Adding Flavour to your Writing


443px-German_Bratwürste

German Bratwurst at Nuremberg’s main market square,

Something that is often underestimated in fiction is the importance of food and beverages. They are as much part of a nation’s culture and heritage as architecture and art, music and dialects, local costume and customs. Leave out the flavour of food and drink locals like to consume and you’re only telling half the story, robbing yourself of a valuable tool that will draw readers into your narrative by subtle means.

Go beyond mentioning ale, wine, cheese, meat, onions and bread. It is the more intricate detail that helps writers to conjure up an authentic setting, allowing readers to not only see, hear, and feel but TASTE the flavour of a point in time and a real or fictional place.

Food and drink also help writers to characterise protagonists in culinary terms. Think Ian Fleming’s James Bond without his customary shaken but not stirred, super-cool martini or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot without his beloved tisane. Not quite the same, is it?

bierglas emptying itselfPerhaps your detective protagonist is a gourmand, astonishing villains with amazing feats of culinary prowess that hint at equally accomplished execution of public duties? Or your hapless Latin protagonist cannot prepare a chorizo Mexicano with tostadas to save her life and is as hopeless at cooking as she is at recognising a good man in your romance novel?

Be literary foodie detective

A foreign character becomes that much more genuine in flavour and scent when your “I-must-be-trendy-or-die” heroine teeters into a Berlin bar on her stilettos, orders a Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, climbs onto the bar stool and smiles broadly at the barman, only to display remnants of Bockwurst between her teeth.

The words fish ‘n chips alone conjure up a picture of Britain’s seedy and run-down seaside resorts, of screaming kids in prams pushed around by indifferent mothers in white leggings and baggy tops, of wheeling seagulls, drizzling rain and fierce gusts blowing litter everywhere. Add a steak and kidney pudding accompanied by mushy peas, followed by a sticky bun and plastic cup of tea and you have a setting that is unmistakably British and noir.

Permit the scent of crispy bacon and a heap of baked beans on toast in the early hours of the morning to lure your crime-fighting hero’s growing paunch off-track, and your reader can digest the fact that even the toughest detective needs comfort food once in a while and shouldn’t be asked to forego his full English for an early arrest of the villain.

A culinary starting point

A great advantage of researching historic food and drink is that often writers come across stuff like “this brewery has been producing Hefeweizen (wheat lager) and dark lager since 1827”. It provides us with a genuine reference point in history, allowing us to concentrate on a small area within a village, town or city from which we can expand into the wider (historical) world of our chosen period setting.

Why not use the street in which the brewery stands as a setting for a scene? Let the brewery’s day-to-day operations become a realistic background to your main action. Without going into a huge amount of detail, your writing will allow readers to hear the clip-clop of dray horses pulling a heavy wagon full of kegs; readers will unconsciously wrinkle their noses at the manure dotted around in this cobbled street and sense the air is filled with the stink of fermented hops, malt and wheat. The fictional employees of such a business could even become walk-on characters in your story’s secondary plot.

640px-Sb_zaf

By the way, the brewery mentioned here is located on the Northern German Island of Rügen. The Stralsunder Brauerei has been supplying Baltic resorts with beer since 1827, when the brewery was founded.

640px-Störtebecker-Glas_(3)Let your protagonist drink a dark lager called Störtebecker Hanse Porter, named in honour of 13th century pirate Nicolas (Klaas) Störtebeker, and readers will imagine your manly hero’s rugged good looks and steely gaze. And if your protagonists munch their way through a platter of hearty Braunschweiger, Kohlwurst and Bregenwurst sausages, served with boiled potatoes and steaming kale, readers know the setting is as northern German, Protestant and rural as it gets.

This simple peasant meal will act as a reminder that your story is set in empty, bleak and entirely flat landscapes, lined by deserted white sandy beaches where icy winds rush through dunes even in summer. In this desolate landscape the air is filled with the scent of smoked fish and ham, and the screech of gulls riding the steely grey Baltic waves drown out conversations between windswept protagonists. This is a landscape made for epic, smouldering love stories that don’t end well, leaving a smoky aftertaste on readers’ palates, when they reach the final page.

fcauliflower with rolling eyesEqually, no literary excursion to Prague in the Czech Republic is complete without an ice-cold serving of a glass of light golden Krušovice, a lager with a dry straw aroma served to the office of Václav Havel, when he was the republic’s president back in 2003. The beer has been brewed in Czech Republic since 1517 and the brewery once belonged to Emperor Rudolf II, who purchased it in 1581 for the Czech Crown. Now there’s already a historic novel contained in that one sentence! Why did Rudolf buy a brewery? Whom could a writer murder to make this a whodunit with beer?

And while your hero and heroine are gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes over the din of Strasbourg Cathedral’s bells and the merciless fall of the guillotine, why not let them have a fruity glass of Alsace wine, while they’re nibbling slices of grilled Saucisse de Canard? It’s a sausage made from duck, for which Strasbourg’s surroundings and Brittany are famous. Oh go on, it’s the aristocrats’ final meal together, before the doomed lovers’ heads get chopped off!

The importance of food and drink production

From fluffy white ducks and geese that waddle through meadows and farmyards in the Alsace and Périgord regions in France to the sturdy peasants working steep vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel valleys in Germany, food and drink production has shaped the way our landscapes look and the way people have traded and dealt with each other over time.

little boy munching chicken legsEven when writing a science fiction novel set on another planet, food and drink production that nourishes the beings living on that planet should therefore be uppermost in a writer’s mind. Agriculture will have influenced that planet’s landscapes. Food and drink will be an integral part of the culture our story is based on. Who eats first in a hierarchical society? Who gets the biggest cut and who gets only the scraps?

Is drinking alcoholic beverages a sin, a feat of prowess for manly men or a confounded nuisance for those who have to enforce the law?

If this article has provided you with a morsel of culinary inspiration for your next novel, be sure to pass it on. Spice up your romance with mulled wine; remove greasy burger taste from your Belgium detective’s palate. Serve him cuisine à la bière with a steaming bowl of mussels with frieten instead, adding a glass of Liefmans, brewed in Flanders since 1679, for a refreshing aftertaste. Squirt a little wine into your heroine’s barley water to mellow the minx.

little green pear yawning widelyBon appetite, writers!

 

(picture credits: all animation sourced via heathersanimations.com,

Picture 1: Nuremberg sausages, By Gerbis – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13280953

Picture 2: Stralsunder Brewery,  CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9768916

Picture 3: promotional Sailing Glass/Segelglass identity for Klaas Stoertebeker lager, Bild Segelglas als Identitätsmerkmal der Biermarke Störtebecker,  von Günter Haase – Eigenes Werk, CC-BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40978499)

 

 

 

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Landscapes of my Mind


Fox_Hunt_1893_Winslow_Homerfox cub shaking its headApart from a few references to creating fantasy worlds, my blog posts so far have dealt with how real locations can be used in fiction to make a point about either the underlying theme, the protagonist’s inner workings or any other topic an author would like to present in the sub-text. But sometimes we take our inspiration from very different sources for the landscapes into which we invite our readers. Not from an Atlas, Google Maps or an old-fashioned globe this time, the inspiration for my book cover and – at least in part – the plot for “Master of the Foxhunt” came from a famous painting.

