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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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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Book Promotion!

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This is definitely the shortest post I’m likely to make for a while. I just wanted to let people know that Book 1 of my Sons of Kings trilogy, Shadow of the Raven will be free on Amazon for three days, starting on April 3.

Anyone who enjoys a Viking adventure tale may be interested in this book. I had another great review on the Amazon.com site only yesterday. The review was headed by the phrase. ‘Well written historical fiction from a rising star.’ I owe huge thanks to that person, whoever it is. It’s no one I know, from WordPress or anywhere else.

Reviews are so important to writers, not just to inflate their egos. They help the writer see what they are doing right, or wrong, as well as helping to get their books noticed. Needless to say, if anyone out there downloads my book this weekend, a review would be soooo much appreciated! Of course, it’s certainly not obligatory. Just downloading it would be of enormous help to me.

Well, that’s it from me for the moment. I’d better get back to writing Book 3 …

Shadow of the Raven (Medium)

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.

A Dream of Flight

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Dreams about flying seem to be quite common. Perhaps it’s the fact that we humans simply can’t do it without the use of an aeroplane that causes them. We simply envy the birds, and in our dreams we allow our innermost desires to come true. I don’t know, but I’m sure there are people who could explain it! Anyway, here’s a short dream sequence from my book:


Ulf seemed to be flying. He laughed as he glanced at his outstretched arms, a joyful sound that welled up from somewhere deep inside before rushing from his lips to be carried away on the wind. This must be what total freedom felt like. Beside him a flock of starlings swooped and spiralled in their exotic ritual, and he shared their sheer delight of the open skies. Then uncertainty hit, and he squinted into the blindingly blue expanse beyond the hazy, translucent clouds. Why was he flying? Was he now dead, not a solid body at all, but a spirit rising towards heaven? A woman’s voice reached his ears, passing by in its ascent. ‘Do not grieve for me. I am free of the cares of this world now.’

Far to the west the sun was sliding behind the Welsh hills, splashing shades of vermilion and purple haphazardly across the blue. Above the landscape he soared, over fields of grazing cattle, corn ripening with the season’s warmth, and winding blue streams. Soon he was hovering over the edges of a dense forest and instinctively he knew that it was Bruneswald. This beautiful, green land was Mercia: his home.

Then he realised it was not summer at all and he was not home. His mind grew angry and cast the scene away.


This sequence is really a continuation of the post of a couple of weeks ago, To sleep, perchance to dream . . .  In my book, Shadow of the Raven, this dream comes only a few minutes after the last. Eadwulf (Ulf at this stage, and still a thrall/slave) has been seriously concussed, knocked senseless by Bjorn – for his own good, as is revealed in the story. Following the period of concussion he falls in and out of dream-filled sleep. This one takes him to his beloved homeland across the Northern Sea – the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

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.