Saturday, 29 April 2017

Fictional fiction: N M Browne

We writers do like to bang on about writing don’t we? How many of the heroes of novels are in fact novel writers? From Death in Venice to London Fields we insert our own occupation into the mix for a little post modern intrigue. We even like our fictional detectives to be writers from Jessica Fletcher and Castle to the poet Adam Dalgliesh, created by PD James. 
   It is very tempting to follow that over used dictum to ‘ write what we know,’ and write all about us.  Thus far I’ve avoided that trap only because  my fictional characters have to be as  unlike me as possible  in order to fulfil their role as adventure hero or heroine.  The urge to write about a woman just like myself is strong though I am still fighting it, which makes me an unlikely convert to a script about a script writer.  Of course I  used to love those Hollywood films like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ about making a film, but the recent 'La La Land'which seemed to focus on the undiluted narcissism needed to fulfil your dreams, made me somewhat sceptical about ‘going to see the recent film, 'Their Finest’ which is, in many ways, even more self referential. I am pleased to say I was wrong. 
   The film tells the story of a woman script writer in war time London, getting involved in writing the ‘slop’ the woman’s dialogue in a propaganda movie. Sure, a writer is the hero, but a rather self deprecating one. It seemed to me that the film is less a self aggrandising story about the writer as ‘star’ and more a reflection on the intersection between fiction and life - contrasting the deliberate construction of the one against the unpredictable chaos of the other.  It is inevitably a romance, but more than that it is a story about a woman who was saved by work, by writing. This happens  literally; in staying at the office to save the script and her relationship, she is absent when her flat takes a direct hit. It also happens metaphorically so that when life gets in the way of the predictable happy ending the solace she finds in her work provides some kind of  alternative. I also loved the way the camera returns to the  structural story board for the film within the film, drawing attention to the way the main story mimicked the fictional story's peaks and troughs. 
  I may, in consequence, revise my view on self referential writing.  We all adapt the peaks and troughs of story telling into the narrative we tell ourselves about our own lives.  It is not just writers, but all of us, who cast  fictional versions of ourselves in the dramatisations we construct: our own stories are always fed by the fiction we consume. 

   In tricky times maybe we need more that is heart warming, inspiring and optimistic, so that we can all cast ourselves as plucky heroes and heroines, keeping calm and carrying on. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

Medieval manuscripts, Christianity, Fake News and Puppies, by Enid Richemont

Our wonderful British Library has been justifiably blogging about its fantastic collection of medieval manuscripts, and posting some of the images on Facebook. I've never seen them in so much close-up detail before, and they really are amazing - the details so exquisitely drawn by monks with no access to either great lighting, apart from what the sun or candles provided, or, of course, reading glasses. A Polish artist, whose name I can no longer find, has made an animation of one of them, and if you think about it, these manuscript illuminations are like very early comics, and perfect for animation.

The British Library's blog is at, very simply, "Medieval Manuscripts Blog", but the other site that's hugely interesting is at: It's an odd url, but go there and you will be richly rewarded. The animation I mentioned is of a Medieval nature story about the life of hedgehogs. It was believed that hedgehogs raided vineyards for grapes, shook them down (suspend your 21st Century commonsense here), turned on their backs and rolled over them, using their spikes like cocktail sticks, then scuttled back to their burrows and turned upside down, thus allowing their young to feed on the grapes. The animation is wonderful, with a commentary in Medieval Latin (subtitles in English). And people swallowed this story (but possibly not everybody). There's nothing new about False News, even if it involves hedgehogs.

Following on from the exquisitely-drawn dragons' tails etc, the book review I read later seemed very appropriate. It's a book by Robert Knapp called: The Dawn of Christianity: People and Gods in the Time of Magic and Miracles, and I'm going to get hold of it. It seems that Magic, Conjuring and Miracles were rife at the time of Christ. There was, indeed, a Samaritan called Simon who performed mighty acts of magic and who was considered a god, as was, apparently, the emperor Vespasian who - it was witnessed - healed the lame and the blind, which explains why magic was so frowned on by the early Christians as it represented direct competition. Well I'm sure that if you got into an argument about the life of hedgehogs with a Medieval person, you'd lose because well, hey! it HAS to be true - just look at the picture.

Did I already tell you that I was in the flying saucer business a long time ago? Together with an artist friend, we set up a gentle Flying Saucer company, gentle because Frisbees too enthusiastically aimed can occasionally cause damage. We called ours Wizbees, and sold them in Carnaby Street and the Design Centre, but unsurprisingly our British Flying Saucers did not make us rich beyond the dreams of avarice. This is one of them.

