To Sleep, Perchance To Dream . . .

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This week I’ve been following a discussion on The Online Book Club regarding whether or not dream sequences should be used in novels. As with most things, opinions vary greatly. Some people see dreams as a useful method of imparting additional information about a character or events, whereas others proclaim they should be avoided at all cost.

In my novel, Shadow of the Raven, I have one short scene in which my protagonist, Eadwulf – Ulf at this stage in the book – experiences a great tragedy in his life. The dream is a result of events too traumatic for him to bear. Here it is:


Ulf was aboard the Sea Eagle, sailing north towards the beguiling Lofoten Islands. The heavy sail flapped and seabirds wheeled and screeched, guillemots, gulls and kittiwakes amongst them. Waves slapped the hull, sunlight glistened on the blue-grey water and the salty breeze ruffled his hair. Coastward, the green-swathed Norwegian mountains, intersected by steep-sided fjords, almost took his breath away. Colonies of black and white puffins with brightly coloured beaks perched on their nests along the cliffs and cormorants stretched, drying their wings in the sun. A sea-eagle swooped to inspect the ship to which it had given its name before plucking a fish from beneath the brine. Whilst seaward, foam-white sea-horses played on the water’s surface and whiskered seals bobbed. The massive bulk of a silver whale shot great spouts of water high into the air, to cascade down again, rainbow colours of light dancing in their midst.

Somehow Ulf knew he was dreaming; yet he refused to wake up. His mind was cushioned by this sense of peace, taking him to where he wanted so much to be: this place out at sea with Bjorn and his crew, where he was valued, respected for what he was. He inhaled deeply, savouring the aroma of salty air. But the smell gradually lessened, evolving into the sharp tang of spices, mingled with the earthy smells of vegetables.

His eyes shot open . . .


Any opinions regarding the use of dreams in fiction would be very welcome.


 

This Self Promotion Business Isn’t As Easy As It Sounds!

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So I’ve got my book on Amazon. Now what do I do? As idiotic as that may sound, that’s exactly how I felt when I eventually published my book online. Being totally ignorant of the workings of online retailing, I thought that was that, and just let the book sit there, stagnating for a few months.

Sales?  Perhaps one step higher than the one labelled ZILCH.

Only to be expected when the book is buried beneath thousands of others!  I know that now. I didn’t, then. It never entered my head that I had to actually do things to make my book more visible. I can hear you saying, ‘Which planet has this woman been living on for the past ten years?’ I‘ve since learned of multiple strategies adopted by authors to get their book(s) visible to potential readers – both before and after publication.

I have no intention of talking about them all. I simply want to highlight a few of the ways in which I failed miserably in the art of self-publishing.shutterstock_165912134

Firstly, I failed to get the word out that my book would soon be published on Amazon (preferably several weeks prior to the date).  No one outside my close family was aware of my intentions, not even people I knew or formerly worked with. I didn’t see the need. I just imagined that once the book was on Amazon it would be seen, and hopefully sell.

Wrong!

Then I proceeded to make a great bodge of everything else.

I hadn’t tried any kind of advertising for my book. As with everything else, I hadn’t given it a thought. Now I see that there are many places/websites that feature adverts to promote books, both free and paid ones.

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Many are designed to advertise particular promotions by the author, including the 5 free days’ promotion with Amazon KDP Select.

But I hadn’t heard of Amazon Select until someone mentioned it to me -by which time my book had been published for almost three months.

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So far, I’ve only tried the five free days once, and have mixed feelings about it.  My book had plenty of downloads – well, over a thousand between Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.  (That sounded a lot to me, but perhaps it wasn’t, comparatively.)

I waited for reviews to start coming in, but none arrived, other than the few I’d specifically requested from known Amazon reviewers or bloggers who offered reviews. I didn’t realise that most readers, no matter how much they enjoyed a book, rarely reviewed. Ah, well . . .

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So next time I’m trying the Amazon Countdown Deal to see how that works. I’ve got one booked for the end of November.

I also now know that I should have sent out lots of review requests, not just a few. I suppose I’m just not the pushy type. I haven’t even ‘spread the word’ amongst people I know. More fool you, you would say – and you’d be right. Perhaps I just have too much of the famous ‘British reserve’.  But I do realise that I have to buck my ideas up, somehow!

