Sunday 31 August 2014

Bookless Library

Florida Polytechnic University's New Library

Initial responses on Facebook were met with horror:

Can't curl up with it :(
Just wrong.

I don't know. I think I'm rather in favour. I remember, when writing my MA thesis, how many weeks it took for inter-library loans to arrive, and how expensive purchasing academic works is. You could stumble across an important piece of information towards the end of your research, and have no hope of obtaining the original source material before the deadline. 

Also, the sheer breadth of research material I could access with a computer that I couldn't in a library, or in e-format rather than paper format. Even tracking down obscure titles was easier with internet access. If I could click a button and get those titles immediately, instead of in a week or two, and delivered to a personal e-reader or laptop - it would make research much more efficient. 

I like the idea, but I'm puzzled as to why they'd invest in a whopping great building to house that information, rather than an online virtual space or network that students could access from anywhere. Seems like a modern idea using outdated logic.

Saturday 30 August 2014

In The Beginning

One of the big up-sides of delaying the release of Rosy Hours until next year is that it gives me ample time to get stuck into another novel, so it shouldn't be so long between releases. A horribly practical concern, perhaps, yet you can't help but consider these things, especially as it's taken so long to settle on a new project.

Some say my father was the god of the sea, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann who walked these green shores before the age of man. Some say he shaped destinies and carried the dead to their final resting place.  
I cannot say whether that was true, for time casts strange shadows. To me he was just a man, with all the faults and failings, all the love and loyalty, of a man. He was my father, and I have loved him always.

Here we go again...

Friday 29 August 2014

Heartfelt Release

After discussions with Ghostwoods, we're pushing the release of Rosy Hours from November to February to give a longer lead-in time for promotion. Hoping for a Valentine's Day release. There's something darkly fitting about that.

Head in the Clouds

Just finished watching Cloud Atlas again. First went to see it with Ruairí and Martine. I know it splits opinion, but I think it's an epic work of art. Absolutely love it. Breaks me every time towards the end.

I understand now that the boundaries between noise and sound are conventions 
All boundaries are conventions waiting to be transcended 
One may transcend any convention  
If only one can first conceive of doing so
In moments like this I can feel your heart beating 
As clearly as I feel my own 
And I know that separation is 
Only an illusion
My life extends far beyond the limitations of me

Beautiful stuff. I shall eventually get to reading the book by David Mitchell. 

Monday 25 August 2014

Celtic Candlelight

Well, Copper Jack's been relegated to the poop deck.

I've been in a total slump since finishing Rosy Hours. Worried that might have been the best I can do. Worried there might not be any more words. Worried the last thing I wrote was a literary prophecy: The End.

Worried for another matter, which I'll elucidate on shortly. Just reading - in a completely unrelated twist - The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. Touches on something relating to art and obsession which requires further exploration on my part. 

The truth of the matter for any writer is that you do need to be obsessed by an idea at least long enough to type 100,000 words on the matter. 

I think I may have found my next obsession. I know I've said this about pirates, and I am sticking with a watery theme, but I believe I shall be replacing roses with swans.

All of my novels have been very different in style and subject, from Historical Fiction to LGBT Romance to Horror, borderline Sci-fi. No writer appears fully formed on the page. We all learn the craft. We do that through play, and through pastiche.

With Rosy Hours I feel as though I have finally made it. Not made it as a writer, there's probably no such accolade; what do you measure success by? If it's fame, well I'm not famous, and that isn't why I write. If it's book sales, they're still small. If it's earnings, my royalty slips are as blank as my face when I try to decipher what each of the columns means. 

Rather, I mean made it in terms of my understanding of my own style. Made a realisation about what type of writer I might be - at least for the time being. Feel as though I have something that is mine. Become confident in my ability to tell a story well; beautifully. To possess a sense of finesse, rather than clumsy enthusiasm.

And don't get me wrong, clumsy enthusiasm can get you very far. It's a writer's lifeblood.

But in Rosy Hours I feel a sense of coming of age. I've been practising writing for a very long time. I wrote my first short story aged nine or ten (vampires, a holiday at my aunt's in London), my first novella aged eighteen (geekily inspired by a character I'd created on a MUD called Realms of Aurealis), and my first novel as a VSO with too much time on my hands in Rwanda, back in 2008-ish. My computer is littered with half-written, half forgotten prose and poems.

I think it is safe to say that I've worked at it. Then again, it feels more of a compulsion than a conscious action. Either way, I am pleased with what I've achieved so far - and most pleased of all with Rosy Hours. Most sure of myself.

