Writing Romance When You’re Not a Romance Writer – a post for Valentines Day

I don’t write romance as a genre, but my books have love and relationships (and sex) in them because they’re about life and that sort of thing happens, a lot—not always when or how we expect it to happen. In fact it sometimes sneaks up on us when we’re not looking. Because it’s Valentine’s Day on Thursday, here are the romantic bits from my two trilogies. How the two main characters met and fell in love, told from the point of view of my two (female) protagonists. Of course, a lot more happens besides romance, but that’s not what this post is about.

3bookpsitech

The Psi-Tech Trilogy – Cara Carlinni speaks.
I was on the run. I spotted Ben Benjamin in a spacers’ bar on Miramar 14 station. There was a bit of a ruckus and Benjamin came out on top, but he didn’t lose his temper. Instead he defused a situation that could have become thoroughly nasty in a somebody-dies kinda way. I can work with that, I thought, especially since he flies his own ship and I need a way out of here. So I stepped in and gave the right kind of signals and pretty soon we were out of the bar and heading for his room. That’s when I made my first mistake. I got it wrong. I figured he was the kind of man who wouldn’t dump someone he’s just had sex with in the deep shit. (Unlike my previous lover who had been exactly that kind of man.) In fact, Ben wouldn’t dump anyone in the deep shit unless they thoroughly deserved it. By the time I realised that it was too late. Don’t get me wrong, sex with Benjamin was OK, at least, not gross or anything, but my emotions simply weren’t in it. I thought I could fool him about that. Second mistake. The guy was perceptive. Let me cut a long story short… He smuggled me off the station, and even though we’d had a bad start, he didn’t try to jump my bones again. I think I began to be a little bit in love with him when we didn’t have sex. Hmmm, maybe love is a bit too strong a word. We became friends, I think. Benjamin’s an easy man to like. Okay, I admit to being a little bit in love with him, but not the kind of love which wouldn’t let me walk away if I needed to. He passed me off as his wife for a time (and still no sex) and we ended up on a planet called Olyanda, trying to protect a colony from our ruthless bosses who wanted the planet’s platinum and were prepared to dispose of the settlers to get it. Loving Benjamin kinda crept up on me. I had trust issues, bigtime, since by this time my previous lover was out to get me and I knew it. Benjamin stood by me. There’s nothing that says I love you more than the act of killing a bad guy to save your life. And the sex? It took a while to get around to it, but it was worth the wait.

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

The Rowankind Trilogy – Ross Tremayne speaks
The first time I met Corwen doesn’t count because he was in wolf form. My brother, David, my very able seaman, Hookey Garrity, and I were trying to stay ahead of a troop of redcoats by taking a shortcut through the enchanted Okewood, home of the Green Man and his Lady of the Forest. She sent her silver wolf to lead us back to the Bideford road, and I discovered he had a sense of humour, especially where Hookey’s horsemanship (or lack of it) was concerned. The next time our paths crossed was in a respectable inn in Plymouth. He was wholly human then, tall with a pleasing countenance, ice grey eyes and silver hair, a colour, not an indicator of age. I wasn’t looking for love. I was a widow, dammit, and the ghost of my first husband, Will, was still with me, sometimes as no more than a whisper on the wind, sometimes looking solid enough to be a real man. When Corwen kept appearing in places were I had business, I began to get suspicious. These were no casual encounters. I wondered whether he was an agent of the Mysterium, but if that were the case he would simply have had me arrested for the unregistered witch that I was. When David and I escaped from a burning warehouse by jumping into the murky waters of Sutton Pool, it was Corwen who dragged us out of the water and got us back to our inn. I still didn’t trust him, not really, but I was grateful for the shoulder to lean on regardless, and by that time I’d realised he wasn’t going to give us away to the Mysterium—though I didn’t know who he was working for. To be honest I never expected the Lady of the Forest to take an interest in me and mine, or to send her watch-wolf. I did play a dirty trick on Corwen, my last one, I promise. He followed me aboard my ship, the Heart of Oak, and explained things a little more. I was still determined not to allow him to interfere, so I had him chained up belowdecks while David and I put ashore to search for our long lost family. I told Hookey to keep Corwen and let him go far away where he couldn’t interfere. But the man is persistent, I’ll give him that. Corwen escaped and eventually caught up with us. I suddenly realised that I was glad to see him. I’ve been glad every day since. Will’s ghost was not so glad, but that’s a story for another day.

