Thursday 29 January 2015

Musical Interlude: Crimson & Clover

Audaciously Audio

My publisher sent me this cute picture of a shelf full of ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies). Sweet gesture. Looks real nice.

Just finished listening to the epilogue of the draft audio. I mentioned a while back that Rosy Hours is being turned into an audiobook by the talented Emma Newman. I've never been an audiobook before and it's been an incredible experience.

She's been reading it in sections and Salomé at Ghostwoods and myself have been listening through, reading the text at the same time to check for consistency. It's been quite fascinating, listening to my characters speak through somebody else's voice. Usually they just live in my head.

Couldn't have conceived of this when I first signed the contract. I'm honestly blown away by the commitment and enthusiasm of the team. It's so rewarding for anybody to have their work opened up for collaboration. It brings so much more to something than you could achieve by yourself.

Now the proofing's over, any glitches get ironed out, including a couple in print which reading aloud brought to our attention. We've already had back half the finalised chapters. It's quite a different experience listening to the story without scanning the text at the same time. Feels a bit real all of a sudden.

Emma's done an excellent job - everybody has. 

Very excited to see it go on sale.

Only two weeks to go!

Monday 26 January 2015

Out of Africa

A while ago I was in Nairobi and a friend drove me through Karen.

"Those are the Ngong Hills," she told me. "Don't you know, from Karen Blixen?" and she quoted the first line of Out of Africa.

After I left, I thought I should look into this, and picked up a copy of Blixen's short story Babette's Feast. I enjoyed it, so decided to continue on to Out of Africa. I was hesitant. I really knew nothing about it, though I've heard it talked of, mostly by film buffs, in the past. I absolutely hated Heart of Darkness, and suppose that's where my reserve stems for colonial-era Western literature. 

I'm so glad I put aside my prejudice. Yes, it was of a different era, and reference to the noble savage made me wince now and then, plus I was astounded there were any animals left in Africa after she'd shot them all, but my gods, what a writer!

I didn't get the full sense of it with Babette's Feast, because it was so short, but her narrative blew me away. Beautifully written, with such fine intertwining of truth and myth. 

Haven't read something as sad as The Grave in the Hills for a long time. When she first mentioned Denys Finch Hatton and his flying machine, the part of my brain which deals in literary plots instinctively knew that they were in love, and that it would crash. I put down the Kindle and looked up her life on Wikipedia for confirmation. 

I was in tears from that chapter until the end.

There is a quote by Jorge Luis Borges:

When writers die, they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation.

I feel this most clearly when reading Diana Wynne Jones, as her voice is so alive. I feel it again with Out of Africa, but what astounds me is that her words have provided not just immortality for herself, but for all those that she knew. People no one else would ever have written about. Names living on forever between the pages of a Penguin Classic.

There were some incredible moments of humour, of human connection, and startling sorrow amongst her prose. I really wasn't expecting to be so affected. Perhaps it's reading her in Africa that struck a chord, and having left Africa once before, crying all the way back to the UK across the English Channel. Perhaps it's just that it is extremely well written and remarkably touching.

One day, I'm sure I'll get around to her Gothic collection. For now, I've just downloaded Crome Yellow, a book by Aldous Huxley, which she mentioned having loved. I have a lot on my TBR pile at the moment, so it may be a while before I get to it, but I'm not quite ready to let go of Baroness Blixen just yet. I'd like to know her better through the things she loved to read.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Pretty Things

The incredibly talented Stephanie Piro, who did the doodle for Rosy Hours, also happens to make Phantom-inspired jewellery. This one's called Rosy Hours of Mazenderan! How gorgeous is that?

Saturday 24 January 2015

Cover Story

'To the End' by Babak Fatholahi

An absolutely fabulous article about how they made the cover for Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran. Fascinating stuff.

Thursday 22 January 2015

PLR on Audiobooks

How fortuitous is that, what with Rosy Hours coming out as an audiobook?

Got an update from the Public Lending Right (PLR) department the other day. If you're an author and you don't know what that is, follow the link - you need to know.


Audio-Books Can Now Be Registered For PLR Payments: Register your audio-books before 30 June 2015 for inclusion in the February 2016 payment round.

Gerrin' there.

(Note: this doesn't apply to Audible books I'm afraid.)

