How to explain being an author to a bunch of kids at a church infant school

Look at this! I was invited to speak at our local Church of England infants’ school by the vicar, some years ago now, and I’ve just discovered the talk I wrote for them. I managed to get most of it out without consulting the paper, and they asked me all sorts of things. Good times!

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Hello everyone. My name’s Alex, and I am an author. I should probably start by explaining what that is, shouldn’t I? Well, I suppose you all have favourite books? I certainly hope that you’ve all read *a* book and enjoyed it! But did you ever wonder who makes up the stories inside storybooks, from the little stories like The Gruffalo to the great big stories like The Lord of the Rings? The person who makes up the stories that go in books is called an Author – and that’s what I do.

I should explain how it all happens. It starts when I have an idea. Let’s say I’m doing the washing up or driving to Ely, when I suddenly think to myself “wouldn’t it be interesting to write a story about some girl Vikings. They’ve been left behind when the boys go off on a raid, because the boys don’t think the girls should be able to fight. But no one realized there was a dragon in the hill near their village, and now it’s woken up, and the girls (who can’t fight, remember) are going to have to defeat the dragon using their amazing skills with needlework and cookery.”

So, I get home (or leave the washing up) and sit down at my computer. I fire up my word processor and I start to write. I write books for grown ups, which means that my books have to be really quite long. This one [holds up False Colors] is One hundred thousand words long, which is Two Hundred and Thirty three pages. So you can see that I have to think up a lot of story to fill that amount of space. I’m going to have to decide what all the girls’ names are and what they like and are good at. Who they’re all friends with. I’ll need at least one boy because it’s not fair on boy readers if there aren’t any boys at all in the book – but I’ll need a reason why he didn’t go on the raid with the others. And perhaps we’ll find out half way through that the dragon is really sleepy, normally, but that trolls are making him attack. So then the characters will have to go and deal with the trolls.

It takes me a very long time to write a book because they can get very complicated, and I have to make everything up as I go along. So it takes a lot of thinking. I write from about 10.30, when my husband goes to work until about 5pm, when my children come home from school, with a break for lunch and a break for coffee, and it still takes me almost a year of work to write a single book.

When I’ve got my story finished, that’s not the end of it. That’s only the start of it, in fact, because at that point my story looks like this [Hold up a manuscript.] I have to send this off to people called Publishers. If they like it and they think that other people will want to buy it, then they will pay me for it. They’ll have someone called an editor work with me to make it even better, and they’ll get their cover artists to design a nice cover for it, and they will be the ones who turn my story into a book and send it out to the bookshops for people to read.

This is how I send it to them [hold up manuscript] and this is what it looks like when the Publishers have done their stuff [hold up False Colors.] As you can see, it looks much prettier, but all the words inside are still my words, every single one of them.

So, that’s what an author does.

I have always had stories going on inside my head, and I already knew that I wanted to be an author when I was 11, but it’s a very difficult thing to get into, and unless you’re very lucky, it’s not something that you can make a living at. The person who wrote the Harry Potter books is very rich now, but most authors need to have another job too.

Also for a long time I thought that perhaps God wanted me to do something harder than writing. I thought he would much prefer it if I went out to the Congo as a missionary, or I devoted my life to ending hunger. I thought that God couldn’t possibly want me to do something that I was good at and I enjoyed, because how would that be any kind of proof that I loved him? I’d have to do something miserable, that I didn’t want to do, just to show him that I loved him.

I was very silly in those days. Nowadays, I realize that God gives people a special talent that they are good at, and that they are willing to practice and work at really hard, because they enjoy it – and he hopes that they will use it to do something good in the world.

For example, I write almost all of my books with gay heroes. When people grow up, they want to find someone to love and settle down with, someone to spend the rest of their lives with. Boys who grow up to fall in love with girls are called “straight”, and boys who grow up to fall in love with other boys are called “gay.”

Now it says in the Bible that God created all people in his own image – he created everything and he saw that it was good. So we know that God loves everybody the same, whether they’re straight or gay. But there are a lot of people in the world who get a bit silly the same way that I did, and they think that if you’re gay you should try not to be, in order to please God. This makes life quite hard for gay people, and other people use it as a chance to be mean and look down on gay people.