The film - ah yes, this has been referred to before. Exciting, yes, but given the rate at which the film business works (think snails on Valium) the excitement tends to fizzle out. If it ever reaches the screens, you are all invited to a virtual Red Carpet event, for which I insist you wear all your finest fake diamonds or even your real ones.

And so to dogs. A very troubled writer friend who shall be nameless has recently acquired a puppy whose presence is clearly transforming her life. I'm no good at doggie breeds, so I can't tell you which one, but it has silky ginger ears and a very sweet face. My daughter keeps urging me to get a dog - well maybe I should. I did write "THE DREAM DOG", after all. First published by Walker Books far too long ago, it's currently available as an ebook on (use .com if you're American) Read it armed with a box of tissues.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Retiring from Writing Would Mean Retiring From Life - Andrew Crofts

People around me seem to mention the word “retirement” a lot, asking one another when they are thinking of taking the plunge. I’m keeping a low profile because I am not sure that, as a lifelong freelance writer, I completely grasp the concept.

Retire from what exactly?

If I wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea for a book, am I going to turn over and go back to sleep rather than follow the train of thought to wherever it might lead me?

If someone emails me from some distant and mysterious land, inviting me to travel to them to hear their story with a view to ghosting for them, am I going to decline because now I am “retired”?

There are aspects of writing which become increasingly tedious with age – typing mainly - but then sitting on a ride-on lawnmower can become tedious after an hour or two, as can sitting in a coffee shop with a newspaper or staring out to sea from a tropical island paradise. None of these things do I particularly want to give up.

What exactly is “work” anyway?

Is raising children or caring for an elderly parent work? I think so.

Is commuting on a crowded train for hours every day work? Most definitely.

I guess if you hate your job then retirement is an attractive option, but are there any freelance writers out there who really hate their work that much? They may have grown tired of dealing with publishers, but now they can bypass all that irritation and publish themselves. They may have grown tired of sitting at screens, but most of us are willing to pay that price for as long as our backs and wrists hold up to the repetitive stresses and strains. Maybe they want more time to indulge in hobbies and interests, but ever since I left school I have been following wherever my interests lead me, while trying to make enough money to keep the family fed and warm, so no change there.

To contemplate retiring from writing seems to me to be the same as contemplating retiring from life, and I haven’t yet fixed a date for that one.  

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Out of the Mouths of Actors: Dipika Mukherjee Discovers the Magic of Audible Books

On March 28, 2017, Audbible release Ode to Broken Things as an audiobook, but before that, they sent me a link to an excerpt on SoundCloud.
Ode to Broken Things is my debut novel. Like a jealous Mum, I wanted the book to stride into this new audio world with intelligent self-conviction but I definitely did not want it adopted by a mentor so fabulous that it would forget its roots and my vision.
So the first time I listened to Ode To Broken Things—if it can be called “listening” –  was in the shower, with the sound partially drowned by cascading waters.
Okay. So I am a writer who NEVER reads her books once they are published. When I am called upon at literary or talks to read excerpts, I discover cringe-worthy writing hiding in the recesses of my beloved passages. I am glad that excellent editors comb through my writing, because when I am done with edits, all I do is binge-watch Hallmark movies and Bollywood escapism for weeks, completely disengaging my brain until I am ready to do words again.
I imagine that all writers are uncomfortable with their words made flesh, but the first time a German filmmaker showed an interest in my novel, underneath the excitement was the thought, How are they going to cast for a book that is set in Malaysia, has speakers of Malaysian English, Indian English, American English, and native speakers of Bengali and Malay? Ego reared a great ugly head, knowing that I, the creator of this world nurtured in my mind for over a decade, will see this story implode in the hands of another artist.
Cue the entrance of Audible, purveyors of brilliant Audio Books around the world, who bought audio rights to Ode to Broken Things. Then they cast British actor HomerTodiwalla to read the book I had written.  
A word about the fabulous staff at Audible; they are wonderful to work with and as soon as the audio rights were in their hands, they offered me free audiobooks to check out their system and double-checked that I could access books in the UK and the US. They just weren’t interested in my input on who should be cast to read for my book.
So when the Audiobook was released worldwide on March 28, I, along with millions of people, (ok, more like a few hundred people) heard this book at the same time.
Most people probably heard it before me, because as you already know, I listened to it in the shower.
My publisher, Repeater Books in London, have been most excellent with the editing and distribution of this book; I do very little but show up for events, so the fact that the audiobook would be good should have been self-evident. But I am a sociolinguist by academic training and like most researchers and teachers of language I knew all the things that could go wrong with pronunciation and articulation.
If they had got me involved with Central Casting, I’d have whipped out a real shibboleth to sort out the Malaysian English speakers from others.
The first time I listened to Homer reading, I was startled by the mispronunciation; Malaysian English is not Indian English, and the ubiquitous lah in Malaysian English does not take a pause before articulation, but tags on happily to words for emphasis (Ok lah, said as one word, can emphasise agreement, frustration, amusement, and a host of other human complexities). Malaysian English is also idiosyncratic and very very funny, especially when Antares describes it. 
But then, Homer started to weave his magic. As a professional actor, he knew where to pause breathlessly and where to raise his voice just so. The section on the hunt for the Kajang terror with the soldiers weaving their way through the dense undergrowth of the dank rainforests grew sonorous with the whisper of leaves and the chirp of wildlife. There is a nuanced lilt to his voice when he takes on the persona of the aged grandmother, Shapnasundari, which I, as an author rushing to finish reading and sit down again, will never be able to replicate on any stage.
All of my worries about my Singaporean and Malaysian buddies listening to this and saying Rubbish lah! melted away as Homer’s voice filled my ears with words from succeeding chapters. I know from teaching English that very few people distinguish varieties of Asian Englishes clearly enough to be disturbed by anomalies in a particular type, and this audiobook, available in the US and UK for western readers, is unlikely to disconcert.
Besides the story is still mine, still intact, still good...and much enhanced by the talent of the actor reading it aloud.
I have used this old Bengali proverb in Ode to Broken Things but I am recycling it again: 
Gacher theke phol mishti
Sweeter than the tree you plant is the fruit it bears.
P.S: I still have a few free US & UK codes to giveaway for reviewers who want to review this audiobook; write to me here

