Happy to be Back!

It’s been far too long since I wrote a post and I’ve really missed doing so. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way, and/or other things must take precedence. Last year was not a good year for my family. We had so many illnesses to deal with, some of them worryingly serious. All in all, I got little writing done at all, either on my books or my blog. So this year has been a mad rush to get Book 3 of my Sons of Kings series finished, edited and formatted and published on Amazon. And, at last, this is it:

It was uploaded onto Amazon a couple of weeks ago, so I can now start to relax a little and get back to writing a few blog posts. Well, that’s the plan… On the other hand, Book 3 didn’t finish either of my protagonists’ stories, so I am now writing Book 4. My trilogy has become a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy).

All three of my Sons of Kings books will be 99p/$0.99 until July 31st. After that, Book 1 (Shadow of the Raven)  will be 99p for a little longer, Book 2 (Pit of Vipers) will be $1.99 and Book 3 (Wyvern of Wessex) will be $2.99, the usual price for each of the three books.

My book of short stories and flash fiction pieces will be still at its usual price of £1.49/$1.97. Amazon won’t allow it to be any lower because of the number of coloured images I’ve included. I had intended this book to be permanently 99p!

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Book Promotion: Shadow of the Raven

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Just a quick post to say that the eBook version of Book 1 of my Sons of Kings trilogy, Shadow of the Raven, is free for today only (Thursday, January 26). Every download would be greatly appreciated.

For more detail about what the book is about, click the link to my newly created My Books page.

Here are the links to the books on:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

Every download would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

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Researching for Historical Fiction

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Historical fiction is something I love to write. The reason…? I simply love history, any time period and any setting. At present I’m concentrating on the Viking era in the mid-ninth century as I finish the third book in my Sons of Kings trilogy. The first two of these are in my sidebar over there, and the third will be titled Wyvern of Wessex. After that, I have plans for several other ‘histfics’, but not set in the Viking era.

So what exactly is historical fiction?

Well, until recently, most definitions told us that stories set fifty or more years ago could be classed as historical fiction. Recently, however, I’ve seen various sites that have reset that definition to twenty-five years. For someone of my age, twenty-five years ago seems just like yesterday and that definition does little for my self-image. I’m already feeling like an old fossil.

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Twenty five years only takes us to the early nineties. So a book set in 1991 is now classed as historical fiction. Oh my…! But when I think about it, even yesterday is history… one second ago is history. I suppose past times, no matter how recent, are all ‘history’.

As for actually writing historical fiction, just what does it involve?

For starters, like several other genres, it involves the writer doing a lot of research (unless he or she a hugely successful author and can afford to hire people to do it for them). Fortunately, doing research is so much easier nowadays than it was years ago when the only place for doing it, other than buying your own text books, was the good old library. But now, authors have the Internet and access to numerous informative sites, including those about history.

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Having said that, I would never, ever, dismiss the value of good books about the period and historical characters I want to write about. I have some excellent texts that have been invaluable. But online sources can give us lots of interesting – and different – information. And, of course, there’s still the library.

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Exactly what you research can include anything from dates of characters’ births and deaths, to dates of important events of the time. But details about everyday life are important, too. We need to know things like building types, foods (and how and when they were cooked and eaten) clothing and general customs and attitudes. All add to the authenticity of the story – but must be ‘fed’ carefully and intermittently into the story.

Getting details about the period wrong is definitely not a good idea, as there will always be at least one reader who’ll notice. Several years ago I read an article in a Writing magazine by an editor in the US. In this article, he quoted what he called the ‘worst example of historical inaccuracies’ he’d ever come across. It was in a book about Mary Queen of Scots, who was beheaded in 1587. (The author’s name and book title were not divulged, of course). He quoted a scene between Mary and her husband, Lord Darnley, which I’ll re-quote as closely as I remember it. Mary supposedly says:

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Darnley, honey, let me fix you a chicken sandwich.

I’ll leave you to pick out what’s wrong with that one – but I found it hilarious!

