31 December 2017

New Year's Glass - half full or half empty?

It’s that time of year when we look back to what we have achieved, and forward to what we might achieve… if we put our backs into it, if we don’t pause to worry that we’ve chosen the wrong career path, the wrong genre, the wrong character, the wrong viewpoint, the wrong word. 

I’ve come to realise that whether my glass is half full or half empty, I have a tendency to spend too much time holding it to the light to check instead of relaxing into the moment and luxuriating in the taste.

Most novelists tend to be introspective souls, better at redrafting on paper than leading others enthusiastically into the great unknown, and for us it’s only a matter of degrees to focus on what we’ve failed to achieve on our ever-expanding To Do list rather than what we have achieved.

So let’s take a moment, you and I, to raise a glass to our achievements this year, because each has been a step towards a fruitful and fulfilling 2018.

Wishing all my readers not so much a Happy New Year as a  

Salute your achievements ALL Year!

23 December 2017

All Things Father Christmas, Including Santa and NORAD

I've decided to let this become a tradition, because, as with all good Traditions, it has the right amount of fact while not taking itself too seriously.

The article was written by me for Christmas 2016, but remains an evergreen to raise a smile, and snippets can be retold over a glass of something warming and yet another mince pie.
Wishing all my readers, of this blog and of my books, a wonderful festive season, whatever your beliefs...
Who will be dropping gifts at your hearth? Or will it be you 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 at the solstice 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. 
Not a terrible lot changed when the Roman Legions made a home in these lands. They brought with them Saturnalia, a festival of light accompanied by a good deal of partying under the watchful eye of the god Saturn, often depicted with a scythe. 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 of the time 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 Romans assimiliated or left, and 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 coalesce.

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 happily waved them off 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. Come the Big Day, check on Santa’s progress at http://www.noradsanta.org/
So wherever you are, and whatever spirit of Nature you believe in, be sure to eat, drink and make merry this festive season.
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.

16 December 2017

Christmas Cheesecake and Microphones

Come down to The Wrygarth on Wednesday, they said, we've something going on.

It soon became clear that what was going on was 'The Phil White Show' from Radio Humberside. It's a good job the front car park of our local, The Wrygarth Inn at Great Hatfield, is of a size to back in its travelling studio. I never did ask mine hosts, Ray and Sandra Thompson, if they'd measured it beforehand.

Phil White has been travelling the region for nearly a year doing outside broadcasts from out-of-the-way places and fascinating venues. As he maintains, there's always something of interest to fill his week-day 2.5 hour programme. He should know: by Christmas he'll have reached his 250th.

On a wet and very cold Wednesday, though, he and his two techies were pleased for the comfort of the Inn - if not for a handy manger, for the heat, the coffee, and the superb desserts Ray laid on as tasters. Ray doesn't merely own the pub, he's a highly qualified chef. Believe me, the Christmas Cheesecake was fought over.
Yours Truly in front of the Xmas Shelves

I'd been invited to chat about the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, for sale in the pub's shop, and was intent on discussing the background to Celtic water deities still recalled in the folklore of villages in the area, but it started by being a cabaret spot about Did I come here often and why I was on lime & soda, which rather wrong-footed me. Anyway, if you're desperate you can listen to my Six Minutes Of Fame via the BBC iPlayer HERE (starting at 45mins) which will be archived off-line mid-January. I have a feeling, though, that you'll need to be in the UK to listen as it needs a sign-in.

Of course, no writer worth their salt would pass up the research opportunity of such an occasion, and before the programme went live to air I collared one of the techies and asked nicely for a tour of the bus. 

The rear part is a relaxation area, both for Phil and the crew, and to conduct interviews, and is covered in memorabilia collected during the making of past programmes. The studio section, a mini version of those at Radio Humberside's HQ in Hull, is set just behind the driver's seat. As can be imagined, it is a bank of monitors and trailing wires with a single chair and a mixing desk. An aerial at the rear of the bus picks up the wi-fi signal from Phil's microphone, pushes it through the studio set-up, and via the dish on the roof is bounced off a satellite - currently somewhere above South America - to their HQ in Hull to be broadcast. 

I didn't understand half of it, but found it fascinating to be taken through the process. Will I use it in some future fiction? Never say never - which was why I asked for the tour.

9 December 2017

White Ladies and Green Teeth

The Torc of Moonlight Trilogy launches today! Yay! And just in time to snuggle down over the Christmas break and immerse yourself in 900 pages of time-spanning Gothic Fantasy. It is certainly Gothic, but is it Fantasy?

The characters are clearly fictional, I make no bones about that, but I’m also clear about the settings being real-world places readers can visit. That leaves the un-named deity who, by slow degrees, is determined to resurrect herself, and re-exert her influence over her environment. Now that’s Fantasy, surely? Not quite.

