Friday, 25 November 2011

How Do You Find Inspiration?

One of the commonest questions fiction writers get asked, I think, is “where does your inspiration come from?” The simplest, and actually truest, answer is “everywhere”, yet that always sounds like a cop-out to me. In reality, inspiration CAN come from anywhere; from your everyday life, from the people around you. It hides within the events of your day, or maybe what you see on TV or read in the newspaper. It can spring out at you from something you overheard, some joke or snippet of gossip while you were in the coffee shop or having lunch with your friends. Creative people can recognise inspiration where others might only see the ordinary, or mundane.

Personally, I think that finding inspiration also depends on what type of genre you write in. If I was a romance writer, or a crime writer, I could find a wealth of inspiration on any news channel. Horror writers too, I’d imagine – far too often! But what if you’re like me, a fantasy writer? How does a writer who works in unfamiliar, created worlds find inspiration? Does it come purely from our own imagination or can it also be found in our everyday lives?

The answer, of course, is “yes, of course it can,” and just the other day I found a prime example of how inspiration works for me.

I am extremely fortunate to live in a particularly beautiful and rural part of North Hampshire in the UK. I am surrounded by farmland, by fields of crops, by hedges that change their colours depending on the season. Rabbits and hares, deer and pheasant run in the fields (not always a good thing when you own Lurchers, as I do!) and there are wide field margins around which the farmer permits us to walk. Our roads are country lanes and therefore fairly quiet, and the village is one of the prettiest around. It also contains some of the nicest people you could wish to meet.

This area is primarily a working, food-producing farm. Wheat, sesame, oilseed rape, grass for seed and hay, sheep, cattle and pigs can all be found in the fields. Tractors are a regular sight and they can churn up the lanes and field margins, especially at this time of year. Farmers by nature and profession are a practical lot, not given, you’d be excused for thinking, to flights of fancy. And yet, one day, I turned a corner of a field I often walk around and was confronted by the scene in the photo above. There, in the entrance to a mundane, muddy, working farmyard were these fabulous standing stones, appearing as if by magic (although I suspect by tractor) overnight. I was entranced. Such an unexpected sight immediately set my writing senses a-tingle – how could I fail to be inspired?

What gets your creative juices flowing? Has anyone else come across something so unexpected, it resulted in a piece of writing? I’d love to hear!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Take Your Opportunities Where You Can.

Recently, I attended the British Fantasy Society convention in Brighton, UK. I had never been to one before and I have to say that these things are not normally my cup of tea. I’m quite shy among lots of people I don’t know and I’m not good at starting up random conversations with strangers. Even when those strangers share a common interest, i.e fantasy novels. However, because King’s Envoy had so recently been launched, and because I’d had the excitement and acclaim of having a short story accepted for the Society’s 40th Anniversary Anthology, ‘Full Fathom Forty’, it was too good an opportunity to miss. So, along with my husband, I went.

The convention was held over three days, Friday through to Sunday. Due to work and other commitments, we couldn’t go until the Saturday morning. This meant I missed being in the signing line up for Full Fathom Forty on the Friday afternoon, which was a shame. It would have given me the chance to meet my co-anthology-authors, and also the opportunity to speak to buyers of the anthology about King’s Envoy. Still, it couldn’t be helped.

Once we registered on the Saturday and collected our goodie bags full of free books and other yummy stuff, we planned our day. Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance Cycle, was being interviewed that morning and I thought it would be interesting to hear what sort of questions he was asked and how he handled them (just in case someone ever wanted to interview me like that!). The interview lasted around 45 minutes and it was quite interesting. I was slightly surprised to see how few people turned up to listen though – he was one of the major convention guests yet only about a third of the available seats were taken. The best bit for me was when he was asked a question concerning what he thought about the fantasy genre in general. His answer was that in his opinion, there was a lack of strong, credible female main characters in fantasy novels. My husband nudged me at this point and whispered that if Christopher Paolini wanted to see a really credible and strong female fantasy character, he ought to read MY books. I smiled and nodded – like THAT was ever going to happen. Imagine my surprise when, after audience questions and the interview broke up, my husband went up to Christopher and gave him a copy of King’s Envoy! To the guy’s credit, he actually looked interested and said he’d read the book when he could. I would never have had the guts to do that, but my husband is very used to conventions in his own business life and he’s very good at connecting with people.