And this is where I am today.  I’ve had some excellent reviews from the few reviewers I approached and several on Amazon.co.uk from general readers. Naturally I’m heartened by their favourable ratings and comments.

All I have to do now is find a way of getting more of them.

I’ve recently joined Goodreads, an invaluable site for authors, and I’m enjoying that immensely – except for the fact that it just tempts me to read more books instead of getting on with my own!

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I’ve also spent time writing book reviews on Goodreads, which, although enjoyable, is also time consuming – as is writing this blog, which I’m still trying to decide how best to use. As a new blogger, it’s all very much a matter of trial and error, and a lot of patience, I know.  Unless a blogger is already a well-known personality, I realise it can take a long time to build up a good following.

In conclusion, I’ve now had advice from a number of sources and read a lot about ebook promotion and advertising. At least I’m a little better informed nowadays. All I have to do now is put some of this new-found knowledge into practice!

I’ll finish with a few interesting quotes about self-publishing:

“The good news about self-publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself.”   Lori Lesko

“Anyone who says it’s easy to self-publish a book is either lying or doing a shitty job.”   Nan McCarthy

“The best self promotion is your next book. And the book after that and after that …”  Bella Andre

I’m working hard on the last quote! This will be the cover of Book 2 of my Sons of Kings trilogy.

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To Contract Or Not To Contract, That Is The Question . . .

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I’ve been mulling over this question for a while now. Most of us use word contractions in our everyday conversations – how stuffy our chatting would sound without them? Imagine saying to a best friend, ‘Let us go for a walk now the rain has stopped.’ Wouldn’t we be more likely to say, ‘Let’s go for a walk now the rain’s stopped’? 

Perhaps not something you’d say to your best friend, anyway, but I hope you get my meaning.

So what can we say about the use of contractions in novel writing?

Personally, I think the same thing applies to written fiction as to everyday speech. Surely, a book written without the commonly used contractions, especially in speech, would be dull and extremely stilted. (There are several definitions of this word, the following amongst them: stiff or artificially formal; wooden; pompous.)

So, how can we apply this to historical fiction?

Someone who read and reviewed my book on Goodreads (very favourably with an excellent, 5 star rating) messaged me privately to say that she wasn’t sure about the use of contractions in a novel set in the ninth century . . .

Well, I was a little thrown by that at first, although I’ve read many historical novels that do use contractions. So I consulted my editor, a very experienced professional. His immediate reaction to my suggestion of removing contractions from my current work-in-progress was one of almost shock-horror!

shutterstock_187060769Then he added, ‘Don’t even consider taking out the contractions, if only for my sake!’

This was followed by a lecture which, basically, followed the theme of my earlier post entitled, ‘Forsooth sir, canst thou not speak more plainly?’

Everything comes down to the changes in language over the centuries and how it is used. The language used in ninth-century Britain would have been as different to modern English as Russian is today. And who’s to say whether or not people contracted their words in bygone days? I imagine they would have done, and an interesing article I found on the Historically Irrelevant website supports that belief.

Even Shakespeare used a contraction in the title of his play, ‘All’s Well That Ends Well.’ Admittedly, that was several hundred years later than the ninth century – but I still hold to my point.

These are the key things I understand from all this:

  1. A fiction writer obviously needs to make a story interesting. In an informal/colloquial setting, stilted speech is out of place, and would probably not endear the character to the reader (unless we are purposely creating a stiff, pompous kind of person).
  2. In formal writing, language should not be littered with contractions. In informal writing, contractions seem to be acceptable.
  3. The use of contractions in historical fiction should not be seen as incorrect – unless the author particularly chooses to write in a more formal way.

When it comes to the nitty gritty, like most things in life it’s all a question of personal preference.

Did you know . . .?