Dipika Mukherjee’s debut novel, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, 2016) and is available as an Audible audiobook in the US and the UK. Shambala Junction, her second novel,won the Virginia Prize for Fiction (Aurora Metro, 2016) and was released in the US in April 2017. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Technological Eavesdropping by Susan Price

Spoken into a mobile phone by a young woman pushing a baby in a pushchair.

No idea what the 'it' was that he wouldn't let her have. Or where she got this strange idea that 'he' could stop her from having it, whatever it was. But she let everyone within earshot know about it as she passed. There's the start of a story here.

     I love technology. It's technology that allows me to bring you this blog and it's technology that now allows me to overhear the snippets of other people's private lives on a regular basis.
     I offer them here as a public service to writers who're looking for something to, perhaps, kick-start a story.

I overheard this in a pub. No surprises there. The speaker stood nearby, trying to hide his phone in his jacket and mutter into it, but growing louder and more impassioned as he went on. I may not have all of the conversation word for word but I have the gist - and he really did say, 'You Jezebel.' I know because, when he did, Glenfiddick came down my nose and the waste of good whisky has engraved it forever on my heart.
     It's cruel, I suppose, to make a mere blog out of his heart-ache - but aren't we always making use of other people's - and our own - heartache? If you haven't got that core of ice in the heart, don't become a writer.
     And it was his choice to hold the conversation with Jezebel in public. He could have had the conversation elsewhere. For my part, I couldn't not hear and I couldn't even move away because the pub was so crowded. And, yeah, right, of course I would have moved away if there'd been more space. The late Patrick Campbell said that his aunt would often shush him in public because she was so intent on listening to the conversation in another group. And he himself, he admitted, was so given to eavesdropping that his elbow would be almost on another party's table.

I'm also reminded of Joe Orton, a writer I greatly admire. The
Joe Orton, Wikipedia
people in his plays say things like, "I had no idea our marriage teetered on the brink of fashion." (Said by a woman on discovering her husband dressed as a woman.)  And, "Every luxury was lavished on you - athiesm, breastfeeding, circumcision. I had to make my own way."

    When he was accused of writing stylised, unrealistic dialogue, he denied it. Listen to people, he said. Listen to the way they actually speak, at the bus-stop, in the shop-queue. He reckoned that he wrote very realistic, everyday dialogue.
     It's not only a great waste and pity that Orton was murdered at so young an age - it's absolutely tragic that he died before the invention of the mobile phone, which would have given him so much material to work with.

The above was overheard, just the other day, in a bus-stop. I never got to hear why the cat couldn't be impregnated now ('tho I was agog) because the bus came and interrupted the conversation.

You could mix the characters together, fit them all into the same story. Is 'Jezebel' the young woman with the pushchair, after she's got fed up of not being allowed things? - But that's easy stuff. Who owns the cat and why can't it be impregnated now? What is the cat's job and what is it that Mum must do because this dislikable cat is doing its job? Somebody, please, make up an explanation. 

