Launch Day!

Today is The Day!

Both paperback and e-book versions are available on all Amazon sites (and are even linked together, after a bit of fighting with dragons), and the ebook is trickling out onto the wider distribution sites – currently available on Kobo and Indigo but not a couple of the others.

We are GO!

There is so much you could do to help make the launch successful:

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An interview

When did you first start writing?
Well, I’ve always been a story teller, as far back as I can remember. Poetry has, from time to time, forced its way out through me too. But I first started writing my historical fiction as a result of my archaeology hobby. You see, I’d found this previously undiscovered Priory, which led me into relearning Latin, so I could read charters and documents written at the end of the 12th century, and figure out what was going on. Then this man called Wimer kept popping up, and his life-story became so compelling that I had to put it in book form. The Henry stories started when I was letting Wimer incubate between edits – I had a full-scale writing habit by then, and a void!
What are you working on next?
I’m working on the Wimer successor novel at the moment, where Wimer’s adopted son Jean takes on the might of the 13th Century establishment, to stop them killing the Priory that Wimer built. He also discovers along the way that he wasn’t meant for a vow of celibacy…
Then Henry is still demanding attention too, with the third volume of 3 stories due out. I shall try and save the next batch of stories until I’ve finished Jean’s novel, but Henry can be very insistent!
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love the first draft, and the first edit, best. The first draft, because that’s when you find out what’s really going on in the story, and how far out your plot was – in my current story, I had a whole extra character elbow her way in! Then when the raw material is complete on the page, the first edit allows you to see how much better it could be, and to start shaping it into something finer.
What is your writing process?
I’m still developing my writing process. It is, of course, informed by a half-century of reading anything I could lay my hands on. I was surprised how classical a structure Wimer had, because I’d completely written that by the seat of my pants; Jean has been plotted, sort-of by the Snowflake method. I’m enjoying the challenge of that; I think I may continue to use that method for subsequent books as I’m learning this writing craft, because it gives me rules that support me whilst I’m learning and practicing nuance.
I use both copy and content editors, after I’ve had 4 or 5 passes through it myself!
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
When I’m not writing, I’m either working (as a business improvement consultant, what a contrast to my other loves!), or doing something archaeological or historical. I’m working on a metal-detector survey of an 1,000 acre estate in Suffolk, plotting finds on a map so the data can be cut by time, by material, or by use; a fascinating project. You wouldn’t believe how much time I invest in finding stuff, washing it, reporting it to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, plotting it, doing show-and-tells to my landowners, researching finds… at least I’ve discovered that I can dictate into a little USB recorder that I sling round my neck, so I can write at the same time!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I can remember being absolutely furious with my mother, because she tried to shorten a bed-time story. I wasn’t having any of that! I wanted full measure in my stories! I must have been around 2.
What do your fans mean to you?
My Henry fans are very opinionated, and I love them 😀 There’s nothing like a 7 year old describing in detail what he wants to read about next, to make writing worthwhile! That is, incidentally, another reason to self-publish – feeding that direct demand. If I went trad, that 7yo would be a different person by the time his request was published.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I got fed up with agent after agent telling me my historical novels were good, but they’d just published something mediaeval… or it didn’t quite fit their list… or-or-or. If I knew what I was in for, I might have continued to send out query letters – the marketing is a real learning curve! But the Henry stories – written for around the 6-9 age range – are simple to produce, and I can get them into peoples’ hands very quickly and cheaply.
How do you approach cover design?
I am very lucky in that my elder daughter is a fantastic and professional artist, and is happy (for a suitable bribe) to do all my Henry covers.
I used a service called 99designs.co.uk for the Sheriff and Priest cover. I was very impressed indeed with the quality and range of covers on offer, and I’ll likely use the service again. The end result feels well worth the price paid.
Who are your support people?
I’ve already mentioned that my eldest daughter does my artwork, but my youngest daughter is crucial to Henry’s success too – she’s my editor in chief. I read each story out to her, and she somehow holds it in her head as a whole, and suggests tweaks, or different word choices – she’s good!
I also have a circle of friends who are my cheering section, and who are my alpha readers for the historical novels. These are people who are good enough friends to say “this bit stinks”!
Describe your desk
My desk is archaeological in nature – I think it’s pale wood, but I’m not sure, there’s too much stuff piled on it! That may be why I generally write in the lounge, on my laptop, to my favourite music; or on one of the notebooks I have in every handbag and pocket.
Who are your favorite authors?
I am in awe of authors like Hilary Mantel, Sherri Tepper, and Lois McMaster Bujold, all of whom are writing way above a level I can achieve at the moment. I’m trying to read their books to figure out how they’re doing it, but it’s taking a long time, because I keep getting sucked in!

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Distant Echoes anthology

I’m very proud to have a story in here 🙂 There’s some fabulous tales.

Mine is about a Bronze Age girl on the threshold of womanhood whose world is ripped apart by an invading force. What future is there for someone who is only half-marked as a warrior?

“Gripping and thought-provoking stories of people, places and times past by writers from the Historical Novel Society.

A new anthology of nineteen award-winning and acclaimed historical fiction short stories.

