Publisher’s Weekly reviews Trowchester Blues

I am made up to have got a review in such an august publication :) And even more so one that concludes:

“A multi-ethnic, diversely gendered cast of characters inhabits this homey universe… 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.”

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So I think they liked it :)


Guest Post by Tony-Paul Devissage

Today I’m handing the blog over to TPV to celebrate the launch of his In The Dark trilogy, the first book of which comes out on the 15th of December. So without further ado…

 

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“What do you think of Fifty Shades of Grey?” my muse asked.

“As little as possible,” I replied.

“Bet you’ve never read it,” she persisted.

“Bet you’d be correct,” I answered.

“It’s a great book,” she continued. “But…”

“But…?” I prompted. Aha, now we’re getting to the reason for this rambling.

“I was thinking you should try something of that sort…”

“Such as…?”

“A romance…now don’t look like that,” she went on as I curled my lip and shook my head. “A contemporary romance…a sexy romance…but something a little different, maybe…yes, I know…an m/m contemporary romance!” She paused. “On second thought, never mind…forget I said anything…”

She looked extremely pleased with herself, and something else…cunning.

“You don’t think I can do it,” I guessed.

She shrugged. “You did well with Absinthe, but Romance isn’t horror. It’d be out of your league. I doubt you could have two people embrace and watch the sunset together. You’d probably have the sun explode and sear them to ashes.”

That hurt. Because it was true.

“All right.” I retorted. “You’ve got a deal. I’ll write you an m/m contemporary romance with absolutely no horror….”

“…and a Happily Ever After ending,” she added.

“And an HEA,” I promised grudgingly. Damn, that means no poisonings, or shootings, no ripped out throats, or deathbed scenes.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” she replied.

Why does she do this to me? Get me to thinking of writing a book, then pretend to back out? Because my muse is a manipulator, that’s why, and she knows just which buttons to push to get me to write.

I’ll show you,” I said aloud. ‘I won’t write one book, I’ll write a trilogy…and it’ll have the happiest ending ever.”

So I kept my promise to my muse and wrote the In The Dark trilogy. I started out with a premise…boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back…and proceeded from there. It does have a few “dark” elements, but there are absolutely no vampires, ghosts, family curses, duels to the death, magic, or any other paranormal or supernatural elements…although one character does use the word “vampire” once.

It’s simply the story of Kimberly Crosley, a London rent boy, and Christopher (Kit) Laurence, a retired soccer champ, two people as different from each other as day from night, who discover they have some things in common…

I’m not too good in contemporary settings, at least I don’t think I am, so immediately I decided not to set this story in the South. As if wanting to get as far away from those southern roots as possible, I placed my heroes in London.

I envisioned a dark London side street…far away from Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square…a young man stands with his fellow gentlemen of the night…a mysterious black car comes down the street…he notices it, not merely because it’s a 1930 Chrysler touring saloon and this is 2014, but because it’s come by every night for a week…and he’s curious about who owns that car and what he does with the young men he picks up…

…and the story began.

Being who I am, I immediately knew I was going to do a ton of research. After all, what did I know about London other than what I saw on PBS’ Masterpiece Mysteries? By the time I finished, I knew a damn sight more than when I started, from street slang to soccer awards. I learned what a jumper is…what Manchester UK and Madrid Real are…how to spell “tire,” “jail,” and “curb” the British way (my editor and I had a terrific row over the word “gaol”)…the parts of a British automobile…and quite a few other things.

Like Gaul, my book was divided into three parts, and I found I didn’t need any supernatural elements. Angel Delahanty, Kim’s pimp…pardon, I mean, entrepreneur supplying elements of physical satisfaction, is devil enough despite his name.

In Book One, Kim Crosley, a rent boy with too much curiosity, tries to discover the Chrysler’s identity, leading him to meet Christopher “Kit” Laurence, a retired soccer champ who’s been a virtual recluse since a sports injury finished his career. They’re obviously attracted to each other; though Kim’s willing, Kit keeps him at arms-length. Both men have secrets getting in the way but neither has the courage to speak those secrets and dispel the threats they offer to their relationship.

