An Unquiet Spirits snippet

“I was surprised you accepted our invitation, Lady Artemis,” Jasper said as he and the lady edged out of the crowd in the ballroom and approached the punchbowl. “I thought you despised me.”   “Oh, that little indiscretion?” Lady Artemis gave an affected shrug, dismissing the thought of the worst time in Jasper’s life as if it was a tiny peccadillo. She had been the bane of his life in London, where she had interested herself in the life of his parish, and—he had thought—influenced his parishioners to ignore and berate him. “Nonsense, that actually made me fond of you. It is Catholics I can’t stand, my dear boy. Sodomites are perfectly charming.”
Even now in his own house, Jasper jumped at that. The memory of the pillory was in him at all times; he would never forget that he was vulnerable, that his fellow men were cruel, or that one wrong word to the wrong person could ruin his life. “I pray you, do not say that so loud.”  
“Hah,” Lady Artemis reached up and toyed with the golden anchor that hung from a chain from the ship that surmounted her piled wig. She was a great benefactor of the poor, and Jasper had wished to be on friendlier terms with her, but now was the first time it had seemed that his ambition might succeed. “I forget sometimes that you are not a great man in yourself—so close are your ties with young Charles. He would not let you come to harm, surely?”  

Jasper’ spirits, never terribly robust these days, dipped. It must have shown on his face, for the lady grabbed her cup of punch in one hand, his arm in the other and hauled him into the smaller solar—now abandoned, as it was the middle of the night.

A great desire for council came over him, and there was something about her that had even him wishing to spill his secrets. Which was odd, when he thought about it. Something like a compulsion.   Perhaps she had put something in his glass? But no, he hadn’t yet sipped. His eye caught the jewels in her ears and saw the spell carved in the green jade—oh. A fellow dabbler in the arcane, and one who already knew what he was.  

“I’m not sure how sturdy my relationship with Charles is,” he said, the words pouring out of him in a tide. “He cheated on me, and I cannot forget or forgive it. I keep trying, and at times I think I’ve succeeded, but it comes back. Every time it comes back.”  

“Cheated?” Artemis scoffed. “What, are you two married? Have you made declarations of fidelity? What nonsense! Do you not know that a man of Charles’s stature would never give fidelity to his wife, let alone—if you will pardon the expression—a man of a certain nature. You ask too much!”  

Jasper knew it, but it wasn’t pleasant to hear. In his nightly fretting, he had considered that the problem was not Charles at all, but his own unwarranted jealousy. “Yet, because I am not married, what is to prevent any of these flings from becoming more important to him than I am?” That was the crux of the matter. “I want him to be in my life permanently. I want a commitment from him, so that no matter where his affections lead him, I am always his partner and at the very least his friend.”  

Jasper had not known this about himself before. He’d supposed that marriage was a noble thing, a melding of two into a single flesh, and had not seen its practical application as a legal contract which could be relied on when human nature failed.  

“You must find some other contract,” Lady Artemis said as though she was reading his mind. Her sharp little eyes were embedded in rolls of fat—her figure was ample and her face one of those moon-round visages with high cheeks and heavy brows. But her eyes were extraordinary, a gold that gleamed even in their shadowed recesses. “Buy a house with him. Doubtless it frets him to dwell here in your ancestral manor, as though he was a penniless guest. Having somewhere of his own will tie him down.”  

“I had not considered that,” Jasper admitted. He had supposed Charles would enjoy being out from under George’s thumb, but if that meant putting him under Jasper’s perhaps it was no improvement. “Yet anywhere else in the country we would come into too much scrutiny, living together.”  

“Not in London,” Lady Artemis pointed out. “London does not pry into people’s business if they are discrete, and if they keep those in the know happy. In London you could find more purchase for your talents—you are ghost hunters I believe, and solvers of murderous crimes?”  

Jasper laughed. It was true enough, and their reputation was spreading both among Charles’s friends and among the esoteric underworld that he frequented. But she had a point. Why not go to London—sell the Admiral’s house and pool the money with whatever inheritance Charles was entitled to, then buy somewhere that would truly belong to both of them? The deed of ownership would be more binding than a common man’s marriage. It would make for something—some tangible proof that he was more important to Charles than anyone else.  

