NASA’s Free Photo Library

NASA has released its whole photo library, complete with a searchable database, and made all its images free for public use. Yes, their entire collection of images, sounds, and video is now available. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this. It’s a huge source of story inspiration for writers of science fiction.

Here are some of the photos that took my fancy. Enjoy.

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NASA’s gallery.

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ISS037-E-028107 (9 Nov. 2013) — Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, Expedition 37 flight engineer, attired in a Russian Orlan spacesuit, participates in a session of extravehicular activity (EVA) in support of assembly and maintenance on the International Space Station. During the five-hour, 50-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy (out of frame) continued the setup of a combination EVA workstation and biaxial pointing platform that was installed during an Expedition 36 spacewalk on Aug. 22.

PIA04921~medium

This image is from NASA Galaxy Evolution Explorer is an observation of the large galaxy in Andromeda, Messier 31. The Andromeda galaxy is the most massive in the local group of galaxies that includes our Milky Way.

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Frost on Mars

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During its flight, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft returned images of the Earth and Moon. Separate images of the Earth and Moon were combined to generate this view. http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00342

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Read the first chapter of Silverwolf

You can read the first chapter of Winterwood (Book 1 of the Rowankind trilogy) here.

Silverwolf
Book 2 of the Rowankind Trilogy
by Jacey Bedford

(Published by DAW, USA)

Silverwolf final cvr 400

Chapter One
Happy Ever Afters

Deep in the Old Maizy Forest, Somewhere near Chard, Somerset
Early Spring 1801

A large silver-gray shape trotted out of the trees, a grizzled brown hare dangling dead in the creature’s jaws. In wolf form, Corwen was almost the height of a small pony, but he had to hold up his head to prevent the hare’s legs from dragging on the ground. He dropped it to the side of the path and in one smooth movement changed from wolf to naked man.

Corwen was a superb wolf, but I also appreciated his human form. His mane of silver-gray hair, that color since childhood, made him look older and more distinguished from a distance, but close up he was a young man in his prime, tall and well-muscled with long lean flanks, a flat belly, and all the attributes a man needs.

“Good hunting by the looks of it.” My voice caught in my throat.

Corwen flashed a smile in my direction before drawing a bucket of water from the barrel and dipping his face and hands into it. Damn him, he knew exactly what effect he had on me. I wanted to reach out and stroke his firm back, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Instead, I bent, grasped a dandelion rosette, and pulled. The soft earth from last night’s rainfall, allowed the whole thing—root and leaves—to come up in my hand, so rather than toss it on the growing pile of weeds, I dropped it into my basket of edibles.

“Yes, very good,” he said, straightening from the bucket and shaking off excess water. “I brought a hare for the pot. There may have been a rabbit involved as well.” He grinned, white teeth with a hint of the canines showing. “Just a small snack.”

“A snack? You still don’t trust my cooking?” I dusted off my hands on the seat of my canvas slops, wide-legged trousers left over from my sailing days, and picked up the basket.

“Let’s say it’s a good job your Aunt Rosie’s notebooks included some recipes. Shall I clean the hare and joint it?”

“Now?” I made a wide-eyed face at him.

“You have something else in mind?”

“I might have.”

“You’re a wicked woman, Ross Tremayne. Come here.”

“Uh, get used to calling me Sumner. I need to leave the name of Tremayne on the quayside.”

“Sumner rather than your maiden name?”

“Yes. There’s a warrant for Rossalinde Goodliffe in Plymouth. I’ll reclaim my mother’s family name, I think.”

“I don’t mind what I’m to call you as long as you come here right now.”

“Right now?”

“Right now.”

I dropped the basket, walked into his nakedness, and held him tight, feeling the heat of his body through the linen of my shirt. I licked the cool water from his lips and pulled his head down to mine.

As he raised his head from the lingering kiss, I wriggled out of his embrace.

“Going so soon?” he asked.

“You want to eat raw hare for supper?”

“I could—”

I stepped in close again and pressed against him, a promise for later.

He said something inarticulate like, “Mmmmnnngg,” and kissed me again thoroughly. I was tempted to stay where I was, possibly forever, but the makings of dinner awaited. I pushed one hand against his chest, feeling his heart thumping.

“So—you were saying—about my cooking . . .”

“You haven’t killed me with it yet.”

“Such kind words. Careful, or you’ll turn my head.”

To be honest, that was probably as much of a compliment as my cooking deserved.

When I was a girl in Plymouth, I’d watched our rowankind in the kitchen. Ruth and Evy had even let me chop vegetables on occasions, but cooking was largely a mystery to me. When I’d run away to sea with my late husband, Will, Lazy Billy had been ship’s cook and we’d eaten with the crew. Now Corwen and I were on our own, and I’d learned more about cooking than I thought possible.

I wondered how households across the country were managing without their rowankind bondservants, and decided it wasn’t my problem. I liked the quiet life, undisturbed by visitors, magical creatures, or government agents bent on our destruction. I wanted to put the past behind me.

Corwen grinned and turned away. I watched his naked buttocks as he bent to retrieve the hare and take it round to the back of the cottage.

Sighing, I found the last few winter cabbages hiding behind the skeletons of last autumn’s woody weeds, cleared around them, and yanked out one for the pot. Satisfied with my afternoon’s labors, I washed my hands and face in the icy water, retrieved the basket, and went indoors.