Years ago, when I was a back-packing walker, my preferred area was the North York Moors - a place of sweeping vistas, Iron Age hillforts, Roman marching camps and Industrial Age workings – all returned to Nature. It didn’t take me long to realise there were also an awful lot of springs named Lady Well marked on the Ordnance Survey maps I used.

At first I accepted that the Lady in question was a nod to Mary, mother of Jesus. However, with a bit of research it soon became clear that the Lady, or Ladies - each was a resident of her own water source - were linked strongly with Pagan beliefs. They only become an amalgamated, unnamed female entity when conflated during the early Christian period with that other powerful female icon, the Virgin Mary. Perhaps the surprise is not that such occurred during the demonisation of all that was not Christian, but that hardly any had taken on the saint’s name directly, as happened in less wild places.

We do know the names of some pre-Christian water deities, mostly thanks to early Roman occupation and writings: Coventina on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland; Arnemetia at Buxton Springs in Derbyshire, Senuna at Ashwell in Hertfordshire; and the most famous in the country, Sulis, at Bath in Somerset where she presided over thermal springs prior to the conquest. Even when the invaders tamed the flow of heated waters by building a bath and temple complex in the accepted Roman style, they only partly conflated the known goddess with their own Minerva. To this day she is known as Sulis-Minerva.

Silver votive plaques depicting Senuna excavated at the Ashwell shrine site, now in the British Museum

White Ladies, or a White Lady, pops up all over the country as a folklore memory of a once exalted deity, though they are now often referred to as a ghost. Attending a history day at a nearly village last month, I was intrigued to see mention of a White Lady known to have walked the area of the pond and spring used as the source of drinkable water before the village was connected to modern piped mains.

Ghostly apparitions aren’t always known as the more benign White Lady. In another village just north of where I live a short road leading to its village pond is named Bugg Lane. And the native name for a spirit or ghost? Bugg or boggle. It’s where the term bogey-man comes from, originally one of the fey, the people of the Otherworld, it was better not to annoy.

In this respect, Jenny Greenteeth gets star billing. Those who were of a superstitious leaning considered ‘Jenny’ a witch or fairy name. Jenny Greenteeth was, and sometimes still is, associated with deep, dank waters covered in clinging duckweed, of a decaying being intent on pulling the living to their deaths. Rather than it being a true water hag, might she be the last remnants of a remembered guardian of a fresh water spring polluted by man’s unthinking industry? Rather than being demonised, perhaps Jenny Greenteeth and the other White Ladies should be an icon for our environmentally-conscious time.

The Torc of Moonlight Trilogy is available as a digital boxed set or individual paperbacks:

Kindle  ¦  Kobo  ¦  Nook  ¦  iBooks  ¦  Smashwords

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2 December 2017

Testing Software: Kindle Create

While I was constructing the three books of the Torc of Moonlight trilogy into a digital boxed set, I came across mention of Kindle Create, Amazon KDP’s formatting software. I decided to give it a whirl, but not on a three-book boxed set (!).

Normally I use my ancient version of  Word (2002), but even I can live in the past for only so long and I have recently moved on to LibreOffice5 Writer for its ability to open and work in docx files, and for its associated Calc to read xlsx spreadsheets. So far so good. Would KDP’s dedicated formatting software be a help or a hindrance?

Kindle Create is free software dedicated to producing a file (kdf) which can be uploaded via Amazon’s KDP dashboard. The software, launched earlier this year, is acknowledged to be still in “beta” mode, so it is out in the wild to be tested by real-time users like me. Or you. Have a cursory look at it on YouTube. I found it easier to download – for PC or Mac – as it comes with a 27-page easy-to-understand pdf User Guide, and half of that is dedicated to creating a print book, which I wasn’t interested in doing. There is also a plug-in for Word 2010 and above for PC.

So what did I think? Mmm. If you’ve never uploaded a file for an ebook, or your idea of formatting a Word document is to use Microsoft’s defaults, then I can see this being of huge benefit. If you are used to formatting a Word document for upload as an ebook, then it tends to be counter-intuitive.

For instance, after choosing a Theme – there are several – the software requires that chapter headings to be included in the Table of Contents are identified, whereas normally this is one of the final formatting steps. However, just about at every turn there are embedded information icons giving a one-click explanation, and used in conjunction with the User Guide it is all easy enough. So although it seemed a bit clunky to begin with, the workflow was well thought out. The software also has some interesting touches: for example, a dropped capital at the start of a chapter is available by ticking a box.

As expected, just about every element can be adjusted, from the spacing before and after headings, to paragraph indents, to font sizing and beyond – everything word processing software offers. For me, though, the huge plus was being able to preview the partially completed file on tablet, e-reader and phone, whereas previously this was only available when in the middle of uploading the file on the KDP website.

