Stories Far and Near

I love scandals in the family – preferably in past generations, of course.

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Bessie Bullough 1913 – 1992

My dad’s cousin, always known to me as Auntie Bessie, was supposed to have traced the family back to Cornwall in the 1600s whereupon the two distinct family lines were said to split into pirates and lunatics. At that point she gave up.

At least that was the story, but I never got the chance to talk to her about it before she died. Sadly it doesn’t appear to be true. I’ve done a lot family research myself, but there’s no Cornish connection – though the family goes back to Dorset and Somerset.

I’m reminded of the standing quotation from the TV show, ‘House’ – ‘Everybody lies.’

My Great-Great-Grandfather, Fletcher Fletcher, (so good they named him twice!) came from New Hall in Staffordshire, close to Burton on Trent, but his son, Benjamin James Randal Fletcher moved up to Castleford (Yorkshire) to work in the mines in the 1870s and told everyone he came from St Ives in Cornwall. It’s even in the family bible – though in a slightly different hand as if it’s an afterthought.

A cousin suggested that since Staffordshire miners had a reputation for strike-breaking, no one looking for work in a mining community wanted to admit that’s where they came from. If I could grab Benjamin’s spirit in a seance I’d really take him to task for that one. It took me ages to track him down. You wouldn’t think there would be many Fletcher Fletchers in genealogical/census records – and there aren’t, only 6 in total anywhere in the country – but, of course not one of them in Cornwall, so I was looking in the wrong place for years!

Samuel Robinson1

Samuel Robinson 1835 – 1905. My Great-Great Grandfather

Benjamin did well for himself. He married Emily Robinson, daughter of Samuel Robinson who was not only a colliery viewer (a mine manager) in Castleford, but also ended up with his own pub (The Victoria) and a rather large and impressive tombstone as a monument. Possibly as a result of who-you-know, Benjamin ended up as a undermanager in a colliery, though neither he nor Emily made old bones, and the Fletcher children were brought up by their oldest sister, Mary, who married Sam Bullough shortly after her parents’ deaths. Kudos to Mary for keeping the family together, but as a career teacher (yes, even in the era around the First World War) it was Sam who did most of the bringing up after he got back from the trenches. Sam and Mary had only one child who survived and that was Auntie Bessie (a career teacher who never married and who literally wrote the book on new methods of teaching music and movement in the heady days of arts teaching after the Second World War). Bessie’s photos came to me after she died. Sadly, though we looked through all her papers after her death, there was no trace of the family research she was supposed to have done. Did she do it? I can’t imagine she’d have thrown it away if she did. Are we back to the ‘Everybody lies,’ thing?

The more I dig into genealogy, the more I realise that stories come from everywhere, and family history can be just as good a source of inspiration as anything else.

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Lock Lane Infants, Castleford, circa 1911. Mary Robinson Fletcher, top left. She married Sam Bullough later the same year and continued teaching all her working life..

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Bloggage or not…

Guys, I’m just finishing off the last little bit of the first draft of Nimbus , the third psi-tech novel. (Due October 2017.)

I’m up to my ears in words, living on coffee and chocolate and writing until three in the morning. Please forgive lack of bloggage this week. Have a lovely photo of my dog, Eska, instead and a promise that I’ll write a proper blog post on Tuesday 21st March.

Encouraging comments welcomed – both about the writing and the dog, who is a real sweetheart.

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Agent Update

Way back in February and March 2016 I posted parts one and two ‘About Literary Agents and How to Get One’. You can read part one here and part two here.

Yes, go and read them if you like, I’ll wait.

Back again?

Well, you’ll notice that I’d already had three literary agents when I wrote that article… but now it’s four.

Lost another one? You might well ask, but the fact of the matter is that Amy has moved out of being a literary agent and into another branch of publishing.

If you were paying attention when reading the history of my efforts to snag a good literary agent, you might recall that when I signed on with Agent #2 she was part of a big New York agency. Though #2 was my agent, my contract was actually with the literary agency, not with #2 personally. However when #2 decided to leave the big agency and set up on her own, I was faced with a decision. I could either stay with the agency, in which case they would have had to team me up with one of their other agents – an unknown quantity who may or may not like my writing – or I could resign from the agency and stick with agent #2 and become her personal client. I liked her enough to do that, so when – a year and a bit later – she decided to get out of agenting altogether, I was left high and dry. It’s not a unique story. Agents move, change, retire, or even die. A writer can find themselves abandoned for any number of reasons, and have to start the lit-agent search again.