Which does make things a little difficult. How do you follow your best act? What do you follow it with?  That has been weighing me down. I like what I've learned so far, I want to do more of it, but I want it to be better. I need to know something new. 

I did learn something new today, and it impressed me enough to want to share. 

My next novel (hell, let's just say it is for now), is set in the Iron Age. It rather seems I'm going backwards through time, from Angorichina in the 1930s to Rosy Hours in the 1850s, to some time in the fourth century BC. I suspect it may not be the only pattern forming.

Anyway, one thing you learn about writing historical fiction is that you need to check everything. Never take anything you know for granted. There were no rabbits in Arthurian England, or snowdrops. 

This doesn't mean you need to be a history expert when you begin. You don't need to read an encyclopedia to start writing Historical Fiction. You just need to read around the things you're actually including in your story. Double check those nouns actually existed.

The example that amused me today involved the same question I'd had when writing about pirates: how did people light things before matches? Which led to the question: what did people use for light?

The answer, in my mind's eye, is obvious. I've seen countless New Age volumes on Celtic Candle Magic. Every early Christian scholar scribbled by the light of a burning candle... didn't they?

Although the first ever candle was discovered in China circa 200 BC, they didn't reach Western Europe until 400 AD.

I was quite astonished by that fact.

400 AD.

My mind is quickly re-writing every soft-glowing candlelit scene I've ever had involving beautiful maidens and wise old crones.

Like I said. Check everything. Twice.

You'll still get something wrong.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Writing Wild

My Friend T.J. Burns is running a free memoir writing course online. It's got a Pagan flavour to it, but anyone can join in.

Starting 8th September 2014, you can find the full information here, along with a short piece by T.J. about why memoir writing is so important. To join in, simply REGISTER ONLINE. There's also a dedicated Facebook group where you can connect with other memoirists.

Writing Wild: Crafting the Pagan Memoir was created especially for new writers and non-writers who identify with an earth-based spiritual path. T.J. combines writing assignments and prompts with suggestions for personal ritual, guided meditations and other exercises to help budding memoirists connect with their written story on a deeper level.  There are many books available on the craft of memoir writing, but Writing Wild is unique; it’s practical, approachable and magical. Do you have to be a Pagan to write a Pagan memoir? No, but it can’t hurt.  
Excerpt: Tell me where the road has taken you and what you ran to or from. Tell me what you’ve learned. Share your wisdom because you have some, and the world sorely needs it. Give birth to your spiritual memoir because it may be the seed from which someone else’s healing is born. Write with wild abandon, secured in the center of your own sacred circle.

Happy journaling!

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Chopping and Changing

I mentioned in my last Novel Idea post, tracking the progression of my latest novel from conception to birth, that I was about to start the first edit of my novel. That was back in mid-July, and I delayed starting that as a second editor was also going through the manuscript and it made sense to do all of the changes together on one document.

I received the first edit again on Saturday. I had a big bid to write for a consultancy client that weekend and swore that I would wait until that was completed to start on the manuscript. My self-control crumbled almost instantly, and I worked late into the night to get the changes made and e-mailed back by Monday.


Edits tend to be done with Word's Review Function, which is a tool that's really worth getting to know. It allows people to make changes and comments on a document without altering the original text, so that changes can easily be accepted or undone.

Mostly it's just small tweaks, like the top picture, or comments on style or continuity, such as the second.

Sometimes, though - it's a little traumatic.


There is a wash of relief after a few pages, when you realise that you've got a good editor, and that you trust their judgement calls. 

You may remember this time last year I made a post about a scene early on in the novel that I had deleted? Well, I decided to shoehorn it back into the final manuscript before submission.

My editor, without knowing any of this, deleted the exact same scene pretty much word for word!

I had to laugh at that. Who can mourn the loss of a scene they've already discounted once? It was rather an affirmation that it had to go.

However, there was another scene that I felt the loss of more acutely. It was one I rather liked, but the main aim of the edit was to get the story moving faster, and it was undeniably long-winded. As I'd already accepted my editor's sound judgement the first time around, I had to bow to that same judgement the second. It was sad to see it go, but, ultimately, the story benefits from its absence.

On the whole, it was a fairly easy edit, and less of a shock than the first time I ever had to do this. Guess it gets easier with practise, and with your own confidence as a writer. Apparently we only lost around 2,500 words, which is 'unheard of,' so I'm feeling proud. 

This edit dealt with the broad strokes of content and continuity.

Second edit: proofing.

