Thursday, 23 March 2017

What the future holds for me and my writing

This post originally appeared as part of the KIN OF CAIN blog tour on David's Book Blurg blog.

What the future holds for me and my writing

If you’d asked me four years ago what the future held for me and my writing I would have said I hope to find an agent and then get published. In February 2013 I was close to finishing the first draft of my debut novel, The Serpent Sword. I’d never written anything longer than a few hundred words before and I could see no further than completing the book and somehow getting it out in front of readers who hopefully would like it. That was it. I really had no ambition beyond that, apart, of course, from the secret dream of selling millions of books and becoming rich enough to retire to a tropical island somewhere. But we won’t talk about that.


So much has changed in the last four years. I finished The Serpent Sword and found an agent. I then wrote the sequel, The Cross and the Curse, while my newly-acquired agent tried to sell the first book, and, unfortunately, failed. This failure pushed me to self-publish both books, whilst pressing on with the writing that had somehow become part of my life by this point. Both books were doing well and garnered many positive reviews. This finally piqued the interest of a publisher, so I signed a contract with Aria, a new imprint of publisher, Head of Zeus. Aria re-published the first two books and then published book three of the Bernicia Chronicles, Blood and Blade. They also managed to sell the rights for the three novels to Audible, who have now released the audio books for them, narrated by a great actor called Barnaby Edwards.


I have also written a prequel novella, Kin of Cain, which is out now, and completed book four in the Bernicia Chronicles, Killer of Kings, which is due out in June.

I am now well into the first draft of book five in the series, which will also be published by Aria, who have plans to release all the books in hardcover and mass market paperback in the coming months and years. I am even hearing talk of possible translations of the books in the works!


The point of this rambling on about the past and all the great things that have happened in the last four years is that I had no idea what would happen then, and I don’t really know what the future will bring in the next four years. But what I do know is that there will be more novels in the Bernicia Chronicles. Beobrand’s tale marches on into the seventh century and he will see more kings come and go. He will face his foes in the clash of shieldwalls in battles throughout the island of Albion and, who knows, perhaps even beyond its shores.

And when I decide to move on from Beobrand? When I am done with the mead hall and the shieldwall? What then? Well, I would love to write a western, but I am told there is no money in them. If I am ever close to living in my dream where I have enough money to write what I want and not care about how many people will read it, I will probably turn my hand to the American West. I can almost smell the rotgut whiskey and the pungent stench of gunpowder in the air of a rowdy cattle town when the ranchers and their cowhands have rolled in from the dusty trail. If you look carefully, you will see much of the so-called Wild West in the Bernicia Chronicles, but I would relish the chance to write at least one book set on the Frontier of civilization in the 19th century.


If, as is much more likely, I will have to write books that might sell and which appeal to readers of my books, I have an idea for a Viking saga, which actually has elements of a western in it. But I can say no more now, as it is just a twinkle in this author’s eye! It’s either that or romance, which my wife assures me sells better than the violent books I write. I’m not sure I would do very well at that, but I might have to think of pen name if I want to find out!

I am sometimes tempted to write a fantasy. I am a huge fan of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and David Gemmell, so I have a firm understanding of the genre. And the thing that I like most about it, is that I would not have to stick to historical facts! In many ways, the stories I tell could easily be transposed into a word of epic fantasy. But as I am writing historical fiction, I am constrained by what is known to have happened, the technology available, and when things occurred. Oh, and no dragons or magic!


I would love the chance to be able to just create a plot and write whatever I wanted because I would be in total control and nobody could tell me I had got something wrong, as it would be my creation!

So, what of the future? I think we’ll have to wait and see. But if people keep buying my books, I think I can safely say I’ll continue to write them.

Hopefully others will enjoy whatever directions in which the muse takes me.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

KIN OF CAIN - Publication Day and Blog Tour!

KIN OF CAIN is published today by Aria, an imprint of Head of Zeus.


It's a prequel, standalone novella, that should please fans of The Bernicia Chronicles and also anyone wanting to check out my writing before picking up a full novel.


As part of the release activity, there is a KIN OF CAIN Blog Tour this week, where you can find reviews, extracts, interviews and guest blog posts.



Stops on the tour

1st March - Hoover Book Reviews
2nd March - Speesh Reads
3rd March - David's Book Blurg
4th March - Parmenion Books
5th March - For Winter Nights

KIN OF CAIN is available as both e-book and paperback from all good online stores.


