House Arrest

Due to Covid 19 we’ve pulled up the drawbridge and dug a shark infested moat around Bedford Towers. No, we’re not sick, but I’m diabetic and my other half has suddenly become classified as elderly. How scary is that? Our main reason for self-isolating, however, is my mum, who lives in the interconnected granny-house next door. She’s 95 and getting increasingly frail. She’s definitely elderly, and definitely at risk if Coronavirus comes knocking.

There are advantages to self-isolating, especially if you’re a writer.

Best Beloved and I work from home. He’s had to cancel upcoming bookings in the recording studio, but since I drive a desk for a living, and talk to people by phone and email, I can keep going. As well as my writing, my day job is arranging gigs for folk musicians (British and foreign) and issuing work permits for musicians coming in from outside the EU. As you can imagine, most of my work is currently taken up with cancelling gigs and trying to rearrange them for next year. As for work permits… just no (at least not until we’re over the peak and theatres and venues are encouraged to reopen). The government seems to have closed all venues, at last, after merely advising people not to go to concerts, theatres and suchlike. A lot of the venues are suspending operations for the time being. Government guidelines are changing daily, and though there are signs that some venues are flouting this, they’ll probably make it law pretty soon. Don’t ask me why some young people are still congregating. Haven’t they got grannies they need to protect? (Note: as I’m writing this the PM has announced an official lockdown for three weeks. As I said, things are changing daily.)

To be honest, though my day-job income has taken a hit, I can ride it for a few months at least – though I’m worried that a lot of performers are not so lucky. They live the very definition of ‘gig economy.’

I’ve just had to cancel a whole tour for Canadian performer, Dan McKinnon. He actually flew in to Heathrow, caught the train up to Yorkshire, stayed with us for a couple of nights and then went down to the West Country for two gigs. And then the Canadian government advised all citizens abroad to get home while they still could, i.e. before there were no flights, and before Canada closed its borders. Dan’s not only had to pay the normal tour expenses, but Air Canada charged him $2500 for a new ticket home, despite the fact he already HAD a ticket home in April which will now be unused (and possibly not refundable). I’ve been heartened by one folk club offering him a cancellation fee, and another offering to buy 15 of Dan’s CDs to help offset the gig fee he would be missing out on. How lovely is that? If you want to buy his CDs this is Dan’s website. I can promise you his music is lovely. (Intelligent songs, great voice.)

Since I can’t do anything about Covid 19 and its ravages on the music industry, my writerly thoughts turn to two things:

  • What can I do with the spare time?
  • How can I get a story out of this?

Time. Lovely time. I usually don’t have enough of it, but once I’ve sorted out the tour cancellations (Dan’s and others) I will have time, no visitors, and no commitments. So what have I got to do? Well, I have edits on two books which I’ve started but not yet finished, plus edits on a short story which has already been committed to a small press anthology, and when I’ve finished those, a new first draft to get to grips with. Plenty of things to occupy me. I’ve never been the sort of person to sit around saying I’m bored, and I like being in the office in front of the computer screen. And if I’m stuck I can even catch up with some knitting.

Survivors TVAnd how can I get a story out of this? It’s almost too science-fictional already isn’t it? I want to write science fiction, not live in it. Does anyone remember Survivors, the TV series from the 1970s? It’s about a bunch of disparate people who come together in the wake of a pandemic which started in China. In this case it was a bioweapon that escaped and spread rapidly, leaving only 1% of the population alive. The series was created by Terry Nation, inventor of the Daleks, and ran for three seasons. (Note: there was a remake but it wasn’t as good as the original, which is still available on DVD.)

Global pandemics, from bioweapons to zombie apocalypses have been done and done again. We’ve read about them, watched them at the cinema and on TV, and now we have to deal with the reality.

However, to take a different story tack, how would our politicians react to losing (mostly) the elderly, the sick and disabled? Those are the people either receiving state pensions (which they’ve paid for all their working lives) or some kind of disability allowance such as the Personal Independence Payment. A few days ago our prime minister (don’t blame me I didn’t vote for him) said that to achieve herd immunity 60% of our population would have to catch Covid 19. Our current population is (2019 figures) 67,530,172, so 60% works out at 40,518,103 people. If just 2% of that 40.5 million die, then we’re looking at a UK death toll of 810,362. (Don’t forget they are people, not just numbers.) Our politicians might put on a glum face, and yet be secretly rubbing their hands together. Basic state pensions are £6,718 per person per year (yes, a pitiful amount and many will get more than this). Multiply the basic state pension by the likely number of deaths and that’s an annual saving to the government of £5,444,011,916. What’s not to like? And at the same time the government can blame any financial disaster onto Covid 19 instead of the whole Brexit debacle, and continue with punitive austerity.

