Thursday, 31 December 2015

A Day Like Any Other - Guest Post by Jan Edwards

January 1st is a day like any other. Many of us like to celebrate the new year in grand style with parties and nights on the town. ‘Seeing in the new year’ has never been a family tradition for me. My father always maintained that ‘it would still be there in the morning what ever you do’ and he was right of course. Yet I still like to see the year out and in, toasting new ideas with those closest to my heart.

Today I received a copy of SPARKS 2: A Year in E-Publishing , the Authors Electric book of blogs for 2015.  I also had a payment for a story about to be published in January and I had a meeting with fellow writer Misha Herwin to map out our plans for 2016 projects. Projects such as 6X6 - a series of quarterly reading cafes to be held at Central Library, Hanley, Stoke on Trent, and also the launch of our respective new titles with Penkhull Press. We have collections and novels already in proof stage and ready to launch in the spring, so 2016 is already busy before it has even arrived.

To be fair the whole of December has been ramping up for the annual plotting. I have, in the past month, been asked to write stories for five anthologies scheduled for 2016/17, and, being possessed of a shocking memory (and having missed deadlines in the past because I left it too late!) I do try to give myself a fighting chance of getting stories written and submitted ahead of time, or more often at eleventh hour on the winds of hope, by opening a brand spanking new spreadsheet!

I can hear the groans at the very thought. Spreadsheets may seem a little structured for some people, but this really is an act self defence! I would never get through my writing year without it. Like many people I use the coming of a new year as an arbitrary deadline. So many projects have the potential to simply roll on indefinitely without that sign post. For an Indie Writer, without an editor to snap at our heels, novels in particular have the potential to become permanent ‘works in progress’. Hence the spreadsheet. Seeing those lines in red (meaning they have been carried over unfinished from last year), projects that glare at me like eyes of Sauron, goads me into action. These are things that still need to be done; and this; and this... I can make all the excuses I like but lines in red mean unfinished and more to the point unpublished.

So however you bring in the new year it will always be a time for reflection on what has been achieved (or not) in the past twelve months, and a time to map out goals for the twelve to come. The time for re-assessing, re-asserting, re-aligning, re-editing and possibly most important of all re-invigorating our writing for a brand new phase – or to put it another way, a time to give yourself that kick in the rear to make your best yet.

Happy New Year one and all. May 2016 be good to you.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Rewriting from the Inside Out - Guest Post by Rosalie Warren

Many years ago, when the world was new and I was an enthusiastic young (actually, not so young) PhD student, my assistant supervisor read a draft chapter of my thesis and advised me to ‘rewrite it from the inside out’.

I had no idea what she meant and I still have no idea, or not much of one. She might have been looking for a simple reordering of the contents of the chapter. But even that would have been next-to-impossible, given my time constraints and the fact that the chapter contained a lot of technical stuff (things in boxes – you really, really do not want to know). I decided to ignore her advice, hoping she wouldn’t notice. Fortunately, she never did, or if she did, she didn’t let on. I think, like me, she had probably had more than enough of those boxes.

Anyway, the years went by, as they do, and after a stint in academia which included supervising other people’s theses (though I never, I’m proud to say, told anyone to rewrite anything from the inside out), I ended up as an author of fiction, with no more boxes, thankfully, to constrain my creative endeavours. Things have kind of come full circle for me recently, as I seem to have turned into, at least for the time being, a writer of science fiction which is at least partly inspired by my earlier studies of artificial intelligence and cognitive science.

The other day, as I wrestled with ideas for the second draft of my latest novel, my assistant supervisor’s words came back to me. Rewrite it from the inside out. I’d written the first draft in haste during the month of November, after deciding to have a go at NaNoWriMo. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a benign form of torture for writers, where you set yourself the aim of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I’d never previously understood why anyone would want to do it, but this year I needed external motivation and decided to give it a go. Well. I didn’t think it would be too bad – the daily average works out to 1667 words and this isn’t much more than I normally do. What I forgot to take into account was that in the course of a normal month I allow myself several days off – the days I’m driving north or driving south or visiting relations or not feeling great or simply wanting a Sunday off. All that stuff is what you don’t get when you’re NaNoWri-ming – or not unless you are much more organised and ahead of yourself than me. Somehow I did it – actually managing to finish a couple of days ahead of schedule. But it left me exhausted, writing-wise, and I haven’t even been able to glance at what I wrote since I bundled the files away at the back of my laptop, secretly hoping, I think, that a virus would attack and eat them.

I had a quick look yesterday and they are still there. The viruses have wisely kept away. But I haven’t yet dared take a peep inside. I hate the first re-read, after the weeks of lying fallow following completion of a draft. I dread that it might be awful and I also dread that bits of it might be OK – so OK that I don’t want to lose them, even though my brain appears to have decided that a complete rewrite is required, in the form of a wholly different book.