Will I be using Kindle Create? Mmm. Not at the moment. I’m too attached to my own formatting system direct in my word processing software. Also, Kindle Create didn’t do what I expected: place a guide item to the Table of Contents page for use with my old Kindle-with-keyboard. Yes, I still use it because it is light and remains highly serviceable, but it doesn’t read an NCX Table of Contents the way the newer e-readers and Kindle-for-PC/Mac do. I can live with that. What I can't live with is the inability to download the mobi file for checking on my e-reader partway through the publishing process on the KDP site, which I can when uploading a doc, docx or html file. That's my last line of checking prior to it being available to purchase. And I appreciate it.

25 November 2017

Boxed Set Trilogy now on Pre-Order

After hours of fun last week, the digital boxed set of the three Torc of Moonlight novels is finally available for pre-order - launching 8th December.

The novels concern the resurrection of a Celtic water deity in an area of what is now the North York Moors in England. Ritual deposits in water courses are a given in archaeology, and I use the ultimate - a sword - in Book 1 to kick off the trilogy. Yet ritual deposits are not simply something of far off history; they continue to this day. Have you never tossed coins into water hoping for 'good luck'? 

If you live in the UK and stand still long enough to consider your own surroundings, you'll find it uncannily easy to discover echoes of water worship close by. I live on the coast in East Yorkshire. Within a few miles, in one village there is a Bugg Lane leading to a quintessential village duck pond - Bugg, like Boggle, is an old word for ghost or apparition - while in another village the written history mentions remembered folklore of a White Lady appearing by the local spring-head. 

Is there a medieval Christian church in your vicinity named All Saints or All Souls? Their dedicated feast days are 1st and 2nd November, All Hallows Eve, a time of vigil, being 31st October. Close by there will be, or will have been, a community water source used for autumnal divination rites as well as everyday drinking. Their pre-Christian deities, demonised so long ago, give us modern Halloween. Even the celebrated summer Well Dressings in parts of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, now a tourist industry of its own, cannot truly camouflage their ancient origins.

History is mere inches beneath our feet, and the flow of water is used as the flow of time in these contemporary novels:
Book 1: Torc Of Moonlight - set in Hull with a Celtic resonance
Book 2: The Bull At The Gate - set in York with a Roman resonance
Book 3: Pilgrims Of The Pool - set in Durham with a Mediaeval resonance

Read more about the individual novels here, or on the trilogy's retailer pages:

Kindle  ¦  iBooks  ¦  Nook  ¦  Kobo  ¦  All formats

18 November 2017

Formatting the Trilogy into a Digital Box Set

Three novels, formatted to (almost) perfection, to be amalgamated into a single file for a trilogy box set. How problematic can it be?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. And it’s down to technology, or the incremental improvements in technology. During the period it has taken to write and launch the individual novels into the digital world I have changed computers twice, and the version of Word probably three times. Who keeps count?

The first flag came when I emailed the file destined for Amazon to my Kindle for a check. My shortened internal Table of Contents worked fine, but the bookmark did not connect with the Kindle’s Go To button to allow readers to link to it. Mmm.

Most of my titles are available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and Nook. However, as I don’t have a Mac computer and I don’t live in the USA, I use a distributor to intercede on my behalf for the last three. I use Smashwords. There are others.

So I altered the file slightly and uploaded to Smashwords. There were no autovetter flags and the mobi format transferred to my Kindle worked first time. Brilliant! Except within hours I’d had an email from Smashwords saying the ePub’s NCX list was not corresponding to the internal Table of Contents. Cue loud groan from me. Which was when I sat back to consider why I was having problems when I don’t usually.

Ah, changes in technology were inputting unseen code, probably countermanding one another. I could see only one option: Nuke the file.

The term comes from Smashwords’ own Style Guide – How to Format Your Ebook. No matter which digital retailer is used this free download is both extensive and written in the language a non-techy can understand.

The ‘nuclear’ option, when all tweaking fails or, as in my case, I’ve no idea what to tweak, is a fail-safe method of clearing all unseen code. The Word file is copied and pasted into Notebook, and from Notebook it is copied and pasted into a new, fresh, Word document. Then the formatting is re-applied via Styles. Say it quick and it doesn’t sound much, but for a trilogy it is time-consuming, to say the least.

And this is where I’m at. Having the old file and the new file side by side for guidance, all the indents, centres, emboldens, and page breaks have been reinstated, and I am halfway through reinstating the 927 instances of italicised text. Word is good, though. On the old file Enter italics into Search and Replace, tick Highlight, hit Find All, and it does just that, allowing me to slide through the pages.

Note to self for the next novel: Use fewer italics.

11 November 2017

The Big Christmas Push

You can't have missed it. Every shop on the High Street has a Christmas display. Publishers are launching their titles for Christmas, or should I say, for Christmas presents, and Indie authors are no different. Well, a little different. Here they are offering a short, an extract, or a full novel, either free or for 99p / 99c. It's their shop window, a lead into each author's catalogue.

First up, The Prolific Reader Everything Fantasy, from epic to urban to humour to historical. Although the promotion is being run in conjunction with InstaFreebie for ease, the landing page will still be live after 10th November, and links to other genres are offered in the column alongside.