Hey, I’m speculating here because I’m a speculative fiction writer!

The other tack is that with 40.5 million sick and maybe 2 million of them needing hospitalisation, our society is going to go into meltdown. Not just the NHS workers who are on the front line without adequate protection (plus the army medics standing by to supplement hospital staff), but people self-isolating for 14 days if one member of the family comes down with symptoms. It’s not simply 14 days of lost work, but if a second member comes down with symptoms on Day 13, the 14 day quarantine resets. Those in isolation rely on grocery delivery drivers (who are not immune). Supermarkets are already struggling because of the numbers of people ordering groceries online, and over-ordering because everyone else is panic buying. I don’t know how long Amazon will continue to deliver on time, but their drivers and warehouse staff are not immune either. We’re looking at severe staff shortages in all major goods and services industries – medical, transport, food, power. Maybe even water. Perhaps all those buying spare toilet rolls and bottled water know something I don’t.

I paid for a new-to-me car last week to replace my little 13 year old runabout, and the salesman asked if I would like to pay in toilet rolls. I laughed, but there was something about it that sits uneasily. (Of course now I have a lovely little car and nowhere to go, but I paid him in pounds, so preserved the toilet rolls in my cupboard..)

So where do we go from here?

I don’t know. You tell me.


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An interview first published in SF Signal

I like doing interviews, especially when the questions are both thoughtful and taxing. Carl Slaughter presented me with an intriguing set of questions way back in 2016. I thought I’d revisit them.

CS: Your first series is cyberpunk space opera.  Your second series is alternate history swashbuckler magic fantasy.  Is it safe to say you haven’t settled on a genre or subgenre yet?

JB: I’ve always written both science fiction and fantasy and would prefer not to be pinned down. I don’t really want to settle on a specific genre or subgenre because there’s so much that interests me. The first book (more space opera and not so much cyberpunk despite the cool brain implants) was not actually the first book I wrote. In fact it wasn’t even the first book I sold. It just so happened that DAW had a gap in their science fiction schedule earlier than the one in their fantasy schedule, so although the historical fantasy was the first one they bought, the space opera was the first they published.

CS: Both of your series involve vast expanse and epic adventure.  I also noticed that the main characters in both series are on the run from oppressive, all controlling authority.  And pirates, lots of pirates.  Is any of this a coincidence?

JB: Yes, I think it is pretty much a coincidence though underdog and rebel stories are always interesting to write. Stories are all about conflict. so main characters sometimes need something to kick against to give them momentum. What better than something big and oppressive? That might be the society they live in or invading aliens or simply an overbearing family. The ‘kicking against’ might be central to the plot, it might be in the background. The Psi-Tech universe has megacorporations which have a bigger economy than your average planet, but that’s not dissimilar to today where companies like Wal-Mart have a gross value larger than some countries. It’s just scaled up a notch. As for pirates… they just sprang into being, fully-formed, along with the first scene which was more or less dictated by my ‘muse’ – whatever the hell that is.

Psi-tech trilogy

CS: Your Psi-tech series involves 2 types of rather complicated hard science.  How do each of these work and how are they integrated into each other, integrated into the character development, and integrated into the plot?

JB: I presume you mean the neural implants that enhance my characters’ natural psionic talents, and also foldspace and jump gates. Let’s take the latter first. To quote Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: ‘Space is big.’ Let’s face it, the distances between solar systems even in this arm of our spiral galaxy are immense – too vast to contemplate journeys between worlds without a shortcut. If writers had to stick to real science, then no one would be writing science fiction that involved interstellar space travel, or at least not without taking into account time dilation and generation ships. So there are only a few ways to shortcut the immensity of space. Either you have to use FTL, such as Star-Trekkian warp drives, or you find wormholes that act like snakes on a Snakes and Ladders gameboard (Chutes and Ladders in the US, I believe), or you have to have to fold space-time in some way. Einstein’s equations indicate that’s possible, but, of course we haven’t a clue how to do it yet. In my Psi-Tech universe, we fold space, entering and exiting via jump-gates, but there’s something between the gates. The Folds are not like anything we’ve ever encountered before. The physics of foldspace are convoluted and unpredictable and there may be more there than we think. (More on that in the third Psi-tech book).