The landscape painter and printmaker Winslow Homer (1836 to 1910) is a preeminent figure in American art. His beautiful painting “Fox Hunt”, falling so neatly into the Victorian era my ghost story is set in, was the inspiration for my novella’s cover. The story itself, which had been maturing in my head for a long time, was inspired by a real family of foxes who had taken up residence in my garden shortly after I had purchased a flat in London a few years ago. Since hardly a day goes by where I don’t see the bushy tail or tufty ear of an urban fox disappear around a corner these days, it was about time they fox blowing hunting horntook on a starring role in one of my works.

My London flat had been on the market for a while and so the garden was rather overgrown, when I purchased it. Imagine a whole row of Edwardian and Victorian family homes with 90-ft gardens arranged back-to-back and you can picture a ready-made urban heaven for foxes. The dilapidated shed that stood in the wilderness of brambles and tall grass at the bottom of my garden was soon transformed into a look-out station from which Mama Fox and her three cubs would survey their little kingdom each morning, when the sun would warm their pelts, while I was floating in the bath. My large picture window of my bathroom overlooked the garden and afforded me an excellent opportunity to spy on South East London’s urban wildlife.

The family of foxes didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they were quite the little show-offs, yawning widely and stretching out luxuriously of a morning, turning their little furry bellies towards the warming rays of the early sun, reminding me that their work was done while I still had my working day ahead of me!

winking foxWinslow Homer’s wonderful painting is on display at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts and is one of three Homer masterpieces on show, the other two being “North Road Bermuda” and “Eight Bells”. Oil on canvas and measuring 96.5 b 174 cm, “Fox Hunt” was created in 1893 – eight years after the setting of my romantic ghost story, but close enough!

Homer was largely self-taught (like me…but unlike me, he was a hugely gifted painter!). He spent a short time studying oil painting in the spring of 1861, before being sent to the Civil War front in Virginia as an artist-correspondent for the illustrated journal Harper’s Weekly, then a fairly new publication. The time he spent at the front had a profound affect on him and he produced many works about the meaning of war, its impact on people. He was greatly admired by his contemporaries, who found the force of his work and fierce beauty, the drama and dynamic of his compositions deeply moving. Many of his later paintings carry hints of modernist abstraction and I feel “Fox Hunt” is a splendid example of this.

He often depicted scenes of hunting and fishing, producing many evocative and much admired seascapes in the process, but here we enter an unforgiving frosty world, an icy countryside that is beautiful, but deadly.

“Fox Hunt” was his largest painting up to that point, dealing with the depiction of survival in the wild – a subject largely inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and a topic uppermost on many artists’ minds in the final years of the 19th century.  Set in a harsh winter landscape of the Main shoreline, Homer shows us a fox fleeing from a hungry flock of crows. The crow, harbinger of death in mythology for eons, is here not just a messenger but the actual executioner. Looking at the painting one really feels for the fox, its desperate struggle to escape from the trap half-starved crows have sprung on him by ganging up and hunting him as a pack through the deep snow.

Homer surprises us with this reversal of fortune, making the fox the prey. The fox has such a bad reputation as the raider of chicken coops, the cunning hunter of small prey, the sly opportunist who’ll steal your Sunday roast from your patio if you don’t watch out. It is indeed one of Homer’s most powerful and memorable images and a true masterpiece.

My version, of course, isn’t, as is evident from the book cover! However, given that I had to draw this by hand using a mouse pad and my index finger instead of a sweeping paintbrush…it’s hopefully not too insulting to foxes (I challenge thee, Mr Homer, to try your hand on my mouse pad and do better!). No crows this time, although a cheeky reference to them can be found in my story. As the cover shows, the reversal of fortune in my story involves foxes and humans. Since I find “blood sports” abhorrent and regard those who enjoy them as utterly depraved, expect to find foxes who’ll have the upper paw in my novella.

Homer’s “Fox Hunt” was deemed such a powerful work that it became the first of the artist’s paintings to enter a public collection, when the Pennsylvania Academy snapped it up in 1893. What I love about the painting is that our eye is first drawn to the red of the fox’s fur, then the red of the berries of the wild-rose bush, tiny messengers of hope in this harsh landscape, for they signal spring is on its way. With the change of season comes greater availability of food sources for both fox and crow. But then our eye is drawn to the fox’s dark shadow falling across the snow and that implies imminent death – only then do we really take notice of the crows and understand who is the hunter and who the prey in this painting.

Writers are always asked where they take their inspiration from. For once I can actually pinpoint what prompted me to write about a foxhunt and why I set the story in the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign. Just as Homer’s painting is a complex study of the struggle to survive in a hostile world, how writers get their ideas and are able to create landscapes of their mind on paper is a complex topic and a question that isn’t easily answered.

My story, initially a straightforward ghost story, soon took a different turn, in that the main characters insisted it should be a love story that leaves readers with a warm glow on a cold winter’s day, not a horror story that sends even more shivers up and down their spines. I was rather miffed at first, but hey, when your main characters pull into one direction and you strain the other way, something’s got to give in the end. The wise thing is to give in and let them have their own way!

Master of Foxhunt Book Cover with Title and Author Name

Fancy a slice of romantic Victorian ghost story at $0.99? #ebook #MustRead #fantasy Master of the Foxhunt is out! https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/master-of-the-foxhunt/id1080939714?mt=11 

This is the only sales link I’ve received from the publishing platform I used so far, but the ebook should already be available at Kindle, Barnes & Noble, GooglePlay, Kobo etc. ISBN: 978-3-7396-3465-4

Published well in time for Valentine’s Day and much better for the hips than a box of chocolates…but just as satisfying!

 

(Winslow Homer’s “Fox Hunt” as per Wikipedia commons licence, in public domain, all animations via heathersanimations(dot)com, cover for “Master of the Foxhunt”: copyright Maria Thermann)

 

Writer, Know your Turf


two girls with umbrella in snow stormI’ve been reading my way through some of the wonderful murder mysteries and crimes novels from the Golden Age of this genre, now re-issued by British Library Crime Classics. Among them is the once very popular, now almost forgotten writer John Bude, who wrote some 30 best-selling crime novels in his day which are now all but collectors’ items.

Having just finished “The Lake District Murder”, which is rather different from his other two novels published in this British Library series, I am once again reminded what a huge difference it makes when a writer knows their “turf”, or locality, and doesn’t just work from a map and tourist guide book.

Set in the Lake District in the north of England, the novel is less of a whodunit and more of a how-did-they-do-it. In it, Inspector Meredith must break some pretty solid alibies and solve the murder of a garage co-owner, whose death was dressed up as suicide.

As Martin Edwards says in his introduction to this entertaining novel, John Bude “not only knew but clearly loved his Lake District”. And that makes all the difference, for he knows not just the geographical, but also the social landscape of this part of Britain, allowing his readers a glimpse into what life was like at that time in this desolate but beautiful region. There is the middle-aged woman who cooks and cleans, mends and washes in the household of two men for just ten shillings a week; there are the two garage owners who scratch a living for just £16 profit a month, shared between the two of them – which means that each of them had just about a couple of quid to spend per week in 1935, when this novel was first published. There are numerous hotels and pubs that make an excellent living in spring and summer, when masses of tourists arrive, but whose proprietors must fall back on local custom during the rest of the year. Times are hard in rural surroundings like these, and we are reminded of this at every turn but in an understated, subtle way.

What is also interesting is that John Bude, in an era when the amateur sleuth was all the rage among writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, chose to make the policeman Inspector Meredith the central figure of his novel and the painstaking efforts of the police to make the crime stick to the villains so they could be rightfully convicted. No dashing Lord Peter Wimsey here or little old Miss Marple. This feels very much like a real detective at work, doing boring stake-outs hiding behind hedgerows or sifting through endless paperwork.