Book Two deals with the progression of their relationship. Kit becomes merely a Pygmalion to Kim, making the sow’s ear who’s a rent boy into a silk purse of a young gentleman, which is definitely not what Kim wants from him.

Here’s where I let Devlin, Kit’s Irish chauffeur/bodyguard come into play. I enjoyed writing this character. I envisioned him as a hefty guy, rough on the outside to hide a mellow interior, and fiercely loyal to his boss. He tells Kim plainly he thinks he’s simply a fortune-hunter who’s going to abscond with most of Kit’s fortune as well as the family silverware. The other important secondary character is Toby, Kim’s flatmate. It’s what happens to Toby that helps him convince everyone he’s not after Kit’s money but actually cares for the man himself.

In Book Three, Kim is welcomed into Kit’s life. Kim learns the reasons for Kit’s hesitation in showing affection. There’s a breaking down of all the walls between them as Angel arises to threaten everything Kim has gained.

I think it’s a good story…and a good romance, too. It has an HEA and there’s no doubt about it, because this time, it was a done deal. Though my characters struggle to get what they want, they certainly deserve it when they achieve it.

It’s an m/m romance, yes…but it’s also the story of two people—who could be any two people in the world—facing unusual odds to be together and achieve that HEA.

Why the title In The Dark? Because both Kit and Kim discover they can speak their most hidden fears into the safety the dark offers, and it’s only after they’re said those words can their love come into the light.

~*~*~*~

EXCERPT from Book One, Whispers in the Dark:

The black car came around the corner just as I emerged from the alley. As Angel instructed, I always waited a few minutes, giving the john time to put a little distance between us. Let him get about eight steps ahead before you move. So I did. I always tried to follow orders. It was best all around. Saved unpleasantness later.

I stopped just outside the alley entrance, rubbing my left mandible. My jaw muscles were still aching. He’d been built like a retired footballer, heavyset and thick…everywhere. He was already gone, back to the main thoroughfare and his life, wherever that was. I, however, was stuck here. For a moment I wished I could follow the man, but my life was on that street corner and I had to get back to work no matter my personal preferences.

That was when I saw the car. It was definitely something commanding attention. A 1930 Chrysler Royal Touring saloon, big and black, bulky as a Sherman tank and about as out of place on a London street as anything could be. It looked like something from a 1930’s American gangster film, a car Al Capone or someone of that ilk would ride in. The car itself appeared in pristine condition, as I imagined it did when it came off the assembly line eighty-three years before. The chrome was immaculate, the wax job reflecting the streetlamps like a mirror. It was as conspicuous as Hell and obviously whoever owned it didn’t care he was announcing his appearance as loud as if he had a brass band marching in front of him. It was past midnight so perhaps he thought that late at night no one would notice.

He was certainly wrong there.

There was another reason I noticed the car. This was the seventh time in as many nights it had been here. Not that we didn’t have returnees. All of us had regulars, but not in seven consecutive days. I was curious to see the insatiable gent riding in the back of that car, someone obviously so wealthy he had a chauffeur driving a classic antique auto, someone picking up rent boys and carrying them away for several hours each night. Also someone who didn’t give a damn.

The car came closer, slowing to a crawl. The engine purred so the original one had been replaced with something much more modern and powerful. I stopped near the streetlamp, my usual spot. It slid to a running stop at the kerb.

For me?

I took a step forward. The car moved on. I watched to see who was the lucky one tonight. The car braked halfway down the block. In front of Raven.

Damn.

The streetlamp highlighted his pretty painted face as the window on the driver’s side rolled down. Raven sauntered over. He put a hand on the sill, leaning down to peer inside, speaking to whomever was driving.

His name wasn’t really Raven. It was Calvin Mackay and he was a Scot from Inverness but Angel called him Raven so all of us did, too. With his dark hair, slightly sharp features, and hazel eyes, he looked a little like a blackbird so that was appropriate. His hair, cut in a rent boy handle—shaved on the sides and hanging long down the back like tailfeathers—furthered the image. We all had aliases and weren’t allowed to use our real names while we were working. Since we rarely associated once we left the block, our streetnames were how most of us knew each other.

