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.

Review - Asian Monsters

asian-monsters.jpg

You may have noticed that I'm already behind on my Reading Around the World Challenge. This is because I've had less reading time than I anticipated. If I happen to be sitting still for any length of time without the baby in my arms then I fall asleep. It's taking longer for me to get through books than usual and I've been prioritising my review commitments. So far I have only read one book for the challenge but I started with a great one! In the interests of transparency, I received a free copy of Asian Monsters in exchange for an honest review and the review will also appear  on the British Fantasy Society website.

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

Here be Monsters! They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown, misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to reestablish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror.

This is the third book in the Monsters series, put together by Margret Helgadottir with Fox Spirit. The other two volumes are European Monsters and African Monsters. The blurb states that the book seeks to give monsters a renaissance, remind us of their terror. It certainly achieves that.

The first thing you will notice about this book is that it is beautiful. The cover, illustrated by Daniele Serra, is striking, it’s muted colours working to draw the eye. There is art work throughout the book which captures the essence of the monsters perfectly – some of the pictures managed to give me a shiver! Art is provided by Cindy Mochizuki, Daniela Serra, Dave Johnson, Imran Siddiq, Kieran Walsh and Vincent Holland-Keen.

The writing is just as beautiful as the artwork, with stories from award-winning authors Ken Liu, Aliette de Bodard and Usman Malik as well as Xia Jia, Eve Shi, Isabel Yap, Benjamin Chee, Eliza Chan, Eeleen Lee, Cy Yan, Fran Terminiello, Sunil Patel, Yukimi Ogawa and Vajra Chandrasekra. Any fan of short, speculative fiction will recognize many of these names from magazines such as Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s and Clarkesworld. It’s like reading a who’s who of speculative fiction and on that basis a lone the book is well worth reading.

The stories are wonderfully put together, with a clear feeling of flow from one to another. The theme of spirits and ghosts carries through the collection. It suggests a pre-occupation with family, with the past, with ancestors. From the ghosts who live on Ghost Street in Xia Jia’s A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight, to the judgement of Eliza Chan’s Datsue-Ba and the revenge of a mistreated daughter in Eeleen Lee’s Let Her In.

All of the stories are captivating and well written and all give a glimpse of Asian folklore and culture. I suspect that I will return to this book many times in the future, finding something new with each visit. I tried to select my favourite story to write about and found it really difficult but eventually I narrowed it down to Golden Lillies by Aliette de Bodard and Grass Cradle, Glass Lullaby by Isabel Yap.

Golden Lillies tells the story of a hungry spirit, woken with offerings in order to grant a wish. The offerings she is brought are never enough and the young woman who woke this spirit in desperation will get much more than she bargained for.

Grass Cradle, Glass Lullaby uses an unusual narrative format which I think works well in short fiction. This is a tale of a baby, found unexplained by a woman who is willing to overlook all manner of things if it means she can be a mother. Things like her baby’s dislike for garlic.

I highly recommend this book, and will be acquiring the rest of the anthologies in the series.

Interview with Dyrk Ashton

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Today we have another instalment in the SPFBO interview series! I was lucky enough to catch up with Dyrk Ashton, author of Paternus, finalist in SPFBO 2016. First welcome to the blog! Thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this series of interviews.

Thank you for considering me for your SPFBO interview series, Shona!

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

There were a number of factors involved, and I’m a bit of an odd case, so my reasoning and justification may be equally odd. I’m a bit older than most getting into fantasy writing these days. I worked in Los Angeles in the film business for a number of years, as an actor and a producer. I wrote spec screenplays and queried agents for quite awhile regarding those as well. I’m familiar with how the film biz of production, talent, agenting and distribution works. I also have friends who are professional writers, screenwriters as well as novelists, who have agents and publishing deals and are successful, and some who have had both and it all went terribly sour. The film and publishing businesses are very similar.

I wrote Paternus because I had the time, or could make the time, and I had always wanted to write a novel and I needed a creative outlet. Mostly, though, because I wanted to read it. Publishing was always secondary to me. I’m not vehemently opposed to the traditional publishing route, but I could never drum up the enthusiasm for getting into that game again. And it’s not like we have a choice of self-pub or traditional. We can self-pub or attempt the traditional route. I’m also not thrilled with the idea of being held to deadlines. I write because I love to right. To have to judge my days by word count output or rely on churning out writing product to make my living actually sounds terrifying to me. I have utmost respect to those who can do it, I just don’t know if that’s for me. The more research I did, comparing the two, the more self-pub appealed to me.

Then a good old friend with a great deal of experience read the book and he loved it. He said that if he were me, he’d self-pub. He was certain an agent or editor would want me to make changes that would significantly alter what the book was - and he loved what the book was. Now, I have no problem changing things if I think it will make the book better - but I also still have to like it. I’m not interested in making my work different (and not necessarily better) to make it more marketable by someone else’s reckoning. I don’t want to do something I don’t like personally. There are certainly things about Paternus that some people don’t like, but I did all those things on purpose because I like books that are like that - if it was much different, I wouldn’t like it as well. That may sound selfish, but if I can’t please myself, or I’m spending my time trying to please others (and believe me I spent enough years doing that), I just don’t want to do it.  I also got a lot of feedback from good readers and other authors. Of course it would be fantastic if Paternus became a bestseller and made millions and got a movie deal (yeah right), but, I’ll honestly be fine if  it doesn’t. That said, I do market and promote to get my work noticed. If it fails, I don’t want it to be because I didn’t try my best.

 

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

That’s a grand question that deserves a grand answer, which I’m not sure I can give justice to here. I spent months comparing the two approaches, weighing pros and cons. Traditional can have the benefit of larger budgets, talented editors, powerful agents, marketing muscle - or not, actually, depending on the size and quality of the publisher (and agent). There are plenty of trad-pub horror stories. There is also the prestige of being a “published author,” but I’m personally not all that interested. Of course there are a whole lot of trad-pubbed authors who are really talented and don’t care about that, I’m not saying everyone is on an ego trip. But there are those who look down their noses at folks who self-pub. Let’s be honest, there are a ton of books coming out of big trad-pub houses that are, well, not good. Even badly edited. And there are commercial failures of great books, successes of books that are, again, not good. It’s a crapshoot in many ways.

So is self-pub, of course. There are tons of terrible self-pubbed books. I’d venture to say the vast majority are not that great. I think, though, that enough self-pubbed authors are good enough, and have gotten savvy enough, that the bar is rising very quickly. I also feel that readers are changing. The variety of reading tastes is broadening, they (we) are becoming both more and maybe less “discerning.” We don’t require that big publisher’s name on the spine so much any more. The gates of the old gatekeepers are burning.

The biggest advantage of self-pub is control. Control over content, artwork, marketing strategy. That can be frightening, though. I have a background as a professional film producer, though, so the day-to-day details of production and promotion weren’t that daunting to me. Still, it does take an amazing amount of time, time that I could be writing. Ultimately, though, I felt self-pub was the right thing for me.

 

3)      Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

I originally heard about it on Reddit Fantasy last year, when I was still an r/F newbie. I saw the r/F interviews with the top winners there last year. It looked like an amazing way to get  a self-pubbed book noticed, as well as to meet other people in the self-pub world . I kept an eye out, and when I saw it was going to happen again I jumped at the chance - at the last minute, because my book was just releasing at that time. I think I beat the entry deadline by a day, and I was like the 298th or 299th book before the 300 cut-off.

 

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

In my mind, Paternus is a modern myth about myths. It’s a fictional unified field theory that (fictionally) validates nearly every mythological being and story we’ve ever read.  On the surface, big bad ancient creatures around the world have come out of hiding and are assassinating others of their kind after thousands of years of relative peace. A couple of young people get caught up in these events and find themselves on the run for their lives - with some strange and frightening allies, some of whom they’ve known all their lives and thought were just regular folks (they aren’t, not even a little).