Now, as to the neural implants… just writing about telepathy would make it fantasy, right? There’s nothing in medical science as we know it that can measure a tendency toward psionic powers, but we still keep writing (and reading) about telepathy as if we’re refusing to believe it’s all pure hokum. Perhaps we like to think that there might be something in it, some tiny but immeasurable thing that would turn us into post-humans and let us talk to each other in our heads. (Whether that’s your idea of heaven or hell is up to you.) I’m not going to spoil it like midichlorians spoiled the power of the Force for a generation of Star Wars fans, but hey, don’t you think it would be fascinating if you could have some kind of magical wifi that enabled you to make brain-to-brain phone calls and control machines with your thoughts? That’s what my guys have got – and more. Whatever slim tendency towards psionic powers is lurking in their brain my neural implant will amplify it. Of course, they have to learn how to control it, and there are some people who try it and are instantly driven bonkers, but that’s the risk they take.

CS: How does religious fundamentalist Neo-Luddism fit into the big picture?

JB: There are always going to be people who think it was so much better before tech ‘ruined’ the world and in some ways they might be right, but technology is a genii you can’t put back in the bottle. Whether it’s the alphabet, the wheel the printing press, the vacuum cleaner or the silicone chip, technological advances have shaped the way we live. So I figured the just like the Amish today, in five hundred years time there will be groups of people who are wary of technology. Maybe it’s from a religious standpoint, or maybe from a social one, but those folks will still resent changes and want to live without them. It’s ironic that the very thing that will give my Ecolibrians the opportunity to create their new Neo-Luddite world is the very technology they are trying to escape. So their big question is, do they give in to technology now in order to secure their desired future, or do they just continue to sit where they are and grumble ineffectively about it? My guys decide that they’ll compromise their principles (just once) in order to make a fresh start. Of course, it’s not as simple as that.


CS: In the Rowankind series, how does the war between King George and Napoleon fit into the plot?

JB: It’s integral to the ocean-going part of the story and in the background all the time. Ross Tremayne’s ship, The Heart of Oak, is a privateer, not a pirate ship. It’s a thin (and sometimes very wobbly) line between the two, but it does mean that Ross has letters of marque which enable her to attack the ships of King George’s enemies legally (from the English point of view). She’s mostly chasing after French merchantmen, making a nice profit while disrupting Napoleon’s supply lines. The privateering trade is Ross’ livelihood and she’s used the profits to make sensible investments which mean she’s an independently wealthy woman, something fairly unusual in the Georgian era. Being a widow gives her a certain amount of autonomy that women who are daughters or wives rarely get in this period. It wasn’t impossible for a woman to have control over her own money, but it was fairly rare.

The wars between France and England run almost continuously throughout the story. There’s a very brief peace in 1802 which is actually pretty disastrous for the crew of the Heart (but that’s in a later book). The second book in the series, Silverwolf, is set (mostly) in England, so we see a certain amount of civil unrest developing due to shortages (the Bread Riots), and, of course, the government of the day is petrified of a French-style revolution happening here. But at the same time as all this is happening the Industrial Revolution is steaming ahead (literally), so that’s mixed in, to the second book, too. The big question is: how are magical events going to affect the industrial revolution, society and the Napoleonic Wars?

CS: Give us some insight into Ross’ character and predicament?

JB: She eloped with her late husband, Will, a sea captain, after a massive argument with her mother who was trying to go back on her late father’s promise that the Heart of Oak would be her dowry when she married. She was only eighteen at the time and as a result of the kerfuffle she ran away to sea and never registered her witchy powers with the Mysterium – the body that governs magic-users in Georgian Britain. That means she’s now outside of the law, an unregistered witch. That’s a hanging offence. She’s learned to use some of her magic, but she’s still largely untrained. When the story opens Ross has been a widow for three years and the ghost of her late husband is still with her. She’s clinging to him because he’s all she has left. Her crew of barely-reformed pirates have become her family. When her estranged mother dies, she inherits a magical winterwood box, a half-brother she never knew she had, and a task she doesn’t want. Ross isn’t ready for change, but she’s catapulted into it. She’s gutsy and resourceful and physically capable, but resistant to taking up the challenge until it becomes obvious that she can’t avoid it. Once she does take it up she follows it though and does her best to make some difficult decisions.

CS: Why is the Mysterium trying so hard to find Ross?  Because they are so strict about regulating magic or because she has something they need/fear?

JB: The Mysterium in general are not actively hunting for Ross. She’s been on their wanted list for seven years. If she makes a mistake, however, and they spot her, they’ll haul her off to the cells in a heartbeat. The one who’s searching so hard for Ross is outside the Mysterium, but as an agent of King George, he can demand the Mysterium’s unquestioning cooperation. He is, in fact, above the Mysterium in all practical ways. He’s chasing Ross because of the box. What’s inside it could change the world, or at least the corner of the world known as Britain.