Raven straightened, moved to the side of the car and opened the back door, getting in. It was dark inside and the windows were tinted, another modern touch. I couldn’t see the mysterious john, or even if there was anyone in the back seat. Maybe the chauffeur was taking Raven to his employer. Hell, for all I knew, maybe there was a mattress in the back and he was just going to drive around the corner and stop so the gent could get the drubbing he wanted then and there. The car was certainly big enough to house a queen-size bed.

As it disappeared, I hoped I was around when it came back. I decided I was going to satisfy my curiosity and corner Raven and asked him what’s going on?

“You look like you’re waiting for someone.”

Those words, spoken behind me, drew my attention away from the car and back to work. A big, broad gent stood there, basket bulging. Sod it all, another rugby player gone to seed. My jaw muscles clenched in protest.

“Maybe it’s you, luv,” I said, reaching out and grasping the lamppost and kind of swaying back and forth against it. My version of a pole dance.

“Why don’t we discuss finances?” he suggested. “And then take a little walk.”

Oh cute, this one.

“Why don’t we step away to where it’s a little quieter for our discussion?” I countered.

“Good enough.”

He followed me into the alley.

~*~*~*~

The In the Dark trilogy (Whispers in the Dark, Confessions in the Dark, Lovers in the Dark) is being released December 15 by Class Act Books, www.classactbooks.com.


5 Stars for The Reluctant Berserker

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Thanks ever so much to Kazza at On Top Down Under for a fantastic review of The Reluctant Berserker, and for choosing it as one of the site’s books of the month :)

It’s a lovely detailed review that does delve into a lot of the plot – so Spoiler Alert. But it was great to see that Kazza enjoyed some of the thinking about religion and spirituality in the book. I’ve had a few reviews where the overt Christianity of some of the characters was a problem for the readers, and I’ve been thinking that I should probably do a blog post to say why I chose to go that way.

(Short answer – because most of the written evidence of Saxon society shows a markedly religious/spiritual world view, and I was attempting to be true to that.

I probably also ought to say that what the Saxons called wicce craft is not what we would call wicca today. I studied Anglo-Saxon paganism for a year at university, and not a lot of evidence survives to tell us what it was really like. So in drawing Saewyn, I drew heavily on the Leechbook of Bald and Stephen Pollington’s book Leechcraft, Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing, and various other sources…

But I’m getting distracted into writing that other post now, and I should really do it separately.)

For now I was talking about this book review, which sums up:

All characters were given time to develop, secondary characters included.  Overall, the writing is glorious – lyrical, intelligent without being arrogant, thought-provoking, nuanced perfectly for the setting with licence taken where it should be in fiction. It sets a realistic tone for the period and the characters, and stands up to any literary fiction written in any genre by any author. I loved Wulfstan and Leofgar, both independently and as a couple. 

And which I feel I could not possibly be happier about. Thank you Kazza!

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Newsletter

Let’s face it, I’m scared to try to start a newsletter. Everyone tells me it’s something a writer needs. It’s *the* essential thing that a writer needs after books. I personally wouldn’t join an author’s newsletter, though I have been joined up by people without my permission to theirs and have – if they happened to be someone I knew – been too apathetic or embarrassed to unsubscribe.

I certainly don’t intend to do that with mine. No one’s going on that thing unless they sign up for it themselves.

Which brings me back to fear. My fear is two-fold:

1. Nobody will sign up because nobody is interested.

2. Several people will sign up and then I’ll disappoint them.

The rational thing to do in this instance would seem to be not to try to do it at all, but I’ve just been reading a book on social anxiety, and for getting over your fear they recommend doing the thing anyway and then trying to persuade yourself that it’s not that bad.

