Category: General musings….


Raincheck…

Hey peeps!

So. Phew! Release day over, The Holly & the Ivy launched, A Sprig of Holly at #1 on several different lists in different countries… it’s been fun! A proper run down will follow, but just now I’m doing the last bits of tidy-up and admin.

The giveaway books are being parcelled up and sent across the world in all directions. The bonus material is just going through its last polish before I send it out – and I am pretty pleased with it. It includes: a recipe for Holly’s favourite spiced milk, a behind-the-scenes audio file talking about where the idea for A Sprig of Holly came from and what’s queued up to be written next, and best of all, a short story telling about the run up to the story, told from another character’s point of view. 

I’ve enjoyed putting all that together, but in some ways it’s been a bit of a learning curve – not least as I haven’t done any audio stuff before, so not only did I have to check out what the best equipment and software was for a beginner on a budget, but also I had to work out how to use it and find out whether I could talk unscripted for the right amount of time….! Turns out my early brush with a radio show was not entirely wasted – the problem was actually making the ramble short enough to not crash everyone’s inboxes! 😂

The recipe, as well, was one that I made from scratch, and it took a little time to get the mix of spices just right. I can tell you, I’ll be using that one again though! Mmmmm! Though I say it as shouldn’t….

Of course, with this being exclusive to those who bought before 1st Sept, none of this will be surfacing anywhere else for a while, if ever. Maybe when the Holly series has finished and there’s a box set or something…. so essentially, if you want to read any of this and you bought The Holly and Ivy, get your receipt into me quick! The email address is in the back of the book  but it is jaclement [dot] ondarkshores [at ]gmail.com. Get in quick!

So, apart from that, there will of course be the ongoing round up of deals and giveaways that my stuff is featuring in on the newsletter, which you’re welcome to sign up to if you haven’t already, and once I’ve finished off a couple of outstanding blog posts related to the release, it’ll be time to put together the big overview of what I did, how it went and what next….

…and then onto the next bit of writing of course. But which??

In the meantime, a couple of big deadlines in the dayjob, and the dog has managed to prang himself on a tree at some speed, so is currently sporting one of my tshirts to stop him licking the resultant gouge (far better than a cone, esp given that this is the dog who routinely slides off his own sofa!)

But though life is as frantic as ever, at the moment it feels oddly focused and productive. I feel like someone who’s been trying to carve something with a penknife and someone’s just given me a hammer and chisel… The tools available to us as writers are the moment may well make a huge difference, and I think now is the time to use them – I just need to keep producing the odd short to keep me publishing while I’m working on the longer series. 

Moreover, it turns out I have a genre developing, albeit one with a slightly high-falutin name. You know grimdark, where terrible things happen to everyone and are described in detail and it probably is all going to end with the bad guys winning (my definition!)? Well, it turns out, someone has invented “noblebright”, which sounds a bit po-faced, but as far as I can see, the diff is that whereas bad things can happen, noblebright fiction is characterised by a thread of hopefulness running through it. It’s not as simplistic as good always winning, but sad things can sometimes be the correct outcome too, provided they provide the best outcome. 

There are undoubtedly better definitions than this and unlike Joe Abercrombie who is known as Lord Grimdark, I have no illusions of being dubbed ‘Lady Noblebright’ any time soon (you’d definitely need a robe with stars on in that case, don’t you think?😂) but it’s nice to finally have something to tell people who want to know what I write. Esp as I have written what I wanted to write, and the genre has appeared just in time to fit my stuff! Most obliging!

Anyhow. Also turns out there’s a bit of a market for fairytale retellings and fairytale-like stories, which is the other thing I’ve been playing with with such shorts as The Last Dragon and The Scarred Artisan That’s good as I already had several ideas for more, so these might well be the shorts I work on in between chunks of series stuff.

      

So, it’s been a busy old month but a sharp learning curve, and has left me somewhat cheered. Can’t complain, eh? Anyhow, back to the edits on the bonus material – if you are expecting yours, look for it around the tail end of this week, if not before.

The rest of you, take care. It’s a bit of a grimdark world at the moment, and we fantasy fans need to look out for each other. I sometimes think that when we can’t influence real life, all we as writers can do is to provide an escape for people, and hope that when they set our books down, they have had a little emotional respite from it all, recovered enough of their equilibrium to get through the day, and the next and the next. If that is all we can do for our readers, that’s a pretty powerful gift, not that we will ever know it.

So. Be kind to yourself and others, and stay safe. Whether from fire or flood, or the far off rumble of national hostility, I hope you can all find a safe haven, whether in the real world or fictional ones. 

Take care;

JAC.

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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.

