Discovering what I didn’t know I didn’t know.

I wrote my first two (unpublished) books on my trusty Amstrad PCW using Locoscript. I was fairly late to the computer party in general and email in particular (1996) but the internet was still young. Google didn’t exist. Wikipedia wasn’t even a twinkle in its father’s kneecap. Back in those days if you wanted to talk to a random bunch of like-minded people, you went in search of a usenet newsgroup.

I found a couple of great writing groups on usenet, misc.writing and (later) rec.arts.sciencefiction.composition (r.a.sf.c.). The serious writers hanging out there gave me my first lessons in manuscript format and pointed me to the group FAQ which taught me how to submit stories. Hey, you don’t learn these things unless someone tells you. Since writing is generally a solitary occupation, you don’t know what you don’t know until someone points you in the right direction. I remain eternally grateful for those first lessons.

There’s a learning curve in the publishing world, or more likely a chain with links in it. Actual writing is only one part of it. Misc.writing taught me that I had to write, revise, polish, send it out, and while waiting for an answer, stick my derriere in the office chair, place my fingers on the keyboard and write some more. It’s still the best advice I can pass on to new writers

Every time someone posted a little self-congratulatory ‘I’ve finished a story’ post, someone else would say, ‘So what are you writing now?’

After being a very solid newsgroup with a small (tolerable) percentage of spam and hardly any flame-wars, eventually misc.writing began to be overtaken by trolls and a few of us writing speculative fiction found the rec.arts.sciencefiction newsgroups. Those who knew how, formed a new group for SF writers, rec.arts.sciencefiction.composition. If r.a.sf.c didn’t roll of the tongue as easily as misc.writing, it was still a great group full of interesting and knowledgeable people. (Though no one could ever decide how to pronounce it. I called it ras-fic, a friend called it ras-eff-see.)

HetleyIt was through r.a.sf.c. that I joined my first online critique group. There were twenty of us to begin with and though numbers fell, about ten of us stuck together for eight years, helping each other to get better and better until some of us actually sold novels. I think the first of these was Jim Hetley who writes very fine fantasy fiction as both James A Hetley and James A Burton

I’d never have found Milford if it hadn’t been for ‘meeting’ Liz Holliday on r.a.sf.c., and without Milford I wouldn’t have found another link in the chain that eventually led to my publishing deals. I made good friends on usenet – and some of them are still friends, real world and virtual.

Some of the old misc.writing crowd have resurfaced as a facebook group twenty years on. Still the same bunch of good people.

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What’s the Psi-Tech trilogy about?

Nimbus, the final book in my Psi-Tech trilogy, is out now.  Who-hoo, I have five books out and this is the first complete trilogy.

Sometimes big ideas start with a bang and arrive fully formed, sometimes they start small and grow. The Psi-Tech trilogy has not one big idea but two, though neither works without the other.

Way, way back in the mists of cliché, when dinosaurs walked the earth, we all cleaned our teeth with sticks, and Amstrad was cutting edge technology for a scribbler like me, a scene presented itself and begged to be written.

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

A telepath sits in a small, grey room on a backwater space station, acting as a human phone operator, making instant calls across the galaxy for anyone who can pay the going rate. It’s a dead-end job, not what she’s trained for, not what she’s capable of doing, not what she’s used to. So why is she here?

 She’s here because she’s afraid. She’s on the run from… someone. (I didn’t know who or why, right then, but I knew it was serious.) If they catch up with her they’ll kill her and she’ll be very lucky if it’s quick and painless.

 She needs to escape, but her luck and her credit have run out.

 She’s contemplating cruising the transients’ bars to see if she can hitch a free ride. She’ll take anything, even the worst bucket-of-bolts mining barge, even if she’s got to sleep her way on board.

Then a last-minute job comes in. She doesn’t want to take it so she jacks the price right up, but the caller agrees anyway. It piques her interest. Telepaths always hear, but they mostly choose not to listen. This time she does. There’s talk of a new colony. The settlers are back-to-basics Ecolibrians who’ve opted for a closed planet. If she can talk her way on to that mission she can steer clear of her pursuers, find safety.