That was the first good thing to happen at the convention. The second occurred when I was waiting to try and catch the eye of an agent who I knew would be attending the convention. This agent is known for representing fantasy authors and years ago, when I first began submitting King’s Envoy, she was very helpful to me. She was the first real publishing industry professional to give me any feedback on my work. She was very encouraging, and looked at my work on three separate occasions. Although she didn’t take me on, she did give me much helpful advice. As she was going to be at the convention, I thought it might be nice to introduce myself and thank her for all her help.

While I was waiting for her to come out of another meeting, I was approached by a guy who said, “I saw you in Christopher Paolini’s interview. Would you mind giving me your thoughts on how it went?” It turned out that he was working for Random House, Christopher’s publishers, and he was doing video interviews with people. I agreed to be interviewed and managed to get in a few good plugs for my book, including the one about strong female characters. That was a bonus I didn’t expect!

I then managed to catch the agent as she came out of her meeting and found that she was as nice as she had seemed from her emails. I think she was genuinely pleased that I’d taken the time to connect with her and thank her, and then she asked for a copy of my book! I hadn’t tried to plug it at all and I hadn’t shown it to her, so there was no pressure on her to ask for one. Her favorable reaction to the cover picture really pleased me and she seemed genuinely interested in reading the book. Who knows what could come of this? I’m not even sure I’m looking for an agent, but when opportunities present themselves like this, I believe in taking them. I also believe in thanking people who go out of their way to help me.

These three things all came about quite unexpectedly, and stemmed from me pushing myself to do something out of my comfort zone. The lesson here is that you should never think something isn’t worth doing, and you should take these opportunities where you can. Who knows where they might lead?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Why I Love Books So Much.

In times of stress or worry, or if I need some comfort, I often find myself thinking back to one of my earliest childhood memories. I have lots of very early memories – I can remember being in my baby carriage (long before those neat three-wheeled baby buggies were invented!) and crying because my mother had lowered the clear plastic cover to keep me dry in the rain. Even then, I hated being closed in! I can also clearly remember the red plaid rug that she used to sit me on out in the garden, when the weather was good. But neither of those are the one I’m talking about here.
Our family was, and is, a close one and when me and my older brother (how I always wished I was the oldest, not him!) were growing up, Mom was at home looking after us. She didn’t get a job until we were old enough to go to school. Finding things to keep us occupied never seemed hard work for her, we didn’t have much spare money but there were always plenty of toys around.

There were also books. Both parents read to us children and my brother, at a very young age, too young to read, knew the story “Dabbity Duck” off by heart and could recite it as if reading from the book my father held at bedtime. I have no particular memories of being read to at bedtime but I do remember coming round from an emergency peritonitis operation when I was eleven, and asking my mother to read to me. I doubt I was awake more than ten minutes that first time, the sound of her voice reading to me soothed me back to healing sleep.

But my most comforting memory, the one that always returns if I feel I need time to myself, to de-stress, is of a dark, cold and rainy English winter’s day. My mother and I had just returned from a walk to the local library and I had borrowed a New Book. I was so excited! There was a warm and cheery fire in the hearth, I had a small bag of chocolate buttons, and I curled up in a soft armchair with these and my New Book, and read the winter day away.

Now, maybe forty-seven years later, my best way to relax is still to do exactly the same thing. Ok, the chocolate buttons play a big part in this, but even they wouldn’t taste so good without an exciting book to read. I am very grateful to my parents for ensuring that reading and books played an important role in my life. I’m pleased when I see my grown-up stepchildren reading to their kids, and the way the kids also love books. Maybe one day, they will enjoy curling up in a big old soft armchair with a bag of chocolate buttons and one of their Nanny Cas’s fantasy books. That would surely bring a huge big smile to my face!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Review of Legends Reborn: Light of Epertase Book One, by Douglas Brown.

By virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, skilled warrior Rasi finds himself accused of crimes he didn’t commit. It soon becomes clear that he can remain neither in Thasula, nor in the service of its King, Elijah. Personal tragedy overwhelms him and as his life is now forfeit, he is forced to retreat high into the mountains with only his loyal steed, Salient, for company. Yet even when faced with seemingly insurmountable foes, even when hunted by his former comrades, Rasi remains committed to the country of his birth. Against all the odds he finds companionship where he least expected it, and even a fledgling love, yet such things must remain unresolved while enemies threaten Epertasian lives. Suddenly, the people need his skills once again and so, aided by mercenaries and with the backing of Epertase’s new Queen, Alina, Rasi finds himself at the head of an army, once more pitted against a terrible foe.

Legends Reborn is an action-driven novel, full of gritty conflict and hard-fought battles. The characters are varied and well-drawn; their relationships complex. The setting is an unconventional mix of fantasy and reality, magical powers and technology, while the dialogue is forthright. The author pulls no punches – this novel grabs you by the arm. And while there is closure of a kind at the end, there is plenty of potential for the next two novels in the series. I await Book Two with great interest.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Review of An Empire Lost by Kori Valley.

In An Empire Lost, author Kori Valley sets the scene for an epic struggle between the races of the Seven Lands and the hordes from Mishrak Cu Ra. The Golden Age has ended and it is time for the legendary Shelter Lord to reappear. He must travel the lands searching for the mysterious Eminanti – the Son of the Gods – while raising the races of Druids, Elves and Men to stand united against the Destiant Lord and his forces, called the Black Company.

To help him, the Shelter Lord takes Abasa Snerich, once King of the Druids; a man looking to validate the futility of his former life and find meaning for his future. Also Visara, the Witch Queen of Itsmalle, childhood sweetheart of Abasa. There’s also Bobolli, a once powerful wizard who is now a little too addicted to drink, and Brodderick, Seeker of Tast, the man who brings confirmed news that the Black Company are indeed on the move. Once the City of the Tyrene begins to fail – guided now by a King who does not have her interests at heart – the company leave. Along the way they gather other companions and thus form a company of their own. But before they can begin their appointed task, they must rid the city of South Oprem of the goblins that threaten to overwhelm it. This terrifying battle cements their shared goal and strengthens the ties that bind them.

The book gathers momentum as it progresses. This is understandable, given the scope of the author’s intentions. It also contains many errors, which is a shame, and would have benefitted from a thorough editing, but it is to the author’s credit that he informed me of this before I began reading. My 3-star rating would have been higher but I felt it had to reflect the book as a whole. The errors aside, An Empire Lost shows promise. The characters have the potential for further development and the Seven Lands themselves are a fitting backdrop for the scale of the premise. Given the almost visceral descriptions of the battle for South Oprem, the inevitable final battle ought to be well worth a read.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Day I Became A... Business!

