‘You are too loud.’

He looked at me with his father’s eyes, a cool appraisal, and I sighed as he turned back to the door, rattling the latch.

‘Gwenny, Gwenny!’

‘William, enough!’

It was not often I took that tone with him and I swept the startled child up in my arms. But anxiety bit at every part of me, shortening my patience, making me angry at the world.

‘You are naughty and will wait now. And you will play quietly.’ I glared at him – furious eyes meeting wide, dark blue ones. ‘Obey me, William.’

I put him on the floor and he continued staring, weighing me up, and then reached for the remains of a chess set we had found in the house. He took the knight and his beloved wooden rouncey, or ‘Ounthee’ as it was known, and began to tell himself a story in that secret language only he could understand.

I took the moment to stir the fire and strip my gown and chemise, rubbing down with the remains of William’s water, fumbling with the cloth, tangling my lacings as I tried to pull them tight. My gown echoed the unremarkable colour of the grey dawn outside but the difference was that its colour would remain ordinary whereas the cloud would burn off to an intense late winter blue. It was a long time since I had seen rain, I reflected, as it had been a long time since I had seen tears blot the surface of my gowns.

Is that what happens when you lose the half of you that makes a breath worthwhile?

I looked at William and shook my head. No. I breathed for him, of course.


‘Everything I do, I do for you and for William.’

Gisborne’s echo plagued me incessantly, never easing. It forecast so much that was intolerable and I longed for it to stop.

A light tap at the door presaged Gwen’s enquiring face, breaking the litany. ‘Did you hear the horse, my lady?’

I nodded but said nothing and if I thought on it, I would say my prescient little Gwenny could see my heart leaping about inside my chest.

‘Shall I feed him?’ She held out her arms and William launched himself at her knees, rouncey and knight grasped firmly.

‘Yes, take him, he is full of himself today.’

‘And when isn’t he, madame?’ She tickled him. ‘But we don’t mind, Wills, do we? You keep us happy.’

‘You keep us happy.’

It was true. His innocence, his joy, the seriousness that occasionally manifested in his play; it was like watching a puppy and hoping it would not grow to bare its teeth and snap. I walked quickly in their wake, heading toward Fate.

At the table, I took a mug of watered Occitán wine and sucked deep. ‘I heard the horse, Peter.’

‘Ulric’s dead tired, my lady, and just collapsed on his bed for a quick shut-eye.’ Gwenny’s betrothed grinned as he chewed. ‘By the saints, I tell you he can snore.’

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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Guest Post: The Confession of a Zombie Vicar by TA Donnelly

I have a strange obsession. It's been with me from the age of around 11. My older brother rented some dodgy VCRs from our local video library (hands up anyone old enough to remember VCR?). I was only eleven so my parents (very sensibly) did not allow me to watch them. However, I sneaked out of bed in the middle of the night, slipped a black, chunky video cassette into the recorder and watched it with glee (with my face pressed up to the screen with the volume down low so no one would hear and wake up). Life has never been the same since!

The video tape was entitled The Dawn of the Dead.

My day job is a Vicar, I am in charge of two small churches in South London. I spend my time leading services, running various community projects and being 'professionally nice' to people.
My congregation know I have 'another life' but generally they are too polite to mention it. Every day I get up three hours before Morning Prayer and write grisly horror novels. 

My novels are not simply horror, they are that least-respectable and most-maligned sub-genre of horror: zombie novels!

I've written (and out of kindness for humanity, kept hidden) short stories and aborted novels about vampires, demons, aliens and evil vegetables, but I can't keep away from zombies. Zombies are the most horrific creations of the horror genre: If you become a werewolf you can lead a relatively normal life (apart from at the 'wrong time of the month'); if you become a vampire you get to live forever as a cool super-powered goth; but there is no good side to becoming a zombie. 

Zombies just rot and feed. They are mindless, sacks of decaying meat that make a mockery of the life they once lived.

Horror's most enduring creations survive because behind the scares and the gore they offer us profound reflections on the human condition: Werewolves make us reflect on the violence that lives in the human heart, Vampires reflect our lust, and zombies show us the drudgery of a life lived without purpose (or should I say ‘unlife’).

This is the real danger to our souls in our 21st Century consumerist society! As long as the mindless pursuit of wealth and security dominates our lives we are all at risk of becoming zombies! Zombies warn us that if we don't start living the rot will set in. Literally. (Is that a trace of a sermon creeping in to my writing? Sorry, it's an occupational hazard!)