Anyhow, you can imagine that I was disappointed to learn that Amy was leaving the Donald Maass Literary Agency behind because we’d got on well, and she’d negotiated contracts for my first five books. I sincerely wish her all the best in her career move. However this time, I knew I was in safe hands because my contract was with the agency, and DMLA has a great reputation. Of course, finding a compatible agent within the agency was still going to be a big leap of faith.

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Don Maass

Imagine my delight when I had a long skype conversation with Don Maass himself, and to cut a long story very short, he is my new agent! Wow, I could hardly have hoped for something this great. I’ve long been an admirer of his books: Writing the Breakout Novel, and The Fire in Fiction. Both highly recommended. He’s got a new book coming out – in fact it’s out in the USA already but I haven’t got my copy in the UK, yet: The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

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Style Sheets

typewriter-3There’s a lot of information to keep in your head if you’re writing a book. There’s even more if you’re writing a trilogy or a series.

I happily wrote seven books without having a single style sheet… and then I got published.

The first book to be published (not by any means the first book I wrote) was duly delivered, went through the editing stage (content editing, that is) and then, when the story was as good as we (the editor and I) could make it, it went off to be copy edited.

At that point I started to get questions. Was it jumpgate, jump gate or jump-gate? Should telepath be capitalised or not? Was it Arquavisa or Arquevisa because I’d spelled it both ways. At that point I realised that although I thought I’d (mostly) been consistent (except where I hadn’t), it wasn’t immediately obvious to the copy editor.

Crossways

Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series.

Also there were words of phrases that I’d appropriated that meant something slightly different in my universe. House gold was a type of beer. Telepath was capitalised when it was an implant-enhanced Telepath, a psi-tech, but not when it referred to a natural telepath or telepathy. The Folds (capitalised) was the proper name of that supposedly empty space between jump gates (not hyphenated), but foldspace (not capitalised) was a type of space, not a proper name. Jump drive was not hyphenated to jump-drive unless it was a compound modifier.

Confused?

All that and more.

I didn’t have a style sheet. It was a rookie mistake, and one I’ve not made since.

The copy editor of Empire of Dust had to make a style sheet of every name, unusual phrase etc. and the publisher very kindly passed it on. I used it as the basis of a series style sheet for all the Psi-Tech novels. I’m still using it.

Every character name is on there (twice – listed as Fred SMITH (m.) and SMITH, Fred (m.) so I can find it whether I look it up under surname or forename. (Surname always capitalised, just so I know.) Every hyphenation is on there where there’s a choice of whether to hyphenate or not. Every place name is on there. Every unusual phrase is on there, for instance:
‘Juno LAKE (f. Sofia Lake’s dtr married to a nice couple)’, or
‘Orphena – dryer than Orphena’s twelve moons (saying)’, or
‘dirtsider’ for someone who is planet-bound.

So every time you start a new book have a file open for your style sheet. Every time you decide whether or not to hyphenate a term, stick it on there. Every time you introduce a new character, or invent a new place, stick it on there. Every time you use a new swear word, stick it on there (especially if you decide to use frell or frack instead of the obvious four letter word).

Since mine has become a series style sheet, if I kill off a character I note it on the style sheet (and which book they die in), so I don’t accidentally have a walk-on character appear while dead, which would be very embarrassing.

I use Scrivener to write my first draft (and probably second), but my style sheet is a word doc. I use a twenty-three inch screen, so I can have Scrivener and Word open alongside each other while I work. And, of course, Scrivener incorporates places for your research and your character files, so you don’t need detail on your style sheet, just enough of a reminder so that the copy editor knows what’s what.

Whenever I deliver a finished book to my publisher I send the latest version of the style sheet. It saves a lot of questions. I don’t always get the same copy editor as I had for the last book, and even if I do, they aren’t guaranteed to remember what went before any more than I am.

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Ten Quick Tips for Writers

typewriter-3Here are ten quick tips for writers (not necessarily in order of usefulness and not necessarily complete). Feel free to ignore what doesn’t work for you. Remember: ‘Follow no rule off a cliff.’ – C.J. Cherryh. Besides these are not rules – they’re more like guidelines.

