31 December 2016

Looking Back & Forward To The New Year

It’s often said that looking back offers only a rosy-eyed view, but I think this Yuletide between-time also offers the clearest. Ostensibly we’ve had a week off from our normal hamster-wheel activities – time for a laugh, general bonhomie, relaxation, and a needed deep breath. Assessing where we are comes easier.

Over the past few years problems with my health grew to impinge on normal life and, for my writer side, disrupted my concentration. 2016 was one of physical rehabilitation which has gone well; my concentration is still under review.

I’ve not done too badly. This blog has resumed its weekly posts, I’ve opened a YouTube channel for my video booktrailers, and added substantially to my work-in-progress, Pilgrims of the Pool, the last in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy. But I also discovered a hole in it – that concentration element – which should have been waving warning flags, or was waving warning flags that I failed to see. As a result one of its three storylines needs to be ripped out, re-planned and re-written, and the other storylines dovetailed into it. Such happens, but it needn’t have.

So, high on my Resolutions for this coming year is re-cultivating my concentration, and that means going back to basics and re-learning good habits. I’m a list person, always have been as my memory has never been my outstanding asset. Have list + kitchen timer = better habits. At least that’s the plan.

What’s your plan? And your best habit?

In the meantime I have news! As part of bolstering my public presence – another of my New Year’s Resolutions – I am interviewed on AL Butcher’s Fantasy site Library of Erana talking about my novels, research, writing techniques in general, and the importance of editing. Join me across there, or back here next Saturday. Or if you’d prefer, add your email to the box in the column to have my posts delivered quietly to your Inbox. As I’ve found with the blogs I follow, it makes life so much easier.

See you next week. And may you enjoy a Happy & Successful New Year.

23 December 2016

All Things Father Christmas, Including Santa & NORAD

So... who will be dropping gifts at your hearth? Or is it you who will be leaving them?

Here in the UK it is definitely Father Christmas who will be visiting, and despite his title he has nothing to do with Christianity, or parenthood, or even humans. It is the spirit of Mid-Winter, a personification clothed in evergreen, wrapped in holly and ivy, and garlanded in red berries and mistletoe. It is a jovial spirit, come to partake in the mid-winter’s frivolities. The people welcomed it with entertainment, plied it with food and alcoholic beverages, and gave offerings so that it might not linger too long but instead beat smooth a path for an early spring. So far so good.

Enter Christianity and a need by the early church to leverage ‘Jesus the Christ’ against entrenched Paganism. No one knew Jesus’ birth date, so the Pope decided Jesus should be given one. The Pagan equinox celebrations of spring and autumn had already been coveted, so why not align the day to the biggest celebration of them all? A bishop from the Middle East, recently raised to sainthood for his good works, was also pressed into action: Nicholas (more or less). In the face of such worthiness the Brits remained steadfastedly wedded to their eat, drink and make merry.

The Saxons and Jutes invaded, bringing along their Woden and winter’s Father Time. They also believed in eat, drink and make merry. A later invasion by the Norse and Danes (Vikings) – who also believed in eat, drink and make merry (can you see a pattern developing?) – brought along their Odin, who during mid-winter took on the manifestation of Jul – Yule – in that he was portly, white-bearded (signifying age), had the ability to see into people’s minds and know if they’d been good or not-so-good, and rode a horse, Sleipnir, which travelled at terrifying speed due to it having eight legs. Father Christmas as we know it was beginning to amalgamate.

Saint Nicholas didn’t truly put in an appearance on British shores until the islands were invaded yet again, this time in 1066 by ex-Vikings, the Normans. However, no matter how the populace was “encouraged” to be pious, once out of the church doors after celebrating Jesus’ birthday, eat, drink and make merry remained the national stance. Not even the Puritans, who in the mid-17th century took the field and the country during the English Civil War, could fully ban Christmastide – ie the eat, drink and make merry – and Father Christmas, as he was by then known, made appearances in Mummer’s Plays, basically to raise a glass [ie two fingers] to the Puritan Parliament. And what happened to the Puritans? We sent them to America (more or less).

It was there, after the War of Independence in the 18th century, that the populace began to embrace a Sinter Klaas from the Dutch tradition, doubtless because it wasn’t English (ungrateful individuals). In 1810 the New York Historical Society held a dinner in honour of Saint Nicholas, and twelve years later Clement Moore, drawing on Norse and Germanic folklore, wrote a poem A Visit from St Nicholas which was subsequently published as The Night Before Christmas. Thus Santa Claus came into his own, wearing the vestiges of Father Christmas/Jul. Even the reindeer and sled mentioned in the poem come from the Sammi people of Lapland, who the Viking peoples to the south of them firmly believed were ‘magicians’.

The Coca-Cola Company? Bah humbug! Late to the party. Santa Claus and even Father Christmas were wearing red before it showed up with its non-alcoholic beverage. But it had, and still has if its vivid red pantechnicon is anything to go by, damned good copywriters.

Which finally brings me to NORAD. Yes, I do mean the North American Aerospace Defence Command based in Colorado Springs. In 1955 Sears Roebuck & Company, also based in Colorado Springs, placed an advertisement in the press inviting children to phone Santa. Except the phone number was misprinted. Guess who was inundated with phone calls? CONAD – the Continental Air Defence Command and forerunner of NORAD. Despite being in the grips of the Cold War and it supposedly watching for in-coming missiles from you-know-who, the Defence Command put diplomacy to the fore and gave radar updates to children on the progress of Santa from the North Pole.

And thanks to the late Colonel Harry Shoup, Director of Operations at the time, it still does. Which is why this blog is being posted a day earlier than envisaged, just in case any readers are lounging on a sunny beach in Australia, or even Fiji. Check on Santa’s progress at http://www.noradsanta.org/
Wherever you are, and whatever spirit of Nature you believe in, be sure to eat, drink and make merry!