I don’t think that’s what God wants at all. So I write books with gay heroes because I don’t think it’s fair that only straight people should get to be heroes in books. Everyone needs to know that people like themselves can do exciting things and fight against evil, overcome all kinds of problems, fall in love and live happily ever after. And that’s something that I can tell my readers even when they might be feeling all alone.

I know that I have learned lots of wonderful things from books. When Gollum saves the world at the end of The Lord of the Rings, I learned how unexpectedly Bilbo’s mercy from the Hobbit – the fact that he felt sorry for Gollum, even though Gollum didn’t deserve it, and didn’t try to kill him after all – that tiny little act of compassion had lead to the entire world being saved. I always think I wouldn’t know nearly as much about good and bad if I hadn’t read The Lord of the Rings.

Books were often my best friends when I was growing up, because I was shy even then and I didn’t dare talk to people about things that were important to me. But I found books that showed me that there were other people like me in the world – that somewhere someone understood me. And that really helped.

So I like to think that being an author is quite an important thing after all, and that God knew what he was doing when he wanted me to do what I also wanted to do with my life. It would have been nice to feed the starving millions, but I was always rubbish at science, so I wouldn’t have done that very well. Probably there’s someone else who would do it better, and quite probably they would enjoy it more too.

I should probably finish by saying that if any of you already know that you have something you’re good at, and you enjoy, maybe you should think about how you can use that talent that God has given you in order to help make the world a kinder place. If you don’t know yet what you really want to do, that’s good too because there’s plenty of time, and plenty of opportunities that won’t even come your way for a while. But I think the one thing I learned was that God doesn’t want you to be miserable. Work is going to be a big part of your life, so pick something to do that you enjoy – if you can – because you’ll be happier, and you’ll do it better than anyone would who was only doing it because they had to.

Right. I think I’ve run out of things to say. Does anyone have any questions?

Reorganising!

One of the things I’ve done an awful lot of recently was to read “How to be a self-published author” self-help books. The most recent was Marketing the Romance by Liam Livings. All of them seem to be in agreement that it’s important to market by genre. People buy by genre. Even people who like a particular author only read their books of the genre they like. I know this is true because I’m exactly the same.

And yet, for the past ten years I’ve tried to publish everything under the Alex Beecroft name, diluting my ‘brand’ to the point where nobody knew what to expect from me next.

Well, it’s never too late to improve!

I made a good start at detangling everything by at least writing cozy mystery under the Robyn Beecroft name, and now I’m going to continue that rationalization by separating out the SF/F novels under Alex Oliver.

This does mean that I’m going to be re-issuing some of my backlist under the new name. That should also give me a chance to re-edit them, tighten the storylines up, and maybe de-emphasize the romance.

So this should leave us with:

  • Alex Beecroft – gay romance
  • Robyn Beecroft – mystery
  • Alex Oliver – SF/F

I know in the past I’ve written books which were too much romance for the SF/F readers and too much SF/F for the romance readers, and therefore pleased nobody. So this should help me to know exactly what sort of a story I’m writing, and it will also hopefully let you know more accurately what sort of a story you’re buying.

Of course it lands me with yet another website to design and a whole load of books to rebrand, but I live for that sort of thing 😉

Every candle casts a light

aka “Do less, so that you can do more.”

If you read my last blog entry you’ll know that I’ve been going through something of a crisis recently. It’s been such an ongoing thing that I’ve decided to call it a mid-life crisis. I am in fact 54 this year, so I’m a bit overdue for one.

One of the things that has been afflicting me recently has been the knowledge that I will probably now never amount to anything. I’d better unpack that a little, so bear with me if I seem to be meandering.

You and I have been brought up on books, TV shows and movies where there is a hero. The hero, reluctant or not, is called upon to save the world. They meet various mentors. They refine themselves through various struggles. They meet their greatest challenge, face their foe and defeat them, and in the process they save the nation/world/galaxy and everyone in it.

People who model their understanding of the world on stories – ie, most people, but storytellers most of all – have therefore been primed to see their lives as a hero’s journey. I remember studying Dante’s Divine Comedy and learning that in Dante’s day, the great mass of people were considered so indistinguishable from each other that they didn’t even qualify for real Hell. In order to have an afterlife at all, you had to have achieved fame, or infamy. If you hadn’t done anything notable in your life, you literally didn’t matter even to God.

