Category: General musings….


Hiya peeps;

a bit overdue with a blog again, but that’s because I have been;
a) busy
b) laid out on the sofa because I put my back out again.

Work of course is always mad and unforgiving, but happily right now I am very busy with writing. I am working on book 3 of the Sprig of Holly series, which is due to release next week on 1 December.

I am really pleased with the way this story has gone, and I’m busy lining up ARC reviews for it at the moment so if you would like to review it and can commit to leaving a review on 1 December or within a couple of days of that, bring me a comment below and I will add you to the list!

In addition to that, Holly 4 has gone through its first draft and is going into editing. I say it’s going into editing, but that is a little imprecise as technically at the moment I am in contact with the talented Wes Souza to get the next cover done.

Watch this space for details of the reveal!

Holly 4 is going live to preorder, hopefully in time for the release of Holly 3. The story is getting a little bit more twisty and complicated as things start going wrong in the mountains, so I am hopeful that you will enjoy the ride as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

And then there’s Holly 5… Phew! I can hardly wait to introduce you to the next set of characters! I can hardly wait to see Wes’s cover, come to that, but I can’t say much about it because spoilers… 🙂

In any case, it’s always heartening to have a new release, even if it’s only a short story – and the fact that the rest of the Holly series is already written out in at least initial draft is very pleasing.
Working on a little bit of marketing for the release but not huge amounts just yet as with three short stories in a line it’s not really going to get much traction until we have the whole series up. That’s also nice because it takes the pressure off me a little bit. Sadly it also means I’m writing the series at a bit of a loss, but that’s the way of it. Fingers crossed, when the end of it comes out it might start selling a bit and pay for itself.

In addition I am starting to plan out the two Dragon series. I am thinking of starting with the series – currently a trilogy – which will be known as “A Blaze of Dragons”, a group noun for dragons from a 15th century manuscript. Isn’t it cool? I love that.

In any case, I have three of the covers already lined up due to the small but not inconsiderable glitch in cover buying mentioned in earlier blogs, so I have the skeleton of a plan in place and I’m busily fleshing out the bones of it. This is the second half of my NaNoWriMo project, but in all honesty I am not bothered if I don’t make the 50,000 words this year, as a significant chunk of it was spent finishing off Holly 6 (or maybe 7, depends on how the editing pans out) and so it has done what I needed it to. I am still doing chunk of words every day just because I like adding it to the graph, but if I flag before the 30th, I’m quite chilled with what I’ve achieved already.

Looking at my back posts, it strikes me that I have now been dictating for nearly 6 months. Certainly it got a lot easier when I bought the Dragon software (and a halfway decent headset) but it’s an interestingly different way of writing.

For a start, you really do need to plan things, and I have always been a bit of a discovery writer. At first I found it difficult, but actually as time goes on, I find myself still doing the discovery writing but just in smaller chunks – inside the scene rather than plot stuff.

I think verbalising the plot instead of manually typing it is starting to come a little bit easier, and certainly while my back has been bad I have had quite a productive time because whilst lying on the settee I can simply put the headset on and dictate. It makes me feel like Barbara Cartland, only a Barbara Cartland who detests pink, doesn’t write steamy romance, isn’t 300 years old and uses far less ellipses – or at least has far less left in after the final edit! Oh, and also isn’t a millionaire. So almost exactly not like Barbara Cartland…

But it’s quite comforting because although I’d never realised that writing was quite an intense activity, dictating seems to come far more easily. The planning is dull, but the actual dictation session is getting easier every time, and hopefully the editing will become easier as my brain gets up to speed.

Certainly the dictating is getting faster which I put down to a joint effort between my brain getting used to it, and the dictation program software learning more about my accent and the way I use words. It still comes up with nonsense sometimes, and makes me laugh, but usually if it doesn’t get the right word first time, it’s on the list of suggestions.

It’s pretty impressive stuff, and I find myself wondering if in 20 years time we’ll look back on keyboards like we do now on typewriters and faxes – the sort of things where, if somebody’s still using them, it’s a bit of a surprise.