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Slowing Down

Image by Shadowstarflame

Well, my Christmas writing frenzy has slowed almost to a halt. Crawled over the 55k count the other day, but guests staying, work, moving house and interesting people have proved a distraction I'm unable to break.

I also got turned off by an important scene I needed to write. When the plot is straightforward, it's plain sailing, but I came to this part that is a linchpin for the rest of the story. The pressure had me pairing my socks, washing dishes and inspecting my belly button.

Had to remind myself I'm supposed to be writing a fast draft, and that I can come back and work the rest out later. I've managed to leap over it now but the plot gets harder from hereon in.

Rough as ever, from the past few days.

With my eyes shut and streaming, I listened to the laughter of my brothers on the lake, ashamed that I was seeking insight into my own future without having thought of theirs. Could I, in all good conscience, ride off to war whilst they were still so young? 

When I stood, wiping my cheeks with the back of my hand, I was uncertain whether my tears belonged to the fire or my family.

“The spirit of the lake has dampened the wood,” A---- said, suddenly before me. “You cannot light a fire here.”

“Then what shall we do for warmth?” I asked.

“I do not intend to stay so late,” she replied. “We shall eat and ride home.”

“We have travelled all this way, and already you wish to return?”

“Do you not enjoy the journey as much as the destination?”

I turned from her to gather a log for the dying flames.

It was hard, too hard, to know what to say to A----. I had never embraced her, yet I had done my best to tolerate her, for my father’s sake, and the sake of my kin. She was beautiful, and in the time she had been with us she had not aged a day, yet hers was a harsh beauty, unlike the softness of our true mother. At times she behaved more as a sister to me than a mother, and at times, more as though she wished to be my lover. Beneath her looks and her confidence, something desperate lay.

She came towards me around the pile of wood, running her fingers down my folded arm. 

“Don’t,” I told her.

“What is it, you do not like my touch?”

I stared at her hard, willing her to return to her blankets.

“Ah, you do not like my touch as much as that of Caílte mac Rónáin,” she smiled.

“And you do not like my father’s touch as much as that of Nyel of the White Field.”

She drew back, her eyes wide as a fox in a trap, defiant in its fear.

“F------ told me what he saw, though he did not understand it at the time.”

She turned away, then turned back, her hand pressed to her lips.

“It would break his heart,” she whispered.

“You would break his heart.”

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Through The Lense

Thought I'd posted these before, but apparently not. I was getting swept away on a wave of nostalgia a while back, collecting old postcards of my home village. 

They've just renamed the local pub from The Ward Arms, which it has been called my entire life, to The Witch and Sow, after an old folktale which features on the village sign and a tapestry by the WI in the village hall.

It will eventually feature in a novel I intend to write, but I have a few other things to get through first.

Anyway, postcards. They're fascinating. Dating from around 1907-9. You can click to enlarge.

This is the street I grew up on.
Has hardly changed.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Brand New Ancients

My lovely Aunty Helen has a wonderful eye for poetry. She gave me my first ever collection of Carol Ann Duffy poems, The World's Wife, of which I still class Queen Herod as one of my favourite poems of all time, classical or modern.

Just picked up a Christmas parcel the other day and Helen sent me a copy of Brand New Ancients by Kate Tempest.

Totally blown away. Fantastic piece of work. It's meant to be read aloud, but I was swept away by the ink. Find her on Twitter (@katetempest) and online, and go buy a copy.

For more contemporary performance poetry, check out this post and the poetry tab.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Chunky Goodness

Look what I found in the post today!

Eeep! How exciting!

It's so nicely laid out, and I can't get over the size. I was always a little jealous of my mate who has a beautiful book published with Bloomsbury which is big 'n' chunky. Now I've got one as big as his! Hah!

It's so nice - you really know you're holding a book, and the section divides make such a difference. Need to resist licking the pages.

It's all been a bit of a kerfuffle, what with me living overseas. Can't sign many books from Rwanda, so Ghostwoods posted out some book plates. Took weeks to arrive, will take two weeks to get back to the UK. Crazy in this day and age of mass transportation. What's all this jet-setting carbon footprinting worth if you can't get something from A-B in a sensible amount of time?

Never mind.

There's also now a Facebook page for Rosy Hours. Get yerself over there and give it a thumbs-up!