Elitist claptrap, right? But IDK. I had internalized the idea that everyone was the hero of their own story, and to me that meant that if I was a hero, I had to do something to justify my existence. In a dim and not very well thought out way, that meant I was responsible for the state of the world. Even though I had never voted conservative, I was responsible for the xenophobia and corruption of the government and the fact that my children were having things harder than I was at that age. Even though I was not even in America, I was somehow responsible for everything Trump was doing. Or I was responsible for saving everyone from it.

But that turned out to be more of a burden than I could carry. I ran into the wall of my own powerlessness and broke my nose on it. I’m not a bestselling author (except in certain small Amazon categories.) I can’t save the world. I don’t even know where I would start.

Perhaps it’s a little late in my life to be running into the knowledge that I’m only a very little person and there’s not a lot I can do, but I find myself without a story-framework for a life that is not the life of a hero. What is the point? I have been thinking. What’s the point of being alive at all if I can’t stop Trump, stop Brexit, make everyone be decent to each other? If I make no difference, what is the point?

Fast forward to this morning, and I was in church. Around the nave altar were four lit candles, and another four around the high altar. It occurred to me that a candle-flame is only a very little light, but it’s still a very beautiful thing. It may not be enough light on its own to illuminate a great big, dark, vaulted place like the church, but it will still glimmer from the brass and the gold leaf. Even if no candle-flame is larger than any of the others, each makes a light and the sum total of that light is greater than it would be if that single candle was not there.  With eight, twelve, twenty, a hundred candles, you have enough light to see, to read, to make a difference.

The loss of even one diminishes the whole, but no one candle is expected to light the whole room all by itself.

Recently I have found a lot of comfort in this saying from Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

Time for another diversion. I’ve recently discovered that I actually enjoy exercise. Why has it taken me this long to find that out? Because for most of my life, I’ve been trying to do too much. I’ve gone to the gym or the pool and pushed myself to do as much as I possibly could, and then I’ve gone home feeling sick from over-exertion and got up the next morning so achy it took me a week to recover. After which I avoided going back for several years, certain that endorphins were a myth, or at least a thing that happened to other people, not to me.

Recently, however, I learned to start by doing less. I swam until I didn’t want to swim any more, then I went home and took anti-inflammatory painkillers so I didn’t stiffen up. Next time, I added two more lengths. Then again, building it up gradually so I never exhausted myself. In this way, I ended up doing less swimming per session than I had when I swam to exhaustion, but because I now was going often, I was doing way more swimming as a regular component of my lifestyle.

I call this the ‘do less in order to do more’ principle. If I do less, to the point where I can manage to do this thing on a regular basis, I am actually doing a lot more of it than I would be if I was intending to do an enormous amount of it, intimidating myself by the prospect, and eventually failing to do anything.

If I write 200 words a day, I am writing more than if I aim to write 2000 a day, fail, feel terrible about failing, and then avoid writing altogether for months.

And if I do something good to help the world – if, for example, I give money or time to a food bank, canvass for a decent political party, volunteer to help local LGBT kids or whatever I feel I can do on a regular, long term basis – that is better than feeling helpless to make everything better and doing nothing as a result.

I find this thought comforting. It is of more worth to the world for me to do the small things that I can do than it is for me to feel so overwhelmed and hopeless that I do nothing at all. Therefore I shall continue to do things.

(And if I do find the great amulet of doom, the casting of which into a fire will split open the dimensions and catapult us all into the good timeline, I’ll take it as far as I can. It may not be all the way.)

So what have you been doing recently, Alex?

Not much, is the answer. I have 11 chapters of Murder of a Working Ghost written, and it is still on track to be out in time for Halloween, but I find myself going through a bit of a crisis.

I’m self aware enough to know that I always go through a crisis when the children are at home for the summer holidays. That hasn’t changed now that they’re home from uni instead of from school. My ability to plan my own day goes out of the window, and with it my ability to section off enough undisturbed time to get into the writing mindset also plummets.

But this year feels worse, because it’s not just the summer. This year, it’s been all year. When I finished re-publishing all my Samhain books and then all my Riptide books, I found myself without a publisher for the first time since 2007, and it hit me hard.