I hope you enjoy it, and after you've read it, please leave a review online.

Thanks!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

What Stephanie Churchill Learnt while writing The Scribe's Daughter

Today, I am pleased to host a guest post from Stephanie Churchill, an author whose work I have talked about before on my blog. I reviewed her debut novel, The Scribe's Daughter, and later discussed her use of fantasy that is firmly embedded in historical reality.



Stephanie Churchill is a talented new voice, writing reality-based fantasy that reads like historical fiction. She is currently working on the sequel to The Scribe's Daughter, The King’s Daughter, which she hopes to release by the end of 2017.

"Woe is me. I think I'm turning into a god."


Contrary to the suggestion of Vespasian’s famous last words, no, I am not dying, and no, I am not turning into a god.  The quote is useful however, because it points to a very significant thing I learned while writing The Scribe’s Daughter, and its follow up, The King’s Daughter.  Or rather something I learned that I still need to learn.  That is, the problem of how to write effectively from the perspective of a limited character or reader while simultaneously being an omniscient, omnipotent author.  How do authors know how to unroll the scroll of mystery, doling out just enough clues along the way for the satisfaction of the reader while not giving too much away?

I didn’t set out to write a mystery.  I set out to write a character-driven, pseudo-historical book about a young woman who had a bad hand dealt to her.  (And if I’m honest, a series of bad hands repeated over and over through the book.)  The series of hardships and traumas she experiences grow her, develop her, turn her into a better version of herself than she was at the beginning of the book.  Never mind that writing a mystery was not a conscious decision.  The mysteries driving the plot became the tool to accomplish my main goal, the river in which Kassia swam in order to develop her character.  As Henry James said, “Plot is characters under stress.”



Since the element of mystery in my book caught me off guard, I wasn’t prepared to know how to approach the unraveling of those aspects as I wrote.  When I first sat down at my computer, I anticipated that the craft of writing involved nothing more than telling the tale as it unfolded before my eyes.  I found that it was much more complicated than this.  I realized that as the author, I know more than anyone else, and this knowledge had to be doled out slowly, carefully, and with much deliberation.

How subtle could I be?  How much could I rely on readers to catch?  If I made things too obvious, astute readers would grow bored.  I didn’t want to insult their intelligence.  On the other hand, if I remained overly obscure, readers on the other side of the spectrum might finish the book scratching their heads wondering how in the world that just happened, feeling blindsided and cheated.  As an author, you risk alienating one or the other audience.  Thus the necessity of careful, thoughtful deliberation.

It is difficult to know the beginning, middle, and end of a story as an omniscient author while writing it from the perspective of a person who is discovering the story as it unfolds – either as one of the characters or as a reader.  As the author, I had to constantly jump between broad plot arc, being the only one who could see the full parade from the helicopter above, and the “boots on the ground” parade float which can only see what’s just ahead.  I had to maintain notes along the way that reminded me who knew what at any point in the story.  At times I found myself writing dialogue only to delete and try again once I realized that this or that character couldn’t possibly know the thing I’d just made them say.  Not yet at least.

From a certain perspective, this job was slightly easier because I was only ever writing from the perspective of one person, Kassia.  I chose very deliberately to write this book in a first-person narrative.  This made the business of keeping straight who knew what at any given point much easier, I think.  But it still didn’t mean that other characters might not give things away in their conversations with Kassia.  How to realistically and authentically write dialogue for a character who knows a secret they are not willing to tell was one of the most difficult things I faced in the drafting and editing process.  How could Kassia quell her curiosity in the presence of the tight-lipped knower-of-things without wanting to throttle him or her to loosen their lips?  If you’ve read the book, you know Kassia would have been quite willing to throttle people!

I suppose authors who write primarily in the mystery genre handle the unraveling of a mystery in their prose often enough that it comes easily.  Maybe authors of formulaic stories do too.  But for me, holding a vast cosmos of an idea in my head – playing at being a god – while trying to mimic the more limited mind of a mere mortal, was a challenge that never left me.  As I write the second book, The King’s Daughter, the challenge is the same, and I’m not confident it will ever get easier for me.