So, in the spirit of behavioural therapy, lets do the thing :)

You can sign yourself up for my newsletter over here:

http://lists.alexbeecroft.com/mailman/listinfo/newsletter

or you can do it by emailing here

mailto:newsletter-request@alexbeecroft.com

To make this prospect more appealing, I have an Advanced Review Copy of Trowchester Blues available to be given to one random new subscriber. There are only 5 of these ARCs – which are produced to go out to reviewers before the book is given its final proofing – in my hands. I’ve reserved two for giveaways elsewhere, one for me and one for a friend, so this is a fairly exclusive offer. I’ll draw that on New Year’s Day.

I don’t know whether it makes it more or less appealing to know that anyone who did sign on would have free rein to tell me what they wanted to see in a newsletter, because other than news of new releases I’m not sure what people would want to see in there and I’m more than willing to be told. I personally see it working a bit like an email group, with everyone talking to each other, but IDK. What do you think?


Interview on Muse Hack

I was delighted to be interviewed recently on Muse Hack, which with its concentration on the less trodden paths of the genre world felt like a good fit for me. Here I am trying to explain what the heck it is I write again

http://www.musehack.com/blog/2014/11/interview-writer-alex-beecroft.html

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Did that make any sense to you?


Talking about the Saxons on The Novel Approach

A giveaway and two posts in one week. Where will it end?

The Novel Approach were kind enough to interview me about The Reluctant Berserker, so I am over here today explaining why Viking helmets did not have horns and why I like the Saxons so much – hint, it involves elves :)

If you would like to read an excerpt and possibly win a copy, hie thee over there and say hello!


Asexuality Awareness Week

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I’ve always been weird. I remember my parents being concerned because I dressed so much like a boy. “Don’t you want to look attractive?” they would say, and I would think “Why on Earth would I want to look attractive? I don’t want to attract anybody.”

At university, I was briefly locked in a rivalry with another girl over the affections of a boy with lovely, long, coal black wavy hair. Eventually, because he apparently didn’t really have a preference, he told us that he would go out with whoever would have sex with him that night. I could see no point in that and slept alone. He went out with my rival, and I was briefly angry about the shallow and unfair nature of his selection criteria. But a couple of months later he cut his hair and I realized he’d never been much of a catch anyway.

In my fourth year at university – when I was doing a Masters degree in the Cult of the Horse in Early Anglo Saxon England – I had a conversion experience and became a Christian. If I thought about sex after this, it was simply to assume that my total disinterest in sleeping with anyone was a case of natural virtue. But really, I didn’t think about it. I was busy and happily employed thinking about the Saxons, playing AD&D, listening to Prog Rock and writing my first novel, and I didn’t have any time for or interest in all that. It didn’t seem strange to me at all that I didn’t want to have sex with anyone. I didn’t feel I was missing out. My life was full and lacked nothing.

It wasn’t until I was out of university, settled in London and established in my first job that I began to feel that perhaps I was doomed to be alone for the rest of my life. They said that if you didn’t have a boyfriend in university, you never would. And although I still had no desire to sleep with anyone, I started to feel very much that I would like to have someone to love – someone I could settle down with and share the rest of my life with, in sickness and in health. I prayed that God would bring the right person into my life, resigned it to Him, on the understanding that if He chose for me to be single and celibate all my life, I would accept that with good grace, and about a month later I met the man who was to become my husband.

Because I had no notion that anything like asexuality existed, I naturally assumed that when I got married my sex drive would kick in and of course I would want my husband. I loved him very much, and I was delighted and disbelieving and overwhelmed by the fact that he loved me back. It stood to reason that if sex was a basic drive for every human, I would have it too.

But I didn’t. And now that I was married I went from being ‘virtuous’ to being ‘frigid’. That wasn’t a nice thing. I had to face the fact that if sex was a basic drive for every human, then I must not be human.

I had also struggled with my gender when I was growing up. For a long time I thought I was transgender. I wanted to be a boy. I had always found m/m stories hot, and m/f stories skeevy. So I thought “Perhaps I don’t want sex because I’m not the right sex myself? Perhaps what I want is to be male so I can have the kind of sex I find it hot thinking about?

When I found the slash and m/m writing community, I discovered that there’s a name for that, and it is ‘girlfag’. So for a while I thought ‘maybe that’s what I am.’