But I have been doing some mulling… and one outcome is that I need to understand a whole bunch of my characters a lot better. Perhaps if I tell you that these characters are not human? Or not conventionally human, anyway. They are, at least from a human perspective, artificial entities. So far, I’ve written their story from the outside in (do you see where I’m going here?) – from the perspective of the characters who actually are human. Easy-peasy, by comparison. But the whole point of the book is to reflect the preoccupations of the artificial agents, so of course I have to get inside their heads (they do have heads, kind of). And I can’t do this by thinking; I can only do it by somehow listening in and telling their story – from their point of view. What is it like to be an intelligent artificial entity?

This is my next challenge and I have no idea whether it’s achievable. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s beyond me. But hey, who cares? For me, that’s the whole fun of writing (and indeed of scientific research, in the days I used to do it). Flinging yourself at something that might be just a bit too hard to do. A wall that might turn out to have no finger-holds. Except, of course, that a crazy bit of me must secretly believe it can be done.

And, of course, what I’m effectively going to be doing in this second draft is rewriting from the inside out. I’ve got my story from the outside, more or less (though it will doubtless change). Now I need to get inside these characters, all of them, and see the world from their point of view. What I will eventually present to my readers is anyone’s guess. It may be relatively conventional in form, as indeed my previous sci-fi novel, Lena’s Nest turned out to be, after lots of experimental stuff along the way.

Whatever happens, I can hardly wait. Writing can sometimes be a pain, but at this stage of a novel there’s very little I’d rather be doing.

I’d love to know…
·         If you’re a writer, do you ever rewrite from the inside out? Or do you do your rewrites in some other way?
·         As a reader, have you read any books you’d like to see rewritten from the inside out?

Anyway, I wish everyone a happy and peaceful 2016 – stuffed full of amazing and wonderful thoughts, ideas, inspirations, books, sentences and words.

This was my first venture into science fiction and is the story of Lena, a female roboticist who recovers from a coma to discover that her world has subtly changed – and then struggles to come to terms with a new reality and the consequences of her own research. It’s a love story too, of a kind, and the story of a mother trying to find her children. And it tackles some big philosophical themes, like the ethics of AI and the nature of consciousness, identity and self, along the way.

Lena’s Nest’ Facebook page – please visit and consider ‘liking’.
Follow me on Twitter @Ros_Warren

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Ghost Writers: N M Browne

Photo: bye bye balloon: Daniel Novta
Today, the day of this post, is my father’s birthday. He would have been eighty three but unfortunately died at fifty seven, not much older than me. I mention it, because his birthday is an annual reminder of what I’ve lost but also how lucky I was to have him at all. Along with my mother, he made me feel that I could do anything I wanted to, long before the idea of following your dream became a staple of Saturday night TV. He died before I’d published anything, but without him I would never have written a word of fiction. He was a painter and so I grew up in a house in which the importance of creativity was a given; the arts were important and to participate in them a privilege. I think that concept is rarer now than it was.
Our dead are always with us. I see his echo in my children, a look in the eye, a tilt of the head, the way they, like him, drink from a beer glass tucked against their chests. Years on, I still glimpse him occasionally out of the corner of my eye walking along the High St  and my heart lifts for a moment until I remember that he’s gone.
I mention this not to be mawkish, but to remind myself of the ghosts that haunt us all, the ones that inspire and those that hold us back. If we had the special insight  we sometimes grant our characters, we could see the ghosts clustering around our friends and acquaintances  vying for attention, prodding and poking at their vulnerabilities, whispering in their ears and clouding their vision: the ghost of an overcritical father, the spectre of an underachieving mother, the ex that said we had fat legs, the teacher who thought we were thick. These wraiths need not even be dead, just lost to us, preserved as they were when last we saw them, bobbing after us wherever we go like a bunch of helium balloons.
If I were writing a self help book, I would probably encourage you to cut their threads. I would perhaps emphasise the need for self improvement, for reinvention. I would encourage you to follow your star,  exorcise everything  in your life that holds you back, let go of the past,  liberate your ghosts and watch them fly heavenward like seasonal spectral balloons in time for the New Year. 

 However, I’m not a therapist or a self help guru I’m merely a writer and I know in the marrow of my bones that to be human is to be haunted. If we free ourselves of our past, we free ourselves of ourselves. Our past, with all its phantoms is the taproot of our creativity. So instead I wish you a Happy New Year and hope that this year you will find a  constructive and fruitful accommodation with your personal spectres. Here’s to the ghosts of New Year’s Past!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Two Christmas/New Year Freebies, Terrorism, and a Lovely Dog

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. I hope, as well, that we all have a saner New Year - saner, because our 2015 world seems to have gone completely off the rails (and lovely Hattie, on the right, agrees with me. Her little world consists of cocktails of smells, chasing things, and the occasional treat - like a stick to destroy, or a carrot to munch - no oil, guns or money - MUCH nicer than ours).

Since I last blogged on this site, a great deal has happened in the world, and most of it unpleasant. There were the atrocious attacks on people in Paris - most of the victims young, and with their whole lives ahead of them - and now we are, it seems, at war against the people who planned this. I, like most of us, had mixed feelings about bombing Raqqa, the apparent 'Head of the Snake', but on the whole, I simply couldn't see how doing it would resolve anything. The best suggestion I've seen online has been to turn the whole area into a no-fly zone, which would curb the barrel bombs too, if only it could be made to work.