That was how it all started. It grew slowly and changed over time, of course. The first scene didn’t survive, though the frightened Telepath and the Ecolibrian colony did.

The gestation period of a book varies from months to years and this one was years. I wasn’t under contract to a publisher back then, so there was no pressure. I wrote the first draft in four months then let it sit on a back burner, revised it, wrote a different novel, and another. A couple of years later I returned to it, revised it yet again, and sent it to my (then) agent. On her advice I cut it drastically. When I parted company from that agent I sent it out under my own steam then waited three years while a major publisher hung on to it after saying: ‘The first couple of chapters look interesting, I’ll get back to you…’ Three years later I withdrew it from that publisher still, as far as I know, unread beyond the first two chapters. More time passed, another agent came and went. When I sold my first book to DAW (Winterwood, a historical fantasy) and signed up with the Donald Maass Literary Agency, my editor said those words that every writer hopes for: ‘What else have you got?’

Crossways

Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series.

DAW’s publishing schedule had an empty slot for science fiction before one for fantasy, so Empire of Dust became my debut novel. Under Sheila Gilbert’s gentle but thorough guiding hand, I added back a fair amount of what my first agent had asked me to remove. I restored plot layers and character complexity, while growing the universe around the twists and turns of the narrative. By this time I knew that DAW wanted a sequel, so I was building the world for at least a two book series and possibly three.

What has become my Psi-Tech Universe now contains a galaxy-spanning human society which uses jump gates and telepaths to navigate foldspace.

Neither jump gates nor telepaths are unusual tropes in science fiction. So what makes them different in the Psi-Tech universe? Mega-corporations more powerful than any single planetary government. race each other to colonise worlds and gobble up resources, using as their agents psi-techs, humans with psionic implants. Each one of them is economically tied to the megacorp that paid for their implant. They are treated well as long as they don’t step out of line. If they do rebel, their attitude can be readjusted, but they may not come out of it exactly… sane.

Add to this the platinum problem. Platinum is a valuable catalyst and though it exists in lots of places, it’s usually only found in tiny quantities and it takes a long time to process tiny quantities from a huge amount of ore. Fun fact: in the whole history of our world to the present date, the amount of pure platinum produced amounts to less than 25 cubic feet. In my psi-tech universe, with every jump through foldspace a small but significant amount of platinum is lost, so the need to find more and bigger platinum deposits drives everything. And the megacorp which controls the most platinum is in the strongest position.

And now back to that frightened telepath, Cara, fleeing from her former boss because she knows too much. When she hooks up with Navigator Reska (Ben) Benjamin, she plummets them both into danger. Friends become enemies. Betrayal follows betrayal. Knowing where to place your trust becomes the ultimate survival skill. If they make the wrong move an entire colony planet will pay the ultimate price.

Cara and Ben’s story is just the beginning, though. Solving one problem highlights another. Ideas demand room to grow and Empire of Dust is only the first outing for my troubled psi-techs.

Nimbus front coverIn the second novel, Crossways, the survivors, now wanted by the megacorps on trumped-up charges, take refuge on a huge space station run by a coalition of crimelords. Crossways fought for its freedom from the big corporations, so its denizens don’t ever intend to let it be taken over again. It’s a kind of future version of Tortuga-in-space where pirates, smugglers and free-traders can take refuge alongside displaced persons, refugees, radicals and opportunists. The megacorporations have been looking for an excuse to take down Crossways and the psi-tech presence there might just be the excuse they need.

But something is stirring in the unfathomable depths of foldspace. Pilots and navigators are trained into believing that foldspace visions are an illusion, but that’s a lie perpetuated by their teachers ‘for their own good.’ Yeah, right! In the third book, Nimbus, what’s really happening in the Folds will change the future of humans in space, but not unless the conflict with the megacorporations is resolved and humankind tackles the problem together. There are some hard choices to be made.

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Looking Forward and Looking Back – Ten Years of Blogging

I blog every other Tuesday on my WordPress blog – mostly things which are writing-related. My next Tuesday post should fall on 26th December which all Brits will recognise as Boxing Day – still very much in the middle of the holiday. We’ll have family staying for a few days, so I will be out of the office, hence this is an early post. Daughter, G, her husband and two kids arrive (by car) on Saturday 23rd, and son, J, and his intended arrive by train the same day. Both lots are here until 27th.