Distant Echoes brings you vivid voices from the past. This haunting anthology explores love and death, family and war. From the chilling consequences of civil and world war, to the poignant fallout from more personal battles, these stories will stay with you long after the last page.”

Pre-order now via the link below. Publication is on Monday 25th September.

 

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Review – WHERE THE RIVER PARTS

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.
Radhika Swarup, Sandstone Press, 2016, £8.99, pb, 307pp, 9781910124765

It’s 1947. Teenagers Asha and her friend Nargis are oblivious to the upheavals taking place on the wider stage, as India draws closer to Independence, and the creation of Pakistan. Radhika Swarup vividly paints life in Asha’s Hindu, and Nargis’ Muslim, households, and the mutual respect and friendship between the families. The girls walk to school hand in hand, and dream of their future husbands. Asha has given her heart to Nargis’ brother Firoze, who is learning law from Asha’s father; they had stolen a march on their relationship, and started a baby, when their world collapses.

Partition wrenches the lovers apart. Asha loses her baby, her husband-to-be, and her parents within 24 hours of Independence, as the new countries come bloodily into being. She must find a way to survive; to try and love the man whom fate throws at her, and to bring up their daughter, in the new Hindu India.

Finally, Asha’s Americanised daughter persuades her widowed mother to fly over for a visit. Fate turns the wheel again, and brings Firoze back into Asha’s life – their grandchildren have fallen in love! All the old attraction is still there…

This is a beautifully written book, immersing you in the detail and mores of each of the very different settings and periods. I wish it had ended differently, but I loved it, right up until the final plot twist.

 

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Review – CULLODEN

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s webpage.
Trevor Royle, Little, Brown, 2016, £25, hb, 409pp, 9781408704011

My brother-in-law is a mild-mannered man, who wore a grey suit every day to work. We’d go on weekend outings around lowland Scotland, ending in a cosy pub. At Culloden Moor, though, he was suffused with anger, striding up and down gesticulating wildly as he relived every turn of the battle. It was easy to imagine him in clan tartan, claymore high, screaming defiance as he charged into the wall of lead from Cumberland’s muskets.

The battle that ended Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hopes in 1746 had consequences that exploded like a firework across Europe, North America, and India. Trevor Royle paints a fascinating picture, tracing the effects of the Jacobite defeat and the careers of the men on both sides of the battle lines across the next 50 years. He clearly shows how that battle set forces loose which shaped the British Empire, made the French defeat in the Seven Years War inevitable, and so set up the necessary conditions for the American Revolution to succeed. It changed the world.

In parts, the book is not an easy read. Cumberland’s sobriquet as the Butcher of Culloden was earned after the battle, with the brutal suppression of the clan system in the Scottish Highlands – his soldiers had orders “to drive the cattle, burn the ploughs, and destroy what you can”. There are parallels with the way Native Americans were treated whilst the British and French forces were jockeying for ownership of North America, and of course their retaliation isn’t for the faint-hearted either.

My brother-in-law’s ire at a battle lost three centuries ago sparked my curiosity enough to ask for this book. I expected a blow-by-blow account of the battle. I got much, much more than I bargained for – a much broader appreciation of a formative period in world history. I shall have to buy my brother-in-law a copy; I’m keeping mine!

 

 

 

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Review – THE GREEN COUNT

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Christian Cameron, Orion Books, 2017,, pb, 475pp, 9781409172796
This book continues the tale of William Gold, whom we first meet in The Ill-made Knight and The Long Sword. To date, Will’s career has taken him from impoverished squire, to being knighted on the field of battle; this story picks up in Cyprus in 1365.

I love historical fiction most when it’s nuanced – when the author assumes I know enough about the period to catch allusions to contemporary politics; when you are immersed in the landscape; and when the characters are rounded human beings with faults as well as virtues. It also helps – at least in an action story – when weapons are accurate and used correctly.

Christian Cameron has achieved all of this and more. I know the English 14thC, but this book ranges widely across the Mediterranean, taking us from Jerusalem to the Greek Islands, in the company of Knights of St John, priests, Mongols, slaves, noblemen, Islamic scholars, and more; the entire riotous spectrum of mediaeval life, portrayed in  technicolour and smellovision. I also learnt one or two new sword fighting techniques!

Sir William Gold is a thoroughly likeable man, who grows from an impoverished lone knight to the leader of a powerful company of men (not to mention gaining a wife and step-family), without losing the self-deprecating charm that makes him such a pleasure to spend time with.

Whether you’re after a roistering action book, a masterly portrayal of 14thC European and Asian realpolitik, or to admire a storyteller at the height of their powers – you will enjoy this book.

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Sheriff and Priest giveaway

I’m running a giveaway on Goodreads for two signed copies of Sheriff and Priest:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/253274-sheriff-and-priest

The giveaway runs from 7th – 24th September, hopefully to allow the winners time to read the book before publication date on 15th October.

Of course, if you don’t win and you want to get your copy ASAP, it’s available on pre-order from Amazon.