I’ve read quite a few blog posts recently on similar subjects, such as when do you think of yourself as a writer, things authors don’t hear about what it’s really like to get their book published, and how to protect yourself against the demands, disappointments and uncertainties of the publishing world. They have all been fascinating and enlightening, and I’ve learned many interesting things. Some of the posts were more relevant to my own experience than others, and some were eye-opening – mainly those concerning the personal feelings of the post’s author. I do admire people who wear their hearts on their sleeves and who can lay their deepest emotions so open to the scrutiny of anyone who happened to read their post. I don’t think it’s something I could ever do.
All these different yet similar posts naturally got me thinking about how I feel on the subject of finally being published after nine or so years of trying. Excited, elated, vindicated; nervous, unsure, apprehensive. All of these things. Yet I never doubted right from the start that I was a writer. Today, however, I realized something else. Today, I realized just how real this all is. Why? Because today I opened a business bank account. Today, I am a sole-trader, a self-employed person. Today the business that is “Cas Peace” became official.
I actually registered as self-employed a few weeks ago. It was necessary for tax reasons, and British National Insurance payments. But the fact that I’d done so didn’t really mean very much at the time. It was all mixed up with other legal stuff, such as visiting a tax consultant and applying to the IRS for a Temporary Tax Number. Don’t get me started on this ITIN thing though – it’s a minefield! Still, I’ve got one now, so that’s ok.
My husband has been self-employed for years and owns three consulting companies. I help him with each company’s VAT returns, which is extremely funny when you learn that I’m someone who can’t do math. So I’m very used to seeing business accounts with the name “Peace” on them. But I never imagined I’d see one with “Cas” in front of it! Just that simple act of opening a new account (all right, it wasn’t simple and it took far longer than it should!) suddenly brought the whole thing home to me. My name is now a brand – albeit an unknown one yet – and I own my own business! I came home from that meeting with a big cheesy grin on my face. My meeting with the Small Business Advisor also ended on a good note when I offered him a signed copy of King’s Envoy. His face lit up and he said I’d made his day. Well, he’d made mine, so it was smiles all round!
All I need now are some royalties to offset the start-up costs I’ve had to pay out. Anyone like to help a starving author?

Good Friends... (originally posted at Rhemalda in May 2011)

Everyone knows what a rare treasure a really good friend is. You know the kind – the ones who tell you, with love, the painful truths you REALLY don’t want to hear. The ones who love you no matter your failings. The ones who help you improve by showing you the faults you can’t see for yourself. The ones who seem to know what you need before you ask. Such friends are difficult enough to find in person, but when one arrives via the Internet, someone you never actually meet or even see via Skype, yet who still manages to connect instantly with your soul, that person is the rarest and most valuable of finds.
Well sadly, this weekend I lost such a friend. Gerry Dailey, who lived with her husband and family in Chicago, was the most loving, trusted and loyal friend despite the fact I never met her in person. We shared many loves, amongst which was a love of books and writing, and although she didn’t write herself (at least, not as far as I know) yet she has had a hand in the writing success of many authors; among them, I believe, Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind.
I first came into contact with Gerry two years ago via Authonomy, the HarperCollins peer-critique website. Her Authonomy profile-name was Ancient Reader. She read King’s Envoy when it was still being edited and despite loving it, gave me many insights, pointers and suggestions. When she learned that there were eight other books in the series, she was overjoyed, and enthusiastically read every single one. I made some important changes due to Gerry’s loving criticisms, and one of my major characters, Rienne, even owes her lovely name to Gerry. She also gave me permission to use an endorsement of hers on the book’s cover, for which I am very grateful.
I know there will be many, many people right now grieving for the loss of a true friend they never met. This post of mine is partly in tribute to Gerry and partly to say, if you have a friend like her, not only are you extremely privileged, but always make sure you tell them how deeply they are valued. Friendship is a precious thing and not to be taken lightly. The gift of someone else’s heart is the strongest, and yet the most fragile gift you could ever receive. If I can touch just one other person’s spirit with my writing as deeply as I touched Gerry’s, I will feel very special indeed.
God bless you, Gerry Dailey, rest peacefully in His arms.