The world is facing an armed and technology-savvy Medieval Theocracy - unimaginable ten or fifteen years ago. In my late husband David's library, I've just found a Ken Macleod novel with the chilling title: 'THE EXECUTION CHANNEL', and the blurb: 'The War on Terror is Over. Terror Won'. We had very different tastes in books, David and I, but this one seems so uncomfortably close to the current situation that I think I must read it.

The Game by Enid Richemont
My own Young Adult dystopia, The Game, was written long before any of this happened, and first published by Walker Books. Its trigger was the radio, which, Musak-like, at the time, was seeping into every retail outlet. One afternoon, I walked into a shop in Camden Town with my young daughter who needed some shoes, and within a few moments of entering, was bombarded with irrelevant details of a horrendous murder in North Wales. Out of this experience grew my fantasy of a world subliminally controlled by sound - the Queen's music - the take-over being the work of one of the mythical Furies who's placed a bet with her two sisters.

The book, almost immediately, caught the eye of Verronmead Productions, a small local film company who spotted the possibility of easy filming on location, but, alas, in spite of an Options contract, it never happened, and eventually, the book went out of print. Between us, David and I re-published it as an e-book, and I'm now offering it free, as a post-Christmas and pre-New Year present, today and tomorrow. I hope you'll enjoy reading it. Comments and reviews most welcome.

On a lighter note, the only book (so far) I've ever 'self' (as opposed to re-) published is Dragoncat.
Dragoncat by Enid Richemont
Aimed at readers of around 6-8 (second grade and upwards in the USA), it's set in the Chinese community in North London, and features a kitten who is quite dramatically 'different'. The little Chinese supermarket where it's based is real, and it does have a cat. I went there with my Chinese illustrator friend, Mei-Yim Low, to interview the owners (she translated my questions).

Although my agent loved it - it was one of her favourite books - it was never picked up by a trade publisher, so we decided to self-publish it, and David, who was always up for a technological challenge, designed the cover image. I'm now seriously considering bringing it out it in a print edition via CreateSpace, in his memory.

DRAGONCAT is my second Christmas/New Year freebie, and will be available free on December 28th and 29th. Please share it with your children, especially if you happen to be Chinese.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Guilty Pleasure of Burning Books - Andrew Crofts

“Do we need to keep all those editions of every book you’ve ever written?” my wife enquired as we stood together in the cellar staring at the pile of satisfyingly tightly sealed plastic crates that she had packed the books in some years before to protect them from possible damp-attack – and to clear a few shelves upstairs. “I could really use those boxes.”

“Chuck out books?” I asked, horrified. I mean, that’s my life’s work sealed away in there.

“Think you could sell them?” she asked. “Or give them away?”

A bit rude, I thought.

“I mean,” she snapped open a lid and passed me a book, “do you even know what language that is?”

I opened the book in the hope that I would spot the name of a city or something that would give me a clue. It all looked a bit Eastern European, but I couldn’t be sure which bit.

“Could be Romanian,” I ventured.

“Do we know any Romanians who could confirm that? There’s the Hungarian au pair next door, or the Polish family down at the farm. Do you want to offer them a chance at identifying their own languages?”

I was getting the point. Over the last thirty or so years publishers from all over the world have been generously sending me parcels of books as they came off the presses. Thirty years ago I wanted to hang onto every one because in those days you never knew when they might go out of print – “Fly Fishing by J.R. Hartley” and all that. But now, with print-on-demand and Kindle and all the rest the same hardly applies.

So what were the options? The local charity shop? I doubted if they wanted to be cluttered up with yet more old books, particularly in foreign languages. Down to the tip? Possibly. But what about making use of them? What about burning them?

“Book burning” sounds so emotive, conjuring up images of Nazi and Isis thugs attempting to wipe whole cultures off the face of the Earth. It made it seem like a bit of a guilty pleasure. A well established guilty pleasure for me is the bonfire at the bottom of the garden, which had reached quite precarious heights and would benefit from a little paper stimulation. Or should I use them more productively indoors to eke out the log supply in the open fireplaces? Maybe a bit of both.

So there I stood, beside my flaming mountain of garden detritus, watching book covers – some even bearing portraits of my much younger self, blackening, curling, smoking and finally bursting into flame. A true "bonfire of the vanities" It felt eerily cleansing, plus the added benefit that my wife now had a great many plastic crates to fill with other things that we would be storing for a few years before having a similar conversation all over again.   

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Can a Man Write from a Woman's Point of View? by Ruby Barnes

Write what you know is the maxim often bandied about at workshops for wannabe best-selling authors. Read in the genre that you want to write. Write in the genre that you read. Base your fiction upon your knowledge and experience.

If - IF - we accept that premise then can a man write successfully from a female point of view, and vice versa? The answer, of course, is yes. But only if that author can immerse himself in the character and speak convincingly on their behalf.

Shameless plug time:

 It's easy to be shameless when what you're plugging is actually someone else's work. The Demented Lady Detectives' Club by Jim Williams is a cozy mystery written from a female point of view. To pull off something like this needs a lifetime's experience of the fairer sex and Jim, in all fairness, is as old as Methuselah so if anyone can do it he's the man.