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

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

As regular readers will know, my Dad passed away at Easter. This is Dad trying his new choir uniform on. He was pleased as punch with it.


 He left a little bit of money to us all, and I spent a long time thinking what to do with it. I didn’t want to just pay some bills off with it. I wanted something a bit more permanent than that to remember him by.  Bless him, he always thought he’d leave us all comfortably off but by the time he died there was not a hell of a lot left, which meant it was a bit of a job to think how to use it in a way that would leave something lasting, something that he would like. We did think of putting it towards a decent bench for the garden, but that just seemed a bit selfish somehow. I wanted to use it for something where lots of people would get the benefit, not just us.

My Dad always did a lot of writing, and at the time of his death, we had just got his first novel back from the editors. I was planning to put it into a paperback for his birthday to surprise him, but sadly his health went downhill before he could finish the edits. He was very supportive of the anthologies when I told him about them, and I think he would have loved the idea of helping to make it happen so given that he was always one for charity, it just seemed right that we should put it towards getting a really nice cover done for this year’s Christmas Lites anthology. 

Christmas Lites, for those of you who are new to this blog, is an anthology we put together every year to raise funds for the National Coalition for Domestic Violence, the NCADV.  This is an umbrella organisation that arranged funding and training for the various other charities in the States that cover domestic violence. It’s an American charity because most of the original group who put together the first anthology were Americans and though I live in the UK, I figure a punch hurts just as much wherever in the world you are.

All the authors donate stories entirely without reward, and the rather wonderful Amy Huntley leads a band of volunteers who edit, format and arrange the book. There is a mixture of stories by a wide variety of authors of all genres and ages – this year we have SIX young authors, no less, which is very cool, not least as one is my nephew, who is going into print for the first time. It supports a great cause, and will continue to do so pretty much forever, as ebooks don’t go out of print. I think my Dad would be as proud to be associated with it as I am.In previous years we have had various cover artists, but we all loved last year’s cover by the immensely talented Wesley Souza, and so we went back to them this year for another. 

 Certainly Wes has done him proud with the cover he has made for us. Here is it is – isn’t it fabulous? I particularly like the little sparkly bottles… 


Amy, when I suggested this, was also really supportive in true Amy style (she’s so lovely) and very kindly offered to let us dedicate the book to him, so my older sister Gubby wrote a most beautiful dedication for us.

I always look forward to December, as I really love what we do with these anthologies, and I’m proud that I have had a story in all six editions of Christmas Lites – but as you will understand, this year it really is personal. So here is the Amazon link, which should redirect you to the relevant site for your country.

If you don’t wish to buy it, you can still help support us by spreading the word via social media, and I have two free e-copies to give away for review – but only two, as the whole point is to raise funds. Anything you can do to help will be much appreciated, and for what it’s worth, anyone reviewing this can have a free copy of any and all of my ebooks as requested – just send me the link to the review and tell me what you’d like and in which format.

I’d really like to make this one a success, guys. If you can help, please consider doing so.

Take care, all of you, and have a wonderful Christmas.

All the best;

JAC.

Anyone got a preference?

Just redoing my covers – getting a bit of branding in there.
Mostly done but havering over the new one for The Last Dragon.

Which do you prefer of the below, the yellow one or the grey one?

 

 …and why?

There will be a proper post later in the week – Christmas Lites 6 is on its way, The Locket has a preorder price drop and next week there’s a mega freebie giveaway on #instafreebie -more details to follow – but right now it’s four hours till my alarm goes off, and I’m having another stupidly late night. Silliness like this is why I live off coffee!!

Anyhow, all thoughts and criticisms on the cover much appreciated.

Thanks, all!

JAC.

Graphics for the numpty (ie me)

Wow. This week’s been vitriolic, hasn’t it? Not going to comment here but it’s been enough to drive me (& others) offline for large chunks of the week. Everyone in the States, take care of yourselves and those around you. Turbulent times. I’m not going add to the firestorm, so am just continuing to post my usual nonsense on social media for those who need somewhere to escape to.

To be honest, I’ve been really grateful for the escape myself, and while the world is going slowly mad outside, I’ve retreated  to the castle at Lombria. The plot is developing nicely, and I get quite frustrated at having to stop writing at the end of my lunch hour. Just hit 30k words of book 3,so that’s coming on nicely (and as I’m using NaNoWriMo to keep myself motivated, it’s quite pleasing to be ahead of schedule). Just as well though – I’ve done nothing at all on it the past couple of days, today as I’ve been writing blogs and deleting them and writing them and deleting them. Yesterday I wasn’t blogging thought. Yesterday I was playing with my new find, courtesy of David Gaughran’s blog – namely, Canva.