With grateful thanks to Wikipaedia, History Today, Time-Travel Britain, Museum of UnNatural Mystery, and NORAD for their assistance in producing this tongue-firmly-in-cheek blogpost.

17 December 2016

Christmas Gifts & Paying It Forward

Christmas is a time for giving gifts in many forms. One is via charitable works. Readers of this blog may have noticed that I belong to a Science Fiction & Fantasy promotions group, and a couple of my titles have benefited from the group's helping hands. Now is the time to pay it forward.

Patty Jansen, the group's indefatigable co-ordinator, is organising a book promotion to benefit authors in the genres who are finding life more difficult than they should [been there, done that]. Each participating author has dropped something in the pot and, with added donations from book buyers, already six packages of $250 have winged their way to deserving recipients. 

You don't have to donate. You don't have to buy an ebook. But you might want to take a look. Just follow the link on Patty's name above. Many thanks from the group.

10 December 2016

Book Trailer Anyone? #4 Native American

On my quest for book trailers for some of my novels, I took advantage of an offer made by the organisers of the mini litfest at FantastiCon held recently. The novels didn't have to be SciFi/F so I opted for my Native American historical Beneath The Shining Mountains.

I did not discover the identity of the trailer's creator, but the requirements seem more or less universal. It was seen with others in a loop playing at the Con, which was the first time I saw it. Now it's all mine. What do you reckon? I think it turned out rather well.

For more info on the novel and a full set of buying links, visit The Historicals page.

Next year's FantastiCon, to be held during Hull's City of Culture 2017, is scheduled for the weekend of 02-03 September. 

3 December 2016

Free SciFi & Fantasy #eBooks!

Yes, it's promo time again. This is a joint Freebie promotion for this weekend only - 3 & 4 December.

Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror titles are up for grabs, as is SF/F Romance, from short stories to novels to whole collections. So fill those winter wellies and try out new authors who otherwise might not pass before your eyes.

The central link to the individual titles via all major e-retailers is http://www.pattyjansen.com/promo

My offered free title is Scent of the Böggel-Mann – alas Amazon won’t allow me to offer the title for free for the Kindle, so to get it you’ll need to download from Smashwords and choose the “mobi” format. Those who read via Nook, Kobo or iBooks can download direct.

This dark fantasy is set very much in the present day, and if you didn't catch its trailer, you can watch it HERE   "European folklore come to the UK...

Do I take my own advice? Of course I do. Mine are already in the bag. Or at least my Kindle. Happy reading!

26 November 2016

Missing... Presumed at FantastiCon

Yep, last weekend (19-20th November) was spent at Hull’s Guildhall for FantastiCon, which bills itself as A Doing, Not A Buying Con, though there were plenty of books purchased, including some of mine. The paperbacks of the Horror anthology ‘666’, to which I’d contributed a 666 word story, completely sold out.

FantastiCon started three years ago as a multi-book launch event by Fantastic Books Publishing for licensed novels set in the SF computer game world of Elite: Dangerous and has now become a fixture in the SF/Fantasy/Horror Con calendar.

There were SteamPunk traders – I bought myself an interesting miniature fob watch on a chain – and plenty of Cosplayers of both graphic novel/comic and Hollywood movie types, as well as a very realistic Tardis and an even more realistic 'Doctor Who' impersonator - the accent and mannerisms were spot on - plus a phalanx of full-size Daleks which punters could drive. I decided it looked a bit too claustrophobic for my liking so passed on that one.

However, a convention aimed at an international SF gaming community would be lacking without banks of computers, and banks there were, some set-ups a little more encompassing than others. Don't just look at the four screens  and joystick in the left image, also note the foot-pedals.

Considering I was forever clipping the conning tower of the aircraft carrier with my jump-jet in Harrier Attack [a brilliant 1983 9kb game for the ZX Spectrum – no joystick, just rubber keys] I decided not to humiliate myself in public. Watching over shoulders was enough.

Apart from the mind-boggling coordination skills on show, I found the holograms fascinating, and like a wally took a still photo instead of video - how analogue can I be?

Suffice to say the Millennium Falcon shown is a model from which the hologram lifts and flies to the Death Star as a nearby planet rises in the distance and then... if you've seen the Star Wars movies you'll already be ahead of me.

I was engrossed in trying to calculate how it worked when one of its minders came up and insisted on explaining. Er... I think it might be a bit lost on me. No, he insisted, the Victorians discovered it; it was simple. And I was lost after the third sentence. Perhaps I'll stick to writing fiction.

12 November 2016

Book Trailer Anyone? #3 - Result!

After months of drooling over book trailers on YouTube I decided to have a go at creating one for my Horror Short Scent of a Böggel-Mann. Catch up on my tentative steps – and coming to my senses – in Post 1 and Post 2.

When an expert is needed, an expert should be researched. One of the best places to start is on Fiverr.com. Jobs, "gigs", begin at US$5, but I’d already discovered how much work is needed to create a book trailer, so surely not? Well, Yes and No.

Offered services are explained and each provider has samples to view. From this I drew up a long-list, which became a short-list, which became a choice. For me that service provider was yourbooktrailer. The requirements included 3-4 phrases, 4-6 high quality photos... the sort of thing I’d been practising. So while I was searching for another couple of images I practised some more. It paid off.

These are some of images I sent. See how they were utilised in the trailer via this Blogpost or direct on YouTube.

Not only were the text font, effects and music sourced by the provider as part of the gig, I received a draft to review. I had the temerity to ask for tweaks, and received them almost by return. I doubled the fee by way of a tip. Why wouldn’t I? For a trailer supporting a title that retails at 99p, it remains a bargain.

Now all I have to do is utilise it as a marketing tool. Any suggestions?

NOTE: prices and requirements have adjusted a little in the four weeks since this gig was actioned, but it remains amazing value.

5 November 2016

Speculative Fiction #99c PROMO!

