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.

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

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’. (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/08/19/it-only-gets-harder-once-youre-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: http://www.jaceybedford.co.uk/

Psi-tech books in the wild

Richmond, Virginia

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Fantasy Food to Go – Part 2 – Overland

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

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.

Beans
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.

Salmagundi
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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Updated Blog Archive: 2013 to 2019


 

2013

  1. Bated Breath
  2. Seven Short Men and a Waif
  3. Preparing for Milford
  4. Jumping in at the Shallow End
  5. Serendipitous Book Browsing
  6. Four days to go
  7. Three Book Deal
  8. Milford Writers
  9. Publishers Marketplace Announcement
  10. Editor Talk
  11. New Book Log on LJ: Karen Traviss: Star Wars: Clone Wars – No Prisoners:
  12. World Fantasy Con
  13. That Difficult Second Novel
  14. Revision – First Pass
  15. Wordle
  16. Wordcount
  17. Timelines

2014

  1. Book Blog Roundup for 2013
  2. Thinking about Images
  3. Title News
  4. SFWA
  5. Scrivening
  6. Character self-determination
  7. Jacey’s Eastercon Panel Schedule
  8. Donald Maass: The Fire in Fiction
  9. More Book Logging Over on T’Other Blog
  10. Amazin’ Amazon
  11. Empire of Dust
  12. Guest Blog 1: Ben Jeapes – Infinite diversity in infinite combinations
  13. Writers Blog Tour
  14. Guest Blog 2: Gaie Sebold – How (Not) To Write A Steampunk Novel
  15. My Loncon Schedule – Provisional
  16. First Draft – Progress Report
  17. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda
  18. How long is a novel?
  19. Editing and Time Travel
  20. My Updated Loncon-3 Schedule
  21. August, Cons, Page Proofs and Milford
  22. Write What You Know
  23. Why I love my cover for Empire of Dust
  24. Submitting what you write
  25. It’s real
  26. My Guest Post on Ruth Booth’s Blog
  27. My Guest Post on the Bristol Books Blog
  28. My Guest Post on Ben Jeapes’ Blog
  29. Milford 2014
  30. Guest Post on Deborah Walker’s Blog
  31. Bristolcon Schedule
  32. Guest Post on Gaie Sebold’s Blog
  33. The Goodreads Odd Choice Awards
  34. Happy Book Day To Me
  35. Guest Post on Anne Lyle’s Blog
  36. Guest Post on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Blog
  37. Guest Post on Book View Cafe
  38. The Three Letter Word
  39. Guest Interview on Diabolical plots
  40. Order Books For the Holidays
  41. Interstellar
  42. Mind melding
  43. Guest Blogs Roundup
  44. Listed
  45. Nuts and Bolts of Writing #1
  46. Interview and book discussion
  47. Katharine Kerr needs our help.

2015

  1. 2014 – Looking Backwards and Forwards – 2015
  2. Short story Sales 2015
  3. Selling Short Stories
  4. Another short story sale
  5. Listen to Good Advice, but Trust Yourself
  6. How to Create Multi-Dimensional Characters—Everybody Lies (Kristen Lamb)
  7. Jacey Bedford Answers Ten Questions
  8. Ten Books I Couldn’t Put Down
  9. Ten Favourite Children’s Books
  10. Lonely Panda Reprinted Again
  11. Published Today: Last Train
  12. Crossways Cover Reveal
  13. Stars in your Reviews – The Goodreads Conundrum
  14. Goodreads Starry Update
  15. Eastercon Schedule 2015
  16. Goodbye Sir Terry
  17. Pelquin’s Comet: What’s It All About?
  18. Lost in Translation
  19. Selling Stories
  20. Attending Eastercon – Dysprosium 2015
  21. Short Story Roundup
  22. Eastercon 2015
  23. On Delivering the Second Book
  24. SFSF Social #3 – 27th June 2015
  25. Crossways – the Process
  26. More Short Stories Available Online
  27. Book Blog and Pinterest
  28. Two Worlds Collide: Guest Bloggage from Terry Jackman
  29. Re-reading my own book: Winterwood.
  30. My First Writing Rewards
  31. View From a Hotel Window, 5/26/15 + Thoughts on the Deal Money  (John Scalzi)
  32. Another Country
  33. Sheffield SF Social
  34. SFSF Social – June Report
  35. Science for Fiction Writers
  36. Book Cover: Crossways
  37. New Two-Book Deal
  38. CROSSWAYS is OUT TODAY!
  39. Winterwood Edits
  40. New Series of Guest Posts
  41. Guest Blog: Ian Creasey answers five questions about his writing
  42. Guest Blog:Tony Ballantyne tells us about his writing.
  43. Another Successful Milford
  44. Publishing progress
  45. Winterwood Page Proofs
  46. Agents and Publishing
  47. Fantasycon 2015
  48. What has NaNoWriMo Ever Done for Us?
  49. Winterwood Cover Revealed at Fantasy Book Cafe
  50. Gail Z Martin – Five Questions – Guest Post
  51. Winterwood Cover Reveal
  52. Christmas is Coming
  53. So Many Books, So Little Time.
  54. You never get Blasé About… a Good Review
  55. What did I say about good reviews?
  56. Guest Blog: Toby Venables Answers Five Questions
  57. My Writing Year – 2015
  58. My Reading Year 2015

2016

  1. Fan mail
  2. Happy Book Day To Me: Winterwood Published Today
  3. Winterwood Interviews and Reviews
  4. More Post-Winterwood News, Interviews and Reviews
  5. Winterwood Cover
  6. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #1
  7. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #2
  8. Looking forward to Eastercon / Mancunicon
  9. Details Details
  10. Science for Fiction Writers 2016
  11. Silverwolf
  12. Humour in Fantasy and SF
  13. Gotten, Tannoy, and Trug
  14. Thoughts on Editing
  15. Silverwolf Cover Reveal
  16. Editing Anthologies – A Guest Post by Joshua Palmatier
  17. Milford 2016
  18. Fantasycon-By-The-Sea, 2016
  19. What’s in a name?
  20. Guest Blog from Gail Z Martin in Praise of Halloween
  21. Pitfalls of Publishing, or Lest I Forget
  22. Overnight Success in Only Sixteen Years
  23. The Yin and Yang of Writing Advice
  24. My Reading Year 2016

 

2017

  1. Silverwolf
  2. Ten Quick Tips for Writers
  3. Style Sheets
  4. Agent Update
  5. Bloggage or not…
  6. Stories Far and Near
  7. Write What Someone Knows by Ben Jeapes
  8. Cover Reveal: Nimbus
  9. Committing Trilogy
  10. Worldbuilding for a Series
  11. Due Process
  12. Some Random Thoughts on Revisions and Edits
  13. Life, Death and the Writer’s Pen
  14. Ambition and Poison – a Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin
  15. History Lends Perspective
  16. Corwen Silverwolf Speaks
  17. Bladdered or Shitfaced? The gentle art of word choice and the bogglement of page-proofing.

 

2018

  1. What’s the Psi-Tech trilogy about?
  2. Discovering what I didn’t know I didn’t know.
  3. Beginning at the Beginning
  4. How to get a literary agent
  5. Pleasantly Pleasing Progress
  6. My Eastercon Schedule
  7. Men in Science Fiction and Fantasy
  8. The Gift That Keeps on Giving
  9. Cover Reveal Rowankind
  10. The Reading Conundrum
  11. Rowankind Delivered
  12. What times we’ve lived through
  13. Make me Immortal with a Kiss
  14. Writing New Series Vs. Sequels – A guest blog by Gail Z. Martin
  15. Character self-determination
  16. Dropping a Pebble in the Pond
  17. Book Covers
  18. Jaine Fenn Guest Blog
  19. Finish What You Start – Or Don’t
  20. Guest Blog From Joshua Palmatier
  21. My Week at Milford
  22. Gentleman Jim Speaks Out
  23. SF Conventions and How to Survive Them
  24. Winterwood Chapter One – Read it Here
  25. Interrogate Your World – Worldbuilding Questions for Writers
  26. Jacey’s Quick Book Links
  27. Guest Blog. Peter Sutton Answers Five Questions
  28. Happy Book Day to Me (Rowankind)
  29. Busy November 
  30. My 2018 Reading

2019

  1. Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2018 and 2019
  2. Writing Tip: Using Wordle to highlight overused words
  3. Writing the First World War
  4. Writing Romance When You’re Not a Romance Writer – a post for Valentines Day
  5. It’s never too late to talk about a book
  6. Updated Blog Archive: 2013 to 2018
  7. Write What You Know – Kind Of…
  8. What I Like to Read, and Why
  9. The Truth in Historical Fantasy
  10. The Long Haul
  11. Milford Writers’ Retreat
  12. Read the first chapter of Silverwolf
  13. NASA’s Free Photo Library
  14. Submission, Rejection, and my Coping Strategies
  15. For the Love of Prequels – A guest post by Gail Z. Martin
  16. Book Browsing
  17. Science for Fiction 2019
  18. A Visit to the British Museum
  19. My Other Journal in a Galaxy Far far Away
  20. Dublin Worldcon 2019
  21. Generating Ideas – a guest post by Joshua Palmatier
  22. Home from Milford – Tired but Happy
  23. Open Submissions for Anthologies – a guest post by Joshua Palmatier
  24. Retro-Blog of a Pre-published Writer from March 2008
  25. Writers Injuring Characters
  26. Retro-Blog of a Pre-published Writer from Autumn 2008
  27. It’s not too late to join up – NaNoWriMo
  28. Process
  29. Creativity and the laugh-track of my life
  30. Christmas-ish Post
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2019 – Retrospective

2019 has been a pretty good year. I did a few conventions, read a lot of books, finished editing a couple of my own, saw a lot of movies, kept up with the day job, organised (and attended) a couple of Milford weeks, and (as part of Artisan) took to the stage again.

de castellSo, starting with books. There will be a full rundown of books for the year on My other blog at Dreamwidth,  which is where I blog about all the books I read, and all the movies I see. In the meantime the highlights of the year are the four Greatcoats books by Sebastien de Castell, Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood and Tyrant’s Throne. Well worth reading. I’ve also read his Spellslinger books this year, which are good, but the Greatcoat books remain my favourites.

SwordheartI certainly couldn’t rank the books I’ve read and loved this year in order of preference, but if I was made to try, Swordheart by T. Kingfisher (the pen name of Ursula Vernon) would be very high on my list. It’s marvellous with elements of fantasy and romance. Halla and Sarkis are simply fabulous characters. I couldn’t stop reading. I raced to finish it, and at the same time didn’t want it to end.

Last year I discovered Leigh Bardugo’s books Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. This year I was delighted to read King of Scars, set in the same Grisha universe. Highly recommended, and there’s a sequel due sometime (soon I hope).

There have been a number of Jodi Taylor offerings this year about the historians of St Mary’s who don’t so much time travel as ‘ observe historic events in real time’ without interfering. Yeah, right. The whole lot of them are disaster magnets. This year there was Hope for the Best and the short story When Did You Last See your Father? plus a spinoff book, Doing Time, which features Max and Leon’s son as he joins the Time Police. You can’t go wrong with these books, but I thoroughly recommend starting at the beginning with One Damned Thing After Another.

Calling Major Tom by David Barnett was an unexpected highlight and featured a curmudgeonly astronaut  helping a bunch of kids, and their nan, with a series of long distance phone calls from outer space. Highly recommended. I didn’t intend to read Lord of Secrets by Breanna Teintze immediately after I downloaded a review copy from Netgalley, but I glanced at the first page and got sucked right in by the main character’s ‘voice’ and the streak of dark humour running through a book that does terrible things to its lead character. The book strap line is: Magic is poison. Secrets are power. Death is… complicated. That pretty well covers it. I also loved Brightfall, by Jamie Lee Moyer, a Robin Hood book with a difference. Marian is the main viewpoint character. She’s a witch living in the forest with her (and Robin’s) two children, while Robin, distant and embittered, has retreated to Tuck’s monastery. When someone starts killing off Merry Men this turns into a magical medieval murder mystery.

I go to the movies on a Wednesday afternoon with my cinebuddy, Hilary. We try to see every new science fiction or fantasy movie that comes out, with occasional forays into other genres that take our fancy. We saw more movies in the early part of the year than the later, mainly because from August to November there was precious little that took our fancy. As I write I’m looking forwards to the upcoming Star Wars movie, but I might not get to see it until the new year.

How to TrainOne of my absolute favourite movies was How to Train Your Dragon – The Hidden World. Who says animations are for kids? In case you haven’t seen it yet check out Jon Snow meets Toothless the dragon, made by Dreamworks to advertise the movie, but a positive gem in its own right. It’s a Game of Thrones/How to Train Your Dragon mashup featuring Kit Harrington (Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, and one of the voice actors in The Hidden World) and a ‘big Hollywood star’. At the opposite end of the movie spectrum I really enjoyed All is True, with Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench depicting the last days of Shakespeare. Green Book with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali is a buddy movie, a road trip movie, and a movie about prejudice and friendship. Thoroughly enjoyable and even uplifting.

Yesterday, the movie featuring songs by the Beatles, was unexpectedly sweet. The new Terminator movie, Dark Fate, was better than I expected largely due to Linda Hamilton playing a badass sixty-some year old, and Arnie’s terminator swan-song.

This year was the year of Avengers Endgame, of course, one of the most anticipated movies of the season. It didn’t disappoint and arguably brought to a close this extended cycle of Marvel movies, though in a way Spiderman – Far From Home was the post script.

So that’s books and movies taken care of.

I had a few trips away this year. There were two Milfords, in May (the retreat week) and September (the regular SF writers’ conference). Both held at Trigonos, the delightful centre in Snowdonia. Great fun and peaceful writing time in May, and some constructive critique (and more good fun) in September. Kettle a bunch of writers together in a place like Trigonos, surrounded by mountains and with its own lake frontage, and you get instant bonding and a lot of laughs.

Retreat 2019 coffetime group

Milford retreat week

I missed Eastercon this year because it was held at Heathrow, not one of my favourite places, but I flew to Dublin in the summer for Worldcon. Worldcon is huge and a large contingent of Ameican fans and professionals turn up, so I got one-on-one meetings with my editor, Sheila Gilbert, and my agent, Donald Maass, and I also went to the Hugo Awards ceremony on the Sunday night. In October I went to Fantasycon, held just outside Glasgow. Maybe it was because it was so far from London, but I didn’t see as many publishing people there as I expected to see. Then the following week I was on a train to the opposite end of the country for Bristolcon, a much smaller event, but very sociable. I also managed to combine it with a short trip to Bath for a bit of historical research.

Artisan at MND concert Oct 2019

In October I dusted off my tonsils and once again took to the stage with Hilary and Brian, as one third of Artisan for a fundraising concert for the South Yorkshire Motor Neurone Disease charity. Artisan was a full-time entity for twenty years, and officially retired from international touring in 2005, though we did reunion tours in 2010 (Canada and the UK) and 2015 (UK only). We had great fun rehearsing with each other again, and the audience reaction was very gratifying. We never say never again. If you want to know what we sound like there are videos here – http://artisan-harmony.com/videos.htm, or you can buy CDs here – http://artisan-harmony.com/albums.htm

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The Christmas Truce in 1914.

thomas bennettI have a theory, and it’s only a theory, so accept it or not as you wish. My granddad, Lance Corporal Tommy Bennett of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry took part in the Christmas Truce in 1914. It wasn’t one isolated incident, spontaneous peace and goodwill broke out up and down the lines where English and German troops faced each other across No Man’s Land.

Some years ago I was talking to my German friend, Gunnar Wiegand, about this and he told me that the unofficial truce on Christmas Eve 1914 wasn’t something that was known about in Germany, however there were stories of troops in earlier wars (Napoleonic times) meeting up at Christmas to share festivities. Indeed in the days when wars were fought hand-to-hand the troops would sometimes trade across the lines when battles were not raging – without permission from their officers, of course.

My theory is that the 1914 Christmas truce was not a one-off, but it is very probably notable for being the last Christmas truce between opposing armies. As wars became less personal, and more reliant on artillery and air raids to kill from a distance, common soldiers lost the opportunity and the wish to meet their opposite number in peace.

Grandpa didn’t talk much about his time in the trenches, except in very general terms, but Mum told me the story some years later, after he’d died. I wish I’d been able to question him about it, but I was too late. The story always resonated with me, and some years later, as part of Artisan, I recorded Mike Harding’s song about Christmas Eve 1914. Here it is: http://artisan-harmony.com/Soundfiles%20fullsongs/artisan-christmaseve1914.mp3

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Christmas-ish post

Christmas baublesThough our family has never been religious we take advantage of the season and enjoy our version of Christmas which is all about family, food, presents, games and Dr Who or a new movie on TV.

When Brian and I were first married, we went to my mum and dad’s for Christmas Day, and Brian’s mam and dad’s for Boxing Day (26th December for my leftpondian friends) because 26th was Mam’s birthday and also Brian’s maternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary. (No it’s not a typo. My mum was Mum and Brian’s mam was Mam.)

We had our first child, in late November. She was only six weeks old at Christmas, so we went once more to my parents’ home. The year after that we figured that it would be nice to have our own family Christmas in our own home, so my mum and dad came to us, along with mum’s maiden-aunt-ish cousins, and Brian’s mam and dad. There were always people floating through at Christmas – both family and friends – and I usually ended up doing Christmas dinner for twelve or fourteen people. Always a turkey and a ham joint with all the trimmings – sausages wrapped in bacon, bread sauce, two different kinds of stuffing, brussels sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, roast potatoes, roast parsnips and honey-glazed carrots. I always did prawn cocktail for strarters (and still do) because I make a cracking cocktail sauce with a secret ingredient that is utterly yummy. (Okay, the secret ingredient is horseradish!) I always have a Christmas pudding on hand, but we’re generally too stuffed to eat it. This year I’ve bought a sticky toffee Christnas pudding from Marks and Spencers, so I hope we don’t end up wasting it.