I have nothing else to add except the description of the book.

In the pretty Devonshire town of Dartcross an elderly lady diarist struggles with her memory to write a history of her colourful past, her hateful cat and her murderous husband. At the same time, Janet Bretherton and her friend Belle try to discover a purpose to their retirement. Is it enough to discuss the latest novels in their readers’ group, go to the theatre or attend a séance? Perhaps, instead, they should try to solve the mystery of the dead Polish man whose body is found by the river?  

The Demented Lady Detectives’ Club is both a whodunit and a funny yet poignant account of a group of women growing old and seeking love and meaning in both the past and the present. The unnamed lady diarist finally faces up to the horror she has buried in her memory and the love she has lost. And Janet has to deal with the tender feelings she is still capable of evoking in a man who is twenty years her junior.

The Demented Lady Detectives' Club is now available in paperback and e-book on Amazon. If you are a book reviewer and would like to read it then contact Marble City Publishing for a review copy.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Ghost Song Covers - by Susan Price

A very happy Christmas Day to all our readers!

And a Prosperous New Year to come! 

Here's what I've been working on, in the run-up to Christmas...

This is what I've been slaving over a graphics programme to produce. A new cover for Ghost Song.
          The blurb on the back reads:
At white midnight, in the endless midsummer of the far North, Kuzma the bear-shaman demands a new-born baby boy from his father, the slave and hunter, Malyuta.
     Steadfastly, throughout the long summer night, Malyuta refuses.
     The powerful shaman, thwarted, leaves at last.
     Malyuta names his adored son 'Ambrosi' or 'Immortal.' But, as Ambrosi grows, the villagers begin to fear him.
     The bear-shaman still walks in Ambrosi's dreams and still calls him...
           The old cover looked like this:-

          I've changed the font, and the text colour. I've added a text-box to contain the blurb, and 'screamer lines' for the back.
          I uploaded it to CreateSpace for testing, and then altered it several times before CreateSpace would accept it.
          I had to mess about with the the measurements quite a bit. (I find that information on-line about how to calculate spine-width and bleed vary. The information about formats can be misleading too. I read that the cover had to be a PDF - but a PDF wouldn't upload.
          I found it best to follow what it says beside your book, in Cover Creator. It gives you the measurements and asks for a jpeg. For my 6" x 9" book it asked for a jpeg cover 13" inches wide and 9-50 inches high.
         Then the text was too close to the edge - the C/S price code overlapped the lower line of text on the back, and so on. But I fiddled and finessed and finally C/S accepted a cover I was happy with.

     I've given the interior a new look, too, by adding a symbol from 'the magic drum.'

         I've been working on a cover for Ghost Dance, though it isn't finished yet:-

        This is almost right. The C/S code box is too close to the lower line on the back, but I have enough room to move everything up slightly. As this book is thick enough to have spine lettering, C/S will add my name and the title to the spine.
        I intend to update the first book in the series, Ghost Drum, as well.

     I should certainly add that, in all of this, I've been guided, educated and helped by my brother, Andrew, who has just designed a new cover for Yvonne Coppard's e-book reissue of her 'Room For One More.' (It was formerly published under the name 'Beth Miller.')

Late-breaking news: CreateSpace has accepted Ghost Dance, so that should be available soon too. Then there will be only Ghost Drum to redo.

Find my website here.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The joy of celebrations ... Jo Carroll

Only the super-organised, the serious prevaricator, or those spending the festivities alone will have time to read much today. And so I'm offering nothing more than a passing thought for anyone who might drop by here.

For none of us can escape the reality that the western world is shutting down for a few days. The razzmatazz of shopping and visits to Santa will die down and we have time to eat and drink and play with those we love. Sometimes, as we settle to our feasting, we can almost believe that this is the most important festival in the world.

But hold on a minute. What about Diwali? What about Ramadan and Eid? What about Hanukkah?

All over the world, we celebrate by eating together. We tell different stories, have different gods, but we all find reasons, regularly, to spend festive time with those we love, and to share food.

Those stories, those gods - they help us to make sense of ourselves and why we are here, and why we need each other. They seek to explain the creation, evolution, the dominance of humankind as a species. (Scientists tell different stories, and often have evidence to back them up. We can discuss the religion vs science debate another time.)

And so, when I'm sitting with my family, at a table weighed down with goodies, I shall try to raise a glass to all those with stories to tell.

And then, no doubt, a grandchild will jump on me. Once upon a time ...

(If you've time to drop my some of my travelling tales, you'll find links on my website.)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Lev Butts' Comic Countdown Part III

If you've been following my posts for the last few months, you know that I am now embarked on another countdown. This time we're counting down the five best metafictional comics. These are comics that in some way deal directly with the art of writing.

Before we move on with the countdown, though, I thought I'd like to take a minute to explain the highly scientific method I employed to arrive at this list.

First, I approached a trained team of comic book scholars . . .

Well not exactly like this group...
yeah, that's more like it.
. . . and asked them for recommendations.

From this list, I eliminated the titles that were not applicable to my purpose (or that I had not read and were too long to skim over). I then chose the five titles that best fit my description of metafictional (in other words, the ones that I liked best). Finally, I presented my team of experts with my list and asked their opinions, eliminating any opinion contrary to mine.