What is Canva? Canva is a graphics website. It’s very easy to use and has accompanying apps for iphone and ipad though the functionality is reduced on each. Anyhow, having looked into the licensing, it turns out you can use it for ebook covers – it’s very cheap depending on how many different elements you use (fonts, background, photos etc) – either $1 per element for under 2000 copies, or $10 per element for more.

I’m not particularly clever with design programs as a general rule, but this one is easy to use, and easy to make quite nice-looking graphics with. I’m still just learning but already I’ve sorted out covers that I’ll probably use for the next two short stories I’m releasing – both Christmas stories, one funny, one a prequel to On Dark Shores.

You can find it at www.canva.com, and if you need graphics of any kind, it’s worth having a look there.

Anyhow. That’s it for me for tonight, not least as I have 1700 words to write before I go to bed…

Take care, people, and be kind.

All the best:

JAC.

Oh! Hello.

Let me just shift these tumbleweeds out of the way, I’m sure there used to be a blog here somewhere.

Aha! Here we go… Lord, it’s a bit dusty isn’t it? Pass me that duster will you?

There, that’s better.

Give me a moment and I’ll crank up the generator… See the lights flicker – orange, yellow, white and we’re on! 
Wow. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? We’ve been in the Great Blog Void and fingers crossed, we may be just getting across to the other side. Let’s see, when was the last time I put something up on here…? About a year back I think. Rude!

But it’s been a hell of a year.

So. I won’t go through the list of joys and woes which have made the last 12 months what they have been but the main points (in chronological order) include: adopting an elderly lurcher in October 2015, who has been a constant source of joy, irritation and laughter, and whose arrival was accompanied by that of a small colony of (empty!) poo bags which have invaded the pockets of every garment I possess. Said lurcher is very beautiful and has his own fanclub in the village, so we are now known as the dog’s owners in much the same way as members of a star’s entourage; basically, we just hold the lead. Bless him. He’s thirteen in April, which is quite old for a lurcher, but thinks he is a puppy still. Given how beautiful he is now, I suspect he was unbearably cute as a pup. My lovely dog….

On a much less happy note, cancer. There was already a family member undergoing treatment (with a good outcome, fortunately) when my Dad who had Parkinsons was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That was at Christmas; it took him very suddenly at Easter. So that called a stop to pretty much everything for a while, and it really wasn’t kind that two weeks after he died, my mum lost her little cat, which slept on her bed every night, or that shortly after my sister’s much beloved dog had to be put down, both due to malign growths. (I don’t know why there is so much cancer about this year; other friends have also been lost to cancer, including the lovely Katy Sozaeva, whose encouragement right at the beginning of my writing career kept me going in a time of doubt.)

But, by necessity, once the funeral was over we had to get going again, as our wedding was at the end of July, which kept my mum and the rest of us busy just at that weird point where everything’s done and the madness is over and all that is left is the empty chair and the quiet.

The wedding had been designed with the idea of not stressing my Dad out, so it was just the two immediate families in a pub on the moors, followed by roast beef sarnies in a yurt outside the house, and live music by a very talented friend (as well as my sister, a kazoo, the lurcher who apparently knows how to bark in time, etc). I came in to “Bring me Sunshine” by Morecambe and Wise, wearing black jeans, a black and silver corset and a purple coat my mum made from a pattern called “Pirate Queen”, which will tickle anyone who knows about my lifelong penchant for pirates (and I may use that phrase as a title at some point now I’ve invented it). She even put pockets in it. My wedding dress had pockets!! I was very pleased about that. I hate not having pockets.

My mum also made some tremendous glimmering blue brocade waistcoats for the blokes, and my new husband looked splendid; channelling his inner pirate, clearly, though that was just incidental. In a surprise move, my mum even made a waistcoat for the dog who, when we put it on for a photo, seemed completely content and wandered off to steal (another) beef sarnie without waiting for us to take it off him again. My sister did the flowers, which were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. 

The bridesmaids, who had chosen their own dresses, all chose white in different styles, and all looked very stylish and very much themselves. The yurt was magical! We loved the yurt. The weather was mizzlish, but this is Yorkshire, and it does mizzle with style – besides which a dull sky actually suits the photos better – it makes all the people look really vivid and there are so many smiles that each photo is pretty sunny in any case.  I don’t tend to put up pics of friends or family for reasons of privacy but here’s one of me having been persuaded to channel my inner Mary Poppins. Spit spot!