CS: Who would play Cara and Ben in a screen adaptation?  Who would play Ross, Will, and Corwen?  Who would play the supporting characters in both series?  Especially the corporation/government agents?

JB: I’m not one of those writers who finds an actor to pin a character on. I have tried ‘casting’ the characters in retrospect, but never quite managed it successfully. I’m a big Pinterest fan and I keep a lot of photos on my Pinterest boards to give me visual clues. Sometimes I find a photo of an actor and think that they look perfect for a particular part, but then the next photo of them that I find I think… not so much. There was one photo of Charlize Theron with a pixie haircut that could have been Cara, but Cara’s probably not quite that pretty. Ricky Whittle (The 100) might make a good Ben, or maybe Ben could be a younger version of Colin Salmon if we could step back in time. I always thought that the villain of the piece in Empire of Dust, Ari van Blaiden, would look like a young Robert Redford – way too pretty for his own good, and Jason Isaacs could play Craike. Alexander Siddig could be Garrick, Katherine Hepburn, Nan, and someone not entirely unlike Jim Sturgess could be Ronan,

As for Ross, Will and Corwen, I have no idea. The cover picture of Winterwood is actually digital art using a live model. The young lady is an actress. Wherever she is, or whoever she is, she’s my Ross now. [Edit: The actress in question is Caroline Ford, who is currently playing Sophie Longerbane in Amazon’s Carnival Row. She’s definitely my Ross.] Corwen could be a young Barry Bostwick circa mid 70s, if Barry Bostwick had had silver hair at that age. We only ever meet Will as a ghost. Maybe Chris Hemsworth as he appears in the recent movie ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ would be a fair likeness. I hadn’t thought about ‘casting’ Will before, but that feels just about right.

CS: What’s is liking being a DAW author?

JB: It’s a dream come true. When you’re hunting for a publisher for your first book, you know you can’t be picky. Frankly you’d take the first sensible offer that came along. You couldn’t afford not to, right? But all along you have in mind that some publishers are better than others for you. I mean, yes, I’d have been happy to sell my first book to any of the major players, but when I look at my own bookshelves I have so many books that are published by DAW. Some of my favourite authors are in DAW’s stable of authors. I seem to resonate with their style. My editor, Sheila Gilbert, is a marvel, and everyone at DAW has been lovely to work with. It’s still very much a family firm and they support their authors in so many ways. I’m very happy there.

CS: You’ve done an awful lot of workshopping.  How has that contributed to your career?

JB: I can honestly say that I would never have got my book deal if it hadn’t been for the connections I made, and lessons I learned, while in critique groups and attending the Milford SF Writers’ conference in the UK. I didn’t even know what manuscript format was when I found my first online writing group (misc.writing – a usenet newsgroup). The help I got there enabled me to sell a short story which qualified me to attend Milford, a week-long get together for published SF writers in the UK. With a maximum of 15 writers at any one event it’s small but intensive. We get together to critique works in progress. Crits are stringent but fair, and are professional level. Everyone is offering suggestions to help improve the stories/books. There’s no snarky sniping. It’s all incredibly supportive but it digs deep for potential failings in order to make the pieces as good as they can be. And because we’re fifteen writers miles from anywhere in a not-so-secret location in the Welsh mountains we all talk about… writing. So you learn about publishers and markets and agents. I’m the current Milford secretary, so I invite you to find us on the web at

CS: You recently discovered the convention circuit.  What did you discover that kept you on this circuit?

JB: I love it. A lot of my writer friends go, so conventions are great social events with panels that can be both entertaining and informative. You can also volunteer to sit on panels which is not only a chance to indirectly publicise your books, but also great fun. The first panel I ever sat on also had George R.R. Martin. How cool is that? And it turns out that George is also a Milford alumnus.

I was really lucky that right after I sold my first novel both World Fantasy Con and Worldcon came to the UK within nine months of each other. Mostly I just get to do UK conventions, Eastercon and Fantasycon being my favourites, but I’ve signed up for Worldcon in Helsinki in 2017 and I’m hoping Dublin gets to host it in 2019. If it does, I’ll certainly be there.

alien artifactsCS: Your short stories are all over the place.  How do you find and customize to so many markets?