Thinking of Christmasses past, Brian’s grandma cooked her turkey nose-down in a new bucket bought specially for Christmas. It kept the breast meat very moist. I’ve never tried that, though I did cook my turkey breast-down in the pan one year. Yes, it was moist, but it looked like a road accident. When I was very young we never had a turkey at Christmas (a bit too expensive, I suspect). I remember we had a capon one year, basically a big chicken!. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days. Dad was going to night school while working in an office job. When he got his first management job, one of the perks for the senior staff was a Christmas turkey. It was an 18 pounder and we didn’t have a tray big enough to cook it in. We borrowed one from the local butcher, but the turkey was so big it hung over the edge of the tray and wouldn’t fit into the (coal-fireside) oven until we cut a leg off. I must have been about eight, but I can still remember Grandma kneeling in front of the oven trying to shove the turkey into it! What a tarradiddle!

Christmas tree & dogWe’ve always loved Christmas in this house, with an open fire and plenty of room for the biggest Christmas tree we can fit in the car. Our kids are grown and flown now, and it’s lovely when they can come home for Christmas, but we don’t expect it or get upset if it doesn’t happen. Ghillan and her husband, Ian, have two lovely kids, but they live south of London and so a family visit has to allow a day for travelling either side of the visit itself. This year Ian doesn’t have enough time off work for them to drive up here, enjoy a few days of Christmas and then get back again.

Our son and his wife are even further away, in Blacksburg Virginia, where he’s an assistant professor at Virginia Tech State University.  He was in the UK for a conference in November, so came home for a pre-Christmas visit, but it will be next May/June before they both manage another visit.

Family Christmas with the kids and grandkids will be by Skype, this year. We have friends coming for Christmas dinner, and my mum, who is almost 95 and getting a bit frail, will be there.

We went out and bought our Christmas tree a few days ago, but haven’t put it up yet. Brian hauled the decorations out of the loft, so we’re on the verge of being ready.

I spent today making the last batch of apple jelly from our own (small) apple trees. This batch was apple and red wine, but I’ve also made apple jelly with: port wine, white wine, rose, mulled wine, cider, and just for Christmas dinner I’ve made a batch that’s simply mulled apple jelly with loads of mulling spices and extra cinnamon and cloves. That will be lovely with Christmas dinner instead of the usual cranberry jelly, which I’m not so keen on. I made apple sauce, too.

When I checked the cake box I found one of last year’s Christmas cakes, iced and ready. Since I put a lot of brandy in my chrissie cakes, I figure it will still be fine to eat, though we might need a hammer and chisel for the icing. To that end I’m in the process of making a Guinness fruit cake as a back-up. It’s lovely and moist and fruity. It’s one of those where you boil up butter, sugar and fruit in a can of guinness and then leave it overnight for the fruit to soak up the liquid. Then you whack in eggs and flour, give it a good old stir and bake. It’s best if you wrap it in foil and keep it for a couple of weeks before eating.

Presents? Well, we’re trying to go easy this year – at least for the adults – though I am sending a box of stuff down to Ghillan and Ian for the grandkids. I always think Brian is difficult to buy for and he says the same about me.

Will we have a white Christmas? We live nearly a thousand feet up on the edge of the Pennines, so if anyone is going to get snow, it will probably be us, but that’s OK. Our back garden looks magical when it snows, and we don’t have anything to draw us out of the house unless we want a snowball fight.

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

So that’s us for Christmas this year. If you want to add a little cheer to my Christmas, you can buy my books, for yourself or for friends. That would be wonderful. Or there’s just about time to order an Artisan CD – either contemporary songs, or Christmas ones.

I’d like to wish you all merry Christmas, happy holidays, or the seasonal salutation of your choice. Be safe, be happy, be kind.

Here’s a recipe for you.

Guinness Fruit Cake

900g (2 lb) mixed dried fruit
225g (8 oz) butter
450g (1 lb) dark brown sugar
1 generous teaspoon ground mixed spice
1 can (440 ml) Guinness
3 large eggs
340 g (12 oz) self-raising flour
2 tablespoons whisky or brandy – optional

  1. Put the fruit, butter, sugar, spice and Guinness into a large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10–15 minutes. (Smells delicious.)
  2. Remove from heat and allow to cool. (I usually leave it overnight.)
  3. When cool add the eggs, beating well. Fold in the flour. Stir in the optional whisky. (Doesn’t need to be so complicated – just chuck in eggs, flour and whisky and give it a good stir.) It should be dropping consistency (if too thick add liquid of your choice).
  4. The origional recipe says to turn the mixture into a buttered and lined 20-cm (8 inch) diameter round cake tin, but that makes it very deep I find this quantity makes two generous sized cakes, or use a bigger tin – say a 9 inch one. Bake in a preheated oven (160°C/325°F/gas mark 3) for 1 – 1½ hours. (That’s how it was passed on to me, but I find it takes much longer – maybe up to 2½ – 3 hours. Smaller cakes need a shorter cooking time if you divide it into two. I’ve also made great muffins with this mix.)
  5. The cake is cooked when a skewer into the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in its tin for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
  6. When cool, wrap in foil and hide at the back of a cupboard for a couple of weeks. It’s a great moist alternative to a traditional Christmas cake. As well as serving as cake, try warming a slice up in the microwave and serving with a dollop of custard, cream or ice cream.
  7. Enjoy.

 

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Creativity and the laugh-track of my life

nano_08_winner_large

Winner’s Badge 2008

I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) at the beginning of November, a commitment to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s fewer than 2000 words a day, so it should be—if not easy—not all that difficult. I’ve done it before – about four times since my first go at it in 2008. This year I managed about 260 words on the first day and then nothing.

Why couldn’t I sit for a couple of hours each day and simply put words down on the screen? I have an ongoing novel project that’s just crying out for fifty thousand words of first draft. I know how the story starts; I’ve written the first 17,500 words. I know how it ends (though I’m not giving that away here) but I need to work on the middle bit, the development of plot and character. I need to map out a few twists and reversals, and engineer a gradual coming together of story and motivation to bring my characters to a place where the ending can happen naturally, rather than because I (as author) insist that it will. All that is covered in my vague back-of-the-envelope plan by the phrase: Stuff Happens.

So why did all my good intention flush down the pan of life? I think I have the answer.

Creativity is not something you can pull out of a box and shove back in when you’re done with it. It’s something that should be ongoing, a process of you like.

And I have a day job.

There are not many published writers who don’t have a day job of some kind. Sure, a few full time writers are either fantastically successful beyond their wildest dreams, like J. K. Rowling, or their career runs alongside their day job for several books until they’ve built up enough back catalogue to have a steady income from royalties, and possibly a firm book deal from their publisher that gives them a guaranteed income for the next so-many years. Most writers are not that lucky. Getting the average publishing deal is nice, but it doesn’t allow you to immediately chuck in the day job. If you manage your career well, I understand that it takes a back catalogue of around twenty steadily selling novels to maintain a decent income from royalties.

6bookpicI have six novels out there at the moment (so please go and buy one or more of them), so my income from royalties might take me to the supermarket for groceries once or twice a year, and my advances are modest.

So yes, I have a day job.

I’m very lucky because I’m self-employed. I work from home as a music booking agent, and I also process Certificates of Sponsorship – work permit applications for musicians coming to the UK from outside the EU. I have a dedicated (messy) office, and love a job I can do in my pyjamas. I hit the office every morning before I even get into the kitchen to put on the coffee. I don’t have an endless commute, or regular nine-to-five hours.

But…

Jacey office 3 sm

My messy office

The phone can ring at any hour of the night or day. Someone has left it until the last minute and needs eleven Certificates of Sponsorship processing for a band from the USA who are already inbound to the UK on the New York to Heathrow flight, and the British tour manager has only just discovered they didn’t deal with immigration paperwork before they left. Or I get a call on a Sunday evening, at 7.00, from someone who asks if I process CoS for Mexicans. “Yes,” I say. “How long does it take?” he asks. “Well, I ask that you allow four weeks. How soon do you need them?” It turns out that he needs them within an hour because he has four Mexican musicians in a holding room at Heathrow airport because they tried to come into the UK totally unaware that they needed permission to work. If they don’t get their CoS within an hour they’re on the next plane back to Mexico. (Luckily Heathrow gave me a bit more time once they learned the application was in hand.)

So, ‘stuff happens’ is not just the outline of the middle section of my new book, it’s the laugh-track of my life.

Now, I don’t mind dealing with occasional emergencies, even if it means staying up until midnight or beyond, to make sure some poor souls don’t get deported instead of coming in to play a few gigs for their British promoter who has already sunk money into venue hire and promotion, but it does cut into my time.

And that brings me back to creativity.

sleepy 1

Waiting for the muse.

To be creative you don’t only need time to create, you need time to think about creating. Ninety percent of writing creativity happens in your brain, not when your fingers hit the keyboard. You have to make space for thinking, for daydreaming, for lollygagging in a comfy chair with a notebook which you might never open. The ideas are floating out there on the ether, you just need to open up your mind to let them in.

And I didn’t do enough of that before NaNoWriMo, which is why, when it came to the crunch, I wasn’t ready to write 50,000 new words in a month.

I need brain-space. I’ve had some of my best writing ideas while lying in bed trying to get to sleep, which is why I keep a notebook and pen on my bedside table.

Once I’ve opened up my mind to ideas,  the words flow, and when the words start flowing other words rush in to join them and… well… when I’m on a roll I’ve been known to write 10,000 words in a day. No, that kind of word-count doesn’t happen often, and I can’t keep up that pace for more than a day or three, but when it does happen it’s glorious. I generally consider 4,000 to 5,000 words a day excellent going, and that’s much more sustainable.

I’ve been on a couple of Milford writing retreats and I’m going again in June 2020. To be able to spend a full week without day-job interruptions or family obligations, or breaking off from what I’m doing to take my elderly mum to the supermarket, or put a meal on the table, is a wonderful experience. Of course a week isn’t long enough to write a book (though Catie Murphy wrote 33,000 words at the last Milford writing retreat) but it does get you off to a fine start, or a good middle, or a satisfying ending. (Note: there are still spaces on the Milford writing retreat 2020 at the time of writing this blog post.)

In addition I’ve decided to take the whole month of January off from the day job. Yes, there might still be the occasional emergency, the odd bunch of Mexicans stuck at Heathrow, but if I make it clear to my regulars that I’m not available in January, and if I can bear let the phone go to the answering machine, then I stand a good chance of getting some creative time. And I’m never open for day-job work between Christmas and New Year, usually because the house is full of family. This year, for various reasons, our kids can’t be with us at Christmas, so between the mulled wine and mince pies, and the Christmas Day Skype session, I can sit and daydream.

And that’s what I’m going to do.

 

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Process

I’ve been thinking about process over the last few weeks. I’m writing a new, story which I hope will turn into the next novel project. It’s as yet untitled, and if I had to describe it at all it would be to say that it’s a Robin-Hood-meets-aliens story, except that it’s not Robin Hood, they’re not quite aliens, and the ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’ character is female. I’ve written the set-up for both my main characters. I’ll probably end up changing names yet but I start off with a wild boy, raised by a hermit in the woods. He’s not a chosen one or anything like that. He chooses his own path, though not always very wisely. My second character is a female cavalry captain who finds herself at loggerheads with the king, so she’s posted to the back end of nowhere to quell local unrest… and it just happens to be close to where there’s a problem with alien incursions. And the stage is set for conflict.

I know (roughly) how the story is going to end, but now I’m looking at the middle bit. My whole plan for this is ‘stuff happens’. I’m beginning to work out exactly what. It has to increase the stakes and increase the tension. This is going to be fun.

I work in Scrivener, which is a wonderful programme for writers. It has three columns on screen. The middle column is a fairly standard word processor. The left hand column is the binder where you can display all your chapters and scenes. (I just use scenes until I’m near the end of the revisions before I divide it up into chapters.) You can move the scenes about by drag-and-drop in the binder. You can also keep research files, even photos in the additional files, and they are all accessible via the binder column, too. So you can access character files, places and place-names, plus any glossary you need, via the binder. The right hand scrivener column has an index card where you can outline the scene you are working one and with one flick of the mouse you can see these on the corkboard view (middle column again). Again this is great for ordering your scenes.

Scriv screencap

So I’m thinking that the next thing to do is to start planning the ‘stuff’ that ‘happens’ in Scrivener and see if it starts to hang together.

Inspiration doesn’t always hit me like a bucket of water. Sometimes it comes in drips, disordered drips, so excuse me while I do a mop-and-bucket act, collect all the drips and then splash them around in some semblance of order.

So what’s your process?

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It’s not too late to join up – NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo – National NovelWriting Month-takes place each November. You sign up Her: https://nanowrimo.org and commit to writing 50,000 in November, which means writing just a little under 2,000 words a day. It’s only 3rd November, you still have time to sign up if you want to.

They used to be pretty prescriptive about not starting your project until 1st November (though you could do as much prep as you wanted beforehand) but they’ve eased up on that.

If you have a writing project on the go and you want to pace yourself alongside other writers, it’s not too late to sign up. You’ve only missed (by the time this blog is published) four days.

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

My first NaNo was 2008 when I added over 50,000 words of first draft to the novel that would eventually become Winterwood. I’ve used NaNo to pile word count on to projects-in-progress. I’ve added wordcount to Winterwood twice for different sections of the novel, Silverwolf, though not (suprisingly) Rowankind, the third in the Rowankind trilogy. From the Psi-Tech trilogy, I added word count to Nimbus, the final part.

Nimbus front coverI know other published authors who also use NaNo for adding words. My buddy Jaine Fenn is doing it this year, so I said I’d join her. I’m finding it difficult to transition into my writerly headspace, though. October was busy-busy with lots of day job (music industry) work and two consecutive weekend conventions taking me to Glasgow and Bristol. That’s possibly just an excuse because it’s Day 3 of NaNo (as I’m writing this) and so far I’ve written just 287 words on my current project, which already has 17,714 words written – most of the first act, in fact.

If I think of this book as a three act novel I’m probably ready to start the second act. I’ve talked before about the difference between pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, i.e. to find out what happens. Let’s call it discovery writing. Plotters… well it’s just what it says on the tin. They work out what’s going to happen in advance and write out a detailed plot and then (if luck allows) they stick to that outline. Some writers outline chapter by chapter, or even scene by scene.

I usually know where the whole book is heading but my method is to write the opening, jot down what the ending will be, and that great gaping hole in the middle is covered by ‘stuff happens’.

Organised? Me?

So while The Amber Crown is with my agent and editor, I’m working on an untitled fantasy which I’m currently referring to Robin Hood Meet Aliens, though it’s not really Robin Hood, and they’re not really aliens.

So, over the years I’ve completed NaNo four times out of five and I’ve written 294,442 words in total. This year? Well, I’d better get my writing head on and sprint to catch up… after I’ve done those urgent day-job jobs, skyped my son in the USA and dealt with six buckets of apples from the tree in the garden. Procrastinating? Me?.

If you’re doing NaNo this year and you want to add me to your buddy list, I’m ‘artisan’ and my project is listed as Untitled Robin Hood Meets Aliens Novel.

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Retro-Blog of a Pre-published Writer from Autumn 2008

With hindsight this is really interesting. This (edited) collection of blog posts is from the early days of writing The Amber Crown, which then had the working title of Spider on the Web. (Sometimes the working title became That Bloody Baltic Novel.) I’d almost forgotten what this book looked like in its earlier incarnation. I’ve changed character names several times and refined the setting, but it’s still recognisably the same book, started so long ago, and then put on one side when I got my publishing deals for the Psi-Tech and Rowankind trilogies. I’m delighted to be able to go back to it. Spider on the Web became The Long Game before it became The Amber Crown. Hari became Marek and then Valdas. Lind stayed Lind. Miro became Mirza. The process is interesting.

Wheezing sucking noise as the Tardis whisks us back in time to 2008. Read on…

16th September 2008

crookway 3

Idea borrowed from Warsaw via Pinterest for a scene in Chapter 2

I’ve done a bit more work on Spider on the Web, my potential next novel project, but I haven’t quite got the bit between my teeth yet and I keep bumping up against the problem of magic.

So far I have the first two chapters and part of a third (about 8k words altogether), plus a fourth that needs some revision because I’ve already made an emphasis shift since I wrote it. I’ve got three main viewpoint characters, Hari, Lind and Miro, and I’m intending that the VP be kept tightly focused (tight third) on each one in turn, giving them (probably) a short (2 – 3,000 word) chapter at a time. Only one of them – Miro, the third we meet chronologically and even then not until the fourth chapter – has any kind of magic. The other two don’t have much patience for it so it barely impinges on their consciousness.

I’m chasing myself round in circles at the moment. It’s my natural inclination to show that magic exists in this world earlier rather than later, but in order to do that I have to artificially insert some show-not-tell magic into either Hari or Lind’s first chapter which is essentially two sides of a successful assassination of Hari’s king by Lind, and the aftermath of same for each man. Magic just doesn’t fit there.

The earliest I would be comfortable bringing it in would be Chapter Three, Hari’s second chapter, by which time he’s on the run from the new king and for the first time realising that good as he was as an army officer, he’s become institutionalised and isn’t used to being on his own. So even if I bring in ‘country magic’ as a concept at this stage it won’t appear until about the 9,000 word mark. It will be closer to the 11,000 word mark if I wait until Miro’s chapter.

