Category: General musings….


As regulars will know, periodically I burn out and have to take time out. This one’s a doozy. However although in a pretty unfocused way, I am still chipping away at the outstanding stuff, so here’s the latest sitrep.

On Dark Shores series:

Flight. I thought it was pretty much finished apart from the research on sailing. That is actually a dauntingly huge job but I did a bit of research and discovered a really good resource that looked likely to be available in four or five weeks. Excellent, I thought. In the meantime I’ll reread the first book.

This was either a massive mistake or really lucky. I discovered the timelines need a bit of work and in all honesty, I suspect it might work rather a lot better if I cut all of the books into chronological order; but there there will be far two many characters. So what I need to do is cut them all together, work put what plot strands are going to be superfluous, any characters who can sensibly be merged or cut, and streamline the whole thing. Which is an ENORMOUS task, and that’s before I even start sorting out the 100k words I already wrote of Mother.

Plus side, Scrivener should allow this to make more sense.

Minus side, I’m going to need the world’s biggest Excel sheet to make the timeline even attempt to make any sense.

Plus side, I can re-cover the lot with something closer to market and make pretty files with Vellum, then relaunch the whole lot at once.

Minus side, that launch is a long time and a lot of work away.

Summary: months of work, lots of research and thought needed.

Bugger.

Wolf series:

Finished Book 1, self-edited and did a lot of work on it, sent it to betas and all of them loved the story and were very excited by it…but agreed to a person that the dialogue between the two main characters is flawed in register and needs redoing in its entirety. So close!

They are right of course, and it shouldn’t be difficult to fix, but it does require substantial rewrites and a bit of thought to ensure the story still works if the motivations change. Bugger. Still, there is some consolation to be had in that Book 2 is written and ready to start editing, book three is half done and four and five are plotted out. These are congruent with the new register (ironically, as I was writing it I was wondering how to make it work with old-stylebook one) so it’s just book one that needs a total fix (hopefully!).

The later books involve stuff that is new to me and needs a bit of basic knowledge; they come across a new character who will be pretty important to the plot, and he is profoundly deaf. I was a bit hesitant about this on several scores. On the one hand,the lack of diversity in fantasy has always annoyed me as I think fiction is so much more powerful if it reflects real life? On the other hand, it’s always seemed such a big subject to tackle that… well, frankly, I didn’t know where to start. And yes, this is exactly as stupid a reaction as it seems. But of late because diversity has finally become a Thing, there is much more visibility of resources, which is fabulous, & I got to a point in Wolf where it became clear that for the story to work, the character in question had to be deaf.

Now, the number of questions this raises is not small. In a fantasy world, how likely would it be that they would diagnose him correctly if he was born deaf? How would he manage the day to day exchange of the Court? What advantages and disadvantages would it bring? And most importantly, how can I as a hearing person, write a genuinely authentic and moving character that deaf people (and Deaf people) will enjoy and identify with? The quick answer is that I will almost certainly get some bits wrong, but hopefully if the main, important bits are right, it might either pass muster, or inspire others to write a better deaf character than mine, which would be epic.

I have thought a lot about this and I end up with the viewpoint that is better to attempt to write a diverse cast in good faith and with due diligence put into getting it right than it is to chicken out of it in case someone shouts at me. It is almost certainly true that I will get it wrong in places and no doubt lots of people will be angry at me and rightly so: but if one young deaf person identifies with and is lifted by my attempt at representing a deaf character, in a world where they don’t normally get to think “that person is like me”, then that is worth taking a bit of flak for.

No doubt I will be blogging at a bit more length about this later in the process, but for now I am at the very beginning of learning a bit more about deaf people and the Deaf community in the UK (as well as elsewhere, a little bit). I am learning some very basic sign language as my character will sign (of course the story won’t use British Sign Language but I reckon there is much to be learned from understanding how the language is put together that would make sense transferred across to an invented language). And I have to say, I’m totally loving BSL- it’s absolutely fascinating. In an ideal world, I’d go on to study the proper BSL courses, but that will probably have to wait till I have actually finished some books and sold them, as the course is far from cheap.