Apparently 1,204 people entered the Goodreads giveaway for a copy of the book. I'm completely overwhelmed. Hoping the winners enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Friday 9 January 2015

Harem Fashion

I've been busy writing guest blogs in between major power-outs today.

One of them was on the fashion of mid-1800s Iran, and it caused me to look back at a video which I took great inspiration from during my research, as it threw up some particularly interesting quirks of harem de rigueur.

“Tell me,” I asked, “how do men in Europe display their wealth if not through their wives?” 
“The fewer wives a man has, the greater his wealth tends to be,” he smiled. “Take the Shah of Iran, for instance–” 
“Yes, let’s.” 
“He has more wives than he can count, and hardly anything left to show for it.” 
“What do you mean?” 
“He sells off his country’s wealth to foreign powers in order to fund his pursuit of pleasure.” 
I took a sip of water to disguise the thoughts raging through my mind. 
“It is a shame he cannot sell wives, for he would find himself master of many assets. Though, with the harem fashion for dark moustaches and synophrys, they may fetch far less on the Western market.”

Each to their own.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

The Shark in the Dark

Had a lovely day yesterday. Delivered a belated Christmas gift to my friend's daughter. I'd chosen two very different stories to see which one she liked best.

One was a very sweet story about a girl who wants a doll for Christmas, so she sets off for the North Pole with her dog Beans, to let Santa know. On the way they meet a polar bear, and Zoe decides she'd rather let her Christmas present be a surprise instead.

The second book was much darker, about a hungry shark who terrorises all the little fishes until they band together to frighten him off. It has a lovely shiny cover.

Can you guess which she liked best?

I'm proud to say that The Shark in the Dark has become a firm favourite. A three-year-old with discerning taste in literature. Zoe's quest for a blonde-haired Kylie Kurlz doll, although nicely illustrated and having a pull-out section which made it 'a magic book!', was met with lukewarm reception compared to the terrors of the deep. Now I know what to go with in the future.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

Such Very Nice Things

(click to enlarge)
The purpose of writing is to make your mother and father
drop dead with shame - JP Donleavy

Managed 5k yesterday to break the 50,000 threshold. Writing prolifically at the moment, struggling with the idea of going back to work. Rather everybody stayed on holiday and my in-box remained empty.

Three weeks ago I'd just passed the 25k mark and said that:

Given the pace I'm working at, I think I'd be lucky to hit 50k before Rosy Hours is released in February. 

Well, I haven't just hit it, I'm about to surpass it.  

Fairly shocked.

The pre-release promotion for Rosy Hours is also in full swing ahead of February 14th. About to embark on a blog tour from 2nd February. This means my books gets reviewed and featured by different bloggers. Auspiciously, thirteen have signed up to the tour (there are thirteen chapters in Rosy Hours and it's a number of symbolic significance within the story). 

On top of that, I've recently read the back blurbs and was left blushing. I knew about Will Davis' comment but hadn't seen the rest. Here's what other authors are saying about Rosy Hours:

“A sumptuous dark treat of a novel, will keep you shocked and enthralled until the very last page.” – Will Davis, author of The Trapeze Artist 

“Rising from the cracks and hints in Gaston Leroux’s classic, Those Rosy Hours delivers a striking and glorious original historical fantasy that sings across time from the heart of a lost empire.” – David Southwell, author of The Phoenix Guide to Strange England: Hookland 

“…evocative and gripping. I missed several tube stops thanks to my immersion in [Those Rosy Hours]…” – Kate Harrad, author of All Lies and Jest 

“Disquieting and enchanting.” – Peter Dawes, USA Today best-selling author of Pandora

Here's hoping the first flush of reviews are as kind. I must admit to being a bit nervous. Warming up my fingers to do some guest blogging, trying to get the word out. Having another novel to work on really helps to control the nerves as I can immerse myself in that world to escape.

Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran is currently on pre-order at Amazon, ebook and audiobook to follow shortly.

Monday 5 January 2015

The Phantom Queen

L: The Morrigan, Anon                     R: The Morrigan, Craig Yeung

Yesterday was a bloody brilliant day for writing. 

I managed almost 4,000 words, crossed the 45,000 threshold (that's 5k added in three days) and made it to 100 pages.

A very good day indeed.