For me, though, Paternus is actually about the nature of reality itself and our perception of it, about considering the difference between what we know and what we think we know, about relationships, family, self-worth and identity. But with fights and scary monsters and gods. It’s modern fantasy, contemporary fantasy, or sometimes called mythic fiction. Some call it urban fantasy, but it’s not what I usually think of as urban fantasy. There’s no paranormal private detective and it doesn’t all take place in a city or urban areas. It’s comparable to American Gods or even Percy Jackson in genre, but significantly different from both, I think.

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5)      How was the experience of participating for you?

Unbelievable. Far better than I could have imagined. That goes for working with the people involved as much as the publicity the book has gotten. If it weren’t for the SPFBO the book (and I) would still be completely unknown, I’m convinced. The very best part, though, is that I have developed relationships with so many amazing people, including both the other authors and the bloggers. And then there are the introductions they make, directly or indirectly. Amazing. I’ve learned a crazy amount about everything from writing and marketing to production and finding editors and artists. I can't say enough good about the whole experience, I have been incredibly lucky. Mark Lawrence and the bloggers are absolutely fantastic for pulling this together and keeping it running.

 

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

Of course it’s hard to tell what really effects sales, but I’d say absolutely, without a doubt. I’m not getting rich by any means, in fact I’m still paying off costs, but I know for a fact the vast majority of sales I’ve had are a direct result of the SPFBO.

 

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

I’ve already addressed the best part. Worst part… There really isn’t any bad part, for me. I NEVER expected to make it to the final ten, for one thing. I really did get incredibly lucky to have been included in the Fantasy-Faction group that picked me out of their bunch of entries. The only thing I can think of might be the waiting. It’s a very long contest. BUT - that is also  a big part of what makes it so great. There is constantly new news coming out about it, for months and months, which is just plain spectacular publicity no matter how you slice it.  And FREE!

 

8)      What are you working on now?

I’m writing book two, and to some extent book 3, of the Paternus trilogy. Plan for release of book 2 is Summer 2017, book 3 Summer 2018.

 

9)      Do you have any other projects planned?

Other than some short stories and perhaps novellas based in the same “world” as Paternus, not really. Except I will definitely be doing a companion text for Paternus, which will include more background stories, descriptions, timetables, etcetera. I have hundreds of pages of tables, notes, backstories, etcetera, that I think will make for a fun addition to the saga.

 

10)   What does your typical writing day look like?

I generally try to get my day job work done in the morning and write for 2 to 4 hours in the afternoon. Any more time writing than that and my brain turns even mushier than it already is. With the first book out, though, there is much promotion and other biz stuff to take care of and track, so I find it harder to make all the time I’d like for actually writing.

 

11)   Do you have a favourite quote about writing?

I do! My favorite quote about writing, from one of my very favorite authors:

“Occasionally, there arises a writing situation where you see an alternative to what you are doing, a mad, wild gamble of a way for handling something, which may leave you looking stupid, ridiculous or brilliant -you just don't know which. You can play it safe there, too, and proceed along the route you'd mapped out for yourself. Or you can trust your personal demon who delivered that crazy idea in the first place. Trust your demon.” --Roger Zelazny

 

12)   Where can we connect with you?

Website: https://www.paternusbooks.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/UnDyrk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paternusbooks/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/undyrk/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dyrkashton

Amazon: http://myBook.to/Paternus

Audible: http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Paternus-Audiobook/B01MZ2QAR5/ref=a_search_c4_1_1_srImg?qid=1483017336&sr=1-1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30654612-paternus

WWW Wednesday 22/02/2017

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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?

Picking up the tale of Kvothe Kingkiller once again, we follow him into exile, into political intrigue, courtship, adventure, love and magic ... and further along the path that has turned Kvothe, the mightiest magician of his age, a legend in his own time, into Kote, the unassuming pub landlord.

Packed with as much magic, adventure and home-grown drama as THE NAME OF THE WIND, this is a sequel in every way the equal to its predecessor and a must-read for all fantasy fans. Readable, engaging and gripping THE WISE MAN'S FEAR is the biggest and the best new fantasy novel out there.

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Why, oh why, has it taken me so long to get around to reading this series? I keep seeing people complaining online about how long it takes Rothfuss to write these books but writing of this standard does not happen overnight. Beautiful prose, excellent world-building, fantastic attention to detail. I loved the first book and I'm loving this one too. I highly recommend them.

What have you recently finished?

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Here be Monsters! They lurk and crawl and fly in the shadows of our mind. We know them from ancient legends and tales whispered by the campfire. They hide under the dark bridge, in the deep woods or out on the great plains, in the drizzling rain forest or out on the foggy moor, beneath the surface, under your bed. They don’t sparkle or have any interest in us except to tear us apart. They are the monsters! Forgotten, unknown, misunderstood, overused, watered down. We adore them still. We want to give them a renaissance, to reestablish their dark reputation, to give them a comeback, let the world know of their real terror. Asian Monsters is the third in a coffee table book series from Fox Spirit Books with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world.

Asian Monsters edited by Margret Helgadottir. I'll be giving a full review of this next week but don't wait that long to buy it! Beautiful to look at and beautiful to read, the stories flow together very well and I've discovered some new authors to add to my ever-expanding TBR list! Featuring work from writers such as Ken Lui and Alliette de Bodard, this is a wonderfully put-together anthology, an excellent example of what small presses can do.

What do you think you'll read next?

Bellica: a pagan fantasy novel (The Third Age Book 1) by [van Loon, Katje]

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.

My TBR list gets longer every day but I think that I'll probably read Bellica by Katje Van Loon next as this is the next choice for my Reading Around the World Challenge. I have not read anything by this author before but we are online acquaintances and I'm excited to read this.

 

I have joined the Amazin Associates programme - this means that if you purchase a book after following the link from here, I'll receive a small payment. Nothing will actually change in the way that I write here - I've been linking to books on Amazon ever since I started this blog.

Guest Post: A Tale of Three Plots

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I've got a fantastic guest post for you today from indie author, Taya Greylock. Already Comes Darkness, the third volume in her The Song of the Ash Tree series is now available for pre-order from Amazon.  

A Tale of Three Plots

Or, In Which I Have a Conundrum, Solve It (Huzzah!), and Offer Sage Advice

 

Plot A has been lounging in the office of my brain for some time now. He seems content to wait, confident in the lack of competition. If my attention is a doctor, he’s the lone patient—and as long as no one else sees the doctor first, well, the wait doesn’t matter, does it.

Plot A is perfect. He checks all the boxes, hits all the ingredients:

  • A dash of history
  • Heaps of mythology
  • Stir to heart’s content

And while I’ve perhaps played a little hard to get, kept him waiting, I’ve been glad to know he’s there. He’s not going anywhere, you see, because he’s Mr. Right.*

* Yes, I’m mixing my doctor’s office, cooking, and romantic metaphors. Get over it.

But suddenly Plot A is no longer vying for my attention alone. In fact, despite his patience, he cannot be certain he’s even first in line.

Plot B is new and fresh and a bit unwieldy, not to mention wild. Plot B stormed in on a wave of righteous anger fueled by current events. (It may not surprise you to learn that Plot B has had an allergic reaction to Cheetos.) Plot B is mysterious (I don’t quite know what to do with him), dangerous (he’s far outside my strike zone), and extraordinarily tempting. As all Bad Boys are.

I haven’t yet extracted all of Plot B’s ingredients, so I really don’t know what boxes he checks, but he presents a challenge, one I think I should confront.