I’m really going to have to think hard about this. I may have to put the actual writing aside for a bit and go chew the plot over in a little more detail. I feel as though the focus is still a little off-centre.

[NOTE: I took it to Milford and the general consensus was that it should have a specific setting, not a generic fantasyland one, so I moved the action to a version of the Baltic Staes and Poland that never actually existed.]

4th November 2008

[NOTE: It’s NoMoWriMo time and I cleared the decks and paced myself alongside NaNo in order to add 50,000 words to the novel in the month of November.]

Red mente

Marek might wear a red mente like this one when in uniform

I’m starting to get reasonably comfortable with the not-quite-Poland setting for Spider on the Web, though every two minutes I’m flicking to Google to see if the Polish Cavalry used straight swords or sabres (it was sabres) and whether they had field artillery in the 1650s (they did). There’s an amazing amount of historical Polish stuff out there – especially on costume and equipment – much of it from reenactors. Some of the regiments look absolutely fantastic. (I take my kolpek off to you all, gentlemen and ladies.)

I am so going to have to run this whole thing by someone who speaks Polish, before I can let it loose anywhere in case I’ve made some howlers with names – especially if there are masculine and feminine versions of surnames. (Does anyone know?) The one advantage is that my city is quite cosmopolitan with Catholics, Muslims and Jews all welcome (Quite modern for 1650) so there’s a mixture of cultures and hopefully a mixture of names.

I’ve stuck to recognised religions and even mentioned far off countries like Italy, and advances in science such as those made by Kopernik but my map doesn’t look anything like anywhere in Europe.

This is a big experiment for me trying to mix real and imagined. I need just enough real to make the setting feel right but not too much that it ties it down.

5th November 2008

So what’s happened today?

Lind, who has more hangups than the average wardrobe (especially re sex, gender and orientation issues) has just persuaded the queen to strip off so he can dye her hair. (And she really doesn’t turn him on in the slightest.) All this so he can get her past a troop of Hussars who are looking for a copper-haired woman.

Russian

Russian Royalty. The dead king’s sister?

He doesn’t actually know she’s the queen yet. He thinks she’s a high class lady fleeing her family’s wrath after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. For now he’s helping her to lay low because it’s in his own best interests. (He’d be just as quick to slit her throat and leave her in a ditch if that was in his better interests!)

What else?
Yesterday Marek finally stopped feeling sorry for himself and started to listen to his dreams, only he’s not so good at remembering them when he wakes. He’s about to leave the Koszaki host, turn round and go hurtling bull-neck back to Tel City, but Miro has the situation (and Marek) under control. She’s got her instructions – from the ghost of Marek’s assassinated King – and before he goes back to Tel City Marek has to pay a visit to the King’s sister. Like it or not, Miro’s going with him. Who else is going to make sure he stays on the right track and translates those dreams correctly?

8th November 2008

I managed to write the sex scene in which Miro gets laid at last. It’s not a love scene. She wants to lose her virginity, has finally found a man who isn’t scared off by the fact that she’s a witch and who isn’t horrified by the big port-wine stain (birthmark) all down one side of her face. It’s Marek, of course, who will enthusiastically shag anything in a skirt, but he’ll do it with good humour, good grace and good manners. Miro made an excellent choice and they’re going to stay good friends – albeit they’ll always be verbal sparring partners unless they’re actually horizontal.

Since this isn’t a relationship that’s going to last I’m not sure how long to let it run on for and how she’s going to tell him that she’s got what she wanted now back off and leave her alone. They are in each other’s company for the whole book, but not in a sexual way, I think. Marek is definitely going to meet up with Aniella again.

1st December 2008

nano_08_winner_large

Winner’s Badge 2008

I hit my target 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo in the middle of the week and just decided to keep on going. Result? at 11.54 p.m. Sunday with 6 minutes to go to the finishing time I clocked up 62,081 words on Spider on the Web. I’m now on 71,027 words in total because I had the first two and a half chapters in the bag before I started. This is definitely the beginning of the end that I’m writing now. Maybe another 20,000 words and it will be finished. It’s unlike me to finish any novel in a mere 90,000 words, of course, but I live in hope.

[NOTE: The novel ended up at 163,000 words. So much for a 90,000 word novel!]

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Writers Injuring Characters

Toothache

Ouch.

I went to visit my dentist for a particularly difficult tooth extraction today, so as I write this I’m sitting nursing a sore jaw as the anaesthetic is wearing off. I can’t deny that I felt a bit wobbly after the extraction. Since the tooth had broken off below the gum line, it came out in pieces. No it didn’t hurt at the time, though obviously I could feel the pressure, and just knowing what was going on as the root came out in bits, was somewhat stressful. This is the first stage in having an implant to replace the tooth. It’s likely to be next March before I get a final replacement tooth. Luckily it’s not in a position that shows.

Anyhow I tell you my dental woes because it made me think of what we do to our characters in our books. We treat them appallingly and expect them to shrug off the pain and stand up and fight again. But it’s not so easy in real life.

stapled stomach

Not my surgery thank goodness.

I’m reminded of the do-it-yourself Caesarian Section in the 2012 movie Promethius. (Not seen it? I’d say, don’t bother, but your mileage may vary.) Basically our heroine, Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) is pregnant with an alien offspring. Using an automated surgery table, she has the offspring cut out and her belly stapled back together. About five minutes later she’s using her arms to pull her own bodyweight up and over the lip of a doorway, and running like mad from a pursuing wheel-structure. Anyone who has ever had a hysterectomy, or any kind of surgery will tell you how improbable this is. You can’t even lift a kettle afterwards. Did it make the movie more exciting? It just made me wince because it was so unbelievable that it pulled me right out of the flow of the story.

And let’s not forget the number of times we’ve watched Hollywood westerns and detective stories where the villain knocks hero unconscious by the application of a gun butt to the back of the head. Any blow hard enough to cause unconsciousness, is going to cause other things, too… like concussion (and that’s no joke) memory problems, double vision, massive headache, debility etc. Here’s a link with some information.

So how do we damage our characters and make our stories thrilling without making the whole thing totally unbelievable? It helps to have a handy medical professional to ask, of course. I asked a GP friend where I could shoot someone and keep them functioning in the story. The short answer was the fleshy part of the upper arm, which is a bit limiting if you want to be really cruel to your character. He was also most insistent that knocking someone out with the barrel or butt of a gun, would likely immobilise your character for weeks (or maybe longer) with concussion – presuming it didn’t break their skull, cause internal bleeding and kill them. Hollywood tells lies. Who’d have thought it?

Bruise Day 2 to day 14

Yes this is me after tripping up and bashing my head on a stone step a few years ago. The pics chart the course of the bruise progression from Day 2 to Day 14. It looks evil, but I was lucky – no concussion.

The main thing to remember is to build in adequate recovery time.

I’ve recently been catching up with Peaky Blinders on Netflix, and have been impressed. When a character is hurt he stays hurt for an appropriate length of time, whether it’s a gunshot wound or a fractured skull. The main characters have recently returned home from the trenches of the Great War when the story opens, and there’s no doubt that they are suffering from PTSD, though the term hadn’t been invented then. Shell shock was the common term, but there were many different varieties of PTSD, most of which were not recognised at the time. The injuries in Peaky Blinders are not just physical – though there’s plenty of blood and gore. The main character, Tommy, sums it up when talking about the First World War. He says, ‘No one came back.’ Meaning no one came back the same as they were.

3bookpsitech

Psi-Tech Trilogy

In my Psi-Tech trilogy one of my main characters, Ben Benjamin, is involved in an incident which almost kills him. It takes some time to get over it. In fact I’m not sure he does get over it completely, but he eventually learns to live with the fear that it could happen again at any time.

In the book that I’m currently working on, The Amber Crown, I have a character attacked. His injuries include a blow to the head which knock him insensible. It takes him weeks to recover.

Peaky Blinders gets round the recovery time issue by (sometimes) skipping forward with a ‘three months later’ caption. I found my character gentle things to do while he was recovering. In fact his recovery time adds to worldbuilding and also ties two character arcs together.

What are you going to do to your characters and how are they going to recover?

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Home from Milford – Tired but Happy

Wall hanging 03

A section of the delightful wall hanging by Eta Ingham Lawrie that decorates the main meeting room at Trigonos

I’ve just arrived home from Milford SF Writers’ Conference in North Wales, and I could sleep for a week. I’m not ready for the real world yet. After a week of intense writing critique punctuated by meals taken with fourteen other science fiction and fantasy writers, the real world seems a bit tame, even though I’ve come home to husband, dog, mother, and two lovely visitors.

Milford Group 01

The whole Milford 2019 group L to R: Steph Bianchini, Sue Oke, Mark Bilsborough, Mbozi (Tania) Haimbe, Russell Smith, Terry Jackman, Tiffani Angus, Sam Tovey, Tina Anghelatos, Kari Sperring, Jacey Bedford, Powder Thompson, Liz Williams, Victor Ocampo, and Pauline Dungate.

Fifteen science fiction and fantasy writers submitted close to 200,000 words between them – a total of twenty pieces, which we critiqued at the rate of four pieces per day. Critiquing is hard work. You have to read and evaluate, get your thoughts into some kind of sensible order, and deliver a verbal critique in not more than four minutes (after which you can send your written critique, often with extra notes, to the author). Four minutes doesn’t sound like long, but it’s plenty of time, especially since thirteen other writers also have to deliver their four-minutes-worth and the author has to have their say at the end. Each piece takes about an hour to critique. This is widely known as the Milford Method. We current Milford committee members (I’m secretary) can take no credit for inventing it because Milford began in 1956 in Milford Pennsylvania (started by Damon Knight) and was brought to the UK (to Milford on Sea) in 1972 by James Blish. It works as a method of keeping group critiques user-friendly. Critique is constructive and never directed at the writer personally, but at the piece of writing. Even the best piece of writing can be improved upon, and our intention is to make each piece the best it can possibly be.

Caernarfon 04

Russell Smith, Liz Williams and Victor Ocampo have captured Caernarfon Castle, and are now popping out for a nice cup of tea.

We had fabulous weather. After a little rain on the Sunday, the sun came out and bathed us in warmth for five days. We read, ate, critiqued the submitted pieces, went for walks in Trigonos’ lovely grounds, took photos of the delightful scenery, made time for a short trip into Caernarfon where Russell, Liz and Victor, captured the castle before lunch, then having done that popped out for a nice cup of tea.

On the Friday, crits finished for the week, we headed to Criccieth, schlepped up (and I mean UP) to the castle, then headed off to Dylan’s excellent fish restaurant for a leisurely lunch. For me, mackerel pate followed by a ‘small’ chowder and a sticky toffee pudding. I’d be afraid to see what size the large chowder is. The small one was enormous.

Then we took the opportunity to do a little retail therapy. The first craft shop I walked in to was lovely and I was just admiring some hand made cards when a voice from the counter said, “Jacey Bedford!”

“Yes,” I confessed.

Criccieth Castle 21

Criccieth Castle

It turns out that the lady (a silk artist) is an Artisan fan and also reads this blog. <Waves in the direction of Criccieth.> I was amazed. I never expect to be recognised. It’s only happened a few times before – and most of those in the USA, strangely enough. But it was really nice to find someone who listens to our music. The rest of the group was mightily impressed! Brian was really pleased when I told him.

You might have guessed I love going to Milford. It always gives me a tremendous boost of writerly enthusiasm. I make new friends, and learn about new markets for books and short stories (and pick up some gossip about the publishing world). I’m pretty sure that if it hadn’t been for a contact I made at Milford I would never have landed my first book on the right editor’s desk at the right time.

Milford 2020 still (at the time of writing) has a few places still open, and the application process for the Writers of Colour bursaries is open. There are application forms and details on the Milford website.

We open applications for Milford two years in advance, so you can book now for Milford 2020 and 2021, and also for the Milford Writers retreat in June 2020 and May 2021. The Writers’ Retreat is just what it sounds like. Held at Trigonos, you get a week, in glorious surroundings and without interruptions, to write to your heart’s content. And you get to meet up with other writers doing the same thing. It’s fab!

Crit room 02

Trigonos’ main meeting room, waiting for a critique session to start

Here’s a link to the Milford blog with a slightly different perspective and more pics.

And here’s the Milford website.

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Retro-Blog of a Pre-published Writer from March 2008

A few more interesting notes from my old blog. Long before I got my book deal I was working on Empire of Dust and Winterwood,  the books that were to become the first books in my two trilogies. At the same time I was looking for another agent. This is what I wrote then

March 4th 2008

The thing about being a musician’s-agent is that there are certain parallels to being a literary agent. Part of my [music] job is to gently turn people away from my door. I get more approaches from hopefuls than I can possibly deal with. A couple of weeks ago I’d had eight acts call me by lunchtime on Tuesday. It would be impossible to take on all of them–or any of them, for that matter–even though they are mostly excellent. So what makes an approach from one musician stand out above the rest? Why do I sometimes say yes to an act even though I know, strictly speaking, that I need another act on my books like a fish needs an umbrella? Maybe if I could figure that out, I could apply it to my own literary agent search, make my ‘package’ memorable–and no, I don’t mean perfumed pink paper and purple ink–and snag my agent of choice.

Unfortunately, more often than not, with musicians… it just depends what mood I’m in when a package lands on my doormat. I suspect it’s like that with literary agents too. However professional you are, there are some days when you’ll be more receptive to certain ideas than others. I’m sure I’ve turned down some winning acts… in fact I know I have. Right now it could be the Beatles’ reunion tour knocking on my door and I’d have to say no because I’m just too damn busy.

Writing the Breakout NovelSo next time I get a negative from a literary agent I’ll just remember it’s a lottery.

[HINDSIGHT NOTE: I did get a new agent and then she got out of agenting, so I got another agent with a big firm in NY. Then she left the firm and as a result my agent is now Donald Maass! Yes, THAT Donald Maass. Whoo-hoo!]

 

March 8th 2008

Trip to York. I met up with Sue and her best beloved for lunch at Cafe Concerto before going with Sue to what was supposed to be a NaNoWriMo get together in the cafe of York Art Gallery. All I can say is that I’m glad Sue was there because the three young women who turned up were pleasant enough but were either shy or…

nano_08_winner_large

Winner’s Badge 2008

Why do people come to meetings if they don’t want to say anything? Why do people join NaNoWriMo if they aren’t passionate about writing? (Note: I don’t expect everyone to finish NaNo because it’s a hell of a thing to do, write 50k words in 30 days, but at least you should surely be interested in the writing process or else why are you signed up?) I think I’ve been spoiled by the level of commitment of Milford writers. Or… maybe the three quiet ones thought Sue and I were a couple of cackly crones who totally took over their  contemplative meet.

Oh well…

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

But one great thing was that, over lunch, S & R really helped to noodle a world-building glitch that had been troubling me in Empire of Dust. (Thanks, guys.)

Another good thing was that last night I started to read the first draft of the magic-pirate-adventure-quest novel that I did 50k words on under NaNo conditions last November, and having left it to mature for three months I actually found I was a) enjoying reading it and b) wanting to turn the next page because I’d semi-forgotten what happened next. This has to be A Good Thing. Of course the first draft is not quite complete yet. I have the final chapter to write. I intend to read through once and then write the last chapter. The outline (yes I actually wrote this one to an outline rather than my usual write-it-and-see mode) merely says: stuff happens and the good guys win.

This is the book I took to Milford in October 07 – then entitled The Elf-Oak Box – the one that got critted on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. At that point I only had 9k words, but now I have 78k and I reckon it will come in at about 85 – 90k when finished. That’s just about the shortest first draft I’ve even managed. (Longest being 240k which was ridiculous!) I think (and hope) that this one has legs.

 

9th March 2008

It must have been seeing Sue yesterday and going to the NaNoWriMo meeting, but I got a double dose of writerly enthusiasm. I redid the synopsis for of Empire of Dust. It doesn’t make a huge difference to the plot or the characters, but it does make a bit more pseudo-scientific sense in the storyline. (i.e. the technobabble is a little less unbelievable even though the science is still so soft it’s dripping off the bottom of the page).

Winterwood front cover

Winterwood by Jacey Bedford, published by DAW, Feb 2016.

So I got up at 8.00 this morning (an unheard of time for me, especially on a Sunday) to finish reading and start writing the last bit of the magic-pirate-adventure-quest novel. I’ve written 3k words so far today and worked out most of what’s going to happen in the stuff happens and the good guys win outline of the last two chapters.

In re-reading it I was amazed. It didn’t read like a first draft at all – especially a first draft done at the rate of 50k words in 21 days under NaNoWriMo conditions. (I did my 50k words in November even though I was away for a week!) In fact, I think the book might seriously have legs. I was gobsmacked. I’m not saying it’s deathless prose or anything, but it works better than something written so quickly has a right to.

It could even work as YA though the protag is 33 and it’s got a couple of f*cks in it (the word not the action) and also a couple of f*cks in it (the action not the word). Though they do happen on the page, they are not graphic. (BTW can I say f*ck without the net ghods stomping on me?) I think the protag being 33 is more of a contraindication than the f*cks for a YA these days.

[HINDSIGHT NOTE – it’s definitely NOT YA and the protag is 25.]

15th March 2008

The first draft of the magic-pirate-adventure-quest novel is in the bag. It’s come it at 87,700 words, less than 3k over my estimate and I’m really happy with it. I’m less happy with the title. At the moment it’s ‘The Elf-oak Box’, but I’m open to suggestions.

Whoo! I’m still grinning. I love typing: The End.