For my trilogy there were two main things I had to focus on. The first was the life of King Alfred the Great, one of the two main protagonists. This is one of the two statues erected in his honour (both in Victorian times as you can probably tell from the photo below). This one is in the Market Place in Wantage, Oxfordshire (formerly Berkshire), which is believed to be where Alfred was born.

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I also had to focus on Viking ships and voyages as well as everyday lifestyles of both Vikings and Anglo-Saxons in the mid-ninth century.These are a few ‘photos of photos’ we took in Denmark, so I apologise for the poor quality of them. They were taken at Lindholm Høje in northern Denmark. Some are from inside the museum, others are of the very famous Viking burial ground there.

The Jorvik (pronounced Yorvik) Viking museum in York (Yorkshire, UK) was also excellent for information about Viking life. The museum succumbed to floodwaters when the River Ouse flooded in December 2015 and won’t be open again until spring 2017. Fortunately, most of the exhibits were saved.

All in all, the research kept me busy for quite some time. But, we visited some wonderful historic sites and museums in both England and Denmark as part of it. So that can’t be bad, can it? The visit to Denmark really helped with the parts of the books set there – a lot of Book One in particular, which is mostly about my second protagonist, Eadwulf of Mercia. Although he’s a fictional character, the main events in my book that take place in his kingdom, are not.

We still love to visit historical sites related to all periods of history. Reenactments are a particular favourite at the moment, and we’ve been to a few this year. These photos are from a battle between Alfred and the Danes staged at Corfe castle in Dorset in May.

And these are from the Viking Village at Murton, near York. I wrote a post about this in April this year.

‘Bear’ is really quite something, and he was very helpful in explaining all about his unusual helmet and why few Vikings ever adopted that style. All ‘grist to the mill’, as they say.

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The Bumpy Road to ‘A Dash of Flash’

A Dash of Flash Banner 0806 2It seems ages since I was active on my blog, but I’m now looking forward to having a little more time for writing and reading posts. It’s been a funny year for me so far, though I know the problems are all of my own making. We’ve been away a lot for a start, and I’ve been writing two books at the same time – probably not the best idea I’ve ever had. I should have finished off the third book of my trilogy before taking on anything new.

But at last my flash fiction book is finished, edited and published on Amazon. Happy me! (This nice, happy-looking young lady is evidently not me – the picture just shows how I feel. 🙂 )

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I thought that having so many stories already on my blog, the book would take little time to do. WRONG. I soon realised I also needed new/unread stories in the book, so I started to write some.  I also decided to make the book a decent length – at least novella size* – so I ended up writing quite a lot of new stories. A good half dozen are almost  1,000 words (the generally accepted upper word limit for ‘flash’.) Several are over 500, and some of the stories from my blog have either been tweaked a little and/or lengthened. The book finally ended up at almost 23,000 words. (*Novellas are usually between 18,000 to 30,000 words.

The editing of A Dash of Flash was finished over seven weeks ago, but the person I initially sent the book to for formatting and converting to epub and mobi files kept me waiting for weeks. And even then it wasn’t done properly! Eventually I was sent a word document (supposedly formatted) with assurances that most of his clients used word documents to upload onto Amazon. Having only uploaded mobi files for my Viking books, I was sceptical, but accepted this ‘professional’s’ advice.

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I uploaded this file onto Amazon at 9 pm last Saturday. It looked good on the previewer, so I was happy. It generally takes anything up to 12 hours before books go ‘live’ and I’d thought that by morning I’d be able to check the book by downloading my own copy and if anything was wrong with it, I could quickly unpublish…

Imagine how I felt when I saw that indents were all over the place for a start. To make matters worse, the book had come live on Amazon before midnight (UK time) and someone on the .com site had already bought a copy!

I was mortified!

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Naturally I immediately unpublished. If the person unlucky enough to have got that dodgy copy is reading this, please email me and I’ll send you a mobi or epub file of the properly formatted version – with my sincere apologies.