But since technology isn't everything, here's a couple of traditional earwiggings of the kind that Patrick Campbell and his aunt enjoyed.

The above was overheard in the bar of a rather posh London hotel (well, posh for me anyway) where I was attending some Royal Literary Fund do.
     And, below, overheard one late night, in a bus-stop.

Mix them in with Jezebel, her ex, pushchair girl, the young casino worker, his mum and the cat. I challenge you.

 I think Orton would have appreciated the politeness of the exchange - politely enquiring what's going on in the friend's life now, reminiscing a little about past shared experience, and politely enquiring about the friend's family.
     And, as Orton himself said, "It's all any reasonable child can expect if the dad is present at the conception."

Susan Price is a writer for children and Young Adults.
Her book, The Ghost Drum, won the Carnegie medal.
The Sterkarm Handshake won the Guardian Fiction Prize.
Both are currently under film option.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Those nitty-gritty details - Jo Carroll

I'm known as a travel writer. So writing a novel - and then having the temerity to publish it - has been a bit of a learning curve.

As a travel writer I try to bring the tiniest details to life: the harrumph of a hippo or the strength of the tiniest dung beetle. Deafening tropical rain. Equally essential are personal reflections on daily challenges that may be so very different from those I find at home, such as night buses and street food. And then there are the minutiae that I don't write about, like the toilets.

Which is the link (believe it or not) to my novel, The Planter's Daughter. Sara left Ireland during the famine, to live with an aunt in Liverpool. From there she headed for Australia, ending up in Hokitika - a gold town in New Zealand. These are the bones of the story - a bit like the bones of a travel book. But I needed to know more about the homes she lived in, the food she ate, how she kept clean. Okay, not much of that ended up in the novel, but it was still something I needed to know.

And the aspect that exercised me most was ... toilets. Especially in New Zealand, where she lived in an old fisherman's hut on the beach. No doubt the old fisherman widdled in the sea. But I could hardly have her lifting her ladylike skirts among the crabs and seagulls.

These days, we don't shy away from most bodily functions. It's ok to write about hernias and menstruation. Scenes in public toilets are used as a way of two characters sharing information with each other and the viewer or reader without anyone else knowing. But the rest of it ... well, it's not really a story, is it. The trouble is, when I'm watching a film, I can't help wondering about the heroine who is stuck on a ledge fighting off the bag guys for five hours. How come she never says, 'Hang on a minute, I'm just nipping off for a pee.'

You might wonder if there is anything interesting to say about toilets. And it may be my background as a travel writer (all travellers have toilet stories) that leaves me wondering about something so mundane.

How did I solve Sara's toilet challenge in New Zealand? If you really want to know, you'll have to read the book! (Here it is on Amazon.)

And yes, I do know that 'nitty' (in the title if this post) is Geordie for toilet.

If you want to know more about me and my writing, you can find it here -

Sunday, 23 April 2017

On the Architecture of Gardens by Lev Butts

My mother wanted me to be an architect when I was kid because I liked drawing and had what she called an "eye for detail" since I had once included every board of our hardwood floor when I drew our living-room. I'm not sure why she decided on an architect for my profession instead of an artist, but I am assuming it was because architects make decent money and most artists do not.

Much to her chagrin (I assume) I became a writer and a teacher (and thus doubly cursed to make less-than-decent money). While I'm not entirely sure when I decided to be a teacher (I always wanted to be a writer), I remember distinctly when I chose not to be an architect: As soon as I realized there was math involved and a whole shit-ton of work.

Pictured: My mother's ideal son.
Don't get me wrong: I have no problem at all working long and hard at something I care about. I just didn't care about designing buildings.

I just wanted to draw stuff.

I am reminded of my mother's dashed hopes and dreams for me because I spent a goodly portion of this past week talking with four authors (Michael Pitre, Scott Thompson, Richard Monaco, and Cherie Priest) about our writing processes and a quote by George R. R. Martin:

This conversation began when my school hosted Pitre as our resident author for this month. While he and I were talking in my office, this came up and we discussed what kind of writers we were. Pitre sees himself as an architect. He planned out his novel from the start: figuring out how many words it would take him to tell his story, then how many chapters he'd need, how many words per chapter, and even the chapter titles, before he ever put pen to paper with his story.

Scott Thompson, too, considers himself an architect. He plans "carefully" before he writes, generating "thousands of words of notes for each novel" before he begins typing.

I, on the other hand, see myself as much more of a gardener.

Don't laugh. Gardeners are brave, steadfast, and true.
Just ask Sam
I see myself as doing very little planning beyond a basic plot idea or character note. I rarely outline beyond rough notes that are almost immediately discarded. I like this kind of writing because it gets me to the fun stuff, the actual writing, sooner. It also makes it much easier for me to allow my characters to dictate the plot development. I don't have to feel like I'm herding cats when the story goes in a completely different direction than I imagined.