So though it’s frustrating that Wolf series has also stalled, that doesn’t annoy me so much. It seems more like an opportunity to get learning the sort of things that will make the story, the world and the character so much richer (and which feed into my general obsessions with communication, languages and acting in any case). I have been lucky enough to find someone knowledgeable who has offered to help when I finally get to that part of the story, but I am conscious that this really does need to be as right as possible. So work continues, if not writing, and this is going to be another slow one.

Summary: months of work, lots of research and thought needed.

Kinda cool and exciting, not to mention fascinating, but still won’t be quick.

Bugger.

Holly series:

So this series is pretty much the only thing of mine that’s shifting at the moment, but given that I’ve stopped all attempts at any kind of publicity or marketing (due to burn out) I’m quite impressed that it is shifting at all!

I looked at my author page and realised it looks as if I have a two second attention span. I really need to finish at least one series, just to make the point that I’m writing characters who will be around for long enough to be worth reading! And Holly being pretty popular, and made up of shorter novellas than the rest, it seemed obvious that these were the ones to try for.

So: Holly 3 is written and halfway through editing. Holly 4 is written and Holly 5 is showing signs of wishing to become a full length effort, which wasn’t the idea at all but would be quite a nice way to end the series. Work continues on this in dribs and drabs in the two minutes it takes the kettle to boil, and in my lunchhour when I have one. I think this is going to be a cracking series, but because of the way the story builds up, I need to write it to the end and then go back and make sure that everything in the earlier storied tallies up with the later ones… so guess what? Quite right, can’t publish H3 till H5 is written. Argh. And they have the most expensive covers as well, so writing them first makes loads of sense…no wait…!

So. Plus side, they are probably nearest to being finished.

Minus side, still a fair bit of work to go.

Plus side, the covers are going to be epic!

Minus side, the covers are going to be expensive.

Summary: a few months of work, and a lot of cash needed.

Bugger.

🙂

Dragon series:

So this is ridiculous, I thought. There must be one solitary series I can finish. How about the Dragon stories? People like dragons. I like dragons! Let’s do some dragon shorts to go with the Last Dragon….

Did not go well.

Wrote two nice little stories to go with the Last Dragon. Went to get some cheapie covers to go on them from someone new. These covers were so good I can’t use them for little random stories. These covers suggest Emotional Depth, dammit! Quandary!

So after a bit of thought, I got a fourth matching one done as I have a quartet of dragons whose stories need telling, and these covers will be splendid for those. Then I went back to try for some new covers. The short stories will need to be renamed which could be confusing, only no-one has actually bought The Last Dragon so I don’t really think it will be a problem.

So I made up new names and a new series name, and went back to my new person. Dragons are a bit difficult to find decent pics of for obvious reasons, and having used up the idea of tattoo-type icons for the Four Dragons, I had to resort to renders, which looked a bit shonky. I did hesitate but I figured, we need to use the shorts to earn money for the Holly covers but once they’ve done that, I can use them to save up for new covers with better dragons on. We’ll get there in the end.

So I sent my choice of pictures to the new person and bugger me if she didn’t come back with the most stonkingly fabulous covers ever. The shonky renders now look reasonably respectable next to Anne McCaffrey’s covers! (Fangirl moment!) Hurrah!

…and indeed bugger. Because now I can’t use these fabulous covers for little fairytales. Argh! Again!

So. Before I got stuck too deeply into a cycle of buying tremendous dragon covers for stories I haven’t even written yet, I called a halt. The two sets of fabulous covers can go on stories I am planning out which will tie in a bit remotely with the Holly series, which is pretty cool, and will be referenced in ODS, which is also cool- but I’m not starting to write them just yet.

The Holly covers need to match the first two.

ODS can’t be re-covered till I know where the story splits, but in the meantime no-one’s buying it so I don’t need to worry about that.

Wolf is too far from completion to worry about.

Scarred Artisan may get a new cover and relaunch at some point, as will Song after a slight re-edit. But those are simmering along quietly in the background until I have time to do a launch.

The real reason everything has stopped right now is just burn out. Work is unsustainably manic, and I end up working in the evenings and weekends when possible. I don’t actually agree with that sort of thing, but sometimes you just have to pull all the stops out to get the job done. My partner is in a similar position. It’s not good.