[HINDSIGHT NOTE: The Elf Oak Box eventually turned into Winterwood and came in at 133,000 words.]

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Open Submissions for Anthologies – a guest post by Joshua Palmatier

ApocalypseZombies Need Brains’ latest Kickstarter started up on August 7th and with the possibility of an open call for submissions if we fund, I thought that I’d spend some time talking about how you can better your chances of getting from the ZNB slush pile into one of our anthologies.  The competition is pretty steep and only getting worse with each Kickstarter.  (Last year, PORTALS had 550 submissions alone and we ended up taking seven; we had a lot of anchor authors for that one, though.)  I’ve talked before about how to brainstorm your way to an idea that isn’t standard, but also isn’t so far out there it’s off theme.  So let’s suppose you already have an idea of what you want to write.  A core concept.

As you can guess, that’s not enough.  We get a ton of stories submitted where, when I’ve finished reading the story (and I usually read all of the stories all of the way through, just in case), I end up saying, “OK, that was a cool concept, but there isn’t a story here.”  In essence, the author wrote out their idea, but they haven’t yet taken the time to develop a story around that idea.  And that’s key.  It’s extremely rare for ZNB to accept a submission based on idea alone.  This is why we rarely accept stories less than 2500 words or flash fiction–it’s not that the writing isn’t good, it’s that it’s difficult to get across a completely developed story in that short a timespan.  It’s possible (I think we’ve accepted one or two in our past anthologies), but it’s rare.

The biggest element missing from the “only an idea” story is a character arc.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s usually a character in the story, but the character is only there in service to the idea.  The story needs to be turned around.  The idea should be in service to the character, causing the character to change in some way throughout the course of the story.  That’s what’s typically missing in the stories that I read from the slush.  I want to be drawn into the characters and change along with them.  So the character needs to be interesting, sympathetic, and above all engaging.

After capturing my attention, you need to hold it, so the pace needs to be fast.  Remember, this is a short story.  Each word needs to matter, so keep things tight and focused.  Don’t let yourself wander into subplots and secondary threads or secondary characters, as you would with a novel.  Keep yourself on track with the main idea.  You can always expand the story later on into something larger if you want, but for now, focus.  If you’ve already written the story, then during revisions you need to look at the main idea and cut everything else out.  Narrow the story down to whatever is needed for the idea and the character arc.  Everything else must go.  Tighten, tighten, tighten.

Along the way, make sure that the character arc you’ve developed actually relies on the story concept.  They can’t be two separate threads that you just happen to have woven into one story.  If you remove the cool idea from the story, does the character arc still hold up?  If the answer is yes, then you haven’t really found the story behind that idea.  The character arc should collapse when the cool idea is removed, making the story impossible.  The character’s change during the course of the story should come about BECAUSE of the cool concept.

So, when thinking about submitting a story to ZNB’s slush pile, start with a cool concept.  Build an engaging character arc around that concept.  Mesh the two together.  Tighten the prose.  Let it sit for a few weeks, then go through and tighten it again.  Because that’s what we’re looking for:  a tight, focused story where a cool concept and interesting character arc merge into a stunning work.

Now, take these words to heart, sit down, and write that story.  Good luck!

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This post is brought to you by the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter currently going on at tinyurl.com/ZNBApocalypse. Swing on by and check out the details for the three new anthologies we’re hoping to fund, including APOCALYPTIC, GALACTIC STEW, and MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK. Pick a reward level that suits you and back our project!  We can’t do an open call for submissions unless we get funded. And once we are funded, sit down and brainstorm a cool idea, write it up, and send it in!

******************

CandidJoshJOSHUA PALMATIER is a fantasy author with a PhD in mathematics.  He currently teaches at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, while writing in his “spare” time, editing anthologies, and running the anthology-producing small press Zombies Need Brains LLC.  His most recent fantasy novel, Reaping the Aurora, concludes the fantasy series begun in Shattering the Ley and Threading the Needle, although you can also find his “Throne of Amenkor” series and the “Well of Sorrows” series still on the shelves.  He is currently hard at work writing his next novel and designing the kickstarter for the next Zombies Need Brains anthology project.  You can find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at the small press’ site www.zombiesneedbrains.com.  Or follow him on Twitter as @bentateauthor or @ZNBLLC.

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Generating Ideas – a guest post by Joshua Palmatier

Apocalypse

The three new themes for Zombies Need Brains’ Kickstarter have been revealed (apocalypses, food, old tech finding new life) and I thought I’d offer up a suggestion here for how to generate an idea that fits a theme AND make certain that it’s an idea that will stick out in that slush pile.  After all, you don’t want to submit a story with a fairly standard concept fitting the theme, since we’ll receive a ton of those.  And while we take a few “standard concept” stories for each theme, we usually only take one or two and you don’t want to be in competition with two hundred other people who used that same idea in some form.  Much better to submit a story that’s NOT standard and that catches our attention, one that is unlikely to have been used by anyone else.

Here’s the suggestion/writing tip for generating this non-standard idea that fits the theme:

  1.  Sit down, open up your notebook or blank file, and set a timer.
  2.  Spend the next half hour trying to come up with 24 ideas that fit the theme.

Don’t think about it, just brainstorm.  Write out whatever idea comes to mind.  Don’t worry if it’s standard or not, if you’ve seen it in a hundred other short stories or if it’s just way too crazy.  Let your editing brain go and dive completely naked into the creative pool.  And don’t worry about what the “story” may be yet (unless that comes along for the ride with the idea).  Focus on ideas.  Story can come later.

This process should start out in a frenzy of activity for the first ten minutes.  This is likely because the first ten ideas that pop to mind will be what we’d call standard concepts, the ideas that have been done to death by everyone and their cat.  That’s fine.  Let the frenzy drive you into the next ten minutes.

This is where you’ll start to slow down and where your brain begins to stretch and reach for those non-standard ideas.  You’ll probably smile with some of the thoughts that flit through your mind here.  Or maybe groan and mumble, “That’s stupid.”  Or maybe you’ll mutter, “Ooo, that has potential.”  You’ll maybe get another ten ideas jotted down here.

The last ten minutes will probably seem like forever, because this is where you REALLY have to stretch.  You’ll probably be tapping that pen against your chin as you think.  Every time you get an idea, you’ll laugh hysterically because IT’S JUST TOO INSANE!  But write it down anyway.  Reach for more!  Insanity is fun!  Embrace it!  Drink it in and gargle!  Don’t choke!

You may not reach 24 ideas.  You may end up with more.  The goal is to force yourself to brainstorm and stretch beyond your limits and beyond those standard ideas.  In general, the first ten ideas you’ve scratched out will BE those standard ideas.  The last ten will be just too crazy to really contemplate.  They probably stretch far beyond the theme and wouldn’t make the cut because of that.  But right in the middle–those elusive four in the center–you’ll likely find some great ideas that fit the theme but AREN’T ones that will appear in a hundred other slush pile submissions.  Those are the ideas you should focus on and start developing stories around.  Those are probably the ideas that have the greatest chance of getting picked for the anthology.

This isn’t an exact science, of course.  The best idea on your list may come earlier or later.  Obviously you need to consider each idea individually and decide whether it has merit or not.  Sometimes, trying for that totally insane idea works.  Sometimes, with the right twist, that standard idea will stun us.  YOU’VE got to make that final decision on what idea works for YOU, because if it doesn’t excite you, then it’s already failed.  Find the idea that speaks to you the most.  That will generate the best story.

Then sit down and write it, revise it, polish it up, and send it in.  We can’t wait to read it!

******************

This post is brought to you by the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter currently going on at tinyurl.com/ZNBApocalypse. Swing on by and check out the details for the three new anthologies we’re hoping to fund, including APOCALYPTIC, GALACTIC STEW, and MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK. Pick a reward level that suits you and back our project!  We can’t do an open call for submissions unless we get funded. And once we are funded, sit down and brainstorm a cool idea, write it up, and send it in!

******************

CandidJoshJOSHUA PALMATIER is a fantasy author with a PhD in mathematics.  He currently teaches at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, while writing in his “spare” time, editing anthologies, and running the anthology-producing small press Zombies Need Brains LLC.  His most recent fantasy novel, Reaping the Aurora, concludes the fantasy series begun in Shattering the Ley and Threading the Needle, although you can also find his “Throne of Amenkor” series and the “Well of Sorrows” series still on the shelves.  He is currently hard at work writing his next novel and designing the kickstarter for the next Zombies Need Brains anthology project.  You can find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at the small press’ site www.zombiesneedbrains.com.  Or follow him on Twitter as @bentateauthor or @ZNBLLC.

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Dublin Worldcon 2019

This was my third Worldcon. I attended in 2014 in London, and 2017 in Helsinki.

The first thing to note is that Worldcon is BIG, with thousands of fans, authors, publishers and industry professionals with an enormous choice of panels, events, readings, kaffeeklatsches, signings, book launches, and, of course, the big events like the Hugo Awards ceremony (Sunday night) and the Masquerade (Saturday night). I went to the Hugos, but not the Masquerade as that was the night my publisher (DAW) had a dinner for DAW authors (DAWthors?).

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Okay, starting at the beginning.

I flew into Dublin on Tuesday morning and met up with my friend C at Dublin airport, Aer Lingus being kind enough to delay both our flights by 30 minutes, so neither of us was hanging about for too long. We used the airport bus which dropped us right outside of our hotel. The Hilton Garden Hotel on Custom House Quay is right on the riverside. It still being early, we dumped the bags in the hotel lock-up and did the Hop-on Hop-Off bus tour without hopping off. It was really just to say we’d done it, since we knew we wouldn’t be taking time for tourist stuff. On this occasion we hadn’t built that into our schedule like we did in Helsinki. The bus whizzed us past all manner of famous places almost too quickly to see them, but that was OK. We arrived back in time to check in. Hiltons are fairly reliable and we were comfortable enough, though it was a half-kilometre walk to and from the conference centre and there was no hotel attached.

Arriving early gave us the opportunity to check into the convention on Tuesday night with no queues. The folks who checked in on Wednesday and Thursday weren’t so lucky.

On this occasion I’d booked a table for Milford SF Writers, to promote the Milford Conference, workshopping week, the Writers’ Retreat and our bursaries for writers of colour. I’d managed to order a mini version of the ubiquitous pull-up stand which fitted into my suitcase. Though I have to say that stand and glossy leaflets weighed my luggage down somewhat. We set it up on Wednesday morning and then ran into Charlie Stross and had a pleasant coffee and catch-up at one of the local coffeeshops.

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If I had one criticism of the event it was the amount of queueing for EVERYTHING. Queues for panels, queues for tickets (free) for events with limited space. Not everyone who wanted to could attend the Hugos, so tickets became available at 1.00 on the day of the event. That meant that I didn’t get into the panel I wanted to see that also started at the same time. By the time I collected my tickets and got to the panel, hoping to slip into the back of the room, it was full.

Having the Milford stand did give a few of us somewhere to retreat to when the crowds became overwhelming and we spoke to quite a few potential Milford attendees. Milford is always sold out, but it’s nice to get new faces in there.

I attended some good panels, though I’m not going to list them all. Special mention for a late addition to the programme – ‘Writing Thomas the Rhymer: balladry and storytelling’ with Ellen Kushner, which turned out to be half talk and half Ellen singing some of the ballads that inspired her. I’m a sucker for ballads.

Friday was my day for doing panels rather than attending them. I had three panels all at the Point – one stop away from the Convention Centre on the Luas Red Line. There were panel rooms in the Odeon and in the Gibson hotel next door. Unfortunately there was nowhere to hang out (that I found) so though I’d planned to be there for the whole day I ended up going back to the CCD between my first and second panels. Hopefully they sorted out their queueing failures as the weekend wore on but the queues were such at the Point Odeon, that people who had arrived in plenty of time didn’t get into the panels until ten minutes after the start time. Since panels MUST finish ten minutes before the next panel is due to start, that cut down a 50 minute panel to 40 minutes.

Here are my panels:

You read my mind’: telepathy in SFF romance
Whether it’s the ability to read your partner’s mind or mutual telepathic communication, telepathy adds the potential for both conflict and closeness in a romantic relationship. In what ways do science fictional and paranormal romance novels use telepathy? What are the potential pitfalls and complications of writing a mind-reading character? With Donna Maree Hanson (M), Sarah Rees Brennan, Chelsea Mueller, Jacey Bedford

Unwritable Stories
Every author has that perfect story that just refuses to be written. From willful characters to wandering narratives and gaping plot holes, our panelists share the stories that would have even defied the Greek muses themselves. What made these stories so hard to write? What traps did they hold? And whatever happened to those old untold tales? Will they ever see the light of day or will they remain locked away in a hidden drawer? With Karen Haber, Nina Allan, Jay Caselberg, Michael Swanwick, Jacey Bedford

Only Happy When it Rains: Water in SFF
Water has provided SFF with a rich source of inspiration. Its presence (or absence) colours every climate change story, gives us drowned worlds, desert planets, or eerie low-gravity waves on a terraformed Mars. Water is the setting for journeys of 20,000 leagues and contact with minds beyond our own. This panel will discuss how water can shape themes, settings, and narratives in SFF stories. With Jacey Bedford (M), Paolo Bacigalupi, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Dr Cat Sparks, James Patrick Kelly

I was moderating that last one. Unfortunately Paolo Bacigalupi didn’t turn up. I don’t know whether he missed the convention altogether, or just missed that panel, but there was no message to say he wasn’t coming. Luckily James, Cat and Adrian all had plenty to say and I got away with asking questions rather than providing answers.

During the convention I managed to have successful one-to-one meetings with my editor, and agent (who I usually talk to on Skype).

On Saturday I spent more time on the Milford stand, had lunch with a friend from Australia and managed to miss most of the panels I’d intended to see because I couldn’t face the queues and also because I spent time with friends. Saturday evening was the DAW dinner with editors Sheila Gilbert and Betsy Wollheim, plus authors – including Kari Sperring, Seanan McGuire, Michelle Sagara, Joshua Palmatier, Pat Rothfuss. Great company and delightful food at the Ely Wine Bar.

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On Sunday my favourite panel was: An army marches on its stomach, an empire on its gold. Fantasy economics. I even took NOTES! And then in the evening we attended the Hugos in the CCD auditorium. A posh frock event for some and casual for others. It didn’t matter, everyone enjoyed it. I hadn’t voted in every category, but it was interesting to see how my votes stacked up against the winners. My editor, Sheila Gilbert was once again up for Best Editor, Longform, but since she won it last year, she was sure she wouldn’t get it this year. Some people accepted gracefully, their speeches short and sweet. Others were witty and charming. One went off the deep end somewhat spectacularly (mentioning no names). But all-in all it was a lovely evening, and a great way to end the con (for us).

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The event went on into Monday, but C and I had booked return flights for Monday early afternoon, so with check-in times, we were heading for the airport by 11.00. Aer Lingus very kindly gave back the half hour it stole on the way in, by making my return flight half an hour late, too. Ah, the joy of travel.

Next year’s Worldcon is in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ve already bought my membership.

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My Other Journal in a Galaxy Far far Away

In 2008 I started a blog on LiveJornal (and later moved everything over to Dreamwidth, but that’s another story). These days I mostly keep Dreamwidth for book and movie reviews, but in those early days my blogs were much more diary-like. Here’s a series of entries from early 2008. It’s a perfect illustration of thoughts of a (then) unpublished writer. The book I’m talking about revising in 2008 was written in 1998, bought by DAW in 2013 and came out in 2014. Only sisteen years from first draft to publication!

11th February 2008

Ah the joys of titling your work.

I’m currently working on a fairly major revision of the book that started out as Cora (working title). I’ll chew through the reasons for the revision in another post, but… the title is still driving me nuts.

It’s a space-opera / colony adventure with bad corporations, black-ops fleets, aggravating settlers who mean well but do the wrong things, some cool techy stuff, some romance, a lot of betrayal and a some rollicking action. No hard science.

Cora was only ever a working title – it’s a bit too McCaffreyesque (‘Damia’ etc.). So before the darn thing got submitted to HarperCollins (that’s a long story) I changed the title to ‘Written in Dust.’  It’s from a quotation: “Who then to frail mortality shall trust, But limns on water, or but writes in dust,” – Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Since the whole novel has an overarching theme about the nature of trust, it seemed like a good title, if a little pedestrian.

Then I figured that a better title might be ‘The Settlement’ because a) it’s about a settlement / colony and b) at the end the good guys have to make a deal – a settlement – with the bad guys because they’re in a lose/lose situation and they manage to pull a win out of the hat after some hijinks.

That was the stage I was at until a couple of nights ago. I marginally preferred ‘The Settlement.’ [personal profile] maeve_the_red preferred sticking with ‘Written in Dust’ and [personal profile] mevennen, who read an early draft at Milford in 1998, probably still recognises it as ‘Cora’. And then I was half listening to a song on TV and a phrase leaped out at me that really fits. How about ‘Empire of Dirt’?

Go on. What do you think of it as a title? ‘Empire of Dirt.’ It’s from the song ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch nails, written by Trent Reznor.

Okay, back to the revision, whatever it’s called.

-o0o-

14th February 2008

Spent all of today very productively revising the multi-titled novel. I think I’m leaning towards Empire of Dust  – a combination of Written in Dust and Empire of Dirt.

Anyhow, it’s coming along nicely, though this started out as a not very big revision and it’s become huge. I’m going to have a new ending to write and I’m going to need to make sure it’s compact enough that I can lose at least 20k from what’s currently in the file. I don’t think that will be a problem as the way it’s shaping up, the ending will be much snappier and less convoluted.