This weekend – 5-6th November – I’m taking part in my first joint 99p/99c promotion for Science Fiction and Fantasy full-length novels. Torc of Moonlight, Book 1 in the trilogy, is my test title. Should you be interested?

Of course you should. There’s a choice of 180+ titles. For ease they’ve been split into groups: Science Fiction; Dystopian, Apocalyptic & Horror; Fantasy (where Torc of Moonlight sits); SF/Fantasy Romance; Boxed Sets & Collections – yes, for 99p/99c.

The titles are spread across the main five retailers: Amazon, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Smashwords & GooglePlay. Visit the promotion site www.pattyjansen.com/promo and click on your preferred retailer below the welcome image. It’ll jump to the list for that retailer. Clicking on a title takes you to its page where you can read its blurb in full, look at reviews, and purchase. Stock up for winter reading.

The promotion is organised for writers to find new readers, and for readers to sample new writers or sub-genres. Each writer is doing their bit to publicise the event during the weekend. If you could give me a tiny hand I’d appreciate it: just click HERE to go to my Twitter feed and RT the pinned Tweet. Or share this post via the Share links below. Many thanks!

Enjoy your chosen books.

30 October 2016

#Horror Anthology Launch - 666

Back in the dead of last winter, Fantastic Books Publishing put out a call for professional contributions to augment its competition for Horror Fantabbles of exactly 666 words. I thought it an amusing distraction from the work-in-progress. After all, how hard could it be?

Argh!! Writing short is an artform. Writing to an absolute length is a recreation for masochists. Some ideas simply won’t fit, no matter how many thrashing tentacles are hacked off with a rusting blade. As readers of my speculative fiction know, I’m not into gorefests, I much prefer atmospheric creeping dread. By definition, creeping does not flash by at the speed of a lightning bolt.

Yet I refused to be defeated. No wordage constraint would leave me a quivering wreck, though it very nearly did. Not until the fourth idea had been dragged screaming across the keyboard did that frisson truly erupt. The story was submitted, and accepted.

Number Thirteen will take its initial breath on Monday evening – All Hallows Eve, naturally – alongside professional contributions from four other authors as well as the competition winners, the highly commended, and those who made the shortlist. Congratulations to them all.

The paperback and ebook is now live on Amazon, the ebook on the Fantastic Books Store. The launch event - with prizes - will be on Facebook Monday 31 October. Howling begins at 19:06 GMT [6 hours and 66 minutes after noon... evidently]. Costumes and/or cushions to hide behind may be considered optional.
Update: check the FBook link to see a reading, by the light of flickering candles (naturally), of one of the stories.

Be there AND be scared! And if you haven't been scared enough, check out the book trailer to my 99p Horror short Scent of the Boggel-Mann.

29 October 2016

Halloween #BookTrailer for #Horror Short – Live!

I’ve been considering producing a book trailer for some time – see Post 1 & Post 2 – but it became evident very quickly that the necessary skills were simply beyond me. I did, though, learn a lot in the process, which I’ll be blogging about in a couple of weeks. Suffice to say that I turned to an expert, YourBookTrailer.

Timed for Halloween, the trailer is for Horror short, Scent of the Böggel-Mann. It can be viewed in widescreen/fullscreen on Youtube HERE. Enjoy!


Got a taste for Horror? Return tomorrow for a new title announcement – 666.

22 October 2016

Are You Still #Writing?

Chapters of  'Pilgrims of the Pool' in precis
That question has been asked of me three times this week. Considering that in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy I maintain the Celtic belief in the ‘power of three’, and one of my main characters adamantly refuses to believe in coincidence, perhaps it is time to show that the long-overdue final novel, Pilgrims of the Pool, is still breathing.

So here you have it, the proof>>>

This is my ‘chapters completed’ list, each precis fixed with Blu-tack to my office door for an at-a-glance structural flow. That’s why each is topped with a colour, signifying one of the three storyline viewpoints [you can’t say I didn’t mention the trilogy’s thing about threes]. 

I also use it to ensure Time has some sort of wavy leading edge: X has to happen before Y mentions it, sort of thing. The two lonesome chapters at the bottom of column three show where I have written ahead of this.

When the first novel was released, a Goodreads' subscriber soundly lambasted me, and other writers, for not waiting until all novels in a series were finished before releasing them. At the time I was astounded, but now I smile wryly and don’t bite. It merely portrays the gulf that still remains between readers and how a book is written.

Sure, there are writers who can produce a full-length novel in 4-6 weeks, others who can fall out of bed at 5am and have 3,000 words on-screen before waking their children for a cooked breakfast and taking them to school on their way to a stressful day-job. I’m not one of them. I need equilibrium and head-space. When I tried to plough on without those two ingredients I unwittingly took a left turn and subsequently found myself in a universe running at a tangent to that envisaged at the outset of writing the novel.

Does it matter? I didn’t think it did at the point of realisation – there are a lot of good things in this at-a-tangent universe – but as the novel has progressed it has become clear that some of those good things are mere charades, and the gulf between the two universes is widening. Tone has changed; character motivation has fallen down a hole or splintered into contradictions; the mirrored surface of each storyline has dulled so is unable to produce reflections. 

Readers might not even notice in the run of the three books, but I want it not only to be right, but to be the very best I can produce. My reputation depends on it. And there is no worse critic for a writer than Self.

16 October 2016

All Things CON-ventional

At the end of September I attended my first FantasyCon. For any writer or reader of the speculative genres it proved a long weekend of intellectual overload. Catch my post-Con thoughts HERE

Still on a high, I went on to investigate Bridlington ComicCon – a first for both the town and me. Yes, there were comics, boxes and boxes of them on tables and tables, all wrapped in protective plastic and labelled as if rare artefacts, which I’m sure some were. Enough to whet the appetite of any collector. 