Second up, is Fall Gods & Goddesses of the Past You guessed it, Old Time religions feature heavily here, from Egypt to China, from Viking Asgard to Celtic water spirits, immerse yourself. Downloads via Instafreebie.

Running until 15th is the SFF Ebookaroo offering over 80 titles in all sub-genres of speculative fiction. You'll even find a collection of my horror shorts in this one. Downloads via Instafreebie.

And finally, only because it isn't supposed to be live yet - hint: most of them are already live, go check - is a no-sign-up Romantic Speculative Fiction promotion at 99c / 99p. There are 21 titles including a box set and an anthology of short stories whose authors have donated their profits to Bookbus, a charity combating illiteracy. And what better Christmas gift than that?

All in all, enough to keep you going well into the New Year. But do return next weekend, when I should have news of my own [cue mysterious music...].

4 November 2017

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Gunpowder Conspirators - from a print published after the discovery
England has never really gone in for anarchy and revolution to the extent of some other countries, but it has had its near misses. The one still recalled, and celebrated as "Bonfire Night" or "Guy Fawkes Night", is the attempt in 1605.

The plan was to destroy the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament, thus murdering the leading members of the English aristocracy and assassinating King James I and his family. This was to be expedited by exploding 36 barrels of gunpowder secreted in the building’s undercroft. Guy Fawkes, known at Guido Fawkes or by the alias John Johnson, was the man found waiting to light the fuse, though certainly he was not one of the ringleaders.

Revolution tends to brew for a long time. The Protestant Reformation had been gathering pace in Europe for nearly a 100 years. In England, in a long-running spat with the Catholic Church in Rome, in 1526 King Henry VIII declared the country would abide with the newly-created Protestant Church of England, himself at its head. After his death, his daughter Queen Mary I briefly returned the country to the sort of Catholicism that burnt 300 churchmen at the stake as heretics. Henry’s second daughter, Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, had to cope with the fallout, both at home and abroad. These included several attempts on her life instigated by her excommunication by the Pope, and culminated in the infamous Armada sent by Spain in 1588 to invade, conquer, and return England to Catholicism. State sponsored terrorism is nothing new.

In this light, when the heir-less Elizabeth died in 1603, and the throne was passed to Protestant King James I of England and VI of Scotland, there is little wonder that the country’s burgeoning secret service was keeping an eye on dissenters at home and fomenters abroad. Mirroring today, it knew something was afoot, but it took a letter warning a Catholic member of the aristocracy not to attend the opening of Parliament to pull the threads together. Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed, and the murder-intent dissenters either died in the fight to apprehend them, or, like Fawkes, were taken prisoner, tried, found guilty of treason, and hanged, drawn and quartered on 31 January 1606. Subsequently, 5th November was proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving ‘for the joyful deliverance’ by an Act of Parliament which was not repealed until 1859.

Currently, the BBC is running a dramatisation mini-series, Gunpowder, which evokes well the period, the animosities and the obsessions. If you are reading in the USA, keep an eye on the schedules for BBC America.

The way the British, at least the English, celebrate Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night, has changed in my lifetime. When I was a child it was taken very seriously by local children. Bonfire fuel was collected during the preceding week, a ‘guy’ was constructed from old trousers and a shirt stuffed with newspapers and given a hat, to be taken door to door on a bogey, a form of home-made go-cart, to elicit funds for fireworks: Penny for the Guy! 

4th November was Mischief Night, when the same youths would lift gates from hinges of households they deemed hadn’t coughed up sufficiently, doors would be knocked on and an escape made before the owners answered, and so on, though few would have equated such annoying pranks with the mischief the Gunpowder conspirators enacted four centuries before. 

The excitement of a sparkler

During the evening of 5th November most family gardens held a small bonfire party, with hand-held sparklers and a box of fireworks, and everyone watched the neighbours’ rockets light the sky as they munched on potatoes baked in the embers of their own fire, alongside treats such as Yorkshire parkin and gingerbread.

It is interesting to note - see my last blogpost - that the Celtic end-of-year festival, Samhain, would still be in evidence in the 17th century, when breeding cattle saved from the autumn slaughter were driven through the dark smoke of bone-fires to help cleanse them of parasites. Perhaps the government had more than one reason to create an Act of Parliament setting the 5th November celebration among the statutes.

The need for Health & Safety regulations!

5th November celebrations are now a faint echo of what they once were. Thanks to the rise of Health & Safety regulations, and the sheer cost of fireworks, most people attend organised firework displays where political correctness frowns on an effigy being burned on the bonfire – if there is a bonfire. And perhaps that is as it should be. 

Mischief Night, too, is a near-forgotten tradition, or more likely merged into the Americanised version of Halloween now so prominent, complete with that foreign fruit, the pumpkin. What would the Conspirators have made of that?