The other central character, if you like, is the Lake District itself, its peculiar geographical quirks as much part of the investigation as the villains themselves. Loving – or detesting – the location a writer uses as background makes all the difference. Even if you create a whole new world for your fantasy novel, you need to feel passionately about the location in one way or another, or you might as well set the whole thing in a void…or a Tesco supermarket isle. Be as passionate about the location as you are about the characters you drop into these fictional landscapes. Your readers will follow their every footstep, so you need to be the world’s best tourist guide!

I didn’t adhere to this rule too strictly in the first outing for Linus Brown, when he meets the leprechauns in his new Lincolnshire environment for the first time, but location will play a big, big part when Linus and the leprechaun colony set out to visit Ireland and Castle Blarney in the second outing for my 9-year-old protagonist. Thankfully, I have been to Ireland, albeit not to the castle, but having visited a lot of castles in my day, I can “wing” that part of it, I’m hoping. The Castle has its own website, fortunately with lots of history and some pictures…research, even for a children’s novel, is vital.

Finally, at the end of week two of my second promotion for Linus’s first novel, my Copromote adventure bagged me CoPromoters who retweeted my original Tweet with the sales link to Scribd(dot)com to followers of their Twitter networks. A round of applause to all of them and a big, fat thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leprechauns infiltrate Twitter?


flying pixie manYes, you’ve read that correctly! A week into their second promotional adventure on Copromote the pesky little leprechauns shy 9-year-old Linus Brown meets, when he explores his new surroundings in rural Lincolnshire, have managed to charm no fewer than 67 lovely Copromoters into given the ebook a 6,700% boost. To their utter astonishment, 212,933 Twitter followers discovered a sales link to the leprechauns’ ebook in their “in-box”. There’s still one more week to go, so who knows what these sneaky little so-and-so’s will get up to over the next 7 days?

While Linus & The Leprechauns are busily marketing their children’s book on Copromote, their long-suffering creator and co-author is still assessing writing contests for 2016. Here’s one from the wonderful people at Narrative Magazine, if you’re coming over all “literary” and want to submit to the magazine’s submission guidelines:

http://www.narrativemagazine.com/winter-2016-story-contest

Writing Opportunities for Spring 2016


Fox Book Cover

Master of the Foxhunt

 

Birds are tweeting their little heads off, the first fresh green leaves are appearing on our trees. A daffodil or two may even be poking their heads out of the soil to say hello….time to sharpen the old goose feather quill and start thinking about entering writing contests again. And just when I’m recovering from my nasty “festive” cold and start contemplating getting back to creative writing, Aerogramme Studio have helpfully published a list of writing opportunities for February and March this year:

 

Opportunities for Writers: February and March 2016

Loverly people that they are!

Since my nose wouldn’t stop running and prevented me from doing much writing this last fortnight, I’ve re-read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and devoured Susanna Clarke’s marvellous “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” books to get me into a “fantasy” frame of mind for my own writing. I managed to write one chapter of my Merlin fan fiction epic “Let The Questing Begin”, despite coughing my guts out during the process, have managed to start another chapter. The epic adventure is nearly at an end, so will soon be published via Bookrix as a FREE ebook . A lengthy writing sample if you will.

I’m still revamping this WordPress site and Willow the Vampire’s own blog, so hopefully there will soon be a few more reading samples appearing here and on Willow’s bloodsucking WordPress site, too.

Incidentally, what I loved about “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” was the wonderful use of location, magical and real, that the author makes in her book. Couldn’t put it down – and while I admit to have at first been slightly daunted by the enormous size of the book (1,000 pages), after the first few pages I was so hooked, I couldn’t put it down. I’d meant to read the book for ages, but never found the time, so this was a real treat. Who’d have thought that sober, grumpy Yorkshire could be put to such magical and fantastical use?

And if you’re wondering about the picture at the top, it’s the draft for a book cover “Master of the Foxhunt” I’m working on. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story with a dash of black humour that I’ve nearly finished (about 50,000 words long as an ebook). So watch out for the sales links appearing for that soon!

Trotting down new Avenues


Goodreads and Scribd cover for Linus and the LeprechaunsAlthough I usually publish via platform Bookrix(dot)com, I’ve long been looking to broaden the distribution. Now my kids’ ebook “Linus & The Leprechauns” is available via Scribd, which is the world’s largest online library, 24Symbols, which is also subscriber-based, and Page Foundry . It will also be available via Tolino, a huge German ebook sales site, but I haven’t received the link for that, yet. I used Draft2Digital, but encountered a few problems because they are so vague about their upload and artwork requirements, which was really irritating.

They give you the option of doing a print version via Createspace…and tell authors in their “step-by-step-guide” that D2D will handle all the book cover stuff as long as authors send artwork in a specific size…D2D then suddenly tell you that you must send book cover artwork according to Createspace’s requirements, when you get to the point of uploading what you had been told was all that was required…

So why exactly should I choose Draft2Digital for this service, when going directly via Createspace means I can sell immediately via Amazon, but I cannot do so, if I publish the print version via Draft2Digital? I still end up doing all the work on the book cover wrap-around artwork…but am disadvantaged, if I use D2D, because they have yet to reach an agreement with Amazon for print books. Grrrrr.

On the promotional front, I am giving little Linus his second Copromote boost with a Tweet about the book’s presence on Scribd. In the first 24 hours, 18 Copromoters chose to retweet my message, which gave me a 1,800% boost for my Tweet and gave me a reach of 129,640 Twitter followers for my message.

Not a bad start – although I ran out of “credits”, so must accumulate more before the campaign can continue. I began this campaign with ca. 132,000 credits on the free program. Once I can see how all this translates into sales, if any, I shall consider taking the “pro” route on Copromote, which costs $49.99 per month for the basic package. Will keep you posted. It only took me a week to accumulate 132,000 credits, so that’s manageable, if I continue to stay with the free version of Copromote.

Trotting down this unfamiliar avenue is certainly paying off. I discovered that with some of the ebook sales platforms I even get an author’s page (which I’ve yet to complete), so yay! What is also good about publishing via D2D, despite the irritating teething problems, is that it allows me to whet readers’ appetites with a “next in series to be published on…” date, so readers of “Linus & The Leprechauns” can pre-order the 2nd book in the series, something that isn’t offered via Bookrix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Writer Resolution


bare trees in snowSo there we are, another year, another royalty dollar I probably won’t earn…sigh. In an effort to find better ways to promote my writing, I have decided to enter some short story contests in 2016. Not that I expect to win anything, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and if I won the first prize in the Stinkforth-upon-Avon short story contest 2016, I might get a place in their anthology and get mentioned in the Stinkforth Daily Bugle…(Willow the Vampire readers will get this one…)

Let’s face it, winning a prestigious short story contest does help to win potential book buyers’ attention. People sit up and pay online when your blurb can boast legitimately “winner of blahblah in 2016”. It gives you credentials, it says you’re not one of millions of self-publishing talentless idiots looking for a pat on the back and peer approval from fellow teen writers. Winning an international contest means some literary greats are likely to have read your story…people in the business, people with publishing and critical acclaim clout behind their namefireworks with happy new year messages.

So here are a few contests I’ll try to brave this year:

The Sunday Times Short Story Prize

It is the world’s richest short story competition, with the winner receiving £30,000 (US$45,000). In 2015 the prize was won by Yiyun Li for her story ‘A Sheltered Woman’. The winner of the 2016 Sunday Times Short Story Prize will be announced on 22 April 2016 and entries for the 2017 prize are expected to open in July 2016.