I immediately sent the book to the person who’d formatted my other two books, and kicked myself for going elsewhere this time. Alan Cooper has made an excellent job of formatting and converting all three of my books now, and he’ll certainly be doing the next one.

If anyone would like to read A Dash of Flash, it’s available on Amazon USAmazon UK and Amazon AU. It is on KDP Select, but I haven’t got around to ordering my first 5 free days just yet.

Needless to say, I’d love to know what people think, and honest reviews would be more than gratefully received. Publishing a book of ‘flash’ is new territory for me – although many of the stories have historical settings.

This is how all authors feel about receiving reviews:

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Books, Writing Reviews and Confusion.

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This is just a quick post to express my recent confusion . . .

As most writers, I love getting reviews of my books. Whether they’re good or bad, the comments can be helpful as I pursue future writing projects. I’ve been fortunate in having many great comments, as well as one or two that have made me stop and think. But I do keep in mind that all readers are different. What appeals to one may be something another reader dislikes. Even the most popular novels – the best sellers – have a wide range of reviews and ratings.

There now. I’ve just said the word that is causing me to be confused right now. Notably, the Amazon Rating System.

I noticed two more reviews of Book 1 of my trilogy Shadow of the Raven on the Amazon UK site over the weekend. One is great (5 stars) and I couldn’t ask for better. The other has left me scratching my head! It’s a short review, but the wording is nice and complimentary. This is it, word for word:

Excellent. 

Couldn’t put this book down. If you like Bernard Cornwell you will enjoy this author who writes in the same exciting way.”

I’m delighted with the comment, of course. Many similar comments have been accompanied by a rating of 4 or 5 stars. But this one came with a rating of 2 stars, so I’m sure you’ll see why I’m bewildered by it.

When all’s said and done, a 2 star rating means you didn’t like the book at all!

So the wording of the comment and the rating contradict each other. Could the reader have simply misunderstood the rating system – or clicked the wrong star symbol? Or is it me who doesn’t understand the star ratings?

If anyone can offer some explanation about this, I’d really appreciate it.

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Thoughts on Writing a Trilogy

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When I first started planning my ninth century novel about King Alfred and his battle against the Danes, I intended it to be just a single book.

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Statue of King Alfred in Wantage, where he was born.

I’d spent a long time researching the period, as well as spending time in Denmark and visiting various sites around Britain. So I had files full of information.  As I continued to plan the book, I decided to widen the story by including a second protagonist. Eadwulf’s story became as long, and as important as Alfred’s

So that was the end of my plan to write a single book: I am presently writing Book Three of the trilogy.

Looking back, I now think I should have stuck with the idea of a single book. Not that I’m unhappy with the way my story is unfolding but . . .

. . .  it all comes down to ‘The trials and tribulations of a first time novelist‘, which I wrote a post about when my blog had barely started.

On top of all the other problems that first-time writers encounter with self-publication and even more so, with self-promotion, I’ve come to realise that a trilogy isn’t the best thing to write first time round. A one-off would have been so much easier to present to traditional publishers as well as being easier to market and promote. Nor would I have felt under as much pressure to finish the next book in line. I’ve had several people who’ve reviewed both books saying they’re now waiting for Book 3. Oh dear…

These are the covers of the first two books of the Sons of Kings trilogy:

Where I went wrong was in not waiting until I had finished  Book 3– or had at least written a good part of it – before publishing the first two books. I’ve read advice from various sources telling me that most readers aren’t happy to start reading trilogies unless they know they can work their way straight thorough all three books, so it’s best to wait until all three books are finished. I’m not sure whether that’s strictly true, but I do know that readers don’t like to wait too long for the next book to appear. I’m always eager to get my hands on the next book in a series I like, myself.

Well, it’s now almost a year since I finished writing Book 2, and I’d hoped to finish Book 3 by the end of this year. Unfortunately, I’ve spent a lot of time doing other things this year – including spending time away from home and writing a lot of longish posts on WordPress – and I’ve still some way to go before finishing the book.