I’m also still agent hunting and have discovered a new one, just taking on, whose quoted likes very much parallel my own. I’m going to send a query. It’s several years since I parted company from the last agent and about time I got my act together to get a new one.

-o0o-

18th February 2008

I just lost three scenes from the new ending of ‘Empire of Dust’ with a single careless click. All today’s work, in fact. I thought I had Word set to save automatically every ten minutes… in fact I did… so WTF is it?

I hate bloody Microshaft. (Okay, it’s my fault, but I still hate bloody Microshaft!)

Nuff said.

-o0o-

26th February 2008

I finished the new ending to Empire of Dust.

Let me say that again.

I FINISHED the new ending to Empire of Dust.

It didn’t end quite how I thought it would end and I’m definitely set up to commit sequel if I ever get the opportunity. I saved a minor character I had previously killed and killed one who had previously come through unscathed. I rewarded my characters with their very own cool spaceship and a new home on an underworld space station. I left a slight loose end in case I want to go back to it, but it’s not so loose as to be annoying (I hope.)

I’ve now got a couple of incidents and a little bit of set-up in the earlier part of the book that were echoed in the previous ending and have now been orphaned, but I’m not sure that matters. I need to ask my beta-readers. It also means that one of the plot threads which previously ran right through to the final solution now ties up a little earlier and the final solution is purely about the central conflict.

And I’m still liking the title.

-o0o-

And yes, I kept the title and this is how it ended up – with added sequels. Thank you, DAW.

Psi-tech trilogy

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A Visit to the British Museum

British Museum

As I said in my last blog I was down in London for the Science for Fiction course and T and I stayed over an extra day to visit the British Museum. It’s mightily impressive both for its collections and for the building itself, a classical frontage, entirely in keeping with the gravitas of the institution, and then, once inside, the modern central court with a breathtaking glass ceiling designed by architect Norman Foster.

BM Central court 03

The museum is a vast complex of rooms and spaces, so anyone visiting for the first time should buy a map. We didn’t bother with a guide book, but instead went for the map option, heading first for the Enlightenment Exhibition in the room which originally housed George III’s library. We followed that by visiting the European/Medieval section (via a few Egyptian mummies) and finally the Parthenon Marbles which I’ve always wanted to see.

This was punctuated by stops in the coffee shops to rehydrate and rest our feet. To be honest, though we had a plan, half the fun is finding things you didn’t know you wanted to see until… there they were. I was particularly struck by ‘Lely’s Venus’, the statue of Venus (Aphrodite) dating from the 1st or 2nd Century AD, itself a copy of a Greek statue from the 2nd C BC (now lost). Whichever way you look at it, it’s pretty near perfect.

Lelys Venus

Here’s the Sutton Hoo Helm and it’s replica.

Sutton Hoo Helm

Ribchester hoard face mask

 

I guess the Sutton Hoo Helmet is one of the pieces that most people know about and it is, indeed, marvellous, especially when shown next to a replica showing how it would have originally looked. But I was even more fascinated by the Roman face mask from the Ribchester Hoard, probably dating from the late first, or early second century AD.

Here it is.

 

 

And now to the Parthenon Marbles. (No longer called the Elgin Marbles, I understand.) I don’t know what I’d expected… a load of friezes, I thought. I didn’t expect such three dimensionality (is that a term?)

Parth Marbs 03

I was particularly entranced by the naturalistic sculptures. These riders look as if they could spring to life at any moment. Their hands are in the correct positions for the reins, they look very comfortable, even riding bareback, and by the placement of their feet their mounts are smaller than we would expect a man to ride these days, almost pony-sized, though quite clearly from their conformation NOT ponies. I wonder what these marbles looked like when first completed. Several of the horses’ heads have holes at the corners of their mouths and up behind the ears, so I guess there would have been bridles of some kind, though whether leather or metal I don’t know. Perhaps I should have bought that guide book after all. On the other hand, finding these small puzzles brings out my writerly sensawunder.

Parth Marbs 17 Selene's horseHere’s the head of a horse from Selene’s chariot. You can quite clearly see where the bridle was originally attached.

There’s a recurring theme of Centaurs battling Lapiths, again beautifully realistic.

Parth Marbs Centaurs v Lapiths

Assyrian 02 Human headed bullOn the way out of the Parthenon Marbles exhibition I came across these guys – Huge human headed bulls from Assyria. The first one is a winged human-headed bull dates about 865 – 860 BC from Nimrud. This protective spirit guarded the entrance into what might have been the king’s apartments. The other one of the pair is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York

Khorsabad 03

And this is one of a complete pair, from the Palace of Sargon II, Khorsabad. They stood at the gates of the citadel as magic guardians against misfortune. They date from 721 to 705 BC.

Now I’ve seen it once, I want to go back to the British Museum at my leisure, stay longer… and maybe buy a guidebook.

There’s a lot of fodder for writers’ brains here.

 

 

 

 

 

On the way home I was struck by the elegance of the new Western Concourse at King’s Cross Station. I’ve seen it before, of course, but just having seen the central court at the BM, I wondered if it was also a Norman Foster design, so I looked it up. It was designed by John McAslan and Partners. And very nice it is, too.

Kings Cross Western Concourse

 

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Science for Fiction 2019

Imperial

Imperial College

Science For Fiction is an annual event organised by Dr. David Clements at Imperial College, London. It’s a series of lectures by scientists at the cutting edge of their field, specifically aimed at writers. (Unsurprisingly a load of Science Fiction writers attend, most of whom I know from attending Milford.) The location is perfect. Imperial College is just a short walk from the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert.

In previous years we’ve hit a heatwave which (since the college lecture halls are not air conditioned) has been gruelling, but London was blessedly (comparatively) cool this year.

Beit Quad from 219Accommodation was interesting. We usually stay in the university halls of residence since they are reasonably cheap (for London) and extremely convenient. We’ve been in modern accommodation at Southside in previous years, but this year we were in Beit (pronounced Bite) Hall which is the older building next to the Albert Hall, seen in the background of this photograph. The Beit quad incorporates the student union bar, where we’ve gathered after lectures in previous years. (NOTE – they do good jugs of Pimms perfect for a hot summer evening.) I shared a twin room with T up on the second floor, overlooking the Quad. It was a bit noisy as the evening wore on, but the denizens of the bar quietened down before midnight and mornings were quiet. It was a very handy location for getting to lectures in the Huxley Building. The beds were a bit hard for my taste, and our nearest lift was broken, but I’d be inclined to book there again next year instead of Southside, simply for the convenience

And now to the lectures:

On Wednesday afternoon we had Jess Wade on Materials and Chirality. She should probably have defined chirality before launching into the lecture, instead of waiting until it was halfway through. But we got there in the end. Her field is research into LEDs.

Matt GengeMatt Genge did a fascinating talk on A Fall of Cosmic Dust. He’s a good speaker and the subject matter – what falls to earth – was fascinating, from dust to meteors/meteorites.

On Thursday the first session was Rachael Livermore on Einstein’s Telescope, talking about gravitational lensing effects and the Event Horizon telescope – a worldwide array of telescopes linked together which can photograph galaxies as far away as 55 million light years.

Climate graphJoanna Haigh gave a great talk on Climate Change, though possibly with far too many graphs to really take in. She gave some useful websites:

  • tool.globalcalculator.org
  • flood.firetree.net
  • carbonbrief.org
  • imperial.ac.uk/grantham/

Katie Mack entertained and educated us with 4 Ways to End the Universe: Big Crunch/Heat Death/Big Rip/Vacuum Decay, and managed to tailor it to science fiction, which was very useful.

CassiniGreg Hunt finished off with Old and New Highlights from Cassini at Saturn, which also included a bit on Enceladus and Titan. In 2022  they will launch JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) which will take 7 years to get to Jupiter. Then, launching in 2026 there will be the Dragonfly mission to Titan, arriving 2034. Exciting stuff – if we all live that long!

We had our usual Wednesday evening group dinner at Memories of India on Gloucester Road as in previous years, but hit graduation celebrations. There were four big parties in there, including us, so though the food was excellent, it was too noisy to talk. Pity.

British MuseumT and I stayed over an extra night to visit the British Museum on Friday, which should be (and possibly will be) a blog post in its own right. Hideously expensive left luggage at Kings Cross. £12.50 per bag, even though mine was little more than a big handbag! The BM is fabulous. I was impressed with the building itself, including the modern Norman Foster designed courtyard. Exhibits that took my fancy included the Sutton Hoo helmet, the room that was King George’s library which now holds the Enlightenment exhibits (as much for the room as the contents) and, of course, the Parthenon Marbles, which they don’t seem to be calling the Elgin Marbles any more. There were loads of school parties, probably because it’s the end of term, but it was still a good visit. Then a meal at King’s Cross, but – massive disappointment – Giraffe no longer does fish finger sandwiches. Though what was Patisserie Valerie is now Costa Coffee – so that was good, at least.

And the trains were on time – both ways. Bonus!

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Book Browsing

OrlandoThis is a revamp of a post from 2013, updated

The tor.com blog had a feature on book browsing back in September 2013 and it prompted this original post, reminding me that I so very rarely got to browse real books on real shelves any more. I still don’t, so it’s probably even more relevant now than it was then. I’ve always been drawn to look at those tightly packed collections of spines whether in a bookshop, a library or on a friend’s bookshelves.

My book browsing began early. I joined the library at six, which was the age you were allowed to have library tickets in those days and my first borrowed book was ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat’. I still recall the pictures, though for the life of me I can’t remember the details of the story.

White RidersFrom then on I borrowed my maximum two books a week until I persuaded my parents to part with some of their library tickets and I graduated to five. I loved my library books, and the choosing of them was a long and pleasurable task each Saturday morning. My parents could just drop me off and pick me up when they’d finished their shopping. I certainly wasn’t going to run off. Run away? From books? I had to check every single shelf on every bay of (fiction) shelving throughout the whole children’s library. From picture books I quickly moved to chapter books and by the age of seven or eight I was reading every pony book I could find, books by Monica Edwards, the Pullein-Thompson sisters and Ruby Ferguson. They were easy to browse for. A horse’s head on the spine, right?

Spaceship to SaturnWhile looking for pony books one day I found: The Horse and His Boy and that was my introduction to Narnia. I’m not sure how I made the leap from there to science fiction, but Hugh Walters featured heavily on my reading list and I ate up the stories of Chris the boy astronaut, implausibly sent into space in an emergency,  because rockets were not large or powerful enough to carry a full grown man. (Obviously no small women capable of flying a space ship in those days!)

Eventually I became the children’s librarian in Barnsley – looking after the library that kick-started my love of books, but that’s a post for another day.

When I could afford to buy books I browsed in W. H. Smith – the nearest Barnsley offered to a bookshop.

Browsing was important. It introduced me to many authors I would otherwise never have found. I moved on from pony books to John Wyndham, and from Day of the Triffids to the Gollancz yellow jackets on the shelves of the mobile library. (We’d moved out of town by that time and had books delivered to the village every Monday evening by the well-stocked library van.)

Borders closingThese days I rarely shop in town centres, and I maybe visit the closest mall once or twice a year. When I do I’m usually with someone who doesn’t share my book-browsing habit. Now I browse on the internet, usually Amazon or Goodreads or Netgalley.com. I read reviews before I buy, and I love my Kindle with a passion (hey I can carry as many books in my handbag as Hermione Granger!) BUT – and it’s a  a big but – it’s hardly a substitute for the randomness of browsing physical books. On my rare trips to York one of my guilty pleasures used to be spending a couple of hours in the much-missed Borders book shop opposite Betty’s Café (the SF section, of course). That’s where I found Joe Abercrombie (or at least, his books) amongst others. Though I note there is a Waterstones on Coney Street in York. I must check it our next time I go.

There used to be a tiny independent bookshop in Denby Dale, just five minutes drive down the road from where I live. The chap there was most obliging and he’d order anything and get it within a few days, but his SF section consisted of a few Stephen Kings and the odd Tolkien (though his YA section was more adventurous). Sadly he died suddenly and unexpectedly, and the bookshop died with him.

I really miss my browsing.

Do you browse? If so, where?

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For the Love of Prequels – A guest post by Gail Z. Martin

Convicts&amp;ExilesCoverOne of the tricky parts of telling a story is knowing where to start. The beginning of the interesting part isn’t always the place to start the main tale. That’s especially true when the main story is truly epic in scope. And yet, the backstory sets the stage. How does an author decide?

Enter the prequel. I’ve done a prequel series once before—the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, which are a prequel of sorts for the Chronicles of the Necromancer series. The serialized novels (now collected in ebook and paperback as The Shadowed Path and The Dark Road) trace the backstory of a key character, one who shows up with a hidden and tragic past. Readers wanted to know more, and the new books fill in those missing pieces.

For the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, the situation worked a little differently. Something big happens at the beginning of Ice Forged, the first book in the series, and then there’s a six-year gap before the main action begins. What occurs during those ‘missing’ six years is important to make the main characters who they are, but something of a tangent to the main story. I left them out of the novel, but readers wanted to know more.

So I came back to that series and wrote the stories of the gap years. Three of those novellas—about Blaine’s time as a convict—were released as individual ebooks. Two short stories appeared in anthologies, or as standalone. Then I wrote the fourth novella about Blaine’s years as a colonist, and the story was finally complete.

Convicts and Exiles is the whole package, arranged chronologically, to tell the complete story. It’s available in ebook and paperback. If you haven’t read the series yet, I’d suggest reading the first chapter of Ice Forged, then read Convicts and Exiles, and go back to finishing Ice Forged and the rest of the series. And if you’ve already read the novels, you won’t have any difficulty picking up the missing pieces, since Convicts and Exiles includes an excerpt from Ice Forged that leads right into the new action. We also brought out the fourth novella as an ebook for those who had purchased the other pieces separately.

However you choose to explore the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, you’ll have an action-packed post-apocalyptic medieval epic fantasy thrill ride!

You can find Convicts & Exiles in ebook and paperback wherever online books are sold!

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Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

Gail Z Martin. The Hawthorn Moon is the annual summer blog tour for Gail Z. Martin, and features guest blog posts, giveaways, surprises, excerpts and more on blogs worldwide. Find the master list of posts and goodies at www.GailZMartin.com  Bonus goodies! Read a copy of my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy short story Catspaw for free: https://claims.prolificworks.com/free/UAjd6 and check out my epic fantasy Ascendant Kingdoms short story Reconciling Memory here for free: https://claims.prolificworks.com/free/JQorl

Giveaway! Enter for a chance to win a copy of The Splintered Crown and Convicts and Exiles http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/9751c04221/?

Gail Z. Martin writes urban fantasy, epic fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books, Orbit Books, Falstaff Books, SOL Publishing and Darkwind Press. Urban fantasy series include Deadly Curiosities and the Night Vigil (Sons of Darkness). Epic fantasy series include Darkhurst, the Chronicles Of The Necromancer, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, and the Assassins of Landria. Newest titles include Convicts and Exiles, Spells Salt and Steel Season One, Tangled Web, Vengeance, The Dark Road, Sons of Darkness, and Assassin’s Honor.

She is the co-author (with Larry N. Martin ) of  the Spells, Salt, and Steel/New Templars series; the Steampunk series Iron & Blood; and a collection of short stories and novellas: The Storm & Fury Adventures set in the Iron & Blood universe. She is also the co-author of the upcoming Wasteland Marshals series and the Joe Mack Cauldron/Shadow Council series.  As Morgan Brice, she writes urban fantasy MM paranormal romance. Series include Witchbane, Badlands, and Treasure Trail.

Join our Shadow Alliance street team so you never miss a new release! Get all the scoop first + giveaways + fun stuff! Also where I get my beta readers and Launch Team! https://www.facebook.com/groups/435812789942761

Find me at www.GailZMartin.com , on Twitter @GailZMartin on www.Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms at www.DisquietingVisions.com blog, on www.Pinterest.com/Gzmartin on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/profile/gail-z-martin I’m also the organizer of the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign www.HoldOnToTheLight.com Never miss out on the news with my newsletter  http://eepurl.com/dd5XLj

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Submission, Rejection, and my Coping Strategies

I’ve always written. I started my first novel when I was fifteen. (It was dire, and I never finished, but I loved writing it.) It took me years to actually tell anyone I wrote, and even more years before I would let anyone read what I’d produced.

I didn’t begin with short stories because as a reader I prefer novels, so that’s where I started. My first completed novel, written longhand, was years (and I mean probably fifteen years) in development. It wasn’t until a friend lent me her Amstrad PCW in the mid 1990s that I managed to get it into a typed manuscript format. Then, through a friend of a friend of a friend, (and that friend three times removed just happened to be Anne McCaffrey) I acquired an agent (not the one I have now) and that novel went whooshing off into the ether. Sadly, though it did get a ‘we nearly bought this’ letter from HarperCollins, it didn’t sell. In the meantime I’d continued writing more novels.

warriorprincessesI got my first short story publication, courtesy of Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, in an anthology she edited for DAW (Warrior Princesses). I won’t bore you with the details, but it was my first validation—the first time someone had said (not in these words) ‘Your writing doesn’t suck too badly, here’s some money for it.’

After that came a lot more rejections and only a handful of short story sales over the next sixteen years! But I never gave in, never surrendered. I kept on writing. Unfortunately I only submitted stories occasionally. You see, for me back then, the goal was writing, not publishing, so though I did submit, I didn’t do it all that enthusiastically, or regularly. When the rejections came whistling back, they didn’t upset me, because I always suffered from ‘impostor syndrome’  anyway. I owned my rejections because I wasn’t a real writer, was I? So rejections were my due.