Tuesday 19 August 2014


Having mentioned story books in Kinyarwanda yesterday, I should say that the reason I got so excited was because one of the books was about Maguru.

About six or seven years ago, when I first came to Rwanda, I got to know a reggae band called The Holy Jah Doves. They were kind of iconic for a while, before they all got married and the group disbanded. 

Their greatest hit was a song called Maguru, which told the folk tale of Long-legs, a warrior, as he battled a strange shape-shifting demon called Insibika. You can find the Kinyarwanda/English translation of the lyrics online.

Now I know that there are a whole collection of Maguru tales.

Through the small organisation I'm setting up, called Nushu, I would dearly love to document and make publicly available some of the oral stories of Rwanda before they start to disappear.

One thing that I love most about the story in the song is that, at the end, they repeat the line:

Sinjye wahera hahera Maguru n’insibika 
It was not me who ended this story, it was Maguru and Insibika

Stories are saved for the nighttime, and told around the fire, as it is unlucky to tell them in the day. At the end of a story, you always need to make clear that it is the characters who are in the story, not the storyteller, otherwise you might get trapped within the tale forever.

Monday 18 August 2014

Early Learning


It really is about time that I learned to read... in Kinyarwanda.

Last Thursday I had my second Kinyarwanda lesson. One of the most popular forms of public transport in Rwanda is the moto, or public motorbike. You can hail them just about anywhere, and when I lived here between 2007-09, I learned to haggle with them over price fairly well. To the point where moto drivers generally assume I can speak far more Kinyarwanda than I actually can. 

It's like that Family Guy episode:

Brian: Hola, mi nombre es brian.  
Immigrant: Thats pretty good, but you don't need the es in there. It's just hola, mi nombre brian.  
Brian: Oh, thank God you speak English! 
Immigrant: Nope, just that sentence and this sentence explaining it.  
Brian: You're kidding, right?  
Immigrant: Que?

So, I decided to do something about that. I now have a Kinyarwanda teacher, Jacques Mutabazi, and the other day whilst browsing through Nakumatt (where I bought The Pinhoe Egg) I discovered some early learning books. So I now have Maguru ni Ingagi (Maguru and the Gorilla) and Imirwano Hagati y'Umuriro n'Amazi (The Battle Between Fire and Water). Published by Fountain Publishers.

It's going to take some time before I'm able to read at an elementary level, but with Jacques' help, and armed with the online Kinyarwanda dictionary, I'm hoping to get there eventually.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Babak Fatholahi

Saw this fabulous photograph by Ukranian-based Iranian photographer Babak Fatholahi yesterday, tweeted by @PhotographyNote / Facebook. Expect to see more about Fatholahi on this blog shortly... very exciting announcement to make in the next few weeks.

Saturday 16 August 2014

Happy 80th DWJ

Nice to see the Google Doodle celebrating the late Diana Wynne Jones' 80th birthday.

As readers of this blog will know, I'm a huge fan of Howl's Moving Castle, and the Ghibli adaptation. I was very sad to hear of her passing in 2011, so it's lovely to see her honoured in this way. 

In a slightly spooky turn of events, I found myself back in Nakumatt the other day, searching for a present for a friend's graduation next week. My earlier picture perhaps didn't give a true sense of the sheer choice of books that are now available in Kigali. So, let me try again.

And, what should I happen to spy on the top shelf? Only a hardcover edition of The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones! Could I resist? Of course not. It came home with me.

Thursday 14 August 2014

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque

Absolutely stunning photo of Iran's Nasir al-Mulk Mosque on Twitter this morning. Posted by @Razarumi

Evocative of the new novel I have out later this year, set in Northern Iran. Incredible architecture. 

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Bookworm to Bookerfly

Eeep! I want to share some baby photos. I'm so excited! Pulled a courgette out of the fridge the other day to find a caterpillar munching through it. Created a little habitat for it in a bowl and fed it some more vegetables. Didn't hear it munching for the past couple of nights and assumed it might have died. Went to have a look, and found this chrysalis. Can't wait to see what it turns into!

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Amazon Campaign on eBook Prices

As a rule, Amazon are the last people on earth you'd take morality advice over finance from, but that doesn't stop them spouting it.

Anyone who's signed up as an ebook seller through Amazon has recently received a fairly scathing attack on US publisher Hachette over the price of e-books.

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents — it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year... 
Fast forward to today, and it's the e-book's turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette — a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate — are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there's no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

You can read the full letter online, but the gist of it is:

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We'd like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us. 
Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:  
Copy us at: 

Please consider including these points:
  • We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
  • Lowering e-book prices will help — not hurt — the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
  • Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon's offers to take them out of the middle.
  • Especially if you're an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

What are your thoughts?