Remember! Remember!
The 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Note: The rhyme is part of a 19th century folk verse.
Photographs are courtesy of Creative Commons CC0 Licenses

28 October 2017

31st October is Halloween. Er, Not Exactly

This year, Halloween in its purest form probably falls on 4th November so as to align with the full moon, but then we should, perhaps, call it Samhain. But don’t let that distract you from your ‘trick or treating’.

Though if you are in the UK you really should be bobbing for apples, and if you are in Mexico perhaps you should be honouring recently deceased family members in Día de Muertos, probably because the government tells you to. It certainly wasn’t a country-wide observance back in the 19th century. Only the indigenous peoples of southern Mexico had a similar festival, except that was held at the start of summer.

This is the problem with Halloween – the vigil of All Hallows Eve – marked for the Feast of All Saints the day after, and the day after that, the Feast of All Souls. It has always been a movable feast. Back in the day, when Christianity was intent on becoming the dominant religious force, the Church moved or invented festivals to coincide with deeply-ingrained pagan observances, most of which were Nature-aligned. Think Christmas and Easter.

For Celtic peoples, Samhain celebrated the agricultural year’s end during which divinations were undertaken to glimpse the impending fortune of the people. How many of those divinations were water-based no one truly knows – but it seems a very high percentage going by the number of extant medieval stone churches named All Saints, or All Saints & All Souls, doubtless built on the foundations of previous Saxon churches often built of wood but carrying the same dedication.

If you are living in the UK you’ll have one within a reasonable distance. A bit of detection should locate the water source close by. Yes, that quaint hand-pump wasn’t always attached to a spring source. Or how about that picturesque brook which never runs dry even during the driest of summers? 
Like all PR, repeat the message often enough, ridicule, or in this case demonise, past beliefs, and at first the ‘folklore’ is questioned; eventually it is forgotten. When it is resurrected – a sort of neo-Samhain – 'trick or treating' is what you get. Especially when there’s a good helping of PR behind it to make cash registers ring.

Ever thrown coins into a “wishing well”? Who are you expecting to respond?

For a time-spanning fictional insight, check out the Torc of Moonlight trilogy. Book 1 is currently on offer. (Think PR.)

21 October 2017

Filling the Creative Well with Unexpected Poignancy

Replica of Amy Johnson's Gypsy Moth in Paragon Station
Writers need their creative wells replenishing now and again, actually a lot more than we allow. As I am between novels now is the time to smell the flowers. Or in this case, view the Art.

I was born in Kingston upon Hull and it remains my nearest city. This year good ol’ ’ull carries resplendent the title ‘UK City of Culture’ and, despite the inherent pessimism of its population, what a year it has become.

The 3,000 orange barriers littering the city centre during renovations in the run-up to the New Year, which became an artwork in their own right after the local paper ran a tongue-in-cheek competition for readers to guess how many were in use, soon made way for Blade, the first hand-made turbine blade coming off production at a nearby green energy site. Viewing these blades turning at a distance is one thing; it’s quite another to see one arcing across Queen Victoria Square so double-decker buses could travel beneath one end while pedestrians could touch the other. With that and the light show portraying Hull’s 20th century history across its iconic buildings, 'Culture' soon became a word of optimism to be burnished by everyone.

Apart from the Freedom Festival, part of which was held in Queen’s Gardens on the weekend I attended FantastiCon, I’ve not attended many of the myriad events which have been on offer over the intervening months. So when the shortlisted artworks for The Turner Prize took over several rooms at Feren’s Art Gallery at the same time the Maritime Museum opposite hosted a clutch of the actual JMW Turner’s paintings in Turner and the Whale, a date was set for a visit.

Vote with your feet, the saying goes. We did, right down to exhaustion setting in. The Turner Prize is vaunted, or derided, for being very left field, but the exhibits of the four artists chosen proved thought-provoking. Turner’s paintings of the whaling industry of his day were no romantic renditions, either, despite his impressionistic use of colour. Alongside scrimshaw work, and the cold, hard colours of the Arctic in paintings by working mariners, it carried the same thoughtful pull at my subconscious. We finished the triad at the nearby shopping centre to view The Elephant in the Room, a life-size Bowhead whale suspended from the roof in a confetti of 12,000 fragments of paper. Beneath it, to my surprise, was an exhibition of the most fantastic travel photographs taken by Under 16s.

'A Hall For Hull', outside Hull Minster in Trinity Square
From there it was hot-foot to Holy Trinity Church, now Hull Minster, to view the A Hall For Hull installation - aka ‘the bird feeders’ - though lining up the six metre tall metal cylinders to create the three visual effects proved harder than time allowed.

Then it was down to the Central Library to point and smile over The Tool Appreciation Society, an exhibition of 20th century hand tools, most of which my family seems to be storing in our garage, even down to the ubiquitous St Bruno baccy tin used by men of earlier generations to store bits and pieces. Somehow I can’t see modern electric tools being handed down with the same love and care.
'Fly to Freedom' mosaic birds, and the "glass cases"

It was a short walk to Paragon Railway Station to view both Fly to Freedom, locally made mosaic birds soaring across the walls, and The Train Track and the Basket, images on the arched windows, both of which remember the two million people who, between 1848 and 1914, arrived in Hull by ship and left by rail to continue their journeys to ‘the promised land’ - mostly America via Liverpool. This includes ancestors of my father – who arrived by ship but, for reasons unknown, never left the city.

