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Hey all! 

So – seven days to the release of The Holly & the Ivy, and the countdown continues! 

We’re now into the closing stages of the prep and I’m ramping it up, so you won’t see quite so much of me here for the moment. Why not? Well,  I’m writing guest blogs, digging around for some great deals to send out to my mailing list and putting together bonus material for those who buy in the first week. Talking of which, if you have any great ideas, let me know – I have some fun stuff planned but there’s always room for a little more!

So: for those of you not on the mailing list:

if you have read my short fairytale type story A Sprig of Holly, you may be interested to know that the sequel, The Holly & the Ivy is now available for preorder. For those who buy pre-release or in the first few days, if you mail me your receipts you will receive in return a batch of exclusive bonus material. More details will follow as I’m currently still compiling it, but you won’t get it anywhere else!

Second, if you do sign up to the mailing list you should be able to get a free copy of The Locket as part of the signup process. If the link did not work for you, please let me know. (We had a shortlived technical glitch but this should now be fixed.)

In the meantime, though I don’t often send mails out, we have a run of them coming up to release day as I have tracked down some pretty good deals for you all, so if your TBR is looking a little patchy…. okay, okay, stop with the hollow laughter, I know you are as addicted to books as I am but I’m a sucker for a pretty cover, okay? 

Let me rephrase: if, like me, the only reason you have not been buried alive by your TBR list is because it lives in cyberspace and therefore has currently refrained from taking physical form,watch the mailing list for a series of bundles and offers to add to your ebook empire. 

Better?

Lastly, can I just have a little smug moment? Old faithfuls will know that a year or two back I released a novel called Song of the Ice Lord,  about which I’m a little bit tentative. I think it’s good, of course, or I wouldn’t have published it. My editors thought it was good, or ditto. But I’m really aware that for a straight woman to attempt to write a bisexual man is a bit of a risk, so I’ve kind of left it to sink or swim by itself for the moment. 

That being the case, the fact that one of Amazon’s top 1000 reviewers in the UK has reviewed and loved it was a real lift, and when I asked her afterwards, she said that the relationship between the men was part of what made it for her, which is just the most exciting thing to hear. One of the biggest kicks of being an author is that moment when someone reads your stuff and ‘gets’ it – not in a “ah, clever me” sense but because these character are like friends. It’s very much like when you have two sets of really cool friends and you introduce them to each other and they all really get on, so you end up having the most hilarious time because it all snowballs. Hurrah!

Anyhow, the review is here for anyone who is interested. Just need to find about a hundred more now, obv…! Anyone about to run out of stuff to read- oh wait, we just had this conversation, didn’t we? heheheh. But, y’know, review copies always available should you like the look of it. 

Upon which note I should really stop chattering.  After all, only ten days to go! And in the meantime, I have  bonus material to write, deals to unearth and newsletters to put together.  Have a good week, folks, and watch this space (or the newsletter) for more gossip anon.

Right. *deep breath* Onwards!

….and into day 6….

JAC.

Hey people!

So, how’s things? Enjoying the rain? (Hey, I’m in the UK and it’s summer- I’ve just taken my raincoat off!)

Here all is even madder than normal. Apart from that thing that happens sporadically where I end up covering two totally different jobs simultaneously in the dayjob (quick version: if you have a good senior manager I believe you should support them, as there are SO MANY bad senior managers out there) and the sheer non-stop nature of wrangling a large puppy through the day with a minimum of damage, I seem to have suddenly taken it into my head to attempt some marketing and something resembling an actual proper release for Sprig 2 (that’s The Holly & the Ivy, for newbies and random passerby).

So- the date is set for 21st August and all sorts of promotional things are happening in the interim. Watch this space for details of various promos, contact me if you’re up for a review and want an ARC, or if you have any other comments or suggestions for promotional ideas, etc: and if you haven’t signed up to the mailing list, now’s the time to do it as there will be giveaways and bonus material exclusive to the list!


Exciting, huh? Even if I have chosen a cover based around a colour that really clashes with the blog. 😏

Let’s see how it all goes, eh?

Catch you later;

JAC.

I am standing on the seashore….

Hi all:

Bit of a surreal day today. Went to a funeral which was held in a natural burial place; not a graveyard, but a very beautiful stretch of woodland sloping down to the sea. There are no grave markers, though you can see the mounds for a few years till the soil settles a bit, and as we walked down the path to where the grave was, at first it’s a bit disconcerting, seeing all the mounds under the trees, some more recent and others barely discernible. Most were covered in woodland flowers and undergrowth – not as if they were unkempt, but as if they were being reclaimed by nature.

The coffin was made of wickerwork, and the bouquets were simple cut flowers, no oasis or cellophane. The grave was under the canopy of a most beautiful beech tree, with other trees closely around. I looked up during the service, and was fascinated by the moving mosaic of leaves, layer upon layer of them. The sun glowed through the higher leaves, and now and then there was a blink of blue sky as the branches shifted and whispered in the breeze. It was really lovely, actually, and looking around at the other grave sites, I really liked that slowly, the mounds settle back into the ground and become part of the woodland. They’re tall and proud at the beginning, when you need the marker, but gradually as the sadness of grief fades and the happiness surfaces, the mound also fades and the woodland stops being background to grief, and comes back into focus as a place of peace to sit and be thankful for the good memories.

That really appeals to me. For me, a quiet, sunny space filled with leaf-whisper and the dappling of sun through the leaves is perfect for dealing with grief; not lonely silence, but filled with enough sound and movement to keep your brain occupied while your heart quietly breaks, and quietly mends itself, though it takes a long time.

One of the moments during the service that made me wobble a bit was the readings as they used one – sometimes called “What is dying?” – that we had at my Dad’s funeral. He died last year, just before our wedding. That reading was one I first heard at the funeral of the father of a good friend. It talks of dying as standing on the seashore watching a ship carrying cargo which disappears over the horizon. It’s lovely: have a quick look at the link above (the rest of this blog will make a lot more sense if you do!)