While I’d been finishing my tasks outside, Corwen had dressed. He’d skinned, cleaned, and jointed the hare, and was now setting a pot over the fire with herbs and onions from Aunt Rosie’s store. He hummed while he worked, a rich, warm sound in a low register that made me shiver. Since we’d relaxed into a life of domesticity, Corwen had found his voice and I loved listening to him.

Will, had not been able to hold a tune in a bucket, though he’d been able to shout out a shanty over the howl of the gale when he’d needed to keep the men working in rhythm aboard the Heart of Oak. His crew had always responded as if he were the sweetest singer in the world. I could just about sing, but I’d never had the vocal power for shanties when I’d captained the Heart. I left that to a sailor called Windward, who had lungs on him like bellows and a store of dubious verses.

I’d expected to miss life at sea, but I didn’t regret leaving it behind for a moment. This was our happy-ever-after—Corwen’s and mine—a well-earned interlude after the freeing of the rowankind, a time to heal and reflect. Aunt Rosie’s cottage, empty since Rosie had married Leo, was our safe place, protected by a glamour. The Old Maizy Forest itself was one of those liminal places, half in the real world, but only a few steps away from Iaru, the magical home of the Fae.

We’d found a deep sense of peace here, and time to get to know each other properly: one ex-privateer captain and self-confessed witch, and one wolf shapechanger formerly in the employ of the Lady of the Forests. We knew it couldn’t last forever and soon we’d have to think about our place in the real world, but for now it was all we wanted.

I peeled three large potatoes from Aunt Rosie’s store and sliced them into the pot with the neatly jointed hare. As I cleaned and chopped the cabbage and set it aside to be added later, I sensed Corwen behind me. He put his arms around me, his right hand sliding along my arm until he stretched to clasp my knife hand.

“I make it a rule never to touch a woman in intimate places while she has a knife in her hand, especially when she knows how to use it.” His voice was husky and soft.

I let the knife clatter to the table as Corwen’s lips touched the side of my neck, his breath coming in puffs of warmth on my skin.

He pulled up the long-tailed shirt I had tucked inside my slops. There was a lot of shirt, and it gave up its secrets slowly, seeming to take hours until his big warm hand met with the tender skin of my belly. I sank backward into him. He held me steady with one hand while the other joined it beneath the fabric and explored upward. I gave a low moan as it reached my breast and then another of deprivation when it continued upward past the ticklish skin of my underarm, into the folds of my sleeve, to my elbow and thence to my wrist. I pulled my arm through the shirt cuff and freed it.

My other arm followed, and he drew the folds of linen over my head, letting the garment pool at our feet. Undoing a couple of buttons loosed my slops to fall to the floor with the shirt, and I stepped out of them. The warmth from the fire flickered across my naked skin as our supper bubbled in the pot.

I spun to face him.

“Ah, Ross,” he murmured, running his hands down my back as I tugged on the open neck of his shirt, kissing the hollow at the base of his throat. I unfastened the two neat rows of buttons on the front of his breeches, and our articles of clothing cuddled together in front of the fire.

He picked me up bodily and carried me to the wide bed. The cool quilt was a shock to my naked back, but it warmed quickly.

Impatiently I ran my hands over his warm flesh, feeling the taut muscles beneath silken skin. Unlike my body, Corwen’s is remarkably scar-free, since changing from wolf to human and back again heals all but mortal wounds.

I felt shabby in comparison. I have a scar across my ribs, and another on my arm, but the worst is my ear. I lost the top edge of it in an explosion that almost killed me. I felt his fingers trace the line of the scar across my ribs, and I reached down.

“Will stitched that one. He wasn’t so good with a needle.”

“He did his best.”

“It puckers at the end. It’s ugly.”

“Nothing about you is ugly.”

“Even this?” I touched the top of my ear.

“Especially not that. Your hair covers it from the world, and there’s no need to cover it from me, ever.”

He kissed me on the ear, and then his tongue drew a hot line down my neck to my throat. I stroked his flanks and across the ticklish spot between hip and groin, drawing a gasp from him, or maybe it was a curse.

“Steady, woman, or you’ll undo me.”

“Undo, indeed.” I wriggled my hips beneath him and dragged my nails lightly across his flank, then wrapped my legs around him and ran the soles of my feet down his legs. He groaned and reached between us, at which point I turned to jelly. “Now, Corwen.”

“Now?”

“Yes.”

“Sure?”

“Yes, now, damn you.”

He laughed delightedly as I rose to meet him.

“Corwen!” A loud shout and a heavy thump on the door sent a shock through both of us. “Corwen!”

My love pulled away suddenly, leaving me bereft and panting as if I’d run a mile.

“Corwen!” Another thump on the door.

Corwen swore like one of my common sailors. It was my turn to say something like, “Nnnngggrrrh.”

With my hearing and Corwen’s nose, it’s hard for anyone to sneak up on us, but preoccupied as we were, someone had.

“Someone’s here.” I stared hard at the door as if it would reveal what lay beyond.

“That much is obvious.” Corwen sniffed. “It’s all right. It’s Hartington.”

“It’s not all right. Tell him to go away.”

Hartington was Corwen’s long-time friend and one-time mentor, the stag shapechanger from the Lady’s retinue.

Corwen rolled off me and lurched toward his breeches.

“A social call?” I asked.

He sighed and tossed my shirt on to the bed. “I doubt it.”

“Corwen, are you in there?”

“Hartington, one moment.”

I fought my sense of loss and dragged on my shirt and slops.

“Have I caught you at a bad time?” Hartington sounded amused on the other side of the door.

Corwen swore again. “His hearing is as keen as mine. He bloody knows he caught us at a bad time.”