Richard Monaco, too, is a gardener. For him the story isn't even his story; it's his characters'. "I'm just the amanuensis for my characters," he claims. "They tell me where they want to go and I write it all down."

And some writers, such as Cherie Priest, do not have a preferred writing method and may flip back and forth between the two. "It depends on the project," she explains, "because some require more structural pre-planning than others."

In truth, I suspect most writers agree with Priest: writing technique depends on the project.

Architectural gardeners, or maybe gardening architects.
However, there is a third category of writers, that need discussing. This type of writer believes that he or she is a gardener, and too often looks patronizingly upon architects. These people often sneer at the architects copious notes and outlines and drafts and maps. They claim that planning a book drains creativity, that they need to just free-write and let their creativity flow and not worry about confining their art in outlines and rules.

However, this is idiotic advice.

Like architecture, gardening takes planning. You have to know where and when to plant corn and soybeans and melons and tomatoes. Floral gardens require knowledge of when particular flowers bloom and what color they will be. The gardener needs to arrange these seeds in specific places so that when they bloom they will be pleasing to the eye.

These third writers are not gardeners no matter how often how loud they claim to be. They are random strewers. Artistic beauty does not generally arise by happenstance.

The effects of gardening (left) vs. the effects of random strewing (right)
Proponents of random strewing almost always fall back on the idea that the sole purpose of writing is to express yourself. This is more purely the realm of journaling, however.

Yes, there is a certain amount of self-expression in any writing, but it is not the purpose. In truth, no one buys a book by an author they do not know because they are curious about how this stranger expresses him/herself. The purpose of writing (at least for an audience) is to tell a good story well. Even poetry, perhaps the most expressionistic form of creative writing we have, is not ultimately about self expression as much as it is about using an experience (preferably one common to most readers) to express universal truths or ideas.

In short, if your experience is not applicable to the stranger reading your work, you are not writing for an audience. If the purpose of a piece is solely self-expression, it is not, in fact, writing; it is instead narcissism.

This is not to say you cannot begin from a place of self-expression. You can, and most writers do, I suspect. However, you cannot stop there. Planning and organizing, drafting and revising, are the processes by which we take our own personal concerns and make them applicable to others. They are the necessary components that take narcissistic self-expression and transform it into universal comprehension.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Name Game: short stories need good titles too.

Ali Bacon
 writes and performs short stories
Much ink is expended and tears shed over choosing the title of a novel – that perfect hook to grab you more customers – or any customers. But what about a short story? I used to think those weird and wordy titles appearing in the shortlists of writing competitions were a bit of an affectation. Do we need the title to be almost as long as the thing itself?

However, having read submissions for a number of short story events and as co-judge of a local short story competition (yes, I am knee deep in short stories!) I am revising my opinion. A short story, by definition, has to pack a punch in a restricted number of words – in the case of flash fiction even fewer words. Not using the title to contribute to that punch seems like a wasted opportunity and although I haven’t ruled out any story because of its title (yet!) I’ve been disappointed by the number of short stories that fall short in this respect.

Still available!
But what makes a good short story title? I’m not sure but I always know when I’ve found the right one. Conversely, if I feel there’s something wrong with my story title, it’s often a signal there’s something wrong with the story.
I’ve been trying to firm up my opinions and have looked at a couple of short story collections in my possession (our own Flash in the Pen 2 and A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed, published last year for National Flash Fiction Day) as well as my own ‘oeuvre’ (!) to see if there are any rules about what works for me. I haven’t added author names here but do investigate each of these anthologies for some brilliant writing.

So what about the titles?
Single word/concept titles are risky, but of course it all depends on the word. The Interview works, I think because it’s an emotive concept and one which puts questions in the reader’s mind – what kind of interview? – are we going to hear about the interviewer or the interviewee? The Jumper is also quite intriguing, and Sunday Morning can evoke such a variety of scenes and emotions I’m interested to explore. Park Bench with all its potential for an interesting meeting or interaction also works for me. But a single word can sound merely descriptive of the plot, telling too much about what’s going to happen – answering its own question if you like. Using a single Christian name or X’s Story also feels like a cop-out unless it’s a name with a great sound (see below) or special resonance.
An unexpected combination of words is a good plan, and I was pretty happy with my Mouse Years (the age of a mouse and the period of time when it lived with the human protagonists). Serious Music is also good, but beware of having something that jars too much or in an effort to be eye-catching just fails to make sense.
An action as title will have its own dynamism – I like Preparing for Winter and The Door Closes or When She Was Good - which of course is part of a well-known saying. It’s fine to use memorable phrases and quotations, as long as they fit the bill and assuming there is a degree of ambiguity or irony in what follows. Beware of puns or wordplay that might give away the plot, although I admit I do like Fears of a Clown in the way it turns the usual saying on its head. 
And of course you can simply steal your title from an existing song, book or poem as titles are not covered by copyright except in some very particular circumstances. But be careful not to disappoint on your 'version' of  someone else's favourite.
Final point for now is that titles should sound good, which is why I like I Go on the Morrow to Murder the King, or A Quiet Afternoon in the Museum of Torture – rhythmical and surprising. I’ve just written a story called The Children of Osipovici simply because I liked the sound of it and wanted it to be the title of something!