I loved it. I sent it home to my parents as my mum plays the organ at a lot of funerals and my Dad’s choir used to sing at them, so it’s always useful to know these things in case the family are having trouble finding something relevant. My Dad had always loved sailing and the sea, so he really liked the reading too. It always makes me think of him, and certainly it did today. I miss him, the old bugger. I found myself standing at the funeral for one person and crying for another, which was also weird. 
My Dad found school very difficult as a child, and that included reading. He said once that he read maybe five books from the time he was a teen to that point (his early seventies, maybe?) But at that point we went on a mission to get him reading. I had persuaded my Mum to read Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice. She didn’t like fantasy until she read Hobb and discovered it wasn’t like she had thought, and she was sure that my Dad would enjoy it too, but he was an awkward one and not necessarily inclined to oblige. So we left it on the table, slightly in the way. When he came in, he looked at it and read the blurb and said “What’s this?”

“Oh, sorry, is that in your way?” I  moved it onto the side. “It’s the book I just finished reading.”

“Is it good?” 

I shrugged. “I think it’s epically good,” I told him, and went off  burbling about it being really exciting and gripping and all the stuff I thought might appeal. “But you wouldn’t like it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I know you’re not right bothered. Anyhow I lent it to Mum and she loved it so I’m going to see if (my sister) wants to read it.”

I left it at that and wandered off, and sure enough when I went back into the kitchen a couple of hours later it had mysteriously gone. He loved the book, of course, and was up till all hours reading it several nights in a row. Less than a week later I caught him sneaking into the other room to see if he could find the second one in the bookshelf… and he did read the whole trilogy. 

After that, there was a rather lovely thing where he would come and ask my Mum rather hesitantly what she thought he might like next. Mum, having been a school teacher, is pretty good at judging that sort of thing, and he went from kids books like Stig of the Dump, which he loved, to James Herriot and Nevill Shute, and by the time of his death he was part way through Oliver Twist. To me, that is just the most amazing thing, to suddenly discover the joy of words so late in life, and I’m so proud that he stuck with it all the way up to Dickens (I know the classics can be a bit Marmite, but I love Dickens’ use of words, so it’s amazing to be able to share that enjoyment with someone discovering it for the first time). I am so proud and pleased that he did start, and kept going nearly to the end of his life, when his Parkinson’s intervened. He gained so much pleasure from it until then; I love that that was a gift we were able to give him. It feels like a real privilege.

I don’t think he ever read any of my books apart from one short story, The Black-Eyed Susan, which had a sailing ship in it. He  really liked it and wanted to read Song of the Ice Lord after, as it also involves ships and war, which were two things he was quite interested in, but sadly his illness intervened and he never got that far. Whether he would have enjoyed it or not I can’t tell you, but I think he would have liked the shipspirits.

What are the shipspirits? In Song, the warrior/sailor tribes that make up the Skral people have a complex relationship with their ships, to which they attribute a sort of benificent awareness, and when each ship becomes too old to repair, the tribe haul them to a very secret and sacred place, the ships’ graveyard, where they are laid to rest in honour. Maran and Lodden, a bard and a engineer of sorts, travel across the island where Maran’s people live. Lodden, who comes from a far country, is awed to see the row upon row of ships along the hillside, the older ones crumbling into flat, shapeless mounds while the newer ones stand high and stark.

…Sound familiar? 

As I looked around the burial ground today, with the grave-mounds unmarked and settling into the earth, it felt as if someone had taken the pictures in my head and made it real, just on a smaller scale (and with less snow!). That’s why it was doubly eerie when they started reading the poem; Song is dedicated to my friend’s father, at whose funeral I first heard the poem that gave me the idea of the shipspirits- but that poem, the poem at my Dad’s funeral, was the very same one they read today.

Today, the combination of the burial site and the reading made me shiver, though not in a bad way.  Song of the Ice Lord is about grief and loss, but it is also about coming to terms with losing the people you love, and understanding that while we remember them with love, they never really leave us. 
I will leave you with the last part of the poem in the version we heard today, as the soul-ship disappears over the horizon and is lost to sight:

And just at the moment when someone at my side says

“She is gone!”

there are other eyes watching her coming,

and other voices ready to take up the glad shout

“She is here at last!” 
Take care, all.

JAC.

– – –

NB Song of the Ice Lord is quite randomly on a 99c deal at the moment, if you’re interested. Oddly enough, we organised it weeks ago before there was any question of a funeral at all. Synchronicity is a weird, weird, thing.

Hallo all;

this week we have a treat for you: a guest post by the lovely Vivienne Tuffnell, whose latest book Little Gidding Girl has just released – and last time I looked, all the reviews were 5*….

Having read it myself this very afternoon, I loved it – it’s a very well-written, intriguing story with finely-crafted characters you can really identify with (or really dislike, depending on which one we’re talking about!!). Modern lit is not really my thing but Little Gidding Girl is excellent, and well worth a read.

I asked Vivienne to tell us a bit about her novel for the blog, and here is what she had to say about it.

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Coming of age or mid-life crisis? Little Gidding Girl is both and neither.

In trying to place my new novel Little Gidding Girl into those nice neat categories and genres that Amazon offers, I realised that it won’t fit into a convenient box. It has that in common with every other book of mine, too, of course, but I’d had some hopes that with the Holy Grail of having GIRL in the title, it might be a little easier to place. No such luck, eh?