  • The commonly used word, ‘Goodbye’ is a contraction of the old phrase, ‘God be with you’? A more detailed look at this can be seen here.
  • Most word contractions use only one apostrophe. But here are a few double contractions, with two apostrophes to think about (although, I must admit, I’ve never seen the third one with two apostrophes before. I know it’s made up of two words, shall and not, but it’s usually just written as shan’t . . . isn’t it?):
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Image from the ‘about education’ website

Note: Header image, ‘Contractions’, is from k-3teacherresources.com

Accept our offering, mighty Thor . . .

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The sun hung low in the near-cloudless sky, the late afternoon dry and cold with the promise of frost when darkness fell. Winter was nudging her icy nose into people’s lives and they did not relish the prospect. They’d done all in their power to ensure the well-being of the village during the bleak months ahead and hoped their hard work would reap its dividend. All that was needful now was the blessing of the gods. In sombre mood, villagers waited for the ceremony to begin. Continue reading “Accept our offering, mighty Thor . . .”

Shall I Get On With My writing – Or Just Read That Book?

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Like most writers I’m a voracious reader.  I’ve read all my life and have no intention of stopping now – unless my eyesight suddenly packs in. Then, of course, there are always audio books . . .

So what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that if I get into a really good book, I just want to read until I’ve finished it. Not a good thing when my second novel is sitting there, just waiting for the last couple of chapters to finish it off.

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I’ve just had a great holiday in Malta, as my last post showed, doing all the things I enjoy. I love the sunshine and swimming aspects of holidaying in warmer climes, but what I don’t like is inactivity. I’m one of those people who simply must be doing something. Lounging around sunbathing I can tolerate only in very short bursts, and then only with a book to read – which in itself means an overhead canopy (so no sunbathing because I can’t read in sunlight, with or without sunglasses).

But reading is never boring to me. I read three books whilst in Malta, though they weren’t great, marathon tomes, I admit.

To get back to my main issue: should a writer spend time reading when his/her own book is in progress?

My own thoughts on this . . .?  Well, yes and no.

Yes . . . because we all need some leisure time away from our work. And that is what my writing has become – a substitute for my ‘paid’ employment since retiring. I love to write, pay or no pay. And I love the theme of the trilogy I’m in the middle of. My problem arises when I have an urge to read when I should be pounding the keys on my laptop.

No . . . for obvious reasons, already touched on above. Turning to my reading when I should be writing is simply putting off focusing and applying myself to the more important or pressing task. And to be honest, I know I only do so when I hit a section of the narrative that demands a great deal of thought and application.

One final point concerns the type of books an author should read in the middle of writing – whether the author is still at the ‘would be’ stage or already published.  I write historical fiction and also love to read that genre, along with some crime novels now and then. I choose to read many books in these genres while I’m writing . . . except other novels set in the  same Viking period as my own .

Now, I love Bernard Cornwell’s writing in particular, and have read many of his books set in a variety of periods. I really enjoyed his Arthur series. But I won’t read his books about King Alfred until I’ve finished my own trilogy – also about King Alfred and the Danes. I certainly don’t want influencing by his storylines, as brilliant as I’m sure they are.  There are bound to be overlaps in some of the events during Alfred’s life, but how they are told is unique to each author.

Can’t wait to read Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Warrior Chronicles’!

And I wonder what this man would have said about all this . . .?

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William Shakespeare

A last thought from Roald Dahl:

Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place with totally different people.

Time for him to read something else, perhaps . . .?  (What a great writer he was, too.

Malta: A Slice Through History

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The Maltese Falcon set against the Maltese Cross

The Maltese archipelago – a group of several islands, the largest of which are Malta, Gozo and Comino – lies in the Mediterranean Sea, as far south as to be on the same latitudes as Tunisia in North Africa.  It enjoys an enviable climate of hot, dry summers and mild, wetter winters. To anyone from more northerly latitudes, like my fellow Brits, the French and the Germans, the island has a magnetic attraction, summer and winter alike. It also attracts visitors from across the globe, many of whom come to visit the wonderful historic sites.

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The three main islands of the Maltese archipelago

The history of Malta dates back to the very dawn of civilisation, covering some 7000 years and so many different cultural periods – from the earliest appearance of Neolithic man, through the Bronze Age and the Phoenician and the Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman periods. All made their mark on Malta.