JB: I have a friend, Deborah Walker, another Milford alumnus, who has a motto and that is: “Submit until your fingers bleed.” Debs is a great role model when it comes to submitting stories. It’s very easy to send a story out and then either not chase it up after the allotted time or maybe get it back with a rejection slip and fail to send it out again straight away. Debs always reminds me to send, send, send. And, you know what? When you send stuff out you have a much better statistical chance of selling it than you do when you let it languish on your hard drive. You do have to be fairly well organised, however. I have a database of what I’ve sent out and the response I got. You just have to remember that getting a rejection slip is not a personal insult. It just means that your short story wasn’t right for that market at that particular time. Maybe they’d just bought three cat-resurrection stories and didn’t need a fourth. Send it out again and next time, or the time after that, it might just hit the right desk at the right time. I’ve had stories that sold on the first submission and stories that sold on the twentieth.

As well as using my database to record submissions I also use The Submissions Grinder when I’m looking to see which markets are currently buying what. That’s Since the wonderful Duotrope started charging rather more for subscriptions than I – as a very occasional short story writer – thought was reasonable to pay, the Grinder has become my first go-to place. It’s searchable by stories of a specific length and style. Ralan at is not quite as searchable, but it has some excellent market news for F & SF.

CS: When are the next sequels and how long will each series continue?

JB: Oh, that’s a good question. I have contracts for Silverwolf, the second Rowankind book, and for a third book in the Psi-Tech series, Nimbus, which is likely to be out in late 2017, though I don’t have a firm date for publication yet.

I think Nimbus will be the last in Cara and Ben’s storyline – for now at least – though I don’t guarantee I’m completely done with them yet. I also have a couple of books on a back burner which are set in the same universe, but hundreds of years in the future, when the planet Jamundi, where the Ecolibrians ended up, has become separated from the rest of the colonies. The Jamundi sequence could easily turn into a trilogy, plus I have an idea for a standalone set maybe fifty years after that when Jamundi is ‘found’ again. Essentially that will be a first contact story. That universe could run and run, but not necessarily with the same characters. I also have a sneaking fondness for Max and for Ronan, two supporting characters in Cara and Ben’s story arc, so they might end up with their own short stories or novellas, if not novels.

The Rowankind series is very likely to turn into a trilogy. I’ve just finished the first draft of Silverwolf (due January 2017) and there’s definitely enough unfinished business for a third book. I also have a children’s book which I wrote on spec a few years ago. It’s contemporary, but a couple of the long-lived characters from Winterwood pop up in it. I like making connections and building layers on top of already built worlds.

[Edit: Both trilogies are complete and available now.]

I do have other books in the pipeline. One I’m particularly keen to get on with is a second world fantasy set in an analogue of the Baltic states around 1650. Just for a change that’s not one where someone is on the run from an oppressive society. It starts with the aftermath of a royal assassination and has three main viewpoint characters, Valdas, the dead king’s failed bodyguard; Lind, the assassin; and Mirza, a landloper witch who has a connection to the spirit world.

Thanks for your thoughtful questions, Carl. I’ve enjoyed answering them.

I can be found here:
Twitter: @jaceybedford

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Reading Writing and Rewriting

Wish for a PonyI was a voracious reader as a child, working my way steadily through the stock of my local public library children’s department. My literature of choice was anything with horses or ponies in it. Some of the books in my local library were quite old, so I read my way through stories by Monica Edwards, Elyne Mitchell, Ruby Ferguson, Judith M. Berrisford and the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Josephine, Diana and Christine. If it had a horse on the cover I would read it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when one horse book I read turned out to be something a little different. The Horse and His Boy was my gateway book into fantasy (horses and a magical fantasy land!) and after that I read all of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books and never looked back.

So a few years ago I decided to see what pony books were available today and I was horrified by the number of shocking (in more ways than one) pink covers depicting sparkly ponies or even unicorns. Where were the ‘serious’ pony stories of my youth? What do little girls read when they grow up but don’t grow out of wanting to read about horses?

What do writers do when they grow up, but still want to write about horses?

They write.

So between writing the fantasy and space opera trilogies for an adult audience, I started writing a pony book aimed at young readers. I’ve been a child, a teen, a tween, I’ve been a children’s librarian and I’ve had children, so I had a reasonable head start, however I’m not a child any more so the plot started to get twistier and the characters more complex. I reined myself in, edited out some of the twists and completed a simple version, which would work well for middle grade, but I wanted something a little meatier and so after leaving it on one side for a few years while I finished other projects I’ve come back to it. And… I think it wants to be a Young Adult book. So I’m doing an editing pass to age-up the characters, add back some of those twists and a touch of romance.

There are still horses, of course.

And magic.


It’s set in the same story-world as my Rowankind books, though two hundred years later. What happened in the Rowankind books slowed down the emergence of the Industrial Revolution, so though it’s close to modern day there are no personal computers or mobile phones. Television is in its infancy and buses and trains run on steam power with petrol engine cars a bit of a rarity. Not every family has a car, but that’s okay because they’re hardly reliable anyway and often more trouble than they’re worth.