The word GIRL is itself problematic. Many years ago, when I worked for the Nature Conservancy Council (now Wild Britain), I had a colleague who was a very inspiring woman, about fifteen years older than me. She’d served her time at the Greenham Peace Camp and had campaigned on a variety of things to do with conservation, social justice and nuclear disarmament. Indeed, I suspect that I may have been thinking of her when I wrote Cathy (Red Cat), Chloe’s sister, from Square Peg. I remember her frustration and increasing fury when our boss referred to us as GIRLS or worse, LADIES. “We’re women,” she’d declare, and would correct him every single time until he got the message. At 22, I was barely out of girlhood, really, but I was already married, and then pregnant in the second half of my contract, so I agreed and made a mental note that the word GIRL was problematic in so many ways.

But at what point does a GIRL truly become a woman? It’s a tricky question. It’s not got an easy simple answer. In theory, the moment a female enters her majority (in the UK, that’s anywhere between 18 and 21; one can vote at 18 but many other activities are limited to 21 and over), she becomes a woman. In some cultures, it’s at menarche or at first pregnancy, and in some, never in any meaningful legal way.

Verity, the main character of Little Gidding Girl, is 35 when the book starts. She’s married, and mother to a child verging on her teen years, but there’s something extremely youthful about her. Her hair retains the white-blonde colour of youth, and she’s pale to the point of transparency. Her plumpness is more like puppy-fat than middle-age spread and she’s in the process of losing it. She struggles with keeping her daughter in order, and is a bit of a pushover. Her job is one that any recent school-leaver might do, or indeed one that would appeal to a student, and she’s pushed around and bullied by her boss, a woman she was at school with who has become a shrewd and cut-throat business owner. She remains, in essence, a girl, unformed and a strange shadow of what she might have been. She’s frozen in a moment in time that has long gone, yet she herself has not managed to move on with it and become a woman in any of the truly meaningful ways that have nothing to do with voting age or getting into night clubs.

The mid thirties are when the first signs of mid-life can manifest, often as restlessness and dissatisfaction with how life has turned out. The average age for the classic mid-life crisis (in men, characterised by the cliché of buying a sports car or getting a new, younger, trophy-type wife or girlfriend) is 42, coincidentally also the number chosen as the meaning of life (if you’re a fan of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). At thirty-five, Verity is a little young for such a crisis but her world has changed, tilted on its axis by the death of her grandfather. Since he was the constant, rock-like figure in her life, his loss is surely a factor in triggering the change in Verity; she and her little family move into his house, left to her, and that too catapults her unconsciously into reviewing her life so far.

The novel is the story of how a girl might become a woman, when the passage of years has done nothing to bring about this change, because the flow of life that should have heralded that coming-of-age, has been dammed up and time, in a strange sense, has stopped. In the opening lines of Burnt Norton from Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot talks speculatively about the nature of time, postulating that if all time is eternally present, time is itself unredeemable. In effect, Verity’s exploration of her life and how it stalled, is a process of disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose leaves. Yet the echoes created by her searching unconsciously become more and more real and more and more disturbing as the cracks in time start to reveal a life she never lived.

At seventeen, Verity lost the future she’d craved when Nick, her enigmatic and troubled poet boyfriend, drowned at sea. At thirty-five, in a safe, humdrum and uninspired life, she finds that snatches of the life she didn’t have begin to force their way into her real life. This other life, more vivid and demanding than her actual life, begins to gather a terrible momentum as she starts to understand that her un-lived life was not the poetic dream she had imagined it might be. Doubting her own sanity as her other life comes crashing down around her in a series of disasters, Verity is forced to re-examine her past, realign her present and somehow reclaim a future where both her own early creative promise and her family can exist and flourish together. Exploring the nature of time itself, the possibilities of parallel universes and the poetic expressions of both, Verity searches to understand why and how Nick really died and what her own lives, lived and un-lived, might truly mean.

Little Gidding Girl

= = = = =

Many thanks to Viv for coming out to play on the blog today. Little Gidding Girl is available in Kindle and paperback from Amazon, and having read and thoroughly enjoyed it myself, I can heartily recommend that you go buy it now!

Other than that, all progresses this side as ever, which is to say: slowly. Holly & Ivy is due to go out for betaing any minute, with hopefully a view to publishing in the next month or so. Flight is on hold till that is done and Wolf stuff cued up after that.

New Dog is being just as obstructive as he can, though he has a splendid habit of bringing me his favourite watering can at any moment when it is highly inconvenient. I have stopped putting water in it now…! With which image I shall love you and leave you.

Now go and buy Little Gidding Girl, quick – you’ll want the weekend to binge on it!

J.

 

My heart has joined the Thousand….

So. Two and a half months of silence. I should explain that, really.

There’s a quote from Watership Down:

“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.”

That.

This is Jack, our beloved lurcher. Such a happy picture, isn’t it? We were on holiday and he absolutely loved exploring new places with the security of his pack around him.  For an old dog he was very young at heart; such a happy soul.


About a week after my last blog, he was taken ill with a ministroke while we were travelling and had to be put down pretty unexpectedly. I won’t go into detail but he passed away in comfort, relaxed in a familiar place surrounded by all the members of both our families. It was the best it could possibly be for hom, and we are really grateful for that – but for us, it was an awful shock of grief and loss.

Everything stopped.  Writing, editing, reading; watching tv, even; everything stopped.

We returned home to an empty house, with his toys all over the floor and the water still in his bowl. We hung up his lead, and put away the toys. We washed the blanket on the sofa, and put away his bed and bowls, and we missed him with every breath in and every breath out. Pets make up a huge part of your routine and your thoughts, and when they are torn out of your life the hole they leave is huge and raw. 

The following week we had a death in the (extended) family – not entirely an unexpected one, but still to be dealt with. 

The week after that was the first anniversary of my Dad’s death.  

And apart from trying to deal with all that those events involved, at every point there was no dog to comfort us, and distract us, and make us laugh; just memories everywhere, and more loss, each grief tangling with the others until there was no area of our life that was not tinged with loss, no part of our hearts that was not raw and sore. Your chest becomes tight with it, as if you have been holding your breath ever since it started.  You are heartsick and heartsore, and tired to the bone.