Plot A and Plot B have been mingling uneasily now for far longer than they would like. Plot A insists he’s the one, then gives Plot B the stink eye when he thinks I’m not looking. Plot B delights in A’s anxiety but inwardly questions whether his allure is enough to win me over. No adorable bromance here.

To make matters more complicated, Plot C waltzed in, unexpected, brimming with new car smell**, and oblivious to the stir she’s caused. Yep, Plot C is undeniably a she.

** I actually strongly dislike the smell of new cars, but let’s pretend that’s not true for the sake of yet another metaphor.

 

Plot C is an odd breed; she blends the attractive qualities of both A and B. She has all of A’s ingredients and more than a little of B’s mystery and exoticism. She would be both familiar and unfamiliar. But she hasn’t yet convinced me she’s made of enough substance to be anything other than a flight risk.

What Plots A, B, and C seem unaware of is that Plot Z actually snuck in before the office of my brain was open for business, wreaked havoc for 25,000 words, then crawled into a corner and has been sleeping peacefully ever since, rather like an exhausted puppy with large paws.

To Plot A’s despair and consternation, the office has become rather crowded, the line quite convoluted.

To recap: Mr. Right is feeling queasy, Monsieur Dangereux is a bit miffed that he hasn’t swept me off my feet already, Lady New Car is cheerfully provoking both of them, and there’s a puppy in the corner that could wake up at any moment.

 

The point of all this?

How should I choose what to write next?

Put more broadly, how do writers make these choices? What goes into that decision?

In a matter of days, my trilogy will be fully published. The project that has consumed me since October of 2013 will be entirely out of my hands. I’m not moping over the loss of this companion. I’m thrilled to finally have all three books out there in the hands of readers. To be honest, I’ve felt pretty distant from the story for probably about a year now—and I mean that in the best way. I care about it, it means more to me than I can probably ever put into words, and the last round of edits on book three late last year reminded me just how much it matters, but I’ve been able to let go. It doesn’t belong solely to me anymore.

I say this to make it clear that I’m not dragging my feet about what to write next because I’m still hung up on the story, characters, and world I created for The Song of the Ash Tree. If you’ll pardon me for extending the romantic metaphor once more, those three books are now a past relationship and I’m okay with that.

I’m ready to move on—but I don’t know what to move on to.

 

I’ve heard that a writer should try to forget her ideas and that it’s the idea that refuses to be forgotten that needs to be written. I’m a big believer in this. But I do have some issues with it: it’s kind of abstract and it doesn’t take into account the reality of being a self-published writer today.

There are a lot of mantras about how to be a successful self-published author—too many, actually—but one thing that can be backed up by statistics is the fact that publishing more frequently is undeniably helpful.

So how long is an intrepid writer, the heroine of this story, supposed to wait for those other ideas to be forgotten? How does this lofty ideal fit into her publishing schedule, which apparently is insisting on multiple books a year?

To be fair, I don’t think this advice about ideas is the same thing as waiting for the right idea. Waiting implies endlessly bemoaning the absence of a muse. If we all did that, we’d never write a word. But I do think there’s something—okay, A LOT—to be said for just sitting down and writing. Something. Anything. I subscribed to this advice while drafting all three books in The Song of the Ash Tree. I established a daily writing habit and I didn’t concern myself with perfection (that way lies madness) until after the first drafts were complete.

But the story for The Song of the Ash Tree is a unicorn in the sense that I KNEW I was supposed to write it. It actually was the idea I couldn’t forget and for the first time ever in my writing life, I felt like I was writing a story only I could write. The moral here is that I don’t think I can use The Song of the Ash Tree as my guiding light in deciding how to determine which plot I should pursue next. It’s an anomaly, an outlier. Which means I need to rely on other instincts and information to make my choice.

In short, I need to discover which plot is both right and right in this moment—if that makes sense. I need to know which plot I can sink into and enjoy and feel good about, while also being a plot that doesn’t require coddling and magic potions I don’t have, because, guess what, I have a schedule—not to mention a day job.

So, to return to the office of my brain: Plot A, Plot B, or Plot C? Which one deserves to emerge from the crowd?

I’m going to let you in on a secret.

Are you paying attention?

I don’t think it matters which plot I choose.

This appears to fly in the face of everything I said above (and it might, I can’t tell). Let me finish.

What matters is that I choose.

I have to commit. No more waffling, no more arguments and counter-arguments.

Despite being a unicorn, there is no doubt that The Song of the Ash Tree taught me to commit. And I believe I can do that again. I believe in my ability to write a good story, regardless of which plot I choose. I also believe in my ability to wrangle a non-compliant plot into surrender because I’ve done that.

I just need to put words to paper. I need to begin.

And you can do that, too. No matter if you are a new writer, just exploring your story inspiration, or an experienced old fart with a dozen or more books to your name, we all have to start in the same place: on a blank page (try to ignore that devilish, winking cursor as it stares up at you).

Now, excuse me while I go follow my own advice.

Curious about which plot wins the battle for my affections? Check back in a couple months and I’ll let you know.

Flash Friday - Midnight Carpet

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Welcome to Flash Friday! I hope you enjoy the story and have a great weekend! Gregor paced the small room, checking his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes. What was keeping them? Usually the night shift was quiet but he just knew that the night he was away from the desk would be one night a resident wanted something. He looked at his watch again. Almost midnight. He would wait five more minutes. If they hadn’t arrived –

A surreptitious knock sounded at the servant’s entrance.

‘Yes?’ hissed Gregor through the door.

‘It’s Samuel and Frank,’ came a muttered reply. ‘Hurry up and let us in!’

Gregor opened the door and stepped back. Two men were in the stairwell, a rolled-up carpet slung between them.

‘What took you so long?’ he demanded.

Samuel shot him an angry look but didn’t answer. He was flushed and out of breath from the climb to the top floor.

‘Where do you want it?’ Frank grunted.

‘This way.’ Gregor led them to the bedroom where had already turned on the lamps.

Samuel and Frank heaved the carpet onto the middle of the king-size bed then stretched and rolled their shoulders, sighing in relief. Gregor crossed himself then took out his pocket knife and cut through tape around the carpet, allowing it to flop open. There, looking grey already, was Mr. Hendricks.

Gregor shuddered, closing the sightless eyes of his employer’s body. He took the old man by the shoulders while Samuel took his feet and they lifted him, allowing Frank to pull the carpet out from beneath him.  Gregor and Samuel lay the body on the bed, pulling the duvet up as if their employer was sleeping. Frank lifted the paperback that was lying on the bedside table, The Hunt for Red October, and placed it beside Mr. Hendricks outstretched hand, as if he had fallen asleep reading.

‘When is Mrs. Hendricks due back?’ Samuel asked.

‘Henry is picking her up at the airport at six-thirty. They should be here by quarter past seven I should think,’ Gregor answered, looking around the room to make sure everything looked right. His eyes fell on a pair of checked pyjamas folded neatly on a chair in the corner.

‘Does he normally wear pyjamas?’ Gregor asked.

‘How the hell would I know a thing like that?’ Samuel snapped.

‘Well it seems kind-of important if we want it to look like he died in his sleep!’

Frank cursed and turned his back on the other two. Gregor pinched the bridge of his nose and thought. Would something as small as whether or not he was wearing pyjamas really make any difference? Then he thought of Mrs. Hendricks with her big heart. Always a kind word for the staff. He remembered how she had arranged for Sue to get a scholarship so she could go to private school. Anything that might make Mrs Hendricks doubt what had happened was a problem.

‘The pyjamas must be lying out because he wears them. We better put them on him,’ Gregor said with a sigh.

‘Are you kidding me?’ Frank snapped. ‘He’s getting stiff already. How we gonna do that?’

‘Do you want Mrs Hendricks to come home and wonder why her husband was sleeping naked if that’s not his habit? Maybe start to wonder if someone else was here?’