One of the most interesting points has been the introduction of an iconic mythological figure, The Phantom Queen, or Great Queen. It is always tricky when writing characters that already have such standing in cultural history. You can only give your own interpretation and hope that it strikes a chord.

Rough and ready as always.

I slipped past the sleeping guards and made my way down the hill, past the crannog and across the grasslands to Anamcha’s tree. I followed the trail to Bear Rock and down from there to the Black Vale. The Widow’s Cave was a large hole, high up in the rocks above a sacred spring. There was a rowan tree beside the spring, its branched drooped with the weight of rags and necklaces tied about it. Some of the jewels were expensive, though not a soul would think to steal them. Beneath the surface of the water, the mud shimmered silver with coins.

The light of the moon was so bright that I had not brought a torch, yet as I approached the foot of the climb, the shadow of the cliff blotted out the light and I found it hard to see. At first I thought midges were rising from the soft soil beside the spring. I tried to swipe them away with my hand, but there were more than I could count. 

My skin prickled as the hairs on my arm rose. The air was much cooler all of a sudden. As I pulled my cloak tighter about me, I realised it was snowing. The flies I has been trying to brush away were snowflakes. Confused, I looked behind, out across the valley. It was covered in a fine dusting of snow, the stream below frosted over like a seam of quartz.

For a moment I was too afraid to move. I clung to the side of the cliff, unable to trust my own eyes. I heard a crow cry. Looking up, I saw a dim glow from the entrance to the cave. 

When I reached there, a large fire burned brightly in the centre, sparks showering up towards the ceiling each time the wood shifted. It took my eyes a moment to adjust. As they did, I realised the walls of the cave were home to a hundred black birds, their beady eyes watching me, their shiny talons gripping the rock as though they had grown out of it.

I was afraid then. What had possessed me to come to this place of magic alone at night? Was anything worth the danger it posed?

A gust of wind rose beyond the mouth of the cave, howling across its jagged surface and catching at the edge of my cloak. I took another step inside, closer to the fire. Its light seemed the only safety.

“Hello?” I called, my voice swallowed in that great cavern. 

Only crows answered.

Before my eyes the flames began to burn blue, casting eerie shadows across the walls. The crows’ beaks snapped as they spread their wings and took flight. My vision was blinded by a thousand beating wings, a shower of feathers and sparks swirled about me.

Crouching to the ground, I pulled my cloak over my head and cowered there until silence fell.

When I looked up, a woman stood before me, unlike any woman I had seen before.

Sunday 4 January 2015

Dealing with Plot Block

Writer's block can be caused by any number of things, but one of the more common is plot block. You're busy writing away, following the story wherever it leads you, then suddenly you realise you've written yourself into a corner. You're not sure how to get from one scene to the next or which order to write your chapters in. So you make a coffee, log into social media and that's the end of writing for a few weeks.

It happens to me from time to time, but I've developed a simple technique to help overcome it.

What you'll need:

  • Blank piece of paper (don't be afraid of it!)
  • Pen, pencil or crayon

Forget which order things go in for the moment, just think about your story as a whole. When you think about your story, I bet there are some highlights that leap out at you? Certain scenes you can clearly envision or conversations you can hear? Crucial moments that anchor your plot arc? Like when you remember a film you've watched, there are always certain moments that stand out more vividly than others. Points at which the story changes direction.

Start writing these scenes down - just brief one-liners:

  • Oliver turns Beth into a frog
  • Carla takes Beth home to dissect for a science experiment, not knowing it's her best friend
  • Huge argument between Beth and Oliver
  • Carla finds the spell to turn Beth back into a human
  • Beth's mum crying because her daughter is missing

Just pop it all down there in boxes.

Better yet, write each scene on a post-it note so that you can move them around the paper.

Once you've got the main plot points of your story down, start to rearrange them into a logical order. Or number them 1, 2, 3, etc.

For instance, Oliver is likely to turn Beth into a frog as a result of their blazing argument. Beth's mum is likely to be crying whilst her daughter is missing, not once she's been turned back into a human. So the above scenes make more sense as:

  1. Huge argument between Beth and Oliver
  2. Oliver turns Beth into a frog
  3. Carla takes Beth home to dissect for a science experiment, not knowing it's her best friend
  4. Beth's mum crying because her daughter is missing
  5. Carla finds the spell to turn Beth back into a human

If there are any stand alone scenes or anything a little bit random, you can then work out where along that logic line you could slot them in for best effect.