What is an Artesan? (originally posted at Rhemalda in April 2011)

When I first began writing my fantasy series Artesans of Albia, it had a very different title. The premise is that a section of my world’s populace, drawn from five separate races, would be born with a certain talent. One manifestation of this talent is the ability to learn how to control one’s inner life force; an energy I call ‘metaforce’. Once this was decided, I found I needed a vehicle through which this metaforce would be channelled; something possessed by every living thing but which was unique in each case. I experimented with various terms until I hit on the word ‘matrix’. The matrix would be akin to the psyche, and it would be a thing of ephemeral, mystical beauty. It can only be seen by another practitioner of the craft and is an intricate, four-dimensional ‘pattern’, consisting of whorls, spirals, helixes, colors and emotions. The more skilled the practitioner, the more complex their matrix would be.
Having decided these things, the series’ title became obvious. It just had to be ‘Masters of the Matrix’. Brilliant title, I thought – I love it! (Can you see where this is going?)
I wrote happily on, oblivious to the slap in the face that was coming my way. Sometimes I just hate the film industry… Ok, of course you know, it was the release of the Matrix films. I spat feathers when the first one came out – how dare they ruin all my careful planning – not to mention a perfectly good series title? Not fair! For a while I toyed with the idea of keeping my masterpiece – maybe I could capitalize on the connection? Thankfully I thought better of it; can you imagine how mad someone would be if they bought one of my books by mistake, thinking it was related to the films? And I could just imagine what agents or publishers would say…
Anyway, now I had a problem. The people who exhibit this talent are not magicians or wizards in any sense of the word. Their ‘powers’ owe more to Druidical beliefs, or that of Wicca, than to such creations as Gandalf or Merlin. I had to find a unique name for them, a term that reflected their knowledge; their artistry.
One of the best-loved books in my writer’s arsenal is my Roget’s Thesaurus. It was a 21st birthday present from two great-aunts. (Actually my parents bought it, but the money came from my great-aunts.) They are both gone now – my 21st birthday was a long, LONG, time ago – but I still frequent my Thesaurus. When I’d exhausted all the obvious and immediate terms I could think of for my talented people, I dug through its many permutations and suggestions until I whittled all the possibilities down to two words. Artist and artisan.
Both these words carried elements (pun intended) of the skills my people possess, but both were too ordinary. I rejected them, but it wasn’t long until I realized there was nothing else. I’d already decided against coining a brand new word; I wanted potential readers to at least have an inkling of what the term might mean. Eventually, in desperation, I tried altering the word ‘artisan’ by exchanging the ‘i’ for an ‘e’. Bingo! The rest, as the old cliché goes, is history.

If Music be the Food of... Writing? (originally posted at Rhemalda in April 2011)

Music is terribly important to me; its strainsrun right through my life. From the nursery songs I learned as a toddler to the silly songs I used to sing in the back of the car on long journeys; tuneless ditties which no doubt irritated my parents no end! Music helped me to learn, from singing the Alphabet song to using rhythm to make my math times tables stick in my head. (There it failed – we’ll gloss over that!)
Later, as a teen, music often helped me cope with teenage angst. Belting out modern pop songs in the security of one’s bedroom– pop songs hated by one’s parents of course – was a mild form of rebellion, one they could do nothing about. Not that I really wanted to rebel against my parents, but adopting some form of individualism was required at age thirteen.
Then came serious singing, with school and church choirs. That was quickly joined by a passion for folk music when, through eavesdropping on what my older brother and his friends were playing in his bedroom, I discovered bands and singers such as Fairport Convention, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez. I was hooked.
Folk music became the theme to my life and I honed my vocal chords by emulating Sandy Denny – long live the memory of her haunting voice. Recently I sang some songs during our village variety show and afterwards, one member of the audience made my day when she said my singing reminded her of Sandy. I couldn’t wish for a better epitaph – “Her singing sounded just like Sandy Denny’s.” Very soon now, you may get to compare for yourselves and I hope you will be kind!
Music also played a vital part in my writing. I find it essential to immerse myself in the world I’m creating as I write, and because Albia and Andaryon are in effect medieval worlds, listening to music from that era helped drown out the seriously un-medieval Chinook helicopters that regularly blat-blat their way across our rooftops.
It wasn’t medieval music, however, that had the greatest effect on me when writing my Artesans series. On a trip to the US in 2003 or 2004, we had the great opportunity to tour some of the National Parks. The Grand Canyon was also on the list and here, in one of the visitor centres, I picked up a cd of music inspired by the Canyon itself. It was called ‘Spirit of the Canyon’ and was by Ah*Nee*Mah (Diane Arkenstone, Seth Osburn, Delia Park, John Wakefield and David Arkenstone). As soon as the first track (Light from the East) began to play, I knew I would love it forever. There is a strong Native American influence to these tracks and my created world has no connection whatsoever to Native American culture or peoples. Yet that hauntingly beautiful track captures intimately the spirit of Major Sullyan, one of my main characters. I can see the magnificent horse the Major rides, Drum, galloping powerfully across the Albian hills. I can see and hear battles raging. I can see the Major’s Artesan powers, and watch the sun rise over the Manor. It has a very special place in my heart, that track, and I just had to credit its creators in the front pages of King’s Envoy. I wonder what they’d make of the book?