Add to that the weather: two weeks of heatwave means the dog hasn’t been able to go out and run with his friends as usual. We’ve been doing a late evening runaround, but not all his friends can make that time and lots of other people have been doing the same, so his running time is severely limited. This makes him crazy, which means that some nights, I’m still taking him through his training at midnight in an attempt to tire him out. With an 0440 alarm call, this does not make for a restful night’s sleep, and I am one who really needs my sleep!

There’s always the usual other stuff going on of course, but right now I’m frazzled, and a bit bewildered by the way my stories have suddenly fractalled!

The answer is always the same: proper time out with the exception of two minutes’ writing here and there to keep me sane. Theoretically the day job should calm down in a couple of months, and I shouldn’t be using all my creative mojo on getting through the day. By then my brain will have worked out what a plan of attack (current thinking is Holly is next up) and with a bit of luck we should be a substantial way towards getting at least one series up and running. I’m looking forward to getting back to it…

But in the meantime, the dog is barking, we’re late for his walk and goodness only knows what we’ll have for tea….

🙂

Take care, and I’ll catch you on the flip side!

All the best:

JAC

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Locus Iste, put in pictures.

As some of you will know, I write poetry as well a fantasy stories, and I’ve just got a new app to play with that makes videos. By way of seeing what it can do, I thought I’d try putting one of my poems into it. A lot of my stuff is a bit obscure to find images easily, but it’s an interesting exercise.

I found an old one I wrote on a choir trip to Venice, a poem called Locus Iste, and of course it has some lovely pics of Venice. Alas the music is not Locus Iste, but Gymnopedie No 3, however I do like a good bit of Satie and it catches the slightly reflective mood of the poem, so it’s all good.

I’m not sure the poem isn’t better by itself, tbh, so here is the text of it below.

= = = =

Locus Iste

In Venice there was nowhere for us to practice before the concert

so we grouped ourselves in St Mark’s Square in the midmorning heat

and sang through our pieces there.

The sun was warm but not yet ferocious, cooled by the slight breeze

which flowed over the smooth mirrored ripples of the lagoon.

There were still gondolas moored there, bobbing gently on the undulating water

and all along the vast square stretching in front of us stood

the intricate, beautiful facades of old buildings and palaces in red and white;

above us the tower and the winged lions on their columns,

behind us the gilt domes of the doorways of St Mark’s,

beside us the balconies of the Doges’ Palace.

We sang Ave Maris Stella, and Holst’s Nunc Dimittis;

there were others, in English and French and Italian and German,

but the one I remember so clearly is Locus Iste.

KLocus iste a deo factus est, we sang,

this place was made by God.

= = = =

Now you’ve read it and put your own images to it, here’s the say-what-you-see version.. probably less good as a poem but not terrible as a short piece of video. With the right blurb, that could be pretty cool as a book trailer perhaps.

Any thoughts?

🙂

JAC.

How to impress your Lurcher…

Evening all!

So, after last week’s marathon post you know all the gossip about the writing that’s going on, so this week I thought I’d just check in briefly and tell you about an amusing incident that happened with the mad Lurcher puppy. He is currently exhausted, and sleeping the sleep of the just on the sofa in typical lurcher style:

Now apart from his water collecting activities (if you don’t know about these, have a search on my Facebook page for the photos), his main bad habit is digging up the garden. He has a terrible tendency to start excavating when excited, and despite the rockhard earth here, does so with surprisingly quick results.

This is not one of our favourite habits, as you can imagine, because apart from anything else, my other half spent many months carefully bringing the lawn to a state of grassy splendour. He was well on the way to achieving this when the Lurcher puppy exploded onto the scene, dashed around until he had his own personal racing track of mud and dry earth, and then in the remaining grassy spaces, spent quality time digging a maze of surprisingly deep holes.

Whilst mildly vexatious as a habit, the holes themselves have also proven to be something of a health hazard – when going out to the garage in the dark to get a bag of frozen peas, if you happen to wander across the wrong part of the garden there is a danger that you will suddenly find a very localised part of the lawn about a foot deeper than the rest. The fact that none of us has actually sprained an ankle so far is a question of some wonderment to me.

To add to the surprise value, these holes may be little but they are deep – normally I would expect dog-dug holes to be wide and shallow, but because the lawn hasn’t been dug over for some 20 years it is as solid and compacted as concrete, and therefore very difficult to dig. Not that it bothers the lunatic hound– he’s got three or four of his human-traps dotted in important parts of the pathway, and very effective they are too.