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Review – THE TRAITOR’S NICHE

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Ismail Kadare (Translator, John Hodgson), Harvill Secker, 2017, hb, 199pp, 9781846558450

Well. I got the distinct impression that this book went woosh! over my head. I have the nasty suspicion that, in the best tradition of European literary satire, I am missing whole realms of political commentary; but it was intriguing as a story.

The book opens at the height of the Ottoman Empire. We are in a square in the ancient Imperial capital; and in this square, in the stonework of the Cannon Gate, has been carved a niche. In this niche is a severed head. The book revolves around the inhabitants of the niche – the current, historical, and potential occupants, plus Abdullah and the Doctor, the civil servants charged with maintaining the integrity of the grisly relics, and the corrupt courier whose job it is to speed newly decapitated heads to their care.

Each of the vignettes are sympathetically done. The baroque madness of the Ottoman bureaucracy is beautifully drawn, and the characters are sketched well. Each time you find yourself hoping against hope that you aren’t meeting the next occupant of the niche. But I missed a narrative thread; the niche itself wasn’t enough of a unifying theme. I wanted something more – to know what brought each person to the point where the threat of the niche, or the consequences of a beheading, transformed their stories. As I say, though; I felt throughout that I was missing something, so don’t take my word for it!

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It’s a REAL book!

I have sore feet from dancing too much 🙂

Yesterday a big box arrived, with piles of the paperback; seeing them in the flesh, with multiples of that gorgeous cover, and feeling the pleasant heft of the book in the hand, caused the first outbreak of wild waltzing.

Then today, I put Sheriff and Priest up on Amazon for pre-order in the Kindle version; 5 years of digging, research, writing, editing, editing, editing finally out in the world! DISCO! 😀

A lot of this going on in my house today 🙂girl-160934_640

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All’s fair in love – NOT!

My Facebook friends will know that I have recently gone back to dating. I’ve been running a series of “Dating Rant” posts describing some of the weirder people you meet on internet dating sites, which I may put up sometime; but THIS post is about a dangerous predator, and is by way of warning about what is clearly a slick and well-researched routine. It horrified me how nearly I was taken in by this scam, even whilst recognising it as such, and I’d like to describe the pattern in the hope that it helps someone else to avoid it.

I won’t post pictures of the man involved, because I’m fairly sure that they were ripped off someone’s Facebook account or similar; actually, possibly two different men’s FB account. Pictures showed a vigorous man of the right sort of age, with two different but cute dogs in different photos. His name was clearly foreign. He said he worked in the construction industry, and I learn that only about half the UK’s construction firms have “About us” pages on their websites with pictures or descriptions of their staff. No google trail at all.

Now let me walk you through the ripoff routine… I do wonder what the next step would have been. I wasn’t prepared to play along enough to find out!

What he said What I heard What he meant
Hi, my name’s Jos, sorry for my poor English His name’s Jos Establish non-English speaker
I’m having problems using the site on my phone, and I really like your profile – would you mind if we moved to email? Someone else who hates the site’s clunky interface Let’s get off the site quickly before they catch me and throw me off
… a couple of emails down the line… I really like you. In fact, I think I’m falling in love with you. When can we meet? Well, it’s a bit soon to talk about love, but he sounds like a nice guy – I’d like to meet him too. Shame I can’t find him on google, but some people just don’t have a big net presence. Come on, little fishy… something really tasty wriggling on the hook…
Damn, I have unexpected visitors this weekend, and can’t meet up Damn, he has unexpected visitors this weekend, and can’t meet up This small disappointment will make you want to meet him more
Damn, work has sent me to Cape Town for a week Damn, work has sent him to Cape Town for a week Safely out of reach
My phone isn’t working properly, maybe it’s my data plan Communication is a problem overseas Next setup
Could you buy me a £10 Vodafone voucher so we can talk properly? He still wants to talk, even though he’s in a different country and really really busy! (But no, I’m not sending a penny to someone I haven’t met.) – I actually sent him instructions on buying his own voucher from an ATM in Cape Town. Small requests make larger requests later much easier to digest.
I’ve got wifi now, can we talk on WhatsApp? He’s on WhatsApp, great, I’ll ring him now. (Call rang out without a reply) Are you comfortably settled on that hook, little fishy? Thinking that maybe you’ve let him down somehow?
Work is developing problems, I’m going to be out here longer. I need to source a specialist crane to fix a problem on the roof. Damn, his work is developing problems, he’s going to be out there longer You really miss me, don’t you? And setup for the big ask.
Can you lend me the money to hire a crane? It would mean I’ll be home sooner, and I just need a loan until Friday. Yeah right. No. Bye! Come on, sucker… bite…

Looking back, I really am impressed – in a bad kind of way – by the sophistication of this scam. It preys on all the vulnerabilities you inevitably have, exposing yourself in the dating world. Throughout the carefully escalating process, there was always an innocent and an evil explanation for everything. He slipped up once; he fed those unexpected visitors a BBQ, allegedly – but the weather that weekend was worse than dire. It was at that point that I started to see that there was an alternative explanation for everything he was saying – but I was still sad when the half-expected request for money came through.

And yes, I am still dating; there are plenty of honourable, decent men out there who are neither weird nor predatory, and I still believe in love. I will, however, expect to meet them early in the conversation!

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