No dog meant no walks to walk the grief away, and work through the emotions, and for me that had been a huge part of the way I coped when my Dad died, just a few weeks before my wedding. After a while I started going on the walks by myself anyway. The first walk was hard; the first time in the park without Jack, in the cornfield where he bounded along the path with such joy, the little pathway where he loved to snuffle amongst the leaves. He was everywhere, so vividly that I could almost see him; and he was nowhere. The walks helped, and I was determined to take the sting out of being in those areas, for when the time came to get another dog, but it took a while. I had a lot of help though. There is a really supportive little community of dog-owners here, and Jack was very popular because he was so friendly and engaging. They are really good when someone loses their pet – they put the word out so you don’t have to tell people. So many came up to say how sorry they were and how they would miss him; it was lovely that he brought enjoyment to so many people, and it did help, though generally I ended up weeping all over the place.

But even so, everything had stopped.

The problem is that for me, at least, writing is an outpouring of exuberance and creativity that requires excess nervous energy. I can write angry, nervous or stressed as well as happy – but I can’t write through grief. For me grief, whether for my Dad or for my dog, is like walking a tightrope over shards of glass. With a bit of stillness and quiet and a lot of concentration, I can make it to the other side. At first I’ll be wobbling all over the place, and that’s okay, but as time gets on, I think less about the fall and more about what’s ahead, until finally I realise there is no more glass, and the tightrope is just skimming the surface of the ground. And then there’s no need to concentrate so much any more, and no need to walk the tightrope, and you can just get on with things again. But grief is strange; it’s so draining, even if you’re not doing anything more than getting through the day.

It’s taken a while, but we’re nearly there now, not quite back on the ground but nearly there. We have worked really hard to let the sadness go, and to revel in the joy that Jack brought us, and because so many of our memories are glad, funny, joyful, we’re getting there. It will be a long time before we can let go of the sadness entirely, of course,  but that’s only right and fitting; grief is the footprint of love, and the love he brought us was huge.

In the meantime, we have an empty sofa, and our little pack is missing a member. We have got to the point now where we are ready to invite another dog into our lives. After much searching and negotiation, we are going to visit a rescue centre and, if all goes well, will be welcoming a new character into our lives really soon. We still miss Jack and we always will, but we are not replacing him so much as expanding the pack further, and we know he would have loved that. It’s a little poignant, and a little daunting, but mostly it’s really exciting and we are looking forward to meeting New Dog with so much anticipation.

And all of that has its effect. On the writing front, the deadlock is easing up; I’ve been doing a little editing, and I can feel the words starting to bubble up again; sooner or later, writing will happen again. It’s not going to be right away, because getting a new dog settled is a lot of work at first, more if they are not housetrained or have the other sorts of issues you are likely to encounter from a rescue dog. All this energy will be needed at first to form the bond between owner and dog, to find out how to communicate with them best, to get it settled and comfortable in the new routine of days at home and days at work, and walks, and visits to the extended pack in the form of both families, though that will be a little further along the line still.

But that sort of busy – good busy – whirs away in the brain creating the energy I need to really make my characters live!

So the plan is, look at launching The Holly and the Ivy for Midsummer’s Day or thereabouts, then finish the edit on Flight. It’s not the moment right now for the Wolf books – I think that will come further along in the autumn, but there’s always The Mother To finish and this year’s submission for the Christmas anthology and who knows what else to be getting on with. It’s not that there’s always something, it’s more that there isn’t the time in the world to keep up with writing the stories I’ve thought of, even made notes for… 

Sometimes that daunts me, but right now it’s starting that good old feeling, the one where my mind is simmering with low-level excitement. It starts low and slow, but it builds and it builds and the point will come where it tips over from a simmer to a rolling boil, and the words will start to bubble up madly, and I’ll be typing like a demon, and three months later there’s another damn book to add to the queue for sense checking, and I really need to start scraping money together for the edit and the cover, and we’re off to the races again!

But in the meantime, let me get back by dribs and drabs to my rewrite on Holly, and the cover’s all ready to go, so it’s just a case of sorting everything out in time for release day… A nice easing back into it, you’d have thought, only these things never are, and I have some new strategies to try this time. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. But, cautiously, I’m hoping to be in the vicinity a little more often in the weeks to come. No promises, mind, but watch this space, eh?

Anyhow. Right now I’ll sign off. There’s dog stuff to assemble and pack for bringing him /her home, and so many other things to be done before we set off.

…Wish us luck, peeps! 

JAC.

Progress check

Har. Posts overdue, due to my apparent inability to tell the diff between the  Preview button and the actual Publish one…. I might be a bit tired but plus side, it’s a while since I caught myself putting the Fairy Liquid in the fridge so on balance I’m classing it as “weary” rather than gibberingly knackered. And my autocorrect is off on one today so it was surprisingly complicated to actually get that sentence right….!

So. Currently sitting on the sofa watching the dog, who is lying upside down and wagging in his sleep. Being a Lurcher this is a rare sign of approval so I’d like to think he was dreaming about the pack humans coming home, though in all fairness he tends to greet us with mild approval. The Sainsburys delivery man, on the other hand, virtually gets a ticker tape parade ever since the time they substituted chicken flavoured treats for his Dentastix. I was just explaining that Dog is not a big fan of chicken when he slunk up between us, delicately poked his snout into the carrier bag, retrieved the packet of treats and slunk away to his bed where he spent some time fiddling with the packaging. Then he brought it back, dropped it at my feet, nudged me and stared pointedly at it.

The Sainsburys man said “It’s terrible when they’re so fussy,” (chortling to himself). So we agreed that it might perhaps be an acceptable swap on this occasion and Dog has greeted him with glee ever since….

Returning to the point, however!

Progress. It’s about to slow because I’m cutting back on all the late night work I do after OH has gone to bed. This is mostly because I can only manage 4h sleep a night for so long before I start walking into things, and my day job needs a certain level of alertness right now, so trying to keep it low level and ongoing at sustainable levels. Yep, it’s exactly as frustrating as it sounds!

