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:
or you can do it by emailing here
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?
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
Did that make any sense to you?
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!
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.
Look! We even have a flag
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
The summer holidays have thankfully come to an end, edits on the Trowchester books can only last so long, and that leaves me with the rest of the year to write something new. So, what should it be?
I’m currently writing a fantasy about three sets of people from diverse cultures who get stranded together on a floating island due to shipwreck/the death of the gods. That’s slow going as I gradually work out the world building, but very entertaining. But after that, I have a choice of:
1. Another 3 Trowchester books – small British city contemporaries featuring the occasional murder and a bit of morris dancing.
2. A follow up of The Reluctant Berserker where Brid the slave gets a story of his own. (For which I need to do some research on Celtic Britain in the 6th Century.)
3. Kind of tempted to do a sort of action/adventury jewel thief m/f romance with an option of turning it m/m/f later on.
4. A follow up to The Wages of Sin.
5. A follow up to The Crimson Outlaw.
6. Something else of your suggestion?
I’d welcome anyone’s advice, as I really don’t have a preference at all.
I keep thinking I ought to leave Tumblr because it’s such a time sink, but I find so many interesting things there. For example, this post about a multi-racial casting for founders of the Hogwarts houses
particularly the erudite response of supernatasha to the claim that everyone was white in Europe during the middle-ages. I feel sure this is going to be of particular relevance to me once Blue Eyed Stranger comes out and people discover that one of my main characters is a black Viking reenactor. As a matter of fact, the knowledge that people of colour have probably always been in Britain is a fact that Martin himself is passionate about passing on to his own pupils. It’s nice for me not to have had to assemble the research on that myself. I can just refer anyone who objects to go to the excellent Medieval POC.
And since I appear to be doing a bit of a tombola – pick three tickets at random and see what you get – kind of blog post, I’m going to end with something that made me happy this week:
I just wish I could buy it somewhere!
Finally I have evidence that I wasn’t just making it all up when I said I had written three new contemporary novels, all set in my fictional city of Trowchester. Here is such strong independent proof that you can even pre-order them already for a 29% discount if you get all three
Plus, I have cover art to show off for all of them! Excitingly, although you can’t see the spine and back cover on the ebook versions, on the paperbacks the design wraps all the way around. It’s awesome
Trowchester: it’s the fourth smallest city in Britain, and visitors sometimes think it hasn’t left the Middle Ages yet. There’s a Bronze Age barrow, a wide network of ley lines, the best tea shop in the county, and more morris dancers than you can shake a stick at. Trowchester attracts those who have been hurt and those who are looking for sanctuary from the modern world. But scratch the surface and there’s murder and mayhem aplenty. People come here to find love, but they’re forced to learn bravery first.
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.
– See more at: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/trowchester-blues#sthash.FEIaYMTJ.dpuf
Billy Wright has a problem: he’s only visible when he’s wearing a mask. That’s fine when he’s performing at country fairs with the rest of his morris dancing troupe. But when he takes the paint off, his life is lonely and empty, and he struggles with crippling depression.
Martin Deng stands out from the crowd. After all, there aren’t that many black Vikings on the living history circuit. But as the founder of a fledgling historical re-enactment society, he’s lonely and harried. His boss doesn’t like his weekend activities, his warriors seem to expect him to run everything single-handedly, and it’s stressful enough being one minority without telling the hard men of his group he’s also gay.
When Billy’s and Martin’s societies are double-booked at a packed county show, they know at once they are kindred spirits, united by a deep feeling of connectedness to their history and culture. But they’re also both hiding in their different ways, and they need each other to be brave enough to take their masks off and still be seen.
– See more at: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/blue-eyed-stranger#sthash.clKUFNb9.dpuf
At sixteen, Aidan Swift was swept off his feet by a rich older man who promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. But eight years later, his sugar daddy has turned from a prince into a beast. Trapped and terrified, Aidan snatches an hour’s respite at the Trowchester Museum.
Local archaeologist James Summers is in a failing long distance relationship with a rock star, and Aidan—nervous, bruised, and clearly in need of a champion—brings out all his white knight tendencies. When everything falls apart for Aidan, James saves him from certain death . . . and discovers a skeleton of another boy who wasn’t so lucky.
As Aidan recovers, James falls desperately in love. But though Aidan acts like an adoring boyfriend, he doesn’t seem to feel any sexual attraction at all. Meanwhile there are two angry exes on the horizon, one coming after them with the press and the other with a butcher’s knife. To be together, Aidan and James must conquer death, sex, and everyone’s preconceptions about the right way to love—even their own.
– See more at: http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/blue-steel-chain#sthash.c1RpzRBt.dpuf
I know a lot of people have been interested when I said I was writing a romance with an asexual character. So if it’s not plain from the blurb, Blue Steel Chain is that novel
They’re not actually due out until next year. Trowchester Blues, the first one, is due to be released on the 9th of February 2015, and then Blue Eyed Stranger on 6th of April and Blue Steel Chain on 27th of July. But here’s definitive proof that they are on their way!