A practice I like to call: Democracy at Work 

Now, on with the countdown:

We've already discussed Dave Sim's Cerebus and Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which brings us to 

3. Sandman - Neil Gaiman (author) various artists

I could literally have put any Gaiman comic in this countdown since much of his plotting choices depend on a conscious consideration of how stories work. So often, Gaiman's characters either suspect or know outright that they are characters within a work of fiction. Even in 1602, which recasts the Marvel super-heroes as seventeenth century American colonists, the characters become aware that they are not "real" but characters who inhabit a made-up, alternate universe.

Sandman, though, as Gaiman himself puts it, is a story specifically about stories: where they come from, how they are discovered, why they exist. The titular hero is Morpheus, or Dream; he is one of the seven Endless: literal personifications of metaphysical concepts that have existed since well before the dawn of time. Besides Dream, there is Destiny, the oldest; Death, his younger sister; Dream himself is the third oldest followed by Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium (who is the youngest and was first known as Delight before some untold tragedy drove her insane). They are the children of Father Time and Mother Night.

L-R: Destruction, Despair, Desire, Dream, Death, Destiny, Delirium/Delight
Throughout the run of the series, Morpheus interacts with mortals through their dreams, helping them to achieve their purposes (though not all purposes are good) and work out their problems, all while rebuilding his realm of The Dreaming which has fallen into disrepair after Morpheus was captured by a warlock and held prisoner for several decades.

What I like about this series as a writer, though, is the way it personifies the art of writing. Every story that exists or will exist inhabits its own alternate universe within The Dreaming. In fact, all books, past and future, written and unwritten, are housed within The Dreaming's library. More importantly, the muse Calliope (who presides over epic poetry) was once Morpheus' lover, implying that stories are the product of inspiration and dream. 

Additionally, literary characters take on real form: Sandman's Lucifer, who grows tired of reigning in hell and opens a nightclub in America, is clearly the same character from Milton's Paradise Lost. The Faerie folk of The Dreaming are impressed with William Shakespeare's treatment of them in the premiere performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck going so far as to incapacitate the actor and play his role himself.

The series also takes fables and recasts them as history ("Ramadan," for example, in which Morpheus saves the beautiful and glorious "true" Baghdad by preserving it within The 1,001 Nights but replacing it in the real world with our war-torn Baghdad) and recasts history as fables (such as "Three Septembers and a January," telling the mostly true story of  Joshua Abraham Norton, the Emperor of the United States of America).

On top of all of this, Sandman (as well as it's numerous sequels, prequels, and spin-offs) is itself an exercise in alternative story-telling. While it begins as a fairly straightforward comic book set within the DC universe and featuring cameos from various DC characters both mainstream (Batman and Clark Kent, for example) and more obscure (such as Wesley Dodds and John Constantine), it quickly breaks away from comic book tropes and explores other types of narrative techniques. Some issues are little more than illustrated poems. Others illustrated prose stories.

All this in what was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill horror comic.

Also, who knew The Cure's Robert Smith was cosplaying Morpheus all this time?

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Deck the Halls by Wendy H. Jones

I am sure the whole world knows that Christmas is upon us. Everyone is chasing their tails trying to get ready for the big day, or two days if you celebrate on boxing day as well. I am no different to anyone else. My days have been filled with present buying, card writing, turkey buying, and a search for all the endless trimmings that go with a turkey dinner. What's this got to do with writing I hear you ask. Bear with me, I'm getting there. I have the added joy of being an author. This means that my Christmas has been full of book signings as well as all the usual parties and frivolities. Okay, my book signings are full of frivolity as well. I'll give you that. 

The title of my post is Deck the Halls. Well it's not quite deck the halls today, but certainly dressing me. I have appeared in a number of guises throughout the festive period. In the photo above I was signing books at a local shopping centre. The picture above is me dressed as a smiling santa, complete with penguin jumper. As people went past my table I smiled at them and said this is your one and only chance to get a crime book signed by a smiling santa. It caught their attention, made them laugh. Many bought books which was fabulous. Many  didn't but I certainly brightened up their day. 

Not only was I dressed up but so was my table. No self respecting crime writer should be seen without a noose, some bullets and a few syringes full of poison. The burning question of the day was - are the chocolates poisoned. Many brave souls tried one and as far as I know they are all alive to tell the tale. I consider it a bonus that the police have not knocked on my door quite yet. 

I also did a book signing at the CLC bookshop along with three other authors. I had dead bodies covered. Sorry I mean crime. Dorothy Courtis was selling her fabulous sagas. Caroline Johnson had YA sewn up with her book What If? John Halverson catered to the children's market with his book The Big Brown Lazy Dog. Here we are looking well dressed and yet somewhat maniacal. Working together with other authors is a great way to get the word out about your books. It is also lots of fun. 

This morning I was transformed into a rather fetching Elf. This had nothing whatsoever to do with books, but a lot to do with fun. I was at a Christmas party for a drop in centre at which I volunteer. As authors we can often get so caught up in our books that we forget we are people too. Today it was time for me to let my hair down and just be me. 