It was fascinating to watch illustrators and graphic artists bring to life 3-D worlds on 2-D paper with nothing more than a couple of Sharpies and a bucketful of talent. Cosplayers mingled as if in a surreal marketplace, complete with a patrol of Stormtroopers ex Star Wars telling us all to move along; nothing to see here... when there was plenty to see everywhere I turned.
In for a penny... This weekend it was off to Hull HorrorFest

It wasn’t as busy by the time I arrived, though I didn’t venture upstairs to the movies being run with Q&As from their writer/directors. Doubtless ravenous hordes of decaying figures were lurking in the comforting darkness. If you wanted to feast on the delights of cupcakes topped with gore-oozing eyeballs, or slice up a celebration cake in the shape of a greenish severed forearm, this was definitely the place.

There were zombies, though not as many as I’d expected. I have to admit, though, there is something unsettling about being urged to contribute to a hospital charity by a shuffling once-human medic in a tattered white coat, even when you know it’s all in the make-up and gait.

The biggest surprise was chatting with a member of MadAboutHorror.co.uk in front of its wall of head-masks and discovering that not only is it based close to where I live, but that the majority of its sales aren’t Halloween entertainment but to “collectors”. Er... collecting for what, exactly, neither of us wanted to discuss in depth, but a seed of a story started to fester before I’d even left the booth.

At the turning of the year Hull becomes City of Culture 2017, and I came across a roaming monk carrying a hemp noose (as you do) and proffering leaflets for new venture Dark History Museum of Hull, part museum and part immersive attraction by the sound of it, due to open mid-year. I wish them well.

There were green-screen selfies on offer, make-up artists offering their skills from quaint Dracula-for-children to the air-brushed full-body outfits of The Walking Dead, and people were signing up to be considered as extras in the forthcoming LARP film Xisle.

The event, both events, were an interesting and cheap way to grab a few hours entertainment; but writers and books? A scattering of authors did attend, yet they certainly weren’t being mobbed. I guess it depends on the genre and the Con.

That’s it for me until FantastiCon where I have an author table and am on a panel discussing writing. It won’t be so much graphics and make-up as NERF wars and VR gaming. And actors. And cosplayers. And lots of authors. See you in Hull’s Guildhall late November.

8 October 2016

Mainsteam, Indie, Small Press, or Hybrid #Publishing?

When Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) first opened its doors to the wider world back in 2010, there was an inevitable furore, everything from world domination to trash writing. To self-publish – the ultimate dirty word – was to tar yourself for life in the eyes of mainstream publishing. Self-publish, and no agent or publishing house would touch your other works.

Did authors cower? Of course not. Even mainstream published authors took possession of their backlists, long ignored by their publishers, and their older works found new readers where it had been insisted no, or not enough, new readers existed.

Slowly this industry stance has faded. Agents view hybrid authors – those who have a publishing contract and also independently (self) publish – as writers with drive. Indie authors with drive and whose sales prove they also possess business acumen, have been offered contracts by mainstream publishers who realised such authors brought a supply of willing readers with them. Almost in the same breath Amazon opened a print-publishing arm to do the same. Quietly, almost in the background, small press publishing began a resurgence.

Attending my first FantasyCon recently - see post HERE - I was surprised to learn how mainstream and small press publishers work in easy tandem, with both emerging and big-name authors contributing short and novelette length fiction to the latter to be published in magazines and anthologies.

Is it a good way into print/digital? It can be. Small press publishing offers editing, just as mainstream publishing does. I used such to my advantage early in my career. By marking my submitted fiction to match the published version, I honed my own editing skills. The less editing a publisher needs to do the more likely a work is to be accepted.

With the rise in POD (print-on-demand), anthologies in particular, now abound. Search for variations on “anthology submissions” plus your chosen genre/sub-genre. If you want to gather writing credentials, this could be a good step. After all, it may take up to a year to research, write and polish a novel. It may take less than a week to do the same with a short story. Keep up the momentum and you could be looking at fifty submissions against one for a novel. If they all fall within a specific genre, there's a collection.

Give yourself a head start. Check out: Reading A Writer's Mind: Exploring Short Fiction

1 October 2016

Should Writers Attend Conferences & Conventions?

logo of the BFS 2016 FantasyCon
For a host of reasons it's been a few years since I attended any writers' conferences. Last weekend I broke my duck by attending FantasyCon-by-the-Sea in Scarborough, a full-on three-day event. To say that it was flabbergasting is putting it mildly.

The British Fantasy Society has been going since the 1970s. I was a member a fair few years ago and even gained the enormous kudos of having a short story printed in one of its magazines. This year I was nudged into rejoining by an author acquaintance. After all, I’m working on the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, and in the interim have published a Horror novelette and novella. I’ve even a ‘Fantabble’ coming out in the 666 anthology to be published at the end of this month. With Scarborough a mere hour away how could I resist FantasyCon?

The venue was the enormous hotel The Grand, a Grade II listed building dating from 1867. It is shaped in a ‘V’ to honour Queen Victoria, and is built around the theme of Time – a fascination in itself for a Fantasy or SteamPunk writer, if only I’d had, er, time to explore. It has certainly seen better days, but not even its two ornate ballrooms and various adjoining rooms were enough to swallow the event. The Royal close by, itself dating from 1830, had its own ballroom and coffee shop pressed into action. They were needed.

Ignoring the karaoke, the disco, and the ‘bingo’ which I was told had a huge number of books as prizes, on offer were:
  • 30 panels
  • 16 book launch events
  •   8 Guest of Honour interviews
  • 11 Masterclasses
  •   8 Agent/Editor sessions
  • 33 double-author readings
Knit into that lot The David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy, The FantasyCon Banquet, and The British Fantasy Awards, and there was hardly time to sleep, never mind eat breakfast.

Of particular interest were the dealer tables, mostly of small presses, some recent start-ups like Luna Press, others, such as PS Publishing, with a long and illustrious track record of titles and awards. Big names from both sides of the Atlantic mingled in the bars, and if attendees set their sights on speaking with someone in particular, it was certainly doable. Everyone I met was giving of their time and experience.