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Writing the First World War

Maybe it was the centenary and all the remembrance services, but for the last few years I’ve had the First World War on my mind—not every waking moment, you understand, or my brain would be dribbling out through my ears by now, but enough that I’ve ended up with three short stories in anthologies.

And, of course, because I write science fiction and fantasy (mostly) there’s a SFF element to all three stories.

thomas bennettMy grandfather, Tommy Bennett (left), fought in the conflict, a volunteer in 1914, he went all the way to Pontefract from Mapplewell (a small Yorkshire pit village) to join the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. KOYLI. He survived the battle of the Somme, which was not one engagement but a series which lasted for months. The first day was the worst for casualties. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, and one of the most infamous days of World War One. Gran’pa was wounded at Passchendaele in 1917, sent back home to be treated in a series of hospitals with half his calf shot away. He had not been discharged from hospital, so was still officially a serving soldier (a lance corporal by that time) when peace was declared on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. After a year in various hospitals he returned home to the coalface and spent the next forty years digging up coal, but at least no one was shooting at him. He got married, had a daughter (my mum) and lived into his eighties.

The anthology stories form a trilogy of sorts, linked to real people, real places and real events, however tenuously.

coads antho final cover fbThe Horse Head Violin
Published in the anthology Children of a Different Sky, edited by Alma Alexander

This anthology was a fundraiser for refugees, so the stories had to be relevant. Today’s refugee problems are horrendous. Everyone knows about Syria etc., but how many people recall the Belgian refugees of the First World War. Two hundred and fifty thousand Belgian refugees came to Britain during the war. The biggest influx of refugees in British history began on 14th October 2014, just days after Germany invaded Belgium. Following the fall of Antwerp, 16,000 refugees arrived in Folkestone in a single day, 14th October 1914, and we took them in. Let me say that again: we took them in! They were the first, so many arriving at once that they slept on the beaches and in community halls, anywhere they could lay their heads until they could be dispersed inland. Those who read Poirot might recall that he was a famous (fictional) Belgian refugee. My story follows a fictional brother and sister, sent to Leeds. They are welcomed and helped by a young woman who is the secretary of Dorothy Una Ratcliffe – a real person, the youngest ever lady mayoress of Leeds in 1913/14—who wrote (in her memoir Lady of a Million Daffodils) about the day she headed the committee of local ladies welcoming the first train of Belgian refugees. They settled here for four years, but within a year of the armistice they were gone. They didn’t always have a choice, their employment contracts in Britain were terminated to make way for returning soldiers, and the government offered them free one-way passage, but only for a limited period. They were pushed out of the country so quickly that they left little legacy.

second roundMake Me Immortal With a Kiss
Published in Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar, edited by Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier

The theme for this anthology was Gilgamesh’s travelling bar. The blurb says, “For thousands of years the immortal Gilgamesh has presided over the legendary Ur-Bar, witnessing history unfold from within its walls. Some days it is a rural tavern, others a fashionable wine shop. It may appear as a hidden speakeasy or take on the form of your neighborhood local. For most patrons it is simply a place to quench their thirst, but for a rare few the Ur-Bar is where they will meet their destiny.”

As one of the core authors I had to pick a period in which to set my story, and I chose the first day of the Battle of the Somme. On 1 July 1916, the British forces suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 fatalities. It’s told from the viewpoints of my two protagonists, a young army officer and a VAD nurse who meet and fall in love at just the wrong time. It’s a bittersweet story and, given the numbers, almost bound to end in tragedy, though, I hope, not a pointless one. Keeping the tradition of including real people, I wove my grandfather, Tommy Bennett into this story in a supporting role.

A Land Fit for Heroes
Due to be published in 2019 in the anthology, Portals, edited by Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier

portalssmallI’m a core author for this 2019 anthology from Zombies Need Brains press. I’ve only just finished writing this story, so it hasn’t even been edited yet. As the third of my World War One stories, this one concentrates on the aftermath of war. Thousands of soldiers returned from four years in the trenches only to discover that annie shawthe country they were fighting for no longer existed, at least, not as they remembered it. It’s that old story of never being able to go home, because home was four years ago. My two main characters are war-damaged, one mentally, the other physically. I tried to weave Tommy Bennett into this story, too, but the word count wouldn’t allow it. However, I did set the story in Mapplewell, the Yorkshire mining village where he lived. I also managed to get my grandmother, Annie Shaw (left), later Annie Bennett, into it briefly. One hundred years ago she was a barmaid at the Talbot Inn on Towngate in Mapplewell. She was a kindly woman, who wouldn’t have seen a thirsty ex-soldier without a pint of mild in his hand. That’s the background. The story takes place a hundred years ago  in February 1919. It has a portal in it, of course, but you’ll have to wait for the anthology to find out the details.