We have been meaning to rotivate and reseed the lawn for some time now in a valiant if possibly vain attempt to re-grass the whole thing, but we haven’t had time so far. Finally, with a sunny weekend in hand, we decided that today was that day! And so I unearthed the rotavator and my other half took the dog out on a walk so that I could see to the garden. Given that the fool hound likes to chase the vacuum around the front room any time he has the chance, it was a pretty safe bet that he would have the same reaction to the rotavator, and it seemed the better part of valour to avoid the problem rather than attempt to keep him at a safe distance.

And so off they went, and once the door was safely shut behind them I fired up the machine and got to work. I will tell you now, it was hard going! We had decided just to do a strip about 10 m² as that was all the grass seed we had; even such a small area as that took me a full hour, and I only got it loosened up to a depth of about 3 inches. The rotavator ground and chewed at the sod and spat out stones, and I went vibrating all over the place on the end of it like an escaped blancmange, attempting to keep it vaguely within the confines of the lawn and in some danger of being taken on a wild ride round the garden by this ground-hungry steed.

Eventually, slightly sunburnt and thoroughly shaken (but not particularly stirred), I was just doing the last small and difficult corners when I heard the door open. I turned off the machine and put it away just in time for Lord Thunderpaws to come lolloping out of the house. Faced with the dug-over stretch of earth, he skidded to a stop and his jaw dropped open. I have never seen a dog look so impressed in my entire life.

He looked around and you could almost see written on his face the exclamation “Oh my goodness! Human, you have dug an enormous hole – and all for me!” He bounded into the garden and leapt smack bang into the middle of the loosened earth which he began to excavate with wild abandon, throwing mud all over the me, the rest of the lawn, my other half, my cup of tea, and everything else within reach.

Then, clearly too excited to stay in one place for long, he rocketed off round the garden, did Wall of Death around the fence and ricocheted back through the loosened earth. His feet now thoroughly muddied, he took it upon himself to bring the garden into the front room, paddling mud onto the sofa and grinding it thoroughly into the rug as he did an emergency stop in order to snatch up his toy shaky cow. After some laps with this, throwing it up into the air and catching it with joyous enthusiasm, the shaky cow ended up on its back under the Acer and Lord Thunderpaws dashed back inside for the squeaky badger. This he flung into the new hole he had dug (it was subsequently nearly buried there as he did repeated circuits of the garden involving the dog equivalent of a handbrake turn, severally repeated).

It took some time to get him to calm down again. Of course, once he had subsided onto his cushion on the patio and was lying there surveying his domain with great glee, the next step was to fence off the newly dug area, gather all the loose earth back into the place where it should have been, rake it and seed it.

This did not go down at all well, and clearly lost me all my brownie points.

He kept trying to wade through the fence, some netting strung up on bamboo. When that didn’t work he retrieved the squeaky badger and flung it over the fencing onto the dug-over earth, and then tried to inveigle his way in to retrieve it. At first I thought this was accidental but by the third time I decided it probably wasn’t so much an error as a sneaky plan.

Duly admonished, he took himself away into the front room in high dudgeon and installed himself on the sofa, grumbling all the way. Now, it isn’t him who is in the dog-house! In any case he has taken refuge in sleep – he is currently spark out and happily upturned, snoring like a pig on his comfy sofa.

Tomorrow he will no doubt come up with further cunning plans for investigating, but for today I had the brief privilege of leaping high up in his estimation as an eminent digger of holes. Coming from him, this is clearly a compliment of the first water –what more can a lurcher owner want?! Apart from just a little bit of lawn with no human-traps in it, that is….

That’s all from the madhouse today, anyhow.

Have a great week;

JAC (& Lord Thunderpaws)!

Hi everyone;

It’s been a while hasn’t it? Which as always is not to say that I’ve stopped doing things, just that I’m trying to do everything at once. I found a couple of new groups on Facebook which are full of the most exciting and innovative information on how best to optimise your time as a writer and the best ways to write well and quickly, and then to produce well and quickly.

To this end I am teaching myself dictation. To readers this might sound like a slightly random thing to do, but those of you who have already dabbled in it will probably know how much faster you can generate your words by speaking them rather than typing them. Case in point, my typing speed is not too bad – about 1500 words per hour – and I can type for several hours at a time, given the chance – but when do I get the chance? I don’t, is the quick answer.

