Some are disguised as golden cages…
Age of Sail
But sometimes adventure requires a lot of endurance, Benny!
(below deck on the Golden Hinde, London)
Benny walked past the old pre-fab house and remembered the day his granddad explained the importance of taking your chores seriously. Like gardening. Or homework. Or keeping in touch.
Is that what we would have had, if dad hadn’t thrown away all the bulbs by mistake?
Leprechauns infiltrate Twitter?
Yes, 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:
Writing Opportunities for Spring 2016
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:
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!
New Year’s Writer Resolution
So 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 names.
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.
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!
Calling all Fantasy Travellers: Please choose A Road Less Well Travelled!
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:
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.
Hidden Gems of the City
Before I launch full-scale into major tourist attractions, I wanted to take you on a stroll down the River Thames towards the delightful village of Rotherhithe. We start off from Britain’s most recognisable attraction, Tower Bridge.
At either side of the River a fabulous promenade or river embankment allows people to admire the city from its best side, the Thames. When first entering Tower Bridge look out for staircases on either side, leading down to the river.
I walked down the steps that lead to the Tower, but before going there I turned left instead of righ, walking towards the restaurants and shops now occupying the former dockyards.
A new lease of life has been given to the erstwhile warehouses and docks that were once part of Port of London all along the Thames.
Now these lofts and condos exchange hands for well over a million pounds, but in earlier centuries they were nothing but industrial buildings and hovels for the desperately poor, those who worked in the docks and eeked out a living from scraps thrown away by others, by pick-pocketing and nefarious nocturnal activities.
Restaurants and cafes are clustered around Tower Bridge on this side of the Thames. I walked through an archway to investigate the possibility of a steaming cuppa on a windy day, when I came across these fantastic barges moored just outside Tower Bridge.
They are tourist cruise ships, obviously taking a Sunday afternoon rest here from ferrying chattering hordes of visitors.
Walking towards the even smarter housing development of St Saviour’s Dock one soon comes across a flotilla of house boats, some colourful and bohemian, others more like a floating suburban home that wouldn’t be out of place in Surbiton or Kingston.
Make no mistake, these are some of London’s most expensive dwellings, although the house boots moored at Chelsea are perhaps the better known floating homes, having in the past been sold to famous people like Damien Hirst (that awful man who thinks displaying dead calves is “art”).
Even the small bridges and gangways that connect the various housing developments with the promenade sport an interesting architecture.
The Thames Path is well sign-posted and although it leaves the immediate proximity of the River at times to wind its way through charming mews housing developments, alongside parks and through former warehouse complexes now transformed into luxury apartments, the Thames Path never leaves the River for long and it’s not really possible to get lost.
En route one comes across wonderful sculptures and statues such as this head at St Saviours Dock. At every turn there is something interesting to see. Plaques tell walkers where they are, what local communities are doing or who is being honoured with a plaque or statue and why. The whole thing has a real community feel about it and seems a great place to live. I can still feel the impact each wave made when hitting the moorings of the house boats, BOOM, the hiss of the spray of brown Thames water escaping over the sides of the embankment’s walls, sending careless walkers squealing and running for cover. I remember the scent of petrol from the passing cruise ships and the noise from the tour guides’s announcements over loudspeakers when recalling the history of the Thames. One day soon, all this will find its way into my writing…at another river setting, an imagined location but remembering one sweltering hot Sunday afternoon at the Thames. Perhaps the background for a murder mystery, a romantic interlude before the killer strikes!
Eventually one reaches a park, where the Thames Path suddenly seems to end in the church yard of Rotherhithe Village; it’s a delightful place and the appropriate spot for honouring the intrepid Rotherhithe citizens who sailed one fine day off into the unknown blue yonder on a wee ship called The Mayflower. Can’t remember what happened to her but yon American citizens might recall that part of the story….
Encircling the church and small churchyard are various 17th, 18th and 19th century houses – this one with the statues above the entrance caught my eye because it was adjacent to a cafe and small park. By now the weather was deteriorating and working itself up to a full-scale storm with thunder, lightning and torrential rain thrown in for good measure.
Naturally, the village has all sorts of connections with the Thames’ staggering historical importance and various famous people stem from this part of London. A miniscule museum honours one of the world’s finest engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Voted as one of Britain’s 100 most important people ever, this extraordinary Victorian is responsible for the world’s first tunnel under a navigable river (the Thames Tunnel), the Great Western Railway, the first propeller-driven steamship that went across the Atlantic (1843), the Clifton Suspension Bridge and countless other famous structures, bridges and ships. Sadly, I didn’t have time to visit the Brunel Museum that day, but hope to do so in the next few weeks.
A typical English pub honours all those dockhands, tally-men and mariners who worked and drank (beer and gin mostly) at Rotherhithe Dock over the centuries. By an amazing co-incidence the pub is called The Mayflower – I wonder who thought of that one…
Finally, before leaving the village of Rotherhithe one comes across this lovely threesome, a boy, his pilgrim father and their dog. Step onto the pedestal and take a peep into the pilgrim’s book, for the Mayflower pilgrims’ future is revealed in its pages, hence the pilgrim father’s bulging eyes!
Staying Cool in the City
Now that the skies are grey and the rays of the sun are no longer tickling our red and blistering noses, it seems inconceivable that only a few weeks ago it was too hot to work in the office.
Taking a refreshing stroll along the Thames Embankment on a very hot day, I spotted how London’s citizens tried various ingenious ways to stay cool in the city.