“In that case, can’t he hear what you just said?”

Corwen grinned. “Of course he can. Are you decent?”

“Well, I’m clothed . . .”

* * *

By the time Corwen opened the door, I hoped the flush was fading from my face although I suspected it wasn’t. Hartington stood on the doorstep, his features schooled into a neutral expression as if this were a casual morning call from a polite society acquaintance.

I wondered if he’d traveled on horseback or in stag form. If the latter, he’d managed to clothe himself since changing to human. Like Corwen, he probably had one of the magical packs that held so much more than they seemed to have room for and then seemed to melt into his shape when he changed. A little forethought generally meant shapechangers arrived at their destination with clothing to change into. Mistakes could be embarrassing.

Hartington ignored Corwen’s meaningful glare and greeted him warmly. He bowed to me more formally, his sandy hair, gray-streaked at the temples, escaping from its loosely tied ribbon. He had a thin, fine-boned face, an upright, almost haughty carriage, and unexpectedly gentle brown eyes. If I hadn’t known he was a stag in his animal form, I might have guessed it anyway from his looks. I wondered at his firm friendship with Corwen: wolf and stag, predator and prey. Lucky that shapechangers retained a measure of their rational humanity when in their animal forms.

I wasn’t sure whether to bow or curtsy since I was hardly dressed to receive polite company. Corwen had his shirt open at the neck, long tails hanging outside his breeches, and bare feet.

I settled for holding out my hand and Hartington took it, smiling.

“You both look well. You’ve had time to heal.”

Some scars were invisible, but the physical ones had healed as much as they were going to.

“We have,” Corwen said.

“Well rested, I trust.”

His voice was light. It might have been a polite inquiry, but to me the words sounded ominous. It wasn’t simply a casual question.

Corwen obviously thought the same. “Why would we need to be well rested? What’s happened? Does the Lady of the Forests need us?”

“There is a matter she would like your help with.”

“A matter she can’t deal with herself?”

“She rules the forests. This concerns the sea.”

“The sea?” My stomach lurched. “It’s not the Heart, is it?”

“We have no news of your ship.”

“That’s good, I expect.” I breathed easy again. My old friend Hookey Garrity and his crew of barely reformed pirates were cruising French waters in my lovely tops’l schooner under letters of marque from Mad King George for prizes of fat merchantmen.

“I should say it’s a matter of the seashore,” Hartington said. “A water horse, a kelpie, has carried off two children.”

I felt slightly sick. It was my fault wild magic had returned Britain. I didn’t know much about kelpies, other than the basics. They were shapechanging demons who looked like ponies. They lured unsuspecting people onto their backs, then galloped into the water and drowned and ate their victims. I shuddered. Did I need to know much else? If a kelpie had taken two children, the poor little mites weren’t coming back.

“Where?” Corwen asked.

“South Devon, Bigbury on Sea, not far from Bur Island.”

“Aren’t kelpies normally associated with Scotland?” Corwen frowned. “It’s way out of its own territory.”

“I know it.” I interrupted. “Bur Island, I mean, not the kelpie.” Raised in Plymouth, I’d visited the area as a child with my father during one of his homecomings between voyages. “Bur Island is barely a few hundred yards off the coast. You can walk across at low water, but it’s cut off from the mainland at high tide. There’s an old inn, I forget its name, and tales of smuggling.”

“What about the Mysterium?” Corwen asked. “Are they investigating the disappearances?”

“There’s a Mysterium office at Kingsbridge,” Hartington said. “It’s not as big or as busy as the one in Plymouth, but it’s still substantial. At the moment no one is treating this as a magical problem, so neither the Mysterium nor the Kingsmen are involved. We should be safe from them—as safe as anyone ever is—though it’s always wise to be vigilant, of course.”

“So if they’re not treating it as a magical problem, what are they treating it as?” Corwen asked.

“The children were taken on two separate occasions. The first was a farmer’s son, taken from the bank of the River Aven. The locals thought he might have run away as he’s a troublesome lad. Then the second, the daughter of Reverend Purdy’s rowankind housekeeper, disappeared from close to the parsonage. They’re taking that more seriously as the child is generally obedient and not much given to pranks.”

“The reverend has a rowankind housekeeper? Still?” I asked.

“She’s not there under duress, but employed. I suspect the missing child to be only half-rowankind.”

“The reverend’s bastard?”

“His son’s more likely.” Hartington sighed. “We don’t know the full details. It’s sometimes better not to ask. The real problem is the kelpie.”

“Of course.” I frowned. “What does the Lady want us to do? Capture it? Kill it? Can kelpies even be killed?”

“Oh, yes. They can be killed, but they’re devilish tricky, have teeth like a tiger, and their hide is tough. It takes silver to kill them, or hot iron, or possibly fire. You can capture them, but only if you find them without a bridle and put on a halter embossed with a cross.” He cleared his throat. “At least that’s what the legends say. No one knows for sure, except perhaps the kelpie, and she’s not saying.”

Corwen set his mouth in a line. “Is one wolf enough to deal with a kelpie?”

“Possibly not, but a summoner, a wolf, and a marksman should be enough.”

“You’re coming, too?”

Hartington nodded. “While you’ve been lazing about here, I’ve been chasing ’round the country after a number of minor magical eruptions: an infestation of pixies in Cornwall; a hob in Coventry; and a headless horseman riding across Wimbleton Common.”

“That’s one of the things I was worried about.” I frowned. “Wild magic released into the world.” I turned to Corwen. “Walsingham was right.”

“He’s dead now. He can’t hurt us.”