Speak of the devil. Charles flung open the door of the solar and ran in. His blond hair was dishevelled and his pink coat seemed to be smoking at the hems. When he caught sight of Jasper a kind of impatient gladness flashed across his face, followed at once by irritation.   “Your daughter is setting fire to the curtains again.”  

Jasper nodded curtly to Lady Artemis and took off running. His ‘daughter’ was having troubles these days. He had supposed it was due to his own troubles with Charles, but the sinister bent of her outbursts continued whether they were speaking or not. He would not like to confess it to anyone, but there were at times moments when he wished he had not told her he would look after her.  

He skidded into the library, to find that Lily was standing next to the great drapes. Her face was full of Satanic evil, and flames enveloped her tiny form– now the size of a girl of five. She was sweet and open-faced when she was in her normal mein, as a silvery apparition with bows in her plaited hair. But today her eyes were all black, and a flame seemed to dance in the centre of them even as it did around her ethereal body.  

“Lily,” Jasper urged her, fighting his own desire to back away, “Come now, tell me what the difficulty is. What has made you so very angry?”  

“I am in hell!” she cried, and pitiably he saw her own expression on the swollen, feverish face. “Help me, daddy. They won’t let me go! Help me! YOU ARE A FAILURE AS A FATHER AND A SINNER WHO DESERVES TO BURN.”  

That was not her voice. Jasper staggered back and collided with Lady Artemis who had entered the library behind him and stood wheezing with the effort of having climbed the stairs.  

“Oh goodness!” she said, her gaze very clearly fixed on Lily. This was confirmation of the suspicion Jasper had had when he saw the esoteric designs on her earrings. The lady was a witch. She could see Lily, at least, because she went down on one knee and held out a hand to her as a man might try to coax a snarling dog. “Come now, pet. Can you tell the nasty man to go away? Do that for your daddy, can’t you? He is getting very concerned.”  
“He doesn’t care,” Lily said, turning half away. Her small voice was her own again, and as they watched, her normal pearly lines emerged from the flames as though water had been poured on her. “He’s too busy worrying about my cousin. Because my cousin is a Latham, and the Lathams can’t control their bestial urges.”  

“Pshaw!” Charles said, sounding very like his brother. He ran past Lily to beat the flames out of the curtains and prevent them from setting alight to the books. “I never had a bestial urge in my life.”  

Jasper shook his head. He did love the young idiot. But he wished he could reach out and wrap Lily in his arms and hold her away from all things that might harm her.

“I’m so sorry, Lily,” he said instead, also going down on his knees. “I thought this was you, being angry. I had no idea something on the other side was working through you. I am going to find a way of making it leave permanently, you’ll see. You shall not endure this alone any more. I am with you.”  

Charles shook his head and reached down an imperious hand, which Jasper caught without thinking about it. “We are with you, Lily,” he said. “But we also have a party going on. Do you think you could avoid setting fire to the house or the guests until they’re gone?”  

“I suppose.” There were no tear tracks on Lily’s shining face. Jasper had discovered over the last year that her emotional range was narrower than that of a living child. There had been nothing but calm acceptance or rage from her, and sometimes a wisdom that seemed unnatural. “Promise you’ll save me?”  

“I promise, Jasper said, watching her disappear with the words. God, it was an evening of vows, wasn’t it?  

“How extraordinary,” Lady Artemis said, fingering the scorch marks on the curtains as if to prove they were real. “I didn’t know you had a ghost child, Charles.”  

“It’s not something I drop into casual conversation,” Charles scoffed, still rather frazzled. “Nor something I honestly know how to deal with.”  

“She called you ‘cousin.’”  

“It’s a long story.”  

Lady Artemis snorted. “I’ll bet. Well then, what do you propose to do about this?”  

Jasper had been wondering that himself. It seemed to him that the ghost child inhabited an afterlife in which other more sinister presences also dwelt. She was like a little conduit through which they could insert themselves into the world. “We should close the conduit,” he said, trusting Charles at least to follow. “I mean, we should deny this other presence a right of access to her—body, for lack of a better word.”  

