Category: General musings….


Progress check

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

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

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

Returning to the point, however!

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

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

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

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

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

Take care & catch you later;

JAC

Pantomimes: A Guide for the Unwary


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

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

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

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

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

…Or is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pantomime….. 

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

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

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

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

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

The dialogue will go thusly:

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

Character 2 does exaggerated tiptoe across back of stage.

Audience yells: She’s behind you.

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

Audience (louder): she’s behind you.

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

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

<repeat ad nauseam>

Character 2 comes out and comes right up to him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audience: “Oh yes he was!”

Character 1: “Oh no he wasn’t!”

Audience: “Oh yes he was!”

Character 1: “Oh no he wasn’t!”

Etc till they get bored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JAC

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

All the best;

JAC.

Anyone got a preference?

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

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

 

 …and why?

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

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

Thanks, all!

JAC.

Graphics for the numpty (ie me)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care, people, and be kind.

All the best:

JAC.

Oh! Hello.

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

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

There, that’s better.

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

But it’s been a hell of a year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Weeelllllllll. Now it gets complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see, eh?

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

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

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

I think you’re going to like them…. 

Till later:

JAC

Morning peeps!

And here is a particularly splendid post for you all to enjoy. As you know, I have a short story named “A Sprig of Holly”. It was written for the first Christmas Lites charity anthology back in 2012, a sweet little adventure / romance written in the style of a Scandinavian folk tale (way, way before Frozen made it trendy. Afterwards I released it as a freebie with the hopes of spreading the word about the anthology a bit – all four of the current Christmas Lites anthologies are written in support of the NCADV, the American National Coalition against Domestic Violence.

Now as it was only an ebook, I bodged a cover until such time as I could get a decent one done, and that bodged cover was this:

(you may laugh, now I’ve got a better one). Sprig of holly bodge cover

 

But despite this non-splendidness, this little story has grown and grown in popularity until it has become the most frequently-downloaded text I’ve uploaded.

Now for a while I have been playing with the idea of doing a couple of  illuminated copies of some of the more fairytale of my stories, and I’ve been looking for a decent artist who might be able to do the illustrations. Someone suggested I should go and look on deviantart and I have to say, there are a lot of talented people on there. One of these is Wesley Souza, and he agreed to do an ebook cover for Sprig. Now, the development of this cover has been really interesting and I totally love the end result, so come with me on a journey through time and space (or at least through the last week or so) and let me show you just how talented an artist I have accidentally found.

So this is what we started with. I described Greta, a girl who lives with her grandfather in a cabin in the mountains, and the snowmaiden, a  figure that Greta carves from snow. We looked at a few varied possibilities for Greta, but this was the best and the most striking visually. The blue lady behind had the right kind of remoteness for the snowmaiden.

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This settled, Wesley began to work his magic. First he put them on the right kind of background, a snowy mountain landscape.

IMG_1119Then he put in a sunrise behind the mountain…

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After that he did some work on Greta’s hair….

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Followed by the snowmaid’s hair, and Greta’s sprig of holly…..
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After that, look at the details of the trees in front of the snowmaid’s skirt…

IMG_1123And then the snowmaid’s body, as of course she is made of snow (and I love the details of  the frost-patterns on her arms and face).
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Finally we discussed font; placement, choice of styles, and colour. We played about a bit until it was right, and he added the sparkles, just to make it more magical. So are you ready? Because here is my gorgeous new cover, for your delectation:

 

600x800smashwords_by_wesley_souza-d8tlltz

 

For anyone who’d like to read more, it’s free at Smashwords and should be at Amazon here: http://getBook.at/Sprig .

Also, go check out the rest of Wesley’s stuff at Deviantart here: http://wesley-souza.deviantart.com/  as it’s pretty exceptional!

So what do you think, peeps? Better than my homegrown effort, no?

hehehehe.

JAC.

The first breaktime of my first day at secondary school, I was a girl with a mission. The class I had just been in was in a room by the library, and there was investigation to be done.