However. Currently moving towards the last part of a fairly substantial edit on Wolf book 1 which seems reasonably settled around 118k words, so will probably end up nearer 110k after the editors get their scalpels on it. I’m currently thinking that as this is the most standalone of the lot, getting this one out separately might not be a bad thing provided I keep writing the others which will need to come out at regular intervals.

Also a few last edits to put in place and I might have Holly & the Ivy coming up to being ready – anyone not already on the ARC list who wants to be, give me a shout.

The cover is now done and with a bit of luck I’ll be able to do you a “process blog” like the one for Sprig. Next time, eh? 

So. Onwards! Dog to walk one last time for the evening and then I’m calling it a day. Have a good evenin, all….

Take care & catch you later;

JAC

Tiny steps….

This weekend we have made a little but significant bit of progress on Wolf series book 1. See?


Okay, so it’s one step at a time and there’s a long way to go, but this is always a nice moment in the process of any new book; the bit where I print and bind it for the first time.

This means I’ve finished the initial draft, done a couple of passes for typos and obvious mistakes. I’ve probably left in a couple of notes to self (not usually as bad as the one in Song of the Ice Lord which just said “insert battle here”!!) but usually plot stuff which s more easily checked when you can leaf between page 3 and the end of the book and  just check what you have matches up. Also, notes that suggest I check bits that might need rewriting or expanding on.

But basically, once I print it, the main shape is likely there, and the rest is just sculpting and polishing; usually two print passes and it’s time to start sending it to the editors (dun dun DUUUUUUNNNNNN!).

In this case, because it is part of Operation Write The Whole Series First, I plan to indulge in one pass through this, and then go onto the soft-copy edits and corrections for Book 2. Then more new writing when I get back onto Book 3, hurrah! I am starting to think that this may well be a fresh kind of madness but if nothing else, it will be an interesting exercise… Now taking bets as to what the readers think (which is, after all, the acid test).

And when I burn out a bit on this series, there’s always the last few edits on The Holly & The Ivy, which was slightly impeded by my cover artist’s computer dying horribly. It lost the Christmas slot so I’ve told him as and when – Christmas will be right along again next year and if other authors have definite release dates to hit, he’d be better off sorting them out first, and coming back to it when he’s not under such time pressure.

I haven’t stopped work on the On Dark Shores series, but Flight has come back from the editor with a list of research that needs doing, so short-term it makes more sense to sort out the stuff I can do. Let’s face it, Flight has been suitably delayed that another couple of months is not going to make any difference at all!

Anyhow, just wanted to share the small pleasingness of seeing Wolf in the Shadows in physical form for the first time…

Take care, and have a great week!

JAC

Hi all:

Today we have a bit of a treat for you – a guest post and giveaway from Vered Ehsani, original member of the Creative Reviews group and co-participator in the Christmas Lites charity anthologies. Vered writes fascinating, unusual paranormal novels set around African mythology and for a short time only, you can download some for free! Details below….

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What happens when Lara Croft meets Jane Austen in colonial Africa? You get the USA Today bestselling “Society for Paranormals”, a delightful cozy mystery series in which a paranormal investigator refuses to let danger, death and unwanted suitors inconvenience her in the small town of Nairobi. Vered explains why she wrote the series:

Having lived in Kenya since mid-2000, I wanted to write about my home. I noticed a distinct lack of books about African mythology and paranormal creatures (apart from Egyptian ones), so I decided to do something about that. Miss Knight, the main character of the “Society for Paranormals” series, seemed the best person to accompany me on that journey. After all, we share a few likes (tea, archery and exploring) and dislikes (wet dogs, giant bugs and naughty monkeys).

When I began researching for the series, I was impressed at the paranormal diversity in Eastern, Southern and Western Africa. Here are a few of my favorites.

Called a ghost, demon or ogre, the Popobawa attacks people at night while they sleep, instilling terror in whole villages along the East African coastline and islands. The name is derived from the Swahili words for “bat” and “wing”, as its wings have a bat-like appearance. The Popobawa shape-shifts into human form during the day. At night, when it attacks, it changes into a man-sized bat with gigantic wings, talons, pointy ears and one eye in the center of its forehead.

The Tokolosh is a brown, hairy three-foot high dwarf. It speaks with a lisp and is usually naked. There are several stories regarding the origin of the Tokolosh, but they all result in a rather disagreeable beast. Some claim it is a dwarf zombie which can be created by following this simple recipe: 1) remove the eyes and tongue from a full-sized corpse; 2) stick a heated iron rod into the skull in order to shrink the corpse; 3) blow a secret powder into its mouth, giving it life and obedience to its creator.

I’d always thought fireflies were romantic, until I heard of the Adze. A vampire in the legends of the Ewe people of West Africa, it moves about as a firefly. In its human form, the Adze will attack and eat your organs. When in its insect form, the Adze will suck your blood while you sleep, and in doing so spread diseases. Its preferred victims are unfortunately young children. And for those victims who survive, they suffer again by becoming a witch possessed by the Adze’s spirit. Unlike European vampires, the Adze has no fear of the sun.

The first book in the series, Ghosts of Tsavo, is free, as is the prequel and a beginner’s guide to African supernatural beings; pick up your copies from http://veredehsani.co.za/free-books/.


As if that’s not awesome enough, you can pick up 8 books for $2.99! On 29 January, Stones of Nairobi (the seventh book in the series) will be released. Everyone who buys a copy in the first 48 hours of its launch will also get free access to seven more books. For all the details on this time-sensitive deal, go to http://veredehsani.co.za/books/stones-of-nairobi/

Enjoy this excerpt from Stones of Nairobi:

A cool dampness enveloped us as we descended into the tomb but it wasn’t a pleasant relief from the humid heat above. Moist slime soiled the walls. The air clung to my skin with hints of moldering bones and unpleasant secrets. In a few steps, we were entirely swallowed by earth and shadows. The opening above our heads provided us only the dimmest illumination. Still, as the tomb we entered was not so big, it was sufficient for the purpose.