If I dictate, my first draft is considerably rougher, but in the same amount of time I can currently generate 2500 words, and that’s just with the generic office variant – I haven’t got the dedicated software yet. Speaking to the others in my Facebook groups, using Dragon many of them are able to get down 5 to 7000 words in one hour alone.

Obviously this needs rather more editing that if you were to sit down and type it, however it does mean that the first draft is very much quicker to get onto the page. Oddly it seems to be much less tiring to dictate for three hours flat – even with the corrections as you go – than it is to type for those same three hours.

So yes, it does need more editing, with the software I’m currently using. But if I get to the point where I can afford proper software and a microphone, this will be much less of an issue, and in the meantime it means that I can finish the first draft much more quickly than I can whilst typing.

A second usefulness of dictation is that so long as I have Word open on my phone, at any point at work where I’m walking between rooms, so long as I have my microphone with me, I can do a five minute sprint on the latest story. This really maximises my writing time, as with five or six of these I can get 1500 to 2000 words down just in time just would otherwise be spent on the stairs or in the corridor. How cool is that?!

Then there’s the whole horrific question of marketing…… In fact, I think this is something which will quite intrigue me and which I might well end up being not too bad at as I do love a bit of data, and good marketing seems to pivot on data analysis. But like most things, it is a question of time, and time is the main thing I lack…

As ever, this means that although I’m still producing new text, it’s taking a while. The good news is I have a short story that’s very nearly ready to go – I just need to send it to my editors but it’s in pretty good shape. The bad news is that to get a decent cover with a dragon on is not at all easy without spending a lot of money. And I need three of them! So the search continues…

I also plan to rename and recover Song of the Ice Lord as at the moment I don’t think the cover I’m using (which I love dearly) actually reflects the genre of the book itself. Further, there is an issue since the success of Game of Thrones, which is that if you search Song of the Ice Lord, what you actually find is four pages of results for A Song of Ice and Fire instead. Consequently I have finally given in and decided to both rename and recover the book.

I am considering cutting the three tales which are told by characters in the story. One of these has not yet been published separately, but is on the list to do next. The other two are already available separately. I am open to discussion on this, but I suspect they slow down the main narrative and would be better cut from Song and just referenced, remaining available as standalones. If anyone has read Song, what you think? Did you like the stories as separate episodes within the main book, or do you think the story would flow more smoothly if it is not interrupted?

In the meantime, I am inputting the corrections to Flight. This came back from the editors sometime ago, and at that time I thought the chronology needed fixing so did a lot of work on it. Frustratingly, after having done so I discovered that one of my initial assumptions was incorrect, and the original chronology would have worked perfectly well. Then the file got corrupted so I had to start over from scratch. Arghh!

Because of the rewrites the editor requested for Flight, it now overlaps and makes a nonsense of the chronology of On Dark Shores 1&2. So in order to resolve this, I need to cut all the books into one file, sort out one overarching chronology, put all the things I have written so far into order, and very probably then thin out some of the characters and the smaller plot strands so that it all makes sense as one streamlined narrative.

Yes, this is a lot of work. Yes, I am plugging away at it. No, it will not be a quick or slight undertaking. Yes, when it is all done I still need to finish the last few thousand words of the trilogy, including the final crisis and working out where the story will go afterwards. It is my intention that this will be a trilogy that comes to an end of sorts, but with a bit of luck there will be enough interest to justify the next trilogy! So the saga of On Dark Shores continues without any actual resolution – as per usual. Sigh!

So as ever, progress is happening. It’s even possible that I might have a new release for you in the Dragon series of shorts, due over the next couple of months. If I can use the short stories to raise a bit of money for the covers, Holly 3 should be ready to go soon, and Holly 4 is just getting fun, so I might even have two series finished which would be fab! It’s my hope to get both of these out in their entirety by the end of this year; however as you know I have a Douglas Adams like attitude to deadlines… Not necessarily from choice!

It’s always a question of just getting to the end of the next bit, just keeping on learning, keeping on writing, keeping on editing, trying out new things as much as possible, trying to stay on the curve of the wave in terms of technology, while still actually publishing even just a short story once in a while!

(Not to mention the day job, the housework, the mad Lurcher puppy…)

You know the rest, right?