“They’ll appoint another one. There’s always a Walsingham working against magic. He’s as much a danger to us as the Mysterium—maybe more so because he works in secret. He might be on our trail even now. If I hadn’t—”

“It’s not your fault.” Corwen turned to me.

“Whose fault is it, then? I freed the rowankind.”

“We knew there was a possibility—”

“Yes, and we considered it worth the risk. I considered it worth the risk. And now two children are dead because of me.”

“And thousands of rowankind are free.”

I breathed deeply and swallowed hard. “It’s still a damned difficult equation to balance.”

“Then let’s away to Devon while it’s still only two children.”

<<End of Chapter One>>

Winterwood available from: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes and Noble (USA)

Silverwolf available from: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble (USA)

Rowankind available from: Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble (USA)

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

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Milford Writers’ Retreat

So here I am, in the wilds of Welsh Wales on a writing retreat organised by Milford SF Writers (of which I am the secretary – so yes, theoretically I organised it myself). The venue is Trigonos, the village is Nantlle, about nine miles south of Caernarfon. It’s on the edge of Snowdonia, so if you look up the valley from Trigonos’ private lake frontage, you can see Mount Snowdon in the distance on a clear day, (which it is, today).

From my bedroom window I have a view across Trigonos’s lawn down to the lake and the Nantlle Ridge opposite.

lake-4

Why a writing retreat when I have a perfectly functional office at home and all day every day to sit at my computer?

Several reasons:

  • Like-minded company. I’m here in the company of eleven other science fiction and fantasy writers, so we eat (and talk) together, make occasional forays to the nearest shop when we run out of essentials (wine and chocolate, mostly), and congregate in the library after dinner if we want to be sociable. (And yes, we are a sociable lot, though it’s not obligatory if anyone wants to pound the keyboard after dinner.)

  • It’s a rare getaway. In my day job I book UK tours for folk musicians and facilitate Certificates of Sponsorship (work permits) for musicians coming to play in the UK from outside the EU. This means that some days my phone never stops ringing. To do CoS you have to be licensed by the government which means you take on a heavy legal responsibility to make sure that applicants are genuine. Our government is somewhat paranoid, assuming that everyone who comes here will skip off into the nether regions of some big city and never go home again. That, of course, simply isn’t true. Musicians have lives in their own country as well as touring commitments to other countries. I have been tremendously busy over the last few months, so I need a little uninterrupted writing time.

  • A getaway even from loved ones. When at home I’m always ‘on duty’ for family stuff, even if it’s only to cook a meal or take my elderly mother to the supermarket. Here, I have all day to look after number one. Meals are provided. Breakfast at 8.00, coffee and biscuits at 11.00, lunch at 1.00, cake and coffee at 4.00, dinner at 7.00.

  • A rare peace. Trigonos is set in beautiful surroundings. As soon as you arrive, you can breathe deeply and feel the stress melting away.

So on the face of it, I could do what I’m doing this week in the comfort of my own home, but not without interruptions and obligations. I’m doing edits for my work in progress, the Amber Crown, which is so very nearly ready to be submitted to my publisher. It’s a standalone political fantasy set in a version of the Baltic States in the 1600s. I’m really enjoying getting to grips with it – uninterrupted.

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The Long Haul

Now, here’s the thing… when you write a trilogy you are in it for the long haul.

To all those people who write a single book, I salute you. It’s not easy. It takes dedication and effort. Now imagine you have to make that book three times the length, divide it into three equal-ish parts, each of which can stand alone, and still deliver a satisfactory ending to each part with a mega satisfactory ending at the end of the third part.

There are lots of things to consider, some of which you should consider at the outset, and others that don’t strike you until you’re halfway through the second book when it’s too late to ret-con happenings in the first book because it’s already in the bookshops.

Some trilogies are planned, others happen by chance.

3bookpsitech

By the time I got my first publishing deal I’d written seven books.

I made a big mistake with my first and second. I intended to write a trilogy from the outset, so I wrote a novel and followed it up with the sequel before I’d sold Book One. Thing is, Book One almost sold. I got a very nice ‘we nearly bought this’ from HarperCollins, but in the end they didn’t buy it and neither did anyone else. My then agent wasn’t a hands-on agent. She was happy to submit what I sent her to publishers, but she didn’t give me any editorial advice (and I was so green, that I didn’t know that was something some agents did). So while she was trying and failing to sell Book One I continued writing Book Two, never thinking that if Book One didn’t sell, no one was going to even look at Book Two. I learned that lesson the hard way. Book One remained unsold and my agent didn’t even seriously try to sell Book Two (and at that point we parted company).

So after that I made myself a promise. I would only write standalones, but standalones with the potential for sequels, but only if I sold the standalone. And I would write books that were very different from each other. So I wrote a space opera, a historical fantasy, a YA based on the Tam Lin ballad, a middle-grade fantasy about teenagers and horses, and a second historical fantasy set in a completely different time period and location.

I was lucky (and believe me luck plays an enormous part in getting published) I got an offer from DAW that turned into a three book deal for my space opera, an unnamed sequel, and my historical fantasy. At that point there was every possibility that the space opera would turn into a trilogy, and so would the historical fantasy.

Yes, I was over the moon at a three book deal, but at that point the hard work had to start. I’d sold the space opera sequel on a single page synopsis which had some big ideas, but not a lot of detail. I had to start thinking long-term about the shape of a trilogy and before I’d finished writing Book Two I had to get the go ahead from my editor that there would be a Book Three.