We’re looking forward to family time with kids, grandkids and my mum (who lives next door). I’ll be cooking Christmas dinner for nine – turkey, ham and a veggie option, with all the trimmings.

So today, I’m both looking forward and looking back

It’s ten years since I started personal blogging – first on Live Journal and latterly continued on Dreamwidth (mirrored on Live Journal). My author blog at WordPress is much newer, dating back only to August 2013, shortly after I was offered my first book deal by DAW, but before the first book actually came out.

This seems to be a good time to do a review of the last ten years and also of 2017.

To begin at the end: 2017

Freya's hat-sm

Granddaughter

2017 has been another good year for me. I’ve had two books published, gained another grandchild (now 10 months old) courtesy of my daughter and son in law, my son has achieved his doctorate and announced his intention to marry in January 2018. I managed a trip abroad in the summer to Worldcon in Helsinki with a side-trip to Tallinn for some writing research. Trips at home included a week in North Wales for the annual Milford SF writers’ conference and three conventions: Eastercon, Fantasycon and Bristolcon (which also gave me the excuse to spend a couple of days in Bath for more research). Altogether not a bad year! Between those momentous events I’ve been sitting behind a desk, tapping keys and hopefully making some sense. As the year ends I’m halfway through writing book number six which is due out in November 2018 and I have another writing project on the go which is not yet ‘sold’ officially, but I have high hopes.

In the music business (my day job) I’ve done tours for Eileen McGann (Canada), Cloudstreet (Australia) and Dan McKinnon (Canada) as well as gigs for Keith Donnelly, Zulu Tradition (South Africa), Robb Johnson, Union Jill, Lee Collinson, and Tania Opland & Mike Freeman (USA).

Vin5917

Vin Garbutt RIP

I was devastated to lose Vin Garbutt in the middle of the year. Vin had been struggling with heart problems, but had successfully undergone surgery and looked to be recovering nicely when a different heart problem snatched him away from us. Vin was not only one of my busiest agency artists, but he was also a good friend. A talented, charismatic performer, a dedicated family man and one of the nicest people on the planet. To say he is missed is a vast understatement

But life goes on, and I’m already working on gigs into 2018 and 2019. I’m looking forward to having Ritchie Parrish Ritchie back in the UK for a tour in May 2018, and Dan McKinnon in the autumn. Also I’ve been doing a lot of immigration paperwork for musicians coming to the UK from outside the EU. At the moment EU musicians can travel freely and perform anywhere within the EU, but who knows what will happen after Brexit.

And now delving back into the last decade.

When I started my Live Journal blog (blogging as ‘Birdsedge’) it was mainly to keep up with friends who hung out on there. December 15th 2007 was my official welcome to the world of blogging, but I didn’t really get underway until January 2008. My first real post was 7th January 2008 when I wrote about managing time. Looking back I see not much has changed. I still have too many things on my to-do list and not enough time. That’s a recurring theme.

I didn’t start blogging books until 2009, and that’s largely because in December 2008 I added up the books I’d read in the year and it was a very slim list – only about 30 in total. In 2009 my book log for the year recorded 61 titles. In 2010 it was 56, in 2011 only 43, but in 2012 it was back up to 53. In 2013 it started shrinking again – down to 36, but in 2014 I had my worst year ever for reading, only 19 books, but I suspect that was because I got my first book deal in 2013, so I was writing like mad. I’ve always said that I can’t read when I’m writing (or at least when I’m first drafting) but I’m getting better at that. In 2015 it was creeping back up to 34, but in 2016 it was up to a massive (for me) 97. This year so far it’s been 74, which is pretty respectable. Over 500 book blogs (and early blogs) can be found on Dreamwidth at https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/ I also blog around 25 to 30 movies a year in my Movie Of The Week posts. Ten years of blogs. If you’re reading this on Dreamwidth (since this is one of the few posts I’m triplicating to WordPress, Dreamwidth and Live Journal) you can catch up with my writing blog at https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/

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My best books of 2017 – A personal overview of my reading year

There are inevitably lists of ‘Best SF Books of…’ such as this one from Barnes and Noble  but with the amount of books on offer from this year and from previous years, it’s almost impossible for any one person to keep up with everything that’s on offer, so this is my very subjective list of the best books I’ve read this year. Some are newly published, others aren’t. Most are SF, but not all.