I went into the library and did a circuit, mapping it out. I found the found the Fantasy section, full of names and titles and pictures of swords and dragons and pirates… and this thinnish green spine with the words “The Wyrd Sisters” on it. The what sisters? I pulled it out to see if the blurb would give me a clue. It sounded a lot like the Macbeth story out of my comic-book Shakespeare and I liked the name Granny Weatherwax, so I opened it to see what it was like. A few minutes later, I hooked a chair towards me with one foot and sat down to read, with a feeling of having come home…

Until secondary school, I found the school library a bit frustrating. At my primary school if you wanted Nancy Drew or Mallory Towers you had a really wide choice, but there was virtually nothing in there for me but a few of Ruth Mannings Sanders’ excellent collections.There wasn’t even any decent adventure stuff and  I didn’t see why I should read girl’s books just because I was a girl. I wanted adventure and dragons and swordfights and pirates.Sweet Valley High was never going to cut it. As the teacher pointed out there was baby versions of fairy tales or girls talking about makeup and boys, and that was a pretty clear choice wasn’t it? Of course it was. I went for the fairy tales, or at least the ones with good pictures.

At the time, that was pretty much it for kids. Fantasy wasn’t really very fashionable. However, one of my sisters is ten years older than me and being a horribly precocious reader,  I’d raided her bookshelves for interesting-looking titles such as Lord of the Rings and Anne McCaffrey so I knew there were some really good fantasy books – but sadly, they were out there, not in my primary school.

When I hit secondary school (about age ten), I headed straight up to the library. The entire Science Fiction and Fantasy section was two and a half shelves long – but in terms of seedcorn, it was pure magic. There was everything from Azimov to Zelazny and a whole load more. I found there one or two books each by names that would then send me down to the town library, the bookshop and even (when it got to us in the back of beyond) the internet. Anne McCaffrey was there, a couple of Andre Norton’s sci-fi and the first book of the Witch World series, Arthur C Clarke, a whole section of anthologies by then little-known authors such as Julian May and Diana Wynne Jones. Not only were there interesting books, but some stuff by women, which meant that the girls in the stories weren’t all pointless and fluttery and were far more inclined to hit the bad guy with a chair (or sword) when threatened than they were to weep, faint or call helplessly for the hero. The world opened up before me and it was full of dragons, and pirates and sword fighting – heady stuff!This was, moreover, much more the way stories should be. I was hooked.

So I read voraciously, omnivorously, and quite often, all night. The high point of my year was waiting for the new Pratchett to come out, and I read and re-read the others, finding new jokes with each reread, as my knowledge of the rest of the world of literature increased.  I loved Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax and have never decided which of the two I identify with more, or wanted to indentify with more. I enjoyed the sillier books and in particular liked Death as a character (and felt a bit affectionately sorry for him). The wizards made me laugh. The Patrician is a particular favourite. So many characters to savour… It took me three books’ worth of accidental all-nighters to work out that Pratchett doesn’t even use chapters so just reading to the end of the chapter is never going to work…

Over and above the firings of his imagination, Pratchett’s attention to phrasing and careful sculpting of words have always been a source of pleasure. In his latter years, I admired the way he could take an issue from the real world and parallel it in his own in such a way that it was gripping and thought-provoking. It left you thinking about the issue without ever feeling preached at, and that’s a skill in itself. Furthermore, his timing was impeccable; not only his comic timing but his feel for when to change direction.

Somewhere about the sixteenth or seventeenth book I started to wonder if Pratchett had “done” humour. I read and enjoyed the book, but it seemed to be missing the exuberance of some of the earlier ones. I was still going to continue reading his stuff of course, but I do remember thinking that it would be sad if he had got bored, because the reader can always tell. And then as if he had read my mind, he brought out Guards! Guards! and the whole tone was different. There was still the city and the world we knew and loved, and the whole architecture of the Discworld, but this was darker and more dangerous. People got killed and things mattered and there were consequences. This was not the “light fantastic” we had grown to expect from Pratchett! Oh no – this was something much more gripping, and it took his writing up to the next level. I loved it.

Of course, Sam Vimes is a character very dear to my heart. He goes through the world trying to do the right thing in a world where almost everything else is trying to make him do what is easy and a little more…grey. But Sam Vimes is bloody-minded enough – and honest enough – to persist in the face of  opposition, to keep looking for the truth when it would be so much easier to stop asking questions and accept the facile lies. Sam Vimes, in fact, acknowledges and accepts the darker half of himself, and uses it to power that part of him that struggles towards what is right.