Yes, you’re right, that trilogy turned into the Psi-Tech trilogy with Empire of Dust followed by Crossways and Nimbus. But while I was working on those I was already working on the Rowankind fantasy trilogy: Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind. I didn’t write two consecutive trilogies, however, they came out in this order: Empire (2014), Crossways (2015), Winterwood (2016), Silverwolf (2017, January), Nimbus (2017, October) and Rowankind (2018). So for a few years I was alternating between writing space opera and fantasy.

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

What was important, however, was getting the right story arcs for the two trilogies, working out which characters would be central to which books, and which characters would live to the end of the third book. I always knew where I wanted the Psi-Tech trilogy to end (though the middle bits were more vague until I really sat down and thought hard). With Rowankind I had an idea of where I was going, but I didn’t get the go-ahead for Rowankind until I was threequarters of the way through Silverwolf. Even at that late stage there was always the possibility that I’d have to wrap up the story of Ross and Corwen in two books.

Anyhow, I got the go-ahead and the rest is history (or historical fantasy).

But remember what I said about writing a trilogy means you are in it for the long haul? Well it also means that readers are in it for the long haul, too. We’re all familiar with the feeling of so-many-books, so-little-time. I wonder if that’s why the first book in a trilogy tends to sell more copies than the subsequent ones.

As a reader myself, in the pre Amazon, pre e-book days if I saw a promising trilogy in a bookshop I would always buy all three volumes because I couldn’t be sure that I’d be able to get them later. Now that uncertainty has gone. They’ll always be available as ebooks even if the physical copies go out of print. So now I buy book one, but if there’s a longish wait for the next one I might simply forget to buy it, or I might be busy working my way through my to-be-read pile, which I refer to as my Strategic Book Reserve. Or since I don’t get to browse in physical bookshops any more, I might simply not notice when the second and third books come out.

I always like to start at the very beginning, so if I see a book that takes my fancy, but it’s obviously not the first book in a series, I’ll search out the first book. That’s how I discovered Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy. I bought the third book in Borders in York (before Borders’ sad demise) but refused to let myself read it until I’d ordered and read the first two (from Amazon).

So, as an author of two trilogies, I ask that if you’ve read the first one and enjoyed it, please get the second (and the third) either in physical form or electronic. They are all available now, so there’s no danger of investing time and emotion in a proposed trilogy only to discover the publishing house has nixed the sequels. (Don’t you just hate it when that happens?)

Apologies to my British readers, but my publisher is American, so due to copyright and publisher’s contracts my books are available in dead tree format only in the UK, as imports. My North American readers (USA and Canada) can get electronic copies as well as paperbacks.

Thank you for reading my books. I hope you’re in it for the long haul, too.

PS, my next one is going to be a standalone!

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The Truth in Historical Fantasy

Rowankind_cover 400My Rowankind trilogy: Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind (all out now, published by DAW) is a fantasy set (mostly) in Britain in 1800, 1801 and 1802 respectively. It tells the story of Ross (Rossalinde) Tremayne, cross dressing privateer captain and witch, and Corwen Deverell, wolf shapechanger, plus an assorted cast of characters from the barely reformed pirates who crew Ross’ ship The Heart of Oak, to the gentle rowankind, and the magical creatures of the Okewood, as they battle against the suppression of magics.

Here’s the cover copy for Rowankind…

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

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

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

It’s a fantasy set firmly in our own history. There are real historical facts to ground the fantasy in reality. To my knowledge the Fae don’t exist and there are no gates to Iaru, their home, from anywhere in Britain, but my Rowankind series has a solid background in history.

Here’s what’s true.

Napoleon Bonaparte had been rampaging through Europe. Britain and France had been at war but in 1802 Henry Addington, who had recently taken over as First Minister from his friend and colleague, William Pitt the Younger, announced a peace. It didn’t last. Maybe no one expected it to, but it gave Britain (and France, too) a breathing space before hostilities recommenced in 1803.

The wheat harvest failed disastrously in 1800, leading to empty warehouses and the price of bread going up beyond what the poor could avoid, so yes, there were bread riots

GeorgeIIIKing George III was indeed mad, intermittently so at first, but his bouts of madness, which later led to the Regency, were not obvious in the period 1800 to 1802 (when my trilogy takes place). Scholars still argue over the exact cause of his affliction. Some say porphyria, others disagree, which gives me some wiggle room to say that His Majesty was adversely affected by his suppression of his own natural magic.

The Heart of Oak, Ross’ ship, is as real as I can make her. A two-masted tops’l schooner crafted from Bermuda teak, she’s an amalgamation of several existing vessels. The only thing ‘magical’ about her is that she has a sliver of magical winterwood spliced into her keel which means that Ross, seasick on every other vessel, can sail aboard the Heart without fear of illness.

HMSPicklereplicaShips. Some of the ships I mention are real ships, including the Guillaume Tell, captured from the French during the wars, and brought into the Royal Navy Fleet. The Bermuda sloop, The HMS Pickle, a tops’l schooner like the Heart of Oak, under Captain John Richard Lapenotière, was a real Royal Navy ship, originally called Sting and renamed Pickle in 1801. A few years later she would have the task of carrying the news of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar home to Britain. The Royal Navy still holds ‘Pickle Nights’ in commemoration. The above photo is of a replica of the Pickle.

The Spanish Armada was thoroughly defeated by bad weather after the battle with English ships in the channel in 1588. Who’s to say that the storms were not magically created?

Sir Francis Walsingham was understood to be Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, so who else would she have trusted to make a magical problem disappear?