Rivers of LondonBen Aaronovitch: Rivers of London – Peter Grant #1
This was my year for catching up with Ben Aaronovitch and his Peter Grant series. I’d been meaning to read them for several years, and not managed to get round to it, but I’m so glad I finally made the effort. In fact though I’ve only names the first I would like to include the whole lot in this recommendation. So far that would be: Rivers of London, Moon over Soho , Whispers Underground, Broken Homes, Foxglove Summer and The Hanging Tree (books 1 – 6). I also read the novella, The Furthest Station which slots into the sequence at #5.7 and the graphic novel, Body Work which slots in at  #4.5. What can I say? Marvellous. A mixture of urban fantasy, police procedural and the supernatural with young British policeman, Peter Grant, suddenly falling into the world of magic when he sees a ghost while helping with a homicide investigation. That brings him to the notice of Nightingale and The Folly, the Met’s department of magic that no one likes to talk about. I love all these books and read them quickly, one after the other. Especially good is Peter’s cheeky voice, often with added pop-culture references, but quickly snapping to attention when things get serious,. Nightingale as the mentor is very old school British but the rest of the cast of characters run the gamut of inclusivity. As you would expect in multi-cultural London the characters are multi-ethnic, too, from Peter himself who is mixed race to Guleed and Kumar. And it doesn’t stop there. There are half fae plus a housekeeper who has more teeth than seems strictly necessary and a strange culinary relationship with offal. The overarching story is a puzzle to be solved and I’m looking forward to the next one in the series.

 

Wedding Bells Magic SpellsLisa Shearin: Wedding Bells, Magic Spells – Raine Benares #8

I didn’t realise there was going to be another Raine Benares novel after everything seemed to be all set for a happyeverafter in Book 7, but I’m delighted to find that there is. All the old favourites are back again as Raine, Elf soldier Michael and dark Goblin lord Tam Nathrach try to prevent peace talks between the various kingdoms from being undermined. If Raine thought she’d given up her magical powers when she parted from the soul-sucking stone, the Saghred, she’d better think again. If it sounds as though it’s too much of a leap to start with book number #8 I can thoroughly recommend the whole series, starting with Magic Lost, Trouble Found. They are second world fantasy books that read like urban fantasy with a quick-talking but vulnerable heroine in deep trouble from the word go. The pacing is breathless and each book picks up where the last one left off.

 

BintiNnedi Okorafor: Binti – Binti #1 and Binti Home – Binti #2

#1 This is very short – novella length – telling the story of Binti, a mathematical genius, who is the first of the Himba people (Namibia) to leave home and travel to university on another planet. Her customs are strange to her fellows. She uses otjize paste made from butterfat and ochre paste on her skin and hair – which is traditional because of the lack of water in the hot desert climate. On the way to the university, the ship she is on is invaded by the alien Meduse. Binti is the only survivor and must use all her skills to effect a rapprochement between the Meduse and the people of Oomza University who have inadvertently wronged the Meduse through not understanding their culture.

Binti – Home is the second in the series. When I read Binti, I wasn’t aware that it was the first part of a series of three novellas, and when I read Binti: Home I wasn’t aware that there was still one more novella to come. I’m going to state right at the beginning that I hate cliffhanger endings, so I’m looking forward to the third part to finish off (I hope) the story arc. Basically the Binti novellas are about acceptance of other cultures and miscommunication. When Binti returns home to Namibia of the future with her Meduse friend, Okwu, the first of his people to come to Earth in peace. Binti has become an oddity. Her family never wanted her to leave, now they aren’t sure about her return. It may be the old story of ‘you can never go back’. The third Binti book just dropped into my Kindle, but I haven’t had chance to read it yet.