HG Well Short Story Competition

This one is for stories between 1500 and 5000 words. The 2016 competition theme is space. The shortlisted stories will be published in an anthology. There are prizes in three different categories including £1000 (US$1500) for the best story by a writer aged 21 or under. Entries close 17 July.

Manchester Fiction Prize

It is a major international literary competition open to anyone aged 16 or over. The winner receives a cash prize of £10,000 (US$15,000). Stories can be up to 2500 words in length. The organisers also offer a Manchester Poetry Prize. Entries for both competitions close on 23 September.

Seán Ó Faoláin International Short Story Competition

It is an annual short story competition open to writers from around the world. First prize is €2000 (US$2100), publication in the literary journal Southword, and a week-long residency at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat. Entries are accepted from May to July annually.

And that’s enough to be getting on with. If my lovely clients leave me a bit of spare time, I might write a story for submission to the Bridport Prize and a couple of literary magazines, but more of that in my next blog post. Included in my NY resolution to write more for promotional purposes is also submission to KindleSingle. Since they have an editorial process, there’s a certain amount of street cred to be earned from publishing single short stories via Kindle.

If you’re planning to also enter all or some of the above contests, may the best writer win!

Linus & the Leprechauns proudly count their Copromote retweets


candles with happy new year messageHope you’re all having a great festive few days! As promised, here’s a final update on my Copromote adventure for my children’s book “Linus & The Leprechauns”:

My original tweet was sent on 11th December and the campaign finished on 24th December. Had I not constantly run out of virtual credits, my Tweet would have been boosted even more, but as it is, 85 lovely copromoters retweeted it to their network of followers, giving my original Tweet an 8,500% boost and a reach of 187,817 followers on Twitter. In addition, I bagged more than 100 Twitter followers, quite a few WordPress followers and also got “liked” loads of times. Most of the copromoters, whose own promotional Tweets I had retweeted via my own network of Twitter followers either thanked me or “liked” the Tweet or retweeted it again, giving me additional exposure. It’s been amazing, so I can honestly say, this is one medium that really, really works with regard to creating a bit of buzz for your book/product.

Ho, Ho, Ho, see little Linus go! I don’t know if the campaign had anything to do with it, but I’ve seen a steady increase of readers on Bookrix, the platform I used to publish my ebook. It has been named as one of their “recommended” reads and is every so often coming up in the top five positions, which means the book covers appears on Bookrix’s own landing page.

I will do another Copromote boost for “Linus & The Leprechauns” when the print edition is out. All in all, not a bad way to finish the year…onwards and upwards, slaving away over part two of Linus’s adventures…

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

 

 

Have yourselves a Merry Christmas by the Hearth


rudolph with glowing noseburning fire in hearthWishing everybody a wonderful Christmas time and every success for next year’s creative writing!

A little update on my Copromote efforts for my kids’ book “Linus & The Leprechauns”: 81 copromoters have retweeted by original tweet, boosting my tweet by 8,000% and giving a reach of more than 161,000 Twitter followers. Not bad for a few seconds work, eh?

Here are two more good sites for book promotions, entirely free, although there are paid-for options which don’t cost much:

http://www.booktalk.org/authors-publishers.html

and

http://www.bookhitch.com/

I’ve not had a chance to add my books, but will do so asasp. They look good sites and the latter is also an info resource for writers.

Ho Ho Ho and all that, and may my Santa wish list come true for next year: Peace, happiness and prosperity for all!

 

 

 

 

There’s no stopping Linus & The Leprechauns thanks to Copromote


Copyright Sarah Chipperfield

What advice will scarecrow give you for your ebook? A promotional road less well travelled?

 

 

It’s not even been a full week of promotion and my kids’ book “Linus & The Leprechauns” has clocked up some impressive stats:

As of this afternoon, when I’d suddenly run out of credits (only 53 left, yeiks!) and had to quickly top up with some more copromotion Tweets, the tally stood thus:

47 copromoters have kindly retweeted by original Tweet of last Friday to their own Twitter networks. That has given me a reach of 91,404 Twitter followers, enhancing my own Tweet by 4,700%.

Every time I copromote somebody else’s Tweet about one of their books or other product, I find that the Tweet’s originators either thank me with a message or click the “like” button, giving me additional exposure. I’m also having a good take-up rate of both Twitter and Copromote followers.

If you are thinking of going for the “Pro” version, I got a wee message this morning saying that there’s currently an 80% discount for that one. The next step up from “Pro” which usually costs $49.99 per month, is priced at $99 per month, which starts you off with a reach of 500,000 credits, and unlimited “boosts” for either your Twitter/YouTube/Vine or Tumblr promotions (or a combination thereof).

Traditionally, kids’ books don’t do so well when it comes to book promotional sites  – many sites that promote books for free or for a small fee don’t even have a YA or kids’ category, so it can be hard to find a good  launch pad. All in all, I find that “Linus & the Leprechauns” are forging ahead far better than expected with Copromote.

Go Linus, go!

NB: Linus Brown is named in homage of the Peanuts and Charlie Brown’s friend “Linus”. Have been to see the Charlie Brown film currently in the cinemas and it’s adorable. Staying true to the original, the film recaps some of Charlie and Snoopy’s adventures, aspirations and dreams. Lose yourself for 93 minutes in this charming world of childhood traumas and small victories!

 

 

Copromoted Leprechauns


508px-Leprechaun_ill_artlibre_jnlHere’s a brief update on how my Copromote efforts are doing for my “Linus & the Leprechauns” ebook:

As per my earlier blog post, I “boosted” one of my Tweets with the help of Copromote last Friday. Since then, 30 copromoters have retweeted my original Tweet, thereby increasing my original reach by 3,000% and allowing me to reach 62,099 people. I’ve also gained both Twitter and Copromote followers in the process.

Whenever I copromote somebody, I have a look at how they’re doing so far. Some of the more popular products (music videos, fitness and health-related stuff, sci-fi and romance books) are retweeted/reposted by so many people, their reach can be 700,000+, even with the free Copromote package. Not bad going, given that such promotions can result in a 1% sales take-up rate. The paid for package ($49.44 per month) allows authors unlimited boosts and starts them off with 200,000 credits, so it’s possible to “boost” promotional Tweets/YouTube videos/Vine entries/Tumblr posts for several different products every month with the paid for service.

Using the free package, I had only 8 credits left this morning, but with some quick copromoting efforts, I’ve cranked up my credits again, so hopefully my little campaign can continue today with more people retweeting my call to arms.

If you want a good laugh today, why not read “Linus & The Leprechauns”  – a book singularly lacking in pots of gold but making up for it with plenty of farting jokes – or simply start promoting your own stuff via Copromote…the results should put a big smile on your face!

My Type of Book Promotion


 

I’m sure I mentioned the virtues of Copromote before on this blog, but I really have to sing their praises once more. That’s an online promotional “location” I can wholeheartedly recommend. It works on the principle that with every sales link/tweet/tumbler blog/YouTube video or Vine entry you promote for others, you build up credits which you can use to “boost” your own sales links etc. Obviously., by retweeting or re-sending your link, you have a potential reach that far outstrips your own number of followers, giving you greater exposure for your product, but also allowing you to grow your social media network.