The other factor in making zombies so terrifying is that there is no escape: If you encounter a werewolf you can leave the woods; if you encounter a vampire you can leave the neighbourhood; but zombies want to eat the whole world - they rise and the world ends. What could possibly be scarier than that? As a zombie-writer there can be few pleasures greater that describing places you know being overrun by the living dead. I've had zombies run amok through Bexleyheath, Rochester, Central London and Greenwich Park. Next stop has to be my home town of Belfast. (Watch out Northern Ireland - the zombies are coming!) 

As a postscript (post-crypt?) it's also worth noting that Romero's seminal 1968 film Night of the Living Dead was the first mainstream movie (that was not about racial issues) to have an African American lead actor (Duane Jones), and strong female leads featured in the sequels (Gaylen Ross and Lori Cardille in Dawn (1978) and Day (1985) of the Dead, respectively). Romero's films demonstrate racial and gender equality that puts the Church of England to shame (and are no more horrific than many passages from the Biblical book of Joshua)! My church struggles to appoint women as bishops or to permit equal marriage for gay/lesbian couples - it is a sad reflection that sometimes the horror genre can be ethically superior to the C. of E.!

If you want to explore the zombie apocalypse (and are over 18) try The Wild Strawberry Trilogy (Book One: Descent; Book Two: Life in Hell; Book Three: Ascent).

For the under 18s I have also written the entirely Zombie-free novel The Parliament of the Dead (it's about ghosts, evil priests and a feisty teenage girl).

T.A. Donnelly is Vicar of the Church of the Ascension, Blackheath, @TrevorDonnelly on Twitter

Monday, 29 July 2013

Hiraeth, and how places can inspire writing by Hywela Lyn

This is a place called Capel Curig, in Wales. What's that got to do with 'Hiraeth' I hear you ask, and what does the word mean, anyway? Well, I'll get to that in a moment.  An on-line friend and I were talking about one day returning to the land where our roots are - hers in Virginia,  mine in rural Wales. It made me think of the old song I remember from my childhood: 'We'll keep a welcome in the hillside, we'll keep a welcome in the vales, we'll kiss away each hour of 'hiraeth' when you come home again to Wales.'
We were both feeling a bit 'homesick'.  That's what Hiraeth is - it's Welsh for being homesick for Wales - but more than that - it's a deep longing, really homesickness doesn't come close to the intensity of feeling that 'hiraeth' invokes. For various reasons, shortage of affordable housing in the area where I grew up, and marriage, being two,  I now  live in a beautiful part of England, close to the Chiltern hills.  But I long for the wild mountains of my native Wales, the mountains which inspired many of my stories, and the lakes and mountain streams. I used to live near the sea.  Somehow I miss the mountains more than the sea, although I enjoyed walking or riding  along the beach, and I do love water.  I am, and always have been a country lover and would be suffocated by city living.  However I know that people who were born and brought up in the city would be just as lost if they suddenly found themselves living in the country.  I think the place where one grows up permeates one's body and soul, so there is always a part of you that remains there. 'You can take the woman out of Wales,' I tell my friends 'but you can't take Wales out of the woman.'

It's the wildness of the unspoiled areas of Wales that captivates my heart, I think, and places have inspired many a story. Sometimes I transfer whole areas to different worlds or planets, and sometimes, as in my fantasy novella Dancing With Fate, I use real places as the settings, and in this story I also draw strongly on the myths and legends of Wales, as well as a good  smattering of Greek legend. I imagine many writers, draw on the places where they grew up as backgrounds to their stories, and even if one writes fantasy or Science Fiction, you have to have something to work on, even if you do make subtle changes, and perhaps have a yellow sky or silver sand! Do you have vivid 'mind pictures' of a place close to your heart? And do you transfer those to your own writing, or are your settings purely imaginary?

Here's a short excerpt from 'Dancing With Fate'. In this, my heroine, the Greek muse Terpsichore, is bathing in a waterfall, and this particular waterfall is sited not far from where I used to live.

She shrugged. What was she thinking? She was her own goddess, wasn't she? If she wanted to bathe, she would. She certainly didn't need any charmed wine to make her decisions for her. In an instant, her Celtic clothing melted away.