Harris_covent_garden_ladiesLondon, is as close as I can make it to the developing city of that time. I used (mainly) a very detailed map dated 1806 and researched a lot of Victorian photographs which showed old buildings obviously extant in 1800-1802. Georgian houses were being built to a plan that is still well known today with servants’ offices in the basement, elegant rooms upstairs, family bedrooms above those and cramped bedrooms for servants in the attics. Hansom cabs were a thing of the future, but Hackney coaches were common. You could buy anything from a steak dinner to a prostitute, and if you wanted the latter Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies gave you a list of who was available and what their specialities were.

Wapping old stairs - thenWapping Old Stairs are still there, as is the Town of Ramsgate public house. The stairs are tucked away down by the side of the Town of Ramsgate. When the tide is high, the foot of the stair is completely submerged, but at low tide you can step out on to the mud banks of the Thames. I have Victorian photographs as well as more modern ones.

Vauxhall Stair is the access from the Thames through to Vauxhall Gardens. There was a vinegar factory nearby which must have made the air very pungent.

The White Lion was an actual pub, close by Vauxhall Stair. It’s likely revellers heading for Vauxhall Gardens would have had to pass by on their way from the Thames.

Old London Bridge - Turner 1796

London Bridge – the old medieval one 1209 to 1831 had been cleared of all the bridge-top buildings by the time the Rowankind trilogy takes place. This is a painting by Turner from approximately 1796, so close enough for the Rowankind trilogy which starts in 1800. One of the arches had been widened to allow safer passage beneath the bridge, but the remaining arches were narrowed by the boat-shaped ‘starlings’, that protected the bridge piers. The pressure of water flowing through the starlings, especially on an outgoing tide caused turbulent through-ways and boats going under the arches were said to ‘shoot the bridge’. Cautious passengers alighted before the bridge and walked round to meet their intrepid boatmen on the other side.

Vauxhall Gardens

Vauxhall Gardens was largely as described with allowances made for the fact that I have used it out of season, with added hell hounds. The season was relatively short, given British weather, so it was closed up from autumn through to the following spring.

Frogmore, close by Windsor Castle, was the house King George III renovated and enlarged for his wife and unmarried daughters. At the time this story takes place, renovations would have been underway.

Barnsley in South Yorkshire, is as close as I can make it to the town of that period with its linen weaving and its wire drawing workshops. (Coal mining had not yet become its major industry.) I used the closest maps I could find for the period, but I grew up there and the street layout in the centre of town in 1801 was remarkably close to the Barnsley I remember, before the town planners fatally messed it about in the 1970s.

Cannon HallDenby House exists, or rather the pattern for it does. Cannon Hall, only a few miles friom where I live, was once a gentleman’s residence and is now a museum owned and run by Barnsley Council. You can go and see it (it’s free) and see the lake where Corwen’s brother Freddie acquired his fear of water. (There’s also a nice garden centre and café opposite the main car park where you can get excellent lunches or coffee and cake.)

Deverell’s Mill is an amalgamation of typical Yorkshire West Riding woollen and worsted mills of the day. In 1800/1802 the industrial revolution had started, but steam engines were still in their infancy and mills relied on water power. Some of the machinery, developed for cotton spinning and weaving, was being adapted for wool. Child labour was the norm and a mill owner, such as Old Mr. Deverell,  who would not employ children under ten, would have been considered benevolent in some circles, though families would probably grumble about their children not earning from the age of five or six.

Weymouth and sea dipping. George III used to prefer being dipped in the sea at either Weymouth or Bognor (while his son, the prince, used to prefer Brighthelmstone, later Brighton). To be dipped in the sea the king entered his wooden bathing machine (which was painted red, white and blue with a flagpole on the top). The machine was then wheeled to the water and the king emerged from door on the seaward side (possibly naked) to be ‘dipped’ by a pair of ‘dipping ladies’ experienced in the art of not letting their patients drown. The first time George III was dipped at Weymouth a band followed his bathing machine down the beach playing God Save the King and his dipping ladies had GSTK woven into their girdles. Dipping was all for the good of the king’s health, of course. Part of the ‘cure’ was also drinking seawater mixed with milk. Ugh! When sea bathing first became popular it was common for men to swim naked.

House of Commons 1808Parliament. This, of course, is the old Parliament building before the disastrous fire at Westminster that caused the rebuilding later in the century. I’ve used contemporary accounts to describe it, though I’ve taken a bit of a liberty by installing a public gallery, which did not exist. Ladies were not allowed to observe until 1837, hence the need for a little magic to make sure Ross and Lily see the important proceedings. The above engraving of the House of Commons is from 1808.

William Pitt the Younger was George III’s first minister, but resigned over the Irish question early in 1802 to be replaced by his colleague Henry Addington. Addington was largely concerned in securing a peace with France. Pitt became First Minister again in 1803. I’ve tweaked the timeline a little to make it late 1802.

Henry Addington’s tenure as First Minister was short. He did, indeed, live at the White Lodge in Richmond Park.

sutton pool mapHistorical Plymouth. Sutton Pool is still there today, a harbour (now full of pleasure boats) beneath the impressive walls of the Citadel, close to the Mayflower Steps. I had to work out what Vauxhall Quay might have been like in 1800, plus the ramshackle warehouses on the opposite side of the pool. I found some maps of the area in the correct time period, plus Victorian photographs which clearly showed houses from the Elizabethan and georgian eras. I used those to work out what Plymouth in 1800 would have looked like. The newly built Guildhall had recently replaced the old medieval one. The Ratcatchers Inn almost certainly did not exist, but it could have done because Southside (the street) definitely did. The market was marked on the map, but the street where Ross’ family home is situated is entirely fictional and situated right on the edge of the building line as it then was, close to Portland Square.