Yesterday I tweeted an update for my aboutme.com page with a sales link to my “Linus & The Leprechauns” book. Already 13 people have retweeted it, giving me a 1,300% boost to my original tweet and an audience of just under 47,000 people. You need to build up about 40,000 to 50,000 credits before you can run a 14-day promotion, but you get a “warning notice” when you’re running low on credits, so you can top up with a few hurried co-promoting moves. It’s a friendly place too, where people start following you quickly and you’ll find lots of artists will always promote other artists’ work. The wider the interests you state in the given categories, the greater your chance of getting “good” promotional links that you are happy to promote for others.

The free of charge version limits the number of boosts per month and the number of credits per day one can do, but the next step up, the $49.99 per month package, allows copromoters a far greater scope and therefore a potential reach of millions of people. Try the free version a few times, as I’m doing now, see how it impacts on sales (or not) and then decide which package is best for you.

Copromote used to be linked with WordPress but for some strange reason this is no longer the case, which is rather a nuisance, since I can’t get on with Tumblr at all. Squeezing what I want to say into my 140 character Tweet is a bit of a challenge, but I’ve sussed out now that I can do this quite well via updates to my aboutme.com account. If you’re running a YouTube, Vine or Tumblr account, you’ll have even better ways of promoting your book/product than I have at present. One of these days, this techno-phobe will get her head round opening a YouTube account…

 

 

Pumpkins, Pumpkins everywhere!


Happy Halloween Everyone!

First draft illustration for The Little Book of Halloween short story "Cooking with G Ramsey Beelzebub"

First draft illustration for The Little Book of Halloween short story “Cooking with G Ramsey Beelzebub”

Since the rejection on technical grounds of my ebook, I’ve been busy scribbling away at pumpkin and Halloween related facts in an effort to make the children’s book even better. Now it will have pumpkin dishes, pumpkin-growing tips and even more illustrations in it than before. Am also working on a companion piece of The Little Book of Halloween, a book devoted entirely to the topic of ghosts, spectres, apparitions and ghouls.

The illustration you see here is the first draft for a picture that will appear in my short story “Cooking with G Ramsey Beelzebub”, an adventure four little girls have when out trick-or-treating.

They come across a real witch and things take a turn for the worst from the moment they cross the witch’s threshold…pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere…shooting out of one of the little girls, when the children are magically transformed to become the costumes they are wearing for real. A little bit scary, a little bit funny, the story was written a few years ago for the grandchildren of a former colleague of mine. His grandkids and their friends loved it. Having put the story away for a long time, I looked at it again, worked it over to make it even better, and now it feels right for publication somehow. Hope the girls in question, who are now also a few years older, will like the story just as much now as they did then.

From The Little Book of Halloween

From The Little Book of Halloween

What else is in the book? A recipe for pumpkin soup, my very own, of course, and how to grow champion pumpkins without the help of witches. Have a great Halloween, everyone!

Tricked-N-Treated well before Halloween


Cover for The Little Book of Halloween

Cover for The Little Book of Halloween

To my intense irritation I discovered that uploading and publishing anything with illustrations or photographs on Bookrix is a challenge too great for this techno-phobe. Bookrix publishes ebooks and so far I had no problems with them, since all I ever did was uploading a cover and manuscript.

Things changed drastically when I wanted to upload my latest book project, obviously well in time for Halloween, since it deals with the origins and folklore of this ancient festival. It also features several children’s short stories inspired by the colourful festival of Halloween.

The draft book was rejected on the grounds that two – or possibly 3 chapters, the emails I got were a little misleading – were not indented as they should be. Something that was not MY fault. Believe me I tried to set things right. It was the publisher’s software fault.

Naturally, there was nothing in the publisher’s style and upload guidelines about this issue that might have helped me to avoid further uploading problems. When the book was rejected on technical grounds, I was invited to revise…but since the overall result looked “pants” and the illustration upload problem remained, I asked for the book to be deleted instead. I had the child-like believe, you see, I could simply publish somewhere else…

And this is when I discovered that I would have to put the book on “sales stop” first and then wait for a whole 14 days before I could actually delete the thing and publish somewhere else. Given the book is called “The Little Book of Halloween”, not “The Little Book of Easter” or “the Little Book of Christmas”, it seemed utterly ridiculous to even suggest such a thing to me, the person trying to sell in time for a seasonal event.

Still, you cannot keep a good woman – or determined author for that matter – down for long. I decided to use this set-back as an opportunity instead. I had plenty of research material left, hadn’t I, on ghoulish, ghostly, witchy-woo things, things that go bump in the night and howl to make you shiver…? Why not use it for a whole collection, I said to myself…

Bookrix’s mean trick-or-treat prank has resulted in a whole series of “The Little Book of…” now, starting with “The Little Book of Ghosts” to be published shortly. So there, take that with a pinch of frog spawn and ground eye of newt, publisher, and gargle well with pumpkin juice afterwards. Wash down the bitter taste of one author voting with her virtual feet!

You have been warned, young readers!

You have been warned, young readers!

All of these highly desirable books (from a kid’s point of view) will be uploaded and published somewhere else now. Release date to be announced shortly.

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Tulipomania Part 2


Gerrit Adriaensz-Berckheyde, De Bocht van de Herengracht te Amsterdam, ca 1685, www.rijksmuseum.nl , Public Domain

Gerrit Adriaensz-Berckheyde, De Bocht van de Herengracht te Amsterdam, ca 1685, http://www.rijksmuseum.nl , Public Domain

The tulip craze lasted just a few years, reaching its height in 1636 and coming to a spectacular end in February 1637, when prices crashed due to governmental intervention, leaving thousands of speculators penniless and victims of wide-spread ridicule. Moggach’s book makes use of this craze by mirroring tulipomania with a passionate, but ultimately doomed love-affair.

The Rijksmuseum’s blog provides a great timeline for the most important events, displays fabulous paintings of tulips sold at the time and also shows some of the gorgeous white and blue Delftware flower stands specifically created to show off tulips and other bulb-grown plants to their full advantage, namely indoors in Holland’s cold climate.

In a Business Week article, tulipomania is compared to the dot.com bubble the world saw not all that long ago. It is hard to imagine today how one man, the proud owner of a dozen tulip bulbs for the variety Semper augustus, could possibly turn down an offer of 3,000 guilders for ONE bulb in 1624, when that represented about a whole year’s income for a wealthy merchant.

The name of this greedy beggar was not recorded by history – leaving one to speculate if he was one of thousands of tulip-investors forced to jump into Amsterdam’s grachts, after losing everything in the tulip-crash of 1637, including their homes, mortgaged to the rafters to buy tulip bulbs.

Semper Augustus, public domain, Anonymous 17th-century watercolor of the Semper augustus, created before 1640, famous for being the most expensive tulip sold during tulip mania in 17th century Netherlands

Semper Augustus, public domain, Anonymous 17th-century watercolor of the Semper augustus, created before 1640, famous for being the most expensive tulip sold during tulip mania in 17th century Netherlands

Semper augustus was the most expensive tulip bulb ever sold during the craze and provided inspiration for quite a few painters – as well as prompting author Moggach to write a love story about people involved in the tulipomania of 17th century Amsterdam.

It’s also hard to imagine what times were like for people. After eons of wars with Spain the Netherlands suddenly saw huge wealth poured back into its country from trading with newly established foreign colonies. Perhaps for the first time in history, merchants began to financially out-class the aristocracy. They could afford to build mansions, deck themselves out in the latest fashions, wearing precious silks, gold embroidery and semi-precious stones like their nobles before them. Merchants could now afford commissioning paintings just like the rich upper crust had done for centuries.

Society was changing rapidly on a never-before seen scale, aided by Europe’s Reformation. Moggach makes use of religious doubt extensively in her book, although the ending of her novel is utterly contrived as a result and very unsatisfactory in my view.