Thus I’m sneakily introducing my first, and most favourite point of interest in the capital – sorry HRM Elizabeth II, but the River Thames beats the “lady of the stamp” any day as London’s best tourist attraction!
Even on the hottest day of the year there was a gentle breeze blowing that cooled the wrinkled writer’s brow – walk along the lovely Thames Embankment and sooner or later you’ll come across a fountain where you can cool off your steaming toes.
When the tide’s out, people walk along the patches of “beach” that appear along the river bed.
For those with more money than sense there are the official river cruises, some via stately old river barges, cruisers or former steamboats, others via power boats that zoom past with an almighty roar and spew up brown waves in their wake. The much cheaper version is to take an ordinary river bus.
Cruises start from various points along the river, my favourite spot is at St Katherine’s Dock, where this couple sat patiently in a little pavilion – like a bus stop for the Thames – and awaited the arrival of their cruiser, while enjoying the magnificent aspect of Tower Bridge.
Making a Splash
My favourite image of this summer are unquestionably the parents and children who stayed cool by diving into the fountains at the National Theatre, which overlooks the Thames Embankment by the London Eye, roughly opposite Westminster and Big Ben.
At certain intervals during the day the kind people of the South Bank-National Theatre complex press a button and within moments people are engulfed by refreshing spouts of water – only they don’t know where the jets of water will come from next, for the fountain’s sprays shoot out at random in different spots.
With a lot of squeals and laughter, the youngest of London’s citizens find relief from the searing heat, a perfect image of summer as it should be, don’t you think?
At the other end of the river, that bit where HMS Belfast, a cruiser from WWII, is moored, whole families gathered around fountains, had a picnic and enjoyed the spectacular London skyline from just outside Hayes Gallery.
Erasing horrid Memories
This summer I’ve seen a different side to London, one I liked very much. Many years ago, when I worked in the city for more than a decade as an office slave, London was a complete construction site, where it was virtually impossible to get anywhere near the River. My memories are of noisy construction crews whistling and jeering at anything looking even vaguely female, of cranes polluting the skyline, of mud and dust everywhere.
Over the intervening two decades the embankments on both sides have been transformed and turned into London’s best attraction – and I’m clearly not alone in this point of view, judging by the hordes of people who use the River Walks every day from dawn till dusk and beyond.
My next post will be about my splendid walk from Tower Bridge to Rotherhithe, which turned out to be a delightful village, not a boring suburb with uniform new apartment blocks, as I had suspected.
After more than three decades in the UK, this summer has been the first time that I’ve actually begun to understand why people rate London so highly – up to now, I’ve detested it. These past few weeks, hot and steamy as they have been, have done much to clear my mind of horrid work-related memories and regain my “cool” about the Big City.
The true aim of my snap-happy wanderings through London is, of course, to gather background material for a future murder mystery series. So alongside the pictures I’ve been taking notes on the smells, sounds, temperatures and light conditions I’ve encountered along the way. I can still hear the children’s giggles, when a flurry of soap bubbles headed our way…
Twimagination’s as dead as a Dodo
Beware, this is a rant! Twimagination is as dead as a dodo as far as I’m concerned.
I’m not having a good time with technology this week.
Firstly, it took me ages to find a WordPress template that would at least vaguely work for my new German language blog Inspektor Beagle ermittelt.
Secondly, I have just wasted my valuable time signing up to Twimagination, Twitter’s new application for authors and poets. If you launch a new application aimed at one of the largest user groups on your platform, it seems like a good idea to test the wretched thing actually works, wouldn’t you agree? Not the Tweet-Empire.
So far there are less than 500 authors on it by the looks of it (I called up English and German language options), so perhaps others like me tried and gave up or word is out that it’s not a good place to be. Who knows. What I do know is that I shan’t be back.
What’s worse, after advertising grandly that one can upload one’s book links with cover, description and blurb, the wretched thing won’t work. Try browsing and then uploading a cover for your book and you’ll see what I mean. Naturally, the Tweet Team have NOT installed a friendly HELP button anywhere, so I’ve simply written a rude message to my own timeline and hope that somebody way more tech savvy will see it and give Twitter what for, as they say in English.
What has irritated me more than anything is that there is no proper explanation anywhere of what one is to do to use the new application to its full potential. We don’t all work at Twitter, are probably not all related to their cyber geeks…so how are we to know what Twitter intended us to do, especially when things don’t work as they should do?
Even more irritating, when you add the link to your book into the little box, a message comes up that tells you Twitter may alter the link to another online bookseller, if that happens to be one of their partners. This means if you’re trying to point readers to your print edition or promote yourself as a writer for a specific publisher, Twitter may well alter it to $0.99 or ebook edition on Ebay, where somebody else may have illegally posted it, just because Twitter’s got a partnership with Kindle or whoever they partner with. The whole point of using this damn platform for brand building and promotional purposes from a writer’s point of view is to use social media more effectively, and to target a specific market segment, while at the same time showcasing one’s work to a wider audience.
Twimagination clearly has a lot to learn when it comes to writers’ imagination and aspirations for their work.
And, while I’m ranting about bl**dy cheeky platforms, would you believe those awful Wattpad people apparently tried to link to my post Bye Bye Red Room! Deleted at this end faster than you can say sign-up-with-Jukepopserials-you-guys for there you’ll be treated with respect.
Bye Bye Red Room
Gloomy news for authors who have enjoyed the warm glow of the Red Room’s pages. With a short notification to all members Red Room’s cosy hearth fires were extinguished this week and the loud, cold brashness of Wattpad was announced, for Wattpad have acquired the Red Room.