Frank glared at Gregor but instead of arguing, he stomped over to the chair and grabbed the pyjamas. ‘Give me a hand then.’

Samuel hauled the old man into a sitting position while Gregor and Frank struggled to get the pyjama top on him. Mr Hendricks’ limbs were getting difficult to move but they hadn’t quite set into full rigor mortis yet. By the time they were pulling their boss’ trousers up, Gregor was panting and a light sheen of sweat covered his brow.

As the three men trooped out of the bedroom, Gregor turned around and looked over the room one last time. The lamp glowed softly, casting the old man’s face in shadow. It looked for all the world as if he had fallen asleep reading. As if he was still sleeping now. The enormity of what had happened hit him and Gregor tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He had never cared too much for the old man but Mrs Hendricks, she was a classy lady. Gregor knew that she would probably move now, to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. He would miss her.

Samuel had brought in a bag and was putting the old man’s clothes in the laundry room. A flash of black lace caught Gregor’s eye and he grabbed the pile of clothes from Samuel before he could drop them in the basket.

‘What’s this?’ Gregor said, waving the black bra at the other two men. ‘All of this trouble and you nearly blow it by leaving this with his clothes?’

‘I’m getting really tired of your preaching Greg,’ Frank muttered. You didn’t exactly do the hard part of the job, you know what I mean?’

‘Think of the lady. You want Mrs Hendricks to figure out her husband spent his last night with his mistress? Died in bed with someone half his age? You think she deserves that?’

‘Maybe she ought to know he wasn’t exactly as pure as the driven snow!’

‘Just get out of here. I’ll finish up and make sure you didn’t miss anything else.’

Gregor hustled Frank and Sam out the back door with the carpet and then went through the apartment, carefully checking every detail he could think of. The bra, he stuck in his pocket until he could get rid of it.

 

It was a little after seven forty-five when Mrs Hendricks walked through the lobby, towing a little suitcase behind her.

‘Can I help you with that, ma’am?’ Gregor asked, getting to his feet.

‘Not at all, Gregor. I can manage,’ she answered with a smile.

Gregor couldn’t bring himself to smile back at her.

His shift finished at eight but he stuck around, taking his time with paperwork that didn’t really need completed, watching an ambulance and then the police arrive and go upstairs. Eventually, the bustle died down and the body was taken away and Gregor made his way up to the Hendricks’ apartment.

Mrs Hendricks opened the door when he knocked.

‘I just came up to say I’m sorry, ma’am. Is there anything I can get for you?’

‘Just some company Gregor. It’s early in the day but will you take a whisky with me?’

‘Of course, ma’am,’ Gregor answered, stepping into the living room. ‘What … what happened?’

‘It seems he died in his sleep. My poor Bert, all alone like that.’ Mrs Hendricks covered her face and began to sob.

Gregor put an awkward arm around her shoulders, comforting her as she wept for her husband.

 

If you enjoyed this please do leave a comment  - feel free to leave a prompt for the next story! Fancy something a bit longer? Ashael Rising is available now!

Review - Blood Shackles: Rebel Vampires Book Two by Rosemary A Johns

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Some months ago I read and reviewed Blood Dragons, the first book in the Rebel Vampires series so when I got a chance to read the sequel I was happy to do so. As with the first novel, there was a lot of slang and it felt like too much. For the first few chapters I found it very distracting – especially when M.C. speaks. After a while however I got involved enough in the story that I didn’t notice it so much, except for the scenes with M.C.

The book shares the same narrative form as the first – Light addresses his words to ‘you’, the ‘you’ in question being another character. In the first novel that was Kathy, with Light giving her tales from his early life and recounting how they met. In this second volume, ‘you’ is Grayse Cain, Light’s mistress, and the story is given in the form of a journal that Light keeps, directing his words to Grayse. I was skeptical at first that this narrative form would work a second time but I actually ended up enjoying it more in this novel.

Light recounts how he became enslaved by the Blood Club, the Cain family business. As can perhaps be expected, there are scenes of violence and torture, as well as sexual violence, which some may find difficult to read. These issues are dealt with tactfully and add to the work. Defanged and broken down by his captors, Light tries to hold onto himself and find a way to save his family – all while falling for his mistress.

Reading a sequel is always a bit nerve-wracking; will it be as good as the first? Will you still care enough about the characters to follow them through another novel? In this case, I actually ended up enjoying the sequel more than the first book, not an easy thing for the author to have accomplished!

Note – you do not need to be familiar with the events of Blood Dragons in order to read and enjoy Blood Shackles but the second volume does contain spoilers for the first.

Interview with James Flynn

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Today I'm sharing an interview with James Flynn, author of Conservation.

  1. Hi James, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name's James Flynn, I have a love for gritty science fiction, and my recently published novel is called 'Conservation'.

 

2. Tell us about Conservation. Do you have a favourite  quote or excerpt?

I have chosen to share this excerpt with you because it captures the evil and deceit that I tried so hard to create throughout the book. This chapter focuses on a character called Dolph Veale—a warped, dangerous crew member on board Conservation—as he receives a video call from earth. His ability to lie and manipulate others is displayed best in this section I think.

 

CHAPTER 6

     Unusually for him, sleep still had a grip on Dolph as he sat in the dingy depths of the control room. His night had been filled with wild dreams of eruptions, violence and glory, and he felt high from the visions that still drifted past his eyes. On the exterior, he still appeared sharp and well presented nonetheless and was ready to take on the task that was required of him. His silvering hair looked crisp and neat, and under the blue-green lights of the control room he had the appearance of a man half his age. He sat in the main station of the vast control room unit, perched in a large padded swivel chair in front of a sea of dials, waiting for the switchboard to start indicating an incoming signal from Earth. He knew full well how he was going to conduct this call, and he was using the last remaining minutes to prepare himself for some of the awkward questions that may be asked of him. Something very unexpected happened. The red neon light underneath the huge screen in front of him started flashing prematurely.

     He glanced at the clock a few rows below it—0852 a.m. GMT. He stared at the flashing light in puzzlement. It was highly unusual, if not unheard of, for Earth communications of any kind to be forward or behind the hour, even by a few minutes. He swiftly ran through some mental lines one more time and then hesitantly leaned forward to answer the call. The air around him was suddenly filled with bustling, crackling noise as the speakers kicked in.

     “Dolph? Dolph, are you there?”

     It was the voice of Damien Lowe.

     “Yes! I’m here! What are you doing calling the main control room for fuck’s sake? I’m expecting a call from Planet’s Reach any minute now!”

     Damien sounded worked up. His heavy, panting breaths shot through the intercom jarringly. “I’m sorry I…I couldn’t reach you on your normal line. Something’s…something’s not right, Dolph!”

     Dolph was furious. “What are you talking about? What’s not right?”

     He waited impatiently for a reply, but all he could hear was muttering and stuttering while Damien struggled to get his words out, choking on his own breath like a hyperventilating child.

     “Hurry up! I’m getting ready for an important call!”

     “W…we’re less than a mile south of the control room. W…we were on our way to the meadows and…”

     Damien paused to catch a breath.

     “Yes? And?” cried Dolph, watching the digital clock as it switched over to 0856 a.m.

     “There’s…There’s dozens of them…there’s…there’s fucking swarms of them!”

     “Swarms of whom?”

     “Outsiders! They’re advancing north and coming this way. They’re just a few hundred yards away from us now!”

     The sheer enormity of the situation would’ve been too much for most, but Dolph upheld his calm equanimity. Despite his swimming head and the imminent video call, he calmly ran through the corridors of his mind and dealt with the situation that was upon him.

     “Radio back to supply sheds and have them gather up everyone we have, including all the plantation workers. Get everybody armed up, and let them know your exact position so they can head out there with you. In the meantime, stand your ground and form a barricade. Keep them back as best you can, and I’ll be with you shortly.”