A sarcophagus filled most of the space. Carved out of a single chunk of coral, it had similar engravings on the side as the stone above it. The outline of an unusually tall man protruded out of the lid, the carved features of the face sombre and stern.

“Do we need to launch into poetry again to open this lid?” I inquired. “Or will a song and dance suffice?”

Smirking, Koki replied almost affectionately, “Insolent human.”

Approaching the sarcophagus, she gestured to me to join her. Wordlessly, we both pushed on the lid. Despite its size, it wasn’t as heavy as it appeared. I could only thank the porosity of coral for that one consolation. In preparation for the fumes that would certainly exit around us, I ceased breathing through my nose and, as the lid crashed onto the other side, I held my breath entirely.

Peering down, we came to the same realization at the same instant: Liongo’s body was gone.

“Well, how inconsiderate,” I said as I turned to Koki. “It’s one thing to drag me half way across the country to this desolate, dreary and uncomfortable isle. It’s quite another to do so for no purpose at all.”

Bewilderment was a rare, if impossible, mood for Koki and yet, in that moment, it clouded her countenance thoroughly. “I don’t understand. The body is supposed to be here.”

A glimmer caught my attention. I leaned over the edge of the sarcophagus, its cool stone pressing into my waist, and studied the phenomena through my glasses.

“There’s more writing here,” I said and read the inscription. “Cool water.” Straightening up and removing my glasses, I scoffed, “There’s nothing cool around here.”

“It’s the Maasai name for Nairobi,” Koki said, her smug smile reasserting itself. “Enkare Nairobi. Cool water. His body must have been moved there, to protect him from his enemies.”

Before we could continue discussing the whereabouts of a corpse, a deep, throaty, snarling growl vibrated around me, its volume equivalent to an entire pride of lions growling together. The earth vibrated just as we heard an explosive crashing above our heads. Bits of coral and dust loosened and fell upon our upturned faces. Something large covered the opening to the tomb.

In the resulting darkness, I heard Koki sigh.

“What is that?” I demanded, hefting my walking stick in preparation.

Koki replied in a bored tone, “That, dear Miss Knight, is why the island is deserted.”

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Many thanks for that, Vered, and best of luck for the launch tomorrow! 

Go and find your free copies, peeps! Certainly I am about to do so. Next week we’ll be back to the usual ramblings from me; in the meantime have a lovely weekend, and here’s that link to Vered’s website again, so you don’t need to scroll back up for it:http://veredehsani.co.za/books/stones-of-nairobi/ (See how I spoil you…!)

Happy reading, and if you have questions or comments for Vered, please comment below. 

JAC.

Pantomimes: A Guide for the Unwary


Morning all, and a Happy New Year to the lot of you!

Before I start, a quick reminder: The Locket (short story) released on Christmas Eve and for this week only it’s cut price so that you lovely people who read the blog or get the newsletter can get a good deal on it. The price will go up on Monday so if you’re interested, now’s the time to indulge! Or of course, mail me for a review copy, if you fancy writing one – good or bad, any review is better than none.

So, that apart, how have you been? Good Christmas / New Year / days off / whatever you’ve been up to of late?

I had a couple of days off over New Year but am now back to work, and the trains are filled with small children in costume and harassed-looking adults all coming back from any manner of pantomimes. The kids as are hyper as a can of pop and a packet of Haribo allows, and the air is heavy with cries of “He’s behind you!” and the like. It’s a bit full-on if you’re shut in a carriage with them and not on a sugar-high, but then it’s Pantomime season, so it’s hardly a surprise.

Pantomimes. They’re such an institution. Sometimes we love them. Often they make us cringe and run for the hills, but Christmas is invariably accompanied by a rash of very frightening posters featuring heavily-made-up D-list celebs costumed as a variety of characters from fairy tales and the like. It’s a strange old tradition when you think of it – not that you ever really do. It’s just another part of the Christmas season, isn’t it?

…Or is it?

I always thought so until a few years back, when I discovered that Pantomime is less global than I had always assumed.

This was a while back, when League of Gentlemen was airing on UK TV (and this is the somewhat twisted comedy-horror series with Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton, not the dubious but well-costumed film with Sean Connery), a friend got tickets for the League of Gentlemen Pantomime, and persuaded me to come along. It was not an entirely usual panto, because the first half was straight League of Gentlemen with all the usual characters: but the story being that the theatre group having been unavoidably detained, in order to save the day, the rest of the characters decided to do the panto instead. Correspondingly the second half was the actual characters (rather than the LoG actors) putting on the panto.

It worked pretty well, actually, because half of the LoG characters fall into the same mould as the necessary panto types; the simple lad, the bad sneering guy, Papa Lazarou (well you define him!) and of course the horrendous but not entirely horrible Pauline, played with some gusto by Steve Pemberton in a dress, to name but a few. Pauline in particular was confusingly good as the Dame – a bloke playing a female character filling a role normally played by a bloke dressed as a woman…! Brain-fry!

And of course there was all the usual banter with the audience. It was definitely an adult panto – not so much in content as in language, as there was lots of swearing – but it was an impressively sharp audience. At one point when doing the stock call and response (normally “oh yes he did” / “oh no he didn’t”), Pauline added a sweary twist in the form of “Oh yes he f*cking did!” and the whole audience roared back without missing a beat “oh no he f*cking didn’t” which caused Steve Pemberton/ Pauline to snort with laughter and comment “ooh, you think you’re so clever don’t you!” It wasn’t complex but it was a very pleasingly unanimous ad lib.