The new owners immediately switched off the lights, put out the coals, and killed the Red Room’s purring literary cat, presumably to remind talented authors that their time in literature’s motherly embrace is over and the harsh reality of trashy novels and illiterate word-salad has arrived.
Wattpad is a site that can best be described as a bottomless pit of teenage angst and fan-girling giddiness with very few sparks of talent in sight among its members (at this point I’m quickly naming authors Michelle Barber and William Stadler among those talented highlights, before they send me an angry red raspberry via their WordPress blogs). Generally speaking: If you don’t write gushing books about Justin Bieber or other pop sensations, if you don’t like reading endless sexy scenarios of juvenile fan fiction dreams, Wattpad won’t really be for you.
During the few days that I was a member some months ago, I must have looked through about 150 groups of readers/writers on Wattpad; frankly, I didn’t discover a single group any self-respecting grown-up writer would wish to join and engage with.
Although I got a lot of reads/downloads for the stuff I uploaded, nobody left a single comment, which means no feedback that is constructive, if you have WIP you want advice on. People just press “like” buttons, if you’re lucky, but most readers just consume story after story for free without so much as bothering to press any of the Wattpad review buttons to at least let you know they liked what they read.
For the august literature gang assembled at Red Room to fall into such a black hole must be heart-breaking. Many authors have used the fantastic author pages and blogs they received with their Red Room membership to build up a solid fan base for their work over many years.
These were readers and talented, professional writers who left grown-up comments, constructive critiques, helpful advice – not “cor’ blime me, that was a corker/stinker of a story” or words to that effect. The author page one gets with Wattpad resembles a poorly constructed social media site – not the glorious author profile and blog the Red Room furnished their members with.
So yet another small but beautiful thing has been gobbled up by a big fat American fish that cruises the waters of literature and the world of reading with an unending appetite for Facebook contacts. A huge behemoth of a shark that’s hungry for authors’ connections, but essentially an eating machine that’s not very keen to regurgitate anything useful in return, making the world of literature the poorer for it.
When I dared to complain to the outgoing Red Room team, I got not one, but two defensive emails back, from two different senders no less.
Since the Red Room will close its door any moment now, any new emails from Wattpad will naturally go into my spam folder…which is also a Big Fat Bottom Feeder that gobbles up writing…the type of trash good authors and good readers don’t want to see.
Beagle Mania claims another Victim
While out hunting – or should I say beagling – for suitable pictures or artwork to use for my next Inspektor Beagle book cover, I noticed that many good things in life are beagle related.
Well, there’s Snoopy for a start, who fills my heart with joy, then there’s Gromit (the resonsible adult in Wallace & Gromit), who makes me feel less down-trodden, and there are all those wonderful beagles that keep us safe at airports where they sniff out drugs, explosives and all manner of nasty things. Beagles are clearly born to be heroes.
No wonder it was the first name that sprang to my mind when I began writing about the police force working in a small seaside town at the east coast of England in WWII.
Understaffed and without guns or petrol to fuel their cars, they still had to uphold the law, while Hitler & Co were popping up uninvited for a spot of daily air raids on the promenade and equally unwelcome visitors in U-Boots arrived from across the English Channel to complain about the lack of Blue Flag amenities at Kent’s beaches. And people today are complaining that Magaluf’s gone to the dogs!
A beagle, so learned authorities on the subject tell us, can find a single mouse let loose in a one acre field within 60 seconds – while most other dogs would give up and go home after 15 minutes, demanding a word with their psychiatrist on the subject of depression and feeling like a failure.
My Inspektor Beagle (NB: German spelling for inspector) also has a keen nose, not so much for mice, but for trouble and potential villains. His colleague Monty the policedog (basset) also has a keen appetite for crime solving and but prefers biscuits soaked in milk on the whole. Unfortunately, neither of these lovely hounds was any good at guiding this blind author-mouse through a mine field of technological failures, when she tried to upload their adventures into an ebook publishing template.
Just like a heroic beagle I persevered in sticking to my mission though. I sniffed out the right way to do it, for there is no proper explanation given on the site. I eventually uploaded my text into the Bookrix template and published my ebooks. Amidst lots of bilingual swearing and threats of launching my own air raids on software developers who design things without bearing the over 50’s techno phobe in mind!
Should any other writerly hound out there in the virtual WordPress world wish to follow in my paw prints, be sure to stay clear of the “if you have a finished book upload it here” button, for the darn thing doesn’t work and if it does upload your chapters, it muddles them up completely in the table of contents until you end up with two of everything.
Just use the “I want to write my book into this template manually” option and copy and paste each and every chapter, no matter how tedious this may seem, into the Bookrix editing template, which is directly linked to the table of contents.
After each copy and paste process, save your work at the bottom of the screen, then click on “new chapter” and repeat the process until your upload is done. Check each and every chapter of your book by clicking on the chapters in your table of contents on the left hand side – I discovered one chapter was missing, despite having saved my work.
After a day or so you will get a notification by email that your book has gone on sale. I’m still waiting for all the other links (eg Apple iBookstore, Kobo etc) to become available, so I can share them on this page. Here is the first crop of my virtual beagling for literary fame (or book sales, I’ll settle for one or the other) for Inspektor Beagle’s first outing as an ebook.