So what did I learn?
  • Indie publishing is not frowned upon by agents or publishers
  • Fantasy and Horror, and their sub-genres, have markets outside the mainstream
  • Being accepted in award-winning anthologies and magazines helps gain an author notice
  • Podcasts need to be investigated
  • My breadth of reading is nowhere near wide enough
This latter failing was ably fed by both the dealer tables (I bought nine books) and the goody bag presented upon registration which, as well as a pen and a stick of rock (it even has FantasyCon lettered through its centre, and no, I haven't eaten it yet), contained a hardback doorstopper of a novel, a hardback novella, a paperback novel, numerous chapbooks and fliers, and the FantasyCon brochure, itself a 102 page A4 all-colour magazine of information, introductions to Guests of Honour, and samples of their fiction. This is no way to get my own novel finished.

FantasyCon 2017 will be held in Peterborough 29 Sept - 01 Oct. If you're interested in the Fantasy genres and live in the UK, I suggest you mark your calendar.

24 September 2016

#Heritage Weekend - The Great and the Not So Good

Uncovered late medieval timbers at the Guildhall, Beverley
Earlier this month Heritage Weekend marked the opening of mostly hidden historical gems. This was the first year I was either in the country or I was fit enough to take advantage – and boy, did I take advantage.

Beverley is an ancient market town 20 miles from where I now live, and my first stop was its Guildhall. Although a rather daunting columned facade had been added to the original building in 1832, it was the 14th/15th century uncovered timbers I wanted to see, and the 18th century courtroom, now much used by movie and television companies for historical productions.

18th century courtroom
"Elizabeth" in Workhouse apparel shredding hemp fibres

It was there I came across a woman called “Elizabeth” from 1881. She had sought shelter in the local Workhouse (the old Beverley hospital) when she became unable to do heavy duties in service due to chronic lower back pain and was turned out onto the street. In the Workhouse she had been set to heavy work in the laundry and was refusing to comply. Instead, she had been set the mind-numbing and finger-splitting task of separating hemp strands from old rope for as long as there was light to see by.

One of the ways of funding the Workhouse was to take in old rope from sailing ships and sell the separated hemp strands to rope-makers to be recycled into new rope, hence the British term “money for old rope”. She was very vocal, angry at the situation women like her – she was at pains to tell me she could read and write – could find themselves in due to infirmity. Though she added, rather wistfully, that at least her current batch of rope lengths had not been tarred. Re-enactors like “Elizabeth” make the details of history live, and as a novelist I’m always very grateful for their expertise.

Next it was down the cobbled High Street and into The Monk’s Walk pub. Passing this ale house occasionally on my way to the Minster I’d always accepted from its facade that it was a Georgian establishment. However, it turns out that it is older than the Minster’s current nave. I was eager to join one of the tours to view 13th century wall timbers housing not wattle & daub or even lathe & horsehair, but 14th century over-fired bricks. And no, I hadn’t known that Beverley had been a centre of early brick-making. The only reason the wall survives is because it is supported by a genuine Georgian house next door. It leans (in all directions!) due to it being built before angled side-strutting was introduced to aid stability – see the picture above of the 14/15th century timbers of the uncovered wall in the Guildhall.

C12th timbers and C14th bricks. Note the lean >>>

Back in the day, medieval of course, the front part had been a grain warehouse, probably working with the then monastery at the end of the street, hence its entrance is down a passage, not directly off the cobbles. It’s not the only pub in Beverley laid out this way. The narrow width of its rooms and very low ceiling are testament to the building’s age, and while its dining area has had the original upper flooring removed most of its ceiling beams remain in place, allowing a view to the gable-end and roofing timbers. A mean pint can be supped there, too.

The cleared nave of Beverley Minster
From there it was a very short hop down to Beverley Minster, dating from 721AD when it was set up, probably as a very small, wooden monastic house, by a man who later became known as Saint John of Beverley. The current building, from the 13th century, is one of the largest parish churches in the UK, larger than a third of all its cathedrals.

It is open every day, so why was it included in the Heritage Weekend?  Because its entire nave was to be cleared to give it the air, minus bright paintings, of a true medieval church. None of the Minster’s employees and volunteers I spoke with had ever seen it without either pews or chairs, and it truly was a breath-taking sight. I immediately tagged onto a talk being given about the Minster’s ‘green men’, of which there are lots among the heights, as well as a single "green woman", each pointed out with the aid of a laser-light pen.

So ended Day 1. Day 2, in Hornsea, proved equally eye-opening, though much further back, and further forwards, in history.

The September Heritage Weekend is an annual event up and down the country. See what’s available to view close to you and make a note on your calendar for 2017. You'll find it a fascinating experience.

17 September 2016

Book Trailer Anyone? #2

Following on from my last post HERE, a book trailer there will be. But as can be taken from this post’s non-appearance last weekend, there proved more to producing one than simply making the decision. It’s a job for a clear desk and a clear mind.

Let’s backtrack a bit. The main elements needed in creating a book trailer are:
  • software
  • images
  • text captions
  • music
  • a host for viewing the finished trailer

Going the DIY route does not mean purchasing a top-of-the-range software application. My Windows laptop came bundled with ‘Movie-Maker’; an AppleMac may have ‘iMovie’ lurking on its hard-drive. If you are intending dipping your toes for a test run, these will suffice. A search of the Web will flag other free applications available to download.

Having the software doesn’t get over the time element, not only of learning to use it but learning to use it well. It is one of the reasons I now rarely create my own book covers; I’m better at manipulating words than I am at manipulating images. But if I had the time I’d certainly give it a go.

Even with my tentative try, I learned a lot, and that knowledge colours future decisions. Advice: first, go onto YouTube and watch a few trailers. Make a note of the links to those you particularly like and those you particularly dislike. As I found, there’s a reason for this, so bear with me. Okay, back to your own.