     “OK, I’ll get to it,” replied Damien. His voice was echoed with shouting and distant cries.

     The clock switched over to 0900 a.m. He knew that the intercom would start flashing any second now. He sat patiently in the neon glow of the dials and monitors, and right on cue, the red light started to flash up like a beacon among the surrounding blue hues, indicating that the call was coming through. If Dolph felt excited when he’d woken this morning, right now he felt ecstatic. His eyes were ablaze with fire and life; he felt galvanised from within. He leaned forward and confidently answered the call. There was a moment’s interference, and then a voice rang through the line.

     “This is central HQ; do you receive?”

     There was no video link just yet, just a voice emanating from the speakers.

     “Receiving loud and clear,” said Dolph.

     “Switching over to video link.”

     “Ready. Switching over now.”

     The large monitor burst into life up in front of Dolph, illuminating his neat, shaven face. There was an office, with two men at a large desk. One looked well-groomed in an immaculate-looking suit, and the other was an overworked looking man with glasses, peering through the screen at him with an intense level of curiosity.

     “I presume you are…Mr Veale?” said the suited man.

     “Yes, that’s correct.”

     “This is Paul Tringley, and sitting next to me here is my projects manager, Mr Adam O’Donnell.”

     For the ten seconds or so that the video link had been up, Dolph had already sized the two men up, peering deep into their souls for any signs of habits and weaknesses. He’d already worked out that the two men were in contrast to each other and that there was a certain amount of tension in the air between them. As they spoke, he continued to mentally strip them, assessing what they were worth.

     “We’ve been informed that you have kindly volunteered to take the call. We very much appreciate you taking the time to do this,” said Paul.

     “It’s the very least that I could do.”

     “It’s come to my attention that our interaction with you guys over there has been very limited. Mr O’Donnell is of the opinion that more personal contact with the ship from now on would be a good thing.”

     Dolph was surprised and delighted by the way that Paul Tringley came across. He carried a casual attitude that he hadn’t expected to see from someone within the higher echelons of the Mining Agency. This one will be easy to win over.

     “It’s a pleasure for all of us to be part of such a pioneering venture like this, and we’re all willing to do whatever we can to help.”

     Paul was nodding away while the other man was preoccupied, apparently looking around for someone.

     “We can see from the latest report that the ship is running its course very smoothly although we thought a video call would give us a better insight as to what was really happening up there among the crew,” said Paul.

     Dolph worked his magic, speaking mostly to Paul Tringley. He answered everything that was asked of him whilst simultaneously answering nothing at all. The formality of the call helped him to avoid certain subjects, and the unprofessionalism of the man who’d introduced himself as Paul Tringley eased his process of deception. Adam O’Donnell had hardly uttered a single word to him, and for the next ten minutes he only joined the discussion here and there, trying to push Dolph for a clearer picture on the ethos of the ship. At some point during the call, a third man came through the door behind them both. Dolph watched intently as he entered the room, knowing that he may have to deal with him as well and answer some of his questions. He didn’t look as executive as Paul and Adam did; he was dressed in a more casual outfit with an old satchel under his arm. Paul seemed to take this as a cue to round up his questions and leave, leaving Adam to take over. As the projects manager organised himself, Dolph glanced down at the clock and wondered how events were unfolding outside the control room. He considered it tragic that he wasn’t able to witness the action.

     “Erm, Dolph, from what I can hear, things are going well up there for you and the crew, but what I really wanted to get from this call was an insight into what the morale was like at the moment. I seem to know plenty about the cultivation figures but very little about the crew itself. So, how’s the politics up there on the ship?”

     Dolph studied Adam curiously as his twitching face illuminated the screen. Despite his fragile appearance, he seemed to have more of a desire to find out the inner workings of the ship, and it was this that forced Dolph to raise his guard.

     “We’ve formed a very close-knit team up here over the years, as you might expect. We’ve all seemed to have settled into a comfortable way of life, where everyone’s needs are catered for. It really is a beautiful thing. We all manage well with maintenance, too. We’ve discovered that the best way to maintain morale is to keep well on top of things in advance; that way things don’t get too strenuous.”

     Dolph knew that his unfaltering eye contact was having an effect on Adam. The man was starting to retreat into his shell, hesitating to push him any further than he might have otherwise done. Adam nervously adjusted his glasses and continued.

     “Well, morale is very important. I mean, our main objective is to keep the ship running healthily and to keep morale high. It’s vital that we do that to ensure the success of the mission. We…err…we’d also like to speak with other crew members in future, I think. Is there anybody else over there now? In the control room, I mean?”

     Dolph’s mind was alive with vivid images as he imagined the carnage that must’ve been taking place just outside the control room where he sat.

     “It’s just me in here today, unfortunately. I was hoping that there would be more of us here, but it was decided by the crew that I should take the first call, as some of the others are taking care of stock.”

     The second gentleman who’d entered the room a few minutes ago awkwardly hovered around the room behind Adam, not wanting to intrude on the discussion.

     “And how about the scheduled study time in the library? Are you all managing to get enough rest and leisure time?”

     “The library is a treasure chest of knowledge that we all appreciate, Mr O’Donnell.”

     Adam saw something in Dolph’s eyes and recoiled, though he didn’t mention it.

     “I, erm, I couldn’t help but notice that the wildlife reports have been a little vague lately, Dolph. Have you been surveying the animal population closely enough? The wildlife’s ability to live on Conservation will determine whether we will include animals on further projects in the future.”

     “The wildlife here is abundant. You must understand that our farming duties take up a lot of our day, but I’ll make a personal effort to spend more time on it in future if that’s what you want. We all understand that certain tasks must be adhered to, Mr O’Donnell.”

     Adam now seemed to be looking over his shoulder towards the other man in the room, gesturing for him to sit down next to him.

     “It needs to happen; it really does, but as for the wildlife, this man here is the one we need to speak to. Dolph, this here is Mr David Kingston. He is a donator to the Conservation project, and all of the wildlife on board the ship Conservation project, and all of the wildlife on board the ship Conservation originated from his stock. He is a well-established zoologist, and he would appreciate a few minutes of your time if you would be so kind?”

     Dolph let out a discreet sigh, realising that his questioning wasn’t yet over and that he was going to miss yet another ten minutes of the glorious bloodbath that was surely erupting outside.

     “Of course,” he said.

     “Thank you, Dolph.”

     He watched as Mr Kingston sat down. He seemed to be embarrassed by Adam’s flattery and had an air of humility about him. He had neatly combed white hair and a slim face that was rosy in colour. The zoologist looked like he was around sixty years old and obviously had a kind of classical English taste. He wore a tweed waistcoat with a pale collared shirt underneath and trousers to match. In many ways he looked like the stereotypical zoologist—reserved and slightly introverted. He appeared animated on the big screen in front of Dolph, as if his whole life had been leading up to this call.

     “Good morning,” he chimed.

     “Good morning to you,” replied Dolph, feeling like a spider luring in its prey.

     He knew that this man would have a lot of specific questions to fire at him, but he also knew that he would be putty in his hands.

     “From what I can see in these reports, it looks like the ecosystem is in a fairly good state. Are all the forests flourishing well?”

     The man’s words were brimming with class. To Dolph, he looked out of place among the technology in front of him. He looked like a throwback from another era, like he’d been teleported back from the nineteenth century perhaps. He would’ve looked better sat in an old Victorian house somewhere. Are all the forests flourishing well? His mind once again drifted, this time towards the southern end of the ship, towards the terrain that he had not laid eyes on in decades, where outsiders who refused to take part in his brutal regime had been left on their own to rot.

     “We’re all thankful for the beautiful surroundings that we’re treated to up here. The sights are superior to what most of us have ever seen, even back on Earth.”