German speakers are welcome to moan about my spelling and grammatical errors. I’m determined to blame those on Microsoft’s inability to a) publish Microsoft 2010 with a German language dictionary included in their standard version and b) to publish a German language proofing tool that’s actually compatible with the 2010 version, as claimed on their site. Enough ranting. Back to positive beagle-beaming adventures on the ebook front:
It’s totally FREE to upload and publish your books via Bookrix; each work gets an ISBN number for which you don’t have to pay upfront. The best thing is that you get your own author profile site, which has its own blog and automatically displays all your books. I’m loving it and have just signed up to various groups within the Bookrix community so I can promote my books and get involved with readers and fellow authors. No, they don’t pay me to say any of this. Wished they did.
I just wanted to share a fairly positive experience from a techno phobe’s point of view. BTW, the site offers excellent stats on sales activity and, unlike Amazon, there are proper age group categories for authors who write for children and YA audiences, so readers can actually discover your books in the category they’d expect to find them in.
Best of all, you can upload your text in plain old WORD without the need to convert into another medium first. Bookrix does that for you free of charge and for all the different formats that distributors use, including Kindle/Amazon/Kobo/Google/Apple iBookstore/Libri/Thalia/Barnes & Noble/Beam and various other formats.
Bookrix also allows you a range of cover options and a large number of royalty free templates for artwork/photographs to use. I chose using my own cover pictures (option 2 on the Bookrix screen), but used their template to insert title and author name, which is great, because there are lots of colour & font options and your text will always appear perfectly positioned.
Bookbaby on the other hand I’ve yet to master and find totally user unfriendly. Twice now I’ve converted said Inspektor Beagle into an epub format and twice Bookbaby has thrown me out with some incomprehensible techno babble message. Potentially a ruse to get authors to pay for a service they get for free elsewhere. They are also demanding $20 per month for author websites and $19 for each and every ISBN. Which is why I beagled off to Bookrix instead.
Incidentally, I have deactivated my Facebook page, because somebody pretending to be me had set up a site under my name, using some of my details. Pee-off to you, whoever you are.
Accept no substitutes! This is me: the REAL writer of stories from the hearth.
(picture source Wikipedia, in public domain)
Beagling of a different Kind
No, we’re not talking about hunting with a pack of hounds, chasing defenceless hares or foxes through the countryside without remorse! This is beagling of an entirely different kind, although it does involve a Beagle with a keen nose and a Basset hound with a keen appetite.
My first German language short story collection is finally out as an e-book, yay! Readers can check my German language skills and complain to their hearts’ content about my many mistakes by purchasing a copy of this book for the astonishingly generous price of $0.99 at Bookrix.com and about 60 other e-book outlets. What’s it about?
In three humorous murder mystery short stories set against the backdrop of WWII Inspector Beagle and his colleagues try to uphold the law, while all around them the world is falling to bits. It is 1941; the town Mumsgate on the east coast of England is plagued by unwanted visits from Hitler & Co. Meanwhile, Inspector Beagle and Sergeant Beanstalk, Constable Roddy Winters and police dog Monty are plagued by a series of baffling murders.
A rich aristocrat vanishes without trace and nobody sheds a tear. A seemingly harmless old woman is brutally murdered in a bewildering crime that leads to a German spy ring. A respected judge first loses his moral scruples and then his head. Literally.
Bombs fall and buildings crumble before Inspector Beagle’s even shown his warrant card. His police car has run out of petrol and is turned into a vegetable patch. There may be no bacon, eggs or sausages, but as far as Inspector Beagle is concerned, justice and humanity will never be in short supply.
And for readers of a German language persuasion here’s the blurb again:
In drei spannenden Krimi Kurzgeschichten fahnden Inspektor Beagle und seine Kollegen mit viel Humor nach Bösewichtern, obwohl doch im Hintergrund die Welt in die Hose zu gehen scheint. Es ist 1941; in der Stadt Mumsgate an der Ostküste von England plagen sich die Einwohner mit unerwünschten Besuchen von Herrn Hitler & Co. herum, während Inspektor Beagle und Sergeant Beanstalk, Constable Roddy Winters und Polizeihund Monty von einer Serie von Morden geplagt werden.
Ein reicher Lord ist plötzlich weg und niemand weint ihm eine Träne nach. Eine alte Frau scheint in Spionage verwickelt zu sein und wird abgemurkst. Ein Richter verliert erst seinen moralischen Standpunkt und später noch seinen Kopf. Wortwörtlich.
Da krachen die Bomben und Gebäude fallen um, bevor man den Durchsuchungsbefehl geben kann. Der Dienstwagen wird zum Gemüsebeet umgewandelt, denn Benzin gibt’s ja ohnehin nicht mehr. Es mag zwar keinen Speck, Eier oder Würstchen mehr geben, aber was Inspektor Beagle angeht, wird’s nie an Gerechtigkeit und Menschlichkeit mangeln.
There you have it; beagling of a different kind; entirely safe for hares, foxes and beagles of all nationalities.
Happy summer reading everyone!
(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)
Finding the right Pitch
This blog is predominantly about location and what role location plays within our writing. However, location is also important when it comes to selling your book: namely where to start looking for readers and what slot in the market place your book might fit into. In other words, this post is about aiming at the right pitch so that author, literary agent/publisher and readers sing from the same hymn sheet:)
Time and again I read blog or Google+ posts where writers have written a book without determining FIRST who they are writing for. Now they are sitting on a doorstop of a novel and have no idea where it would fit into the book market. They bemoan in their blogs that they’ve had nothing but rejection letters and cannot think why their 140,000 epic can’t find a publisher or literary agent.