A book trailer needs to be planned – storyboarded – to give an idea of the number of images and/or amount of video, plus the amount of text needed. Start with the basics and work outwards.

The priorities are the cover and the link to buy the book. Make that link short. Use Bitly or Booklinker or something similar, and alter the link to ensure it reflects the book’s title. Viewers won’t be able to click the link; they need to recall it. These two elements encompass your call to action. All else is the tease that leads to this.

The next consideration is the genre, and if appropriate, sub-genre. If the book is Romance, is it Comic Chicklit or Historical Drama? If Crime, is it Cosy or Urban Noir? This relates to the tone of the trailer, both in the types of images and the soundtrack to be chosen.

The text comes next. Even if video clips are used, unless you have the right sort of voice and can act well, written text is less problematic for the DIYer and cheaper if the trailer is produced by a third party. In the first instance take the book’s back-blurb / product description and cut it to the bare bones. List the sentences or phrases 1 to -- then put it aside.

Re-watch the book trailers, paying particular attention to the ones which catch your eye. Is there a common denominator? Watch them again and again; slo-mo the action and write the text in the order it appears. Are full sentences used, or is a sentence split? Into how many words? Did the text give a taste, or the entire story? Did it finish on a question or an denouement? Re-watch the ones you disliked. By now you should be getting an idea of why you disliked them. Moved too fast? Too many words? Music too loud, didn’t fit the genre? Each time you do this you are honing skills for your own.

Back to your own text. Does it stand scrutiny? Mine didn’t, and after another edit I binned the lot and started again with a different approach. Writing copy, and that’s what this is, proves very different to writing fiction.

From this point, for me, it became a two-handed search: for the images to go with the words, and editing the words yet again to go with the images. If you have an account with one of the larger royalty-free image distributors, such as Shutterstock or DepositPhotos which charge for their downloads, now is the time to open a lightbox on site and begin trawling for suitable images to longlist. If you’re looking for total freebies you’ll have less of a choice, but try Pixabay or Morguefile. Read the instructions and fulfil the conditions. Remember, you can’t just use any image you find on the internet. Most are copyrighted, just as your book will be copyright to you. And we hate our work being pirated, don’t we? The bigger distributors use digital robots to sweep the internet for their wares, and they don’t just issue ‘take down’ notices, they issue expensive invoices.

With a longlist of possible images to complement my book’s cover and genre, I turned my attention to background music. Search something like free music clips for videos and a whole new, and *enormous* world opens up. Again, read the instructions and fulfil the conditions: some need crediting via a Creative Commons attribution.

However, it was here that I drew the line. I simply couldn’t afford the time necessary to DIY. So I shall be looking for a third party producer to fulfil the promise – cheaply yet effectively. Then I shall look to create an account with YouTube to host the trailer.

AMENDED: And I did. Read all about it on Book Trailer Anyone? #3 Result!

3 September 2016

Book Trailer Anyone?

Writing a novel is easy. Marketing that novel is akin to climbing the Game of Thrones' Ice Wall using only a couple of toothpicks. 

Okay, so I exaggerate: writing a good novel is damned difficult, but the rest about marketing it still applies.

Late last year, when I was coming out of creative hibernation, I ran a post on using images via Twitter. That I felt I could manage. Now I’m thinking Book Trailers.

Trailers are part of every movie’s marketing plan, and they are ubiquitous on television when promoting drama. I’ve just watched the trailer for series 2 of the BBC’s historical Poldark. Catch it HERE, because it encapsulates all the necessary ingredients:

It’s short. The Poldark trailer is 60 seconds long, but it is live video, out of the financial reach of most indie authors. When dealing in only text and still images give it a bit of leeway, but no longer than 90 seconds in length. Then cut it by 15 seconds.

Keep each text snippet down to a snippet. Viewers will be taking in tone and atmosphere from the still images (and the accompanying music) as well as from the text, and they need time to collate all three into a reaction. Aim for a tease, not an explanation. The initial Poldark voice-over used four snippets of 3 / 4 / 4 / 6 words – notice the lift to a crescendo, in length, meaning and to a flurry of emotionally-charged images. The voice-overs that follow are far longer, but it takes less time to listen than it does to read, so that luxury isn’t available to a text & images trailer.

Still images need to be in keeping with the book’s content. If the cover has a multi-image scope it may well do on its own via close-ups and panning. But keep the speed down; images that flicker past the eye detract from the focus, and the text.

Music. Ever watched part of a movie without its background soundtrack? Unbelievably bland. When choosing music make sure the tone fits the genre, but as with the Poldark trailer, it doesn’t have to match the period or its genre – just its tone.

I’ll talk about the steps of putting one together next time, but for now watch these for inspiration, not produced by the authors, but by their small press publisher, the power behind FantastiCon:

Young Adult – The Boy In Winter’s Grasp by John Scotcher HERE

SF – The Methuselah Strain by Stuart Aken HERE

Comic short story collection – On Shallowed Ground by Walt Pilcher HERE

If you own a good one, or have watched one that spoke to you, please add a link in the Comments section. I could do with all the help I can get!

AMENDED: See how I fared in Post 2 and Post 3 Result!

28 August 2016

#Hull FantastiCon 2016 - I'm there!

Guildhall, Kingston-upon-Hull, 19-20 November 2016
It's good to see FantastiCon back in Hull's city centre; and amid the virtual reality experiences, the gaming (digital and old-school analogue), the Cosplay extravaganza (with prizes), traders, stage shows & special guests, live music, panels and book launches... somewhere in there will be little ol' me cowering in a corner until I'm hauled before a microphone. 

Er... what exactly is a NERF war?? Perhaps I shouldn't ask. It sounds as if I should drag out my old fencing mask and rapier. Now there's analogue for you.