Have I got the First World War out of my brain yet? I honestly don’t know. I mean, never say never again, right? But for now, having done three stories, one from the beginning, one from the middle and one from the end, I think I can let the subject rest a while.

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Writing Tip: Using Wordle to highlight overused words

Wordle used to be a web-based utility, a web toy that allowed you to paste in a piece of writing to make a word cloud. The more frequently a word appeared in your text, the bigger it appeared in the word cloud. Yes, it’s a pretty utility, but also massively useful for a writer. We all tend to have words that we overuse, but we don’t always recognise them. Cut and paste your text into Wordle and your overused words stand out like a rhinoceros in a flock of sheep. Frequently used common words like ‘the’, ‘and’, or ‘but’ don’t show up, of course.

Wordle is a Java applet. Because web design and technology moves on, the online Wordle web toy no longer works for most people, so the Wordle folks have offered a desktop version for both Windows and Mac. You can download it here http://www.wordle.net/. I’m running Win7pro and it works just fine for me.

Here’s an example from a story I’m working on. I have 18000 words so far.
I copied and pasted the whole story and this is the Wordle it produced.

wordle 18000
It’s OK if a proper noun, your main character’s name for instance (Semmeri in this case), comes out as one of your biggest words, but as you can see, the rhinoceros in this flock of sheep is the word ‘back’. Cringing at my own foibles, I went through my piece, searching for the word ‘back’. In some cases I cut it completely without making a difference to the sentence.

Example:
Semmeri walked back up to the camp.
versus
Semmeri walked up to the camp.

In other cases I could replace it with a better word.

After I’d gone through each iteration of the word ‘back’ my Wordle looked like this.

wordle after back

Now the rhino in the flock of sheep was the word ‘one.’ So I tamed that. My next Wordle looked like this.

wordle after one

I wasn’t too worried about the word ‘boy’ because one of my main characters doesn’t have a name to begin with and is simply referred to as ‘the boy’, so I checked ‘like’ next. I couldn’t reduce it too much, but I tamed it, and this is my final Wordle.

wordle after like

Of course, you can easily use Wordle as writing displacement, so don’t get obsessive. I don’t suggest using Wordle until you have a substantial amount of finished words. If you’re working on a novel, maybe use it after 20,000 words to see which of your words are tending towards overuse. That way you can be aware as you’re writing. Then use Wordle again at the end, when your book is finished. I suggest using it after your content edit, but before your copy edit. It will help with your final polish.

Happy wordling.

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Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2018 and 2019

It just so happens that my alternate Tuesday blog falls on 1st January 2019, so it’s a good time to assess 2018 and see if I can peep into the future to 2019. I’m not sure where 2018 went to. It seems to have passed in a blur!

2018

I don’t usually post personal stuff on this blog, but family-wise things are good. Our son came home from the USA and got married in January. Our daughter and her spouse finally managed to buy a house between London and Brighton big enough for their family. No one had any major traumas. I count that as a win.

I always try to go to a few cons. The first was Eastercon in Harrogate and I took part in a Comedy panel with Jaine Fenn and Juliet McKenna discussing ‘Men in Science Fiction and Fantasy’ with the delightful Adrian Tchaikovsky as our token male.

I also attended Fantasycon in September and Bristolcon in October. Both very enjoyable. In July I also went to the Science for Fiction event at London’s Imperial College, one of the finest science universities in the world. Prof. Dave Clements, astro-physicist and also a science fiction writer, organises two days of lectures by scientists at the cutting edge of their fields. We get everything from cosmology to gene splicing. This year (amongst other items) we had a talk by the chap who decides where the Mars Rover is going on a day-to-day basis. Fascinating stuff!

Rowankind_cover 400Writing-wise 2018 was a good year for me. My sixth book, Rowankind, was published by DAW on 27th November, and initial reviews are good. Publishers Weekly said: “Series fans will be glad to see old friends and antagonists, and will find this a strong and satisfying wrap-up of the series.”