  1. Finish what you write. If you can finish a novel you’ll be ahead of more than 90% of wannabe novelists.
  2. Don’t mix up editing and revision. When you’ve finished your first draft, put it away for a few weeks (or a few months if you have the luxury of time and you’re not chasing a deadline – though write something else in the interim). When you come back to it, the distance will give you perspective. Your first revision shouldn’t be merely tickling words to find a better way of saying something, but it should be structural: fixing plot holes, deepening characters, backtracking to foreshadow something you only decided to add at a later stage, adding a sub-plot, subtracting a sub-plot, changing the plot, changing viewpoint from first to third or vice versa. You can strengthen your verbs and remove your adverbs on the next pass.
  3. Cut out the parts that don’t move the story forward. Cut out the bits that bore you (because it’s quite likely that they’ll bore your readers, too). Boring scene? Consider, instead of a whole chapter full of road travel, writing something like: The journey from Watchtower to Lingfield took twelve gruelling days during which they progressed from arguing about politics to riding in sullen silence.
  4. When you get to the edit stage, don’t luxuriate in your own verbosity. (See what I did there?) Tell the story simply and cleanly in as few words as you need to make a good job of it. In particular, avoid raiding the thesaurus for alternatives to ‘said’. Said is a perfectly functional word and often invisible to the reader, whereas your audience may be yanked out of the story by: “Damn silly,” he expostulated. Avoid adverbs if you can find a strong verb that nails the phrase you’re working on. Use: he dawdled; he ambled; he shuffled; he inched; he plodded; or he crept, instead of he walked slowly.
  5. WordleEvery writer has little words that creep in unnecessarily, add nothing to the text and act like a verbal tic. One of mine is ‘just’, as in: He just wanted a little peace and quiet. Cut them out. I have a list of words I check which include: just, back, up, down, that. Sometimes you can spot your verbal tics by making a ‘Wordle’ word pattern. Go to the website at http://www.wordle.net/create and paste in a section of your writing. Your most frequently used words will be the big ones on the graphic. Expect your characters’ names to be big, but if ‘just’ or ‘quite’ or ‘back’ is one of your big words, you need to check your manuscript. This is one of my old Wordles for ‘Empire of Dust.’ See how (middle left-ish) the word ‘back’ is way too big, and ‘just’ is pretty obvious, too, as is ‘get’. I fixed that and a few others after seeing the wordle.
  6. Words have rhythm and shape. When you’ve finished a piece to the best of your ability, read it aloud to yourself. Your mouth will catch the bloopers that your eye missed.
  7. Find a professional standard writers’ group, or a few good beta readers who will give you honest critique. Experienced readers are good. Experienced writer/readers are probably even better. Don’t recruit Auntie Nellie or your mum as a beta reader (unless they are published authors or reviewers for The Guardian). They will be honour bound to tell you it’s wonderful. It’s in their job description.
  8. Write, revise, edit, polish, and then do it again if you need to. Rinse and repeat. Be obsessive. Fourteenth draft? No problem as long as (a) you don’t have a publisher’s deadline and (b) each draft is better than the last. When you’re changing things for the sake of it, but not making it better, put your pen down.
  9. If you get an editor or agent interested in your magnum opus and they suggest an addition, subtraction or alteration, remember that they have a lot of experience in the publishing industry and you would be advised to take their advice seriously, but… Always remember that it’s your work and once it’s out there it will be your name on the book cover, not your agent’s, your editor’s or Auntie Nellie’s. Write what you’re passionate about. Write what excites you. Write something you can be proud of.
  10. When can you say it’s finished? Some writers say a novel is never really finished – it’s simply abandoned and sent out into the world.

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Silverwolf

silverwolf-final-cvr-400A tale of loyalty, love and magic running wild

Yay! Tuesday 3rd January 2017 was publication day for my fourth novel, Silverwolf, the sequel to Winterwood (which came out in February 2016). Silverwolf is published by DAW in the USA and Canada. It’s available in the UK as an import from that well known company named after a South American river.

Historical fantasy set in 1801, Silverwolf follows on from the adventures of Rossalinde (Ross) Tremayne and Corwen Silverwolf. Corwen appeared fully formed in Winterwood, a wolf shapechanger in the employ of the Lady of the Forests (the consort of the Green Man). In Silverwolf we get to see Corwen’s background, his home and his family, and we see more of England when Corwen is called home to Yorkshire.