I’m starting to feel as if my writing process is becoming a bit more streamlined. My first book took 10 years to write, and subsequent books have been two or three years in the processing. This is partly because I keep writing other books but then having to cut bits out that turning to other books which is frankly a silly idea, so pinning them down and planning them out seems to keep that process under control a little bit. We shall see.

In any case, as I progress through the Dragon books I hope to ultimately end up back at On Dark Shores in such a way that I can edit it into a sensible order and reissue it along with book 3 and indeed book -1. Because I did so well in the order of writing those books…

I’m also working on editing Song down so that I can change it to its new title sooner rather than later, though the new cover won’t be ready till well into the New Year. (this one is being done by a new designer, and one I haven’t worked with before, so it’s all a bit of an unknown quantity).

So it’s all progress, albeit in tiny steps.

And as part of the Holly 3 release I will probably do some kind of giveaway with paperbacks of Scarred Artisan, if only because they are so cute and will make great stocking fillers so the timing is good to give some away!

There isn’t really much more to add today, so will stop blathering and get on with my next chunk of dictating. Just wanted to check back in and give you the latest goss!

In the meantime, have a great weekend, and Happy Thanksgiving (and indeed Joyous Wolfenoot!) for those who celebrate.
All the best;
JAC.

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The trains home are always horrendously busy on a Friday night, and this Friday as the last few seats disappeared, a gentleman got on with a small boy sat in the seat opposite me.  The boy was about six and like any lively six year old on an outing, at first he was playing up, making silly noises and squealing and all sorts of kids things that kids normally do.

The father tried a variety of strategies to keep him from getting too loud despite the fact that the boy was apparently in the middle of a sugar rush after an indulgent afternoon raiding Grandma’s sweetie bowl, and eventually hit on the expedient of telling a story.

This being met with some enthusiasm, negotiations continued until he suggested that the little boy could dictate a story and the father would type it on his laptop, which offer was graciously accepted.

The little boy assumed a position of deep thought, and the father opened up a document and poised his hands over the keyboard. “Okay” he said, “what do you want the story to be about?”

“I will tell you.” The little boy mused for a moment longer. “Once upon a time there was a little boy called Max went and he found a cave.”

“A cave?” The father, tapping away. “What was in the cave?”

The little boy didn’t even need to think about this. “Gold. Lots of gold, and some diamonds. And also swords.”

“Armour?” The father asked. “Okay.”

“Max was very disappointed because there was only one piece of gold and only one diamond and only one piece of sword.” The little boy went on.

The father looked up. “No, you say there was lots of gold and lots of diamonds and lots of armour? That doesn’t make any sense.”

It does if the cave is very very small, I thought to myself, being something of a pedant.

“There was only one piece of gold,” the little boy repeated obstinately, but his father was having none.

“What if we say ‘there is some gold’?” He typed, muttering aloud “there is some gold.”

That’s a bit duff, I thought. Whose story is this anyway?

But the little boy was continuing. “There was one sword in the cave that Max really wanted. It was all made of gold with all diamonds on it.”

Don’t do it, I thought, but alas he did.

“You can’t have a sword all made of gold,” the father told him. “Gold is a very soft metal and it wouldn’t make a very good sword at all; perhaps only the hilt is made of gold.”

“What’s a hilt?” The little boy asked.

“It’s like the handle bit. And actually probably wouldn’t be made of gold either.” The man tapped away, muttering to himself “’Max’s eye was particularly caught by one sword which had a gold-plated hilt.’ There, that makes a bit more sense.”

The little boy ignored him. “Max looked at the sword. It was all gold and shiny. He wanted it very much, but he could not have it.”

“He wanted the sword, but there was a problem.” The dad typed. “Oh no, what was the problem?”

“Max looked around and realised that this cave was full of Creepers.”

“Oh? What are Creepers?”

“They are things that creep up behind you and grab you. Creepers, and also lots of Endermen.”

“Ender-men?” The father asked.

“They are like men but they’re really scary and when you go towards them they disappear and reappear in another place.” The child went on.