Their location problem is twofold:
Any publisher or literary agent will want to know what readership the manuscript is aiming at and would not take a writer seriously if they haven’t taken the time to acquire the most basic industry knowledge. If the writer can’t be bothered to concern herself with her potential readership BEFORE starting a book, why then should a literary agent or publisher spend their valuable time reading her manuscript?
Ask yourself this:
Would you want to take a taxi ride with a driver who has never even looked at the street map of the city you’re in?
Would you want to buy shares in a company where the board of directors never bothered doing market research to discover who might actually buy their product?
If the answer is NO to both questions, then:-
Take time and trouble to make sure the story you are planning to write can be positioned correctly in the market place BEFORE you’re even outlining your plot. If you don’t get the readership issue sorted out first, you’re inviting trouble.
Re-writes take much longer than getting it right in the first place. And that’s what a literary agent or publisher would ask you to do, if your story is essentially good and well written but doesn’t fit into any niche/genre or marketable slot. Always think of your book as a marketable product first, before considering how your friends and loved ones might look upon what you’ve written. An author is a seller of products – if you think your words are too precious to be changed to please your readers…get out of the publishing game!
A publisher or literary agent doesn’t want to waste time with lengthy re-writes, for it means getting editorial staff involved and that costs money. And books that weren’t written for a specific target audience will inevitably have to be rewritten.
When you submit your story to a professional, you should be able to state clearly in the covering letter what type of reader your book is for, e.g. what age range are you aiming at? Will the book appeal to boys or girls, men or women, horror fans, sci-fi geeks or romance readers?
What other essential landmarks do you need to consider BEFORE writing your book?
Ask yourself this:
Are established children’s or YA writers addressing abstract issues in their best sellers?
Nope, they are not, for such subjects are firmly for adult book readers. Seasoned YA and children’s writers deal strictly with issues that children and young adults can relate to and understand.
Are best-selling children’s and YA writers presenting epic doorstops of 140,000 words to their young readers?
Nope, they know better than to irritate their precious pint-sized readers with such book lengths!
Think LITTLE HANDS…don’t like to hold HEAVY books. Children are conservative in their reading habits. Like me, they prefer their books to be tangible and physical not virtual. Forget about selling tons of e-books to wee readers. Kids love real books best. Quite right!The best location you can be at for your research is a children’s and YA book shop or the relevant section in your local library. What’s flying off the shelves? Who’s sticking their chocolate-covered nose into picture books and who is really hogging teen novels?
AND RESEARCH BEFORE YOU START WRITING.
When you submit a manuscript the literary agent or publisher wants to find out what YOU are about as a writer. Nobody wants to work with a rank amateur who doesn’t want to spend the time doing even the most basic of research into marketing and promoting their book. Researching your potential readership is as essential to selling a book as writing a gripping story and having writing talent.
So at the risk of repeating myself:
If you’re currently gnawing your pencil with a big frown on your face, pondering if the 140,000 word epic fantasy novel you’ve written could possibly be promoted to a YA readership or even be squeezed into the children’s literature market, think again. How long is the average children’s or YA book? Well, it’s not 140,000 words, for that is an adult reader’s book length.
Age range 8 – 12 will tackle books with a max. word length of 80,000, which is the minimum requirement for an adult length novel for most publishers. So your 140,000 word epic should not be aimed at the children or YA market – if you must bother young readers with such an epic doorstop, then write it as two books of 70,000 words, each one a complete story in itself but marketable as a series of two. For younger age ranges storybook texts have typically no more than 600 – 1,000 words. And the 5 -7 age range will go up to around 10,000 words in books that still carry pictures.
Secondly, where should you pitch your book?
Don’t send out your manuscript willy-nilly to every publisher that crops up on your Twitter feed.
Take time to research the literary agents and publishers who deal in the genre or age group you want to write for.
Who do the agents represent?If their portfolio contains authors who write similar books to yours, e.g. picture books or age group 8-12 or YA readers, then it’s a safe bet they’ll be interested in your manuscript.
If the majority of their authors are crime writers, non-fiction authors or romance novelists, don’t send in your YA manuscript. It seems so terribly obvious and yet, so many writers out there get this wrong. If the literary agents’ or publishers’ website says “we currently don’t accept submissions” – then DON’T bother these good people with your manuscript!
Send your manuscript only to those literary agents and publishers you have identified as relevant for your type of readership and who currently ask for submissions. You stand a far better chance of getting accepted and won’t get frustrated with zillions of rejections.
Be sure to follow each and every submission guideline you are given by the individual literary agency or publisher and submit your manuscript EXACTLY as requested or you’ll end up at the bottom of the slush pile or worse, in the reject pile without being read at all.
(picture source Wikipedia; animation source heathersanimations.com)
Am I too late for Spring Cleaning?
I’d been looking for ages through new WordPress themes to find the right new layout for Willow the Vampire’s blog site and now I’ve finally found it. Am still tweaking things, but it’s beginning to look much more like I wanted the site to look like in the first place, all those years ago when I first braved the world of blogging. It’s good to “spring clean” one’s blog from time to time, to think of new themes or perhaps to catch up with old ones that have been lying abandoned, but not forgotten, in the dusty drawers of one’s writer’s mind.
My latest WIP, The House Detective, is another of those semi-abandoned projects that I recently unearthed during a spring clean – and now I’m writing again, with chapter nine progressing nicely and with ideas for a second book. No doubt there are writers out there who are organised and can stick to one book project at a time, but I am a “fluttermole” who gets so many ideas that they have to wait their turn, get written as an outline and then shelved until the hamster wheel inside my head builds up enough momentum to spew out the next writing phase.