Monday 11 August 2014

New Titles

Beautiful sight in Rwanda. At the main Kenyan supermarket, Nakumatt, there are now shelves of international titles. Unthinkable five years ago, and mostly the prices match what you'd pay back home. They used to be super expensive, £13 for a paperback, but I picked up one from this stack and the price was around £7. A diverse range: The Spook's Storeis, A Walk Across the Sun, Hugo, The Killing Room and Philip Reeve among the titles. I even found Diana Wynne Jones!

Friday 8 August 2014

Diary of a Photoshoot

Oh, the trauma!

New novel due out in November. Publisher requested publicity shots. I don't know any author who enjoys this. We are writers because we like to remain behind the screen. I love taking photographs, I hate being in them.

That wasn't always the case, as my friend's daughter Zuba keeps reminding me whenever I have a camera in my hand. It's like this Dove advert.

I read Stephen King at an early age.

Anyway, however you feel about it, you do need publicity shots. I have a couple which my cousin took a few years back. I'll always remember her artistic direction: "Could you try to look a little less pissed off?"

This time, I decided to find a local Rwandan photographer. I put out an advert, had a few replies, and chose to go with Alice Kayibanda. This was her first time taking publicity shots, but she's passionate about photography, and I really liked her other work.

She doubles as a social media manager for UNHCR, and we had to postpone for a while as she was out in the field doing things that were undeniably more important than taking pictures of me.

Finally, we scheduled a shoot for today. I was a bit of a wreck, nervously fidgeting whilst watching the clock. And I am not usually a nervous fidgeter.

Step one: Get your foundation on.

Step two: Get your props ready.

In warm climates, powder is your best friend.

Step three: Get attitude! (AKA grow some balls.)

Eyeliner really helps with this.

Step four: Don't be ashamed of visiting selfie central. Practise that pout!

Step five: Hide when the doorbell rings. 

Alice was absolutely spectacular with me. Completely put me at ease. We had a good laugh, and I'm very much looking forward to getting the results back. I've just moved into a very spacious house up near the airport. It's full of light and neutral backgrounds. We took office shots, sofa shots, chair shots, garden step shots, porch shots, living room shots. Mostly serious shots, some creative, and some downright silly.

Location, location, location.

It was all good fun. I'll update this post in a few days with a couple of pics, so check back. 

Publishers like to have a stock of pictures for things like events, articles, cover sleeves, social media. It's nice that Alice's name will appear with them, both in print and online.

It's also nice that I get to look through and choose the ones I'm comfortable with before handing them over to my publisher. Alice asked me why I don't like having my photo taken, but I think - especially with publicity shots - it's the permanent, immutable nature of the thing. Once it's out there, in print, it's irretractable. Plus, it's like voice recordings: you never sound, or look, the way you think you do. Especially with authors, there's a certain image to project. I might be sitting here in leggings and a floral dress at the moment, but that certainly isn't the image that fits the type of books I write.

Anyway, it's over now. I can safely crawl back behind the screen and start thinking about what to write next.

Solidarity, fellow writers. It happens to us all eventually. Grin (our pout) and bear it.

Musical Interlude: Happy Rwanda

After the #freehappyiranians episode, it was my true delight to meet the lady responsible for Happy Rwanda tonight. Her name's Ella. You can see her hanging out of the sunroof of the black beetle, with the impressive afro. We met at the house of a Belgian man who used to run a microbrewery in New York, rather good quality beer involved! So wonderful to see Rwanda rocking out after all the hardship. Things are on the move (and groove). 

Monday 4 August 2014

Tell it Like Gandalf

In my other life as a charity consultant, I rarely have cause to mix the literal and the literary, so I was fairly entertained when I saw this article about the importance of telling a good story when marketing a charity: The storytelling secrets charities can learn from Gandalf

Talk to any charity fundraising or communications professional about what's needed to engage with supporters online and they'll say "good content". But what exactly is "good content"? 
Good content is about storytelling. Storytelling is not exactly new - people have been telling stories since time began, passing them down from generation to generation. However, about 70 years ago this process changed. Television altered the way stories were delivered - instead of people taking an active role in storytelling, they became passive consumers.

Interesting observation, though I agree with the conclusion that blogging, e-publishing and YouTube have given storytellers back what television may have taken away. Rather democratised the process, one might be so bold in saying?