To quote Disney’s 1992 animated movie Aladdin:

Aladdin: You're a prisoner?
Genie: It's all part and parcel, the whole genie gig.
[grows to a gigantic size]
Genie: Phenomenal cosmic powers!
[shrinks down inside the lamp]
Genie: Itty bitty living space! 

As an author, I often feel like I have phenomenal cosmic powers.  As a writer of fantasy I am not constrained by the historical record.  My characters can go and do what they want.  However, there are days that those powers must be tamed and subjected to the itty bitty living space of the plot and the necessity of pacing and good storytelling.  I don’t claim to have mastered this, but I have learned that I will need to work hard at it with every book.

“Woe is me.  I think I’m turning into a god.” – Vespasian 

To learn more about Stephanie, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page, or visit her webpage at www.stephaniechurchillauthor.com.

Twitter: http://bit.ly/2ChurchillTwitter
Facebook: http://bit.ly/2ChurchillFacebook

Sunday, 22 January 2017

REVIEW: Legend by David Gemmell

Legend (The Drenai Saga, #1)Legend by David Gemmell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In interviews, when asked what my favourite books are, I always give Legend as one of my all time favourites. But I realised recently that I had not read it since it was first published when I was a teenager! So I decided to give it a re-read (actually a listen, as I managed to get my hands on an old audio book version).

What I discovered is that David Gemmell's debut novel is still as powerful today to my forty-five-year-old self as it was to fifteen-year-old me. It is an amazing tale of heroism, sacrifice, duty and love. It made me laugh and cry and swept me along towards the epic final battle like a literary tsunami.

Gemmell's writing is so powerful and seemingly effortless. He manages to give great depth to all of the characters that flit across the pages. The protagonists, from the implacable Druss, Master of the Axe, to Regnak, the unlikely hero, to the ascetic members of the Thirty, are drawn with great compassion and feeling. Even small, walk-on parts are given a backstory that explains who they are and what makes them tick, often to only see them cut down in defence of what they believe in a page later. Gemmell is able to make you feel attached to any character, whether hero or villain, in only a couple of lines.

The most surprising thing for me was how obviously the events described in this novel have influenced my own writing. I kept listening to pieces of the story and thinking, "Woah! That is just like that bit in my books...!" I have never knowingly copied any part of Gemmell's writing (or anyone else's for that matter!), but the influences are very clear if you know what you are looking for.

If you only ever read one of Gemmell's books, read this one. I don't think anyone has ever done fast-paced epic fantasy better than Gemmell, and Legend is arguably his best book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 7 January 2017

REVIEW: The Maharajah's General by Paul Fraser Collard

The Maharajah's General (Jack Lark, #2)The Maharajah's General by Paul Fraser Collard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Fraser Collard's brilliant lovable rogue, Jack Lark, returns in this sequel to The Scarlet Thief. This time Lark finds himself in India, just before the terrible events of the Mutiny. Collard paints a colourful picture of the life of the British military in the middle of the nineteenth century. It is a strange life where the colonial British live in denial of the fact that they are surrounded by millions of Indians who do not relish being lorded over by these pasty, supercilious Europeans. The officers of the station where Jack is posted are as out of place in the dusty swelter of the Indian climate as Jack the impostor is out of place in the Officers' Mess.

The story is fast and furious, with the same kind of blood-splattering action that you would expect if you have read of Jack's previous adventures in the Crimea. Collard doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the horrors of war, and the set-piece battles are brutal and intense.

But it is not all blood, guts and the stench of gun powder. The tale is filled with twists and memorable, larger than life characters, from a villainous political officer, an exotic princess, the eponymous noble and honourable Maharajah, a spiteful and jealous lieutenant, and a lovely English rose, who blooms in the sultry Indian heat and captures more than one heart.

The Maharajah's General is a ripping yarn, and a satisfyingly energetic romp through a fictional Indian kingdom where Jack Lark once again shows he may not have been born into the officer class, but he can lead men with panache and vigour and he will not stand by and watch wrongdoing, whoever the culprit.

View all my reviews

REVIEW: The Flame of Resistance by Martin Lake

The Flame of Resistance (The Lost King, #1)The Flame of Resistance by Martin Lake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this, the first book in the Lost King series, Martin Lake explores the aftermath of the cataclysmic events of 1066. Lake has chosen to tell the tale from the perspective of Edgar Atheling, a character I barely knew existed and one that certainly deserves to have his story told.