From the Roman occupation to the present time, the island underwent such changes as nation after nation fought for supremacy of its soils. As the very earliest settlers and invaders, these newer peoples came from the sea. The strategic position of the Maltese islands – at the crossroads of shipping routes across the Mediterranean Sea – made the islands highly desirable to warmongering nations wanting control of the seas.

The earliest known inhabitants on Malta (Neolithic times) arrived around 5,200 BC, likely after a perilous journey from Sicily on their primitive sea craft. They were a farming community, who brought bags of seed and flint and their tools with them.

Ruins and relics of the Temple Period on Malta, give insight into the associated rites and rituals (animal, but not human sacrifice), skills and crafts of the stoneworkers and so on of the culture. Those at Tarxien and Hagar Qim, date from 4,100-3000 are particularly well known. Here are some of the incredible designs on display at the Tarxien Temples site and the Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. The spiral patterns are a particular feature of all the temples, as are the female figurines.

In  AD 60, St. Paul the apostle was shipwrecked on the north-east coast of the island (in a bay now aptly called St. Paul’s Bay, where Bugibba stands on the map above). Here there are catacombs to visit, in which the early Christians held their services. Paul’s time on the island had long-lasting effects on the religion of the Maltese people, and there is much to be learned about his stay around Malta.

The Roman occupation of the island is interesting, although the museums tend to dwell a lot on their extreme cruelty to the native people.

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Torture and pain administered by the Romans consisted mostly of flogging, hanging, beheading or crucifying. St, Agatha, who is reputed to have lived in the catacombs, was punished by having her breasts cut off.

Unfortunately, on Malta there is little left to show of Roman times, other than at one particular site and museum in Rabat. Again, here are a few photos we took of the remains of a villa and ruins of smaller dwellings and other buildings around it.

There is much in evidence of the Middle Ages on Malta in the architecture (although a great deal of all periods was destroyed in World War 11, and what we see is rebuilt / repaired structures). The Medieval Times museum in Mdina givess us with an excellent glimpse at the period.

Perhaps the best known period on Malta is that of the Knights of St. John. In both Valletta, Malta’s  capital city, and in Mdina, the older capital set inland, there are museums devoted to this vivid Maltese period. Here are a few photos of Mdina:

The coming of the Knights of St. John to Malta after they had been driven out of Sicily by Suleiman is ingrained into the Maltese culture. The name of Valletta itself is derived from the name of the Grand Master of the Order, Jean Parisot de la Valette. The fortress grew up on the rock of the Mount Sceberras peninsula, which rises steeply from between two deep harbours.

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Statue of Jean Parisot de la Valette in Valletta

Some of the presentations of events at this period are extremely impressive, with moving seats, water sprays and so on. The Great Siege of 1565 by the Ottoman Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent really comes alive in these presentations and displays. One of the best collections of artefacts can be seen in the former Palace of the Grand Masters in Valletta. Here are a few of the exhibits:

St. John’s Co.Cathedral, also in Valletta, another place full of information about the Grand Masters. It is a particularly beautiful, awe-inspiring building. Here are just two of the many photos we took at these two sites:

The walls and ceilings of the cathedral are covered in paintings by two particularly well-known artists. One is  Mattia Preti, who spent much of his adult like devoted to ornamenting the cathedral. Preti began his career as an apprentice under Michelangelo Mensi da la Caravaggio, whose most admired work in the cathedral is The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. See here for a link the painting. Caravaggio  led a tumultuous life and is known widely for his brawling, and the killing of a young man in 1606, sudden death at the age of 35.

 In 1798 the island was seized from the rule of the Knights of St. John by the Napoleon,  who was ousted by the British in 1800. British rule continued until Maltese independence on September 21 1964.

The people of Malta’s heroic efforts during World War 11 earned them the George Cross in 1942 – the greatest award for gallantry that can be awarded to civilians. Today a monument stands in Valletta to commemorate this:

Who  can fail to admire the Maltese spirit and enterprise? There is still much building work going on everywhere as the people strive to make their island an even more desirable place to live – and to visit. Their long and colourful history is amazing.

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Old bus in Sliema showing the old name of Malta from Roman times
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Me – enjoying the gardens in the Maltese sunshine

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