And he wins. Unlike anything in real life, the world parts to let him through. And that is a fiction I very much want to believe.

I have to say, though, I’m impressed and touched by the response to the news of his death. People around the world have written about what his books mean to them, of course, and he has had an immense effect; but what is striking to me as a writer is the sheer number of people who have stories about emailing Terry and getting useful advice back, even when he was incredibly famous. The footprints he left are larger than just his books; as an author he seems to have extended a helping hand to many, many less famous writers, and that is a little legacy in its own right. Such a talented man; such a loss to literature as well as readers across the world. He touched a lot of lives.

So; goodbye and thanks, Terry. Your world-building and characters led me along the path to telling my own stories, and the thought that my book will sit on the same shelf as yours in that little school library is frankly thrilling. We will miss you, but at least you have not left us alone. I for one will be seeking solace in the company of Granny Weatherwax, the Librarian, Sam Vimes and other old friends to whom you introduced me.

Perhaps we’ll have a drink. Perhaps we’ll play Cripple Mr Onion. Almost certainly Nanny Ogg will get up on the table to sing ” The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered At All”. And although we were not there, I hope you will not mind if we wear the lilac, in memory of a man without whom the world is a slightly poorer place.

JAC

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Images:

Basket of lilac: Copyright serezniy

Single lilac flower:Copyright Oleksii Mikhieienko

Dear all:

Due to a mild disagreement between myself and my computer, the splendidly celebratory blog announcing that Song of the Ice Lord had now gone live…well, it remained in my computer. Unhelpful. I will be giving it a stern speaking to later. But Song is now indeed live, and at the introductory low price of $0.99 / £0.77 until Monday 14th July only.

SO

to celebrate (in retrospect) the release of Song of the Ice Lord, I am going to give away;

One signed paperback

One bracelet, handmade by a local glass artist

And one solar-powered hummingbird, would you believe?!

And (subject to availability) the pendant of the house of your choice from Game of Thrones).

Giveawayphoto 4

So – how do you win all this booty??

 

To enter, all you have to do is come up with songs for (dah dah dah…..)

“Game of Thrones – The Musical”.

 I want to know what the song is, who the artist is, and what character should sing it.

 

As an example, if this was Lord if the Rings you might enter

“Ring of fire” by Johnny Cash (as sung by Sauron)

or envisage a scene between Frodo and Sauron to the melodic strains of “Can’t Get you Out of my Head” by Kylie

or even

“You ain’t nothin’ but a Balrog” by Elvis, as covered by Gandalf.(Yeah, it’s cheating but it made me laugh)

 

 

So –

Same idea, but Game of Thrones-related please! The prizes will be shared amongst the ones that make me laugh the most (there may be ebooks or bookmarks for ones deserving of special mentions).

 

So that’s how to enter. And if you absolutely can’t wait till 13th July when I decide on the winner,  Song of the Ice Lord is now available for your viewing pleasure (rah!) at the following purveyors at the knockdown price of $0.99 / £0.77 until Monday 14th July at which point it will go up to $2.99: you have been warned.

 

Amazon UK:

Song of the Ice Lord (Parallels)

US:

http://www.amazon.com/Song-Ice-Lord-Parallels-Clement-ebook/dp/B00L72RTY0/

Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/448648

B&N:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/song-of-the-ice-lord-ja-clement/1119745072?ean=2940046014785

Apple:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/song-of-the-ice-lord/id890151274?mt=11

 

It’s also in all the other stores Smashwords export to, so if not listed here, Google should find it.

 

but back to the giveaway! Game of Thrones – the musical, remember?.

Comment away peeps! there are prizes to be won, and if the entries are good enough, I might add more swag to the bag, esp if you send other entries my way.

I’ll start you off, shall I?

with an intro to the musical by the author himself.

George RR Martin, it’s time for your solo number! Roll the intro to: Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”….

after which the curtains lift on… what? Your turn – comment away, peeps!

JAC

 

 

People!

Image courtesy of Angela Yuriko Smith

It’s that time of year again! the snow is falling on my blog, the Christmas tree pics are all over Facebook, and this year’s edition of our fabulous charity anthology, Christmas Lites 3, is now available on Amazon!

Some links are:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

and the paperback is currently available from Createspace

More sites are going live as we speak so if you prefer others, please do search in case it’s live and we just haven’t had confirmation of it yet!