 

PerditionAnn Aguirre: Perdition – Dred Chronicles #1

Almost a spin-off book from the Jax books, taking a minor character, Jael and making him one of the two central characters along with the Dred Queen. This is set on a prison ship in space where the inmates are left to their own devices and death takes the weak and the meek very quickly. Jael is a new fish, straight off the prison ship, and Dred is one of the bosses who have carved out little kingdoms for themselves. No one there is innocent. Mostly the inmate population consists of psychopaths, sociopaths and mass murderers – those considered beyond redemption. Jael and Dred both have secrets, but no one here is interested. A person is what a person is. This is the sort of book that makes you want to climb in the shower after reading, but it stays with you for a long time. It’s full of blood, guts and excrement, but there are moments of human emotion, too and it’s certainly a page turner, like all of Ann Aguirre’s Jax books. (Also highly recommended.)

 

Mira's Last DanceLois McMaster Bujold: Mira’s Last Dance – Penric and Desdemona #4

This picks up immediately after the last Penric Novella, Penric’s Mission, and should be read after it. Not without cost to himself, Penric has succeeded in rescuing and healing the betrayed General Arisaydia and they are now fleeing across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia with Arisaydia’s widowed sister Nikys. And Penric is falling in love. Penric is complicated. He’s inhabited by a demon, Desdemona, who carries the echoes of her previous ten human riders and at any moment they can pop up in Pen’s head offering help, advice, or sometimes unhelpful suggestions. When the trio takes refuge in a whorehouse, Mira, one of the aforementioned previous riders, a courtesan, comes to the forefront with some rather alarming knowledge. No spoilers because it’s funny and sweet, and Penric certainly has to step out of his comfort zone to get them all to safety. Anything by Lois McMaster Bujold is buy on sight. She’s one of my all-time favourite writers (perhaps at the very top of the list, in fact). If you haven’t read any of the Penric stories yet, I heartily recommend them. I would suggest reading them in chronological order, but just to confuse matters there are two more Penric novellas that have come out since this one, and one (Penric’s Fox) slots in before Penric’s Mission, while the other, The Prisoner Of Limnos, carries the timeline forward.

 

LongbournJo Baker: Longbourn

This is supposedly the story of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view, except it isn’t, really. Yes it’s set Longbourne, and the story of Pride and Prejudice is happening in the background, but it doesn’t do a full Rozencrantz and Guildenstern. I was expecting something like Tom Stoppard meets Jane Austen and in that I was disappointed. The story doesn’t spin round pivotal scenes in Pride and Prejudice and, in fact, continues beyond Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage. This is a completely separate story that just happens to be running parallel to the romantic adventures of the Elizabeth and Darcy. Mrs Hill, the cook/housekeeper is keeping everything together while Mr. Hill quietly drinks the sherry and gets on with his somewhat unexpected lifestyle. The story really belongs to Sarah the elder of two maids (though still in her teens) and to James Smith the enigmatic new footman in the household. This is a realistic look at life below stairs. The main characters are the people who have to scrub that white muslin dress clean after Miss Elizabeth has trailed it through the mud. There are fires to light, floors to scrub, chamber pots to empty and monthly rags to wash. We are spared no detail of the minutiae of daily life in the early 1800s. Unlike P&P the Napoleonic Wars feature in a long  middle section detailing James’ backstory, revealing the hardships of the ordinary soldier for whom life is never fair. A measured pace filled with rich detail does lead to a satisfying ending.

 

BoundBenedict Jacka: Bound – Alex Verus #8

Number eight in the series is not necessarily a good place to start and I would recommend reading all of these in Series order. Each book is complete in itself, but an overall plot arc emerges and by the time we ghet to #8 it’s in full swing. Alex Verus is in trouble – again. Or perhaps that should be Alex Verus is still in trouble, because this is a continuation of the trouble he was in last time, under a death warrant from the Mage Council. He’s only managed to sidestep it because his old boss and longtime enemy Richard Drakh has once again got him in his power and this time Anne is involved as well. Alex feelings for Anne are… complicated. This story is spread over a longer period that previous Alex Verus books, but the pacing is still smart and the twists many and various. At last Alex is starting to be proactive and (prompted by Arachne) starting to plan long-term. There’s a twist in the ending that makes me eager to see what happens is Alex Verus #9. I galloped through this in less than a day. Highly recommended.