But the influx of vast sums of money also allowed the Dutch to create a country in their own image, draining wetlands, reclaiming land from the North Sea, engaging in huge construction programmes to improve their country’s infrastructure. Yet another challenge to God, to the Grim Reaper, to Eternal Darkness – the grachts have endured, no matter what craze befell human minds in the interval.

This look towards extension of one’s alotted life-time is a long, long philosophical and religious way off from the medieval – and catholic – view of eternal damnation, heaven and hell.

Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in Amsterdam. The wealth it must have taken to create the grachts/canals is staggering, practically incalculable in today’s money.

The houses that would eventually grace the Prinsengracht and the Herengracht, where Moggach’s love story “Tulip Fever” is set, sprung up in those heady days when money seemed to be as plentiful as duckweed floating in English village green ponds.

Amsterdam's canal, c. 1686 Amsterdam Municipal Department for the Preservation and Restoration of Historic Buildings and Sites (bMA) Stadhuis, zijde Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal •Attribution • File:Paleist3.jpg • Uploaded by BotMultichill • Created: 1 January 1686

Amsterdam’s canal, c. 1686
Amsterdam Municipal Department for the Preservation and Restoration of Historic Buildings and Sites (bMA)
Stadhuis, zijde Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal
• Attribution
• File:Paleist3.jpg
• Uploaded by BotMultichill
• Created: 1 January 1686

Occupying the Gouden Bocht or Golden Bend of the Amstel River, the Herengracht reached only as far as the present-day Leidsegracht until 1663. After that date, Amsterdam’s fortifications were expanded and Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht were all extended. Buyers wishing to build on Heregracht were encouraged to buy not one but two lots of land and construct double-width mansions.

As a by-product of the three canals having been laid out at a greater distance from each other, the lots were not just wider, but deeper, allowing merchants to build veritable palaces.

Adorning their Amsterdam-palaces with classicist facades and richly stuccoed interiors, especially the magnificent ceilings, the merchants also established lovely gardens that were opened once a year to the public. You can just imagine them being filled with tulips of the richest hues, can’t you?

Where the Amstel River bends, just by the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat (the “new mirror street”), the richest citizens chose to build their dwellings, which prompted the public to rename this part of the river the Golden Bend.

Moggach’s fictional young wife Sophia, lover Jan van Loos and cuckolded husband Cornelis would have been neighbours to the real-life family living at Herengracht 475, the wealthy clan of the De Neufville, who lived their from 1731 to 1733.

Jan Breughel the Younger, Satire on tulipomania, ca. 1640

Jan Breughel the Younger, Satire on tulipomania, ca. 1640

Interestingly, a list of the real people, who lived in the Golden Bend of the Herengracht during the time Moggach’s book describes, includes the following names:

  • Jan Bernd Cicker (#460)
  • Gerrit Braamcamp (#462)
  • Cornelis Munter (#468)
  • Willem Andriesz Munter (#444)
  • Jacob Boreel (#507)
  • Maria Meerman (#480)
Ilya Repin Sadko Public Doman, Google Cultural Institute

Ilya Repin Sadko Public Doman, Google Cultural Institute

all of them have first names Moggach uses in her novel – better still, “Meerman” is the Dutch word for mermaid/mer-people and servant Maria dreams in the novel of swimming through an underwater world. You see, writers’ minds soak up everything they see and regurgitate every morsel as something totally different, something inspired!

Admiral Verjick van der Eijck, source Wikipedia, Public Domain

Admiral Verjick van der Eijck, source Wikipedia, Public Domain

What is missing in Moggach’s novel is the ebb and flow of humanity. Between the years of 1578 and 1665, the time when Amsterdam sided with the supporters of the Reformation, urban development reached an unprecedented scale. The city grew from 30,000 to 160,000 people – only London and Paris were larger at that time. This huge influx o new residents was not just driven by the Reformation though, which forced large numbers of protestants to feel the catholic South, but was also the result of Antwerp losing its hold as “Golden Age” centre in favour of Amsterdam.

Although a single, much older canal existed, the way Amsterdam looks today is due to a four-phase construction programme that began in earnest in 1585. By 1613 a second phase had completed an even larger section of canals and between 1613 and 1625 the third phase was completed.

The final phase took place in the years 1656 to 1665, the time the Gouden Bocht was constructed and Amsterdam’s most prestigious address was created, the Herengracht between the uneven numbers 441 to 513 and even numbers 426 to 482. I can’t help but wonder what Maria Meerman (if I’d known this name existed, I’d have made it my pen name!) got up to in her mansion. Did she “swim” through stuccoed rooms, floating by her magnificent rear garden, waving at the goldfish in her pond, while casually picking off dead petals from her Semper augustus, tulipa clusiana and Violetten Admirael van Enkhuizen?

The latter bulb was sold for 5,200 guilders, an all-time record in the winter of 1636, when the sale of just 70 tulip bulbs achieved revenue of 53,000 guilders for a handful of orphans, whose father had left them nothing but tulip bulbs.

Tulipomania Part 1


Amsterdam around 1662. The ring of canals is now complete. Daniel Stalpaert, published by Nicolaus Visscher, Amsterdam - University of Amsterdam Library Map of Amsterdam in 1662, with a panorama of Amsterdam included.

Amsterdam around 1662. The ring of canals is now complete.
Daniel Stalpaert, published by Nicolaus Visscher, Amsterdam – University of Amsterdam Library
Map of Amsterdam in 1662, with a panorama of Amsterdam included.

A little while back I mentioned that I wanted to do another review of a book where a writer had used a specific location to demonstrate a particular point. I didn’t like “Tulip Fever” by Deborah Moggach much, but she does use the city of Amsterdam in an interesting way to mirror what is going on with her protagonists.

It’s not only the streets that reflect the plot’s main action – the city of Amsterdam is in the grip of tulipomania (tulip fever), a love-affair as truly, madly, deeply felt by its citizen as the love-affair Moggach’s two protagonists, young Sophia and painter Jan, are about to plunge into.

Set in about 1636 during the height of tulipomania, the main action takes place in a rich merchant’s house in the Herrengracht, one of Amsterdam’s most splendid residences overlooking a gracht or canal, then a major thoroughfare within the city. And Moggach mirrors the action not just literally, she reflects it figuratively – what Amsterdam’s respectable burghers get up to is reflected in the ever-present water as well as in numerous paintings commissioned from artists who’ll later become some of the most famous painters in history, including on Jan van Loo(s).

Ice skaters on Prinsengracht franzconde - https://www.flickr.com/photos/79928508@N00/6830835593 Ice skaters on frozen Prinsengracht, Amsterdam This image was originally posted to Flickr by franzconde at http://flickr.com/photos/79928508@N00/6830835593. It was reviewed on 1 January 2015 by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0. •CC BY 2.0 •	File:Frozen Prinsengracht.jpg •	Uploaded by Swimmerguy269~commonswiki •	Created: 6 February 2012

Ice skaters on Prinsengracht
franzconde – https://www.flickr.com/photos/79928508@N00/6830835593
Ice skaters on frozen Prinsengracht, Amsterdam
This image was originally posted to Flickr by franzconde at http://flickr.com/photos/79928508@N00/6830835593. It was reviewed on 1 January 2015 by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.
• CC BY 2.0
• File:Frozen Prinsengracht.jpg
• Uploaded by Swimmerguy269~commonswiki
• Created: 6 February 2012

Every Hans, Frans and Cornelis wants their painting done – including the rich, elderly husband of Sophia. She promptly falls in love with the young painter, Jan van Loos, during the first sitting and clichéd romance, revenge and divine retribution ensue from this point onwards.