The book is fast-paced and on more than one occasion I found myself wondering how Edgar was going to escape from some of the sticky situations in which he finds himself. In The Flame of Resistance, Martin Lake spins a ripping yarn of loyal huscarls, evil earls, proud kings, intrigue and pitched battles for the kingdom of England, bringing the late eleventh century to vivid life.


View all my reviews

Sunday, 11 December 2016

What Prue Batten learnt whilst writing Guillaume

The latest author in the "What I Learnt..." series is Prue Batten. Prue has written fantasy novels in the past, but in recent years has become a successful historical novelist, first with her Gisborne Saga trilogy, and now with her spin-off series, the Triptych Chronicle. I reviewed the first of that series, Tobias, earlier in the year. The latest of her novels is Guillaume, which is set in twelfth century Lyon. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of it and here is what I thought:
"With her customary elegant use of language, Prue Batten plunges us effortlessly into the mercantile houses, twisted alleys and secret shadowy tunnels of medieval Europe. Guillaume is a riveting tale of twelfth century trade, treachery and intrigue."

So read on, and find out a little of what Prue learnt while writing this great novel.

What Prue Batten learnt whilst writing Guillaume


1. The secrets of Lyon.



I had no idea! In the twelfth century it was a sophisticated town built on its strong Roman foundations, foundations that contained labrynthine tunnels snaking upward from the Saône to the centre of the town. The very placement of these tunnels (called traboules) gave any users quick access to and from the river. For merchants, an added bonus – goods could be carted from barge to warehouse without being seen, giving wily traders an edge in the marketplace. Once I discovered the traboules in my reading, the next step was to secure information of their condition and usage in the twelfth century. There’s barely a time in Lyon’s history where the traboules haven’t been used. Even to WWII. (But that’s another story.)

For me, I had a location for murder and mayhem in the twelfth century.

2. Did the Reformation really happen in the 16th Century? Or was it much earlier? Perhaps in the 12th Century?



Called the Waldensian movement later in history, it began with the wealthy merchant, Pierre Vaudès. Vaudès became a reformist thinker and gave up his wealth in favour of following a simple path based on the Gospels. He had parts of the Bible translated to the Lengua Romana, so that the common man might understand that God’s love was not dependent on money, images and plenary indulgences. His preachers, of which there were many, became known as Sandalati because of their simple footwear. But more particularly they were known as The Poor Men of Lyon. The Church declared the Sandalati heretics, and the preachers and followers were forced into hiding in fear of their lives, eventually leaving France for the hidden valleys of Piedmont and giving the world a simple reformist philosophy long before Martin Luther.

This gave me an interlacing plotline…

3. That it is entirely possible to include the loveliest poetry and music in a novel.

I love the inclusion of relevant poetry and music from the times in which a novel is set. Dorothy Dunnett was iconic with her usage of the device. One of my characters is a minstrel, a poet and an aesthete. He allows me to make use of other word-forms and thus it was that I was able to use the beautiful ninth century poem, Pangur Bàn about a white cat and a monk. I sourced the online translation by Robin Flowers and when Guillaume, Tobias and Adam stay at the small priory of Pommiers en Forez, they are cared for by Brother Hugo, who has a white cat.



I also read about the most emotive piece of music this year, Carmina qui Quondam. As it dates from the eleventh century, I felt it would most definitely appeal to a minstrel of Tobias’ standing. And I included other song lyrics from the times as well.

These were indulgences in the writing of Guillaume, but like the colour in stained glass, I hope they add to the novel’s depth.

4. I learned a new word – one that resonated and one that I just had to use in my novel.

This year, I purchased a wonderful book called Landmarks, by Robert Macfarlane. Essentially a list of colloquial words to describe landscape, for me it was like discovering precious gems. One word stood out – ‘endragoned’ – first coined by Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe a roiling sea. Could I use this word? Why not if I acknowledged its provenance? Thus:

‘They entered the hall – a wave of sound rolling toward them like an endragoned sea crashing upon rocks. Nothing but men’s voices, a grumbling roar that made one search for the soft ameliorating face of any woman at all…’

Macfarlane’s book is a true treasure and I don’t think this will be the last time I use it.

But I learned many other things during this year of writing. Research fills one’s mind with such things as one creates the framework for historical novels. All providing layers and dimension for one’s story.

Thank you, Matthew, for allowing me to reveal four special ones.



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