Magic exists, but it’s a well-kept secret, helped by the fact that nomps, non-magical people, can’t cope with the possibility of magic, so they find ways to explain it away and generally believe that it doesn’t exist, so for them it doesn’t. Any time they witness something magical they rationalise it and it soon disappears from their memory.

Jester 1My main character, Tiv, is from a magically talented family, but despite all expectations she’s got hardly any magic at all, and though she went to a specialist private school she flunked all her practical magic exams and took extra geography and history instead. Her talents lie elsewhere. She’s a talented young horsewoman and rides a piebald Romany Vanner called Jester. Their neighbours’ son, Ryan, has a thoroughbred-cross-something called Bonaparte who has been troubled by a series of unpredictable and dangerous attacks of the terrors. It has put an end to his promising showjumping career, Ryan is currently his caretaker, not his owner. Tiv may not be much of a witch, but she knows about magic, and so when Boney has an attack of the frights one day she quickly identifies the problem. The title of the book is: YOUR HORSE SEES DEAD PEOPLE.

spookedThere’s more to it than that, of course. Ryan’s dad is suffering from a form of early dementia, possibly magically induced, and Tiv’s dad disappeared during a magical investigation almost a year earlier. Tiv and her mum are determined to find out what has happened to him. There are surprises and revelations along the way. If I told you, I’d have to shoot you.

I’m not generally one of those writers who finds actor-lookalikes for my cast of characters, but I do work visually… and Pinterest has some stunning images of horses of all kinds, so I have cast my horse characters.

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to end a book. With this one I have the opposite problem. I have two potential endings and I like them both, so obviously I have to make a hard editorial choice. Fortunately I think I can work in my favourite scene from one of the endings into the other one.

All is not yet lost!

Before you ask, it’s a long way from finding a home. I’ve just had some exciting news about another project which is going to distract me for a while, but I can’t tell you yet.

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Useful book cover tool online

I posted this to the Milford blog this week, but I’m so taken with it, I thought I’d post it here, too.

Whether you’re self-published or traditionally published there’s a good chance that you’ll need to shout out about your new book release. It’s only a smallish number of best selling authors that have the might of their publisher’s publicity department behind them. The rest of us might get a few hours of a publicist’s time if we’re lucky. So that means getting your shoulder behind your own book and giving it a shove. To do that it helps if you have some good images.

There’s a website called the Free Online Book Mockup Maker

1 Winterwood 1I’m reasonably good with Photoshop, but this site makes life really easy. Instead of a flat cover you can present your books like this.

Or like this.

1 Rowankind 3


You can download your mock up as a .jpg or a .png. A .png file gives you the option of adding a background picture, like this.

Silverwolf sea

There are choices of template, so check it out and enjoy playing with it.

Thanks to Jane Friedman’s Electric Speed email for the link to Derek Murphy’s DIY Book Design

If you’re an indie author (or even if you aren’t) there’s a really interesting lesson on book cover design on Derek Murphy’s DIY Book Covers site . It takes forty-three minutes, but listen – it’s time well spent. I learned a lot, especially about keeping it simple. I’m very lucky, my editor asks for my input of the cover image, so this gives me some information on the kind of thing that works (and doesn’t).

Cover image quote

Remember, it’s not the job of the cover to sell the book, its job is to get the potential reader to pick it up. The sales pitch is the cover copy on the back. All your cover needs to do is to entice a potential reader to pick it up and turn it over.

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Quantifying Success

A few years ago, Chuck Wendig posted to his Terrible Minds blog saying: ‘It Only Gets Harder Once You’re Published’. ( How true. That article really resonated with me. I wonder if authors ever get over the self-doubt thing.

When I was a singer with Artisan (that’s me in the middle), I knew what audiences thought. They applauded, whistled, stomped and even sometimes leaped to their feet. After the show they came and chatted to us over the merchandise table and bought CDs – i.e. they voted with their wallets.

Summerfolk-1674 crop

I’ve had six books published now, and my seventh is finished and waiting for my editor at DAW. Yes I have sales figures, but it’s not the same as having that direct jolt of approval that you get when you’re face to face with the consumers of your art.

It’s always nice to hear from readers. It’s even nicer when they post reviews as well, and do the word-of-mouth thing.