She laid her lyre against a friendly tree trunk and ran beneath the curtain of water cascading over the cliff face. She stood, waist deep in the shallows of the pool and let the water rush over her. The cold crystal clear liquid invigorated her. She felt the life force of the spring flow around and through her, the molecules that composed it, the tiny life forms unseen. This was her element and she rejoiced in it.

She went deeper and swam for a while, enjoying the freedom of movement in the water, playing with the little minnows that darted here and there. At last, she stepped out onto the grass that fringed the pool and looked skyward. How long had she been bathing? Helios was already on his homeward journey, although his light still warmed the air and he had not yet painted the sky in its twilight hues.

Shaking her arms free of the silvery drops of water, the muse then squeezed the wetness from her long hair, of which she was inordinately proud. Of all her womanly attributes, she loved her hair the best. It was so fine and silky; it took hardly any time to dry. She spread her arms and let the warm air vanquish the last of the moisture from her skin. Oh, this land of Wales was fair! She raised her arm in salute to Helios, knowing he could see whatever his warmth touched.

Terpsichore twirled around on tiptoe, bending back her head and taking in the craggy mountaintops, the trees full-leafed and swaying slightly in the warm breeze. On an impulse, she began to dance. She conjured up a silky himation between her fingers and swirled it above her head as she moved to the accompaniment of her own voice. So involved was she in her dancing she failed to realize she was no longer alone.

You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Author Interview - Rachel Abbott talks to Kathleen Jones

     Our regular blogger for the 28th, Enid Richemont, is indisposed, so we're grateful to Kathleen Jones for bringing us this interview with thriller writer, Rachel Abbott...(and to Lynne Garner for scheduling it!)

The Back Road - Rachel Abbott

I've just been reading Rachel Abbott's new thriller The Back Road, and I'm very impressed by it.  I'm also curious to know what's behind an Indie best-seller.  Rachel works very hard and is very professional and I'm anxious to learn as much as possible.

1.      Rachel, I know that - like me - you spend quite a lot of your working life in Italy.  Do you find it disruptive going to and fro?  How do you find the atmosphere of Italy affects your ability to work?  What are the drawbacks, from a research point of view, of being in one place and writing about another?

When we found our home in Italy we were really fortunate because from the day we saw it – a total ruin without a roof, and in some places not even walls – we felt that there was a special atmosphere about the place. It was peaceful, because it’s in the middle of the country, but there was a real feeling of serenity about it. I‘m probably being a fanciful writer, but that’s how it seemed to us. When I arrive there, I instantly relax, and however hard I’m working, it feels stress free.

We have a home in Alderney in the Channel Islands too, and I’ve been spending most of my time there, so there hasn’t been too much disruptive travelling for me – just for my husband - and as part of my next book will be based here on the island, that’s a real advantage.

I didn’t really have an issue writing Only the Innocent, because the locations were all places I know – London, Oxford – where I lived for a while – and several Italian locations. So that was fine. With The Back Road the location is a Cheshire village – and I have lived in a village too (although not in Cheshire).

I do think that to evoke the atmosphere of a place you have to have experienced it, and I’m really looking forward to writing the Channel Islands sections of my next book, because without a doubt you could not write about Alderney without ever experiencing it. Another totally unique place.

2.      I find the atmosphere of place very strong in your novels.  I know those villages - I've met those people.  How do you get that atmosphere?

I am a bit fanatical about planning when I write. By the time I put pen to paper, figuratively speaking, I know exactly how every place looks. Take Ellie’s house in The Back Road, for example. I can actually see every detail of it in my head. I grab images of the internet and I paste them into my locations file. I have images of Ellie’s kitchen, atrium dining room, the outside of the house.

So when I write, I’m writing about places that I know as well as my own home. Even for the dinner party in The Back Road, I have a seating plan. I need to know who has to lean across somebody else to speak to another person.

When I write about a village, I work out where the shops are, and get photos of villages if I don’t already have a visual image. With regard to the people, obviously the main characters are very fully worked out before I start to write, but some of them do evolve. Leo, in The Back Road ended up taking a much more prominent position than she originally had, because I just love her.

When it comes to the villagers, though, these are people that I’ve really met. I don’t mean that each of them is modelled on a specific person, but there are characteristics that I have picked up and used. I observe people all the time (probably quite spookily) and love it when I see an interesting quirk that I can add to a character.