FantastiCon 2015 was voted 'Top Rated UK Convention' by Niche magazine, but the idea started life as a multi-book launch event. Long story, but if you're into SF, particularly the game Elite, you'll know that the late (and very great) Robert Holdstock wrote the novella, The Dark Wheel, which stood beside the original game. When Frontier Developments brought out the game Elite: Dangerous it  decided to resurrect the idea and licenced authors, and publishers, to produce novels set in and around the world of Elite. Fantastic Books Publishing was one of those publishers and it produced a clutch of the novels. But, when you've been SF gaming across continents, a straight canapes & fizz book launch hardly fits the criteria, does it? So three years ago FantastiCon was born and has been almost doubling in size year on year. Hence the need this year for Hull's majestic Guildhall.

Sounds good? Even better, tickets are only £10 a day or £17 for the weekend. What, you live in Penzance or Edinburgh, Canberra or Los Angeles and it's just a wee bit of a stretch to attend for the weekend? You can be a part of it for as little as £1 (artwork, a parody album, digital wallpaper). Funding - and tickets - are being sold via Kickstarter and there's just 7 days to claim perks and privileges (don't forget to check the 'Updates' menu).

Me? I've been given dire warnings of what will happen if I don't complete the third in my Fantasy trilogy in time. Better stop slacking then, or I'll need more than just a fencing mask for protection.

20 August 2016

#amwriting: Life-Work Balance

CCommons image of an act similar to witnessed
How apt that in last week’s POST I should be musing on being chained to my laptop instead of recharging my writer’s batteries by enjoying the delights of the summer months. This week I actually took my own advice. Wave the flags!

I went to a circus – my first – and what a revelation. The Rio Olympics are currently in full swing, being caught occasionally on television. As I mentioned on Facebook at the time, the circus people leave the Olympic gymnasts standing-hanging-contorting, with me torn between open-mouthed admiration for their physical prowess and gasped fear for their safety. The clowns made me laugh, the music was thumping, and I left the small big-top with a grin and a lightness of step knowing that with application anything can be achieved.

Since then I have read two chapters of my work-in-progress for criticism to my initial beta readers, Hornsea Writers, to check I’m on the correct route; coffee’d and laughed with friends; indulged in retail therapy (DIY, not diamonds); completed jobs on the Household To Do list; and each afternoon while soaking up some Vitamin D from a sunlounger I’ve watched dragonflies play, heard frogs croak, breathed in the scents of the garden flowers, AND written between 500-800 words on the work-in-progress.

Okay, it’s not the 1,000 words per day self-set target, but it’s more than I was achieving. I have come to accept, rather than merely acknowledge and ignore, that it is possible to focus too hard. All work and no play did make Jack a dull boy, and my own internal spring to wind down to a rusty creak.

If you find yourself to be in a similar position, take note.

13 August 2016

#amwriting - Or Not.

Not exactly Hornsea's beach, but near enough
Across on the website run by Hornsea Writers’ we muse on our use of August, Taking the Summer Off? Er... 
The question posed to members made me consider my own situation a little deeper than my answer admits. I’m well behind with my work-in-progress, the final book in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, and I have a deadline I doubt I’m going to meet. Fretting about it leads to it becoming a self-fulfilling truth.

Unlike the others in the trilogy, this novel has thrown up structural wobbles that have turned into minor earthquakes. As with most people I’m also running a long normal-life To Do list, items of which have needed to take precedence. Once that occurred all the items started screaming for attention, and in my mind they’ve kept up the sort of raucous chanting more usually heard on a football terrace.

I’m not a minutiae plotter, neither am I a total pantser, but I write atmospheric prose and need to be in the zone so I can get a scene’s tone correct. I write in as near silence as I can manage; distractions and interruptions play havoc with the mood.

It became so bad yesterday my husband came up to tell me to stop fighting it and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts. So armed with an iced cordial and an editing pen, I decamped to a lounger and put the current chapter through its fifth incarnation in as many days. And then wrote the following chapter in longhand in two hours flat.

If you, too, are behind schedule, the old adage can hold true: sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

9 July 2016

Smashwords - July Promotions

July is the summer promotion month for one of my ebook distributors, Smashwords.com, and a number of my titles are offered at discounts from 50% to Free. Don't delay, now is the time to try them. Enjoy!

25% discount: Beneath The Shining Mountains - Historical novel

1830s Northern Plains, among the Apsaroke/Crow people. Moon Hawk yearns for Winter Man, but why would a man with so many lovers want to take a wife? Her wry challenge to his virility captures Winter Man's attention and starts a game of tease and spar that leads to devastating consequences. A story of honour among rival warrior societies, and one woman's determination to wed the man of her dreams. 

25% discount: Hostage of the Heart - Historical novel

1066: the Welsh Marches. Rhodri ap Hywel sweeps down the valley to reclaim stolen lands, taking the Saxon Lady Dena as his battle hostage.

But who is more barbaric: a man who protects his people by the strength of his sword-arm, or Dena’s kin who swear fealty to a canon of lies and refuse to pay her ransom? Dare she place her life in the hands of a warrior-knight shielding dark secrets of his own?

This non-fiction/fiction hybrid shows the detailed thinking behind the writing of ten stories across a range of genres using different modes of delivery. From the initial idea through the story itself, to a commentary explaining the decisions made during the writing, this book offers a unique insight into one writer’s creative process, laying a path to follow and showing the tools to use.

50% discount: Torc of Moonlight - Book 1 - Mythic Fantasy novel

When student Nick becomes obsessed with Alice and her determination to find the shrine of a forgotten Celtic water goddess, he comes to realise that history isn’t as quietly buried beneath his feet as he’d believed - and it always repeats itself. Denying coincidences could get them both killed. A multi-layered story of passion, betrayal and Celtic revenge. 