But it seemed out of true to ascribe myself an identity where sex was central, when the truth was that for me sex has always been so peripheral that most of the time I forget it’s a factor at all. I am always, continually surprised and put off by the number of ways people will find to make a conversation about sex when it wasn’t, and that just derails from the genuinely interesting thing you were trying to talk about instead.

So the more I thought about that, the less right it seemed.

It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I came across a mention of asexuality. I no longer remember where, but I followed it to AVEN and I found out that there was a community of other people who would also genuinely rather have chocolate than sex. When I read their discussion boards, I discovered that these were people who thought the same way I did – people who also forgot sex, who didn’t find it particularly interesting. People who looked at human interaction and zeroed in on all the other things that make us human.

At first I wondered if this too was a label that would fit less well the more I thought about it, but it hasn’t been that way. The more I’ve reflected on myself and my childhood, on the way I interact with the world now, on the basic thought processes of my mind, the more I’ve found that the label fits. It explains things. Finally, after 49 years of feeling that there was not a box for me – that I was inhuman, incomplete, badly made, wrong, frigid and useless – I’ve found that no. I’m actually just queer.

I find it typical of myself that I should be queer in a way that isn’t universally considered ‘properly’ queer – that I should be queer in an invisible way. After a lifetime of being weird, after searching for a label that was so carefully hidden that it took me half a century to find it, it’s fitting that the label I found is still relatively unknown. I’m not getting into whether we should be considered part of the queer community or not. After having lived so many years thinking I was uniquely broken, it’s revelation enough for me to know that an Ace community exists and that I’m actually not the only one in the world after all.

This week is asexual awareness week, so I am making this post to say that I am aware I am asexual, and I’m very glad about that.

We are apparently 1% of the population, which means there are as many of us as there are redheads in the world. That’s… actually quite a few. If any of this sounds at all familiar to you, I can do no better for you than to pass you over to AVEN where you too can find out you’re not alone. If you’ve felt peculiar all this time and you’ve tried to find out whether you were some desultory version of gay or trans or one of those better known labels, but they’ve never quite fitted either, you may be looking for this very label yourself. (Or one of the others on the asexual spectrum, such as grey-a, demisexual or aromantic.) Go and find out! You may actually, finally have come home.

 

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Look! We even have a flag :)


Three Essentials for Fantasy Worldbuilding

I know, you want to write the next Lord of the Rings, or possibly the next Game of Thrones. So do I, to be honest. But I also want to read as many more epic fantasies as can be brought to the bookshop table, and sometimes I go looking for them in the Kindle shop. Frequently, you can download the first episode of an epic fantasy series for no cost at all, and decide from what you read whether you want to buy the rest of it for real money.

So far, I have to say, I’ve not yet found one I felt moved to spend money on. I’ve seen lots of books where the hero(ine) discovers they’re special, finds a magic weapon and goes off to rid the world of the evil overlord, and in lots of them I’ve felt completely unable to suspend my disbelief. Not because the magic was too outre, or the hero(ine)’s superpowers were too odd, or the secondary non-human race was too strange – sadly. I would have been delighted if they were, tbh. But because the author displayed a complete ignorance about the mundane things of their pseudo-medieval world that I actually know something about.

When you’re trying to sell your readers on the possibility of a world with fantastical elements, the reader needs to know that you are a reliable source of information and have thought about how this works. That is instantly undercut if you get your real-world details wrong. So, here are three very vital things you need to do to prevent your reader from throwing the book at the wall before you’ve even got the story going.

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  1. Understand how your technology works.

And I don’t just mean your gravity defying steam dirigibles. If you’re writing a pseudo-medieval fantasy and your characters are lighting a camp fire, Google “how to light a fire without matches.” Never just make it up, because it is a thing that somebody out there knows how to do, and they will know if you get it wrong. And they will go “Oh, bloody hell, Author! Those are ashes. Ashes don’t burn! If I can’t trust you to get that right, what can I trust you with?”