What I did like about the novel was the ever-present water as a metaphor for life and death. The peculiar quality water has when reflecting both objects and light suffuses the book, making it an illuminating read in more ways than one.

Maria, the maid, dreams of living in her mistress’s house with her as yet unborn six children. In her dreams, Maria and her brood swim through the house in a strange underwater world free of man’s obsessions with tulips, wealth and status. For Maria, water means freedom from domestic servitude and happiness in the bosom of her own family.

Water means life, but also death to many. Storms sweep the Dutch coastline frequently, killing Amsterdam’s residents indiscriminately, as the seawater is driven into the grachts. Whole districts get flooded in the process. Dogs, cats, humans rich and poor, they all meet their fate, when water sweeps clean the streets of Amsterdam.

2008: The Gouden Bocht ("Golden Bend") is the most prestigious part of Herengracht in Amsterdam, between Leidsestraat and Vijzelstraat. public domain Jvhertum - Own work

2008: The Gouden Bocht (“Golden Bend”) is the most prestigious part of Herengracht in Amsterdam, between Leidsestraat and Vijzelstraat.
public domain
Jvhertum – Own work

Water means earning a decent enough living for a large number of people. Run a barge up and down the Amstel River or trade in the grachts. Maria’s lover Willem earns his living from selling fish. Disappointed in love and robbed of his savings and dignity, he later goes to sea to seek his fortune as a soldier. Water can help people to change their lives.

The merchants get rich – or lose everything – by trading with foreign countries, sending out fleets of ships to exotic places.

Water, water, everywhere…water-logged streets, overflowing hearts, fortunes lost at sea, tear-stained lovers’ letters and new types of paintings where herrings take centre stage. Water determines the fate of them all.

By contrast, the painters of the day, artists such as Jan van Loos or Rembrandt, record the mundane terrestrial, the domestic lives of Dutch burghers – whoever can afford to commission a painting, does so; those who can’t afford to pay, may be lucky enough to attract a painter into their dark and dingy hovel – some artists are keen to record Dutch life of the lower classes.

Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange by Emanuel de Witte, 1653. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange was the first stock exchange to introduce continuous trade in the early 17th century. Emanuel de Witte - www.geheugenvannederland.nl

Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange by Emanuel de Witte, 1653. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange was the first stock exchange to introduce continuous trade in the early 17th century.
Emanuel de Witte – http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl

Everybody wants their lives to be captured for eternity, holding off the grim reaper in their own way. Even the land these splendid merchant houses have been built on has been snatched back from the sea and wetlands. If they can do THAT, why not hold on to life for a little longer with the help of paintings? It may only be one fragment of a life captured on canvas, but in their minds that one moment can hold off the inevitable drowning in ever-lasting darkness.

It’s the age of discovery, especially in the field of botany. For a brief period in history, Dutch people succumb to a strange mania, buying tulip bulbs for enormous sums and speculating on the flowers as if they were gold or diamonds. Historians and psychologists all over the world are still debating what prompts human beings to enter into such bizarre manias.

We can see some of the wonderful flowers these explorers brought back with them in Dutch paintings of the period. Somehow this humble wild flower from dry and arid Turkey and Afghanistan captured the imagination of people like no other plant has done before or since in human history. Neither rose, poppy, lotus nor orchid has caused such manic behaviour or ever commanded such prices. Did the Dutch fall in love with tulips simply because the flowers grew in desert-like conditions in their natural habitats? Did the wild tulip represent a secret longing for terra firma, a place not dominated by water?

self portrait Jan van Loo, ca 1660, www.rijksmuseum.nl

self portrait Jan van Loo, ca 1660, http://www.rijksmuseum.nl

Moggach’s book creates a strange world out of this fluid, ever-changing medium.

You can practically taste the salt on your lips and smell the herring, when Sophia hastens through the dark and empty streets at night to spend time with her lover, when lanterns twinkle on passing barges, when raucous laughter fills the air from all those sailors stepping off vessels that have been to parts of the world, where new types of tulip are only just being discovered.

Sometimes a lover embracing you, sometimes a monster swallowing you whole: the grachts of Amsterdam are the veins and blood vessels that run through each and every one of its 17th century citizens.

I also liked the idea to set a novel in an era of extraordinary events, when a city is in chaos over something other than war. In this case it’s tulipomania, in Boris Akunin’s novel “The Coronation” it was the crowing of Csar Nicholas II and the start of the first rumblings of the Russian revolution that made Moscow a perfect location for a kidnapping mystery and metaphor for a heart in turmoil. Part 2 of this post will go into tulipomania itself and  what historic Amsterdam was like around 1636.

Disco Dancing on Mars?


heathersanimations.comBefore I get into today’s post, here’s the Amazon link for my children’s book “Linus & The Leprechauns”, now out for FREE at various ebook retailers – it makes a lovely stocking filler for the Festive Days for friends with child readers aged 8+

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/278-1025450-2842329?url=node%3D341689031&field-keywords=Maria+Thermann

 But here’s the post about disco dancing on Mars: I went to see “The Martian” movie last night and really enjoyed it. How refreshing to see a hero who’s also a science nerd, a man who only blows things up accidentally, not on purpose (the latter could be called “Expendable-style”). The running joke throughout the film is that the poor man is stuck all alone on Mars with nothing but disco music, left behind by one of his colleagues, when they had to leave the planet in a hurry. It’s hilarious seeing the protagonist driving through stunning Martian landscapes with his hot-rodded Mars-mobile, singing along to Donna Summer!

The locations are truly on an epic scale, filmed in a desert where rock formations still look as if some meteor shower had just deposited them there. Here the total absence of buildings, plants, animals and people could be depressing, as the main character faces certain death through lack of water, starvation due to shortage of food reserves or perishing from any number of other horrible things, including running out of air and freezing to death over night. However, he somehow manages to keep his spirits up and help does arrive eventually. As he learns to negotiate a sort of truce with Martian elements and makes this utterly hostile world work for him, our world comes together for the first time on a global scale in a combined effort to bring the American astronaut home. The movie is based on the bestselling novel by Andy Weir and I can’t wait to read it now.

Will this Inkstain never go away?


More ink-stained pirates on their way to board the good ship Talent and steal time from it’s crew?

Will this Ink-stain never go away? Despite asking their “support staff” to remove my profile from their site, and not to contact me again, I’ve had several emails by Inkitt. Apparently, even unsubscribing doesn’t curb their enthusiasm. Now I’ve just found a mile long message here on WordPress, sent apparently by some site-related person. Naturally, I have trashed their comment equivalent of “War and Peace” without bothering to read more than the first few words of the first sentence. They’ve wasted enough of my time. Any more emails or promo type stuff posted to my WP sites, Twitter or my personal email address will be reported as spam.

Get it into your heads Inkitt-people, I do not like your site, don’t want to be seen on it, don’t want to communicate with the site’s operators, friends, uncles, aunts or mothers of the founders,  or the founders, judges, janitors or tea ladies nor any of its author members in any shape or (plat)form. Got it?