 

And the rest is historyJodi Taylor: And the Rest is History – Chronicles of St Mary’s #8

I adore Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary. I recommend you start at the beginning with One Damn Thing After Another. This is the eighth and she’s not running out of places to take the story. Still quirky, this is darker than the rest because Clive Ronan is back and he’s even more determined to inflict pain and suffering on Max, her family and all the staff at St Mary’s. There’s some gut-wrenching stuff in this as well as Jodi Taylor’s usual wit. It’s a laugh-and-cry rollercoaster and not everyone makes it to the last page. The history side of it is, as usual, fascinating, from the Egyptian desert to the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

 

Going GreyKaren Traviss: Going Grey and Black Run – Ringer #1 and #2

This is a near future techno-thriller featuring illegal science, military contractors, family values and ethics. When Ian Dunlop’s gran dies suddenly and unexpectedly the teen is faced with a problem. Ian is either going nuts or he has a talent that will make him the target of huge corporations, and he doesn’t know enough about the world or himself to make a plan. Luckily the first people to find him are a pair of military contractors, Mike Brayne and Rob Rennie, with resources, connections in high places, and a conscience. Mike and Rob, though coming from opposite sides of the Atlantic and opposite branches of the magic money tree, are buddies in the way that has been forged by military comradeship. Ms Traviss has always been able to get under the skin of the common (and uncommon) soldier. Though the pacing of Going Grey is measured, it never loses interest, and I leaped straight from this to the sequel, Black Run.

In the sequel, Black Run, Rob’s son and ex, back in England, are threatened by an unseen stalker, so both Rob and Mike have families to protect and Ian’s unique chameleon skills could prove useful, but neither man wants to put him at the sharp end if things get dangerous. Ian proves difficult to keep down, however. He’s learned a lot from his two mentors, the main thing being that if you have friends, you make sure you have their back. You can class this as a near-future thriller, or military SF, but the characters are the heart of the story. Another hugely enjoyable book from Karen Traviss. The third book, Sacrificial Red, is out in 2018.

 

Long Day in LychfordPaul Cornell: A Long Day in Lychford

This is the third Lychford novella from Paul Cornell and I heartily recommend all of them. Lizzy, Judith and  Autumn are the three resident witches of Lychford, a sleepy Gloucestershire town. In the wake of Brexit Autumn is questioning her place in Lychford because of her skin colour, and Judith is struggling to keep herself together and pass on her knowledge to Lizzy and Autumn before it’s too late. When people start to go missing, our trio discover that they are being pulled across boundaries. There’s political trouble at home and trouble in the world of faerie, too. Each woman is on her own to rescue a particular group of strayed humans. Cornell managed to bring real world concerns into the magical world and the wave of anti-foreigner sentiment affects Lychford, too. A thoroughly enjoyable read, though not particularly cosy as the three women’s sentiments are laid bare.

 

ArtemisAndy Weir: Artemis
I finished this yesterday, and haven’t even done a proper blog write up yet, but it’s certainly a page-turner. This time the main character is Jazz (female) who has lived in the Moon’s only city since she was a small child. She’s fiercely intelligent, but pretty much a delinquent, doing a low-pay courier job while running a smuggling racket on the side. She takes on a job that she should walk away from (the money’s too good to refuse) and after that she’s scrabbling to recover frim the consequences. If you enjoyed the problem-solving in The Martian, there’s problem solving a-plenty in this, plus intrigue and nail-biting peril.

 

Mississippi RollGeorge R.R. Martin (Editor): Mississippi Roll – A Wild Cards Novel

I hadn’t read any Wild Cards books before this, but the blurb said it was a good jumping-on point for new readers. It’s the story of a Mississippi riverboat, the Natchez, in the not too distant future. It’s a future in which humanity has been changed forever by a plague which either kills or turns the survivors into Wild Cards – jokers or aces. Aces have superpowers, whereas jokers might have a fox’s ears and tail or maybe half of them has turned into a fish. Each affliction is different. You get the idea. Edited by George RR Martin, the writers are Stephen Leigh, David D. Levine, John Jos. Miller, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Cherie Priest, and Carrie Vaughn. Each writer takes a particular character and sees them through their part in the story. So… the story. The central character in this ensemble piece are Steam Wilbur, the ghost of the builder and first captain of the Natchez. The Natchez herself is both setting and character. She’s steaming up the river with an illicit cargo of illegal joker immigrants. A vindictive immigration officer is close behind. But it’s not only the immigrants who are in trouble, the Natchez herself is in danger, which also puts Steam Wilbur in jeopardy. This is the story of how the ensemble cast fights a triple threat. I now have a dilemma. I can’t decide whether to wait for the next Wild cards book, or whether to go back and start reading the series from the beginning.