My first novel, Empire of Dust, showed up on the Locus Best Seller list in the month it was published (just in that month and then it vanished again) but I don’t know if that means anything. I can’t even go into my local bookstore and see my books on the shelves because I’m in the UK and I’m published in the USA. Sure, readers at home can buy my books on Amazon (though not as a Kindle book because of rights issues), but they don’t see it on the shelves. Is it even real? If I didn’t have a few boxes full of author copies and some nice reviews, I’d wonder if I really had six books out there already.

Powells World of Books

Powells World of Books

Some very kind folks have sent me ‘shelfies’ of my books in bookstores. I love that. It’s validation – and that’s all we writers look for. If you are in the USA or Canada (or anywhere in the world) and find my books in your local bookstore, please send me a shelfie and tell me which bookstore. You can find my address on my website:

Psi-tech books in the wild

Richmond, Virginia

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Fantasy Food to Go – Part 2 – Overland


Land journeys
Looking at the amount of storage required on board ship for all the provisions, it quickly becomes obvious that carrying anything close to naval rations for even a small party travelling on land would require wagons or, at least, a string of pack ponies plus extra ones to carry oats or barley for the equines. For pioneers heading into the wilderness with no opportunity to re-stock, most of their carrying capacity would be allocated to food. Water would (hopefully) be found along the way. There may always be the possibility of hunting for meat, and refilling water barrels.

The Oregon Trail Centre gives a list of supplies for travellers setting out on the Oregon Trail, a five month, 2,000 mile trek from Missouri to Oregon in 1841 includes (for a family of four) 600 pounds of flour, 400 pounds of bacon, 100 pounds of sugar, 60 pounds of coffee and 200 pounds of lard. These basics would be augmented by hard tack, sacks of beans, rice, dried fruit, baking soda and corn meal. (The corn meal made pretty good packing for eggs, and bran made good packing for bacon.) Seasoning would include, salt, pepper, vinegar and molasses. If they had a milk cow, butter would be churned as they went by simply hanging it under the bumpy wagon in a bucket and letting the trail do the work. In the early days, game (buffalo and antelope) was plentiful, but when the wild animal population diminished settlers might take a herd of cows for meat as well as milk.

Journeybread or Journeycake?
My Facebook friend, musician Jennifer Cutting recently posted about trying journeybread made by a local woman who ferments the dough herself. It’s a dense, unleavened whole grain loaf chock full of dried apricots, raisins and walnuts. Jennifer said: ‘It tastes of rye and hardship.’

Instead of journeybread why not journeycake? A traditional fruit cake/Christmas cake contains all of the above dried fruits and nuts, and is also baked with ground almonds and eggs as well as flour and sugar. You can bake it slightly harder than normal to prevent it from turning into a crumbly mess. Trickle brandy over it once it’s cooled from the oven. It’s much more palatable than rock-hard bread. There’s a reason it’s a mid-winter cake – it’s a great way of preserving. It will keep for months and be just as good as it was on the day it came out of the oven. It’s very nutritious, especially if you eat it with hard cheese (like a mature cheddar or aged gouda). Anyone who hasn’t eaten Christmas cake with cheese should remember the rhyme: Fruitcake without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze. It’s almost a complete meal, with the cheese providing extra protein.

Tough GuideStew
Anyone who hasn’t read Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland should at least go and read the entry on ‘stew’. Go on, I’ll wait… Right. OK, then, let’s get started.

Stew is undoubtedly a staple of all those fantasy inns because you can fill a big pot full of cheap cuts of meat and plenty of root vegetables (and possibly beans, lentils and barley) and let it simmer all day. (It can simmer overnight, even.) Of course, if there’s any left the following day, just throw more vegetables and water into the pot and set it going again. Rinse and repeat until there’s a very small meat-to-veg ratio, whereupon you call it soup, serve it all up, and start a new pot of stew as soon as you’ve scrubbed the pan. (Note, since you don’t want to poison people it needs to be kept up to temperature, not left to fester. Before refrigeration, cooks used to keep a stock pot on the go for weeks by making sure it was boiled up thoroughly, every day, to kill off bacteria.)

When I was a kid my granny used to start a stew off on the back of the coal-fired range on a Sunday night with shin beef and any leftovers from the Sunday joint. With daily additions of more potatoes and vegetables and a handful of split peas and lentils it would generally last until Friday. It would probably do two main meals for the family of five (one with dumplings and another with thick pancakes) and also a midday meal for whoever was at home. I’d have it for lunch every day when I came home from school. It started off thin on day one, but by the time the end of the week came around it had so many potatoes and lentils in it was thick and still delicious.