In the same way, decide on the technical underpinnings of your habitations. Things like plumbing. (Is water brought in to your houses by wooden pipes? Are there fountains or wells in the centre of the village? Does everyone have to walk to the stream every morning? Engineering – how were the heavy blocks that form the temple of doom transported onto site/raised onto the sacrificial platform? (By treadwheel crane? By teams of oxen? By teams of neutered trolls?) Exactly how far is the range of that arbalest? Can I really gallop from Dover to Sherwood Forest in a day? Etc etc.

The more you get right, the more convinced your reader will be that you know what you’re talking about, and the more solid, the more reliably real your world will seem.

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  1. Understand how your economy works.

Doesn’t that sound dull?! This is something you can paint in broad brush strokes, so it doesn’t have to be as tedious as it sounds. However, I have thrown a book at the wall because it was set in a small community where every single person went to their shop at the beginning of the day, sold unspecified goods, and then went home. The community was surrounded by a wall and isolated from the rest of the world. This made me wonder several things, specifically – if no one is making things, and no one is bringing things in from outside, what on earth have they got to sell in their shops? If no one is farming and growing food, why don’t they starve? Does the author even know the basic facts of existence, such as ‘food has to come from somewhere’, and ‘clothes don’t weave themselves’?

This economy did not work, because nobody was producing anything. You need to ask yourself “What do they eat?” “Where do they get the food from?” “Who produces it?” “Where do they get clothes?” “Who produces those?” “How long does it take them, and who feeds them while they’re doing it?” “Where do they live?” “Who builds those places?” Etc.

In order for your character to have leisure time to go off and become a warrior/magician/assassin/whatever there needs to be a large social infrastructure in place to create enough surplus so that not everybody is occupied at simply trying to survive. As the author, you need an understanding of how that infrastructure hangs together. Even if you lift it wholesale out of medieval Europe, like 99% of other Fantasy writers, you really need to know how it works, or people will ask themselves why your populations are not too busy starving to worry about the return of the Old Ones.

Plus, once you have a basic idea of how your economy functions, it may turn out to be a surprising source of story ideas. If all your country’s food has to travel up river through that bottle-neck between the Fangs of Fear, that’s a prime site for a bandit queen to capture so she can starve the city into compliance.

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  1. Understand how your society works.

This will tie in with how your economy works, because everyone needs to eat. Once you’ve established who’s producing the food and necessities, ask yourself who’s profiting from the surplus, and how.

Is your society a traditional medieval one in which the food producers were barely free, the merchants had a little money and therefore influence, and the top of the food chain were the heavily armoured blokes running a protection racket on top (aka knights and kings)? It’s reliable and so ubiquitous that it’s almost invisible, and you can get right on to your story about the Chosen One confident that the readers are thinking ‘oh, it’s another one of those things.’

But perhaps you want to do something different? Maybe the arable land is scarce and everyone relies on a small powerful clique of farmers to provide food to a starving manufacturing class? How would that affect the things that were respected and valued in your world? Would you have people rebelling by raising their own crops in window boxes? Would seed-peddlers be daring heroes of the proletariat? If you developed that, all kinds of weird things could happen. Your heroes would probably not be warriors, they might be gardeners, but I can’t help but feel that we’ve already had too many warrior heroes. Time for something else, maybe.

Perhaps your society is run by nuns who genuinely do collect from all what they can give and give to all what they need? In our world, Communism has slipped rapidly into corruption, but what would it be like living in a society where everyone genuinely was treated as equal to everyone else? Owned no more than anyone else, and had no more power than anyone else? What would that be like, really? I’d be interested to find out.

Or perhaps your civilisation is an actual democracy and there are branches of magic dedicated to getting the votes of every person in a society that doesn’t have the tech level to do long distance communication otherwise? It’s up to you to say, and so it’s also up to you to know.

These three things may not be as glamorous to think about as that spectacular battle scene you have in your head, but they are the foundations on which your world rests. If your readers catch you making elementary mistakes in these things, you’ll be very very lucky if they (a) ever get to your spectacular battle scene at all and (b) ever read something of yours again. So pay at least enough attention to these so that your foundations won’t crumble and let the whole edifice down. You might even find out you’re writing something much more unique and interesting if you do.