They’re pretty good creatures for a six year old, I thought. Let’s have a bit more about the Endermen, eh?

“So then what happened?” The father tapped away at his laptop. “Are you going to tell me what the Endermen looked like?”

“No, they’re just men.” The boy replied. “Then Max’s friend turned up. His name was Jane.”

“His name was Jane? Isn’t Jane a girl’s name?”

“No. Jane is a boy.” The little boy replied decisively. “Jane did a backflip. He was going to help Max get the sword. He could get past the Creepers and the Endermen.”

“How about ‘Jane backflipped into battle’?” The father asked.

“No.” The little boy replied. “Jane did a backflip.”

“… Backflipped into battle” the father muttered as he typed.

“He landed on his feet and hit the Creeper in the face and threw a dagger at the Enderman.”

“Cool!” the father replied. “And then?”

“The Enderman turned into a Dragon. An EnderDragon.”

“Oh, that’s unexpected! An Ender…Dragon. Okay, then what?”

“Jane got the sword. The end.”

“The end?” The dad stopped typing and looked at his son. “But that was just getting good. Why did the Enderman turn into a dragon? Did Jane fight the Dragon? And did he get the sword for Max?”

“No. The sword wasn’t for Max. It was for Jane. He fought the Enderman.”

“But Max was the one who found the cave.”

The little boy shrugged. “Max found the cave first. But Jane fought the Endermen. So he got the sword. I want to write a different story now.”

“But we’ve got to finish that one off properly first!” the father objected.

“It is finished,” said the little boy with crushing finality and moved on.  “Are you going to tell me one now?”

“I have a better idea.” The father closed the laptop. “I will spell out the words and you will tell me what the words say. How does that sound?”

The child agreed and the father proceeded to say the spell out each registered time. Some of them were quite tricky, and the child was trying to phonetically spell out. It didn’t necessarily go well – the first word was “once” which to a child obviously should sound like “onker”, and “time” was clearly “timmy”, but the kid was actually really good.

The story was about a giant, but the boy was having some issues with the word “giant”. First he thought it was was “China” – because the father said that the G-I made a J sound rather than hard G. The little boy was very persistent that it was actually “China”, but eventually the father persuaded him not.

However the little boy was clearly seized by the spirit of mischief and every time father spelt out G-I-ANT the little boy pronounced it as “Gi-nat” despite multiple explanations.

So far so innocent – only he kept referring to “the gi-nat” that which sounds an awful lot like “vagina”.

And so the story went on about how Once upon a time there was a little giant, who was a very cross giant and the reason for this was that he was very small and as he looked round all the other giants were very large….

…only with the boy saying what sounded very much like “vagina”, each time without fail…

It got worse from there, only given that the dad had already confiscated a sweet from the kid for saying “oh my god” because that was a rude exclamation, I was pretty sure that he wasn’t doing it on purpose – only – HOW COULD HE NOT BE DOING???

The other gi-nats were very large. One had a big hairy beard and was very smelly. One was so old he was entirely bald.

And so it went on….

I’m pretty sure that some of you are thinking how childish! How immature to laugh at it! and in all honesty I can’t disagree. The problem was that this is the sort of thing that with repetition becomes funnier and funnier anyway.

Factor in that we were in an enclosed space where you are supposed to be pretending not to listen, and the hilarity factor goes up tenfold. The only way it could have actually been funnier would have been if we were in church, which always aces every other situation when you shouldn’t laugh. But this was a cracker.

And it went on and on and on….

By the end of the five-minute story, I’d be surprised if there was anyone within earshot who wasn’t sniggering. Certainly the four people that I could see at the table opposite were all struggling very hard to maintain a straight face. We were at my stop by then, and so I had to leave which is probably just as well, but it amused me very much.

I did feel a bit sorry that the dad had felt it necessary to rewrite the kid’s original story though. On one level, I could see that the dad thought he was teaching his son a better use of English, and perhaps he was right. I have no children so am perhaps not a good person to judge these things, but my view is that when kids are six, their stories don’t make sense or have good English and the way they misuse the language can be really interesting if not funny.