But stew like this only works on a commercial basis if you regularly have hungry mouths to feed, so inns situated in out of the way places won’t cook a big pot of stew that they’re unlikely to be able to sell. Neither will they have a huge roast of meat just waiting for travellers who may never come. So your poor travellers may see a lonely wayside inn and stumble through the door only to find that the only available food is the fare the innkeeper had put by for himself and his family.

Making stew on a journey would be a nightmare because it takes a long time to cook to be palatable and for the meat to be tender. However if you’re travelling with a wagon and you have a Dutch oven, or a straw-filled box, you can get your stew started in the morning (get it good and boiling over the fire) then put the covered pot into the straw-filled box and the whole thing continues to cook in the residual heat. When you make camp at night, you simply finish it off over the fire for a much shorter time than would otherwise be required. (Making sure it’s brought up to temperature for long enough to avoid food poisoning.)

Meat plus heat
You’ll probably find that you need good teeth to live off the land. A steak is more tender if it’s aged, but if you’re catching meat on the hoof and cooking it immediately over an open fire (i.e. quickly)  it’s probably going to be tough. Also all that hunting takes time. How quickly do you need to complete your journey? You’d probably be wise to pack some smoked or salted meats and jerky. Dried meats are light to carry and keep well.

Who doesn’t remember the bean scene from Blazing Saddles? You? Go and watch it, I’m sure it must be out there on your video delivery service of choice, or on DVD. It forcefully reminds you that beans were one of the most abundant foods in the cowboy’s diet, but only if there was a chuck wagon handy (say on a cattle drive or overland trek). We’re not talking about tins of baked beans, but dried pinto beans, which have to be soaked in water for hours before cooking. And once cooked, don’t save for later.

Dried Fruit
Comparatively light to carry and it keeps forever (almost). Dried apples, raisins and apricots plus berries and maybe prunes are staples (depending on where you are in the world – this one or an invented one). I’ve tried drying apples (to use up some of the crop from our two small trees) and they are very successful and keep a long time, though it takes a lot of work to prepare them for drying, even with a peeler/corer/slicer. I dry my sliced apple for four hours in a fan oven set really low (60 degrees) and get apple crisps. Unless you keep them in an airtight container they will soften up over time, but they are still edible. As an experiment I kept some of last year’s apple crisps in a clean glass jar, and though they were no longer crisp, but they were edible a year later. (And they didn’t kill me!)

So what do you feed your characters on when they are travelling?

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Fantasy Food to Go – Part 1 – All at Sea

Winterwood front coverAs a fantasy writer I’ve given much thought to what characters eat on those epic journeys by land and sea. My Rowankind Trilogy involved stocking the Heart of Oak, Ross’s tops’l schooner, for an Atlantic voyage. You need to base that shopping list on real life to keep it believable. I’m indebted to David Fictum’s  ‘Colonies Ships and Pirates’  for making available a chart of British Navy Food Rations, 1677-1740s.

Sailors’ Rations
In 1677, Samuel Pepys, the Secretary to the Admiralty, established predetermined rations for each sailor: one pound of biscuits and a gallon of beer each day. Four pounds of beef, two pounds of salted pork, three eighths of a twenty-four-inch cod, two pints of peas, six ounces of butter, and between eight and twelve ounces of cheese each week. There were suitable substitutions if necessary (depending on the climate they were sailing in). Some of the (salted) fish might be replaced with oatmeal, or even rice, or flour and suet. In 1731 it was official policy to issue canvas with which to make pudding bags so that one day a week the cooks could boil puddings of flour and suet to replace that day’s salt beef ration.

On board ship it was important to make sure the sailors got enough liquid. A gallon of liquid was important, but sailors were not fond of being reduced to drinking plain water. Beer could go off more quickly in warmer climates, so a suitable substitute was two pints of wine mixed with six pints of water (especially on Mediterranean voyages) or a Madeira mix if in the West Indies. Half a pint of rum a day in the West Indies could be too intoxicating, until the navy began to mix it with water and limejuice to make grog. (Limes helped against scurvy, of course.)

Ship’s biscuit or rusk bread
The Royal Navy allowed a pound of ship’s biscuit per seaman per day. Made only with cheap wholemeal flour and water (no yeast or salt) and baked hard into a round close to the size of a plate, a sailor would get three to five biscuits a day depending on the size, and they would underpin his ration. Something like this would translate reasonably well to a land-based journey, but it’s probably easier to carry a bag of flour and some salt and cook up something bread-like or pancake-like every day otherwise you risk your biscuit being rendered into crumbs by a frisky pack pony.

This was a mix of whatever was available stewed up in the ship’s galley. It might include different meats and fish, all cooked together – a gastronomic mash-up. It was supposedly a treat on a pirate vessel.

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