3.      Do you ever envisage writing something set in Italy?

There were a few bits in Only the Innocent that took place in Italy – Venice, Positano and Le Marche – but one or two people have suggested I should do a complete novel based there. If Tom Douglas is still involved, as he definitely is in my next book, I would have to think of some reason for him going there, but I don’t think that would be very difficult.

It would be hard to resist making it a comedy, though. When we bought our first house in Italy thirteen years ago, we chose an area where there were practically no other English people, and it was one hundred per cent Italian in attitude and behaviour. We found so many things to make us smile - in a very affectionate way. On our first day there we took the project manager who was organising the restoration of our property into the nearby town (a beautiful medieval walled village, actually), and he showed us where to park the car – right underneath a tow sign. I pointed to it and he just shrugged and said, “It’s lunchtime. The police will be eating then sleeping. It’s okay” and that really set the tone.

I started to jot all these little quirks and amusing moments in a notebook with the thought of writing them into a novel - but I think I am more naturally inclined towards murder!

4.      Where did the idea for The Back Road come from?

Have you ever been to a dinner party and got the feeling that there were things going on that you didn’t quite understand? Perhaps you saw a look pass between two people that you couldn’t exactly read? I wanted to write about ordinary people – some of whom have secrets. They may not necessarily be huge, life changing acts of deception, but if discovered they would have an impact on lives.

I wondered what would happen if some explosive catalyst was thrown into the mix, so that all the deceit is uncovered in a way that nobody can prevent or control.

5.      I love the way you get food into the story (it's what I love about the Montalbano novels) - is this something you personally care about?

I love food. I enjoy cooking, and The Back Road did start off with even more cooking in, until my editor said it was a bit over the top! I wrote a scene in which Leo is in the supermarket with Ellie and they are buying some raw prawns, which Leo sees as grey slimy looking things until Ellie says she’s going to marinate them in lemon and garlic, barbecue them and then throw them into a salad with some avocado, feta cheese and a herb dressing. That got cut, unfortunately.

I think that for people who love food, it gives a much better feeling for the occasion. We could have had the dinner party in The Back Road without any mention of what everybody ate, but as a reader that wouldn’t have been the same for me at all. I’ve put quite a few of the recipes on my website too – and they’re all tried and tested – most of them were actually made up by me in the first place.

6.   As someone who is both traditionally published and self-published, I'm interested in your views on having a foot in both camps.  After the success of Only the Innocent - which I'm sure is going to be repeated with The Back Road - how do you feel about self-publishing now?

I think both forms of publishing have their advantages and disadvantages. With self-publishing there is a real sense of control, which is great. I can check my sales figures every two minutes if I want to (which I don’t, by the way) and I can choose the cover, control the blurb, and so on.

The bad thing about self-publishing is that many people actually can’t afford to have a professional editor. I couldn’t when I wrote Only the Innocent, and it was a success without that. But as soon as I had an agent after the success, she found me an editor and we did a thorough job of updating the book – and dramatically improving it. With a traditional deal, that would have happened before publication.

I feel that for The Back Road I have the best of both worlds. It has been professionally edited, which once again made a difference, but I chose to self-publish mainly because of the timing. I didn’t want to have to wait another six months to publish in the UK. The marketing side scared me a little, though, because I know that after Only the Innocent was launched, I did nothing but marketing for three months. I don’t want to do that again – I want to write books!

One of the most significant advantages of a traditional publisher is their ability to do the marketing of the book – although I know that it isn’t always the case. With the Thomas and Mercer deal in the US, they do all the marketing, and it’s a huge weight of my shoulders – leaving me free to write.

6.      Just how much do you think your own awareness of media systems and your cyber-knowledge contribute to your success?  Do you have any advice on using social media for new authors?

To be honest, I didn’t have any social media following at all when I launched Only the Innocent. I had set up a Twitter account, and had a stunning nine followers, and a Facebook page that I never used.

However, I do have a background in web development and in my previous job marketing was really important. This experience helped me to think more strategically about how to approach the whole social media arena.

My one piece of advice would be to write a marketing plan – create your own strategy. I bang on about this all the time on my blog, but it is so very easy to just plug away at something that isn’t helping at all, and writing a strategy helps you to think things through properly and justify how you spend your time. For example, you may have a Twitter strategy that says you want to increase your following to 10,000. The questions I would ask are “Why?” and “Who?” because you need to understand why you think having a lot of followers is going to help you, and you need to decide who they are going to be.