And just like Mr Mole abandons his spring cleaning for going on adventures with Mr Badger, Mr Toad and Ratty the Great, my mind tends to stray into other imaginary worlds where my fictional heroes leave their current setting and have their big and small adventures somewhere else, before coming home and sheepishly finishing their “homework” with dull-old-me and the setting originally intended for them.
Having started on this belated spring cleaning of my mind (and my dusty, coffee-stained laptop drawer), I have begun to prioritise the writing projects under the heading “bits with the greatest chance of commercial success”. Not that this has ever been a motivating factor in my writing before; I write mainly because I MUST or I’ll get carted off by men in hospital uniforms and bundled into their smelly white vans. But I feel that it’s time to bring some order into the chaos and since there has to be some heading with a number one, two, etc below, I might as well “follow the money trail” and see where this takes me. A writing friend of mine has been sending her book to various agents for the past couple of years, and after long deliberation I have decided to do the same. Will keep you posted on any rejection letters that are meaningful or entertaining:)
When was the last time you had a spring clean of your writing drawer? Did you unearth any gems?
You can find Willow the Vampire’s shiny new blog here at WordPress: http://willowthevampire.com. Stop by stop by and meet the residents of Stinkforth-upon-Avon. Be sure to take some garlic along or you might find yourself the main course at Willow’s dinner table.
(artwork copyright Maria Thermann; animation sourced from heathersanimations.com)
Watch the Soap in your Writing
Since Easter was the usual rain-soaked affair here in the UK I indulged in a little downtime and re-watched old “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episodes on Netflix. After several years of absence from Joss Whedon’s “Buffy-verse” I greatly enjoyed meeting Buffy, Zander, Willow, Anya, Tara, Angel and Spike again.
What struck me watching this ground-breaking series this time round was that truly great writers always allow their characters to grow and develop to their full potential within a story arch but only within the boundaries of that particular character’s personality. Integrity is a much underrated quality, yet it is that very character trait in both writer and their creations that will lure readers and TV audiences back again and again.
For example, a small town girl or boy is far more likely to reach conclusions and make choices based on their upbringing than suddenly come up with a solution that falls totally out their normal experiences and understanding, something that would be more logical to adopt for a big city girl or boy. We are very much influenced by our surroundings – our natural habitat if you like – and our choices in life reflect just that.
Honey good, soap bad
Writers and TV producers who don’t seem to have grasped this simple principle (what I usually call the Jane Espenson school of bad writing and producing) have strong female characters like Gwen (played by Eve Myles) in Russell T. Davies “Torchwood” suddenly turn into blithering, simpering idiots in Torchwood Series 4 (under the ill-fated leadership of producers Starz). Audiences and critics hated series 4 so much that Torchwood came to an abrupt end – I bet most people didn’t even bother watching all of series 4, because it was so bad; I stopped watching half-way through the second episode.
It had lost all of its Cardiff-induced charm and Welsh cultural heritage, and its main protagonists were transformed to suit American audiences without the slightest attempt being made to keep what the existing fandom would have perceived as the essence or main character traits.
Sometimes we, the audience, notice that lines that were obviously written for totally different characters are now spoken by another character simply because the writer or producer didn’t want to waste what’s in the script but can’t grasp who should “speak” the lines (BBC’s Merlin producers Capps and Murphy, according to some of the show’s actors). It throws a story out of balance, makes the reader or TV audience instantly switch off their suspended belief.
They stop identifying with the characters and thus the “magic” is gone. In TV terms this means the viewer either switches off, goes to make a cup of tea or stops watching the show completely. In book terms it means you’ve lost a reader who won’t buy the next book from your series. You want to build a honey trap and lure your audience into your story, not cover the road in soap flakes and trip them up en route.
Doctor, this girl has lost her head…and backbone
As soon as our favourite characters do or say things that are out of character, we the writers or TV producers had better come up with a believable explanation or we’re screwed. Example of hit-and-miss characterisation: “Willow” in Buffy the Vampire is grieving so much over the death of her lover that she uses her magic powers to such terrible ends, she nearly destroys the world. She hunts down her lover’s murderer and flays him alive.
Yet, almost at the very beginning of the next series she’s seduced by a pretty but awful girl called Kennedy and the two start a relationship without anyone ever mentioning the dead lover again. Since Kennedy is supposed to be in her early teens (15) and has neither magic powers nor interest in the subject, the relationship is reduced to a purely physical one – totally out of character for Willow.
When I began to analyse my instant loathing to the Kennedy character I realised it was not simply because she was portrayed as a lesbian predator (beware of cliché) but because Willow’s character had suddenly taken a total nose-dive in my estimation. We’d gone from a young woman who grieved over losing the love of her life to a Willow character who seeks instant gratification with somebody whom she normally wouldn’t have given the time of day to, let alone start an affair.
While some allowances have to be made for people grieving, I simply stopped believing in the Willow character as it had been portrayed within the Buffy-verse. She had lost her head and her backbone.
This type of writing – in TV, film sequels and in series of books – could be called the “soap” effect, where writers run out of ideas or can’t be bothered to think within the boundaries they’ve set for their primary and secondary characters. Writers will use the next sensational thing, the next explosion in Hollywood terms, to carry the plot. It happens most frequently in soap operas, where the pressure to create ever bizarre and sensationalist plot lines makes script writers lose their heads completely.
The internal journey your characters undertake throughout each and every book in your series should remain within the boundaries of each person’s traits of character.