Great title!
Looking at these fairly obvious suggestions, it seems to me that giving a name to a story is not so different from naming a novel. The title needs to be memorable and can do this by posing a question, suggesting an ambiguity, or playing on a familiar phrase or concept - some do all of these at once. And try to make it easy on the ear. In short it must call to the reader  - and then of course, it has to follow up on its promise!

Next time you write a short story, imagine it as a book, lying on the bookshop table.  What would you like to see on the cover? A good short story takes a lot of effort to write. Don’t sell it short by skimping on the title.

Ali Bacon's story Silver Harvest has just been published in the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Anthology. You can see the titles of some of her other stories on her website here and here. 

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Secret History of Genghis Khan - Katherine Roberts

I love secret histories - the sort of history that doesn't get taught in schools.

About ten years ago, following a divorce and house move, I began writing a rather strange spiritual/historical novel based on a 13th-century Mongolian prose poem called The Secret History of the Mongols. Subtitled 'The Origin of Chingis Khan', this is a fantastic account of the young Genghis Khan, his childhood sweetheart Borta, and his blood brother Jamukha. It ends when the great Khan, who throughout the story is known by his boyhood name of Temujin, takes the title 'Genghis' and becomes Khan of all "the people who live in felt tents" (in other words, yurts - or, to give them their proper Mongolian name, gers). This makes it ideal YA material, since the characters are of the right age and most of Genghis Khan's bloodbaths and empire building are still in the future. A couple of YA publishers and agents looked at the result, suggested various changes to make it more marketable, but in the end decided it wasn't commercial enough for them to take on.

The book had a challenging structure, which I dutifully changed several times - once on the advice of a well-meaning editor, who suggested making the story linear to appeal to young readers; and a few years later on the advice of an equally well-meaning agent, who suggested putting in more romance and concentrating on Borta's viewpoint in an attempt to sell it to the YA paranormal romance crowd (mostly girls). Since my book includes a Mongolian version of a werewolf, as well as shamanic journeys into the animal kingdom, both of these seemed perfectly sensible suggestions that might well have made the book more appealing to YA readers. But both were ultimately, as I can see now, doomed.

The linear approach would have made the story more accessible for young readers, yes, but it destroyed the one thing that made my book unique - its three viewpoint structure. The romance angle would no doubt have given the story more girl appeal, but it meant losing the fighting and brotherhood that was an essential part of the young Genghis Khan's life. But at the time, increasingly panicky about income and the possibility of having wasted two years writing a long book requiring careful historical research that it seemed nobody wanted, I turned a blind eye to the damage these changes were doing to my story, and wasted yet more years struggling to fit my triangular novel into a rectangular hole so that it could sit on the teen/YA shelf in a bookstore, when in fact my book really wanted to be floating in the mist of Mongolian myth, somewhere between the folklore category where you can find King Arthur, the adult historical category where you'll find Conn Iggulden's epic series about Genghis Khan, the romance category where you'll come across all those rugged half-naked Highlanders (the Scottish version of Genghis Khan), the YA section where eternal war rages between packs of werewolves and vampires, and perhaps even the literary section where the clever books with prizes lurk, only they don't as a rule give out prizes to borderline genre books by little-known children's authors. In other words, I'd written something a bit too clever for younger readers with no obvious market that hadn't a hope of winning a literary prize to lift sales, and I was whistling in the Mongolian wind if I thought anyone was going to publish it for me and get it into bookshops in sufficient quantities to satisfy their shareholders... so, once ebooks came along and made such things possible, I decided to tackle its publication myself.

First, though, I had to heal my book.