Between working on the various drafts of Rowankind I completed another book, provisionally called The Amber Crown, a historical fantasy set in an analogue of the Baltic States around 1650. It’s a standalone, not the start of another trilogy.

I’m the secretary of Milford SF Writers. 2018 saw our first writing retreat week in addition to our regular Milford SF Writers’ Conference. The conference (a peer group critiquing week for published SF writers) is always in September, however the retreat week, in the wilds of Snowdonia was the week in the cusp of February/March when the ‘Beast from the East’ storm socked in and we were treated to the wildest Welsh weather for thirty years–snow and howling winds. Luckily by the end of the week trees blown down across the village road had been cleared and the motorway across the Pennines was open again. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be able to get home. September weather for the main Milford week was greyish and damp, but much more benign.

Laprop window snow

I read lots of books in 2018, and saw lots of movies, all of which are blogged here.

We’ve been having some work done in our front garden (demolishing a stone wall and re-laying paving and paths) but the horribly wet December held up work, so it wasn’t finished for Christmas. It’s now an ongoing project continuing into 2019.

Christmas has been quiet and restful. Our kids couldn’t make it home for the festive season this year because of either work commitments or distance. Thank goodness for Skype! I still cooked far too much. I want to know how a ton of food plus five hungry people results in two tons of leftovers.

 

2019

We’re looking forward to family visits. Our daughter and family are coming in February and our son and his wife in May.

Convention-wise, I’m giving Eastercon a miss in 2019 because it’s at Heathrow, which is not my favourite location. Besides, I’m already signed up to the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin in August, which is going to be very expensive. (And looking even further ahead I’m planning on going to WorldCon 2020 in New Zealand. I’ve started saving up already.) I haven’t decided whether or not to go to Fantasycon in October. It’s in Glasgow, not the city centre, which is relatively easy by train, but some 20 minutes out of town, which is more problematical by public transport (hauling a suitcase). I’ll wait until they publish venue details before I decide. I do like Fantasycon. It’s the most writerly of all the British conventions.

Writing-wise, I’m looking forward to finishing the final polish on The Amber Crown. One of the main things with finally finishing both trilogies (Psi-Tech, and Rowankind) is that I have to leave favourite characters behind and move on. I have several ideas for new stories, but I don’t know which one to go with. I like them all equally. Fantasy or science fiction? I haven’t decided yet. I also still have four books on the hard-drive, written before I got my first publishing deal, so I’ll be taking another look at them as well.

I’ll be going on the second Milford Writers’ Retreat, this time in May to avoid getting snowed in (hopefully), and I’ll also be at the main Milford week in September.

I can’t see beyond that at the moment. I’m open to whatever the world throws at me. (Note to world: preferably not hard brick-shaped objects, please.)

I hope the year ahead brings you all joy and success, health and happiness.

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My 2018 Reading

It’s getting towards the end of the year and this is the time I usually post a summary of my reading. I’ve kept a booklog since 2009, and oh, how I wish I’d started decades ago. I post my booklog to my Dreamwidth blog, which you can find here: https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/

It’s not a serious review site, so don’t expect anything scholarly. I use my booklog to jog my own memory and to give my unguarded first impressions. I also post my booklogs to Goodreads.

As you can see from the list, I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, plus historical fiction. Some of this year’s list are re-reads. There are few non-fiction books, but since I mostly dip in and out of non-fiction for research puroposes, I don’t list them here. The only exception being those I’ve read from cover to cover.

Standout books that I read for the first time this year include: Juliet McKenna’s Green Man’s Heir; Jodi Taylor’s An Argumentation of Historians; John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War; Jim C Hines Terminal Alliance, and Sean Grigsby’s Smoke Eaters.

As I’m preparing this blog piece I’m reading T Kingfisher’s Clockwork Boys (Clocktaur War #1) and enjoying it very much. (Edit: Clockwork Boys is now finished and reviewed at: Booklog 55/2018 – T. Kingfisher: Clockwork Boys – Clocktaur Wars #1)

(Edit #2. The Wonder Engine, #2 in The Clocktaur War duo by T. Kingfisher is also now read, thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed here: https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/605428.html)

Here are my book blogs for 2018. Click on the link to take you straight to the individual reviews on my Dreamwidth blog site.