Why am I saying all this? If you are an author think of ways in which you can do things differently. See if there is anything like this you can do with your books. The strategies I have used may not work for you. Think about what might work. Is there any way you can deck the halls of your book promotions and get the word out. 

I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy every minute of it and remember you are first and foremost you. See you all in 2016. 


About the Author

Wendy lives, and writes, in Dundee Scotland. Her first book, Killer's Countdown, was published in November, 2014. The second book in the DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries, Killer's Craft, was released on 20th July, 2015. The Third book, Killer's Cross, was released on 16th November, 2015. You can find out more on her:

Amazon Author Page

Monday, 21 December 2015

Stephen King says... don't be scared of Genghis Khan, Katherine Roberts.

Ever since discovering a copy of Stephen King's On Writing in my goodie bag at a British Fantasy Convention way back in the 1990s, I've admired the man for his no-nonsense approach to writing. I'm not especially a horror fan - those familiar with my work will know I'm more into fantasy and legends with a bit of science fiction mixed in. But I enjoyed the screen adaptations of King's books, such as writer's nightmare Misery, where the author of a popular series finds himself incapacitated at the mercy of his No. 1 fan, who forces him to write another book in that series. Having someone smash your ankles with a sledgehammer must concentrate the mind, I suppose, and makes me wonder how autobiographical that book was when he wrote it. After all, Stephen King's No 1 tip in his tips for writers published recently in the Guardian is "Write whatever the hell you like".

Up until around 2006, I'd always pretty much done this, and had the luck to get most of that 'whatever' published so that I could afford to continue writing in the same vein. Those were the days before publishers were run by accountants, and (while a few years after the Net Book Agreement died) I think it must have been before Bookscan figures really started killing off what the industry likes to call the 'midlist' - a term which is wielded about by industry people much like King's sledgehammer to break the metaphorical ankles of such authors, and one which always puzzles me when authors insist on using it themselves, since this list so many of us are supposed to be in the middle of is not our list, it's the publisher's list, and publishers naturally have a different business model. Anyway, I lived in blissful ignorance of the 'computer says no' syndrome and wrote what came from my heart, not the part of my head that juggles figures around in the hope of putting food on the table.

Ten years ago, fresh from the admittedly rather rocky publication of I am the Great Horse, I started writing a book about Genghis Khan, for no greater reason than that he seemed a worthy successor to Alexander the Great and the history of Mongolia interested me. I'd also just watched a contemporary drama series on TV - I can't remember the title now, or even what it was about, but it was in three parts with three cleverly interwoven character viewpoints and only at the end did you 'see' the whole story. That structure fascinated me. So I wrote my Genghis Khan book in the same manner, using three first person viewpoints each covering the same period of 12 years - a complete cycle of the Mongolian animal calendar - and (having sadly just lost my agent to cancer) sent it off to various editors and agents.

Over the course of the next five years or so, I collected plenty of well-meaning advice and feedback. It wasn't romantic enough... the three first person viewpoints were confusing... the girl's story was interesting, but the boys got in the way... it was a tough read... the original structure was too challenging for young readers... historical fiction for teenagers was (still is, apparently) an uphill struggle... why didn't I rewrite it, mixing up the viewpoints in the standard linear fashion? Why didn't I write something else more saleable... or just stop bothering them and go the hell away? Though nobody actually said as much to me because most children's editors are much nicer than that, and I wasn't bothering adult publishers with my work because, as one agent helpfully pointed out along the way, "of course, Conn Iggulden has already wooed the adult market..." In other words, "it's already been done for the only viable historical fiction market".

Indeed, Iggulden's Conqueror series about Genghis Khan turned out to be phenomenally successful at the time, which made me wonder why a book about Genghis Khan wouldn't work for the teen/YA market. But I appreciated my story was very different in style from his male-oriented historical adventure approach. Besides, after spending more than five years re-writing the book, I was pretty much sick to death of the whole thing and somewhere among those endless rewrites had lost sight of my original concept completely. So I stored my various versions away and buried the project, while I moved on to new work for younger readers that might prove a bit more market friendly. That younger project did prove a lot easier to sell to a publisher, and a few years later the Pendragon Legacy about King Arthur's daughter (published by Templar Books in the UK, no US publisher yet) took over my creative life for another couple of years.

True to his real life persona, however, Genghis Khan refused to die after I'd buried him. Clearly, I'd forgotten to gallop my unicorn nine times over his floppy disk to keep his spirit quiet. So, finding myself again between publishing contracts after yet another publisher takeover and editorial clean sweep, I pulled the Genghis files off their old floppy and on to my computer. Every so often I'd open these files and take a quick look and, although I tried very hard not to, I'd get inspired by the story of Genghis Khan's teenage years all over again. Taking a break of years from a project lets you read it with fresh eyes, almost as an editor might. One day I sent those files up to amazon for conversion so I could put them on my Kindle to see if they worked, and from there it seemed a small step to making a few obvious edits and publishing the ebook edition.