There are sites that offer lots of followers – but as a writer, you need followers who read books – and specifically your kind of book. So you have to work out how to get those, and then how you’re going to engage them.

I’m learning all the time – and changing and tweaking my plan. But every marketing action that I take has a clear purpose, as defined in my plan.

7.      Finally - who are your favourite thriller writers?

I love Harlan Coben (not the Myron Bollitar books – although they’re quite good fun). What I like about his stand alone books is that they are usually told from the point of view of the victim, rather than the police, and the story lines are very unique.

I also loved the early Minette Walters and Mary Higgins Clark books. I love books where I can empathise with the protagonist, and if they’re well written, I can feel what they are feeling – even if that’s fear.

I have also been a big Val McDermid fan over the years and I thought Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was well written and absorbing, although I didn’t actually like the characters. But, I will certainly read more of her books.

Thanks for your time Rachel - I loved the book and hope it's a great success!
You can read my review here

To read Rachel blogs click here and click here for her website.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Final Drama of the Fascinating Mr. Martin - Andrew Crofts

This month the body of James Martin was found floating off his private island in Bermuda. Although the press immediately rang in the hope of digging up some “suspicious circumstances”, it seems more likely that a man of eighty going for a vigorous swim in the sea died of natural causes.

I knew him on and off for twenty years. Although many years would elapse between the times we would spend together, I am sad to think I won’t see him again. He was a true original. Last time I saw him was at a very splendid, private, “candle-lit”, dinner in one of the grandest Pall Mall Clubs, where he was talking about the future of the planet and of mankind. It was a talk I had heard him give many times, but it was none the less galvanising for that.

In the opening lines of his best-selling thriller, "The Ghost", Robert Harris quotes me as saying: "Of all the advantages that ghosting offers, one of the greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet people of interest."  Jim was without doubt one of those “people of interest”. The day he invited me to visit his private island he had just become Oxford University’s biggest ever single donor, (bigger even than Sir Thomas Bodley), by personally donating a hundred million pounds to found the Oxford Martin School, set up to study all the major issues facing mankind in the 21st Century.

Jim, described by The London Times as “Britain’s leading futurologist”, believed that a choice now faces us all: to create the greatest Utopia ever, or plunge ourselves back into the Dark Ages, maybe even destroying Homo sapiens completely. His last published book, The Meaning of the 21st Century, was the most borrowed non-fiction book from British libraries in 2008.

The book that resulted from my trip to the island, James Martin - The Change Agent, is partly the story of how a shy, working class boy from the small Midland town of Ashby-de-la-Zouche ended up so successful, but it also reveals the extraordinary secret history of Agar’s Island that Jim uncovered beneath the rocks and rampant vegetation and tells the story of how he restored the underground labyrinth to its former glory and turned the entire island into his own eccentric, ecological paradise, filled with magical water gardens and populated with giant statues and artefacts he had collected on his world travels.

Above all, however, it is about the man’s ideas and predictions for the future, (almost all of which were already coming true by the time of his death), which are the reason so many millions of people read his books and attended his lectures.

He was an eccentric man, who revelled in being an enigma and enjoyed nothing better than a good anecdote. I think he would rather have liked the idea that the media thought, even if only for a few hours, that there might be suspicious circumstances surrounding his death


Friday, 26 July 2013

Books, like babies, come when they will... by Rosalie Warren

As I strolled along the beach yesterday, paddling in rockpools and generally being the four-year-old I still am at heart, an idea 'happened' in my head. From nowhere, apparently, it burst upon me and grew into a plan for the sequel to Charity's Child. Not the sequel I've been planning for about two years, which has continually failed to materialise, but a wholly new 'take' on following up the lives of the characters I created in that earlier book. It may have been something to do with the appearance of the rocks at low tide (there is such a scene in Charity's Child, where a big decision is made), or perhaps it was just that I finally relaxed enough for my creative side to wriggle free of all its constraints and start to play again.

Anyway, here's hoping. It's always dangerous to say too much too soon, and I'm certainly not going to tell you anything about the new book. But it's good to be reminded of the way these things work. Fiction doesn't grow to order, according to schedules and plans. Such things are sometimes needed, of course, especially in the redrafting, revision and editing stages. Sometimes a timetable really is essential, to get things done on time.