😉

Anyway. Obviously the blog is suffering a bit because I am working hard on everything else, but if in doubt you can always find me on Facebook, and if you follow the On Dark Shores Page on Facebook, I will link there to my other new undertaking in the format of Facebook Live broadcasts!

There are already two of these up there. The first one is a recording of me reading the short story from Christmas Lites 3 (the story with the exploding Christmas pudding)

and the second is one where I show you a book of which I was particularly fond as a child, with all my favourite fairytales in, some rather beautiful pictures, and some pretty dubious colouring in by one of my sisters! Ah, those 80s felt tip pens-we had a huge packet of them. I remember it well.

In any case, I am trying to put a broadcast up every couple of weeks although it takes a bit of doing to work out what to actually say, so again, if you have any questions or things you would like to hear about please say so! It’s always a bit weird seeing yourself on video or hearing the sound of your own voice even, but as I do more of it it’s getting easier, so hopefully I’ll start getting good at that. All constructive criticism gratefully received though!

Anyhow, dictating this so it’s got quite long quite quickly. Oops! But you see why I am hopeful that future books can be generated rather more quickly than previously?

Will stop rambling now and get on with something actually book related or maybe a newsletter et cetera……

Have a great week!

All the best;

JAC.

December, you sly dog…

Good grief, how has it got to be December? One minute I’m working on a late summer release, the next we’ve got Christmas looming on the horizon!

So. This year’s been mad, again… good and bad, but another in the line of outrageously busy years careering down the track one after another. I started off reasonably well-organised, got over the usual winter burnout and then March hit us with the unexpected loss of our beloved old lurcher Jack, then a fortnight later the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, then a fortnight later than that the loss of one of the older inlaws, and all the emotional chaos that involved.

After Easter things calmed down a bit, though I was ceaselessly scouring the rescue websites for our next dog. Eventually we found him- he’s an absolute love now but at first he was very hard work, and quite draining to deal with. However, in the quest to work out how best to make a life that would work for him and us, we’ve made some really lovely friends, to the extent that even at half six on a dark and drizzly November night, a walk in the freezing cold isn’t a big imposition because he gets to see his little whippety mate and I get to catch up with my friend too.

So Summer was spent mostly walking the dog, and this was a time of skyhigh productivity; two self-edits and first editor’s edit on the first Wolf book, finishing and first edits on the second Wolf book, another set of edits and chronology fix to Flight, a rejig of the formatting of Song, a tidy up on Sprig and the release of its sequel The Holly & the Ivy, a lot of work on publicity and the mailing list – I was working like a demon! Not that you guys will know as there hasn’t been that much new stuff out, but it was a really productive season.

And then came winter, and with it the traditional burnout. It’s interesting really; it’s taken me this long into what I laughingly call a career to work out just how closely it seems to be related to daylight, but it does seem that as the days get longer I go into hyperdrive and do loads, and then as they grow shorter again the fuel fails. I switch from output to input at some point in November and then it’s low output and general maintenance till spring again. The only exception to this is the annual Christmas Lites anthology, which I have never missed taking part in, though a couple of times it’s been pretty close to the wire!

So once again, here I am, mentally coasting while my subconscious refills with twistiness from reading, talking, watching tv. Trying to catch up on sleep and wishing I could hibernate. Looking at the clock and wondering why 9pm seems late in winter and so much earlier in summer, despite the much-reviled 04:40 alarm call which is constant all year round, worse luck.

On the one hand it can be really frustrating. Some times you feel as if you’re wasting so much time on real life when if you just had a decent run up at writing you could maybe achieve something… But on the other, I have been at this for long enough now to have realised that there’s no point in getting frustrated. Like many things, it is a case of showing up every day, of continuing to put one foot in front of another, even if the steps are so tiny that it doesn’t seem that you are getting anywhere.

You keep showing up. You write it, or edit it, or think about it, or study the industry, or consider the cover art, or schedule the publicity stuff, or just set aside a specific amount of downtime to recharge before the next push; but you always go back to it, and you keep on going. There are no easy wins, and no quick successes and sometimes you wonder why you’re doing it when you’re not even getting anywhere; but the thing is, you are making progress, even when it’s so small that it doesn’t feel like it, and once in a while you get to look back and realise that big things have actually happened.