 

So that’s it. As the year finishes I’m reading Sandra Underman’s Spellhaven and I already have a number of books lined up on my kindle… some re-reads of Diana Wynne Jones and Andre Norton, Seanan McGuire’s Beneath the Sugar Sky, Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country, which I managed to miss when it first came out. So many books – so little time.

Do leave a comment and tell me what you’ve enjoyed reading this year. What have I missed? What should I be loading onto my Kindle next?

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My Top Ten Children’s Books – a Personal List

I used to be a children’s librarian (way back) and I’ve always retained my love of books for all age groups. Many of these are from my own childhood, some from before I was born and a few from more recent times, but all of them stand out as personal favourites.

No Going BackMonica Edwards: No Going Back
I loved all of Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh stories when I was a kid. They are very gentle and of their time (written in the 1940s/50s/60s, though remaining in print and ‘current’ for many years.) Ponies, boats, adventures, a cast of interesting characters. The children are central, of coursem but the adults aren’t conveniently shuffled off in unlikely fashion so the kids can have adventures. Choosing a favourite is difficult because there are so many good ones. (Special mention to Storm Ahead based on the Mary Stanford of Rye lifeboat disaster which Monica Edwards experienced as a child waiting on the shore.) No Going Back is the one where the four protagonists are beginning to grow up and a special relationship develops between Tamzin and Meryon. Well, about time, too. Sadly these books are all long out of print, but you can pick some of them up from used bookstores at wildly varying prices.

PennK. M. Peyton: Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer
Patrick Pennington (known as Penn) is the school’s bad boy, out of control, self destructive, and heading for disaster, but he’s also a musical prodigy – a pianist with huge potential. This book has dated a little, especially the details of Penn’s secondary school (1970s) and the power the teachers had to make a student’s life miserable, but read it as a historical novel. The characterisation is excellent. Penn, despite being everything you should hate, is actually a sympathetic character because, despite all, he has a good heart. This is the first in a series.

J.K.Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
What can I say? The Potter phenomenon was well underway before I was tempted to read the first one and I was hooked. I didn’t enjoy them all equally (Harry was a bit of a brat in Order of the Phoenix, and the final book suffered from the endless camping trip) but I liked them sufficiently to grab the later ones as soon as they were published.

Horse & His BoyC. S. Lewis: The Horse and His Boy
At the time when I was reading my way through every pony book in the children’s library I stumbled across this. It’s always been my favourite Narnia book. It was my gateway from pony books to fantasy. Lucy had to climb through the wardrobe to get into Narnia, but all I had to do was to open this book.

Alan Garner: Weirdstone of Brisingamen / The Moon of Gomrath
Breathless fiction that sucked me straight in. Visceral writing. A great sense of place. The scene in the tunnels with the backpack gave me nightmares (and still does). My all-time  favourite Garner books. Should both be read consecutively.

Eagle 9thRosemary Sutcliff: Eagle of the Ninth
I’ve always enjoyed Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing, but this tale of the Romans in Britain and what might have happened to the lost Ninth Legion which marched north from York, never to be seen again, is fascinating. I recall that the BBC children’s adaptation for television was much better than the recent Hollywood movie ‘Eagle’. Just read the book, it’s better than any screen version!

Marguerite Henry: King of the Wind
A Newberry Medal winner. The fictionalised story of how the Godolphin Arabian (one of the three ‘fathers’ of the English Thoroughbred) came to Britain, told through the viewpoint of Agba, the horse’s mute handler. Whether Agba existed or not, the Godolphin Arabian is real. I adored this book as a child.