The original text was long gone, lost on an old computer my brother brought back with him from Hong Kong that got broken during a house move of a mere 100 miles or so across the same country - though thankfully I had backups of several stages of my rewrites. I now needed to find the best of these rewritten failures, break the story up into small pieces, and then restructure the text into something similar to the original three-viewpoint format I'd started with ten years ago, and which had been inspired by a drama series on TV at the time, showing a different character's viewpoint of the same story in three separate episodes that, when taken together at the end of the series, totally changed the way the viewer thought about the characters and the plot (if anyone can remember the title of this series, I'd love to know what it was... about the only thing I know is that it wasn't about Genghis Khan!) On my way through this book-healing process, I used a surprising number of the changes I'd made during my 'failed' rewrites to tighten the plot, doing away with some long-winded repetition from my first draft, so as it turned out not all the work I did during those torturous rewrites was wasted effort, and would probably have had to be done anyway during an edit.

This reduced the novel to about 90,000 words from its original epic proportions, and if I had been planning to sell it in shops where books are displayed spine-out in the traditional way, I'd probably have kept the story as a single novel with an internal triptych structure. But ebooks have no such length restrictions, so I decided to publish my story as a trilogy of ebook novellas, each about 30,000 words long, under a series title The Legend of Genghis Khan (chosen over my original title Red Moon for clarity's sake, and also with an eye to our new friend, Search Engine Optimisation). If anyone is interested, the novella titles come from the Secret History, where Temujin and his gang of brothers are often referred to as wolves, and the covers were inspired by Mongolian portraits of Temujin's family.

Book 1 - Prince of Wolves - Temujin's story, the young Genghis Khan.
Book 2 - Bride of Wolves - Borta's story, Temujin's childhood sweetheart.
Book 3 - Blood of Wolves - Jamukha's story, Temujin's blood brother.

Up until now, these three short books have been lurking in Kindle Select, meaning that Amazon Prime members can read them for free, and if people do actually read the books (as opposed to simply downloading them), then Amazon pay me a few pence per page read out of their global Select fund for that month. The downside is that, while they are in Select, the ebooks cannot also be made available in epub format for readers to download from other stores such as Apple or Kobo, or sold from any other website. But that is about to change. Books 2 and 3 are already out of the program, with only Book 1 Prince of Wolves still available for free reads by Amazon Prime members until May. After that, all three ebooks will be on sale in the normal way, with a print edition coming soon.

Authors Electric blog readers get special treatment! In advance of these changes, Book 1 Prince of Wolves is on its final Select free promotion for the next five days. You don't have to be in Amazon Prime to take advantage of this free download, just click the link below.

Download The Legend of Genghis Khan Book 1 - PRINCE OF WOLVES free* from

(*offer ends Tuesday 25th April 2017, also available from other participating amazon stores, please check price is zero before downloading.)


Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young readers with a focus on legend and myth. She also writes historical fiction with a touch of romance for older readers under the name 'Katherine A Roberts'. For more details, visit

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Desperation and Inspiration by Sandra Horn

It’s week 16 of the 52 poems challenge (write a poem a week for a year). ‘How’s it going?’I hear you cry. A bit mixed, if I’m honest.

The idea is to spend AT LEAST an hour a week reading poetry (no hardship!) and at least an hour writing. I also had what I thought was the bright idea of keeping a week ahead to allow for unforeseen spanners in the works. I still think it is a good idea, except that it makes me panic if I can’t keep it up. Not so good. Each week, there is a theme, a writing prompt and some illustrative works – ie poems on the given theme by established poets – all to get the juices flowing. Sometimes the illustration poem is so good that it’s hard not to get discouraged from the start, but I’ve been trying to counter that by heading off in as different a direction as I can. So, for the ‘Weather’ poem (Ted Hughes ‘Wind, Anon ‘Westron Wynd’, John Donne ‘The Sunne Rising’) mine is a first person comment from a snowflake. I have no idea whether it’s good, bad or indifferent (it is flakey, though), but it’s MINE and the best I could do, which I think is the salient point.

So there I was, happily immersing myself in the tasks, enjoying reading lots of poetry, when the phone rang. A friend telling me that someone needed his book proof-read and she’d told him to contact me. ‘Fine,’ I said, ‘of course I will,’ I said. Didn’t think to ask anything about it. It came. It’s the size of a breeze block. It’s repetitive and full of typos and dates. Many, many dates: ‘On Wednesday April 23rd, X happened. Two days later, on Friday April 25th, Y...’