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It’s on this note that I have to say that from now my posts will be less frequent than they have been since earlier this year. I’m not taking a complete blogging break, just easing things off.

I also want to say a big ‘Thank You’ to all of you who downladed a free copy of Book One:  Shadow of the Raven during its recent promotion on Amazon. I was really pleased with the overall number of downloads this time!

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Mapping The Story

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The trilogy I’m working on is historical fiction. I now have the first two books on Amazon and have just started writing the third.

I’ve made too many mistakes along the road to publishing, promoting and marketing my books to talk about – and I still have a long way to go to do things effectively. I won’t go on about my bungled start because I did a post about it earlier on: here

One of the things I didn’t do regarding the actual books was to add a couple of much-needed maps to the beginning of each. And it’s not that I didn’t know they were needed! I just didn’t know how to do them, and I didn’t have Photoshop. When a couple of reviewers said that maps would have been useful, I knew it was time to so something about it.

Readers of both fantasy and historical fiction novels rely on maps to allow them to visualise the areas in which the story is set. In historical fiction, we may be dealing with no longer existent territories or kingdoms, such as the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in my books. In fantasy, there may be entirely new worlds created.

With more than a little help from one of my daughters, my two books now have two maps apiece. In Book 1, much of the action takes place in the various Norse/Viking lands, and I knew that few readers would know where most of the places were.

I chose to keep them as simple as possible and just pinpoint the key places visited in the stories.

These two maps are from Book One, Shadow of the Raven:

Anglo Saxon mapMap of norse lands 

The next two are from Book Two, Pit of Vipers:

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book 2 map 2I’ve deliberately made these maps very large to make them readable. On the Kindle they’re much smaller but, of course, they can easily be enlarged. Any comments or suggestions about them (preferably constructive!) would be gratefully received.

The Horrors of the Blood Eagle.

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This incredible hazard sign was shared on Facebook on November 11th by The Heathen Mead Hall. It was one of my daughters who drew my attention to it. I don’t know where the sign came from, or who made it, but it’s quite hilarious – considering it refers to such a gruesome thing.

I’m sure that anyone who has been following the TV series ‘Vikings’ will already be familiar with what the blood eagle execution entailed. I haven’t watched the series, for the same reason that I haven’t read the wonderful Bernard Cornwell’s books about King Alfred and the Danes. I don’t want to be influenced in any way by what either say/show until I’ve finished my own books.

Here’s the blood eagle scene from the ‘Vikings’ Tv Series, uploaded to YouTube by Star Wolf:

Wikipedia tells us that the blood eagle was a method of execution, ‘performed by cutting the skin of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim’s back. Salt was sprinkled in the wounds. Victims of the method of execution, as mentioned in skaldic poetry and the Norse sagas, are believed to have included King Aella of Northumbria, Halfdan son of King Harald Harfagri of Norway, King Maelgualai of Munster, and possibly Archbishop Aelfeah of Canterbury’.

I’d like to add a couple of points about this barbaric ritual. I’ve referred to, and combined, a number of sources here, so if there are any mistakes, they are my own. Historians today are still in dispute over the authenticity of such accounts. The Viking Orkney website discusses whether the blood eagle was really a method of execution, or simply a literary addition, included for dramatic effect. It tells us that the blood eagle appears in several Nordic accounts, including one from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. In that we hear how the Northumbrian king, Aella, was executed by Ivar the Boneless:

“They caused the bloody eagle to be carved on the back of Ælla, and they cut away all of the ribs from the spine, and then they ripped out his lungs.”

It also appears in Norna-Gests páttr, where Regin executes Lyngvi:

“Regin then took his sword from me, and with it carved Lyngvi’s back until the ribs were cut from the back, and the lungs drawn out. Thus Lyngvi died with great valour.”