Case in point: recently I found some stories and poems that my nieces wrote for me when they were that sort of age and the charm of them lies in the six-ness of it. The bits that you treasure are actually the randomness and the kid-logic, both in spelling and storyline. You don’t treasure them because they’re written in proper English. That’s twenty years too early.

But I absolutely loved that little boy’s inventiveness, and his baddies were super. In all honesty, if I had had the chance to pause by their seat I would have told him so on the way out – but as is the way with trains, everybody queued up and when it was time to get off the train I had to shuffle straight past.

By then they were in the middle of the next story from the little boy. I may be wrong but it sounded to be about a cow called Harold…

At any rate it made me smile, and I still think the Endermen and the Creepers are totally superb bad guys. If only he remembers them for about twenty years and then writes the damn book! I’d quite like to know what happened next!! Definitely one of my better commutes, that one, and sent me into the weekend with a good old giggle which was lovely. So I thought you lot probably needed to share that one.

So now it’s your turn – what is your most embarrassing kid-related story? I’m sure those of you with kids have plenty…

In other news:

Holly 3 continues towards its release – it is now available on preorder for anyone who is interested – and Scarred Artisan is now available in a teeny tiny paperback which is actually quite lovely, so if any of you are looking for a 37 page stocking filler for people who just like a sweet little fairy story, you can find it here.

Alternatively, if you fancy reviewing it, contact me for a review copy. All feedback gratefully appreciated!

So that’s it from me. Have a lovely weekend, guys, and take care of yourselves.

🙂

All the best;

JAC.

Hello folks;

Earlier this week there was a slight incident in the Clement household which has since been referred to as “nuclear pasta”. Now, I know you all like a good recipe so I thought I would pass on such wisdom as was gained during the course of this incident.

It was heading for time for tea, and I fancied something particularly nice that day. Specifically, I had a bit of a yen for something involving pasta. There is a recipe I often use which involves egg, chorizo, spring onions, and mushrooms not to mention – and this is the vital ingredient – smoked paprika, which I use a lot. It’s a favourite, and particularly as the weather gets cold, it fits nicely into the category of comfort food. We did had a particularly harsh day, and it seemed to fit the bill, so I assembled the ingredients and began to cook. However it did not entirely go to plan.

Instead of making my normal variant which is known as “not-carbonara”, what we ended up with was dubbed “nuclear pasta”- and as it was not entirely dissociated with the activities of a certain lordly Lurcher of our acquaintance, herewith find the recipe for disaster – or at least for nuclear pasta, which is not far from being the same thing.

Nuclear Pasta

Ingredients:

A two-inch section of soft chorizo

Dried pasta spirals

Six spring onions

Six medium-sized mushrooms

Two eggs

An offensive amount of garlic

One finger chilli (whole)

Grated cheese.

Instructions:

1. Fill a pan with water and set it to boil. Add far more pasta than you can justify.

2. Set a frying pan on high heat with a knob of butter in it. Burn the butter but don’t set fire to it (this would be superfluous anyhow).

3. Chop the spring onions and fry till caramelized. Turn down the heat partway through to let the pan cool a bit.

4. Move the butter away from the edge of the counter and tell the dog it’s not for him.

5. Chop the garlic and chorizo. When the pan isn’t quite so superheated, add them in and bring the heat down to low. Fry at low heat till all the paprika-ed oil seeps out the chorizo (but stir it so you don’t get meat biscuits).

6. Sneak a bit of the chorizo. Yummy! On consideration, cut a tiny piece for the dog, to be redeemed by performance of one of his tricks. Fuss the dog.

7. Wash your hands. Now run into the front room in pursuit of said dog who is making off with the remainder of the chorizo packet. Admire the way he is sitting sedately on the sofa, paws crossed, the very corner of the plastic nipped gently in his mouth, not making any attempt to actually eat it – just giving you a look that says “Did you want this, human?”. Retrieve the chorizo packet and return to the kitchen. Check the pan in a mild panic. All well? Continue.