The above is a simplified example. It often takes a while to envision which scenes to include, and which order they logically fit in. But once you've got your scenes in a chronological order, you know what to write next and where the story is going. 

I'm not one of these people who plans everything out in detail before I start writing. I like to allow my stories a fair degree of autonomy, but sometimes I do get stuck. I'll stop to do this three or four times whilst writing a novel. The moment I can see a path through the woods, I'm off again.

Saturday 3 January 2015

Proud Moment

I was sitting in Rwandan Immigration yesterday afternoon. Looked up to see the news in Sign Language. Had a moment of overwhelming pride to have been involved in developing the first Dictionary of Rwandan Sign Language, published in 2009. 

Friday 2 January 2015


A new year, a new newsletter!

On the urging of my publisher I now have a bi-monthly newsletter with insider info on my writing, cartoons, tips and giveaways. You can sign up for it using the Get News tab above, or:

Let me know what you think.

Thursday 1 January 2015

40,000 / 2015

Well, that's a grand start to 2015.

Stuck at home with a tummy bug, I decided to write through midnight in the hopes the Muse might bless me for the year to come.

Managed to get 4,000 finished on New Year's Eve and just added an extra 1k today to hit 40,000 words.

That means it's only taken me one-and-a-half weeks to add 10k to the novel. That's really good progress. Hopefully I won't just sit on my arse for the next few weeks.

I'm still writing very rough, it's going to need industrial strength editing when I eventually get to the end, but, on the whole, it's shaping up nicely.

When I was a child, I wished for a dress of spiders' webs. Have you ever looked at a spider’s web – truly looked? They are the most beautiful of all fabrics. In the misty mornings at Sidh-ar-Femhin they would collect dew like jewels, the weak sun captured in their light and mirrored back a thousand times. Here at my husband’s fort they turned to strings of pearls with the frost. Flakes of snow would catch on them in winter. Whilst they melted on my tongue, they simply rested there upon the webs, as though the spiders had captured winter itself and would never release it.

How could one simple strand, thinner than my own hair, capture a moth or a buzzing fly and clutch it so tightly? Had I a dress woven of spiders' webs I was convinced nothing could penetrate it; that my enemies would never be able to touch me, and that I would have all the wonder of the morning sun and the winter’s weeping white to protect me.

I had the queen ask each of her dressmakers whether they could weave such a dress, but each of them laughed.

Oath, Boast , Toast 2015

Happy New Year! Time for the annual roundup.

It's been an incredibly busy year. Top highlights:

So, yes, it's been an eventful year and my life now is very different to how it was this time last year, though more like it was five years ago. Did all the travelling, and more, that I had intended to do in 2013.

My oath for last year was to 'ask the question I most want to know the answer to.' Which I did, in a round about sort of way. I was very much smitten by somebody I met some years ago. I wanted to know if there was anything there - there wasn't. 

Wish I'd asked that one four years ago. 

Still, I've met some lovely people since, and re-joined the land of the almost rational. Plus, if I hadn't set myself that oath of finding out, I would never have booked a plane ticket back to Africa, seen Laos, or ended up living in my lovely house with my lovely friends and my - occasionally quite trying - business.

Rejection can be a great catalyst. 

Though I must admit, I miss the friendship.

Still, it's the New Year, time to look to the future and forget the past.

My Oath this year is an easy one. I've been so wholly overwhelmed by my new publisher's enthusiasm and support that it's rejuvenated my love of writing. I'm currently working on a new novel and I intend to finish it before the year is out. 


My Boast: There have been so many extraordinary experiences and minor triumphs this year. But, heck, I was interviewed in the UK's largest national writing magazine! Hell, yes. Famous for a day. (A close second to that is that I moved halfway around the world and set up a company which I am now the CEO of... yeah, that was pretty impressive too).


And, finally, my Toast for 2015?

Oh, fuck it, let me be maudlin for a moment.

To unrequited love. Though we are left foolish in its wake, for a while at least it sparks our hope and our imagination. It certainly led me to write the best work I have ever written. 

May we all be left to dream a little longer.