While I was taking photographs of these exhibits that my eye was drawn to the many varnished glass cases fastened at eye level to the walls. What did they commemorate? Ah, the many who left by train for World War 1 and never returned. And there he was, my grandfather, JA Kammerer, Private, Middlesex Regiment.

There are 21 cases fastened to the entrance walls between the windows of Paragon Station. Each case carries 4 lists; each list 52 names. That’s 4,368 named people who left Hull by train and never returned. My grandfather among them.

Art is never just art. Plaques are never just plaques. I should take time to stand and stare more often.
We all should.

Note: the full-size replica of the Gypsy Moth flown by local woman Amy Johnson in her record-breaking 19-day flight from London to Darwin, Australia, in 1930, and the plaques commemorating those who left Paragon Station for WW1 and did not return, were created by inmates of Hull Prison.

7 October 2017

FantasyCon 2017: Thoughts On The Peterborough Gig

The "Women in Horror" panel
Last weekend I was missing from the blog because I was in Peterborough attending the three-day extravaganza that is FantasyCon - a writer's and reader's delight of panels, readings and book launches. And the odd bit of imbibing at the bar. It's not a place to see a Star Trek outfit being paraded, though there were an awful lot of black t-shirts. It is a place where the written and spoken word is ALL.

Fantasy is one of those huge umbrella terms which covers everything from pre-teen cuddly yomps, through Historical and Epic Fantasy, to Slipstream and Myths, to Dystopia, Grimdark, and Horror, and it includes poetry.

The choice was amazing: 38 panels and 12 reading 'hours' on the Saturday alone. Finding time to eat became a tad problematic. The Women in Horror panel was a bit of an eye-opener and I may well stretch my limbs a bit more in that direction now the Torc of Moonlight trilogy is completed. Likewise, Small Press Publishing and Writing for Audio brought a pause for thought and a few websites to investigate.
[Women in Horror photo, LtoR: Laura Mauro, ??, Nancy KilPatrick (Canadian Guest of Honour), Tracy Fahey, and Theresa Derwin holding "friend"]

My own reading, on the Saturday at noon with three others under the banner of Contemporary Fantasy, went well enough, if to a small audience. But at least we had one. There was such a choice not every reading did. But that's the luck of the draw. I would have loved to have attended the Horror reading at 10pm Friday, but alas the alarm going off at 4.45am for the train south took its toll. I should drink stronger coffee.

The Book Haul
Many thanks to everyone who attended and offered their time and expertise. Especially to all the red-jacket volunteers who gave up much of their own time to keep everyone heading in the right direction, and to Peter Flannery, author of Battle Mage, who sponsored the goody bags. I certainly over-filled mine with purchases, freebies and swops, enough reading material to keep me going for months.

Now there's just the teeny problem of lack of bookcase space.

FantasyCon 2018 will be held in Chester.

24 September 2017

Writing Fiction: Seeing Ideas

So this person comes up and says, I have an idea for you which will make a wonderful book...

I doubt it. Or maybe it could, but not via my hand. Why? Because I haven’t seen it. 

I don’t mean as in photographically seen. I mean in the sense of the imaginary lines that join the dots of stars in the sky to create named constellations: Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Andromeda, Ursa Major.

The lines don’t exist; the stars aren’t close together, they just look that way from where we’re standing. That’s if you’re standing with me in the northern hemisphere. And some fella who may have been Greek, or an Arab, or... decided to see them that way, and everyone after him shrugged and went along with his vision. Call him a fiction writer, then. Of sorts.

So what’s this got to do with an image of a British parish church? I was in Louth a couple of days ago visiting friends and we explored Saint James’ Church with the help of a volunteer. Not only is it a bit grand for a parish church, it is has the tallest steeple of any parish church  in the country.


It also has this – one of two remaining medieval wooden angels which stood high in the roof and now adorn a wall in an old chantry chapel once funded by one of the town’s medieval guilds.

                                                       It also has this blue plaque.


Do you see the lines?

If you do, great. But I bet they aren’t the same lines I see.

Food for thought. In fact there's enough meals for a starry night of what-ifs for a writer of fiction.

17 September 2017

Thoughts on Book Reviews

When I next (next?) launch a novel it will not be during the summer months. Sales are slow, and reviews even slower. Authors shouldn't care about reader reviews -  in fact I know authors who refuse to check theirs - but there is no denying that it is often the only feedback we authors receive. There is also no denying that reviews offer a peg from which to hang a bit of promotion.