8. Look in the pan. Did you put the chilli in yet? You did not. Add the chilli in its entirety; finger chilies are quite hot so don’t chop it up unless everybody present is up for melting their soft palate.

9. Chop the mushrooms into chunky pieces and drop them in the pan. Give them a good stir; they will soak up most of the juices so you will need to keep an eye on them for the first couple of minutes until they start letting their own juice out. Don’t burn it all on the bottom of the pan!

10. Take the top off the smoked paprika. Scatter it in lightly and pause halfway through to check whether it is sweet or hot. This is an important point and best to check in advance as the hot has the same beautiful smoky taste as the sweet stuff but is considerably more fiery and so should be used with much more caution. Look up and noticed the dog stealing the grated cheese with great melodramatic flair. At this point the wary among you may have taken the opportunity to stir up the paprika with a knife to make sure there are no big lumps perched on the brim, ready to fall out. The wary among you may feel justifiably smug at this point. The rest of us may watch the small landslide of paprika with some alarm and not have time to do anything about it because we have to rush after the dog.

11. Run into the front room in pursuit of said dog who is making off with the grated cheese. Admire the way he is sitting sedately on the sofa, paws crossed, the very corner of the cheese bag nipped gently in his mouth, not making any attempt to actually eat it – just giving you a look that says “Did you want this, human?”. Retrieve the grated cheese and return to the kitchen.

12. This is the point at which you discover that the small paprika landslide has become mixed in with all the juices of the sauce and is not going to be retrievable. Pick up the packet. This is also the point where you discover that it is actually the hot smoked paprika, not the sweet stuff as you had thought. This is going to be considerably spicy, and not all of your guests are into hot food.

13. Go to the fridge and extract the plain yoghurt. Add some and taste. Eat some more of the plain yoghurt in a hurry. Add all the rest of the plain yoghurt. Add a considerable amount of grated cheese. In some desperation, also add two eggs, some Philadelphia, and the remnant of a packet of ground almonds as they are also supposed to make things less fiery.

14. Dish up and serve to your guests with all the necessary provisos. Should the finger chilli fall into your own plate as originally planned, it would be wise to fish this out. Should you not fish this out it would be wise to chop it into small pieces. Should you not chop it into small pieces, it would be wise not to forget about it entirely, assume it is an over-large piece of spring onion and consume it whole.

15. Go and fetch a fresh box of tissues to mop your weeping eyes and those of your guests. Go back and fetch any milk related product you can find. Consume it until your mouth does not appear to be melting. Collect the plate belonging to your guest and put it in the kitchen, returning with some kind of sandwich or a snack for them to have in lieu of dinner. Finish your own bowlful because you’re clearly a lunatic.

16. Watch in some amazement as the dog comes over to investigate the bowl of the nuclear pasta, licks it clean of the remainder of the sauce, and begs for more. Give him cheese on the assumption the dog should not eat chilli.

17. Go and get an outsize portion of ice cream and deal it out to each guest. Take one for yourself and put a small one out for the dog, who is apparently unfazed by the nuclear nature of the chilli, but does like a good spoonful of ice cream when the occasion permits.

18. Bring a second box of tissues for the mopping up of streaming eyes and general weeping. Keep an eye on the dog as left to himself he will pull out each individual tissue and then shred the lot until it looks like the sort of front room Bing Crosby would be happy in during December.

19. Make a note of the recipe and resolve never to use it again.

So there you go. What can I say? Except possibly

#BestAvoided

#HappyToHelp

#IDoTheseThingsSoYouDon’tHaveTo

#IUsedToHaveASoftPalateOneUponATime

#MischievousDogStrikesAgain

So can you beat that?

What’s your most notorious cooking disaster? Challenge me if you can…!

JAC

The Curious Case of the Hat in the Daytime.

“Oh bugger.” I stopped in my tracks, causing the guy behind to bump into me.

“Sorry,” he grunted, looking murderous: the commuter’s use of apology as an epithet.