So the upside of Impostor Syndrome is that I can take rejections in my stride – which is a good job because I’ve had a fair few of them over the years. Even so, I’ve never been cast down into a deep depression. Brief disappointment is the lowest level of ‘sad’ I’ve achieved, even with a novel rejection. Get the rejection, think business as usual, then, and carry on writing. Maybe it’s because I never expected success. So when success came (especially novel success) I still couldn’t quite believe it at first. Six novels later and I’m getting used to it.

Of course I have hopes and dreams of elbowing George R.R. Martin off the top of the best seller list (sorry, George, nothing personal) but I’m realistic. I know how much luck is involved in this business in addition to, and often separate from, talent, skill, hard work, or most probably a mixture of all three. I’m so happy that I’m published by a reputable publisher (DAW in the USA) and I have a great editor. I’ve learned a lot since this writing journey began. If the best seller thing happens, it happens, but I’m not going to beat myself up if it doesn’t. I’m exactly where I always dreamed of being.

As for rejection coping strategies, I try to keep my life compartmentalised. Writing is in one box, my day job is in another, and I’m separate from both of them with a key to each. It keeps disappointment at a distance. I not only know that rejections are not rejections of me, personally, but I actually believe it as well. (Knowing and believing can be difficult things to align.)

It might not work for everyone, but it works for me.

Good luck with your writing.

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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.

iss037e028107~medium

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.

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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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Updated Blog Archive: 2013 to 2018

2013

  1. Bated Breath
  2. Seven Short Men and a Waif
  3. Preparing for Milford
  4. Jumping in at the Shallow End
  5. Serendipitous Book Browsing
  6. Four days to go
  7. Three Book Deal
  8. Milford Writers
  9. Publishers Marketplace Announcement
  10. Editor Talk
  11. New Book Log on LJ: Karen Traviss: Star Wars: Clone Wars – No Prisoners:
  12. World Fantasy Con
  13. That Difficult Second Novel
  14. Revision – First Pass
  15. Wordle
  16. Wordcount
  17. Timelines

 

2014

  1. Book Blog Roundup for 2013
  2. Thinking about Images
  3. Title News
  4. SFWA
  5. Scrivening
  6. Character self-determination
  7. Jacey’s Eastercon Panel Schedule
  8. Donald Maass: The Fire in Fiction
  9. More Book Logging Over on T’Other Blog
  10. Amazin’ Amazon
  11. Empire of Dust
  12. Guest Blog 1: Ben Jeapes – Infinite diversity in infinite combinations
  13. Writers Blog Tour
  14. Guest Blog 2: Gaie Sebold – How (Not) To Write A Steampunk Novel
  15. My Loncon Schedule – Provisional
  16. First Draft – Progress Report
  17. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Panda
  18. How long is a novel?
  19. Editing and Time Travel
  20. My Updated Loncon-3 Schedule
  21. August, Cons, Page Proofs and Milford
  22. Write What You Know
  23. Why I love my cover for Empire of Dust
  24. Submitting what you write
  25. It’s real
  26. My Guest Post on Ruth Booth’s Blog
  27. My Guest Post on the Bristol Books Blog
  28. My Guest Post on Ben Jeapes’ Blog
  29. Milford 2014
  30. Guest Post on Deborah Walker’s Blog
  31. Bristolcon Schedule
  32. Guest Post on Gaie Sebold’s Blog
  33. The Goodreads Odd Choice Awards
  34. Happy Book Day To Me
  35. Guest Post on Anne Lyle’s Blog
  36. Guest Post on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Blog
  37. Guest Post on Book View Cafe
  38. The Three Letter Word
  39. Guest Interview on Diabolical plots
  40. Order Books For the Holidays
  41. Interstellar
  42. Mind melding
  43. Guest Blogs Roundup
  44. Listed
  45. Nuts and Bolts of Writing #1
  46. Interview and book discussion
  47. Katharine Kerr needs our help.

 

2015

  1. 2014 – Looking Backwards and Forwards – 2015
  2. Short story Sales 2015
  3. Selling Short Stories
  4. Another short story sale
  5. Listen to Good Advice, but Trust Yourself
  6. How to Create Multi-Dimensional Characters—Everybody Lies (Kristen Lamb)
  7. Jacey Bedford Answers Ten Questions
  8. Ten Books I Couldn’t Put Down
  9. Ten Favourite Children’s Books
  10. Lonely Panda Reprinted Again
  11. Published Today: Last Train
  12. Crossways Cover Reveal
  13. Stars in your Reviews – The Goodreads Conundrum
  14. Goodreads Starry Update
  15. Eastercon Schedule 2015
  16. Goodbye Sir Terry
  17. Pelquin’s Comet: What’s It All About?
  18. Lost in Translation
  19. Selling Stories
  20. Attending Eastercon – Dysprosium 2015
  21. Short Story Roundup
  22. Eastercon 2015
  23. On Delivering the Second Book
  24. SFSF Social #3 – 27th June 2015
  25. Crossways – the Process
  26. More Short Stories Available Online
  27. Book Blog and Pinterest
  28. Two Worlds Collide: Guest Bloggage from Terry Jackman
  29. Re-reading my own book: Winterwood.
  30. My First Writing Rewards
  31. View From a Hotel Window, 5/26/15 + Thoughts on the Deal Money  (John Scalzi)
  32. Another Country
  33. Sheffield SF Social
  34. SFSF Social – June Report
  35. Science for Fiction Writers
  36. Book Cover: Crossways
  37. New Two-Book Deal
  38. CROSSWAYS is OUT TODAY!
  39. Winterwood Edits
  40. New Series of Guest Posts
  41. Guest Blog: Ian Creasey answers five questions about his writing
  42. Guest Blog:Tony Ballantyne tells us about his writing.
  43. Another Successful Milford
  44. Publishing progress
  45. Winterwood Page Proofs
  46. Agents and Publishing
  47. Fantasycon 2015
  48. What has NaNoWriMo Ever Done for Us?
  49. Winterwood Cover Revealed at Fantasy Book Cafe
  50. Gail Z Martin – Five Questions – Guest Post
  51. Winterwood Cover Reveal
  52. Christmas is Coming
  53. So Many Books, So Little Time.
  54. You never get Blasé About… a Good Review
  55. What did I say about good reviews?
  56. Guest Blog: Toby Venables Answers Five Questions
  57. My Writing Year – 2015
  58. My Reading Year 2015

 

2016

  1. Fan mail
  2. Happy Book Day To Me: Winterwood Published Today
  3. Winterwood Interviews and Reviews
  4. More Post-Winterwood News, Interviews and Reviews
  5. Winterwood Cover
  6. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #1
  7. About Literary Agents and How to Get One #2
  8. Looking forward to Eastercon / Mancunicon
  9. Details Details
  10. Science for Fiction Writers 2016
  11. Silverwolf
  12. Humour in Fantasy and SF
  13. Gotten, Tannoy, and Trug
  14. Thoughts on Editing
  15. Silverwolf Cover Reveal
  16. Editing Anthologies – A Guest Post by Joshua Palmatier
  17. Milford 2016
  18. Fantasycon-By-The-Sea, 2016
  19. What’s in a name?
  20. Guest Blog from Gail Z Martin in Praise of Halloween
  21. Pitfalls of Publishing, or Lest I Forget
  22. Overnight Success in Only Sixteen Years
  23. The Yin and Yang of Writing Advice
  24. My Reading Year 2016

 

2017

  1. Silverwolf
  2. Ten Quick Tips for Writers
  3. Style Sheets
  4. Agent Update
  5. Bloggage or not…
  6. Stories Far and Near
  7. Write What Someone Knows by Ben Jeapes
  8. Cover Reveal: Nimbus
  9. Committing Trilogy
  10. Worldbuilding for a Series
  11. Due Process
  12. Some Random Thoughts on Revisions and Edits
  13. Life, Death and the Writer’s Pen
  14. Ambition and Poison – a Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin
  15. History Lends Perspective
  16. Corwen Silverwolf Speaks
  17. Bladdered or Shitfaced? The gentle art of word choice and the bogglement of page-proofing.

 

2018

  1. What’s the Psi-Tech trilogy about?
  2. Discovering what I didn’t know I didn’t know.
  3. Beginning at the Beginning
  4. How to get a literary agent
  5. Pleasantly Pleasing Progress
  6. My Eastercon Schedule
  7. Men in Science Fiction and Fantasy
  8. The Gift That Keeps on Giving
  9. Cover Reveal Rowankind
  10. The Reading Conundrum
  11. Rowankind Delivered
  12. What times we’ve lived through
  13. Make me Immortal with a Kiss
  14. Writing New Series Vs. Sequels – A guest blog by Gail Z. Martin
  15. Character self-determination
  16. Dropping a Pebble in the Pond
  17. Book Covers
  18. Jaine Fenn Guest Blog
  19. Finish What You Start – Or Don’t
  20. Guest Blog From Joshua Palmatier
  21. My Week at Milford
  22. Gentleman Jim Speaks Out
  23. SF Conventions and How to Survive Them
  24. Winterwood Chapter One – Read it Here
  25. Interrogate Your World – Worldbuilding Questions for Writers
  26. Jacey’s Quick Book Links
  27. Guest Blog. Peter Sutton Answers Five Questions
  28. Happy Book Day to Me (Rowankind)
  29. Busy November 
  30. My 2018 Reading
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It’s never too late to talk about a book

Unless you are lucky enough to live in a city which has good bookshops, or even better, specialist science fiction and fantasy bookshops, your browsing of new SFF titles may be limited. My little local bookshop sadly closed last year, but the owner only had one shelf of SFF, and played it safe with Terry Pratchett and George R.R. Martin. I can’t blame him, but neither could I go and browse there and buy the books I wanted to read. (Of course if I knew what I wanted, he could order books for me, but how do I find new books by new authors unless I spot them on bookshop shelves?)

So I’m left ‘browsing’ via the big shop named after a South American river, and as we all know, what comes up when you do a search largely depends on algorithms.

Or I can find out about books by word of mouth.

Never underestimate what word of mouth can do.

If you love a book, blog about it, review it on Amazon, or review it on Goodreads. Tweet about it. Put something on Facebook or Instagram. Or simply tell your friends.

Nimbus front coverNot just my books, of course, though I’ll be eternally grateful if you do.

I’ve been book blogging since 2009, here on my Dreamwidth blog: https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/

I don’t always like everything I read, but I try to blog about good points as well as bad. My book blog is an instant reminder of everything I’ve read in the last decade, and oh how I wish I’d started earlier. Books recently read and enjoyed include Stephanie Burgis’ Thornbound, Suzanne Palmer’s Finder, Gaie Sebold’s Shanghai Sparrow, and T Kingfisher’s Swordheart. As I’m writing this I’m in the middle of reading Jaine Fenn’s upcoming book Broken Shadow and by the time you go and look at by blog, I’ll probably have reviewed it.

So what are you waiting for? If you’ve read my books, please shout about them. If you haven’t, read them and shout about them. They are all published by DAW, in print, and available on both sides of the Atlantic. (Though not on Kindle in the UK, only as paper books.)

Or read and shout out about any books you love. Go on. You know you want to. Authors often work in a vacuum, they love hearing that you’ve enjoyed their books.

Rowankind_coverAwards Season
As a reminder I have two novels eligible for awards this season, that’s Nimbus, the third in the Psi-Tech trilogy, and Rowankind, the third in the Rowankind trilogy. Both were published in 2018. And since both trilogies completed in 2018, the trilogies are eligible in the new Hugo category for series. I also have a short story eligible and that’s Make Me Immortal With a Kiss’ in the anthology SECOND ROUND, edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray, and published by Zombies Need Brains press. I happen to think it’s one of the best short stories I’ve written. If you do, please give it a plug.

I’m not begging or anything, just saying…

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

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

3bookpsitech

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

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

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

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Writing the First World War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Writing Tip: Using Wordle to highlight overused words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wordle after back

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

wordle after one

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

wordle after like

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

Happy wordling.

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Looking Back and Looking Forward: 2018 and 2019

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

2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laprop window snow

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

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

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

 

2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My 2018 Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books read in 2018

 

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Busy November

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

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

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Happy Book Day to Me

My new book, ROWANKIND, is out today.

WHOO-HOO!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the cover copy

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

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

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

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

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

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Guest Blog. Peter Sutton Answers Five Questions

Tell us your biography in three sentences or fewer.

Pete SuttonMy first book: A Tiding of Magpies was shortlisted for best short story collection in the British Fantasy Awards 2017. I’ve since published two novels – Sick City Syndrome: a horror tale of urban decay and grief and Seven Deadly Swords a historical fantasy thriller about guilt, sin and redemption. I’m one of the North Bristol Writers, so called because we meet in north Bristol, and I’ve been variously an event organiser for Brisrol Literature festival, BristolCon and Bristol Horrorcon as well as a magazine editor, RPG ‘creative director’ and book reviewer. My website is here: https://petewsutton.com/ and I’m @suttope on Twitter

How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?

I started off writing for a roleplaying game and had little thought about writing fiction or trying to get published but when things changed at the RPG company I started writing short stories. My fourth attempt was published after a LOT of polishing by Joanne Hall and Roz Clarke who took it for Airship Shape. Being edited by those two taught me a huge amount about how stories should work on the page. The story is called Artifice Perdu, and was a bit more gothic than steampunk.

What’s so special about writing speculative fiction?

A lot of what I write is the here and now but with a speculative twist. I find that looking askance at the world lets you approach it like you would a skittish horse. If you sidle up to it you may be able to grab hold of something you wouldn’t be able to by tackling it head on. Speculative fiction is the modern myths, dreams and fairytales and stories make the world. Through allegory and metaphor we can show great truth and do so with one of man’s oldest tools – narrative.

Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project

seven-swordsMy most recent publication was the novel Seven Deadly Swords. This is the tale of a group of crusaders who committed a crime against God in the late 1100’s in the Holy Land and then they come back over and over through history to enact the seven deadly sins. We follow Reymond as he tries to atone, as he seeks redemption:

What’s next?

I’m currently writing my next novel, tentatively called The Certainty of Dust about music and poetry, death and obsession and funerals, I’m also slowly working on a follow up to A Tiding of Magpies  – a new collection of mostly unpublished tales tentatively called The Museum of Forgetting. I’m also working on a few short story commissions.

 

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Jacey’s Quick Book Links

With the publication of Rowankind just a few days away (27th November), I thought I’d post links to all my books. Obviously the (not-so-hidden) subtext is, go out and buy them, but seriously folks, those advance orders for a new book are really important because it encourages the bookstores to stock more copies. They re available in paper format or for Kindle or Nook in the USA and Canada, but only in paper format in the UK, due to contractual issues. They are classed as US imports in the UK (yes, even though I’m British), so probably only available via Amazon or maybe via specialist SF bookstores.

3bookpsitech

Psi-Tech Trilogy

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

Rowankind Trilogy

6books 800 px

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Interrogate Your World – Worldbuilding Questions for Writers

I was asked to give a talk on worldbuilding and research at the Escafield SF event in Sheffield on 10th November. I came up with a checklist and promised to post it here for the people who attended. I may yet refine the order, but here’s the first draft as it came off the top of my head.

  • Is it Earth / not Earth / alternate Earth / a mind boggling habitat / somewhere in space?
  • Does it have a history? Do specific countries or regions have their own histories? (Hint, they should do.) Are you using Earth history? Is it an alternate Earth history timeline? If so at what point does your alt. history diverge from real history?
  • What’s the climate like? What about the weather? Remember no one planet (esp ours) is all one thing or all another. What are the regional variations?
  • What about the geology of your planet? Are there regions of vulcanicity? How are mountains and rivers formed? What has erosion done to the scenery? Has there ever been an ice age? Did Slarty Bartfarst design your fjords?
  • Are there huge urban centres or spread out rural populations? Is there overcrowding. Are some people oppressed? Is there exploitation and slavery? Or is labour valued and a worker well paid for his/her hire.
  • Are there non-Earth creatures? How have species developed?
  • What’s the flora like?
  • Has your planet been terraformed with earth flora and fauna, or is it very different to Earth? Are the trees and plants sentient? Can they move? Are they poisonous to non-native lifeforms?
  • What is the status of men and women (or any alt. gendered or genderless individuals) relative to each other? Are you going to use non-gendered pronouns?
  • What languages do people speak? How common is it to speak more languages than your own?
  • Who are the people/peoples? What variety of customs, foods, ethics, religions are there? Are you basing your world on something equivalent on Earth? Are your inhabitants alien or human?
  • How are you going to name people (and places)? You could probably have John, Paul, George and Kethukuthula in present day Britain, but you wouldn’t have had that mix of names in apartheid South Africa. Be careful to keep names culture-relevant and not to mix cultural names unless it’s appropriate to do so.
  • How does the calendar work? Does everyone subscribe to the same calendar?
  • What are the politics? How are the separate countries governed? Social organisation, laws/legal system, foreign policy? Class structure? Elite? Poverty? Is race/racial discrimination a thing? Is apartheid (or something like it) a thing? Are some cultures looked up to or looked down upon?
  • What’s the level of scientific discovery? Is science revered or proscribed? What about education? Are there schools? Colleges? Universities? Does everyone have the same opportunities?
  • What is daily life like for the elite and the underclass and all those inbetween?
  • How do people dress? What fashions are there?
  • How do they travel?
  • How do they communicate? How is information disseminated?
  • What’s the level of technology? Have you pinned it to a point in history which is the equivalent of one of our own?
  • What weapons are there? How is war waged?
  • Is there a magic system? If so it needs a set of immutable rules. Does magic replace technology or supplement it? Are magic users respected, feared, loved, or killed on sight?
  • What’s the level of manufacturing? DIY, cottage industry, industrial revolution, factory system, advanced (done by robots)?
  • What’s the currency? How does it differ between regions/countries? Is there a banking system? Is it acceptable to haggle and barter?
  • Is there commerce between nations/regions? Do some countries need to import food to avoid famine or are they self-sustaining? Does exporting food and fuel give some countries an advantage? Who controls business/trade routes?
  • What’s the level of medical knowledge?
  • What’s the state of the Arts? Are they valued? Do people participate? Are Arts for the elite or for everyone?
  • Is your society egalitarian or are there ‘superstars’? If so, how do they become famous?