What's in a Theme? (originally posted at Rhemalda in March 2011).

It wasn’t until long after I’d finished writing the Artesans of Albia series that I realized there were several themes running throughout each book. I didn’t set out to explore these topics – they just appeared naturally as part of the characters’ lives. I guess there are themes in every fiction novel, otherwise there would be no plot, but I confess that mine snuck up on me.
Having realized this, and taken a good look at my writing with the aim spotting these themes, it became clear that the main subjects are personal development, and humility in power. At the start of King’s Envoy, Taran Elijah is a desperate man, struggling with a deep yet unfulfilled desire to learn the control of his power. Taran’s yearning has been frustrated by the death of his mentor (who also happened to be his father), and the fact that the Artesan power is in serious decline in Albia.
This concept of “what lengths might a person go to in order to achieve their potential” was the catalyst that kick-started my Artesan series, as I mentioned in my I DIDN’T WANT TO BE AN AUTHOR blog post. What I didn’t realize was how fundamental to the entire series this seemingly insignificant idea had become.
“Artesans” follows Taran through several stages of his life. In many ways he alters beyond all comprehension, yet in one major factor, his nature remains unchanged. I didn’t plan this, and it fascinates me. With no conscious help from me, Taran took control of his destiny and his nature developed at its own pace.
Taran Elijah is not the only character to have his nature exposed and tested to extremes in “Artesans”. Humility in power is another strong premise running throughout the series, and two other characters demonstrate completely different sides to this fundamental topic. As I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll just have to read the books to find out who they are and what effect this conflict has on the plot.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Novel characters - Fact or Fiction?

By which I mean, how do you create your characters? Which is best - basing them on real people, or creating them from scratch?
I expect everyone has a different opinion on this one so I’ll just tell you what works for me. There are no characters in my Artesans series based on real people, except one. I cannot deny that my main female character is the kind of person I’d like to be, but unfortunately, I’m nothing like her. Except that neither of us is tall.

The one character who is drawn from real life is Elias Rovannon, High King of Albia. I based him on the English actor Sean Bean, who many of you will know from his portrayal of Boromir in the Fellowship of the Ring, the first Lord of the Rings film. He also starred as Richard Sharpe, from novelist Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series. I have long been a fan of Sean Bean and by some unconscious quirk, when I began creating Elias Rovannon, the face in my mind was Sean’s. (PS: Don’t tell my husband! J)
I don’t know if Elias’s nature mirrors Sean’s at all, I made it a mix of Sharpe and Boromir, but physically, Elias and Sean are the same. Every time I imagine the thrill of having my series made into a film (and who among us doesn’t?) it’s Sean playing High King Elias.
I wonder what he would think about being the basis for a fantasy character? I hope he would be flattered, as although Elias has his faults, he’s essentially an honest human being who tries to run his realm fairly. He has some terrific action scenes and has to cope with betrayal, unrequited love, and a broken heart. He doesn’t come into his own until the second trilogy, but he’s a major player in the Artesan series.

So – who have you based characters on, and has that person ever found out? Or do you believe fictional characters should not be based on real people? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Fabulous Contest - you really want to win this one!