In the Buffy-verse both slayerette Cordelia and vampire Spike are on the road to redemption, but they continue to be sarcastic and uncomfortably insightful; the former is a vain, shopping obsessed brat, the latter a serial killer at heart. Their wish to atone for earlier sins does not turn them into fluffy bunnies. They ultimately remain what they were, but gain greater knowledge of themselves that may help them to become a more useful member of society.
So if your readers like their slayers to be strong, vampires to be dark and brooding and slayerettes to stand up to scrutiny, remind yourself once in a while throughout your series-writing that trying to rub soap into your readers’ eyes won’t sell more books long-term. Fans you’ve won can be easily lost when strong characters turn flaky and weak characters’ faces are no longer covered in mud (or egg, if you’d like to return to my initial Easter theme).
How homely can a northern Castle be?
In my recent blog post about St Fagans, the National Museum of Wales, I promised to tell you a bit more about St Fagans Castle, which is a Grade 1 listed building and ranks as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan manor houses in Wales – or anywhere, really.
Unfortunately, one isn’t allowed to take pictures inside, so all I can offer you here are some pictures I took of the outside and the lovely gardens. It’s a truly inspirational place for writers of fantasy and historic fiction, for it represents a real Welsh family home rather than the great fortresses built by the English to keep the Welsh from transgressing across the border and revolt.
The original manor house was constructed in 1580 on the site of a much earlier castle that dated back to the 13th century but was destroyed in 1536.
Like all aristocratic families, the manor’s Victorian owners followed the motto “if you’ve got it flaunt it” so they spent much of their income on remodelling and refurbishing their manor in the 19th century, when Cardiff’s high society grew fat and rich on the proceeds of mining and shipping. Inside the manor house visitors get to see collections spanning four centuries, including original furniture dating back to when the house was first constructed.
Upon entering St Fagans Castle one feels that this has always been a family home – it doesn’t feel like a museum’s piece or one of those grand country houses, those stately homes of England, many of which were erected with money from the slave trade and adorned with Adams fire places and gilded Venetian mirrors that were paid for with the lives of thousands of African men, women and children. One could, of course, argue that the manor houses of Wales were built and paid for by virtual slave labour and exploitation of Welsh miners, for most aristocrats based in Wales seem to have had a finger in the mining-pie at one time or another and loathed to spend money on improving living and working conditions of their “subjects”.
While most medieval castles and 18th century country estates are cold, echo-y and cavernous, St Fagans is a cosy country house, a family home that once belonged to Lord Robert-Windsor, who later became the Earl of Plymouth. He kindly donated St Fagans Castle along with 18 acres of land to the National Museum Wales in 1946. Perhaps trying to make up for past wrongs done to the Welsh mining public?
Come on a lovely spring day – choose the middle of the week or you get trampled by the crowds – and stroll through the gorgeous gardens that surround the castle on all sides.
The Italian Garden was created in 1902 and features several ponds. It was restored – to much acclaim – in 2003 and still contains many original features. So far I’ve yet to discover the thyme garden, but I have located the secret walled rose garden, an absolute delight on a hot summer’s day, as one can escape both the crowds and the hot sun for a quarter of an hour and recover in this tranquil and shady place.
Throughout the grounds of the museum there are wonderful man-made landscape features to explore; the real beauty is that one seems to come upon them unawares, as if by magic they had just appeared out of the mist. From fish ponds and mill streams to pretty fountains, from covered walkways and mulberry groves, to vinery, cottage gardens and vegetable patches from WWII, from woodland areas and farmyards to Anglo-Saxon round-house villages and 19th century shopping mall – soak up St Fagans’ past, breathe in deeply and inhale every-day-Welsh-history and when you get home, let it flow out of your fingertips and populate your laptop’s memory.
Gardens tell us so much about the Welsh people who once lived in these homes; rich or poor, Elizabethan castle dwellers in their embroidered finery and furs or humble prefab bungalow citizens in their 1950s petticoats, they all have one thing in common: they are part of Welsh history and equally important, when a writer needs inspiration for their characters!
St Fagans Castle is not imposing, not even that richly furnished. It has nothing of the grand regal gesture of Caerphilly Castle about it nor is there a whiff of Castle Coch’s romance and memories of courtly love present at St Fagans Castle. However, for my money St Fagans Castle is a real homely northern castle, one where I could envisage having been part of a busy household – perhaps as medieval seamstress pricking an amorous squire with my needle to put him in his place or maybe as cook preparing the master’s spit roasted piglet or plucking pheasant’s feathers after the hunt. Not unlike a modern day writer plucking the best bits from ordinary people’s past and using their lives to create a new hi-story.
If folklore, heritage and locations like this one influence and inspire your writing, be sure to visit St Fagans Folklore Museum one day, but if you can’t visit, here’s a virtual tour:
(copyright for all photographs: Maria Thermann; animation gif source: heathersanimations.com)
While many authors don’t give a flying fig about fan fiction and are quite happy to let their fans’ imagination run riot, I was rather surprised to read the other day that some best-selling novelists object to this form of flattery and think it’s a rip-off.
Vampire writer Anne Rice is reputedly just one of a whole pantheon of authors who won’t allow fan fiction under any circumstances. Under a new ruling Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories can now be shamelessly exploited for the purpose of fan fiction, provided the characters and scenarios date back to before a certain time of original publication.
This will permit fan fiction writers to indulge in whatever they like to do with Sherlock and Dr Watson, for provided they do not impinge on what Conan Doyle wrote after the stipulated date, fan fiction writers have been given a free hand. Note how the BBC’s series “Sherlock” skates always within the permitted perimeter and doesn’t venture out into the later Sherlock stories at all. The mind boggles, how Sir Conan Doyle would greet the Cumberbatch treatment his sleuth has received in an attempt to make the famous detective stories more enjoyable for a modern audience.