I’m on Scribd!

Scribd is entirely new to me, to the extent that I only found out about it today. But look, it turns out that you can try several of my books on there:

https://www.scribd.com/alex3beecroft/documents/authored

but also

https://www.scribd.com/alexbeecroft

I hear the deal is that it’s a subscription run service, so readers get to read as many books as they like for a flat fee? Authors get paid full royalties on any book that a reader keeps reading after the first 20%. That sounds like a good thing for everyone. Now as soon as I can convince them that both their Alex Beecrofts are the same person, we’ll be laughing!


5 Things Morris Dancing Taught Me About Writing

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1. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth doing.

Just as nobody dons their baldrics and bellpads and capers in the street for strangers to sneer at because they think they’ll gain great glory or wealth from it, so you probably won’t gain great glory or riches from writing. You dance because it’s fun, you write because it’s fun, and any other health, social or financial benefits are secondary. Do it anyway, because you love to, and when it gets hard and you’re tempted to grumble remember that nobody is making you do this, you’re doing it because it’s what you want.

2. If you’re not having fun, people can tell.

I won’t name any names, but there are some morris dancing sides I’ve seen where the moves are perfect, the dances are done with enormous attention to detail, getting all the tricky footwork right. Excellent hanky-work, good looking uniforms, perfect teamwork etc. And yet it’s so damn dull to watch. You stand there and you watch these people take it all terribly seriously, with frowns of concentration and a font of judgement for anyone who does it a smidgen less traditionally, and you can’t help but think how ridiculous it all is.

You can get away with a bit more poe-facedness as a writer, but it will eventually come through – the fact that you think very highly of yourself, and nobody is allowed to simply enjoy your books. And then, well, I guess you’ll get the poe-faced followers you deserve. If that’s your goal, go for it, but it sounds like an awful grind.

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3. If you are having fun, people can tell.

One of the first things we tell the new dancers is “If you forget what you’re supposed to do next, just lift your head, put on a big smile, and get back to place when you can. As long as you look like you’re having a great time, most people won’t notice the mistakes, and if they do, they’ll share a laugh with you and enjoy those too.” I think that applies to writing too. If you’re having so much fun with the exploding zombies and the big misunderstandings and the triple adultery and the cavalry charges, people aren’t going to notice the occasional plot hole or clunky sentence. If they’re being breathlessly swept away by your enthusiasm and big smile, they’ll forgive all sorts of technical faults.

4. If your audience aren’t having fun, don’t even bother.

Like morris dancing, writing is a spectator sport. You may dance out because it entertains you, but if it doesn’t entertain your audience too you come away feeling dispirited, let down, and despondent, because what’s the point? Plus, you’ll soon find that even the semi-interested, curious onlookers you had at the start begin to drift away. However much you have a message to get across, or a mission to pursue in your writing, if it doesn’t entertain the reader they won’t stick around for anything else. Bear your readers in mind, and if you’re fairly sure they won’t enjoy that hundred page digression detailing the history of tin mining beginning in the stone age, maybe take it out of the story and put it in an appendix.

5. You are your own master.

Morris and its accompanying music are folk arts. That means that anyone can do them. With a half hour’s practice every day, I learned to play the pennywhistle well enough for people to dance to, well enough to attend sessions with other musicians, well enough for a new art to have entered and enriched my life. Just the same way, if you put in an hour’s writing practice every day, you will soon get good enough at that to entertain yourself. Then you’ll progress to being able to entertain others, and before long you’ll find yourself making art.

At that point, you can get yourself a publisher, or you can choose to publish yourself, learning all the skills an indie publisher needs to know. But the truth is that you are the producer of the content, you are the provider, the artist, the entertainer, and if you don’t like the way you’re being treated, you get to take that content elsewhere. Unwelcome morris dancers go to drink at another pub. Mistreated writers find a new publisher, or make their own cover art and publish themselves, but neither of us need approval or permission, we will do what is in our hearts to do, and if everyone is having fun in the process, everyone benefits.


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