And then amid the drought a little rain does gently fall. Into my Inbox came the following. Why not on a retailer site? This reader doesn't do reviews but use what you like. So I am. It is so cheering when a reader not only "gets it" but gets it enough to say so.

"...I couldn’t put it down! The plots that parallel Nick’s are sharply focused, and like all such “sub” plots the potential for stand free novels is obvious. What is also obvious is your deft, consistent (across the whole trilogy) ability to use “slight” material which generates a powerful presence for your reader: from a long list I’ll just choose material associated with medieval Ernald—Eco’s Name of the Rose Brother William of Baskerville meets Chaucer’s Friar!— it’s not just those blisters… the pairing him with the more world-weary reeve brings out the subtle difference in the character; we believe in him; he believes in the potential for good in his fellow human beings: his integrity is sustained. A glance, a phrase, a touch, all go towards his presence as a character, building by increments gradually. Understatement can often be more compellingly authentic than pages of description.
      I could never see Nick returning to the south… his home was always with Alice. I liked how you made the echo from The Bull At The Gate: the desecration of the Temple of Luna by the Christ men is paralleled by the desecration of the Pool by the opportunistic stealing of the water, and the fracking operation. And how fitting that in its new status the Pool will have a symbolic Keeper.
      The trilogy works powerfully at so many levels, all bound up with history’s continuity. So, thank you for the trilogy; I enjoyed it very much, and, of course, look forward to the next..."


So yes, it gladdens my heart that the 'craft' has been noticed and appreciated for what it offered to the story. Most readers who do make the effort to leave a review concentrate on summarising the blurb and saying whether or not they enjoyed the read. To an extent, I've been guilty of this myself, though I do try to offer more. Writing a review for a novel, or a non-fiction book, is akin to viewing a piece of embroidery from a distance and giving a yea or nay opinion. Perhaps we should all step a little closer to appreciate the stitching and the subtlety of the colour combinations.

Now then, about that next....

9 September 2017

Interview and SciFi+Fantasy Giveaway Thoughts

The Torc of Moonlight trilogy is complete, Hull's FantastiCon is over, and I'm gearing up for the British Fantasy Society's annual FantasyCon in Peterborough at the end of the month. As part of my RandR in between I'm slowly turfing out the house and hacking back the garden, but the digital promotion continues, nonethless.

I'm interviewed on the Fantasy & Magic website with the questions focusing on why I chose to write the trilogy, and Fantasy in particular, and the evergreens of who my influencers were. It's never that simple, of course. I consider all Fiction to the Fantasy; to me, some elements of storytelling are just more fantastic than others.

Also on-going is the promotional side of things. InstaFreebie has recently offered direct hosting facilities for self-gathered groups. One finishes tomorrow [see HERE]...

Link: https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/shUSLwOigkJnTxPjqUbc

...and the other carries on until the end of the month [see HERE]

Authors tend to work in the dark with most giveaways, or at least the dark shadow, regarding the number of ebooks claimed. But with the new InstaFreebie group giveaways authors have access to a dashboard making it easy to see how many ebooks are claimed, both of their own and of the other authors in the giveaway. As I key in this post late Friday afternoon, 25 titles have been claimed more than 50 times; only two have had less than 10 claimed, and my 25% partial of Torc of Moonlight is one of them. Mmm... perhaps I need to rethink my 'partial' strategy. As far as I can see, mine is the only partial in the group.

In this context, it will be interesting to see how my Beneath The Shining Mountains 10% KU sample does in the Romance Samples To Whet your Appetite! giveaway lined up from 10-30th September. Though I'm not entirely sure what the organiser's somewhat chilly snow scene brings to the group's landing page. Especially with no text.

At the moment, though, all this promotion via giveaways is a toe-in-the-water testing for me. We shall see what we shall see.

4 September 2017

Exoskeletons and High-Wire Acts

Exoskeletons and high-wire acts?? It must be Hull's FantastiCon! And it was, 2-3rd September. It was also Hull's Freedom Festival. This year Hull is UK City of Culture and the city is making the most of it in the biggest way possible.

Even the weather came out to play, making a good show of the floral displays in Queen's Gardens (originally a water-filled dock; those are the original dock offices behind, now the Maritime Museum), and keeping the thousands of visitors in comfort while the Amazing Bullzini Family awed everyone with their gravity-defying comedy drama eight metres in the air. My photo shows one of their lesser (!) worrying escapades. I couldn't concentrate on taking photos when the two characters balanced on a chair; I was watching through squinted eyes.

FantastiCon was held in the Guildhall just round the corner, and was no less awe-inspiring. I now understand what a NERF war is, thanks to the ubiquitous ten-year old who explained how it worked while reloading the magazine of a plastic automatic weapon. Put on safety glasses. Really? And then I discovered why. But it was great fun. Note Hubby, well-armoured behind netting, attempting to claim on my life insurance. Yes, he enjoyed it, too. And yes, that is "ammunition" all over the floor, not all ours, I hasten to add.