My first reaction was: “Get over yourself authors, fan fiction is not plagiarising! Something original and fun is being created here. Somebody’s just enhancing your storylines, having fun with your characters and worlds because they love them so much. You should be flattered and humbled!”
But then I started thinking how I would feel if somebody, a total stranger somewhere in the universe, started writing Willow the Vampire stories that were based on my little heroine and my Stinkforth-upon-Avon-verse.
- What if they turned my feisty Willow into a silly giggling bimbo?
- Or painted her lips and nails Barbie-pink?
- Or forced my poor defenceless vampire to carry a Gucci handbag instead of her customary fang-some grin?
You say Flattery, I say Fiddlesticks
Let’s face it, the worlds and characters we create are the fictional equivalent of our children. Would we want some total stranger invent a weird scenario for our kids to star in? I think NOT.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so big-headed as to assume a sudden onslaught of readers would rush to create Willow the Vampire fan fiction, but stranger things have happened in this universe, right?
Just think of the annual occurrence of the Easter Bunny laying eggs or the mysterious place where single socks go when you’re sure both members of a pair made it into the washing machine!
After grinding my teeth for a while and a few involuntary growls escaping my lips, I could sympathize with Anne Rice and Co.
When Flattery back-fires
Most fan fiction, it has to be said, is truly awful and was written by hormone-infested teenagers who fantasize about the characters in an unsavoury way. However, there is also some outstanding fan fiction being published on various reputable websites; some of the fans’ writing turns is actually better than the original!
And this may be the real crux of the fan-fiction matter, the reason why some writers, namely those with a fragile ego and jittery writing hand have such problems with the concept of fan fiction. Before Anne Rice rushes to the phone to call her lawyers, I’m not naming names here!
But it has to be said that, despite huge “box office” success, some best-selling authors aren’t actually that good as writers. They just happened to be handing in their manuscript at the right time and place, and were lucky to find a literary agent or publisher who really went to town on the marketing and promotion side, because the manuscript captured the prevailing Zeitgeist. Hey presto, a best-seller is born, even if critics pan the book and subsequent movies make us yawn.
So maybe, if a multitude of readers for some peculiar reason should suddenly decide to write Willow the Vampire fan fiction, I should view this not as flattery or affront, but as a way to capture different facets of my heroine, namely those that have escaped me, but were noted by readers. Maybe I should accept that as a writer I can learn something from what a reader imagines when reading my stories and meeting my characters?
In a fantasy line up of writers giving your characters and worlds a “make-over”, which authors would you choose and why?
Pirate Henry Morgan’s Revenge kills my Laptop
You can’t keep a good buccaneer down, no matter how dead he might be! Having apparently floated away in his coffin after the 1692 earthquake devastated Jamaica’s Port Royal, Sir Henry Morgan must have been a little bored with his ghostly existence, for he had one last filibuster atrocity up his sleeve:
Secreted between the pages of an otherwise innocent looking book, Sir Henry Morgan’s cutlass had reached out and severed the lead of my laptop recharger, no doubt sniggering as his blade sliced through the cables!
There I was, deeply engrossed in the brilliant “Empire of Blue Water: Sir Henry Morgan and the Pirates who Ruled the Caribbean Waves” by Stephan Taltry as part of my research into 17th century piracy, when suddenly my laptop went dead, having run out of “juice”. Since I had plugged the thing in, I couldn’t understand what had happened.
Tested the socket, yep, it’s switched on and current’s flowing through it. Ran out to get a new fuse from the shop down the road…inserted new fuse into plug, nope, still no juice. Laptop remained dead as Blackbeard’s victims. Maria stayed cut off from her all her research and work, feeling her severed limbs ache with longing for more life, just as Long John Silver might have done, dreaming about his leg.
After some investigation I discovered the semi-severed lead that ran from the actual recharger-thingy to the laptop itself. Thinking about it I realised that the night before, thanks to yet another Welsh downpour, I had wrapped the book on Sir Henry and my recharger together in one plastic carrier bag to keep library book and recharger safe from rain water. During the hour or so that it took me to get home, Sir Henry’s pirate character clearly got the better of him and snip-snap-cat-o-nine-tails his cutlass chopped off my electricity supply. Was this a warning of more dire things to come or a statement on modern society’s dependency on technology? Henry Morgan and his pirates only needed a fair wind and a benevolent sea to get what they wanted, perhaps he felt that I should go back to basics instead of relying so much on modern devices?
But seriously, it seems the library, having covered the book sleeve in some extra strong plastic, had been a little too zealous in their efforts to protect their books from grime and chocolate fingers. When I removed the book from the carrier bag, I cut my finger on the sharp edge of the plastic cover. So maybe it was that old pirate playing a trick on me or it was the library book itself. Stephan Taltry reminding me to give his book a good “plug”?
Either way, it was unbelievably irritating and made me realise how dependant I am on modern technology.
One dead laptop and many apologies to clients later – all of whom were very good about waiting for their articles – I finally managed to find one of the multi-functional recharger thingies that fits practically all laptops known to pirates and web content creators.
Now that I can finally continue writing the next chapter of my own pirate adventure “Sweet Charity” (available free on jukepop.com), I’d better make sure Sir Henry gets a mention – he was probably ticked off that I hadn’t done so already…
Who says bookworms lead boring lives?
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