I've decided to return to my original three-viewpoint structure, and this month sees publication of the first of what will become a series of linked novellas about the early years of Genghis Khan, based on the 13th century Secret History of the Mongols and retold in the young characters' own worlds. It's not a Conn Iggulden-style historical adventure. Nor is it your typical girly YA romance, though it touches on a spiritual werewolf theme. I'm not sure it even counts as YA, or which shelf it would sit on in a book shop, if it ever gets that far. It's simply a project that, for one reason or another, has taken me ten years to get out into the world. It's got some of my blood and tears in there, if nothing else.

Temujin's story is published under the Atlantic YA Press label, and is the first of my signature books published for older fans and collectors of my work. (The 'A' stands for my middle name, not 'adult', so I doubt older teenagers will blush very much... just don't give this one to your nine year old, okay?) In some respects, this is a throwback project that should have been published years ago yet somehow slipped through the cracks so I hesitate to promote it over my other work - but, since it's Christmas, Book 1 of the series is free to download until 25th December.

DOWNLOAD PRINCE OF WOLVES - FREE TODAY (21st - 25th December 2015).

Find out more about Katherine Roberts and her books at

Follow Katherine on Twitter

Sunday, 20 December 2015

In celebration of the dark by Sandra Horn

After my last little rave about the Moon, I want to celebrate the Dark. Where would we be without the lovely dark? The moon and stars are always there, but we’d never see them. The Aurorae Borealis and Australis would go on casting their enchanting veils of coloured light across the poles, unseen. 

There would be no bats or barn owls, no other silent and slinky creatures of the night – and where would writers be without darkness to hide miscreants, lovers, conjure up ghosts? 

I’ve always loved darkness, especially but not necessarily, when accompanied by cold. When I was a child, I was always being called in to put a coat on (Don’t want to! Not cold!) and I loved being out in the dark, star-gazing, playing with shadows, listening for owls. I used to walk round with my eyes shut in the day, sometimes, just to see where I ended up. I still do... My favourite holidays have been in early January, in Tromso, up in the Arctic Circle, where there was twilight for about four hours between 10 am and 2pm, and a long starry night all the rest of the time; Bern so we could go up the Schildhorn and walk on the glacier; Iceland to chase the Aurora we’d been in Tromso, again, and marvel at icicles as tall as a house.

One of the delightful things about being a writer is that you can put your personal oddities to good use. My voice play ‘Persephone’ re-imagines the myth, setting it in a modern suburban street in which the adolescent girl is fascinated by the dark and by death, and is increasingly overburdened by her mother’s exuberant sun, sex and veggies lifestyle (she is the Earth-mother, after all). When the silent stranger on the motorbike holds out his hand to Persephone, she approaches him, half-willingly, and he snatches her up. Her life in the dark with him through the winter is a respite from all the things she struggles with in her mother’s world. The child she is needs to ‘die’ – i.e. separate herself from her mother and grow into her own unique adult skin.  That’s probably more than enough psychoanalytic blather. 

Merry Christmas, everyone – and a happy, healthy, peaceful, creative 2016!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Christmas Memories

Christmas Day will be here in less than a week. The street decorations have been lit for the past month. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone. The retail stores are counting their footfall and profits, and wondering whether there will be a last minute rush. Children are writing their Santa letters, and parents are ignoring their ever increasing credit card spending.

Am I the only one who wonders, in the midst of this spending frenzy, where the magic has gone, the simple pleasures, and the enjoyment of what was once a religious festival.

Memory Lane is sometimes a place it’s better not to visit. Everything in the past wasn’t perfect, and life for many has improved substantially, but in the process maybe we have become more disillusioned and less satisfied with the simple pleasures of the past.

However, the temptation to wander through Christmases past is beckoning. There were no expensive presents left in the stocking I pinned up every year when I was a young child. But then, in those days we didn’t know what the most popular gift of the year was, because we had no television to tell us. The savvy children of today would be horrified to be presented with those bygone stockings. There was an apple and an orange in the toe of the stocking, a few nuts, a half-a-crown (12½ pence in today’s money), and your special present. In my case it was a book, often one of the Chalet Girls series or something similar. The book usually cost two shillings (10 pence in today’s money). And that was it. Did we miss out? Not really, because we didn’t know anything different.

I’m not sure when it all changed. I remember getting a bike one Christmas, when I was a bit older. And the book increased to include an annual, usually The Broons or Oor Wullie, favourites in Scotland. So there was a gradual change.

Then, after I was married, we tried to give each other a ‘good’ present at Christmas, and as the years went by and we became a bit more affluent, we could afford to spend a bit more. But it was still the simple things that thrilled the most. The pillowcase (notice how the size has increased from the stocking) my husband filled for me every Christmas and left at the side of my bed on Christmas Eve after I’d fallen asleep, so that I could imagine Santa had visited during the night. It always contained my favourite perfume, a box of chocolates and various nick-nacks he’d gathered in secret over the preceding month. And of course, the books, four of them. I never did find out how he found out what I wanted to read, but his choice was always spot on. I think I loved that Santa sack more than the special present he always bought me as well. It was worth more than diamonds to me.

Alas, I lost my husband ten years ago, so no more Santa sacks. I still get Christmas presents from all of the family, and I appreciate what they give me because they put thought behind the gifts. But I do miss that Santa sack and the thrill of waking up to find it beside my bed.