DogsbodyDiana Wynne Jones: Dogsbody
The first Diana Wynne Jones book I ever came across. I became a fan of hers immediately and remain one to this day. When Sirius, the Dog Star, makes a mistake he’s sent to earth to rectify it – as a dog. Very neat.

Elyne Mitchell: The Silver Brumby
I loved this book so much during my pony phase that I’m almost scared to try and read it again, though it’s still sitting on my bookshelf. It’s all from the horse’s point of view – about a wild stallion, a brumby in the Australian Outback.

Dodie Smith: The Hundred and One Dalmations
The book from which the Disney movie was adapted, featuring Pongo, Missis and Perdita, the evil Cruella DeVille and missing puppies. Perdita and Missis were rolled into one character for the Disney animation, but in the book they are individuals.

ElephantsDavid Henry Wilson: Elephants Don’t Sit on Cars
The hilarious adventures (and misadventures) of Jeremy James, episodic in nature, chapter by chapter. The first chapter (the title story) is a gift to anyone who has to read a story out loud. I dare you to do it without breaking into fits of laughter. It’s about poo (and the elephant on daddy’s car). I bought another copy this Christmas for a small person in my life.

 

Oh, that’s eleven out of ten already and I haven’t even mentioned Leon Garfield’s The Ghost Downstairs, or Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, or even Each Peach Pear Plumb by Janet Ahlberg, which I read so often to my kids that I can still remember it word for word and recite it as a poem.

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NaNoWriMo – almost the halfway point

My current project is the third book in my Rowankind trilogy, due for publication by DAW in November 2018, but because publishing always takes longer than you think it’s going to, I need to send in my finished piece (for editorial comment) by the end of February. I’m aiming at a finished length of 130,000 words, but I’ll be happy with 110,000 words because I always tend to add a bit more detail at the editorial stage.

So, it’s November and I’m busy writing like mad to keep up with the NaNoWriMo target of writing 50,000 words in thirty days. Today is 14th, and I’m pleased to say that as of last night (13th) I’d hit 26,135 words, just slightly ahead of the curve. Fifty thousand words in a month sounds like a slog, but it’s not really, as long as you write every day. If you can manage 1,667 words a day, consistently, you can do 50,000 in a month. I’m aiming for 60,000 by 30th November, which, I think, is a realistic target.

Of course, though I’ve cleared the decks as much as possible, I still have the day job (my music agency) so It’s not a question of sitting writing all day every day. On the days when I get the opportunity to do that I can manage an easy 4,000 – 5,000 words a day without pushing too hard. On a normal working day I can manage 2000 words.

Chantry today

I would, however, get more work done if I didn’t stop to do a bit of research along the way. I’ve been writing about Ross and Corwen having to solve the problem of  a troll occupying a bridge. They say write what you know, so the bridge I’ve chosen is Wakefield’s Chantry bridge. The chapel, one of only a handful still surviving in Britain, is built into the structure of the medieval bridge (which is probably what has saved it from demolition over the years)

. I lived in Wakefield in my late teens and early 20s so I thought I knew the bridge, however I needed to know what it looked like in 1802. So here, I’m sharing some of my research…

Chantry 1793 Philip Reinagle

The St Mary the Virgin Chantry Chapel was built between 1342 and 1347. Chantries, built by bequests, were established as places where priests prayed for the soul of the deceased. The chapel underwent major renovations in 1848. So I needed to know what it looked like before the renovations. There’s a paining by Philip Reinagle (1793) which gives me the river bank as well as the nine-arched bridge and the little house at the far end, which was built as the priest’s residence.

This is what it looked like from the water in this century. There’s a new bridge now, but the old one is carefully preserved. This old postcard is (I guess) from around the 1950s.

Chatry chapel from the water

It turns out that I passed the original frontage of the old chapel every time I took the bus into Wakefield because the original facade of the Chantry is on the grounds of Kettlethorpe Hall on the outskirts of the city. I don’t know if it can still be seen as I haven’t been back for many years, but you used to be able to see it from the top deck of the Wakefield bus.

Chantry-Chapel-old-facade-pc-l

The chapel fell into other (non religious) use before being restored to the Church of England, and as far as I can tell, in 1802 at the time of my story, it was in use as a library… oh good, a troll who likes books

 

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