Books read in 2018

 

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Busy November

I’ve had a busy month writing blog posts and giving interviews in support of the publication of Rowankind. Rather that writing another blog post today, perhaps you’d like to check out some of the links below.

30th November
Here’s my interview for Civilian Reader.
29th November.
My blog post on Sharon Stogner’s I Smell Sheep blog.
Rowankind27th November
BOOK DAY! ROWANKIND is published today. Yay!
26th November
I have an interview up on the Jean Book Nerd blog.
21st November
New blog post up at Skiffy and Fanty. Thank you Paul Weimer
19th November
The second part of my interview is now up at The Scribe. Thanks to Mark Iles
17th November
An interview with me re Rowankind is now up at File 770. Thanks to Mike Glyer for hosting and to Carl Slaughter for the interview itself. Good questions, Carl.
17th November.
A complete rundown of the Rowankind trilogy ia now up at Fille 770.
11th November
First of a 2-part guest blog post on The Scribe
This one is about Rowankind.
The next will be about writing in general.
9th November
My author copies of Rowankind arrived today! Whoo-hoo! Publication date is now 27th November 2018.
3rd November
New Blog Post: First chapter of Winterwood. Read it here.
3rd November
Rowankind publication date has been brought forward to 27th November. You can pre-order your copy now.
(Please!)

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Happy Book Day to Me

My new book, ROWANKIND, is out today.

WHOO-HOO!

Winterwood-Silverwolf-RowankindIt’s my sixth published book, and the third in my Rowankind trilogy, so it represents a milestone. It not only completes my second trilogy, but it means that my published words have topped the million mark. I’ve written about 400,000 words of historical fantasy, plus over 500,000 words of space opera in my Psi-Tech trilogy, and those are just the words that made it to the final cut. With my published short stories, that means I’ve got over a million published words. Wow!

I’m still slightly surprised, even though I’ve worn the letters on (or should that be off) my keyboard while producing the aforementioned works – and probably worn the fingerprints off my fingers. I so wish I’d learned to touch type when I was younger and better able to acquire the skill (and more time to do it). However I confess I am still a three-finger hunt-and-peck typist. It’s not as bad as it sounds because it gives my brain time to formulate the next sentence while my fingers are adding typos into the last one.

Ah, yes, typos. One of my skills is rattling out typos. And I never spot them on a read-through, because my brain sees what I intended to write, not what I actually wrote.

But even though my typing is problematic, I love the process of writing, both producing the first draft and the editing process

Though the Rowankind trilogy is finished I still can’t look on it objectively. I’m far too close. I’ve enjoyed spending time with the characters, Ross the summoner and witch, and Corwen the wolf shapechanger. The supporting characters have been interesting, too. I particular I’ve enjoyed writing James Mayo, the pirate known as Gentleman Jim, and Hookey Garrity, now captain of Ross’ ship Heart of Oak. Jim has his own blog post here.

You can buy ROWANKIND from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, but it’s only available on Kindle in North American Territories due to contractual issues. It’s also available from Barnes and Noble in the USA (including on Nook). The earlier books in the trilogy are also available similarly, that’s Winterwood, and Silverwolf.

Here’s the cover copy

ROWANKIND
What do you do with a feral wolf shapechanger who won’t face up to his responsibilities? How do you contain magical creatures accidentally loosed into Britain’s countryside? How do you convince a crew of barely-reformed pirates to go straight when there’s smuggling to be done? How do you find a lost notebook full of deadly spells while keeping out of the clutches of its former owner? How do you mediate between a mad king and the seven lords of the Fae?

Ross and Corwen, she a witch and he a shapechanger, have several problems to solve but they all add up to the same thing. How do you make Britain safe for magic users?

It’s 1802. A tenuous peace with France is making everyone jumpy. The Fae, and therefore Ross and Corwen at their behest, have unfinished business with Mad King George, who may not be as mad as everyone thinks–or if he is, he’s mad in a magical way. The Fae have left mankind alone up to now because they don’t care to get involved with mortals, but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re harmless.

“It’s like an irresistible smorgasbord of all my favourite themes and fantasy elements all in one place, and a strong, compelling female protagonist was the cherry on the top.” – Bibliosanctum

“Swashbuckling action, folklore and characters to care about: this is an authentic English take on historical fantasy, magic and class.” – Karri Sperring, author of The Grass King’s Concubine.

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