 (The photographer was Richard Edwards who is extremely good, btw)


Apart from the missing family members, it was two shades better than I had hoped in pretty much every aspect you could think of. We sang “The Wild Rover” for my Dad, laughed and cried, often at the same time, had splendid local food and drink (ok, mostly, the wine was from Hampshire and the bubbly came from Cornwall), sang and chattered. All the olds got caught up in a vicious competition to see who could blow the biggest bubble (there were bubbles instead of confetti) and in most of the photos, someone appears to be laughing their head off. In any case, I enjoyed every moment of it. It was *such* fun – and about perfect.

Then, after that, newlywed life kicked in which as far as I can tell is very much like normal life but when absolutely nothing has got done in the house for about five months. The washing was tremendous and the garden had gone mad. The bathroom doorhandle fell off, the kitchen light stopped working and the downpipe for the rainbarrel was hanging in place apparently only because of the spiderwebs around it, though the same spiders had seen fit to make a massive web of the entire inside of the lean-to where I keep flowerpots and gardening gloves, so I had to fight my way in in with a crystal containing the light of Earendil in order to retrieve the trowel, which Shelob had taken a fancy to.  I went back to work and discovered my inbox, which usually holds about 85 items, had hit 1600 in my absence, and started to wonder whether I shouldn’t go back and have another chat with Shelob about that there gardening fork…! And then we ran out of teabags at a critical point (nooooooo!). 

So, a bit of elbow grease and we’re coming up to date on all of the above… but in the meantime, what of the damn books, which is why we’re here?

Weeelllllllll. Now it gets complex.

Last time you looked I was writing Mother, right? Well, my editor said it would be better if I cut the backstory. So I did, but it was about 15k words I was cutting, so I figured I’d release it as a short. So I rounded it off, but that meant doing a few explanatory bits. So when it hit 45k words I sent it back to the editor in question, who came back and said “How does Suze come in?” 

Damndamndamn. That little 5 word question would then require about a 45k word answer. So in it went, but then the chronology was all wrong, so I changed it, but then it was all wrong the other way, and this isn’t even the right damned book!! But it made sense to get the prequel right before going onto the sequel in case something significant went in that would cause repercussions later. I kid you not, that damn book (now called Flight from Shantar) has been over a year in the editing, and it got to the point where I couldn’t even see it any more. The one bright spot was when I got a bit click-happy with spellcheck and changed every instance of the word “Shantar” in the novel Flight from Shantar to “SHATNER”!!!… Thank goodness for the Undo button! (Though I still haven’t given up entirely on Flight from SHATNER!! – you *know* it would sell and sell…..!) 

Anyhow, it was all a bit irrelevant in any case, as I was too burnt out for anything in the first half of the year, and too busy sorting out Dad’s paperwork for my Mum. Once I’d got a bit of mojo back after that I went on a reading binge instead, which is always salutary… and then, come the beginning of July, just as the wedding stuff was really hotting up, I dreamed this great character, and it was a bit compulsive. I couldn’t get him and his heroine out of my head and there was stuff to be done, so I figured it was time to make some notes and just download the bugger. 

BUT these characters are arsey and not inclined to play nicely. 

Some notes! Yeah right, in the same sense as a map with a scale of 1:1. 

So by the end of August, these “notes” had taken the form of a 110k word book. At the time of writing, I’m 120k into book 2 and books 3 & 4 are all mapped out. As soon as I get to a sensible stopping place, I’m putting Flight back together and sending it to the editors (with the hope that fresh eyes will be able to sort out the chronology more easily than I can), so with a bit of luck that won’t need too much in the way of rewrites and might be out in early 2017. The new Christmas Lites anthology is due in December. I have a short story (currently 10k) in editing which is a sequel to Sprig of Holly, and when all that is put to bed, Mother of the Shantar is already 85k done, (Shatner, heheheheh) and ready to start culling characters!

Man, if I didn’t already have a fulltime job I would be adequately provided with writing hours just from this lot!!

So yes, as far as you lot are concerned, I’ve been off the radar for a rather long time with little enough to show on the actual publications page but a short story in last year’s Christmas Lites anthology (though I did help design the cover, which I totally love). But I haven’t let the writing drop – ohhhh nooooo – and I’m hoping the next 18 months or so should bring you the occasional release to remind you who I am.

We’ll see, eh?

Anyhow, there may be a couple of cover reveals and other interesting news brewing in the meantime, but that all very much tbc…

The new lot though, the new lot is looking interesting and this time I’m playing with the somewhat random idea of writing the entire thing before I release any of it, so that in theory you’ll be able to read the entire story arc from start to finish with only a couple of weeks’ wait from one book to the next. If anyone has any thoughts about that, I’d be really interested to hear them. Might be a good plan, might be stupid – no idea at the moment.

Just wait till you meet the Wolf and Lyse, though!!

I think you’re going to like them…. 

Till later:

JAC