Before I first got published, I thought that being published would be the best thing in the world, and that I’d be famous; I’d be giving interviews to magazines, and my books would have a cult following and it would be everything a person could ever ask for.

Then I got published, and it was awesome, and I was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine and my books were in bookshops and for a moment I was on the top of that hill. And then I started to come back down again. I still had to keep writing. I still wasn’t making any money. Problems with publishers kept cropping up to the point where I stopped looking for new ones and only concentrated on the two I really trusted. I figured out exactly what brand of queer I was, and that was great, but it threw a wrench into my desire to write m/m romance.

Then the two publishers I trusted did some stuff, and I found myself facing a steep learning curve in an attempt to make it as a self-pubbed author. I did many courses. I read a lot of stuff about Amazon’s algorythms and SEO and sprucing up your covers and your book pages and how to write cover copy, and how to ad-stack and the mysteries of Facebook and Amazon ads. I put a lot of it into practice.

And I still wasn’t making any money. After over ten years writing, with 26 books out, I am making a little less money every year than I was when I only had one.

This is starkly discouraging.

The thing that I used to do for pleasure – writing – has become a job for me, so I now approach it as a kind of drudgery. I don’t have anything left to look forward to – I’ve been published. I’ve been in bookshops and magazines. I’ve hoped that when I had a decent back catalog I might start to earn a living wage, but now I have one, and I haven’t. Ten years as a writer has just left me disillusioned and not honestly wanting to write any more.

But I have no idea what I could do instead. I have chronic ill health and depression which means that I tend to let down anyone who is expecting me to turn up for things on a regular basis. Writing is one of the few things I can do and take days off whenever I need them.

On a non-practical level, I used to love writing. I used to be really excited about the worlds in my head, and I would love to have that back.

I don’t know how to get it back, but carrying on the way I’m going isn’t working. I will be finishing Murder of a Working Ghost, because I have people waiting for it. But after that, I’ll be having a long deep thought about where I go next.

Any suggestions for how to recover the joy of writing? I’ll try anything, even yoga.

Donation Change details

Having tried to donate my royalties from Contraband Hearts to BlackTrans.org, I could not get their website to allow me to give them money or to contact them to say the donate button didn’t work. And when I emailed them, the email bounced.

That’s not a hopeful sign. There being nothing else I can do to try to give them money, and in honour of Marsha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera, I have instead donated to Trans Women of Color Collective

In the absence of someone coming and telling me there’s something wrong with TWOCC, I will be donating my royalties from Contraband Hearts to them in future.

Contraband Hearts named one of PW’s Best Summer Reads

How awesome is this? Publisher’s Weekly has selected Contraband Hearts as one of its five best Summer Reads of 2018.

Summer Reads list available through Publisher’s Weekly

Best Summer Books, 2018

Well, that’s going on the front of the website 🙂

Contraband Hearts is out now

I should have done this yesterday, but I couldn’t access my website yesterday for some reason, so today it has to be.

After what seems like years and years, Contraband Hearts is out!

I know some of you have been waiting for a long time for me to write another age of sail book. Finally I’ve managed to deliver 🙂
 
His future depends on bringing the smuggler to justice. His heart demands to join him.

Customs officer Peregrine Dean is sent by his patron to investigate rumors of corruption in the Porthkennack customs house. There he is tasked by the local magistrate to bring down the villainous Tomas Quick, a smuggler with fingers in every pie in town. Fired with zeal and ambition, and struck to the core by his first glimpse of Tomas, Perry determines to stop at nothing until he has succeeded.

Tomas Quick is an honest thief—a criminal regarded by the town as their local Robin Hood. He’s also an arrogant man who relishes the challenge posed by someone as determined and intelligent as Perry. Both of them come to enjoy their cat-and-mouse rivalry a little too much.

But the eighteenth century is a perilous time for someone like Perry: a black man in England. Two have already disappeared from the wrecks of ships. Tomas and Perry must forsake their competition and learn to trust each other if they are to rescue them, or Perry may become the third victim.

NOTE: All profits from the sales of this book are donated to Black Trans Advocacy.

 
I’ve written five blog posts for the blog tour, and I don’t know myself which of the numerous websites they’ll be on. In an ironic twist, although my website seems to be okay today, Riptide’s is down for maintenance, so I can’t link you to the list of blog tour locations. And I didn’t make a note of them myself, so I can’t go and visit to reply to comments.