“My fault entirely,” I returned, confusing him by a complete lack of aggression. This is not within the rules for commuters, so he stalked off, muttering about bloody women, but in all fairness it was my fault. Halfway down the ramp, I had suddenly realised that I wasn’t wearing my hat and must have on the train. Early as it was, there were six minutes before the train pulled out. That meant that if I ran – proper pegged it – then I could probably get back and grab it. And so off I dashed.

Running through Waterloo at 7am with three bulky bags full of stuff I don’t really need: sometimes it’s clearly going to be that sort of day from the start. But that is most days: 0440 alarm, which is about as joyful as it sounds for someone who is naturally nocturnal, 6am train, and if the builders get onto the quiet coach and talk loudly about football and the Sun all the way to Waterloo, good luck trying to snooze. I was tired and really soundly asleep on the train so it was taking me a while to surface. Dashing about like an Olympic bag lady was definitely waking me up though.

Was this an over-reaction? Probably, but my hat is one of my favourite things, a dubious-looking and highly disreputable tweed flat cap I bought from my brother’s shop at great expense. Thing is, apparently I have a peculiarly-shaped head. Most hats I have ever attempted to wear have parted company with me quite quickly, the woollen ones shimmying upwards till they can leap free and take refuge in a convenient puddle, the more shaped felt ones balancing lightly atop my pate until the merest breath of air allows them to take wing and flee, bouncing away at speed.

This one, my disreputable flat cap does neither. It’s persistent. It stays put, even in high wind. It’s warm and waterproof, and it keeps rain and sun off your face. It’s not pretty and it’s far from fashionable but it does the job, and does it well where other more decorative hats really can’t compete. This hat has my Official Seal of Approval.

Now, some people can get away with that sort of thing and look stylish. Me? Nah. I perfected the bag lady look in my twenties and am maturing into it comfortably. Besides, it doesn’t make sense. Top tip: people don’t look closely at people they see all the time. Your brain fills in the blanks of what it expects to see. It’s kind of like the way your computer caches pages on the internet so it can load them more quickly.

How you look all the time is what people get used to and then *they don’t see it any more.* You are you, and unless they stop to think about it or you’re really different from everyone around you, they don’t even notice, so if you’re not in a high-powered job and you’re putting in the effort for anyone but you, that’s a waste.

Me, I work in what is traditionally a blokes’ industry so provided I look presentable at posh meetings they haven’t really got a clue. Sadly I haven’t yet managed to persuade them that my usual combats are okay, but y’know, aspirations. I’m not one for girly clothes as a general rule – they’re restrictive, have no pockets and require a surprisingly large amount of attention to make sure your skirt doesn’t drape in something if it’s long or ride up indecently if it’s short – but the odd occasion when I do stride in in a skirt suit, heels, and god forbid, makeup, hair up and earrings, I get twenty five different sets of heckles along the line of “Tin hats on, lads! Someone’s gonna get their arse whupped today,” because they all know that this means I have reached Defcon 5 on the scale of supplier interactions and it is not going to go well for somebody. Warpaint!

This works for me, because it means my base level is no effort at all but when I put the effort in, everybody notices. I used to have a friend who would not answer the door without at least foundation and mascara on, and normally spent 2h of a morning putting on makeup and styling her hair. She always looked perfect, but nobody really registered it, and the one time when she did venture out without makeup everyone said she looked ill; she didn’t, but because “normal” for her was highly defined and perfect, you really noticed the difference. She was deeply disgusted the one time we went to a party, and I spent fifteen minutes putting on a modicum of makeup badly, and then two hours being complimented on it.

So I have three basic styles of dress: Baglady for everyday, Mary Poppins Is Displeased for meetings with errant suppliers and Victorian Splendour for occasions involving ball dresses (now all too few, alas but I really don’t have the energy in any case). My flat cap, I need not say, goes best with the first of these.