My friend and fellow Rhemalda author, Doug Brown, is hosting a fantastic contest to help publicize his fantasy novel Legends Reborn: Light of Epertase.
This is a wonderful idea and I'm sure it will be massively popular. So follow the link to learn more, and go enter!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Writing my novel - what an incredible experience!

Writing King’s Envoy, the first book in the Artesans of Albia series, was an incredible and, if I’m truthful, unnerving experience for me. I didn’t set out with the intention of writing a book – let alone a whole series – so I was completely taken by surprise when my little daydream, the scenario I described in my “I didn’t want to be an author!” post, turned into a frenzy of writing that took over my life. For nearly nine years. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like it. For those who are old enough to remember the early computers, which used to spew their results out in a flip-flopping avalanche of perforated paper, that’s what writing Artesans was like for me. A good, old-fashioned “computer dump”. I had a hard time keeping up with all this “stuff” that just kept streaming into my head. I certainly didn’t know where it was coming from. At the time I started (Dec 2001) I didn’t own a computer and didn’t know how to use one, so I wrote everything longhand. Yes, in pen or pencil. (Anyone else remember writing like that?) I still have those first handwritten manuscripts (what a grand name for a stack of scribbled-on paper!) and the scrawly writing is testament to the efforts of my hand to keep up with the ideas tumbling from my mind. These days cut-and-paste makes things so much easier, but back then I had little arrows in margins and little asterisks on separate bits of paper, all indicating scenes that had to be inserted, or actions that couldn’t possibly have happened at that moment in the plot and had to be shifted. I still don’t know how I kept up with it all.

In those early days I was working “in secret”. I wasn’t writing a book, only amusing myself on cold winter days. There was no point telling anyone about it – there was nothing to tell. Only – gradually, day by day, something was growing. Something was struggling toward birth, toward fulfilment. Something was taking me over, using me for support, like a tree branch supports an orchid. Like that host tree, I was simply the framework from which this entity would flourish, and it would carry me along in its wake whether I willed it or not.

After a while - and after I began learning to transcribe my work to a laptop - I realized what was going on. I was writing a book! No one was more shocked than me. When I finally finished this “book” (it came out at nearly 400,000 words and eventually became the first Artesans trilogy) I knew I had to show it to someone. The obvious choice was my husband, who hadn’t failed to notice the times I’d woken in the night to scribble little notes, or the times during a TV program when I’d mutter, “Yes! That’s the way it’ll work” and scribbled once again. Bless him – what must he have thought? I’ll never forget the day I told him what I’d done, but I’ll have to save that for another post.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Review of Ellipsis, by Nikki Dudley.

This novel completely lived up to my initial favorable impression. The shocking and intriguing first chapter set up certain expectations that the author effortlessly carried right through to the end. The characters are complex and well drawn, the plot keeps the reader guessing, and the prose flows easily. The viewpoint switches between first and third person, a sometimes risky literary ploy. Yet Nikki Dudley handles this with consummate ease, proving her worth as an author of note.
I have no hesitation in recommending Ellipsis as a brilliant read.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

I didn't want to be an Author!

I guess that’s quite a startling statement for someone about to see her debut novel published, so maybe I should clarify. What I really mean is that I never intended to be a writer; it was never in my life plan. If you had asked me at age five what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would probably have answered “a pony” or “a puppy”.
By age eight a huge dose of reality had kicked in and I’d realized that the chances of me actually becoming a pony or a puppy were distressingly low. I then turned my ambitions toward the next best thing – owning a pony or a puppy, and preferably one of each. Reality was prodding me in the back even then though, because deep down I knew my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a pony. Life plan revision number two – could my ambition run to a puppy?

The answer was yes, although not until I was much older. The horse-ownership dream also became reality later in life, but that is a story for another post. The point I am ramblingly trying to make is that although the idea of serious writing didn’t enter my head until the boring necessities of finding a paying job and somewhere to live had been taken care of, some small seeds of Fantasy had clearly been sprinkled over the fertile soil of my mind, even at the tender age of five.