Some scholars firmly believe that the blood eagle took place. Others believe it could be derived from metaphors used in Skaldic verse – as in the saga attributed to Einar, in which the term ‘eagle’s claws’ represents violent death. Following Halfdan’s death, Einar recited:

“Mighty men of no mean race,
From divers mansions of the earth;
But for that they do not know,
These, until they lay me low,
Which of us the eagle’s claws
Shall bow beneath ere all be o’er.”

It’s been suggested that this could be the source of the blood eagle episode. But whether the practice was used or not is still highly debatable, although take a look at this image on the Hannars I Stone on the island of Gotland. It clearly shows a person lying on their front over a table and someone attacking his back with a weapon:

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A scene from the Stora Hammars 1 stone. Author: The Man in Question (from source: Sacrificial scene on Hammar). Creative Commons.

Viking novels and films have become popular in recent years – many of them including scenes of extreme violence and brutality. They make good reading or viewing. And as long as we don’t accept everything we read or watch as totally accurate, that’s fine. I even have a ‘blood-eagling’ scene in my own second book. But I take care not to present all the Vikings as totally evil and/or debauched. I even have some rather nice ones.

Another gruesome image – but not exactly primary evidence.

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Image from Pinterest

Why Do Writers Write?

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This probably sounds like a silly question, considering we could ask the same thing of people in all walks of life. Naturally I have my own reasons for wanting to write and I’ve come across other writers’ answers during TV interviews and so on. So I’ve attempted a summary of responses. Perhaps you can recognise your own reasons in at least one of them.  You may have some I haven’t touched on. Anyway, here they are:

  1. To write has been a long-held ambition.

Often, when young people are faced with the question of why they want to pursue a particular career their immediate response is, ‘I’ve always wanted to . . .’ Many years ago, at my college interview, I was asked, ‘Why do you want to teach?’ At school we’d had it drummed into our heads that if the question arose on interview, we did not reply, ‘I’ve always wanted to.’ I suppose the message stuck. This kind of question definitely needs a carefully thought-out response, even though the instinctive reply of ‘always wanted to’ may be quite true.

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So, where did this life-long desire originate? Many fiction writers will tell you how their love of stories from an early age inspired them to write – first listening to them being read to them, then reading the words for themselves. As a child I loved tales of adventure, which inspired me to write my own little stories, both at home and at school.  With most people the love of story ‘type’ gradually becomes more selective and certain genres appeal more than others.

2.  You have a story simply bursting to be told

Sometimes, an author has a story whirling around inside his/her head, begging to be told. It may have been lurking there for years, or have recently arrived with a sudden POW! Perhaps it was created entirely by the author’s imagination, or is a well-known story imploring a different manner of telling. In my own case, this is certainly true.

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  1. You want to share your own particular area of expertise

For non-fiction authors, the desire to inform looms high – whatever the subject. Many of us have relied on a variety of reference books in our time, and I certainly value the research done by these authors.

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With fiction writers, the need, to inform is still there. But in this case, the background, factual detail is undoubtedly best fed into the story gradually and discreetly. If not, the book will sound like a text book and probably put readers off.

  1. A realisation that you can actually write hits you

Sometimes, the wanting to write only surfaces after a person has already pursued a career in another profession. Perhaps that person took no interest in reading until then, or maybe someone recommended a good book. Perhaps the chosen job didn’t satisfy a creative urge that has only now manifest itself, or the job itself involves writing documents, letters and so on that others frequently admire. Who knows? But tales of people who veered into writing from completely different careers are everywhere. Unusual careers themselves often make good reading matter, whether fiction or non-fiction.

  1. You can express your thoughts and ideas better in writing

The need to apologise is a good example here. The coward’s way out, you may say. Yet the example illustrates my point well. Thoughts, especially emotional ones, are so much easier to write than say. So are lies, I suppose.

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The spoken word involves interaction with people and their judgemental, discerning eyes. The computer page, or notepad, does not have eyes and a writer can pour his/her heart out. And writers may draw on personal experience of events too difficult to talk about, assigning them more easily to fictional characters.