Ross Trenayne 4Fashion for men and women. Since neither Rossalinde nor Corwen are beloved of the ‘ton’ (society’s elite of the day) I have avoided high society balls and activities, and therefore I don’t worry too much about everyone being dressed in the absolute pink of fashion. Both my main characters wear practical clothes, which may be a few years old, so a little behind the trend. Hookey, when he becomes Captain of the Heart of Oak, favours a slightly out-of-date frock coat which he thinks makes him look dashing. I found a lot of costume information on Pinterest and also visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Fashion Museum in Bath to see real garments up close. Ross would have scandalised polite society dressed in men’s clothing.

I disappeared down many google-rabbit-holes while researching all this and I now have more books on Georgian history than I really need – though – can you ever have too many books? My Pinterest pages carry a lot of photographs I used for reference, from costume to buildings geography. Feel free to take a look. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/birdsedge/

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What I Like to Read, and Why

Though I have a large collection of paper books, some of them from my childhood, I mostly read fiction on Kindle these days. It’s not that I prefer electronic to dead tree books, but books are books and it’s the content that matters to me, not the form. Yes, who doesn’t love a first edition in a gorgeously crafted leather binding, but when it comes to practicalities, I can read my Kindle Paperwhite in the dark, I can make the print bigger when my eyes get tired, and I can carry around 676 (current count) books in my handbag, just like Hermione. And that’s only my current Kindle. I still have (probably) twice as many on my ancient Kindle Keyboard.

I devour books, I always have. There’s never a time when I don’t have a novel on the go. Sometimes (especially if I’m busy writing) my reading slows down, but it never stops. When I first started writing in earnest, I never used to be able to read fiction while I was incubating a book. Then I reached the stage where I could read fiction as long as it was a different genre; fantasy or historical while I was writing science fiction, and science fiction while I was writing historical fantasy.

And, yes, the short answer is that I mostly read genre fiction: science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, with a very small smattering of general fiction.

Now I’ve achieved equilibrium. I can read while I’m deeply engrossed in writing, which is good because a writer should keep reading what’s out there. It wouldn’t do to reinvent the wheel, or to write something with a theme too close to something that’s trending. Yes, I know Twilight, and possibly the True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse series, encouraged a proliferation of vampire novels, and Hunger Games heralded the arrival of the dystopian teen tale. While we’re at it, I’m sad to see so many heroine-pulled-back-in-time-to-meet-handsome-Scottish-laird books since Outlander became so popular. Some are well-written, of course, and enjoyable to read, but finding a new take on a popular theme is bloody difficult.

Of course, you never know what the next big thing will be. Who’d have thought that stories about a boy in a school for witchcraft and wizardry would ever become such a popular and lasting phenomenon? The next big thing has been written already and is somewhere in the publishers’ pipeline. The publishing process is so longwinded that by the time you read the next big thing, it’s been undergoing the creative and publishing process for three or four years (or more), so the next big thing is already the last big thing.

In the meantime write what sets your heart on fire now.

And read widely.

I’m currently halfway through the second of Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoat books. There are so many books and so little time that I rarely read a whole series consecutively, but I so loved Traitor’s Blade that I went on to read Knight’s Shadow immediately and I bought books three and four (Saint’s Blood and Tyrant’s Throne) and downloaded them to kindle, ready. [*Edit: I’ve finished all four now, and love them all equally.]

de castell

What do I like about them? They are violent. Some have called them ‘Grimdark’ but I’m not so sure I would pigeonhole them quite like that, even though they have a high body-count. King of Grimdark, Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, is much darker, though, like the Greatcoats books it has a delicious streak of black humour. I don’t think I’m meant to like the unlikeable characters in First Law, though I find I do sympathise with both Glokta (the torturer) and Logen Ninefingers (the berserker). However, I really like the characters in the Greatcoats books. Falcio val Mond, once the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, has spent the last five years trying to live the dream of his dead king. Greatcoats were created to be the travelling magistrates, trained in the law and the arts of fighting, but the king was assassinated by power-hungry dukes and the Greatcoats disbanded and discredited. Falcio, however is still a Greatcoat in his heart and mind. Accompanied by his two best friends, Greatcoats Brasti and Kest he’s still following the king’s last order. Needless to say, it gets him into trouble more times than I can count. Falcio is easy to like. Brasti is a handsome womaniser, a bit thick, but a phenomenal archer, Kest is measured and thoughtful, the best swordsman in the country, and Falcio is supposed to be the brains of the trio. He’s loyal, brave, and tries to be honourable and fair. He doesn’t always get it right, but oh how he tries. Once he’s committed to something, he won’t give up, no matter how the odds are stacked against him. The trio’s dry and irreverent sense of humour leads to great banter and witty/sarcastic asides that lighten the mood. The trio understand each other, almost too well. At one point one of them remarks something like: ‘We should be married. We’ll be finishing off each other’s sentences next.’ Indeed there’s a great three-way bromance going on, though no one would want to admit it. I’m only halfway through the second book and already the author has done terrible things to his characters and put them into impossible situations. I’m looking forward to reading about more impossible situations. When Game of Thrones has finished, HBO could do a lot worse than look at the Greatcoats.