REMEMBER: You can make stuff up as long as you are consistent and you have your own internal logic.

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Winterwood Chapter One – Read it Here

In anticipation of the publication of Rowankind, due on 27th November, the third book in my Rowankind Trilogy, I offer for your delectation, the first chapter of Winterwood. It’s the beginning of the trilogy, Rowankind is the finale – with Silverwolf in the middle.

Winterwood-Silverwolf-Rowankind

WINTERWOOD
by Jacey Bedford

CHAPTER ONE
A Bitter Farewell

April 1800, Plymouth, England

The stuffy bedroom stank of sickness with an underlying taint of old lady, stale urine and unwashed clothes, poorly disguised with attar of roses. I’d never thought to return to Plymouth, to the house I’d once called home; a house with memories so bitter that I’d tried to scour them from my mind with salt water and blood.

Had something in my own magic drawn me back? I didn’t know why it should, though it still had the capacity to surprise me. I could control it at sea, but on land it gnawed at my insides. Even here, less than a mile from the harbour, power pulsed through my veins, heating my blood. I needed to take ship soon before I lost control.

Little wonder that I’d felt no need to return home since eloping with Will.

My ears adjusted to the muffled street sounds, my eyes to the curtained gloom. I began to pick out familiar shapes in the shadows, each one bringing back a memory and all of them painful. The dressing table with its monstrously carved lion mask and paw feet was where I had once sat and experimented with my mother’s face powder and patches, earning a beating with the back of a hairbrush for the mess. The tall bed–a mountain to a small child–upon which I had first seen the tiny, shawl-wrapped form of my brother, Philip, the new son and heir, pride and joy, in my mother’s arms.

And there was the ornate screen I’d once hidden behind, trapped accidentally in some small mischief, to witness a larger mischief when my mother took Larien, our rowankind bondsman, to her lonely bed. I hadn’t known, then, what was happening beneath the covers, but I’d instinctively known that I should not be there, so I’d swallowed my puzzlement and kept silent.

Now, the heaped covers on that same bed stirred and shifted.

“Philip?” Her voice trembled and her hand fluttered to her breast. “Am I dreaming?”

My stomach churned and my magic flared. I swallowed hard, pushed it down and did my best to keep my voice low and level. “No, Mother, it’s me.”

“Rossalinde? Good God! Dressed like a man! You never had a sense of decorum.”

It wasn’t a question of decorum. It was my armour. I wore the persona as well as the clothes.

“Don’t just stand there, come closer.” My mother beckoned me into the gloom. “Help me up.”

She had no expectation that I would disobey, so I didn’t. I put my right arm under hers and my left arm round her frail shoulders and eased her into a sitting position, hearing her sharp indrawn gasp as I moved her. I plumped up pillows, stepped back and turned away, needing the distance.

I twitched the curtain back from the sash window an inch or two to check that the street outside was still empty, listening hard for any sound of disturbance in the normality of Twiling Avenue–a disturbance that might indicate a hue and cry heading in my direction. I’d crept into the house via a back entrance through the next door neighbour’s shrubbery. The hedge surrounding the house across the street rippled as if a bird had fled its shelter. I waited to see if there was any further movement, but there wasn’t. So far there was nothing beyond the faint cries of the vendors in the market two streets over and the raucous clamour of the wheeling gulls overhead.

Satisfied that I was safe for now, I turned back to find my mother had closed her eyes for a moment. She snatched a series of shallow breaths before she gave one long sigh. Opening her eyes again she regarded me long and steady. “Life as a pirate’s whore certainly seems to suit you.”

“Yes, Mother.” Pirate’s whore! I pressed my lips together. It wasn’t worth arguing. She was wrong on both counts, pirate and whore. As privateers we cruised under Letters of Marque from Mad King George for prizes of French merchantmen, Bonaparte’s supply vessels. As to the whore part, Will and I had married almost seven years ago.

“So you finally risked your neck to come and say good-bye. I wondered how long it would take. You’re almost too late.”

I didn’t answer.

“Oh, come on, girl, don’t beat about the bush. My belly’s swollen tight as a football. This damn growth is sucking the life out of me. Does it make you happy to see me like this? Do you think I deserve it?”

I shook my head, only half sure I meant it. Damn her! She still had me where it hurt. I’d come to dance on her grave and found it empty.

“What’s the matter?”

I waited for Cat got your tongue? but it didn’t come.

“Give me some light, girl.”

I went to open the curtains.

“No, keep the day away. Lamp light’s kinder.”

I could have brightened the room with magic, but magic–specifically my use of it–had driven a wedge between us. She had wanted a world of safety and comfort with the only serious concerns being those of fashion and taste, acceptable manners and suitable suitors. Instead she’d been faced with my unacceptable talents.

I struck a phosphor match from the inlaid silver box on the table, lifted the lamp glass and lit the wick. It guttered and smoked like cheap penny whale oil. My mother’s standards were slipping.

I took a deep breath; then, to show that she didn’t have complete control of the proceedings, I flopped down into the chair beside the bed, trying to look more casual than I felt.

Her iron grey hair was not many shades lighter than when I’d last seen her seven years ago. Her skin was pale and translucent, but still unblemished. She’d always had good skin, my mother; still tight at fifty, as mine would probably be if the wind and the salt didn’t ruin it, or if the Mysterium didn’t hang me for a witch first.

She caught me studying her. “You really didn’t expect to see me alive, did you?”

I shrugged. I hadn’t known what to expect.

“But you came all the same.”

“I had to.” I still wasn’t sure why.

“Yes, you did.” She smirked. “Did you think to pick over my bones and see what I’d left you in my will?”

No, old woman, to confront you one last time and see if you still have the same effect on me. I cleared my throat. “I don’t want your money.”

“Good, because I have none.” She pushed herself forward off her pillows with one elbow. “Every last penny from your father’s investments has gone to pay the bills. I’ve had to sell the plate and my jewellery, such as it was. All that’s left is show. This disease has saved me from the workhouse.” She sank back. “Don’t say you’re sorry.”

“I won’t because I’m not.”

Leaving had been the best thing I’d ever done.

Life with Will had been infinitely more tender than it had ever been at home. I didn’t regret a minute of it. I wished there had been more.

The harridan regarded me through half-closed eyes. “And have I got any by-blow grandchildren I should know about?”

“No.” There had been one, born early, but the little mite had not lasted beyond his second day. She didn’t need to know that.

“Not up to it, is he, this Redbeard of yours? Or have you unmanned him with your witchcraft?”

I ignored her taunts. “What do you want, forgiveness? Reconciliation?”

“What do I want?” She screwed her face up in the semblance of a laugh, but it turned to a grimace.

“You nearly got us killed, Mother, or have you conveniently forgotten?”

“That murdering thief took all I had in the world.”

That would be the ship she was talking about, not me.

“That murdering thief, as you put it, saved my life.”

And my soul and my sanity, but I didn’t tell her that. He’d taught me to be a man by day and a woman by night, to use a sword and pistol and to captain a ship. He’d been my love, my strength and my mentor. Since his death I’d been Captain Redbeard Tremayne in his stead–three years a privateer captain in my own right.

“Is he with you now?”

“He’s always with me.”

That wasn’t a lie. Will showed up at the most unlikely times, sometimes as nothing more than a whisper on the wind.

“So you only came to gloat and to see what was left.”

“I don’t want anything of yours. I never did.”

“Oh, don’t worry, what’s coming to you is not mine. I’m only passing it on–one final obligation to the past.” Her voice, still sharp, caught in her throat and she coughed.

“Do you want a drink?” I asked, suddenly seeing her as a lonely and sick old woman.

“I want nothing from you.” She screwed up her eyes. Her hand went to her belly. I could only stand by while she struggled against whatever pain wracked her body.

Finally she spoke again. “In the chest at the foot of the bed, below the sheet.”

I knelt and ran my fingers across it. It had been my father’s first sea-chest, oak with a tarnished brass binding. I let my fingers linger over his initials burnt into the top. He’d been an absentee father, always away on one long voyage after the other, but I’d loved his homecomings, the feel of his scratchy beard on my cheek as he hugged me to him, the smell of the salt sea and pipe tobacco, the presents, small but thoughtful: a tortoiseshell comb, a silken scarf, a bracelet of bright beads from far off Africa.

I pulled open the catch and lifted the lid.

“Don’t disturb things. Feel beneath the left hand edge.”

I slid my hand under the folded linen. My fingers touched something smooth and cool. I felt the snap and fizz of magic and jerked back, but it was too late, the thing, whatever it was, had already tasted me. Damn my mother. What had she done?

I drew the object out to look and found it to be a small, polished wooden box, not much deeper than my thumb. I’d never seen its like before, but I’d heard winterwood described and knew full well what it was. The grain held a rainbow from the gold of oak, to the rich red of mahogany, shot through with ebony hues. It sat comfortably in the palm of my hand, so finely crafted it was almost seamless. My magic rose up to meet it.

I tried the lid. “It’s locked.”

She had an odd expression on her face.

“Is this some kind of riddle?” I asked.

“Your inheritance.”

“How does it open? What’s inside it?”

“That’s for you to find out. I never wanted any of it.”

My head was full of questions. My mother hated magic, even the sleight of hand tricks of street illusionists. How could this be any inheritance of mine?

Yet, I felt that it was.

I turned the box around in my hands. There was something trapped inside that wanted its freedom. No point in asking if anyone had tried to saw it open. You don’t work ensorcelled winterwood with human tools.

Wrapping both hands around the box, I could feel it was alive with promise. It didn’t seem to have a taint of the black about it, but it didn’t have to be dark magic to be dangerous.

I shuddered. “I don’t want it.”

“It’s yours now. You’ve touched it. I’ve never handled it without gloves.”

“Where did it come from?”

She shook her head. “Family.”

“Neither you nor Father ever mentioned family, not even my grandparents.”

“Long gone, all of them. Gone and forgotten.”

“I don’t even know their names.”

“And better that way. We left all that behind us. We started afresh, Teague and I, making our own place in society. It wasn’t easy even in this tarry-trousers town. Your ancestors companied with royalty, you know, though much good it did them in the end. You’re a lady, Rossalinde, not a hoyden.” She winced, but whether from the memories or the pain I couldn’t tell. “That blasted thing is all that’s left of the past. It followed me, but it’s too much to… ” Her voice tailed off, then she rallied. “I wasn’t having any of it. It’s your responsibility now. I meant to give it to you when you came of age.” She narrowed her eyes and glared at me. “How old are you, anyway?”

I was lean and hard from life at sea. You didn’t go soft in my line of work. “I’m not yet five and twenty, Mother.” I held up the box and stared at it. “What if I can’t open it?”

I suppose you’ll have to pass it on to the next generation.”

“There won’t be a next generation.”

She shrugged and waved me away with one hand.

“Give it to Philip.” I held it out to her, but she shrank back from it and her eyes moistened at my brother’s name. What had he been up to now? Likely he was the one who’d spent all her money. I hadn’t seen Philip for seven years, but I doubted he’d reformed in that time. He’d been a sweet babe, but had grown into a spoilt brat, manipulative and selfish, and last I saw he was carrying his boyhood traits into adolescence, turning into an opportunist with a slippery tongue.

“Always to the firstborn. But you’re behind the times, girl. Philip’s dead. Dead these last seven months.” Her voice broke on the last words.

“Dead?” I must have sounded stupid, but an early death was the last thing I’d envisioned for Philip. The grievances I’d held against him for years melted away in an instant. All I could think of was the child who’d followed me round begging that I give him a horsey ride, or told him a story.

“How?”

“A duel. In London. A matter of honour was the way it was written to me.”

“Oh.” It was such an ineffectual thing to say, but right at that moment I didn’t really know how I felt. Had Philip actually developed a sense of honour as he grew? Was there a better side to my brother that I’d never seen? I hoped so.

“Is that all you can say? You didn’t deserve a brother. You never had any love for him.”

I let that go. It wasn’t true.

“I thought you might have changed.” My mother’s words startled me and I realised my mind had wandered into the past. Stay sharp. This might yet be a trap, some petty revenge for the wrongs she perceived that I heaped on her: loss of wealth, loss of station; loss of son. Next she’d be blaming me for the loss of my father, though only the sea was to blame for that.

“That’s all I’ve got for you.” She turned away from me. “It’s done. Now, get out.”

“Mother, I–”

“I’m ready for my medicine.”

I knew it would be the last time I’d see her. I wanted to say how sorry I was. Sorry for ruining her life; sorry for Philip’s death. I wanted to take her frail body in my arms and hold her like I could never remember her holding me, but there was nothing between us except bitterness. Even dying, there was no forgiveness.

I turned and walked out, not looking back.

-o0o-

End of Chapter One

-o0o-

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SF Conventions and How to Survive Them

I have just returned from FantasyCon in Chester. Run by the British Fantasy Society, this is an annual event and is the most writerly of British SF conventions. The panels are generally writing oriented and the dealers’ room is mostly full of independent small presses. It’s a weekend con, with events starting on Friday afternoon and continuing to Sunday early afternoon, with the awards dinner beginning at lunchtime and the awards happening through Sunday afternoon. To be honest, since I don’t have a horse in the awards race, and since I like to get home reasonably promptly, I usually leave mid-afternoon.

Chester Rows

I arrived on Thursday because I wanted to see something of Chester, a city that I’ve always managed to miss visiting in the past. So this time I got to see the Roman amphitheatre and the Rows, with their two-level medieval shops. The venue was the Chester Queen Hotel, right opposite the station. It’s an excellent venue for a convention. The rooms are good and the convention facilities excellent. Added to that the staff were all extremely friendly and helpful.

My first ever convention was 2007, so I’m relatively new to fandom. I started attending cons regularly, and volunteering for panels from 2012. My first ever panel was the history/fantasy panel at the Heathrow (London) Eastercon with George RR Martin. I’m not saying I wasn’t overawed, but George is an old hand at conventions and he’s a lovely man who doesn’t make you feel like a raw newbie (even if you are). At that point I’d got my first three book deal with DAW, but my first book hadn’t yet been published.

Now I have five books published and my sixth is coming out in December. In the intervening years I’ve done a lot more panels.

Eastercons are lovely and I tend to treat them as social occasions, catching up with writer-friends I haven’t seen (probably) since last Eastercon. Fantasycons, however, are all about the business. Yes, we make it social, but the panels are practical and interesting. This year I went to one about blogging for writers, a panel about the publishing industry, a workshop on plot pacing, and several more. I sat on panels about writers’ groups and about plot generating. The latter was a strictly fun panel – the last one of the convention – where a panel of writers had to take random plot bunnies shouted out by the audience and make them into… well I’m not quite sure what we made them into, but there was a lot of laughter, especially when we ended up with a (fictional) sentient dildo in a murder-mystery scenario.

Plot panel

The plot panel on Sunday afternoon.

There were writer-friends there, of course, many of them who had some connection with Milford, so we ate together and drank together (mostly coffee to be honest), and managed some social time as well as panel time. I’d taken a stand for Milford, which I set up in the Dealers’ Room with leaflets and a pull-up stand, but since I wasn’t selling anything I didn’t need to be there with it all the time.

If it hadn’t been for The Train Line selling me tickets for a train that didn’t exist on the way home, causing me to spend an hour on the freezing cold platform of Newton Le Willows station while trying to get back on track for my journey, it would have been perfect.

Next weekend I’m going all the way down to Bristol (by train again) for the one-day Bristolcon, held at the Double Tree by Hilton in Bristol city centre. I’ve been several times before. It’s a small convention with an excellent atmosphere and – yes – there are quite a few writer-friends in attendance, mostly a different bunch than the ones who were at Fantasycon.

Though it’s a one-day con, because my train journey is close to four hours, I have to go down on the Friday and return on the Sunday, so for me it’s still a weekend convention. It will mostly be a social convention for me, but I am signed up to do one panel:
Saturday 27th October, 3.00 How to Become a Published Author
With Jasper Fforde, Anna Stephens, Jacey Bedford, Simon Kewin, Cavan Scott (M)
Blurb: It’s not easy. But with a manuscript under your belt you’ve done the hard part. Our panel of professionals from the writing and publishing worlds will offer hints and tips based on their own experiences and careers to date.

I’m looking forward to it.

Surviving two consecutive conventions might be tricky. I’ll need to catch up on sleep this week. I room-shared with Tina A at Chester and I’m room-sharing with Terry J at Bristolcon. Because we don’t see each other all that often we do tend to talk well into the night, and then, of course, have to get up for hotel breakfast the following morning. Being from Yorkshire, if I’ve paid for it, I’m going to eat it, so come hell or high water I will not miss breakfast! (Though I often skip lunch.)

So advice on surviving conventions:

  • Take the easiest, most hassle-free form of travel you can manage.
  • Stay in the convention hotel, even if it’s a few pounds more per night.
  • Arrive early if you can.
  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • Don’t imbibe too much alcohol. (Hangovers are not fun and people don’t like you snoring through panels.)
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Don’t buy more books than you can carry home.