But the best ideas, I always find, come when I'm idling. For me, the sea is an enormous inspiration. It reminds me, apart from anything else, that I'm pretty small and my books don't matter very much. This a a wonderful release, because I no longer have anything to prove. It's the story that's important, and the characters in it, and my job is really just to listen (in some sense) and  record. And to find out what's going to happen next to these people - something I've wanted to know for several years.

Books, like babies, royal or otherwise, come when they will. Of course the parallel can't be stretched too far. Quite what it would mean for a book to be induced or delivered by Caesarean, I struggle to think. My son, born 33 years ago, turned up two days early and had a fairly protracted birth. My daughter, two years later, took her time and arrived 13 days late, following a large bacon and egg fry-up (perhaps a mistake...) and a trip out to vote.   

Wishing everyone happy holidays, whether home or away, doing whatever is your equivalent of paddling in rockpools and giving your creative side the chance to creep out from under its pile of seaweed and start to flourish.

Charity's Child is available for Amazon Kindle here, price £1.94.

Happy reading, writing and relaxing,

Follow me on Twitter @Ros_Warren   

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Personal Daemon - by Susan Price

          I was asked to describe 'my muse', and this is what I wrote. It may seem an odd thing to post in a blog about e-books and digital self-publishing, but some things about writing never change...
Winged Daemon on Corinthian Plate: Wiki Commons

Rudyard Kipling, in his autobiography Something of Myself wrote:
           Let us now consider the Personal Daemon of Aristotle and others… Most men, and some most unlikely, keep him under an alias which varies with their literary or scientific attainments. Mine came to me early when I sat bewildered among other notions, and said; ‘Take this and no other.’ I obeyed, and was rewarded....
           After that I learned to lean upon him and recognise the sign of his approach... As an instance, many years later I wrote about a mediaeval artist, a monastery, and the premature discovery of the microscope. Again and again it went dead under my hand, and for the life of me I could not see why. I put it away and waited. Then said my Daemon—and I was meditating something else at the time—‘Treat it as an illuminated manuscript.’ I had ridden off on hard black-and-white decoration, instead of pumicing the whole thing ivory-smooth, and loading it with thick colour and gilt....
My Daemon was with me in the Jungle Books, Kim, and both Puck books, and good care I took to walk delicately, lest he should withdraw. I know that he did not, because when those books were finished they said so themselves with, almost, the water-hammer click of a tap turned off... When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey...

           Whenever it was I first read this – probably in my mid to late 20s - I was already a published writer, and had written several books. This passage gave me a true jolt of recognition. I knew immediately that Kipling wasn't being fanciful, or poetic, but was describing the experience of writing as directly as he could, given the limitations of language. I knew, because I had a daemon too, though I had never mentioned it to anyone. Most men, and some most unlikely, keep him under an alias which varies with their literary or scientific attainments. Some women too, Rudyard.
          As I had progressed from book to book, learning more and more of the craft, I had become aware of the daemon's presence. I had never given him/her/it a name. After reading the passage above, I called it/her/him 'the daemon', at least in my own mind. It was as good a name as any other, and I preferred it to 'muse', which seems too poetic for me and my creature, too Classical, too beautiful.

           'Daemon' is Greek and Classical too, of course, but hasn't been used by centuries of poets in the same way. Its link to the modern 'demon' suggests some of the bloody-mindedness often demonstrated by daemons; and it also makes me think of witches' familiars and shamans' spirit-helpers. Though I in no way aspire to be a witch or a shaman, their more down-to-earth, farmyard associations, with their cures for sore-throats and curses on annoying neighbours, suit me and my daemon better. My daemon does not haunt Elysian Fields – though it may perhaps be found grubbing through the great junk-yard of lost and broken things that, according to the fairy-tale, the Four Winds have blown to the Ends of the Earth and there gathered in a heap.
           Before I ever read about Kipling's daemon, I had learned that all that was best in my writing was not mine. I didn't invent it – rather it was put into my head. Indeed, I couldn't invent it – I had tried. Any plot or situation I invented was tired, trite, and petered out for lack of enthusiasm on my part. The best writing always came 'out of the blue'. Slowly I became aware of that Other, who sometimes seemed to be slightly behind me, leaning over my right shoulder. Surely this sensation is where the whole idea of 'a muse' originated? See also medieval illustrations of Biblical prophets taking dictation from an angelic Muse leaning over their shoulder.
          'Then said my Daemon—and I was meditating something else at the time—' I had come to know that so well: the idea that came out of nowhere; the fresh twist that came when I hadn't given a thought to that particular story for months; the combining of disparate ideas in a way that would ever have occurred to me and took me by surprise. And more:- the perfect phrase that arrives, complete, with no need for polishing – a phrase that I didn't plan or, it seems to me, invent. The moment when a character refuses to act as I had planned, but instead acts in a way much more convincing and interesting.
           I had worked on rewrites where I found sub-texts woven through what I'd written, and carefully set up and prepared for with repeated phrases and echoes – and I had been astonished because I was not conscious of ever having planned it.
           When I wrote Ghost Drum it was as if someone had handed