But times have changed, and I am as guilty as the next person of racking up the credit card to an unimaginable level in the pursuit of the perfect present for my friends and family. Of sending bigger and better Christmas cards, and of suffering the throes of anguish when I have received more cards than I sent, and can’t remember who I’ve forgotten.

Oh well, let’s leave Memory Lane behind. I’m sure none of us would want to return there, we’re far too busy enjoying the benefits of a modern lifestyle.

A happy and enjoyable Christmas when it comes, or if you prefer a quote from one of my friends – “Bah, humbug!”

Chris Longmuir


Apple iBooks

Friday, 18 December 2015

Dear Santa ... by Catherine Czerkawska

Cool cats
Dear Santa, please could you send me a time machine, Doctor optional, although David Tennant would be a nice addition. He could pilot it for me.

I want to go back to 1950s Leeds. Just for a little while. Oh, and I want to be a child again, so that I don't find it too much of a shock. But with just enough adult hindsight to be able to observe with a certain amount of clarity. And take notes. 

Tall order, I know.

The alternative, as I've discovered, may be a magical website called Leodis, which is one of the old names for the city. You can visit it here. I first discovered this wonderful site when my cousin sent me a link to it, and I must confess that back when I was working as a writing fellow for the Royal Literary Fund, I browsed it in between appointments whenever my students were late. It was ideal for filling in the odd five or ten minutes of free time, easy to click on a few photographs and just as easy to click off them again. Now I've been spending whole evenings, clicking on one image after another, searching, reminding myself of my roots. Feeling homesick, not so much for the place and for the people that once inhabited it, but for a particular time of my life. And dreaming about it. I have certainly been dreaming about it.

We first moved to Scotland when I was eleven or twelve, because my father's career brought him here. I've lived and worked in Finland and Poland and I even went back to Leeds to do a Masters Degree at the university there. But recently, I've caught myself pondering my feelings about Scotland  - and my own identity. I married here, had a child here, I love where I live and some of my best friends are here. I've written extensively about Scotland, both in my fiction and my non-fiction. Most (although not all) of my novels are set here. And you don't get much more Scottish than my forthcoming novel, The Jewel, about the life and times of Jean Armour, wife of Scottish poet Robert Burns. So in some sense, I do have a Scottish identity.

Daddy's girl
But I'm Polish, of course. And Irish. My grandmother was 'Leeds Irish' but her father was from Mayo. My grandfather, an auburn haired viking of a man, was from the Dales - Swaledale to be precise. They had been lead miners who gravitated towards the city during the Industrial Revolution. There's a part of me - quite a strong part - that is still the Yorkshire lass of my childhood.

The black and white pictures here were taken outside the place where I lived till I was seven. We had a tiny two roomed flat above the small sweet shop owned by my grandparents, in an industrial part of Leeds: sooty Holbeck. It has recently been gentrified and some of the old street names seem to have disappeared along with the buildings. Then, when I was seven, we moved to a flat on the other side of Leeds. At that time, the council had taken over a number of houses and converted them into flats, in an effort to address the post war housing shortage. We rented part of a house that had once been a Victorian vicarage - big, light and freezing cold because, of course, central heating was the province of the rich. We had paraffin heaters. I can still remember the smell. And the frost on the inside of the windows.

Last night, I did a bit of wallowing on Google Earth as well, and discovered, to my astonishment, that in spite of countless changes and numerous new builds, the house is still there, not far from Woodhouse Moor. This was not a moor at all by then, although it once had been, but a well kept park with allotments on the fringes of it. One of my uncles used to grow cabbages, potatoes and leeks there. I would sometimes pass him on my way to play on the swings. Courtesy of 'street view', I could gaze along the driveway towards the front door of our old house. Not only that, but the sycamore tree in the garden, beneath which I had once played, was still there, the garden well kept and pretty. I can't describe quite how that made me feel: a strange mixture of excitement, sadness, longing and love. The very epitome of nostalgia, I suppose.  

Then I came across something I had completely forgotten: the lion and the serpent, on Woodhouse Moor. I used to do exactly what these kids are doing (typical 1960s schoolboys, probably from the nearby grammar school) and ride on the lion, hugging him and stroking his stone nose. In fact a little later, when I discovered C S Lewis and Aslan, I suspect it was this beloved lion I had in mind! The picture is from an excellent blog, by the way - well worth visiting if you have any Leeds connections - Woodhouse Moor Online - where you can find out lots more about the sculpture itself. 

Later, I googled Cockersdale, a bus ride away from the Holbeck flat. (Cars were as unknown to us as telephones and  televisions and central heating. How did we survive?)  This is where my dad and I spent many a blissfully happy summer Saturday afternoon wandering through the countryside. He was a country lad at heart and taught me pretty much everything I know about trees and flowers and wildlife. I found that it too is substantially unchanged, still rural, still pretty. I had imagined it all built over, but it seems to have been protected and preserved.

Much like my memories.

So it turns out that I don't really need a time machine. Just the power of my imagination and the internet. 
I think I feel a book coming on ...