  1. You write for the sheer love of words

Words are the writer’s tool, and it is how individual writers use them that can determine whether a book is fascinating or utterly dull. I’m not saying an entire book should be written in elaborately flowery language – that would be as bad as having no particularly descriptive passages.  Nor am I overlooking the need for a great plot and memorable characters. Words are to be tested and sounded out before used; something writers are usually good at. They play around with different possibilities or, perhaps, use them in similes and metaphors, creating images that come to life as we read . . .

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Ah well, I always did love to read.

The Value Of A Good Editor

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Once I’d finished writing my first book, and revised and edited it to death, I was in two minds whether or not to send it to a professional editor. Would it be at all beneficial? On the one hand, I supposed it couldn’t do any harm to have someone else’s opinion. (I must add that at this stage, no one else had read a single page of my sacred book. Not even my family. I’d certainly jabbered on about it – probably bored them to tears with it. But read it? NO! I didn’t want effusive praise simply because they felt obliged to give it. After seeing my devotion to my book, I know they wouldn’t have had the heart to criticise.)

So sending it off to an editor could be a good idea . . .

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But, on the other hand, I was absolutely certain that after all my own editing, I had no mistakes. My spelling, punctuation and grammar were perfect, my plot was well paced and my characters did not act inappropriately. In short, I really couldn’t see the point of shelling out good cash for someone to tell me I had no mistakes.

Where had this idea of such perfection come from? Of course, then the inevitable doubt set in.

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I knew very well there was more to a ‘good’ book than perfect spelling, punctuation and grammar. I needed someone to tell me whether the storyline was interesting, the characters sufficiently intriguing, the plot well paced and so on. So, after a careful scan online I selected the Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau. This agency offers a variety of services, from actual writing courses to different critique and editing packages. They deal with a variety of genres, including non-fiction, and their prices compare favourably with some better known agencies.

My editor’s name is Doug Watts and he’s an absolute gem – for so many reasons:

Firstly: he made me believe in myself and my writing – something every first-time writer needs so badly. His praise meant the world to me and helped brush away any self-doubt that had set i

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Secondly: Doug has a hawk-like ability to spot a spelling, punctuation or grammatical error from at least a hundred paces. I’m even wary when emailing him for fear he’ll send it back corrected.

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And I soon learned what he thought about the overuse of exclamation marks and italics. I also make the odd typo (which I fail to notice because my spell check has a nasty habit of cutting out less than half way through my books. Because of all the Anglo Saxon and Danish names, the malicious little programme virtually tells me I can’t spell and abandons me. And since I’ve no idea how to reinstall it, it stays off. I know – I fully admit to being a computer ignoramus.)

Thirdly:  Doug not only edits line by line, but appraises and critiques every two or three chapters. I really like this because if there’s anything to amend, it can be done in stages. Of course, I get an overall critique at the end as well.  His appraisal of different scenes, and to what degree they work in the plot, is invaluable. He’s also on the lookout for plot holes and other inconsistencies in plot, character or dialogue and is always ready to comment on sections that need a little more detail, as well as those that may need tightening up.

Oddly enough, I found it was sometimes a little more he wanted in some scenes – which I should probably explain. When I edited the book myself, I cut out a lot of what I decided was unnecessary detail. I’d read that agents frown upon books from new authors that are much over 80,000 words and at that time my book was still over 150,000. So I decided that some serious cutting was called for. By the time I sent the manuscript to Doug, I’d got it down to around 85,000 words. Fortunately, I’d kept everything I cut out in a ‘Deleted’ file, and simply put some of these sections back in when called for! Admittedly, I did have a couple of extra bits to add to as well.

Fourthly: I always feel that Doug is there for me. Not only does he give me tremendous support and encouragement, he is happy for me to email and ask for advice at any time. I really can’t praise him enough. One of the things he says to me is, ‘Believe in yourself . . . because I do.’ How heartening is that?

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