I think I’ve had more organized book releases!

However, if you would like to read the book, you can find it here:

 

“The Arising” free from today until Friday

Remember when I wrote a really long fantasy novel, set in 18th Century Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire, and then it was accepted for publication by Anglerfish Press, and they decided it was uneconomical to produce in one volume because it was over 400 pages long? So they produced it in two volumes – Sons of Devils and Angels of Istanbul. And people liked them very much but consistently said “This would have been better if it had not been cut in two. Cutting it in two messes with the pacing and also I really hate when a book ends in a cliffhanger.”

Well, I recently got the rights back, and I have just re-issued the story in a single volume, now called “The Arising,” available in ebook or in a stonking great paperback the size of a really respectable fantasy novel.

To celebrate, (and I freely admit, in the hopes of garnering a few reviews for the new edition), I’m offering the ebook for free from today (23rd of April) to Friday (27th April).

1742

Ten years ago, the island of Atlantis rose out of the sea, triggering mechanisms all over the world that made magic a genuine force once more. Now paranormal creatures are coming out of hiding and demanding their rights. In every country, scholars and scientists are scrambling to research and understand the occult so they can harness it safely. And all over the world, rulers and warlords are commissioning magical weapons they don’t understand and can’t control.

The Age of Enlightenment has become a race for dominance that human beings are no longer guaranteed to win. This is the perfect time for them to go to war with each other. Obviously.

~

This is a historical fantasy set in the 18th Century. Inspired by the first half of Dracula, in which a hapless young man travels to Romania and meets a fascinating nobleman, this adds magic and the excitement of the age of Enlightenment to the mix.

In order to save his lover from his vampire parents, Radu Vacarescu must let them loose on his country. In order to save his country from them, he must let them glut themselves on the Ottoman Empire. What on earth must he do to save the rest of the world?

If you like the sound of that, hop over to Amazon sometime before Friday this week and get it for free 🙂

Free Giveaway

To celebrate a combined Easter and my relaunch of my Riptide books, I thought I would run a giveaway. If you fancy getting Trowchester Blues for free, it is now available for a bargain price of absolutely zero on Amazon, and will be available for nothing until April the 4th.

GET IT HERE

Michael May is losing it. Long ago, he joined the Metropolitan Police to escape his father’s tyranny and protect people like himself. Now his father is dead, and he’s been fired for punching a suspect. Afraid of his own rage, he returns to Trowchester—and to his childhood home, with all its old fears and memories. When he meets a charming, bohemian bookshop owner who seems to like him, he clings tight.

Fintan Hulme is an honest man now. Five years ago, he retired from his work as a high class London fence and opened a bookshop. Then an old client brings him a stolen book too precious to turn away, and suddenly he’s dealing with arson and kidnapping, to say nothing of all the lies he has to tell his friends. Falling in love with an ex-cop with anger management issues is the last thing he should be doing.

Finn thinks Michael is incredibly sexy. Michael knows Finn is the only thing that still makes him smile. But in a relationship where cops and robbers are natural enemies, that might not be enough to save them.

~

“Finn’s belief that “if the heart is going to err… It’s surely always best to err on the side of love” underlies an entertaining,emotionally satisfying mix of intrigue, mourning, adventure, comedy, and romance.”Publishers Weekly review of Trowchester Blues

Cover Art update

I’ve spent the last week making new covers for most of my Riptide books, and now I want to show them off 🙂

The Trowchester Series now looks like this:

Blessed Isle now looks like this:

Which I’m particularly excited about because Garnet regards the whole story as a message in a bottle cast out onto the seas of time. So, yay for symbolism 😉

Sons of Devils and Angels of Istanbul now look like this

Which I feel makes it clearer that they are primarily historical Fantasy rather than romance. I was sad to part with my illustrated covers for these, but I thought they looked a little Young Adult, and might have been a bit confusing.

However, I have paid for my illustrated covers of Crimson Outlaw and Labyrinth because (a) I love them, and (b) there’s no way that I would find better depictions of 18th Century Romania or Minoan Crete in the desert of modernity that is stock photo sites.

So Crimson Outlaw and Labyrinth still look like this

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