Now for something far more interesting and enjoyable. After wrestling with my Scribd upload yesterday (I hadn’t done that for quite some time, so couldn’t remember how to do the cover part), I discovered that Scribd’s own store works with Draft2Digital now. Looking at the D2D site I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when you upload your manuscripts via their site you can have ebook as well as print book conversion at the press of pretty much one simple button. Yes, without bothering to do any weird and wonderful formatting of your Word doc. Better still, these are the sites the books would then sell through:

  • Barnes & Noble
  • iBooks
  • Kobo
  • Inktera
  • Scribd
  • Oyster
  • Tolino
  • and CreateSpace!

Yes, Createspace! No more tearing one’s hair out over their upload and cover-design process for print books, yay. It seems almost too good to be true. I still haven’t been able to sort out all those irritating pixel-related cover problems of my Willow the Vampire book with Createspace, so this is such good news for me. Negotiations with Amazon and various other outlets are also currently going on with Draft2Digital to expand the book sales territory further, according to the site. Royalty arrangements are satisfactory and generous to authors, another plus point.

Now all you savvy self-publishing people out there here at WP probably knew this and it’s an old publishing hat to you, but to me finding a site like Bookrix, where ebook uploading is incredibly easy and painless, is a true labour and nerve-saving blessing. As far as I remember, Bookrix doesn’t sell into Oyster or Tolino, the latter is a huge German book sales market, so that’s another plus point. Only draw back is that print books only come in one size at D2D. Not so good for children’s authors, who are usually looking for a variety of book sizes in order to please readers with small hands and big appetites to point at large pictures. Still. I can live with that.

Leaving a disappointing Road far too frequently travelled


A grey day for authors who take the Inkitt route

A grey day for authors who take the Inkitt route

Here’s an update on that most peculiar and frankly useless of all new author platforms: Inkitt.

After uploading my submission for their “Wanderlust” competition, I discovered that authors were only granted 200 characters (incl. spaces!) for their bio and there was no space at all to credit the illustrators or artists whose work people had uploaded as their “book cover” for each submission.

Worse, the competition rules prevented those who had fan fiction elements or any other copyright issues to report from doing so. We were told in the contest rules to “upload this on our profiles” but there was no space at all to do so. And when I pointed this out to the site’s support team, I received a patronising message back saying “I’ll see if it’s in the budget”, which was headed by “dearest, dearest Maria”.

Some snotty-nosed girl who is not only helping to judge the entries but also writes on the site had sent the comment and apparently disabled the reply box in order to shut up this critic. Only the first 10% of entries, equating to only around 20 entries on the first page of the site, will be seen by the judges and then, wait for it, all the winner is supposed to get is a “badge”. Yay…(voice trails off and starts belching in disgust).

Entries for the “Romance: Entwined” contest, on the other hand, can expect to be taken more seriously. Why? Because they have to submit at least 40,000 stories to qualify. The site’s founders clearly don’t take the fantasy genre writers seriously, since they could upload at whatever length they wanted and whatever they wanted, including poetry.

The fact that there is no children’s writer section and that all ratings start at 13+ also suggests Inkitt is only interested in writers of the most commercially successful YA genres, but not anyone else. Simply because the majority of their “clientele” is going to be poached from Wattpad’s youthful fan base.

The goal seems clear: just get as many people as possible to upload certain genre writing as possible, don’t allow them to put profiles with any hint of contact details on the site, because authors whose work has any merit may otherwise be contacted directly by literary agents. They might get snapped up before Inkitt can get their claws into these authors and represent them, I guess, in an agent capacity. All it takes is ONE author’s success…think “50 Shades of Bilge” and count how much 10-15% agent’s fee equates to…they won’t have to continue building their site. The site’s founders can simply retire rich and happy there and then.

Can you hear an authors' platform going down the toilet?

Can you hear an authors’ platform going down the toilet?

Two literary friends of mine, both excellent writers in their own right, looked at quite a large number of the entries, and saw that this was yet another Wattpad-thing-without-artistic-merit. So, when we got an email from one of the founders of the site telling us that, instead of sorting out the urgent copyright infringement issues and total lack of author bio-capacity, they were working on some idiotic button that did nothing to address these issues, I deleted my contest entry and told them to also delete my profile. The email, rather predictably, also urged people to “read” and not just click the “vote” button without staying longer on the site.

Naturally, when people don’t read the stories to the full, the founders of the site cannot prove their supposedly super-duper-foolproof-bestseller-finder software actually works. This is, of course, where the whole thing falls flat on its face: my experience has been that the overwhelming majority of readers on these sites are people who simply consume FREE reading material ferociously without EVER voting or liking or “hearting” anything at all, simply because they are too lazy.

And the majority of those youngsters who do vote or like or “heart” authors’ works do so only for their own friends’ work, and quite probably without bothering to read the stories. If the friend wins a competition or gets offered a publishing deal…well there are selfie opportunities galore and reflected glory in heaps to look forward to.

Enough ranting. Here’s something more cheerful for storyteller hearths:

If any real bookworms out there were trying to find my story, following my earlier blog posts, they can now read “A Road less well travelled” online, for FREE, by becoming Bookrix members. I’ve uploaded the story as an ebook, which is now titled “Linus & The Leprechauns”. It’s free to become a member of Bookrix and the English language side of the platform has a really friendly community with a good mix of young and older, more experienced writers.

Here’s the link to it: http://www.bookrix.com/_ebook-maria-thermann-linus-amp-the-leprechauns

I’ve also uploaded the story FREE for Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/404710?chapter=12

Hearts, likes and whatever honest review words you feel you’d like to leave will be gratefully accepted:)

(Illustration on this page: Black and white version of book cover for “Linus & The Leprechauns”, illustration copyright Sarah Chipperfield, reproduced by kind permission)

Calling all Fantasy Travellers: Please choose A Road Less Well Travelled!


This is the specially commissioned art work for the story, created by the fabulously talented illustrator Sarah Chipperfield.

This is the specially commissioned art work for the story, created by the fabulously talented illustrator Sarah Chipperfield.

Yay! I’ve done it, I’ve mastered the complicated upload process at Inkitt.com and have finally managed to publish my children’s fantasy story “A Road Less Well Travelled”!

Here’s the link to it, should you like to read it:

http://www.inkitt.com/stories/23849

So now I’m humbly asking all you travelling bookworms out there, please READ, LOVE and VOTE in the Inkitt “Wanderlust” writing contest. Even if you don’t like my story, there’s bound to be some talented writer’s entry that will appeal to you. Kick off your dusty wanderer’s boots, pour yourself a cup of reviving coffee by your very own storytelling hearth and bookworm your way through some Fantasy genre stories. Never read anything from this genre before? Be a daredevil and, just like Linus, the 9-year-old hero of my story, take a road less well travelled to discover new literary horizons.

Sarah Chipperfield, the amazing young woman who created the banner art work for my Inkitt entry, has already worked on some other illustrations for me, completing two great covers for the soon to be published “The House Detective” (children’s book) and “Inspektor Beagle ermittelt: Ein lauwarmer Krieg” (German language whodunit for grown-ups). She’s also done the first drafts of fantastic illustrations for an Early Readers book we’re doing together, which stars a very blue, very cute little alien called Flippety Floppet. If you beg me very nicely, I may let you borrow Sarah for book cover illustrations for your own novels! (Bribery works very well with me…like voting for my story in the Inkitt contest, hehe).

And speaking of writing contests: did I mention yesterday that the Thriller Writing Contest at Bookrix wants contestants to use one sentence from the HP Lovecraft story “The Music of Erich Zann”? Well, if I forgot to mention it, you’ll know now.

“A Road Less Well Travelled” will eventually be published in ebook and print format as “Linus and the Leprechauns”, but I’ll let you know nearer the time, where it’s going to be published.