     Keep it vague.

     He held David’s gaze and felt as though he had him in his grip.

     “Oh, I’m sure they really are superior compared to what we have left here on Earth now,” replied Mr Kingston with more than a little irony.

     “I’m sorry to hear that.”

     “That is the grim truth, I’m afraid. I think you all made a wise decision by boarding that vessel when you did. Mr Veale; here on Earth, due to the numerous extinctions that have occurred over the years, we have very little wildlife to actively study. Certain species are now completely lost to us forever. Colleagues at my foundation have requested information on the population of green-winged macaws on board the ship. The reports do not contain any data on these particular birds, but a colony was introduced to the habitat prior to the ship’s launch. This is a matter of importance to us as they all went extinct here on Earth many years ago. We are simply unable to study these birds first-hand on Earth, and we are very hopeful that the batch that was released on board Conservation have survived and flourished.”

     David’s grey eyes flickered with hope at the prospect that the ship may still be harbouring large colonies of these birds. He leaned forward, pushed his thin wire glasses up a little, and continued.

     “If there are colonies of these birds on board, close study and documentation of the species is of the utmost importance, Mr Veale. We would love to know about their coexistence with other animals on board, as well as the impact artificial gravity has had on them. We have a generation of students back here on Earth who have only textbooks and videos in which to study green-winged macaws, and we’d all love to be able to monitor some remaining living specimens.”

     Dolph had no choice but to admire David’s passionate enthusiasm.

     “I assure you that it will be treated with the utmost importance by all of the crew.”

     “Now, according to the notes in front of me, the greenwinged macaws were originally introduced towards the southern jungles of the ship. I imagine somebody must know if they’re still around there?”

     Dolph once again tried to picture the wild squalor that must’ve been present in the southern territory by now, and then pondered the possible war that could be raging in the closer vicinity. It was time to round up the call; he now simply had to attend to the matter outside.

     “I’ll ask the relevant people if we can get some crew members together and attend to this, Mr Kingston. I’m very eager myself to see if we can find some of these beautiful birds. I shall consult the library for reference and then put the word out accordingly.”

     He now spoke to David in a conclusive tone, suggesting that he was ready to end the conversation. David backed up and obeyed—manipulated by Dolph’s powerful presence.

     “I am very grateful for your cooperation, Dolph. Do keep us informed.”

     David awkwardly looked up and met Adam’s gaze, as if asking him to take over. Adam dropped what he was doing and sat back down.

     “Well, we all thank you for your time, Mr Veale, and I will look forward to receiving the wildlife reports. I also think that we should continue to conduct these calls as the ship reaches a point of no return.”

     “I agree. It will be a pleasure that we will all look forward to,” Dolph replied.

     “Yes, I’m sure it will. Do remember what we have discussed today, and we will conduct another call in four weeks’ time. We’ll be sending a confirmation message over shortly with the exact date and time. Thanks again.”

     “Thank you,” said Dolph, ending the call.

     He sat in stunned silence, staring at the tall blank monitor in front of him as it once again displayed a plain blue screen, illuminating his puckered skin with its glare. A mellow silence rang through the air around him, with just the buzz of screens and computers complementing it. He was feeling glory, bordering on elation. Deep inside his veins an adrenaline surged through him, but he still could not quite bring himself to move. His years of commitment had finally led him to this point, and he was determined to savour the moment as best he could. Electricity charged the air like the calm before a storm; he had so dearly hoped that this day would come. He took deep breaths, and through heightened senses tried to capture the moment and imprint it upon his memory. Finally, he dialled Damien’s number on the large panel in front of him. He answered on the first ring and sounded out of breath and panicky—even worse than he did before.

     “We’re in big trouble! There are hundreds of them…fucking hundreds! It’s some kind of ambush. We’ve managed to keep them back out at the edge of the plantations, but they just keep on coming.”

     Damien was not a man who panicked easily, and so the distress in his voice was all the confirmation Dolph needed that his day had indeed arrived. He rose to his feet with a newfound relish as the sound of toil and struggle blared from the speakers.

     “I’m on my way.”

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3. What inspired you to write this story?

I think I'm a bit of a pessimist at heart, and so my predictions for the future are quite often grim. I worry about the future of the planet regularly, and so I thought I would harness my worries, put them all together, and then use them to create an apocalyptic, dystopian vision.

 

4. Do you have any other projects on the sidelines?

I have a second novel in the pipeline that I've been working on for about a year and a half now. It is set in a fictional city in the future, and has many different themes running through it. This one explores a plethora of different subjects including the pharmaceutical industry, cryonics, and cloning. Like Conservation, this one will be a disturbing read, although the two books are very different. I hope to have it finished by the end of 2017.

 

5. What draws you to science fiction?

I think you have to write about what interests you, and I'm interested in science. I'm always reading about things like astronomy, evolution, and advancements in biology/medicine and things like that, so when I think of new ideas they are usually science fiction based. I've thought about writing a fantasy novel but I like there to be a bit of plausibility, so I haven't yet committed to such a venture.

 

6. Who or what is your writing inspiration?

Funnily enough, I'm massively inspired by authors who don't really write science fiction. Thomas Harris has had a huge effect on me with 'The Silence of the Lambs' and 'Hannibal', and Bret Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho' will be a book that I always remember. I'm drawn to dark, evil themes and characters, and always try to create antagonists who chill readers to the bone.

 

7. What do you do if inspiration won't come?

I first decided to write a book in 2012 with Conservation, then in 2015 I began my second book after having a second idea. I've already got a vague idea for a third novel, so I suppose a complete lack of ideas and inspiration hasn't happened to me so far. That's not to say it won't happen though, so maybe if I run out of ideas I'll just stop writing until something does come to me.

By the time I finish my third book it will probably be about 2020, so maybe I'll just have a rest! I'd rather write just three decent novels instead of dozens of mediocre ones anyway.

 

8. What's our favourite part of the writing process and what do you dread?

I think I prefer writing the rough drafts more than the final edits. By the time I'm writing a final edit I will have already gone through each section of text several times, and the whole process starts to become torturous. Reaching the last sentence of Conservation and pressing save was a happy moment for me. I was full of relief.

 

9. What's your biggest distraction?

I suppose its got to be social media—or just general laziness.

 

10. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I like to do a certain amount of planning before I commit to writing a novel just so that I don't end up wasting my time on something that will never work, but I find that once I start writing, one idea leads to another and the book can end up writing itself.

 

11. Tea or Coffee?

Tea all the way. I've never drunk coffee and there's no point in me starting now as it's not really that good for you. For about seven years now I've been drinking green tea, and I've never looked back.

 

12.What are the most important three things you've learned about writing, editing or publishing (or all of the above!) since you started your journey?

1- Know your characters and settings, even if you're not going to include everything you know about them. If you don't know that much about your characters it will show, no matter how much you try to hide it.

2- Everything takes ten times longer than you think it will.

3- Writing your book and getting it published is only about 10% of the work. You will then be faced with the gargantuan task of marketing it and getting people to read it.

 

13. What's your favourite quote about writing?

'We are all stuck inside a prison of words.'

 

14. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Don't wait until tomorrow, do it today. And be prepared to work for years to get to where you want to be.

 

15. Where can we connect with you?

Twitter is the best place @james__flynn (that's two underscores!)

I also have an author page on Amazon—just search for 'Conservation by James Flynn'.

There is a Conservation Facebook page.

Also, if you like artwork you can see a gallery of my drawings and paintings on Deviantart—

artistjames.deviantart.com

Interview with Me!