Having had a sneak peek myself, I can tell you there are some absolutely stunning stories in there – and for those who knew the lovely and much-missed author C.S Splitter, there is a page of tributes to the man who was first to suggest that we should put together an anthology, and suggested that the charity we donate the proceeds to should be one that dealt with domestic violence.

Once again, all funds from the three Christmas Lites anthologies go straight into the bank accounts of the NCADV, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which acts as an umbrella organisation providing training and funding to all the smaller DV-related charities in the US.

I know I’ve told you this before, but when we were setting up the first Christmas Lites anthology, Splitter told us a story of how, one year, he was nominated Santa for his office party. He hired the costume, bought a bag of candy canes and headed off for the place where the party was; but he got a bit lost along the way, and ended up at an odd little building. He walked in, and there was a fair amount of fuss. How he’d got in he didn’t know, because there is normally a lot of security around a safe-house, but he apologised profusely.

During the course of the discussion he found out that all these women had fled violence in the days preceding, and were living in terror of being found by the people who should most care for them in the world. They had fled, in some cases with nothing other than their children and the clothes on their backs. For them, Christmas would not be a magical time of loving togetherness, of snuggling on the sofa watching TV in that fairly terrible sweater Auntie Ethel knitted, or of laughing over a criminally large turkey dinner. For them, Christmas was huddling together in a strange house, too numb to even wonder how to put the pieces of their lives back together.

It was very quiet. The building was full of children, but children who had learned the wisdom of being as quiet as possible. All of them knew – KNEW – that Santa was not coming down the chimney that year – and yet, Splitter realised that even though all he had in his sack was candy canes and sweets, at least  there was one thing that he could do for them.

And so they took him into the main lounge where everyone was sitting, and he boomed “Ho ho ho! A Merry Christmas to one and all!” and was besieged by delighted kids who all got a candy cane. It wasn’t much, but to them that solitary piece of stripy peppermint was a little bit of Christmas, and it meant a lot to them.

All of them wanted to talk to Santa, and he ended up stopping for a couple of hours, rather than the twenty minutes he had imagined. By the time he got to the office party, it was pretty much over. Drinks had been drunk, the mistletoe had been thoroughly invoked, and there wasn’t much of the evening left; but the boss had noticed his absence and was sober enough to enquire. He told her the story, and she went quiet, very quiet.

The following day was Christmas Eve, and Splitter was somewhat unimpressed to get a call from his boss asking him to come into work, but  she was a Jewish lady and didn’t celebrate Christmas so there was no particular reason for her to take time off either. Besides, he had been thinking he might be in trouble for being late to the party, so he didn’t quibble. He arrived at work to find the boss waiting in the carpark with the boot of her car full of toys. She apologised for interrupting his Christmas, but explained that she needed him to show her where the shelter was so that she could make her delivery. Splitter went with her back to the shelter, and helped her to unload sack after sack after sack of toys. They asked the pair to come in and help distribute them to the children, and from the way he told the story, the way those kids’ eyes lit up stayed with him for a long, long time afterwards.

So this is why we put together our anthology every year. For everyone who has ever been the victim of violence, or the survivor of it: this is for you. For every mother who has had to grasp the remnants of her shattered courage in two hands, and walk out of the door into the great unknown because it was the only way she could protect her children: this is for you. For every child who has lain awake listening for heavy footsteps and raised voices and the terrible slap of fist on flesh: this is not how it should be, and this is for you.

This is our attempt to make something which will help all of you, by helping to keep the shelters open so that there is a place you can run to, by helping to train the people so that they know how to help you, by helping to fund the organisations so that they can provide you with another set of clothes, a travel ticket to another place, whatever.

For us – or certainly for me – Christmas is a time of joy and laughter, of relaxing with loved ones, and enjoying the togetherness of cooking and eating, and of watching really old films or falling asleep on the sofa, of giving silly presents and useful presents and clever presents and apt presents, and of using this time to really appreciate the wonderful people with whom I am surrounded, and my incredible good luck in the places and circumstances in which I live.

This being the case, I wish just such a fun, goodnatured Christmas to all of you.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get back to ODS.  But I might have a little re-read of a couple of the stories in the anthology first.. just one, or maybe two. Well, maybe three…

Catch you later peeps!

JAC