Here’s what Silverwolf is all about:

Britain, 1801. King George’s episodic sanity is almost as damaging as his madness. First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte is gathering his forces in France. The disease of democracy is spreading. The world is poised on the brink of the modern era, but the rowankind, long a source of free labour, have shaken off their bonds. Some have returned to Iaru to find freedom with the Fae; others are trying to find a place in the world, looking for fair treatment under the law. The course of the industrial revolution may change forever.

Wild magic is on the rise. Creatures of legend are returning to the world: kelpies, pixies, trolls, hobs and goblins.

Ross and Corwen, she a summoner witch and he a wolf shapechanger, have freed the rowankind from bondage, but now they are caught in the midst of the conflict, while trying their best to avoid the attention of the Mysterium, the government organisation which would see them hanged for their magic.

When an urgent letter calls Corwen back to Yorkshire, he and Ross become embroiled in dark magic, family secrets and industrial treachery. London beckons. There they discover a missing twin, an unexpected friend, and an old enemy.

I had great fun writing Silverwolf and as it goes on sale I’m hard at work writing the third book in the Psi-Tech series (Nimbus, due out in October 2017) and then I plan to write the third Rowankind book, which follows straight on from Silverwolf and is called, simply: Rowankind.

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My Reading Year 2016

As this is my last blog post before 2017, it seems appropriate to round up my year’s reading. I did well this year – almost a hundred books read from cover to cover. I’m not counting books I bought and used for research because I don’t tend to read them in linear fashion, I cherrypick sections and information. The only non-fiction on this list has been read cover to cover. You can find full reviews of everything on this list at my Goodreads account or on my LiveJournal blog where I blog movies and books and occasional more personal bits than on this journal. My book blogs are purely personal rather than professional reviews, which is why I keep them on my LJ blog. I’ve been book-logging there since 2009. You can find all my booklogs by going to http://birdsedge.livejournal.com/ and filtering by ‘reading’ (right hand column).

So what have I been reading in 2016? Well, since I’ve also been busy writing I’ve tried to read books that haven’t interefered with my writing train-of-thought-at-the-time. Mostly I’ve succeeded. Highlights of 2016 have been:

  • the discovery of Jodi Taylor’s St. Marys books, wacky but with serious stakes
  • Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom duo and the rest of her Grisha books
  • Gaie Sebold’s Babylon Steel novels which I’ve been meaning to read for a few years and finally managed it
  • Ann Aguirre’s final Sirantha Jax book which i kept putting off reading because I didn’t want the series to end
  • catching up with Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels at long last – now i can’t wait for the next one
  • Sean Danker’s The Admiral
  • finally finding a Zelazny that wows me. (A Night in the Lonesome October, narrated by Jack the Ripper’s dog.)
  • reading more Georgette Heyer Regency romances – always a delight

Here’s my full reading list.