So, having now sprinted all the wayback up the ramp, dodged the commuters on the concourse, managed not to thwack an eight year old in the face with my bags, ducked through the cattlegates with the perfect timing of the regular commuter, and dashed along the platform, I stopped to ask the cleaners if they had seen my hat. I was a little aware that there was approximately three minutes 50 seconds left on the clock before the train left, and so when they said they were not sure, I continued my headlong and rather luggage-laden sprint along platform to the carriage where I normally sit, and then dashed along the windows, looking into the seat where I had been sleeping on the journey in.

There was a man sitting on the opposite side of the train, and and he got very twitchy indeed as I was clearly staring pointedly in his direction. I scanned the luggage racks, the seats, and the floor – no sign of my hat. There was now two minutes 10 seconds before the train left, and in a mad fit of optimism, I leapt up on the train, tracked all my bags along the aisle and checked on the floor. My hat still had failed to magically appear anywhere I had already looked, and so with precipitate speed, I bundled my way back to the door and fell out of it onto the platform just as the whistle went. The doors beeped and closed, the lights went out, and the train moved off.

The location of my hat was currently a mystery, but it certainly wasn’t with me, which was a bummer.

I checked with the cleaners to see where the last property would go if it was found (and became slightly lost property), and made my way off to work, not well pleased.

At work, I had that sort of day too, full of people asking stupid questions and not listening to the answers and then asking the same stupid questions again. The computer failed, the printer jammed, and for some reason every toilet within two floors of where we were was closed for cleaning at any given point in the day when we sallied forth on an expedition to the loo. It was all very unsatisfactory. At the end of the day, I left London with great relief, and grumbled about the loss of my hat to my long-suffering husband. He heard me out, making very little comment throughout, and then said

“Oh dear, that’s a pity. Are you taking the dog out now?”

“Yes, of course I am.” I was not terribly impressed by his lack of understanding, to be honest – right up until the moment he gestured passed me to the usual hook in the hallway upon which my flat cap was hanging and had been all day.

“If you want your hat, it’s there.”

SIGH.

I’d been sprinting around one of London’s busiest train stations in rush-hour with baggage in search of this bloody hat, and I’d never even taken it out of the house!

I had to laugh. All that fuss for nothing! That poor bloke in the train who thought I was staring at him had probably been paranoid for ages after. Certainly, I’d been grumpy all day, and all the while the hat was safely on its peg….!

Which all made me think about happy endings.

In real life, sometimes the best possible outcome is not necessarily when some mad miracle fixes things, but more when something disappointing actually didn’t happen in the first place. I have my hat back, safe and sound rather than on the way to someone far-off corner of the country, and was very pleased to see it.

Just you try that in fiction though! Readers would flay you alive!

There is a marked disparity in what real life does and what you can get away with in fiction that can be quite vexatious as a writer. You are limited to what is perceived as “likely”. I saw it referred to as the “Tiffany Syndrome” after a writer who was lambasted by readers for having a character in mediaeval times who was named Tiffany, which as any fule kno is clearly a modern name.

Only it isn’t. Apparently it’s a good mediaeval name which just hasn’t had much usage till recently…. it’s annoying and amusing in equal parts but also a tad problematic as perceptions change pretty quickly so in ten years time, what “any fule kno” won’t nec include the modernity of the name Tiffany..

There is probably a deep and meaningful theological conclusion to be drawn from this, but I’ll leave you to come up with your own philosophical musings on this point.

But in any case, my hat and I have come back into conjunction and so I am well pleased. It’s still not called Tiffany though.

🙂

All the best:

JAC.

Peachy keen, Josephine!

Just a quick one today and a bit off-topic but it pleased me, so….

For many years I have been an enthusiastic if not very knowledgeable gardener. As soon as I had a little space that was mine, I started putting plants in it. My flower beds are not keenly planned out or beautifully manicured; more a case of “that’s a pretty colour–let’s stick it in the garden and see what happens.” Sometimes things flower briefly and die away, but other times they thrive, which is always very pleasing.

However, I am not now allowed to go near the garden centre. This is not because I am liable to go dashing down the aisles whooping like Tarzan (far too tired for that these days). It’s just that I find it difficult to go past any display of plants without picking something up, and in my local garden centre they have hit my Achilles heel square on by the cunning placement of what is known as the “graveyard shelf” just near the exit.