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I've been doing lots of interviews and guest blog posts this last few weeks to promote the launch of Ashael Rising and it occurred to me that my regular blog readers might find it fun to read one of the interviews. So, I bring you the interview I did for Claire Patel-Cambell. You can see the original and check out her blog here:  https://scriggler.com/DetailPost/Opinion/53893

You can also see a post I wrote about for her about speculative fiction here: http://phaedracalliope.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/why-speculative-fiction-guest-post-by.html

Here's the interview!

1)      Tell me a bit about yourself

I live in the west of Scotland with my husband and three children. I love spending time in nature and much of my writing is inspired by that. I love music and used to play the violin. I daydream about having a library in my house.

 

2)      Tell me about Ashael Rising (include a quote if you like)

Ashael is an apprentice medicine woman in a hunter-gatherer society. Her people are threatened by the return of the Zanthar, invaders from another world who extend their own lives by stealing the life-force from others. When the Zanthar kidnap her friends and demand that Ashael exchanges herself for them, she must discover who and what she really is to save her people and all of KalaDene.

 

3)      Where did the idea for the novel come from? How long did it take you to write?

The idea came from a dream I had about 9 years ago. I was a warrior fairy, fighting in a war against evil magicians who were enslaving my people. None of that actually made it into the book but the final image – flying above a desolate and war-torn land – stuck in my mind and formed the seed which eventually became Ashael Rising. It took me about a year and a half to write the first draft, three months to write the second and then four months or so of edits back and forth with Unbound.

 

4)     What's on the cards next?

I currently have three projects lined up. Over the next several months I’ll be writing for and editing an anthology of short stories by Unbound authors. All the stories will be in some way linked to a library. In between bouts of working on that, I’ll be finishing a novella I started writing in November, called The Longest Night. It’s about a tribe living in the arctic equivalent in their world when the sun does not rise after mid-winter. After that, I’ll be starting on the sequel to Ashael Rising.

 

5)     Tell me about your creative process. How do you approach your writing?

My usual glib answer is that I sit down at the keyboard and wait to see what words fall out. I am the very definition of a pantser, sometimes having only the vaguest of ideas about what I’m going to write next. The first draft of most things feel like I’m channelling the story from somewhere else. It’s not until I begin editing that I feel as though I start to shape the work.

 

6)      How long have you been writing fiction? Have you always had a novel waiting to get out? What other kinds of writing do you do?

I started writing fiction as a child and dabbled with it on and off through my teens. Eventually life got in the way and I stopped for a long time, only going back to it in 2014. I have always had a great love of books and writing one has been on my bucket list for as long as I’ve had a list. As well as the novel, I blog, write reviews and write flash fiction.

 

7)      How do you balance your family life with your creative life?

I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out! Honestly, I can’t say that I’ve found the perfect balanced yet. Sometimes I’m really focussed on the writing and I feel like I’m neglecting my family and other times my focus is on them and my work takes a back seat. I try to work when the kids are asleep or otherwise engaged and fit my writing into little pockets of time when no-one needs me. I haven’t found a new routine yet since I had my baby 8 weeks ago.

 

8)      What made you decide to write a fantasy novel?

I actually think this was inevitable. Although I read widely, fantasy has always been my favourite genre so it seemed natural that I would write that. I don’t think I made a conscious decision.

 

9)      What are you reading at the moment? What's next on your list?

I am reading The Fireman by Joe Hill and Asian Monsters, an anthology edited by Margret Helgadottir. Both are excellent books – I have to tear myself away from them to get any work done! I highly recommend them. Next, I expect to read Bellica by Katje Van Loon.

 

10)   Which writer(s) do you most strive to emulate? Why?

Stephen King for his character building. He is a master of writing well-rounded, meaningful characters.

George RR Martin for his complexity of story.

Brandon Sanderson for his world-building. Even his short stories are totally immersive.

If you could combine all those things I think you would have the best genre writer ever.

 

11)   What's your favourite book of all time? Why?

I have to cheat, because it’s The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I love it. I love the characters, the fact that it’s an epic fantasy in a western setting, the way it sits over all of King’s other work. I love the themes of ka-et and ka as a wheel. The whole thing. I’ve read all of the books several times and I enjoy them more each time., I’m sure I’ll continue to go back to them.

 

12)   How have you found the crowdfunding process with Unbound? Would you do it again, or go down the "traditional" route?

Crowdfunding was like nothing I’ve ever done before. It was incredibly stressful and exhilarating and overwhelming. I do intend to submit the rest of the Kaladene books to Unbound as well as the anthology I mentioned above so, unless they don’t want me, I will be doing it again. I’m hoping it’ll get a little easier as people get invested in the series.

Having said that, I do have other ideas (such as the novella) that I would consider taking elsewhere, or even self-publishing. I think it’s a good idea for authors to have more than one income stream. I can see myself being a hybrid author, doing a bit of indie and a bit of trad publishing.

 

13)   Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere. In nature, in funny things my kids say, in pictures I see on the internet, in laundry, in music… I could go on and on.

 

14)   What helps you get out of a creative slump?

Often switching what I’m working on will help. So when I was writing Ashael Rising if I was struggling I would write a flash piece or a short story. If that doesn’t work then stepping away altogether does. Doing something physical is best  - going for a walk or getting stuck into the housework. Sometimes I put music on and dance about the house with my kids. That type of thing always refreshes me so that the next time I turn on the computer I’m ready to write again.

 

15)   And lastly, just for fun, if you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

Stephen King – but then I’d probably be too star-struck to speak to him!

 

 

You can connect with me at:

Blog: www.shonakinsella.com

Twitter: @shona_kinsella

Instagram: shona.kinsella

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ashaelrising/

Ashael Rising is available for purchase at: http://bit.ly/ashaelrising

 

 

 

WWW Wednesday -08/02/2017

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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?

asian-monsters

I am currently reading Asian Monsters, an anthology of stories about the monsters of Asia. This is the third in the monsters series from Fox Spirit Books, edited y Margret Helgadottir. I'm not getting as much time to read this a I would like because the size makes it awkward to hold while I'm feeding the baby - which is just about the only time I sit down for any length of time unless I'm working. The stories that I've read so far are wonderful and the book is beautifully presented. I'll be writing a full review of this, so expect to hear more about it.

 

What did you recently finish reading?

I finished reading this last night and it was fantastic. This was the first Joe Hill book that I've read. I've always been a little wary of reading him because I'm a massive fan of his dad and I didn't want to judge him by those standards. Turns out there was no need to be nervous, he's a very talented writer. The Fireman is a fairly long book but it kept me riveted all the way through.

An apocalyptic story of a virus called Dragonscale which ultimately causes its host to self-combust, the book focuses on pregnant school nurse, Harper Grayson. I felt that she was a well-written and compelling protagonist. In fact, all of the characters were well-written. There were plenty of moments of beauty and humour despite the fact that the world was falling apart. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

 

What do you think you'll read next?

Vice Womb Age by [Alston, M Colin]

I will most likely start reading Vice Womb Age by M Colin Alston next as it's next on m review list. From the blurb, I'm interested in how the technology of the nanoparticles works and I'm curious about the matriarchal religious order.

Have you read any of these books? Do you want to? Leave a comment!

 

 

Guest post: Werewolves and Writing Process

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Today I'm delighted to bring you a guest post from Jo Thomas, author of the Elkie Bernstein trilogy, who's going to share a little bit about her writing process with us. Hi, I'm Jo Thomas (the sff one, not the romance writer, the geologist or the historian. Other Jo Thomases are also available) and Shona invited me to write a little bit about my writing process so I figured I'd actually tell you about it in a bit of a roundabout way. In other words, you're going to get the process behind my recently released Fool If You Think It's Over and the ideas that led to it. As I'm not above selling my books, I'll include Amazon.co.uk links at the bottom.