FREE! Scent of the Böggel-Mann - Horror short
Elaine haunts auctions held in crumbling country mansions, dreaming of a find that will make her and Gary rich. A plain wooden shipping trunk has no key to its iron-banded locks but is far heavier than it should be. What might it contain? 
‘Bricks,’ laughs a suave competitor. 
‘A body,’ retorts Elaine. 
Both are wrong. Both are right. 
Beware the Böggel-Mann.

18 June 2016

Sailing into a Good Read

A link from the Washington Post caught my eye, its article lamenting the demise of libraries on cruise ships. It paraphrased Linda Garrison, travel writer for About.com: “Oftentimes, the bigger the ship, the smaller the library.”. 

'Marco Polo' and 'Regal Princess' berthed at Tallinn, Estonia
Maybe so. Having not sailed on a big cruise ship, there being no desire to be penned into a balcony cabin – sorry stateroom – or share a confined space with over 3,000 other people, I can’t comment. However, of the two ‘comfortable’ size ships I have holidayed on from the UK’s Cruise & Maritime line – Marco Polo 850 passengers; Azores (now Astoria) 550 passengers – I can recommend both for their libraries, though a passenger needs to be in there fast to grab the guidebooks to the next port of call.

I found Marco Polo, especially, was well appointed for its clientele with thick carpeting and comfortable wrap-around chairs and, more importantly, one wall of floor-to-ceiling fiction and another of non-fiction, including some beautifully illustrated coffee table tomes that started a covetous itch in this reader. The ambiance was missing only an open fire, but of course there was a wall of windows with an ocean view so no one was complaining.

By mutual understanding it also ran a Silence regime which I – who should have known better – fell foul of in my exuberance. There may have been no actual tutting, but it was inherent in the sudden turn of heads, wonderfully refreshing when compared to modern dry-side public libraries where it can sometimes be difficult to hear myself think.

Kindle and tablet readers held their own alongside paper readers, seen on deck and in the lounges no matter the time of day, inspiring to a writer considering what else was on offer: lectures, craft workshops, bridge and Scrabble groups, deck and lounge games, show, cabaret and nightclub, quizzes and demonstrations, to say nothing of the port excursions. Despite there being hardly time to sleep there was always time to read, and to discuss a title with a fellow passenger over coffee or lunch.

C&M’s cruises are child-free, their ships small enough to sail from regional UK ports. Perhaps that’s why the experience is so relaxing, a lounger and a good book preferred to a climbing wall or a multi-level shopping experience. And to find your fellow passengers such interesting people.

On my recent twelve day cruise of the Baltic I read two novellas and a novel, and there’s my cue to upload the reviews. And yes, I did donate one of my own titles to the ship’s library. It’s called soft marketing.

15 May 2016

Unaccustomed as I am – Talking About Our Books

On Thursday I’m being interviewed on a local radio station, West Hull FM. Except it is less an interview and more a chat – for an entire hour, including music. The proposed questions have just come through and, of course, top of the list is Tell listeners about your books.

Oh... gosh.

I have nine titles out as ebooks, four of which are also in paperback, these across five genres ranging from Horror to Historical. This doesn’t include the short fiction or non-fiction articles. How to can that into a soundbite?

In truth it’s impossible, but I have to make a stab at it. If you find yourself struggling in similar circumstances, this is how I’ve tackled it.

1) Consider the audience, not just the interviewer. Most of my audience will be within a tight graphical area, so some of my answers need to chime with their local knowledge to help create a rapport. If any know who I am I’ll be highly surprised, so I have to come across as a human being they’d like to share a coffee with.

2) Consider the time of broadcast. Mine is 11am-noon, so most listeners will have the radio on as background to a more important task. I am under no illusion: people will not be hanging on my every word. It’s up to me to intrigue them to listen.

3) Despite the wide-ranging genres, what links the fiction? Being so close, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees, yet there has to be a common denominator, apart from my single brain (cell). Finally I nailed it: in various guises my fiction deals with relationships. Result – I had my over-arcing soundbite.

4) Choose the titles to mention. No listener is going to stay tuned to hear nine book pitches, even less their blurbs. I chose three, crafting them with care and making each longer than the previous so as to lead the listener deeper:
a) an intriguing and easy-to-digest intro which flags a common knowledge
b) a volte-face to catch attention, with touches of a storyline, of what’s at stake, the thinking behind the writing
c) the immediacy of what I’m currently working on, but encompassing a much more complex set of storylines, and finishing on a smile.

Q: Tell listeners about your books

I have nine titles published as ebooks, four of which are also in paperback, straddling five genres ranging from Horror to Historical. What links them is that in various guises my fiction deals with relationships.

My highest selling novel is a Native American Historical, Beneath The Shining Mountains. It has a romance at its heart, but its theme is about taking responsibility for one’s actions. And as we all know, true love never runs smooth.

My latest is a Horror short – Scent of the Böggel-Mann – about a woman who enjoys buying Lots from auctions and re-selling them on Ebay and car boots. Her life unravels when she bids for a locked chest and what it contains puts her husband at risk. Does she disintegrate into tears or fight for her husband’s life? It’s about how strong we truly are, how ruthless can we be, when faced with circumstances out of our norm.

The work-in-progress is the last book of a trilogy of contemporary fantasies – Torc of Moonlight that begin in Hull, move to York, and this final book has a base in Durham. It’s also my most technically complicated, with three storylines in each book, one of which is fantasy, one straight contemporary, and one historical. Hull is Celtic, York is Roman, and Durham is monastic medieval. So you can imagine the research that goes into these. And my biggest problem is that I write slowly so all this takes forever. 

And there you have it, my sectioned soundbite/s. I can go into more detail about any of the novels, or others, later in the interview. I realise I might cover only the first two paragraphs, but it will be a start. Once this groundwork is laid, other questions I can answer on the hoof. Hopefully.

Update: I've done the deed, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. See if I followed my own instructions HERE (60 mins - but you can fiddle).