Enjoy yourself.

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Gentleman Jim Speaks Out

The Rowankind books, Winterwood, Silverwolf and Rowankind (the latter due in December 2018) are narrated by Rossalinde (Ross) Tremayne, but every now and then one of the other characters likes to have his say. You can find Corwen’s piece here. This time it’s the turn of pirate captain Gentleman Jim…

stormy ships

James Mayo isn’t my real name and I never intended to become a pirate, but things happen.

My family had—still have I expect—a plantation in Virginia. With three older brothers, I was never in line to inherit much, so my father determined I should have a profession. He sent me to be educated at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, to study divinity can you believe? Unfortunately that was very shortly before my country had a serious argument over taxation with King George, and I absconded to join a militia.

If I have one very serious piece of advice it’s never to get roaring drunk with your comrades in a seaport while the fleet is recruiting. Portsmouth, Virginia was my downfall. When I came to my senses the ground was rolling beneath me and I perceived myself to be at sea. To make matters worse, it was a French ship of the line, a third-rater called the Jason in the fleet of Rear Admiral Destouches.

I had a few disagreements with my sudden transfer from the militia to the navy, but to my surprise, and to that of my captain, a fine sailor by the name of Jean de la Clocheterie, I took to the ocean. In recognition of my education I was elevated to the grand position of his cabin steward, where, I may say, I prospered. It’s surprising what you can learn once you’ve acquired a position of trust. I survived the battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, was on board the Jason at the Battle of Mona Passage a year later when she was captured by the British. I had no liking for the idea of being at the mercy of King George, who had a tendency to insist that Americans were subjects of the Crown and therefore eligible to become cannon fodder in the Royal Navy. Along with a few compatriots, I contrived to escape in the ship’s jolly-boat, and we made the shores of Hispaniola where there are many opportunities open to a young man of keen intelligence and fighting spirit.

I joined the crew of the Black Hawk, then captained by Edgar Ransome. It took me six years to work my way up to the top, but by the time I was twenty-seven I was captain, and Ransome was at the bottom of the sea.

Heart of OakI first saw Rossalinde Tremayne when her husband Will and I both chased down the same French merchantman. I wasn’t in the mood to fight two battles, and neither was he, so we agreed that I would take the cargo and he would take the ship for the bounty paid by the British. I was intrigued by Tremayne’s woman, fighting like a maniac, sword and pistol in hand. I didn’t know then that she was his wife. Though I’d barely spoken two words to the lady I couldn’t get her out of my head. Lust at first sight you might say.

A year later I received a missive from Tremayne asking for a parlez between privateers and pirates to sort out who would raid where. I might have refused outright. What concessions did we pirates need to give to those who considered themselves above us just because they had letters of marque from their monarch? Then I remembered the wench and wondered whether she was still with Tremayne.

I granted them parlez and invited those other pirate captains plying their trade in the Caribbean and across the Atlantic. Tremayne did likewise amongst his privateer acquaintances. We met three months later at the Golden Compass, in Ravenscraig, on the Island of Auvienne. My Island. My town. My tavern. My rules. Except Tremayne was a fierce negotiator and in the end I gave more concessions that I had planned. I blame the distraction. Tremayne had brought the wench with him, though she was a pale shadow of the woman I had seen before.

It turned out that only two months before, she’d given birth to a son, born early. He barely lived a few days and her grief was palpable. Tremayne did what he could, but I perceived she needed cheering up and so I went out of my way to be kind and attentive. I had my reasons, of course. Many a marriage has been soured by the death of a child, and I determined to be the one to pick up the pieces if their relationship shattered.

Alas, we became friends. I say alas, because in the end I wanted the best for her and that meant relinquishing her to Tremayne when we concluded our parlez. Her loyalty to him was unshakeable.

It took several months for the news of Tremayne’s death to reach me. To my credit my first instinct was shock. Men like Tremayne are not easily disposed of. But the sea had other ideas. He’d been killed by a falling spar at the height of a storm, and my lovely Ross was a widow. An available widow.

Ross Trenayne 4I hadn’t expected her to take over the captaincy of her ship, but news reached me that the Heart Of Oak was cruising the Caribbean for French shipping. I set my sails in that direction, but she was elusive. Then I heard she’d gone back to the Atlantic sea routes.

It was another couple of years until fate dropped her into my lap unexpectedly. A storm had damaged the Heart of Oak and she was forced to take shelter in a cove on my island. I hadn’t had any inclination, then, that she was mixed up in magic, but when I rode, with my men, to confront her and her crew, there was a box which made my stomach tingle. I’ve always been a little sensitive to magic and the box drew me almost as much as Ross did. I’d heard there was an Englishman prepared to pay well for such a thing. She gave up the box easily—maybe too easily—and accepted an invitation to dinner. I took the box and left Ross a mount to make the journey to Ravenscraig. I was half afraid that she wouldn’t come. To my surprise she did. I wined her and dined her, and wooed her as delicately as I could when all I wanted to do was to rip off her clothes and bed her until she was insensible. It seemed that she’s had enough of widowhood for she came to me willingly. I will not give away secrets of the bedchamber, but I thought that having come to me once she was mine.

I was wrong.

Ravenscraig came under attack that night from two British warships and in the panic and confusion, my lovely Ross slipped away, taking the magical box with her. I hadn’t known, until that night, that she was a witch. No wonder I was drawn to her.

Unfortunately I had already despatched a messenger to the Englishman who sought the box. His name was Walsingham and he made the journey to Ravenscraig and offered me a generous sum for laying a trap for the Heart of Oak. Ross wasn’t aboard, he said, so I was happy to do it. Unfortunately Walsingham was not only a liar, he was a magic user. We trapped Ross’ ship, and she was on it. I thought he was going to kill her, but when I objected he turned his magic against me. The next thing I knew I was in the water and swimming for my life as my ship’s powder magazine blew up behind me. I’ll gloss over the rest as it’s not a time I wish to remember. I was picked up by a pirate called Nicholas Thompson, Old Nick to his enemies; I doubt he has any friends.

By the time I escaped, I’d lost my ship, my crew, my island, and my self-respect. I slipped down the neck of a rum bottle, and might have stayed there, but Ross came into my life again. She had a new husband, Corwen, a wolf shapechanger, and they seemed very much in love. I can’t fault the man. He and Ross gave me back my island, my place at the head of the pirates, and my life.

The very last time I saw her I took both her hands in mine and kissed her cheeks. “If you get tired of dry land,” I said, “you know where to come.”

She smiled at me and said, “I do, but I won’t.”

I knew in my heart I would never see her again when she said, “Have a great life. Stay well and safe.”

I squeezed her hands once and then let her go. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever done, but her time on the ocean was over. She’d go back to England with her husband and continue to fight for the rights of magic users, because my dear Ross could never refuse a fight. She was – she still is – the bravest woman I ever knew, but didn’t count herself as anything special. That’s what made her so special to me. And I saw it in her husband’s eyes every time he looked at her.

She paused once on the gang plank to turn and wave, and then walked into her husband’s embrace. She’d found a good man. If I ever find a woman half as good as Rossalinde I might even be tempted to settle down, but until then I have my island, my ships, my tavern, and all it’s womanly delights.

But a man, even a pirate, can dream.

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My Week at Milford

My writing week

The view from the window of my little room.

Many thanks to last week’s guest blogger Joshua Palmatier for doing a post for me while I was away at Milford SF Writers’ week in Snowdonia at the lovely Trigonos, Though they do have wi-fi there now, it tends to be intermittent, so I wasn’t sure how much connectivity I would have. Also I was working on my little Dell laptop, bought (reconditioned) for travelling. It’s nowhere near as convenient as my desktop machine which has a 23 inch monitor and a lovely clicky keyboard.

What’s Milford?

Milford is  practically an institution in it’s own right. It was started by a bunch of well known, well respected professional SF writers in Milford Pennsylvania in 1956. Damon Knight being one of the prime movers. James and Judy Blish brought it to the UK in 1972 and with only a couple of exceptions it has run annually ever since.

The Blishes organized it at a venue in Milford on Sea. Anne McCaffrey chaired the first one, and the rank and file consisted of Mark Adlard, Brian Aldiss, John Brunner, Ken Bulmer, George Locke (‘Gordon Walters’), John Murry (‘Richard Cowper’), John Phillifent (‘John Rackham’), Chris Priest, David Redd, Josephine Saxton, Andrew Stephenson and Peter Tate. In the subsequent four-and-a-bit decades many SF luminaries have passed through: George RR Martin, Brian Aldiss, Bruce Sterling, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, John Brunner. David Langford, John Clute… and many more. You can see more about MIlford’s history here http://www.milfordsf.co.uk/history.htm and more about Milford itself here http://www.milfordsf.co.uk.

Panorama01

Milford 2017 (Photo: Matt Colborn)

What do we do?

VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200

Coffee break and conversation 2018

Milford is all about writing. Stick fifteen writers in a small venue in the middle of Wild Welsh Wales for a week and you get some amazing results. Everybody bonds. (Note bonding is not compulsory, but in all the years I’ve been involved there have only been a couple of people who have resisted the camaraderie.) That’s not to say we live in each others’ pockets for the week. We have a schedule which goes something like: Saturday arrive and settle in (and have dinner together) Sunday to Thursday inclusive, mornings are your own; afternoons are formal critique sessions and evenings are social time. (Though if you want to sneak back to your room and write, there’s nothing to stop you.) We send round our pieces for critique two to three weeks before Milford starts to give ourselves chance to read and critique in advance. And the workload is heavy, so it makes sense to get as much done as possible beforehand.

When choosing what to send in the general advice is to send an unpublished piece (or two pieces) of not more than ten thousand words altogether. Make it as good as you can but sometimes if you’re having trouble with a piece that’s also a good reason to select it for scrutiny. This year I sent a section from the work in progress, The Amber Crown. It’s a book with three viewpoint characters and though it’s kinda, sorta finished I just added a whole load of story for my female character, Mirza. Though her chapters are interspersed with the other two (Valdas and Lind) I pulled them all together into one continuous piece. I received some really interesting critiques, but nearly everyone said that the long flashback was problematical, but a couple of people suggested writing it in real time and inserting it as an extra chapter earlier in the book. At one time Mirza didn’t appear until Chapter 9, now she’s right there in Chapter 2. I’m happy with that.

Few people got massively adverse comments. Everyone said that the comments they did get were really helpful. (And they are always delivered constructively.) You probably learn as much – if not more – from critiquing otherpeople’s pieces than you do from having your own piece critiqued.

It was one of those weeks where we seemed to be laughing all the time, even though Wales was trying to drown us in rain for most of the week. Predictably the rain cleared up on the last day for the drive home.

Valley in gloom

Nantlle Valley in a gloomy mood. You should be able to see Mount Snowdon in the distance, but it’s obscured by low cloud.

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Guest Blog From Joshua Palmatier

Jacey Bedford graciously invited me to guest here at her blog today so that I could talk about the small press Zombies Need Brains and our current Kickstarter (check out tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals) attempting to fund three brand new SF&F anthologies.  I thought it might be nice to explain where the themes for these three anthologies came from.

PORTALSsmallFirst, the lead anthology, which is really my own little baby.  I grew up reading fantasy novels in the 80s, which means I read a ton of novels with characters from our world transported to another world.  Books like Andre Norton’s WITCH WORLD or Stephen Donaldson’s CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT.  There were many, many others, but I noticed that I hadn’t seen or read many “portal novels” in either fantasy or sci-fi recently.  I loved those stories, so thought, “Why not do an anthology with portals as the theme?”  Hence, PORTALS was born (although the original name I had for the anthology was WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE; I think PORTALS is much more concise and explains the theme rather well though).  Even though this was my concept, I decided I’d let Patricia Bray and S.C. Butler edit it.  I expect I’ll read a fair amount of the submissions to the open call though, perhaps stick my nose in occasionally with a thought.  *grin*

The second anthology in the Kickstarter is TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED.  This theme came about when I received a spam email from a bank I didn’t have an account at that warned:  “Your account will be temporally deactivated unless you respond to this email now and confirm your account! [suspicious link here]”  Zombies Need Brains had just released the anthology TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER (to great success) and I immediately thought “SEQUEL”!  I added it to my list of potential themes and then promptly forgot about it … until David B. Coe got the same email a few years later (these things never die) and pinged me about it.  He’d had the same thought:  “SEQUEL!”  And so the theme was revived and of course David B. Coe is now editing it with me.

The last anthology for this Kickstarter came out of the blue.  I’d honestly been considering doing just two anthologies this time, but Steven H Silver emailed me with this cool concept for an alternate history anthology, ALTERNATE PEACE.  Most alternate history novels and stories begin with a change in the outcome of some kind of violent event, such as a different result for a battle or a war.  His idea was to find alternate history stories where the divergence from our own timeline came from a peaceful change, such as a discovery (or lack of) in science or a societal culture change.  That change could lead to violence, but the change in the timeline itself was peaceful.  I liked the concept and thought it fit well with the other two themes, so I decided to add it to this year’s roster.

So that’s how the three themes for this year’s Kickstarter were selected.  If you’ve got a moment, swing on by the Kickstarter at tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals and make a pledge!  Help bring these themes to life!  It’s only $15 for the ebooks and $48 for the paperbacks.  And once the Kickstarter is funded, there will be an open call for submissions, so anyone can submit a story for consideration.

And if you haven’t heard of the small press Zombies Need Brains before, we are a relatively new press with 10 anthologies under our belts.  We’ve been recognized by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SWFA) as a professional market and we have had three of our past stories in anthologies up for the WSFA Small Press Award.  Two of those stories are up this year and we hope that one of them wins!  Fingers crossed!

You can find out more at www.zombiesneedbrains.com and tinyurl.com/ZNBPortals.  I hope to see you on the backer list!

BenTateJoshua Palmatier has published nine novels to date—the “Throne of Amenkor” series (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, The Vacant Throne), the “Well of Sorrows” series (Well of Sorrows, Leaves of Flame, Breath of Heaven), and the “Ley” series (Shattering the Ley, Threading the Needle, Reaping the Aurora).  He is currently hard at work on the start of a new series, as yet untitled.  He has also published numerous short stories and has edited numerous anthologies.  He is the founder/owner of a small press called Zombies Need Brains LLC, which focuses on producing SF&F themed anthologies, the most recent being Guilds & Glaives, The Razor’s Edge, and Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar.  Find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at www.zombiesneedbrains.com.  You can also find him on Facebook under Joshua B. Palmatier and Zombies Need Brains, and on Twitter at @bentateauthor and @ZNBLLC.

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Finish What You Start – Or Don’t

Unless you stop faffing about re-writing the beginning of your story/novel, you’ll never finish it.

Believe me, I know this. I am an expert in faffing around.

I’ve spent untold hours/days/weeks/months getting the start of my novels just right. Sometimes that means rewriting the first few scenes time and time again. Sometimes it means starting the story in a different place, either earlier or later than I had first envisaged.

The acknowledged writerly wisdom is that even though you know the opening isn’t perfect, you can move on to the rest of the novel then come back at the end and rewrite the beginning with the hindsight of having a finished story. And, indeed, that’s not a bad idea at all.

But…

But…

For me the opening is my launch pad into the story. Unless I have a clearly defined jumping-off point I find I’m floating in a bit of a vacuum. I need solid ground from which to jump.

I’m one of those writers who is halfway between a plotter and a pantser. At the beginning of a novel I’m usually ‘pantsing’ – i.e. writing by the seat of my pants, trying to discover what the story is about and who the characters are. Though I often have an ending in mind, I can get twenty thousand words on the screen before I start to jot down notes-to-self on where the story is going.

Nimbus front coverWhen I started to write Nimbus, the third book in my Psi-Tech space opera series, I think I must have written four or five different openings. (The first one I wrote eventually ended up as a story thread that appeared about one third into the book. So don’t ever throw your rejected openings away. They may still be useful elsewhere.)

The writers’ group I belong to must have been punch drunk when presented with my multiple alternative beginnings, but eventually I got to where I needed to be and with great relief, moved forward.

The book I’m working on at the moment, The Amber Crown, had a clearly defined beginning from the moment of its conception and yet… it has three individual viewpoint characters, all separate at first. So, really it has three beginnings. I wrote it right through to the end and then decided that one of my characters began her journey in the wrong place, so I’ve just gone back and inserted two additional chapters to begin her story much earlier. Not at the beginning, but at her beginning.

Rowankind_cover 400In my upcoming book, Rowankind, (DAW, December 2018), the final book in my Rowankind trilogy (a historical fantasy set in the early 1800s) I was almost ready to send the finished manuscript to my publisher when I finally figured out that I’d left something out that needed to be right at the beginning, so I added in a new chapter.

But what happens when you can’t get an opening to work?

Unless you are a serial abandoner of half-finished novels, there’s really nothing to stop you from saying, “This simply isn’t working.” We all have moments when we think what we’re writing is trash, and it will never work, and it’s the worst thing we’ve ever written, so we have to judge very carefully. Is this one of those phases that all authors go through, or do we really, truly know this book is not working? I have one of those. It’s a book I started writing and spent several months on, but the further I got into it, the less confidence I had. In the end I showed it to my writers’ group and though they didn’t hate it, they didn’t totally love it either. I felt justified in retiring it to the bottom drawer. Maybe I’ll look at it later and be able to see why it didn’t work for me. Maybe I’ll have a sudden insight and know what I need to do to set it right, or maybe it will languish, forgotten forever. Since I have six books published and four more finished, I don’t feel guilty about the one that got away.

Sometimes a thing simply doesn’t work, and we have to admit it.

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