FICTION

  1. Patricia Briggs: Fire Touched – Mercy Thompson #9
  2. Andy Weir: The Martian.
  3. Lois McMaster Bujold: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – Vorkosi #16
  4. Paul Cornell: The Witches of Lychford
  5. Seanan McGuire: Every Heart a Doorway
  6. Julie Kagawa: The Iron King – The Iron Fey #1
  7. David Tallerman: Patchwerk
  8. Jim C Hines: Codex Born – Magic ex-Libris #2
  9. Benedict Jacka: Taken – Alex Verus #3
  10. Adrian Tchaikovsky: The Tiger and the Wolf – Echoes of the Fall #1
  11. Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown – Sorcerer Royal #1
  12. Emma Newman: Between Two Thorns – Split Worlds #1
  13. Veronica Roth: Insurgent – Divergent #2
  14. Liesel Schwarz: A Conspiracy of Alchemists  – Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1
  15. Ann Aguirre: Endgame – Sirantha Jax #6
  16. Leigh Bardugo: Six of Crows – Six of Crows #1
  17. Anne Gracie: The Perfect Rake – Merridew Sisters #1
  18. Georgette Heyer: The Masqueraders
  19. Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Cinder Spires #1
  20. Diana Gabaldon: Virgins – Outlander (novella)
  21. Rachael Miles: Chasing the Heiress – The Muses Salon #2
  22. Tim Powers: Down and Out in Purgatory
  23. Guy Haley: The Emperor’s Railroad – Dreaming Cities #1
  24. Tim Lebbon: Pieces of Hate with Dead Man’s Hand
  25. Sarah Hegger: The Bride Gift
  26. Gaie Sebold: Babylon Steel
  27. Jodi Taylor: Just one Damn Thing After Another – Chronicles of St Mary’s #1
  28. Jodi Taylor: A Symphony of Echoes – Chronicles of St Mary’s #2
  29. Jodi Taylor: A Second Chance – Chronicles of St Mary’s #3
  30. Jodi Taylor: A Trail Through Time – Chronicles of St Mary’s #4
  31. Jodi Taylor: The Very First Damn Thing – Chronicles of St Mary’s 0.5
  32. Jodi Taylor: When a Child is Born – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 2.5
  33. Jodi Taylor: Roman Holiday – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 3.5
  34. Jodi Taylor: No Time Like the Past – Chronicles of St Mary’s #5
  35. Jodi Taylor: Ships and Stings and Wedding Rings – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 6.5
  36. Jodi Taylor: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – Chronicles of St Mary’s #6
  37. Jodi Taylor: Christmas Present – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 4.5
  38. Jodi Taylor: Lies, Damned Lies and History – Chronicles of St Mary’s #7
  39. Joe Hill: The Fireman
  40. Benedict Jacka: Chosen – Alex Verus #4
  41. Lisa Tuttle: The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief
  42. Peter S. Beagle: Summerlong
  43. Tom Lloyd: Stranger of Tempest (Couldn’t finish)
  44. Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch
  45. Benedict Jacka: Hidden – Alex Verus #5
  46. Isabella Barclay: A Bachelor Establishment
  47. Walter Jon Williams: Voice of the Whirlwind
  48. Alexandra Bracken: The Passenger
  49. Eileen Putman: The Dastardly Duke – Love in Disguise #2
  50. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric & the Shaman – Penric & Desemona #2
  51. Georgette Heyer: The Quiet Gentleman
  52. Karen Tuft: The Earl’s Betrothal
  53. Sally MacKenzie: What to do with a Duke – The Spinster House #1
  54. Julie Daines: Willowkeep
  55. Kevin Hearne: The Purloined Poodle – Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries
  56. Willow Palecek: City of Wolves
  57. Georgette Heyer: Sylvester
  58. Georgette Heyer: Devil’s Cub
  59. Georgette Heyer: Regency Buck
  60. Jodi Taylor: The Great St Mary’s Day Out – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story
  61. Regina Scott: The Husband Campaign – The Master Matchmakers #3
  62. C.E.Murphy: House of Cards – The Negotiator #2
  63. Allison Butler: The Healer – Borderland Brides #1
  64. Sean Danker: The Admiral – Evagardian #1
  65. Jodi Taylor: The Nothing Girl
  66. Cassandra Rose Clarke: The Wizard’s Promise
  67. Jodi Taylor: Little Donkey
  68. Donna Lea Simpson: Lord St Claire’s Angel
  69. Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October
  70. Georgette Heyer: The Talisman Ring
  71. Alastair Reynolds: Revenger
  72. Janis Susan May: Miss Morrison’s Second Chance
  73. Regina Jeffers: Angel Comes to Devil’s Keep
  74. Leigh Bardugo: Crooked Kingdom – Six of Crows #2
  75. Leigh Bardugo: Shadow and Bone – The Grisha #1
  76. Leigh Bardugo: Siege and Storm – The Grisha #2
  77. Leigh Bardugo: Ruin and Rising – The Grisha #3
  78. Sean Danker: Free Space – Evagardian #2
  79. C.C. Aune: The Ill-Kept Oath
  80. Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade – Erebus Sequence #1
  81. Julia Quinn: The Duke and I – Bridgertons #1
  82. Benedict Jacka: Veiled – Alex Verus #6
  83. John Scalzi: Miniatures – The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi
  84. Julia Quinn: The Viscount who Loved Me – Bridgertons #2
  85. Benedict Jacka: Burned – Alex Verus #7
  86. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Mission – Penric #3
  87. Bianca Blythe: A Rogue to Avoid – Matchmaking for Wallflowers #2
  88. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Demon – Penric #1
  89. Gaie Sebold: Dangerous Gifts – Babylon Steel #2
  90. Nick Wood: Azanian Bridges
  91. Genevieve Cogman: The Burning Page – Invisible Library #3
  92. Jodi Taylor: My Name is Markham – Chronicles of St Mary’s short story

NON-FICTION

  1. David McKie: What’s in a Surname
  2. Allison Kinney: Hood
  3. Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward: Writing the Other
  4. Susanne Alleyn: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders
  5. Louise Allen: Walks Through Regency London
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