That happened to me this autumn when I was clearing files and programmes of my beloved old netbook, now too old to be compatible with the software I use. Going through the Uninstall list was like a trip down Memory Lane – the FTP client I installed to put pictures on the website, the MobiCreator software from Amazon with the Spider opensource programme for editing html so I could be sure my TOC.ncx (tabbable table of contents) worked, when the software didn’t put it on automatically… the days that took me, trying to get it right! Thank goodness we don’t have to do that any more! I had forgotten how much everything has changed.

For instance, in 2009 when I started to work on my first book, I had to teach myself hand-encoding and the file was functional but so ugly; now I use Vellum, and I can produce professional-level files (so long as I watch out for spellcheck – never the fantasy writer’s friend!) which are pretty to look at. I love that. In 2009, my typing was much slower and less accurate, so if I had an hour free, I couldn’t use it so well, and my nice little netbook took ten minutes to wake up and another five to log off, which ate into my lunch hour typing slot considerably. And I hadn’t discovered cloud storage, so if your computer died, that was pretty much it – your novel went roaring into the void with anything else on the hard drive.

In 2009, if you didn’t have Photoshop, you were likely to end up with a really horrendous cover. I was lucky enough to find talented friends, and this is still an element I outsource for most of my files: but some of the shorts that don’t need some overtly fantastical cover, I can put together something reasonably respectable myself, using the font I have chosen by way of branding, with a modicum of mucking about with pictures, and it might not be inspired, but I’m not ashamed to use it until such time as I can fund a professional cover. Which is all to say; the world is making more opportunities, and I am learning more with every new publication. In highly convenient manner, the world has even invented my genre, even if “noblebright” is a daft name!

So though I don’t spend a lot of time looking back, once in a while it is salutary to remind yourself that even the the way ahead doesn’t really look much shorter than it ever did, in actual fact you have come on further than you know. Baby steps they might be, but even baby steps will carry you along eventually, and although it isn’t exciting it is sustainable; that’s important.

They always say that this game isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Certainly walking the line between production and burnout can be a bit on the complex side, especially if real life declines to play along. I have found that the trick is to take it one day at a time. If one day the thing you want to do doesn’t work, try something else and something else. If nothing works, leave it be and come back tomorrow. There’s something a bit freeing about that, somehow, because you only ever have today to work with, and every day is a reset.

To go at it full bore is too involved for me: the highs and lows are draining, whereas when it all gets a bit workaday you’re set for the long run. But again, that’s quite freeing. For instance, I rarely check my sales any more, such as they are, because that is out of my hands and so not within my remit. I don’t need the reinforcement of sales numbers to prove my own worth as a writer to myself now (probably just as well!) not because my books are flying off the shelves, but because that is outside of what I wanted to achieve.

And what did I want to achieve? Well, I wanted to write books that people enjoyed reading, and the majority of feedback suggests that people do enjoy them. I wanted to make books that were as professional-looking as possible, and that will always be a work in progress, but tech is on my side there. I’d like to spend a lot more time writing, and eventually I will but I don’t think it will be any time soon; so I keep taking baby steps until I get there too. Every step is a teeny tiny bit nearer, and I’m pretty much okay with that. I believe that opportunities do come sometimes, but only when you’ve earned them. Slow and steady sounds so much more likely than the bolt of lightning/overnight bestseller approach.

So that’s my mission this year and next; work on the backlist, keep an eye out for opportunities and make sure that when the next one comes, I’m in a place to be able to benefit from it. That’s not a small task, either… but it feels achievable, real life permitting, even enjoyable though it will be hard work.

Well. This has turned out to be a rather more introspective blog than intended, but a busy month beckons, so though it’s a bit early for an actual real end of year summary, I guess that’s what must happened… So how has your year gone? Do you feel you have achieved what you wanted to, or has life got in the way? And back in 2009, when I was cursing because the quotation marks were curly and they needed to be straight ones (or vice versa, it’s been a while!) what were you up to, and did you know it would bring you to where you are now? Let’s hear what the rest of you have been up to then!

I’ll probably pop up again in another week or so to talk about this year’s Christmas Lites anthology, but in the meantime, I hope your December is kind and not too stressful, and that the run up to Christmas fills you with anticipation and pleasure rather than dread!

Take care, all:

JAC.

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.

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