…Well, almost unanimous. As the panto part of the show progressed I suddenly realised that the nice German couple sitting next to me were starting to look first confused and then increasingly and inexplicably terrified. In all honesty, given it was not in their first language I just assumed that they had lost track of the dialogue, but the sheer discombobulation on their faces seemed to be disproportionate to that kind of likely bafflement. When it got to the end of the show, after much clapping and stamping of feet, the lights came up and everyone started filing out, and the two Germans sat in their seats and stared at each other, apparently gobsmacked.

Then one said to the other “But how do they know what to say?!”

And I suddenly realised they didn’t know about Pantomime. 

And if they thought it was just a normal trip to the theatre, how surreal must it have been when the audience started talking in unison to the characters?! That would be really, really disconcerting…. And judging by the way they fled, it really was.

I’m afraid that that amused me greatly. However, I was also intrigued. How in the world could they not know about pantomime? Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know the correct response to “Oh yes he is!”? 

Well… yes. Most of the rest of the world doesn’t, which is a slightly bizarre idea. It turns out that pantomime is not exactly global. So, for those readers from other shores who have no idea what I’ve been going about, here is a beginners’ guide to a part of British culture that you never knew you wanted to know about (and indeed may still wish not to by the end of this epistle).

The Pantomime….. 

So, how do I explain pantomime to you? It is actually terribly British – not Terry Thomas stiff-upper-lip British, but Kenneth Williams, Carry On Whatevering British. It’s seaside postcard humour with a bit of cross-dressing and heckling thrown in. Think last-gen Rocky Horror, but for kids (mostly).

It has its roots in fifteenth century Italy, where groups of players went round putting on half-scripted half-improvised plays based around certain stock characters. (This tradition would eventually come to be called commedia dell’arte and has given us characters such as Harlequin, Scaramouche and Mr Punch of Punch and Judy). Over time the traditions evolved in the UK into modern panto. The improvised element has been given up in favour of scripts, but the slightly anarchic, unpredictable nature of the thing remains to this day; ad libs are commonplace, practical jokes between actors are not uncommon, and at any point where the audience engages, there is the distinct possibility that it will all go a bit off-book for a bit before coming back to the script. The last night in particular is generally a miscellany of the unexpected.

The which said, it’s not just a randomly daft musical. There are certain conventions which are not negotiable and must be fulfilled in any production purporting to call itself a panto. 

In panto there is no fourth wall. The characters routinely have scenes where one of other of them sits on the stage, starts off with a monologue (often including song) but ultimately will end up talking to the audience, usually referred to as “Girls and boys”. In particular, at some point we will have the set-up where one character is looking for another who will be sneaking about behind him on the stage, probably intermittently hiding behind the curtains or other scenery.

This is where you bring in the audience participation which terrified the German couple so much, and it always goes the same way.

The dialogue will go thusly:

Character 1: Hello boys and girls, I wonder if you can help me. That naughty Character 2 is hiding from me. Have you seen her?

Character 2 does exaggerated tiptoe across back of stage.

Audience yells: She’s behind you.

Character 1: What’s that you say, boys and girls?

Audience (louder): she’s behind you.

Character 1 turns to look behind him. Character 2 hides.

Character 1: I thought you said she was behind me!

<repeat ad nauseam>

Character 2 comes out and comes right up to him.

Audience (children yelling like banshees now): She’s behind you!

Character 1 turns to find himself face to face with Character 2.

Character 1: Oh, Character 2, you did give me a start! 

This may also be used with Character 1 saying “I’ll just put this MacGuffin on the table and have a little sleep. I hope the Character 2 doesn’t get it though. I’ll tell you what, if you see Character 2, boys and girls, you be sure to tell me” and other situations of that type.

The other main formula (which may be used in tandem with the above or separately) is comedy contradiction, so for instance Character 1 having fallen into a snoring nap, Character 2 would turn up, the children would yell, Character 2 would hide and Character 1 would go into the following routine:

Character 1: “I can’t find him anywhere. He wasn’t here at all was he?”

Audience: “Oh yes he was!”

Character 1: “Oh no he wasn’t!”

Audience: “Oh yes he was!”

Character 1: “Oh no he wasn’t!”

Etc till they get bored.

(So if you ever get into a random contradiction with a British person, the likelihood is that they’ve gone all panto on you simply because it’s that time of year, that’s what you do, and they haven’t realised you don’t have the first clue what they are on about.)

The stock character-types do remain – well, kind of.

Firstly there is a Dashing Young Hero. He is played by a young woman, usually in tights and shorts, and slaps his / her thigh a lot for reasons passing man’s understanding.

His (her?) love interest is the Soppy Young Heroine, also played by a young woman, but generally not in competing tights. She gets to wear a girly skirt.

These two are often rather dull but generally have several long songs, often about how much in love they are. They have little or no comedic value but give everyone else the excuse to turn up, so get brownie points for that.

Next you will be introduced to the Pantomime Dame who is generally played by a strapping bloke in drag. Dames with beards are not unknown. She is the older lady who is a bit ghastly and often takes a shine to the Dashing Young Hero who is of course uninterested. The Pantomime Dame is a figure of fun, yes, but we laugh with her rather than at her for the most part. She is played as legendarily unattractive (the beard probably doesn’t help) and is the sort who terrifies her man into submission rather than attracting him. Her attempts to woo the Dashing Young Hero are pure cringe-worthy slapstick, but she often has a poignant moment or two that humanizes her, and is generally the star of the show. She has licence for any amount of overacting, provided her banter with the audience is up to scratch, and generally gets the loudest cheer and the most curtain calls at the end. 

The Simple Lad, generally played by a boy of staggering gormlessness, is a bit of an innocent. He may be side-kick to the heroine, and is often helplessly and hopelessly in love with her. He may be the son of the Pantomime Dame (but does not have a beard). Occasionally, if the Simple Lad did not start the show as the son of the Pantomime Dame, he may turn out to have been her longlost child, usually misplaced in some outrageously unlikely manner involving laundry, a handbag, or just severe forgetfulness on her part.  