There was nothing to do but get on with it. I had made a reasonable start when the typesetter contacted me and said she didn’t like the way the dates were set out in the original MS. Could I change them from Month-Day-Year to Day-Month-Year? I started again... The problem was, the more work I did on it, the more my brain seized up! I was befogged. No space in my head for creativity.
I have now,  finally,  finished the proof-reading, apart from a couple of queries I need to sort out with the author, but by the home stretch my poems were deteriorating into desperate doggerel as I tried not to get behind with the schedule, thinking I’d never catch up if I let things slip. I realised, too, that I’d been reading others’ poems without actually taking anything in – much too fast and all of a dither. The trouble with losing the plot like that is not being sure that you can ever get it back. Despair set in, which only made it all worse.
Then I remembered the poet M.R. (Meg) Peacocke mourning the fact that when she’d been unwell and hadn’t been able to go out for walks, it had adversely affected her writing. She found the rhythm of walking conducive – or necessary, perhaps - to producing her poems. She had also said that in order to write creatively, one needs to be able to access the space in the brain where daydreams arise. Walking and letting the mind drift pleasantly, leaving space for something to appear and settle; those were the precursors. It was time to put her wise words into practice.

We live in Southampton, a busy city port, which is never still, never quiet. We’re opposite a large and very pleasant Common, which is always crowded with joggers and dogs. The upside – and it’s  a very big up – is that we’re very close to some gorgeous countryside and seaside.  Yesterday, after I’d  closed the breezeblock and put it aside, we drove to Keyhaven  and walked along the sea wall between the sea and the salt marsh.  It was sunny, with high scudding clouds. Gorse was pumping out its lovely warm coconutty scent. A heron fished in the shallows. Waders probed the mudflats. A poem started to form. No doggerel this time.  It’ll do. 

The  book covers are taken from my poetry shelves - some favourite poets

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Book Launch Hell

I am in the middle of house selling/buying hell, and now is the best time I could choose to launch a book?

Short answer is no; it just seems to have happened that way. If those were the only things on my list life would be a tad quieter but I've the second crime novel and three short stories to finish before mid June, and a couple of ‘promised’ guest blogs. The less said about all of those the better right now. (My Authors Electric blogging deadline is an absolute. Short it may be – but I’m here!)

I shall be floundering around in book launch madness for my forthcoming crime novel Winter Downs until3rd June, and all other matters are barely registering in my rapidly addling brain so please excuse all obsessional ravings until further notice.

The story so far?

Securing the services of City Central Library, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, on 3rd June for the launch was just the start. If anything it prompted a few dozen new slots on my to-do list.

This week, for example, I spent a few happy hours scouring Dagfields, a local crafts and antiques venue, for tiered cake stands to use at my 1940s styles ‘Tea and Cakes’ launch. A successful trip! (Yes, I could have bought them on ebay – but where is the fun in that?)

I have used ebay to source some Union Jack bunting and suitable WW2 clothing to emulate Bunch, my Land Army sleuth, for those readings. I still need to source a few chintzy table cloths (from charity shops) and suitable background music (Amazon).

Fellow Penkhull author Jem Shaw, who by co-incidence also has a WW2 themed book later this year, came up with the idea of "Letters From Home" to be read at the launch along with other guest readings and an extract from Winter Downs itself. Letters From Home is an exchange of letters between and imagined pilot, Terry, 'somewhere in France', and his wife Muriel, waiting for him back home.

Yes, it is adding to that word count needed to be fulfilled by July, but it is rather fun to collaborate on a writing project instead of ploughing on alone. Mad? Perhaps I am but it has to be done.

I am blessed with having the Penkhull Press team behind me, but somehow the launch of one’s book always feels positively Sisyphean. (If anybody has any further suggestions to make, however, feel free to shout! I am – as the saying goes - all ears!)

Still to do on my list, and without doubt looming the largest of them all, is the book tour to finalise and all those wonderful bloggers to contact with my arc.

This is always the tough part for me. Those who know me might think me loud and possibly even opinionated – but it’s all carefully constructed disguise. Behind all of that noise I am excruciatingly shy with people I don’t know. The process of approaching strangers and asking them to review/promote Winter Downs is a very real torture far harder than writing and editing Winter Downs in the first place.

In the middle of all this I have to find a new home and pack up the old one. Fortunately that is a deadline as yet to be set as a firm date on the calendar, so I shall just juggle it in with the rest and hope it all slots into place. If I last that long...


Jan's crime novel Winter Downs will be launched at 11.30 am on 3rd June 2017 in the Tolkien Room at CityCentral Library, Hanley, Stoke on Trent.  All welcome! For those who can't be there it will be available through the usual online sources in both paper and ebook formats and there will be an online launch to follow.

*Go to Jan’s blog page and sign up for her newsletter before the launch for a chance to win a copy of Winter Downs.*

Jan Edwards can be found on:
Twitter: @jancoledwards

Other Jan Edwards titles in print (all available in print and eformats) Fables and Fabrications;  Sussex Tales;  Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties