Borrowed - The Anthology

As many of you reading along will already know, for the last six months I've been putting together an anthology of stories that centre around a small town library. 

Last week, Unbound accepted the anthology for publication and today the project page went live. You can check out the rewards, read an extract and pledge your support here

As a group of authors, I'm sure it will come as no surprise that literacy is very important to us so we have decided that all royalties will be donated to the World Literacy Fund. So by pre-ordering a copy of this book, you're also helping us to support a really worthwhile cause. I'll be posting updates here as well as over at Unbound. Please do consider supporting the project and sharing the details with your network - we can't do it without you!

Flash Fiction Day Round Up

Well, so far today, I've written 4 stories in 5 hours, totalling over 3000 words, which is more thanusually manage in a day if I'm working on one story. I'm going to try and write another one or two before my brain burns out or I fall asleep, but those will be for my Patreon supporters. If you want to see them you can always sign up! They will also be included in my upcoming collection In a Flash. I'll be self-publishing that later this year.

Taking part in the challenge has been great fun and I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year. Hopefully I'll get more stories written next time. Thank you to everyone who has followed along and especially those who have shared my posts.

Also, thank you to Lucy Hounsom for providing an excellent prompt for The Dream Merchant!

Wooden Roses

 

            Sophia stared out of the window at the sprawling gardens surrounding the villa. Her father had brought her on this business trip to visit one of his clients, one who just so happened to have a son around her age. Her father and Master Stroud were walking through the garden together, a scribe hurrying along behind them, somehow managing to make notes as he walked.

            Sophia turned back to the lavish room that she had been given use of and wondered what to do with herself until lunch.

            Just then, a knock came at the door and a maid entered, carrying a huge bouquet of flowers. She placed them on a table just inside the door.

            ‘These are from Master Wilhelm,’ said the maid. ‘He asked if he could call on you this afternoon?’

            ‘Give him my thanks, and tell him I will be pleased to receive him after lunch.’ Sophia handed the maid a small silver disk with her initials stamped on the metal. ‘I would be grateful if you could carry this to my father.’

            ‘Of course, Miss,’ the maid said, curtseying and withdrawing from the room.

 

            A short time later, Sophia’s father appeared at her door.

            ‘I received your token,’ he said, handing the silver disk back to her. ‘Are you making progress?’

            ‘Wilhelm sent me those this morning,’ Sophia answered, nodding towards the flowers.

            ‘Well that is a good sign. A bouquet that large suggests more than just polite interest in a visitor.’

            ‘He wants to call on me this afternoon.’

            ‘Excellent. Now is the time to make him work for your affections. Set him some task, something that will require thought and dedication. This is one of the most eligible young men in Tharia, he is used to young women throwing themselves at him.’

            ‘What sort of task should I set him?’

            ‘Something difficult but not impossible. You’ll work it out. Now, I must get back to Master Stroud, he does so hate to be kept waiting.’

 

            By the time Wilhelm came to call on her, Sophia was wearing a brand-new day dress, a perfect blend of modesty and suggestion. She caught the young man casting his eyes over her appreciatively and smiled to herself before clearing her throat and causing him to look up, blushing.

            ‘Thank you for the flowers,’ she said, ‘they are very beautiful.’

            ‘Only half as beautiful as you, Sophia,’ said Wilhelm, bowing down and kissing her hand. ‘My father is holding a gala next week. Would you do me the honour of being my partner for the evening?’

            ‘I do not know if I will still be here next week,’ Sophia said, moving toward the window.

            ‘Surely you can stay that long?’ Wilhelm asked, stepping up behind her.

            Sophia leaned back slightly, so that she was just inside his personal space. She knew that he would be able to smell the subtle perfume she had used on her hair.

            ‘Will your affections last longer than the flowers you sent?’

            ‘What?’

            ‘Men are fickle,’ Sophia said, turning and putting her hand on Wilhelm’s chest. ‘I could not stand to be here, believing there was something between us, only to be discarded when the first bloom of attraction wilts, as those flowers will be discarded.’

            ‘How can I assure you of my intentions?’

            Sophia paused, looking thoughtful. ‘Bring me a flower that will last as long as your affections, and I will stay, for as long as the flower blooms.’

           

            Sophia did not see Wilhelm again for three days. She received no message from him and she started to doubt her father’s advice. Perhaps she had played this wrong – proven too difficult to woo. She wandered around the villa and its grounds, wearing a mask of confidence and pride, but all the while she fretted.

            On the fourth day, Sophia awoke early to a knock on the door. The same maid as before entered carrying a silver tray with a single rose of the deepest red Sophia had ever seen. Her heart sank. Roses were beautiful but all knew that they did not bloom for long. This must be a message from Wilhelm that he wanted only a brief dalliance. Well, he would have to find another to dally with – Sophia did not have time to waste.

            ‘From Master Wilhelm, Miss.’ The maid sat the tray on the bed and stepped back. ‘Will there be any response, Miss?’

            Sophia was about to send the maid away when she noticed a note below the rose. She picked the flower up and was astounded to realise that it was not a real flower. It was carved from some sort of wood and painted by an expert hand.

            ‘You said you would stay for as long as the flower bloomed,’ Wilhelm said from the doorway. ‘Do you still mean it?’

           

                       

 

If you've enjoyed reading my work for free here, please consider supporting me on Patreon. For a small monthly pledge, you can access flash fiction, exclusive sneak peaks at upcoming works, exclusive video chat, signed collections and even a personal letter from me every month. Check it out here: https://www.patreon.com/shonakinsella

The Dream Merchant

 

                Arsag, the merchant, looked up when the bell above the door rang. Motes of dust danced in the shaft of light cast by the open door. He climbed off of his stool and positioned himself behind the counter, perching his spectacles on the end of his nose.

            ‘Why is it so dark in here?’ came a strident voice from the doorway.

            Arsag suppressed a sigh; he could already tell what sort of customer this would be.

            ‘It is to protect the dreams, madam,’ he answered, blinking at the silhouette in the doorway. ‘Please, come in. How may I assist you?’

            ‘We want a dream.’ A middle-aged woman stepped into the shop, dragging a pretty, young woman behind her.

            ‘Of course, madam,’ Arsag said, fake smile carefully plastered in place. ‘What sort of dream would you like?’

            ‘We need to know who my daughter will marry.’

            The older woman wore a dress and cloak of high quality but they were old and a little threadbare in places. The younger woman’s dress fit well but was of a simple design and plain fabric. So, a well-to-do family, down on their luck.

            ‘I can do that, of course, but it will be expensive.’

            ‘It doesn’t have to be long – she needn’t know her whole future, just enough to identify her husband.’

            ‘And is that what you want, miss?’ Arsag looked to the daughter. She looked as if she wanted to say no, but at a harsh glance from her mother she lowered her eyes.

            ‘Yes, sir.’

            ‘Very well. That will be five gold.’ Arsag usually charged eight gold for a prophecy but he had a soft heart.

            The older woman hissed through her teeth.

            ‘Perhaps another type of dream would suit you better?’ Arsag gestured to the shelves, filed with glass bottles that pulsed with different colours and shades of light. ‘Inspiration is always very popular, and it has been known to make a difference to a family’s … circumstances.’

            ‘What are you implying? Have you heard something?’

            ‘Not at all madam, I’m merely telling you of my wares.’

            ‘The prophecy will be sufficient,’ the woman said, pulling a small coin purse from her bag.

            ‘You can pay on collection,’ Arsag said. ‘The dream will be ready in five days.’

            ‘So long?’

            ‘Prophecy is a delicate business, I am afraid. I must wait for the right conditions. And I will require some of your daughter’s hair.’

 

            Four nights later, the moon was finally in the correct position for prophecy. Arsag mixed up a potion in a small bronze bowl, chanting in a low voice as he mixed. He held the bowl up to the moon and petitioned the Queen of Night to grant the vision that had been requested. Finally, he dropped in the single hair that he had taken from the daughter’s head. He drank the potion and lay down in the centre of an intricate design painted on the floor.

           

            Arsag had only just unlocked the shop door the next morning, when the young woman entered. She glanced about the shop, looking at the glass jars on the shelves with child-like wonder. Of course, she was barely more than a child. Arsag felt sorry for her; it was clear that the hopes if her family were being put on her shoulders.

            ‘I’ve come for the prophecy,’ she said to Arsag, when she noticed him standing behind the counter.

            ‘Are you sure this is what you want?’ he asked gently.

            ‘It doesn’t matter,’ the girl answered. ‘It’s what Mother wants.’

            ‘We can always tell her that the prophecy didn’t work. You could go far with a good dream of inspiration.’

            The girl looked torn but then straightened her shoulders. ‘Just the prophecy, please.’

            ‘Very well,’ Arsag said, pushing a bottle that glowed with a violet light across the counter.

            The young woman stepped forward and emptied her purse onto the counter, carefully counting out silver coins to the value of five golds.

            ‘You must have wonderful dreams,’ she said wistfully.

            ‘Only on the shelves, my dear,’ Arsag said, sweeping the coins from the counter and tucking them away in his lockbox.

            ‘Whatever do you mean?’ the girl asked, frowning.

            ‘I do not dream, miss.’

            ‘But how can that be? We all dream.’

            ‘It is the cost of being a dream merchant. I gave up all dreams for the rest of my life, in order to learn the art of creating and capturing dreams for others.’

            ‘Do you miss it?’ she asked. ‘I know I would.’

            ‘I do not really remember what it is like to dream and so I cannot miss it,’ Arsag lied. ‘Be sure to open the stopper just before bed. When you sleep, the dream will come to you and you will have the answer you seek. I wish you well, Miss.’

            Arsag busied himself behind the counter as the girl left, trying not to feel jealous of her. He had made his choices and his life was very comfortable, more comfortable than hers would be if his suspicions about her mother were correct. But she had something that he would never have and he could not help but envy her – for Arsag knew that only in our dreams are we truly free.

 

 

If you've enjoyed reading my work for free here, please consider supporting me on Patreon. For a small monthly pledge, you can access flash fiction, exclusive sneak peaks at upcoming works, exclusive video chat, signed collections and even a personal letter from me every month. Check it out here: https://www.patreon.com/shonakinsella

A Dragon's Footprint

 

           ‘What’s that?’ Rosie asked.

            What?’ said mum, turning around.

            ‘There, that mark in the mud,’ said Rosie.

            ‘Looks like a dragon’s footprint to me,’ said mum, smiling.

            ‘Dragons don’t exist,’ Chloe said, sounding bored.

            Mum flashed her a warning look. ‘Of course they do,’ she said.

            ‘I love dragons!’ squealed Rosie.

            Chloe looked between mum and Rosie then shook her head. ‘OK, dragons are great, can we go home yet?’

            ‘Not until we’ve had a proper walk,’ said mum. ‘We could all do with some fresh air. Especially you.’ Mum took Rosie’s hand and began walking again.

            ‘Do you think there was really a dragon here, mum?’ asked Rosie.

            ‘Absolutely.’

            ‘What do you think it was doing?’

            ‘Hmmm,’ mum said, looking around. ‘Maybe it was trying to catch some fish for its dinner.’

            ‘Do dragons eat fish?’

            ‘Well, dragons are really big so I think they can eat whatever they like,’ said mum.

            ‘They really enjoy little girls,’ said Chloe. ‘They eat them for desert, with ice cream.’

            Rosie began to cry.

            ‘Why did you do that?’ Mum said, angry.

            ‘I’m sorry, Rosie,’ said Chloe, feeling guilty for making her sister cry. ‘I was just joking, dragons don’t eat little girls. In fact, they like to let little girls ride on their backs. And bring them presents.’

            ‘Really?’ Rosie asked, her tears turning to sniffles.

            ‘Really.’

 

            Rosie talked about nothing but dragons for the rest of the day. She drew a picture of a dragon, insisted on watching a cartoon about dragons, and asked Chloe to tell her a story about a dragon at bedtime.

            ‘Why did you have to tell her it was a dragon’s footprint,’ Chloe complained, after Rosie was in bed.

            ‘Because it made her happy,’ said mum. ‘And it really did look like a great big footprint.’

            ‘But dragons are stupid.’

            ‘Why?’

            ‘Because they aren’t real.’

            ‘How do you know?’

            ‘Because no-one’s ever seen one.’

            ‘Have you ever seen air?’

            ‘No, but, but that’s different!’

            ‘How is it different?’

            ‘Air exists and dragons don’t!’

            ‘There are lots of ways for things to exist, Chloe. Dragons exist in folklore and myth and have an important role in some cultures. That makes them real in a way.’

            ‘They’re still stupid,’ Chloe muttered.

            ‘There’s nothing wrong with leaving a little room for magic in your life,’ said mum. ‘I hope you realise that some day.’

           

            Chloe thought about what her mum had said while she brushed her teeth and got ready for bed. She didn’t really understand what mum was on about. How can there be more than one way for things to exist? Either something was objectively real or it wasn’t. There was no middle ground. Was there?

            She shook her head. Her mum was an intelligent person, Chloe knew that. In fact, mum was probably the most intelligent person she knew. So how could she believe in something stupid like dragons and magic?

            Chloe glanced out of the window as she pulled the curtains closed and then did a double-take. She squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them again. It must have been a trick of the light. Whatever it was she had seen was gone now, the view just the normal mountain-scene that she saw every day from this window.

            Chloe climbed into bed and turned off the lamp, but as she lay in bed, waiting for sleep, she couldn’t help but ponder the silhouette of massive wings that she had just seen, perched on top of the mountain at the other end of the loch.

 

If you've enjoyed reading my work for free here, please consider supporting me on Patreon. For a small monthly pledge, you can access flash fiction, exclusive sneak peaks at upcoming works, exclusive video chat, signed collections and even a personal letter from me every month. Check it out here: https://www.patreon.com/shonakinsella

Flash Fiction Day

Today I'm taking part in Flash Fiction Day. What that means, is that I will be writing as many flash fiction stories as I can today, and posting them all here for you to read. If you would like to find out more, or join in yourself, go here: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/11744923/posts/1505112945

Here is my first story for the day.

Happy Birthday

 

 

           

            Sharon looked up from her book as Paul came into the room.

            ‘Happy Birthday, darling,’ he said, leaning in to kiss her. ‘Your breakfast is ready, if you want to come through.’

            ‘It smells delicious,’ Sharon said, climbing out of bed and leaning in to Paul for another kiss.

            They walked through to the kitchen hand-in-hand. The children were already at the table, washed, dressed and playing together as they ate breakfast. Sharon smiled and kissed each of them on the head as they offered her birthday wishes. There was a beautiful bouquet of flowers in the middle of the table as well as a few gifts and cards.

            Sharon sat down to hot coffee and fresh fruit with croissants and butter – her favourite breakfast. After she had eaten, it was time to open presents. From the children, a bracelet that she had admired a few weeks ago. She hugged them all and mouthed her thanks to Paul. There was bubble bath and her favourite perfume, the next book in the series she was reading and a new dress. A slinky velvet dress with a lace back. She looked at Paul, eyebrow raised.

            ‘Open this next,’ he said, sliding an envelope across the table.

            Sharon opened the envelope and slid out the contents: two tickets to see Les Miserables, her favourite musical. In London. The next night.

            She looked at Paul questioningly.

            ‘We’re dropping the kids off at my mum’s at lunchtime and flying to London this afternoon. We’re staying at the Strand Palace Hotel. Tomorrow we’re going to Madame Tussauds and Covent Gardens. Then you can put on your new dress and we’re going for dinner and then the theatre. After a lazy start to Sunday, we’ll fly back in the afternoon. Sound good?’

            ‘Oh, Paul. Thank you. That sounds wonderful,’ Sharon said, her voice thick with emotion.

            ‘Have a great time, mum, you deserve it,’ said Yvonne, their eldest child.

            ‘A thank you for all the work that you do for this family,’ Paul said.

 

            ‘Mum! Mum!’

            Sharon squeezed her eyes tighter shut, trying to hang on to the lovely dream.

            ‘Mum! Holly’s been sick!’

            Sharon groaned and hauled herself out of bed. Paul had left early for work so she was on her own.

            ‘Mum!’

            ‘I heard you. I’m coming.’

            Holly was pale with flushed cheeks, her hair sticking to her face. Sharon carried the three-year-old to the bathroom and got her stripped off and into the shower then asked Yvonne, the nine-year-old, to keep an eye on her while she cleaned the mess in the bedroom. That of course, was when Colin, the baby, began to cry.

            Eventually they were all washed, dressed and fed. Holly had been put back to bed, Colin was in his playpen and Yvonne was getting a lift to school from a friend’s mum. Sharon stood in the doorway, sipping coffee and watching Yvonne run down the street to the waiting car.

            ‘Oh, I almost forgot,’ Yvonne called back over her shoulder. ‘Happy Birthday!’

 

            ‘Where’s my birthday girl,’ Paul said, opening the front door.

            ‘I’m in the girl’s room,’ Sharon called back. Holly’s fever had broken and she had stopped vomiting but she was still pale and tired. Sharon was reading to her, Colin in his bouncy chair at her feet.

            Paul appeared in the doorway a moment later with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine.

            ‘Happy birthday, darling,’ he said, leaning down to kiss her.

            Sharon gave him a tired smile.

            ‘Long day?’ he asked.

            ‘Yes. Although we seem to be past the worst of it.’ She fondly stroked Holly’s forehead as she spoke.

            ‘I was going to take us all out for dinner, but… maybe take away instead?’

            ‘Anything, as long as I don’t have to cook!’

 

            An hour later, they sat at the table, around plates of food. Holly had come downstairs, though she just picked at some toast.

            Yvonne gave Sharon a cardboard photo frame that she had made, decorated with pasta shells and glitter, containing a photo of the two of them, taken the previous Halloween.

            Holly had drawn a picture for her and Paul handed over a present from Colin – some bubble bath.

            ‘Would you like to use that tonight?’ Paul asked. ‘A bubble bath, a glass of wine and your book?’

            ‘That sounds perfect,’ Sharon said, rolling shoulders that were stiff from cleaning and carrying children all day.

            There were more presents; some books, a new cardigan, some vouchers.

            ‘Mum’s going to watch the kids tomorrow night,’ Paul said. ‘Dinner and a movie?’

            ‘Perfect,’ Sharon smiled.

            Her children all gathered around her, squeezing her, as Paul tried to put his arms around them all at once.

            ‘Happy Birthday,’ they all chorused.

            Sharon had never been happier.


If you’ve enjoyed reading my work here, you can sign up to receive monthly flash fiction as well as exclusive content, chap books and even letters direct from me at www.patreon.com/shonakinsella
Your support allows me to continue writing flash fiction.

Frustration

When I started writing this blog, I decided it was going to be an honest account of my writing journey, with all of the embarrassing or less-talked-about bits as well as the successes. Well today, I'm going to share with you how I feel about my work at the moment and I can sum it up in one word.

Frustration.

I am frustrated with the gap between the work in my mind and the work on the page. Like an artist who can't make her hand paint the image in her mind, I find my words on the page lack the elegance that I dream of. The story - all stories - seem so much richer in my mind.

I'm frustrated at the lack of hours in the day. Writing, if you want to be successful, is a full-time job. Marketing the work you already have out, maintaining an online presence and administrative tasks in relation to your writing combine to make another full-time job. Caring for my family, running my household and meeting my commitments to other people in my life makes another full-time job. So, at the moment, I have three full-time jobs and only one of me. I feel as though all three jobs get only a part of the time and attention that they deserve and that I am not doing everything that I could/should be doing in any of them.

I am frustrated at my lack of knowledge and skill in marketing and social media. There are connections to be made but I'm really not very good at making them. Trying to get Ashael Rising noticed, get it in front of people who will enjoy it and talk about it to others, is something that I'm really struggling with.

I am frustrated about the many stories in my head that I may never get the time to write. And at my own inability to be patient. I have read repeatedly, that the most consistent thing amongst successful authors is that they are prolific - they produce a lot of work. I'm working towards that now with several projects on the go as well as a list of books to write in the future but I'm frustrated by own slow pace.

I think I need to give myself a bit of a break. Perhaps I need to remind myself that I only completed Ashael Rising last year, I immediately found a publisher and went from pitch to publication in less than a year. Everything has happened so quickly and I'm learning on the run. I think I'm scared to pause for breath in case I miss my opportunity. You see, when I started writing, I didn't truly believe that I would get published. Or at least, not for a very long time and by then I'd have lots of work that could be improved upon with my new skill and, of course, I'd have a string of short fiction published before hand so I would already have a reader base.

I have career ambitions - and I believe that's a good thing - but it's unrealistic to expect to meet them straight away. Maybe I need to slow down and enjoy the journey a bit more.

'But what happens to Ashael?' I hear you cry. 'We need book 2!'

I'm getting to it, I promise

Flash Friday - Nourish

I'm doing something a little bit different this flash Friday. Scottish Book Trust recently ran a competition for writing of under 1000 words with the prompt 'Nourish'. This could be interpreted any way the writer wanted; the only requirement was that the piece be somehow based on your own experience. The competition was only open to unpublished writers so I wasn't able to enter but I really liked the prompt. So, I decided to write a little bit of creative non-fiction for you. Here's my interpretation of 'Nourish'.

Nourish

 

 

            My eyes water from the sting of the onions I’m chopping and I try, without success, to avoid blinking. Garlic sizzles in the wok, the smell evoking memories of many happy meals. I throw the onions into the pan, give them a quick stir, and start chopping peppers.

            ‘What are you doing?’ asks my three-year-old.

            ‘Chopping peppers,’ I answer. ‘I have red, yellow and green. What’s your favourite colour of pepper?’

            ‘Yellow. What’s the pepper for?’ she asks.

            ‘I’m making stir fry for dinner.’

            The front door opens to a chorus of ‘Daddy!’ and I am alone in the kitchen once more.

            The peppers go into the pan and everything gets another stir. I throw in some mushrooms and cabbage that I chopped earlier and pause the podcast I had been listening to. My husband comes into the kitchen and kisses me.

            ‘Smells good, I can’t wait to eat,’ he says, then kisses me again and goes to see the kids. I listen to him play with the baby while changing his nappy and smile to myself.

            ‘Can I help?’ my eldest asks.

            ‘You could set the table, please.’

            ‘I want to set the table, that’s my job!’ the three-year-old protests.

            ‘OK, you set the table,’ I say, trying to keep the peace. I turn to my ten-year-old and say, ‘Would you like to get the plates out and pour water for everyone?’

            Beef has been marinating all day. When I peel the film off the bowl, the smell fills the room and the kids come running for a sniff. The wok hisses and sizzles as the succulent meat hits the hot oil, the sound of home and happiness. Dinner will be ready soon. I tell the kids to go and play for ten minutes and finish listening to Writing Excuses, mentally cataloguing the advice and trying to apply it to my work in progress.

            Trying to nourish my mind while I nourish my family.

            An email comes through to my work account; I can tell by the sound of the alert. I look at the clock and briefly consider ignoring it. Only briefly. Writing means that I can’t afford to miss any opportunities. It’s an acceptance for a short story that I had sent out months ago – so long that I had forgotten about it.

            I call my husband through and show him the email. He picks me up and swings me around the room as I laugh and cry all at once. I suddenly remember the stir fry and laughingly ask my husband to put me down. I feel his absence when he does.

            I serve the food and we all gather around the table. My husband offers a toast to my good news and my children share in my joy.

            While we eat, we play I-spy. It doesn’t take long before our three-year-old is making things up. She spies a butterfly, a unicorn and a princess. We play using colours as well as letters, learning and laughing together. We nourish our connections as a family by eating and playing together.  

            When the meal is over, we linger at the table, talking about our day. The ten-year-old went to basketball after the school, the three-year-old saw a snail on the way to nursery and the baby has been babbling and laughing all day. I’ve been blogging and cleaning and cooking. When the kids are in bed, I’ll settle down with my laptop and open up the book I’m working on. My husband tells us about seeing someone on the train reading a book he had recently enjoyed. He spent a few minutes trying to guess which part of the story they were at. We laugh over the idea that someday he might see people reading my book on the train. It seems like an impossible dream though we both know it is not.

            We clear away the dishes and finish the housework for the day. I do some preparation for the next day’s meals, tubbing up leftovers for lunch and making homemade sausage for breakfast. Then it’s bedtime and story time for the kids.

            Books are read, and enjoyed and discussed, lullabies are sung and children are tucked up safe and sound for the night.

            We are all nourished by the life that we share and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my work here, you can sign up to receive monthly flash fiction as well as exclusive content, chap books and even lettrs direct from me at www.patreon.com/shonakinsella
Your support allows me to continue writing flash fiction.

Carving Out Time

When people think of a writing career, many of them think about the challenges of finding an agent and a publisher, or maybe the challenge of coming up with original ideas.

I found a publisher almost by accident and I have more ideas than I'll ever be able to use. The aspect of a writing career that I am, thus far, finding most challenging is carving out the time to write. Not to mention time to do all of the other associated tasks that are career essential but don't further my word count.

Working from home currently means that I also have to handle all of the child care. I have three children aged 11, 3 and 6 months. In an average day, all of their needs are met before I can consider opening my laptop. It's not at all uncommon for me to be feeding the baby, entertaining the toddler and try to market my work all at once. Often my laptop lies open and forlorn on the dining table, while I try to find 5 minutes to jot down a few sentences.

None of this is a complaint - I recognise how incredibly lucky I am to have the opportunity to write at all. When I started this blog I promised to talk about my journey to publication, the whole unvarnished truth. At the time, I thought I would be telling you about rejections and knocks to my ego but instead, this is what I'm presently finding difficult.

This has all been my long way of asking you to stick with me. More work is coming - in fact I have several projects lined up that I hope to have news about in the coming months - but it's looking like my production is going to be slower than I had hoped.

WWW Wednesday 24/05/2017

I first saw this meme on Cookie Break with Sarina Langer but it’s hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words and I thought it would be a lot of fun to try out. So let’s get started.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

 

I am currently reading The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. It's book two in the first Mistborn trilogy. I'm about 85% of the way through and I'm still not sure how it's going to end. I'm really enjoying it. I always worry a bit when I read anything by Sanderson because the first book I read by him was The Way of Kings and it's amazing. I love that book so much but I also know that it's sort of his dream book - that he had to cut his teeth writing other things before anyone would publish it. So that makes me nervous that his other books won't be as good, or at least, not as ambitious. So far, I have yet to be disappointed though.

I would heartily recommend Mistborn to any fantasy fans.

 

What did you recently finish reading?

 

I recently finished The Final Empire, the first book in the Mistborn trilogy. I really enjoyed it - in case you can't guess that by what I said in the previous section - and the fact that I'm currently reading the sequel. As always, Sanderson's worldbuilding is incredible and I really admire the magic system in these books.

The Final Empire starts out as if it's going to be a straight-forward heist plot in a fantasy setting, but it becomes so much more than that.

 

What do you think you'll read next?

Next, I'll be reading Faithless by Graham Austin-King. I've been very fortunate to receive an ARC from the author and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Here's the blurb:

The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the civilised world are no more. Priests huddle in the great temple clinging to the echoes of their lost religion. But the Father has fallen silent. There are none who still hear his voice.

The mines of Aspiration lie far below the marble halls of the great temple. Slaves toil in the black, hoping to prove worthy of acceptance into the church. Wynn has been sold into this fate, traded for a handful of silver. In the depths of the mines, where none dare bring a flame, he must meet the ore tally or die. But there are other things that lurk in that darkness, and still darker places within the hearts of men.

When the souls bound to the great forge are released in a desperate attempt to seek the Father’s voice, one novice is forced to flee down into the black of the mines. The soulwraiths know only hunger, the risen know only hate. In the deepest corners of the mines Kharios must seek a light to combat the darkness which descends.

Sounds great, doesn't it? I believe it's scheduled for release on June 29th so expect to see a review around then!

 

What are you reading just now? Are you enjoying it? Leave a note in the comments!

Status Update

I've been neglecting this blog recently and that makes me sad. The fact is that I just don't have enough hours in the day for all of the things that I'm trying to do. So I'm spending some time looking at my priorities and deciding how to go forward from here.

Obviously, my first priority has to be my family. Since I have young children, that may just mean that I can't be as organised as I would like. Any schedule I come up with is really only as good as it fits around them.

Them I have to focus on the writing that pays, whether that's the books or my Patreon page. That's just common sense.

For me, the blog comes next. You see, I really enjoy writing to this blog. I enjoy the conversations and community that have come out of it. I love having somewhere to talk about the books I'm reading as well as the ones that I'm writing.

I think housework probably has to come in this slot. I mean, the laundry won't do itself - as much as I wish it would!

I have to make time for social media but I think I need to be structured in my approach to it. Otherwise I lose an hour on Twitter reading other people's posts without saying anything productive myself...

In amongst all that I have to find time for promotional activity for the work already published. As well as arranging more live events. I really enjoyed the reading that I did last year but it's tricky fitting things like that in around my kids and all of their commitments. I'm working on it though! I'm hoping to get a few things set up over the summer when there aren't so many clubs etc on for the kids.

Patreon

I took some time off Patreon earlier this year because I couldn't fit everything in but now that the baby is getting into more of a routine, I plan to start it up again at the beginning of June. So if you'd like extra Flash Fiction, exclusive access to deleted scenes, first drafts, early information and even a monthly video chat,  check it out and sign up today.

Approaching World Building

One of the most enjoyable and most challenging parts of writing fantasy is the world-building. There are fantasy writers who spend years creating a world before they feel ready to write a story set there. They have maps, detailed histories, notes of the flora and fauna and knowledge of political factions in every country – but they don’t have a book.

I’m very different from this. I’m what is sometimes known as a pantser (as in flying by the seat of the pants) although the term I prefer is discovery writer. What this means is that I discover the story, and the world, as I write.

When I sat down to write Ashael Rising, I knew very little about KalaDene. In fact, it didn’t even have a name until the third draft or so. My world-building was all done as I went along. I once heard an excellent description of the process; it explains just what it feels like to me so I’m going to share it here. World-building for me is like walking through a tunnel (the world) with a torch (the story) so I can see as much of the world as the story shines a light on and a little bit around the edges but everything else is just fuzzy shapes in the darkness, with maybe a puff of cool air indicating that there might be a door to somewhere else off to the left.

 

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. For example, sometimes I could spend most of my writing time for the day trying to figure out how the limits to the magic system worked or whether the climate I’ve described would support the plants that I have my characters eating. That’s not a particularly efficient use of my time and would not have come up had I built my world in advance. On the other hand, people who have created an entire world before writing a book will often find that they have wasted time in building details that they do not need for the book – time that could have been spent writing.

It also means that I made substantial changes between my first and second drafts, tightening up world-building details, as well as improving the plot, and fitting in things that I changed or introduced over the course of writing the first draft. My understanding is that this is common for discovery writers while people who have plotted and world-built in advance will often have something close to the finished work at the end of their first draft. This probably balances out though – they spend the time up front, before they start writing, and I spend it at the other end.

One of the things that I like about my approach is the massive amount of flexibility it gives me. If I find myself inspired by something I see on a nature documentary (something that happens more often than you might think) I generally have space to work it into my world somewhere. I do have a few notes to myself about elements I’d like to fit into book two.

The only major drawback that I’ve experienced is that, since I make things up as I go along, I have no idea what will end up being important and I must try and keep the elements of an entire world straight in my head – something the planners don’t have to do. I have taken to keeping a world-building file open while I write, somewhere to make notes of characters that I’ve introduced, plants that I’ve made up along with their uses, distances between places and so on. The thing is, I’m pretty bad at actually updating the file. While I’m writing, I’m too involved in the story to keep stopping and starting and switching files. More than once I’ve found myself having to search back through the text to check how I spelled something a few chapters ago or whether or not I said a particular plant was poisonous or what someone’s name is. Again, not the most efficient use of my time. Still, efficient or not, it is the way that works for me and it’s the way I’ll continue to work for the time being.

Review: Bellica by Katje Van Loon

Conspiracy. Magic. Courage.

All Bellica Yarrow wants from life is to stay the course. Her military career fulfills her childhood dreams and affords her a freedom royalty never did. Yarrow doesn’t need anything more than the steadfast friendship of her Major, Caelum, and her Chief Medical Officer Jules.

The Goddesses have other plans, however. They set in motion events that threaten the bellica with madness and despair. Constancy has been Yarrow’s standby, but betrayals on every side push her further into chaos. She watches the puppet-Empress, her aunt, destroy the country, and dreads the day Zardria, her power-hungry twin sister, takes the Sceptre and rules openly.

Should Bellica Yarrow keep her military oath, or topple her sister’s cruel regime? Can she?

The choice is nearly impossible. The longer she equivocates, the more she risks the lives of everyone she holds dear. Meanwhile, Zardria has her own idea of how events should unfold - and what Yarrow doesn’t know could cost the bellica her life.
— Blurb

I recently finished reading Bellica by Katje Van Loon and I'm glad that I did. The book is free on Amazon or the author's website so if you like fantasy, you have nothing to lose by giving this book a chance.

The story follows several viewpoint characters and I enjoyed seeing the events from so many different perspectives. If I had one complaint it would be that some of these characters only have one or two sections from their POV, making them easily forgettable in such a large tale.

My favourite character is not the "main" character, Bellica Yarrow but instead the healer Ghia. I liked Ghia's strength and wit, her willingness to give her all to help others and her dedication to her job. Yarrow is a less sympathetic character, despite having multiple scenes from her POV. It's hard to get a grasp of what she actually cares about.

The author did a very good job with her "villain" Zardria, setting her up as a distant monster and then taking us in close to see how she became the woman that she is and show her more reasonable side.

One of the things that really stood out in this book is the author's study of gender. The status quo is switched so that women are dominant in this society and in all most of the positions of leadership. Van Loon also makes interesting use of gendered words - wife, for example, means male spouse in Athering, while husband means female spouse. The book examines gender roles without becoming preachy.

Bellica is an enjoyable fantasy novel and I look forward to reading more by this author - I've already bought a copy of the sequel, The Jade Star of Athering.

Interview with TL Greylock

Today I have another instalment in my series SPFBO interviews. You may remember Taya from the guest post she gave us a few weeks ago, on choosing the next story to work on.

Welcome back, Taya!

First welcome to the blog! Thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this series of interviews.

Thank you for inviting me!

1)      What made you decide to self-publish your book?

One of my primary reasons was the fact that I have an uncle who has successfully established himself as a self-published author. He puts out a book a year in his mystery series and has developed a devoted audience who, by now, will read anything he writes. While I knew the road was a difficult one, I also felt I had a good example to draw from, not to mention a ready source of advice.

2)      What advantages and disadvantages have you experienced in self-publishing?

Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. This is the bane of my existence, as I know it is for many self-published authors. Not only is it time consuming, I’m about as comfortable with it as a cat caught in a rainstorm. And while I know that most traditionally published authors these days have to do far more marketing of their work than in the past, there is at least the framework of a system that is meant to help them.

The chief advantage is, of course, the ability to retain control over my work. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a my way or the highway type of person. I like collaboration and the ability to work with others to create the best book I can is incredibly important to me. But I do appreciate the fact that the final say is mine.

3)      Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

Why wouldn’t I? Honestly, there was no foreseeable downside.

4)      Can you tell us a bit about the book that you entered?

It’s called The Blood-Tainted Winter and it’s the first in a series called The Song of the Ash Tree. The story is set in the nine realms of Norse mythology and follows a young man who must wade his way through grief, deceit, alliances, and war mongering after the sudden death of his father. To top it off, the gods are meddling in the affairs of men, causing chaos and destruction that can only herald darker and more dangerous times ahead. I like to think of it as a love child between historical Vikings and The Iliad.

5)      How was the experience of participating for you?

I’ve had far more fun than I imagined. Getting to know other authors and some of the reviewers has been truly enriching and I feel like we’ve carved out a little community that, I hope and believe, will stick together and continue to support each other.

As a reader, I’ve made a concerted effort to read other entries. I’ve now read four entries, three sequels, one entry from last year’s contest, and a blogger’s novelette. The variety within the pages of those books has been refreshing and entertaining and I’m looking forward to continuing to read within the SPFBO community.

6)      Did taking part have any effect on your sales as far as you are aware?

Nope. And that’s ok. I think only the ten finalists and a few exceptions (namely Josiah Bancroft for Senlin Ascends) can expect to see that kind of return, and while that would be a nice benefit, I think I have stumbled on other, less tangible benefits—the camaraderie and support mentioned above is so important and I value it tremendously.

7)      What was the best and worst /part of the experience for you?

The wait was rough! Waiting for my blogger to get to my book was nerve-wracking, but I was lucky to have a blogger who put out frequent updates as to her progress and timeline; she also got through her stack of books remarkably quickly.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the community that has formed out of the contest has definitely been the best part—not least because it was so unexpected.

8)      What are you working on now?

I’m closing in on releasing the third and final book in The Song of the Ash Tree trilogy. It’s been sent off to the formatters—YAY. I got side-lined at the end of 2016 when I started a new job after moving back to the States, so publishing book three, Already Comes Darkness, seemed to keep slipping away from me. I’m so glad to finally have the final stages underway.

Writing-wise, I’m so, so eager to get to work on something new. It’s actually been well over a year since I’ve written anything new other than a few small snippets of ideas here and there and, of course, revisions for Already Comes Darkness. Writing a dissertation kind of cramped my style! I have a few ideas rattling around in my grey matter and I know I just need to pick one and let the garden grow.

9)      Do you have any other projects planned?

Planned? I don’t understand this word….

I’m definitely a pantser/gardener when it comes to writing—which is a bit strange considering how I go about some other aspects of my life (you should see me plan my travels…). That being said, I do have a range of projects in mind, some of which I might never pursue. I’m a believer in the theory that a writer should try to forget all of her ideas—it’s the idea that can’t be forgotten that needs to be written.

Right now, the idea I’m trying to forget seems to be some sort of nebulous wild west fantasy. Emphasis on nebulous.

10)   What does your typical writing day look like?

I wrote all three first drafts of the books of The Song of the Ash Tree back to back, and during those months, I wrote nearly every day. I skipped a couple holidays and there were some days when I was bogged down in the opening of book three that I just needed to take some time to figure out what the hell I was doing, like the day I decided to delete 40,000 words.

I miss those days.

At first, I wrote every day out of fear. Fear that I would stop and give up on the story, just like I had so many times before. After about 50,000 words of the first book, I realized I wasn’t afraid anymore and I wrote every day because I wanted to. I really came to enjoy the habit and discipline of it and I want to build that up again.**

**Struggles may ensue. I now have a full time job I didn’t have when I was writing The Song of the Ash Tree, but I will persevere!

11)   Do you have a favourite quote about writing?

I’m not much of a quote collector, but I’m rather fond of Raymond Chandler’s line: “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” Can’t go wrong with that.

12)   Where can we connect with you?

www.tlgreylock.com

I tweet: @TLGreylock

I take pictures: @tl_greylock

I have a book of faces: www.facebook.com/tlgreylock

 

How it all Began

Today I'm going to share with you a post that I wrote for Peter Hutchinson over at http://thegrimdarkfiles.typed.com  on my journey to publication.

I have wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. As a child, I wrote stories in notebooks that I carried with me. In my teens, the film Bucket List was a big thing and Write a Book was number one on mine. As an adult, I never thought I would actually get around to it; I mean who has the time? But I still squirreled away ideas, guarding them jealously against the possibility that I would win the lottery and become a lady of leisure.

About nine years ago, I had a dream that, immediately upon waking, struck me as one of those ideas and though much of the dream faded, the final image has stayed with me all these years.

Beginning to Write

Fast forward to 2014. I was approved for a career break to care for my two young children. My husband and I were joking about how I wouldn’t know to do with myself having so much free time on my hands and he suggested that I use the time to write a book. I think at the time he was mostly joking and I laughed it off but the idea lodged in my mind. What better chance would I have?

I started to read books about writing – my first resource whenever I want to learn something new – and eventually I bit the bullet and sat down at my laptop. I didn’t have any clear idea about what I was going to write, there was just that one dream image in my mind.

In my dream, I was a warrior fairy, battling against evil wizards who were destroying my land. None of that made it into Ashael Rising. The final image that stayed with me was flying across a desolate land, looking for any sign of life. This features only in a small way in Ashael Rising but it foreshadows things to come. You see, it’s just a tiny part of what I discovered to be a huge story.

Ashael is not a fairy, in fact she is a human medicine woman, living in a culture roughly equivalent to a stone-age tribe. And the Zanthar are not evil wizards but are invaders from another world who extend their own lives by stealing the life force of other races and worlds. They do use magic but access to it is strictly controlled by their culture of castes – only those of the highest castes are permitted to extend their lives.

The Zanthar invaded Ashael’s world, KalaDene, generations in the past and their most powerful mage was defeated and humiliated. Now they’re back for revenge and in search of The Vessel, a being prophesied to hold the life-force of the entire world.

After a few months of writing I hit a crisis of confidence and struggled with moving forward so I joined an online writing group called Scribophile and from there, a smaller, intensely focused group.

 

The Ubergroup

I joined the Ubergroup, a group on Scribophile dedicated to putting together small teams who commit to exchanging a chapter a week. This was the best thing I could have done for my writing. Having a commitment to other people helped me to keep moving with the work, making sure that I wrote a chapter a week but, more importantly, the team was invaluable. A group of guys, they all offered a different perspective in their critiques of my work and really helped me to shape the novel and think about deeper things than just what was going to happen next. For example, Iwan was a minor character at the beginning. It was only when one of my group suggested that Ashael needed a love interest – or at least an explicitly stated reason for not having one – that I started to look at him in a new light and he grew to become not only a main character but one of my favourites.

When I got to the end of the first draft, they helped me to see that I had started and ended the story in the wrong places. I went back and added about seven chapters to the beginning and ended the book a fair bit sooner than I had in the first draft. It’s a much better structure that way, giving my characters more room to grow.

I also learned a lot from critiquing their work. It helped me to recognize areas of my own writing that could be improved and I got to see how some really talented writers approached their drafts. About nine months after joining Ubergroup I completed the first draft of Ashael Rising.

That was at the end of January, 2016.

 

Enter Unbound

 I started working on the second draft of the book and thinking about pitching it to agents etc. In my mind, I still had a long way to go. I thought I had potential, but I would have to spend another few years refining my craft and it might take another few books before I saw publication.

Then I heard of Unbound, the world’s first crowd-funding publisher. I was really interested in their model, and in the fact they believe the choice of what to publish should be in the hands of readers – not based on some celebrity’s latest project.

One Friday in February, I saw that Unbound were doing a pitching hour on Twitter. I saw them give feedback on pitches to some people and decided that they looked friendly so, on a whim, I pitched them, hoping to get some feedback.

They asked for the manuscript.

I went into an immediate panic – it was still the first draft after all, and I knew that it still needed quite a lot of work.

I sent the manuscript as requested with a note explaining that it was the first draft and a rough outline of the changes I was planning to make. At this point, my hope was that they might give me some editorial feedback and agree to look at it again at some point in the future, after I had fixed it up.

For the next week or so, I checked my e-mail at least 50 times a day, waiting for the inevitable rejection. I mean, even Stephen King (my hero) collected plenty of those. I finally accepted that this would take a while and tried to put it out of my mind, getting back to work on the second draft.

On the 9th of March, 2016, I received this e-mail:

 

There was quite the celebration in my house that night!

Crowdfunding

Next came the crowdfunding campaign. Now, that was hard work. I wrote guest posts for lots of blogs, got involved with social media and basically tried to convince people to pre-order my book. I spent hours a day on the campaign, all while working on the second draft of the book, looking after my children and caring for the house. And then I discovered I was pregnant with our third child so I had morning sickness to contend with too!

I was overwhelmed by the generosity and support of my family and friends. For some of them, especially my parents and in-laws, this will likely be the most expensive book they have ever bought since they made substantial pledges to my campaign. I couldn’t have done it without them. My main hope now is that I can make them proud. That Ashael Rising will be successful and will justify their faith in me.

My campaign was 100% funded after around 87 days.

Publication

Ashael Rising was published in E-book on the 6th of February and paperback three weeks later.

I have gone from pitch to publication in less than a year. I was accepted based on the first draft of my first novel. It’s not the story that we’re all used to hearing but it is my story and it’s been a crazy ride.

Writing Gender in Fantasy

I have been reading fantasy novels for as long as I’ve been able to read and in the vast majority of those novels, the protagonist was male. This is actually a pattern that is true for all genres that I read – note that I don’t tend to read romance, which has a much higher occurrence of female protagonists.

In Ashael Rising, I did not set out to write a female protagonist because of this – the book is based on a dream and Ashael is very loosely based on the role that I played in the dream and so she is female because I am female. However, it occurred to me after I had started that I had the opportunity to do something different. With a few notable exceptions, the women I have encountered in fantasy novels tend to come in broad stereotypes – the damsel in distress and the warrior in a dress being the most common in my experience.

I knew that I wanted to write a real woman. Ashael is strong because she knows the right thing to do and does it, not because she can wield a weapon. There is romance in her life but she is complete without it and it is not her first priority. She does not wait for a man to save her but is perfectly capable of saving herself. Like so many women, she gives to the point of self-sacrifice but she does this from a place of love, not out of a lack of self-worth.

I realised that one character, one woman, would make no difference if she was surrounded only by men. Ashael Rising has several significant female characters. Bhearra, Ashael’s mentor, is perhaps my favourite. She is the oldest person in the community – so old that she has lost track of her age. The healer and spiritual leader of the community, she is vibrant and tireless, rising before dawn and working long after many others have settled down for the night. Long widowed, she has an occasional lover. Although she has her flaws, which I can’t say much about, Bhearra is the type of woman I aspire to be.

Rana, Ashael’s best friend, is co-leader of the community with her mate, Joren. Rana has a nurturing soul and mothers everyone, cooking for others and making sure they are well-clothed. She is also a skilled hunter, often providing meat for them all. She supports the weight of her community and makes sure to know what’s happening in the lives of the people she cares for.

Alayne, close friend of Ashael and Rana, is heavily pregnant when we meet her but that doesn’t stop her flirting with Iwan. After her son is born, she happily co-parents with her mate, Gethyn, while still joining hunting and foraging groups. Alayne is brave, volunteering for a task that could result in her death.

Then there are the females of other races that we are only introduced to in Ashael Rising. Merelle of the Zanthar, a scheming manipulator and adulterer, happy to play every political game available to her in order to gain power.

Tchalikila of the Agnikant, a sorceress who knows more about Ashael’s past than our heroine does herself.

One of the things that was very important to me in writing these women was that they owned their bodies and their sexuality. For too long, women have been portrayed as play things for men to enjoy. Now, I do not actually have any sex scenes in the book but there are clear references to that facet of human relationships. Bhearra has a “friend with benefits”, Rana is happily mated in every way and Merelle is aggressive, taking what she wants. As for Ashael, well *spoilers*.  

Having created these strong, rounded women, I needed to give them a society that they could thrive in, one built around respect and equality of all people, a utopia of sorts. That was more difficult than I expected. I found myself slipping into the familiar – having a man dismiss something as female intuition, defaulting to having women carry out all of the caring duties and food preparation etc. It took a conscious effort to remove these things. In doing so, I thought about the boxes that we shove men into and how restrictive traditional gender roles are for them too.

I started to think about how men are so often portrayed as stoic, unemotional, power hungry. Writing characters like that would be no fairer to men than the damsel-in-distress is to women. I started to think about how masculine stereotypes can be harmful to men and what I might be able to do to counter those stereotypes.

Here, in the UK, men are often put under pressure to show no emotion, to ‘man up’ and pretend that they do not have feelings so I decided to show the men in my book in all their emotional glory. Iwan experiences fear both for himself and for his mother. We also get to see him falling in love. Joren shares his doubts with Rana, admitting that he does not know how to lead the community through this crisis. He gratefully accepts her support. Colm worries about his mate and misses her when he they are separated.

What began as an intention to write realistic, well-rounded female characters led to an exploration of gender, how it is shaped and expressed in our society and how it could be in a culture where people are encouraged to be the truest version of themselves regardless of their gender. I hope that in this book I have been created characters capable of standing as role models for both young women and young men.