FantastiCon is a doing Con, and lots of people had brought rigs, including Vesaro (above). How many buttons and switches and...?? Considering spectators come from miles around to watch me reverse-park my car, needless to say I just stood and watched. I did, though, have a go on the virtual reality rigs - my first time - and I can now understand the excitement over those. However, the magnets weren't all digital.

Yes, big blokes hunched intensely over role-playing games with dice and pencil. And it wasn't the only table. There was a lot of interest in the various offerings.

We also had a long chat with Chris Atkin, drone operator, sorry pilot, from Icarus Aerial Film & Photography, whose miniscule craft was producing high-definition images as it zipped in and around the various rooms - all good research material for an author.

As was fascinating Dr Matt Dickinson and his Comic Book Science mini-lectures, hence the "exoskeletons" mentioned at the top of this post. So... you want to know if Iron Man's feats are feasible? Er... yes, and Dr Matt explained why.

He'd also brought along a short tentacle, a la Dr Otto Octavius, which he moved from across the room by wearing that very small headset and his own alpha/beta brainwaves. No, I do not kid you. He had us all entranced. And then he put on a more sophisticated cuff and made Iron Man's hand clench and unclench. 

Want to know something really amazing? Neither items, nor the headset, cost more than £20 each. The headset came from Amazon - where else would you go for an alpha/beta brainwave headset?? - and all the components for both the hand and the tentacle were 3-D printed, and such printers can be picked up from... you're ahead of me.

Best of all? Despite it being Comic Book Science at entry level for schools - if you're a teacher get on his website for the free code - ultimately it is all research for super-prosthetics to help the disabled. Awesome, yes? Well, that's FantastiCon for you in a nutshell.

Oh, I also sold some books. But who cares about that?

26 August 2017

Moving #Historicals to #KindleUnlimited:

Now the paperback of Pilgrims Of The Pool has been out a week, and before I make decisions on my next writing project, I'm turning my attention to housekeeping, both of the physical type in the space I refer to as my office and my digital backlist.

While I've been concentrating on Contemporary Fantasy, and to some extent my shorter Chillers, I've allowed my two Historicals to moulder somewhat unloved. Both Hostage of the Heart and Beneath The Shining Mountains were originally listed by mainstream publishers and became my digital test pieces when their rights reverted. They have served me well, but they could do being highlighted to a fresh audience. I like the covers, and there's nothing wrong with the content. They just need a bit of a push.

So, for the first time with any title, I've removed both from multiple distributors and given exclusivity to Amazon for 90 days minimum. They have entered the realm of page reads within Kindle Unlimited.

To leave them there without food or water will be to see them fade into more obscurity. So I've started a regime of promotion. I'm using small steps, starting with Twitter and FBook postings, followed by author cross promotions, before considering paid adverts probably with AMS initially. The trick is to discover what works to raise their visibility. As happens with these things, doubtless it will prove to be a mix of all three.

I'll keep you posted.

19 August 2017

Paperback Launch: Pilgrims Of The Pool

The paperback has launched - all 335 pages of it! Yesss!!

I'm not one for having big, or even small, Facebook launch parties. A relaxed toast-the-book with family, friends, and fellow writers is more my style - usually because I am so shattered I'm meeting myself coming back. But I do have news:

The Book Depository, despite not having the novel's cover up on its site yet, it is not only price-matching Amazon but is offering FREE DELIVERY WORLDWIDE. Cripes! Get it while you can. And it is doing the same with all my titles. See HERE for my authorpage, and HERE for Pilgrims Of The Pool.

In the UK perhaps the quickest will be via Amazon.co.uk.
North America is well-served for distribution, with both Amazon.com  and Amazon.ca, and also Barnes and Noble. Some or all may offer free shipping to its country base, so please check before ordering.

The only person missing a copy is me! I am left clutching the proof while my order arrives, some time this coming week. Then I shall be cracking a bottle of something sparkling. Do join me if you can - LOL!

12 August 2017

Targeted Marketing

Free Multi-Genre Choices: https://melanietomlin.com/tpr-freebies/

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m experimenting with cross-promotion marketing which targets a specific readership: those who particularly enjoy Speculative Fiction. Does it work? Or perhaps the better question is, Does it work for me and the Torc of Moonlight trilogy?

It is certainly working better than my lone voice in the void, but I’m finding that even SpecFic readers are picky. They may be voracious consumers, but they like what they like. As a reader, perhaps I’m odd; I read all sorts of genres and sub-genres.

Freebies for August: http://abam.info/instafreebie/

So after four months, in which I’ve drawn well over 1k new subscribers to my Newsletter, I’m changing my focus slightly and revving up the romance angle. That’s the beauty – or the problem – with writing cross-genre. However, I know from past experience that Romance readers, specifically readers of Paranormal Romance (PNR) are even more picky than SpecFic readers. It will be interesting to compare results.

August New Releases on Kindle: http://sffbookbonanza.com/newreleases/

See you on the other side, if not exactly in another four months!