If I didn’t set out to become a writer, I hear you ask, then how did the nine-novel Artesans of Albia fantasy series come about? The answer is twofold – Fortune and Boredom.

Fortune came in the shape of my geologist/geophysicist husband, who works as a consultant in the oil and gas industry. The company employing him back in the early Nineties were opening an exploration office in Italy, and they needed his skills. Oh bother, I thought, I’m going to have to give up my thrilling and fulfilling job in the British Civil Service and live in Italy for three years. How ever am I going to cope? I don’t, of course, intend to relate the full tale of those three years – suffice it to say that we had a wonderful time, loved the country, and still have a passion for pasta and pizza.

Now to the Boredom.
I’d given up my job of thirteen years when we left for Italy and when we returned to the UK, I didn’t immediately look for another. This left ample time for thinking and daydreaming – a dangerously creative state for me. Although I’d never done much serious writing out of school, I was always imagining little scenarios and acting them out in my head whenever I was bored. One in particular was born after I’d watched a children’s TV series which ran in the 1970s. Some of you might remember it – it was called “Tarot, Ace of Wands.” The scenario that took shape within my mind had its roots in a question that occurred to me during one episode: Supposing you were born with a glorious power but didn’t have the knowledge to use it. Who would you turn to? This question, and the scenario it gave rise to, eventually became the premise behind King’s Envoy – and ultimately, the entire Artesans of Albia series.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

I can’t tell you how excited I was on 1st February to see my novel’s cover finally displayed to the world. I was easily as excited as the day Rhemalda Publishing told me they loved King’s Envoy and wanted to publish it. Much hard work has gone into this cover, both in the concept and design stages, and much worry too! Eve Ventrue, the artist, did a fine job of bringing my imagination to life, and skillfully handled all my nervous questions and requests for changing this or that. I am immensely pleased with the final result, and must give thanks and credit to Eve for her expertise, and to Rhett of Rhemalda for helping me decide on the image.
I have to say that designing the cover was harder than I thought it would be. I guess that’s mostly because I’d grown used to thinking of the book in terms of the temporary cover I created for the peer-critique website, Authonomy. King’s Envoy made its debut on Authonomy back in September 2008. The site provided generic “book covers” which writers were free to use, or they could design and upload their own. As I’m no good with design programs, it took me a while to come up with something I liked. I decided the cover should portray the rank-badge of the King’s envoy, which is a shooting star, but I couldn’t find a suitable image. When my efforts to draw one proved similarly inadequate, I used a simple star instead, and placed a blue border around it. Although it wasn’t exactly as I wanted it, this blue “cover” came to represent the novel in my mind whenever I thought about it.
Much as I liked it, I always had my doubts that this concept was suitable for a “proper” cover. When I came to discuss it with Rhett, I realized and accepted that the book needed a completely new image. That blue-bordered star, however, resisted my efforts to dislodge it, and I had a hard time trying to pick a different image to portray the story. I like a book’s cover to relate to the title, and for reasons you will only understand if you read the book (hint hint!), this proved difficult. It also had to be an image that would appeal to both male and female readers, because King’s Envoy, indeed the entire Artesans of Albia series, is intended for readers of both sexes. The image that Rhett and I came up with, and Eve so beautifully brought to life is, I think, both dramatic and compelling. No one could be in any doubt that this is a fantasy novel, and I hope the cover raises sufficient questions to tempt a reader into picking it up.
The image went through several transformations before finally settling into its present form and we tried various poses and angles. I was becoming worried because none of them were speaking to me, and I really wanted to feel a deep connection to this image. Then we tried the final angle, and I can’t remember now whose idea it was to swing the perspective round. As soon as I saw the image from that angle, I thought – Wow! That’s what I was looking for.

I hope it appeals to you as much as it does to me. If you like it, why not read the book and discover the hopes, dreams, frustrations, shame and desperation contained within this striking cover?