The Simple Lad commonly has a good friend in the shape of the Pantomime Horse or Cow, usually played by two unfortunates (of negotiable gender) in a terrible costume. One of them will then get to spend six months being the butt of “horse’s arse” comments. The horse may dance and is generally male. The cow does not often dance, is generally female, but may have a slightly unsavoury fascination with the Simple Lad, the Dashing Young Hero (played by a girl, lest we forget), or occasionally the Baffled Father Figure.

The Baffled Father Figure is played by an older man. His function is to stand around being baffled and ineffective, for the most part. When the Pantomime Dame (beard and all) invariably gets turned down by the Dashing Young Hero (the young lady in tights) she often turns her sights on the hapless Baffled Father Figure, who is helpless to turn her down despite the potential for fighting over shaving implements of a morning. He is normally baffled but cheerfully resigned to this annexation on her part.

The Bad Guy is often a Baron, though sometimes he may be a wizard (generally in be-turbaned 1001 nights-style, rather than the pointy-hat Gandalf / Harry Potter type). In Aladdin he is almost certainly the Grand Vizier, as any fule kno Grand Viziers are always bad guys, even when they pretend not to be. When the Bad Guy comes on-stage there will be a green and / or red spotlight, and all the audience boos or hisses. The Bad Guy will probably make smart remarks at the audience’s expense and also is likely to be horrible to animals, small kittens and the Simple Lad, all of which will win him the audience’s further opprobrium (we are not so bothered about him being mean to the Dashing Young Hero and Soppy Young Heroine however as they are dull). Usually part of his function is to kidnap the Soppy Young Heroine (played by the girl in a skirt) just at the point where the Dashing Young Hero (played by the girl in tights) is about to declare his everlasting love for her. This event spawns a soppy and incredibly twee song, to be sung by the Dashing Young Hero in his / her tights in front of the curtain in order to enable a change of scenery. 

The Bad Guy is the character most prone to chewing of scenery or general overacting. He can and should be as over the top as possible in his dastardliness, so long as it is cartoon-stylee and no genuine bad stuff happens. He is generally the second most entertaining character and second only to the Dame, gets the next biggest cheer from the adults (the kids go for the Dashing Young Hero and his tights as they don’t know any better).

The Bad Guy will probably have a comedy sidekick and like the other supporting characters, this person will probably be very, very stupid. He (usually he) will at some point mishear an important command with comic consequences, and be roundly abused for it. The Inept Sidekick is probably soft-hearted and may well be won over by the tale of woe spun him by the Dashing Young Hero or Soppy Young Heroine, but is unlikely to do much of use otherwise apart from fall asleep or drop things. However the audience doesn’t boo him and may even help on occasion. He’s too inept to be really bad.

The Bad Guy himself, being incredibly powerful and even potentially magical, is completely unassailable. At least, he is unassailable until faced by the Pantomime Dame when he is either terrified or distracted into submission. She enters like a galleon under full sail to perform a terrifying seduction on the Bad Guy, in order to distract him while the Dashing Young Hero and his / her tights go and pick the lock on the door of the Soppy Heroine’s jail, and there is always a happy ending, normally as follows:

The Bad Guy gets his come-uppance (ie explodes, goes to jail, or just runs away). The Pantomime Dame and associated facial hair may then get together with the Baffled Father Figure (who has little say in the matter), or alternatively discovers that the Simple Lad is her long-lost son, accidentally sent to the launderette in a basket of washing, etc etc etc. The whole thing all finishes off with some big jolly number, quite possibly involving high kicks by the Dashing Young Hero and her tights, and much clapping along / singing / cheering by the audience.

The biggest cheers from the children go to the Dashing Young Hero and Soppy Young Heroine, now in matching costumes, and the biggest cheers from the rather more cynical adults go to the Pantomime Dame and his beard, and the Bad Guy, who have probably also had the most fun all evening. Which probably tells you something about the whole thing, though I’m not sure entirely what.

Talking of which, it’s getting on towards time for me to get on a train full of be-costumed, screaming kids who are flying high on Haribo and Tizer, and so with that lesson in the madness of the British, I will love you and leave you. New Year beckons, hopefully looking like a kinder and gentler time than 2016.

I wish you all a wonderful year to come, filled with love, laughter and all that good stuff.

Take care, and I’ll catch you in 2017!

JAC

Hello everyone,

I trust you’re all getting into the festive spirit and happily ploughing your way through ladles of eggnog and oodles of books.  Just wanted to introduce myself as the newest member of the Weasel Green Press team.  I’ll be helping JA with sundry admin-y type things, a little bit of proofreading and sprucing up our online presence during the early part of 2017 so that she can concentrate on what she does best, doting on hubby and lurcher writing stories that entertain, whisk us off to imaginary lands and generally keep us on the edges of our seats.

This Christmas season we’ve been working on her short story, The Locket, which is available for pre-order with an arrival date of Christmas Eve. So far we have not done a cover reveal so here it is:

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I hope a few of you at least find it in your virtual stockings come Christmas morning.  In the new year it will be all systems go with Sprig of Holly sequel, The Holly & the Ivy which we hope to release early in January so do look out for those.

A little bit about me – my reading habits tend towards the classics, modern American literature, anything that rips the old heart out and the giants of fantasy and sci-fi such as Tolkien and Asimov.  I’m also oddly well read in WWII novels on account of stealing most of my reading matter from my big brother who is a bit of a WWII boffin.  But enough about me.

I hope you all receive the books you’re pining for this Christmas and get enough down time to breathe a sigh of relief at the close of this rather singular year whilst indulging in a new work or returning to an old favourite.

Have a good one folks and I wish you all an enlightening and peaceful new year.

Mary

(the funniest and indeed funnest member of the WGP team)

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