me a postcard of a very clear, bright picture – a palace from a
Ghost Drum. Art by Andrew Price
Russian fairy-tale, with bright jewel colours, standing in a snow-field and set against a dark, cold, starry sky. ‘Take this and no other.’ Who handed me the picture and gave the order? My daemon.
           I had learned too, from experience, that there was no arguing or bargaining with this Other. 'Again and again it went dead under my hand...' I knew that feeling well too; and I knew it meant that the daemon wasn't with me any longer, or never had been with this piece of work.

          One certain way to drive away the Daemon was, I'd learned, to argue with It. If Its dictum was that a certain character should die, and I said, no, that's too sad, or too horrible, or I don't want to kill that person – then the Daemon stalked away and left me to do what I could on my own. Which was nothing good. Left to myself, it seemed, all I could produce was the most obvious, uninspired, dull verbiage.
          There was only one way to persuade the Daemon to return – give in to all Its demands. Find a way to make Its suggestions work, however outrageous, cruel, unlikely and difficult to research. Daemons, I learned, never argue or bargain. They simply leave.
           I learned to work with It instead of fighting against it. When I needed an idea, I would appeal to the Daemon - “Give me something to work on!” When I was stuck in a story and didn't know how to proceed, I would run through what I had written in my mind, and outline where I was hoping the story might go, as if briefing the Daemon. Then I would say, 'Over to you. Sort something out and get back to me.'
          This was embarrassing at first: I felt foolish, pretentious. But the results were so good that I soon overcame that. The more I trusted the Daemon, the more I gave It a free hand, the more quickly It returned to me with a solution. Very rarely did It fail. So when I read this account of Kipling's, I had already learned the truth of what he says: Resist the daemon, and it will kill your story and leave. Obey it, and it will help you.
           'When your Daemon is in charge, do not try to think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey...' I knew this for the simple truth too. I concluded, from experience, that the Daemon always knows the detail and construction of a piece It has decided you will work on, but It cannot tell you directly. Or chooses not to tell. You are guided by images and feelings, steered along the path it wants you to follow by nudges and hints. When we are 'stuck' in a story, we have simply wandered from the path. If we stop trying to find it, if we try not to think consciously, but wait and let our thoughts drift – then the Daemon will guide us back to the path with more hints and nudges. When we struggle to find the way ourselves, we fall into mires and thorns, we get further and further from where we want to be, and the story 'goes dead under our hand'.
           But what does my Daemon look like, if it's not a classically draped Goddess, or a demon stinking of sulphur? While aware of its presence and its assistance, I've never examined it too closely before – just as I never argue with it any more.
           My Daemon is elusive – it skulks, it slinks. It peers briefly from the piles of lost things at the World's End, and ducks out of sight again. It isn't human or, at least, not wholly human. It's dark in colour, brindled, perhaps covered in fur. I glimpse pricked ears and a curve or hump of back. Is it an ape? Or are those the ears and back of some cat-like animal? But it moves less fluidly than a cat, and I see no tail, though perhaps it has a bobbed one, like a lynx. I don't know what it is – and I dare not be so presumptuous as to ask. I only hope that writing this piece hasn't offended it. I would never venture to thank it. That would certainly ensure I’d never hear from it again.
          This piece was originally written for Katherine Roberts' Muse Monday series on her blog.

          The Ghost Drum is the first book in the Ghost World Sequence. Book 2 is Ghost Song, and Book 3, Ghost Dance.