As anyone who knows me, or my email or social media accounts, can testify, werewolves have been turning up in my conversation for some time. I did not start out intending to get obsessed. I first started taking writing seriously in 2007 - this is not to say I didn't write before but I didn't sit down with the intention of writing a whole anything and actually achieve it before then. Werewolves turned up in conversation at about the same time. I've even found my first email mention dated March 2007 sent to Nick Marsh:

I also have a few other ideas kicking around in my head, waiting impatiently for me to get round to them. One of them being the obligatory fantasy trilogy. But it's going to involve werewolves. Sort of.

Which somewhat belies my usual stance that I never intended to write a trilogy about werewolves. Which I did (25 Ways To Kill A Werewolf, A Pack of Lies, Fool If You Think It's Over). However, I'm pretty sure they weren't the werewolves I was originally looking for as I've got notes in a pad about faux-medieval fantasy.

Being the proud owner of a developing Hellhound started to make me think differently about what a werewolf is perceived to be and what, in actuality, they would be. In the early stages, I - like many others - thought one became a werewolf to escape humanity and break the rules. In fact, most of my werewolves still do. They just don't realise there's more to it than that. Having observed Finn (my Hellhound) attempting to be just human enough to fit in with what I wanted, and have access to the good food, I was starting to consider that werewolves were actually an attempt for humans to move more towards wolves. Not the excuse to act like idiots but to fit in with a different pack or social group. Except few men with dreams of being an alpha are likely to have time for that, so there was still the classic rampaging man-beast thing going on.

In 2008, I wrote a story called "Half-Breed" that was about a girl called Alex who was the child of a werewolf... and a dog. I'll wait while you go clean your brain out from the implications of that idea. Alex continued to have a number of short story adventures and was the main source of my werewolf references over several years. Her world was building from my original thought of a sliding scale between fully human and fully canine that actually allowed the two to meet magically in the middle to a world with rules and consequences to actions. (Not all of these got published, of course.) Alex is the closest to being the original trilogy idea I had but the tales she wanted to be involved in were strictly short stories.

Then there were several in-person conversations about chosen ones and only one way to kill any particular monster - which resulted in a joke about a self-help book called "25 Ways To Kill A Werewolf". I actually started writing this, and I have the statement of intent I emailed my writing friend Dylan Fox in April 2010 that became the opening prologue. And, within the first few chapters, realised I didn't really have much of a choice about fitting it in the world I had already developed. Mainly because I hadn't actually given much thought to this new world and it was easier to pick up the bits I needed from Alex's stories.

The self-help book found its home with Fox Spirit Books in March 2013 and was published August 2014. About a year before it was actually accepted, I started to realise I should be doing more with the main character, Elkie Bernstein. Like subjecting her to more pain and heartbreak, as any other author will tell you is the whole point of creating characters. More precisely, I realised that, given the world is bigger than one person ever sees, it would be nice to move around it with Elkie to see how her experiences and knowledge were different from Alex's.

However, I didn't start writing the next book until February 2012 and I didn't really consider a book 3 until I realised how much I wanted to do with Elkie and how much writing that would require. My working titles for these two books were A Pack of Lies (which stuck) and Brothers Under The Skin (which didn't as this is now Fool If You Think It's Over).

Although this doesn't cover the actual activity of sitting down and writing, it does basically cover my idea process:

  • Stories are a collection of ideas that fit together enough for me to want to explore them. I generally need a few to intersect before I start wanting to go after them (in this case, how dogs fit in with humans and how werewolves don't fit in with wolves) but they pack up in their own combinations after running around my brain for a while.
  • I usually need to a point of view character I can share my brain with to help me explore the world these ideas create. A character whose thinking I have problems with still makes my longer works sputter to a halt.
  • A working title that encapsulates my intent, at least to me. I used to be more attached to them but I have (eventually) accepted that these can change over the process and for the finished product.
  • I am not a huge plotter. I have a rough idea of where I want to end up. I usually have some idea of what the next few chapters is going to do. I'm actually more bothered about making sure consequences experienced fit with character actions. I don't always achieve this.

Amazon.co.uk links to the Elkie Bernstein trilogy: 25 Ways To Kill A Werewolf A Pack of Lies External Link

Launch

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Today, a little under a year since I pitched the book to Unbound, Ashael Rising is available for purchase on Amazon. I don't quite know how I feel.

This book that has been such a prominent part of most of the last three years of my life is now out in the world. It doesn't really belong to me anymore but to all of the people who will read it and hopefully enjoy it. People will form their own pictures of the characters, interpret the action in their own way and make the story their own.

It's beautiful and humbling and a little frightening.

I have no shortage of other projects to work on, as those of you who read 2017 – The Plan may remember. Not least of which is the sequel to Ashael Rising and if I've done my job well, there will soon be people waiting for it! There's a little bit of fear around writing the sequel, though. Or indeed any other lengthy project. I don't think I've ever quite accepted that Ashael Rising wasn't a fluke, that I didn't just get lucky. Who's to say that I can do it again? I suspect that's a fairly common fear.

For the moment I'm working on blog tour posts and this month's flash fiction then it's on with the anthology. A writer's life is never dull!

I'm still giving away review copies so if you're interested in reading and reviewing Ashael Rising, get in touch. I'll leave you with this excerpt:

All-Mother, you who gave birth to the world, watch over this woman and her child, Bhearra prayed silently. She had lost the thread of the baby’s consciousness and was deeply worried. Soraya screamed as another contraction struck. Ashael wiped the pregnant woman’s face with a cloth dipped in cool water. Bres paced the room. It was mid-afternoon and Soraya was exhausted.

‘We’re almost there now, Soraya. Get ready to push.’ Bhearra squeezed Soraya’s hand, keeping her voice calm, trying not to show her concern. The poor woman was frightened enough. As the next contraction arrived, Soraya pushed as hard as she could, gripping Bhearra’s hands hard enough to press the old bones together, and the top of the baby’s head appeared.

‘I can’t. I can’t push anymore.’

‘One more and the head will be out, and then I can help you,’ Bhearra replied with a soothing voice . She pushed a little of her own energy into the woman before her. She had been doing this for some time now and did not have much more to spare. With the next contraction, the baby’s head was out, face white and lips blue. Bhearra soon saw why: the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. Another contraction pushed a shoulder out while Soraya screamed, and Bhearra was able to get her fingers under the cord, pulling it slightly away from the baby’s neck. With quick, sure movements, Bhearra took the foraging knife attached to her belt and cut the cord, pulling the baby the rest of the way out with the next contraction.

The baby had not yet taken a breath. Bhearra moved her out of view. She blew into the baby’s face then slapped her bottom. Still nothing.

‘What’s happening? Is my baby alright?’ Soraya asked, gasping in exhaustion.

‘Ashael can help you with the afterbirth,’ answered Bhearra. ‘I’m just going to get the little one cleaned up.’

Bhearra moved towards the doorway as she spoke, Bres close behind. Speaking in a low voice, she told him what had happened. Bres looked back at his mate and began to weep silent tears.

‘Hush now. All is not lost.’ Bhearra held the baby before her then closed her eyes, once more stretching her senses out beyond her own body, searching for the lingering spirit of the baby. Nothing. Nothing… There! A spark of life floated nearby. The filidh breathed this spark in and then blew it gently toward the baby’s face. Nothing happened. Please, All-Mother.

The baby gasped and let out a great cry.

Bres fell to his knees and Soraya burst into tears. Bhearra gave a small smile, letting out a shaky breath as she moved over to Soraya and handed the baby to her.

‘You have a beautiful baby girl. What will you name her?’

‘Bhearrael . For the woman who brought her to us,’ Alayne answered.

‘Sirion bless you. You saved her life,’ Bres said. ‘How can we ever thank you?’

‘Nonsense; I didn’t save her. I just showed her the way home. She did the rest herself.’