Curse of ChalionI like great characters in impossible situations. I like to like the characters I read about, or at least find some empathy for them, and know why they do what they do. Maybe I even like to fall in love (a little) with them. How can anyone not fall in love with Cazaril from Lois McMaster Bujold’s excellent The Curse of Chalion? Caz is resilient, steadfast and clever. He’s a broken man when the book opens, and as he rebuilds himself, he rebuilds the lives of the people around him. Sacrificing himself, if it’s the only way. And the wonderful thing about him is that he doesn’t think he’s anyone special. He simply does what he knows he has to do, even when it scares him spitless. (And now I’ve made myself want to go and re-read Curse of Chalion again – for about the sixth time.)

I blog all the books I read and the movies I see here on my Dreamwidth blog. I’m not a professional academic reviewer. I blog to remind myself of what I’ve read and why I liked it (or didn’t). There’s a decade of my reading on there, mostly spoiler free. Go take a look.

If you like a book, or even if you don’t, blog about it, tweet about it, stick it on Facebook, or Instagram, or whatever the latest social media platform is. Your thoughts are the oxygen by which books (and therefore authors) breathe.

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Write What You Know – Kind Of…

I nearly died.

It was a few years ago, before I got my first book deal, but I was already a writer, if not a published one. I had an anaphylactic reaction, and it happened like this. I developed a sore throat so my doctor prescribed an antibiotic which I’d taken (safely) many times before. I arrived back home from visiting the surgery, took the first tablet and…wooo… started to feel funny, slightly queasy and just… not right. Then my palms started to itch in that way that said this was an allergic reaction. Luckily my husband was at home. He took one look at me and called the doc, then bundled me into the car. The doc was ready and waiting at the surgery. They laid me out on a couch in the doc’s office and I dimly recall him telling the practice nurse to come in and watch because she might never see something like this again, but she needed to know what to do if she did.

My husband tells me that by this time I had blue lips and the rest of me was actually turning green, especially my ears for some weird reason. There were lumps the size of eggs coming up along my arms, going down again and coming up again in a different place, like I was playing host to an alien under my skin. I wasn’t in pain, just feeling extremely strange and my breathing was laboured (throat swelling closed, but I didn’t know that at the time). I wasn’t scared, in fact I was strangely not-scared even though I knew this was serious. In quick succession the doc injected adrenaline, antihistamine (Piriton), and when that didn’t seem to be working quickly enough, followed it up with a steroid shot. All this while the emergency ambulance was on its way.

Once in the ambulance and heading for the nearest hospital, eight miles away, with the siren going and the blue flashing light, I started to shake. Great, uncontrollable shudders starting in my toes and rolling up my body to my head, one after the other in waves.

Hospital lightsBy the time we reached the hospital the injections the doc had given me were starting to take effect. I was admitted overnight for observation, but the worst was over. As I was being wheeled to the ward, lying flat on my back on a trolley-bed, I saw the corridor lights flashing over my head, whoosh whoosh whoosh, just like they do in the movies. It felt kind of clichéd, but even while it was happening, I was thinking: remember all this; one day you’ll be able to use it in a book.

They say write what you know.

They don’t, of course, say write only what you know. We are all the sum of our experiences and as writers we should use those experiences to enrich and enliven our narrative.

Imagination is hugely important, but if you want it to feel real, combine imagination with experience. I’ve never fought in a battle or taken part in a cavalry charge, but I have

  1. Jacey on Justiceridden horses and mucked about in stables;
  2. kept German Shepherds;
  3. had two babies (not simultaneously);
  4. dislocated my shoulder (which is painful and hurts like hell but not in the place you expect it to hurt);
  5. run a village post office;
  6. tripped and bashed open my head (8 stitches), which gave me two wonderful black eyes and a permanent scar. Not one of my finer moments;
  7. been a librarian;
  8. broken my wrist;
  9. travelled the country selling stuff at craft fairs;
  10. been badly bitten by a dog. Note: don’t pull away when a big dog has his teeth in your wrist or it does more damage. Push instead. Dogs’ teeth are designed for tearing – don’t give it the opportunity;
  11. had a nasty leg wound which took months to heal and has left a large scar like a shark bite. I won’t show the pics of that in case you’re trying to eat food while reading this;
  12. given emergency first aid when my husband bashed open his head/gouged his finger to the bone/trapped his hand in a car door. (Not all at the same time, but he does DIY, what can I say?);
      Jacey Bedford. Memeber of Artisan a cappella trio.
  13. stood up against someone potentially dangerous for something I believed in under difficult circumstances (that’s a long story for another time);
  14. stood on a large outdoor stage and sung to twenty thousand people as part of Artisan – an a cappella trio;
  15. Sung to three people and the landlord’s dog in a pub in Kent in a snowstorm. (It’s not all rock and roll and big festival audiences.);
  16. spent a lot of time in recording studios – 12 CDs – and radio stations;
  17. had my own (short) a cappella music series on BBC Radio2
  18. played host to a lot of touring musicians;
  19. renovated an old house;
  20. done family history and local history research;
  21. had someone drill into my jaw bone, not to implant a spying device or a poisoned tooth, but I guess it felt the same.
  22. travelled many times to Canada and the USA. Also to Germany, Belgium, and Australia (via Hong Kong)

None of these things in themselves would make particularly good reading (except maybe number thirteen), but using the experiences in the right place in your narrative would certainly help to make it real.

Of course, I don’t want to have a Mary Sue character, so I’m not putting myself into my books, just using my experiences and writing what I know.

Cherish your experiences, the good and the bad. Use the feelings, if not the actual event, to make your narrative feel real.

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