The graveyard shelf is where they put all the plants that are a bit gnarly, look a bit sickly or they don’t expect to live. They put them all on a big mixed shelf by the checkout for a pound each, and if they don’t sell, at the end of the week they all go in the bin. Hence the name!

Now I am a sucker for this sort of thing. I have a terrible need to rescue them.

One day I walked past and there was little peach tree in its pot, a patio peach tree, which is to say one that has been grafted onto stock that will not grow tall and is therefore suitable for growing on your patio.

At the time we were between houses. We had sold our beloved house further out from London and were looking for somewhere a little bit nearer to the elderly mother-in-law. Our attempt to buy a house had just fallen through, and so we had moved into rental in the area in order to scope out the area and keep an eye out for new properties coming onto the market. It was a bit of a miserable time.

So I saw this peach tree and knew that I should not buy it. It was a silly idea. But it was also a Saturday evening and nobody else had bought it because it had a terrible case of peach leaf curl, and the leaves were all blistered and malformed. I could not have planted it at the rental house, but as it was in a pot, I ended up bringing it home. I had to look up what was wrong with it, and then what to do about that.

For the past four or five years I have been spraying it twice a year to stop the mould that causes it, picking off the leaves if they come through blistered again, moving it from the little lean-to by the house where it spends the winter to a nice warm sunny spot by the wall where it gets maximum warmth in summer but is still protected from rain. I have even – and given the state of my short term memory this is not always guaranteed – I have even remembered to feed it and water it! And it has responded nicely.

Each year fewer leaves come through blistered and it has started bearing tiny little fruits on the branches. Last year they stayed in place for long enough that one was not rockhard, but it was still completely inedible. It looked so pretty with the peaches all rosy against the green leaves though.

This summer, we have had some very hot weather. Outrageously hot, for the UK. And the little peach tree has loved it. Every morning on my way out of the front door I’ve paused for long enough to water it with the can of water set ready, and each new day it it’s dry again. It has six little fruits across its branches – I picked off the other tiny ones so that these six get a chance to ripen properly – and finally today one fell.

We brought it into the kitchen and decided to see if it was edible. This is it next to a teaspoon for scale. Isn’t it the tiniest peach you’ve ever seen?

It separated from the stone beautifully. It was as ripe as could be. And the scent of it! I have never smelt a peach that smelt so beautifully fragrant. We tried the flesh and it was slightly odd of texture – I need to return to Google– but the taste was there, and I could not help thinking that perhaps in a couple of years if I fine-tune the way I have been looking after it, perhaps we will finally get some true, delicious peaches from it. Not bad for a pound purchase from the graveyard shelf!

In some ways my writing career is much the same. I am hopeful that we are getting to the tipping point now whereby the books I have on the shelf are of a quality to please, and there are slowly starting to be enough of them to be memorable. The Holly series is now in editing for the first couple of books although the last one is still to be finished off, and I am in negotiations with Wes for the cover of Holly 3.

I have also recovered the Scarred Artisan. Although the old cover had a much better picture of the main character, Lyria, it was not immediately obvious what genre it was. A lot of people glanced assumed it was women’s lit, which it isn’t. Consequently sales have been negligible. I have now ordered a cover which doesn’t look so very much like Lyria herself, but it does look very much more like the sort of story that it is. It will be interesting to see whether this works better.

Anyhow, back to the grindstone. Lurcher supremo Lord Thunderpaws is starting to give me the meaningful eye. He believes it is time for me to go up to the study and get on writing, not sit on the sofa drinking tea. No brownie points for writing blogs from the lurcher who wants to go snooze on his comfy bed upstairs!

Another busy week at work beckons, so I have no idea how much I’ll be able to do this week: most evenings I’ll probably end up logged on again.

I hope you have a more restful week, in any case. There will be another newsletter going out on the 21st as we are part of another group giveaway. And hopefully also the sneak preview of the new cover for Scarred Artisan so watch this space!

Catch you later – –

J A C

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

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.