“How exactly do you propose to do that?” Lady Artemis said, “I have never heard of such a case.”  

“She was killed in her mother’s womb,” Jasper explained. “This life after death of hers is an extraordinary circumstance in itself. But I think we must start with a baptism. God knows what unholy things might be able to batten themselves onto her, given that she is un-baptised and her mother for so long was interred outside consecrated ground.”  

“Well,” Lady Artemis gave her supremely unconcerned shrug again. “I may not like Catholics but I will admit that their rituals are efficacious. Perhaps you will indeed be able to clear it up so simply. But I fear it is far more complicated than that, and I have to say, rather you than me. I don’t think I will visit again until this is finished. One way or another. Good luck! You will need it.”

Booklist

For my own benefit, mostly, so that on those days like today when I feel that I’ve achieved nothing in my life, I can see at a glance how many books I’ve written, and (perhaps) feel better.

Have I missed some? I feel as though I might have missed one or two.

Baby’s first steampunked ray-gun

Most of my hobbies include a craftwork element. Since finding out that Steampunk was the same, I’ve been having a crack at making my very first prop.

I’m not 100% sure about this, but I think it’s a good first go. First of all, I was lucky enough to find a pair of these:

in the local Age Concern charity shop for £2 the pair. https://www.amazon.com/Schylling-RRG-Retro-Ray-Gun/dp/B013WLV8XQ

One of them has been taken by my son-in-law, who has been making props far longer than me, and while I eagerly await seeing what he’s done with it, this is what I’ve done with mine:

Courtesy of black primer, stone-effect paint, more black primer, rub n buff in silver and gold, a blue crystal from a broken necklace and a bit of watchwork from a broken brooch. Also a bit of copper wire wound around a drinking straw to make a spring.

If exposed wires are good enough for Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, they’re good enough for my ray-gun.

Now onto the more difficult task of figuring out how to make it a holster!

Alex Answers Questions!

I got a nice email from Coffee Time Romance this morning inviting me to submit the answer to a question, which they would then promote in their newsletter. This seemed like a great thing to me, and I wrote out a long answer for them and hit the submit button. Then everything froze and I don’t know whether it went through or not. If it did, I’m sorry for repeating it here. If it didn’t, at least I had copied what I wrote before I lost it 🙂

~

*QUESTION: How much of your real life bleeds over into your books? And do you worry that someone will be able to tell the fact from the fiction?*

I used to write specifically to get away from my real life. In those early days you would find me imaginatively on the decks of tall ships or the bridges of starships, a very long way away from everything of my current reality. I’d used reading as an escape since I could follow the words of The Hobbit, and writing was a natural escalation from that. I liked the fact that I could control these worlds and they would contain nothing that really hurt me.

But as I’ve grown into myself and begun to accept that I will never be a swashbuckling hero with the world’s fate in my hands, I’ve learned to love the life I’m actually living. When I moved into the English fenlands, I found a place where I could put down roots. I spent my first five years feeling blessed every time I came out of my house and saw the view – I’m surrounded by flowering countryside. And that began to work its way into my books before I was even aware of it. The first sign was the frequency with which my heroes took up morris dancing – first in Under the Hill and then also in Blue Eyed Stranger.

Then it really kicked in, and The Reluctant Berserker https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XVZ46LJ was knitted together out of one thread of my lifetime of Anglo-Saxon re-enactment and study and another of love for the fenland landscape. There is a strong element of me trying to give you the glory of this place – the fact that it’s a balm to the soul to live in this much beauty.

I don’t worry that people may be able to tell the fact from the fiction because I’m not hiding any of this. If you’ve ever tried, you’ll know that in fact it’s much harder to bring a real place to recognizable life in fiction than it is to simply make one up. If I describe a flowering hedgerow in a way that makes a reader picture it intensely enough to almost be there, does it really matter if I drew it from reality or not?

I have only this life, and in this life I have been fortunate enough to receive some beautiful things. I’d like to share them because I hope you enjoy them too.

~

Hey! Answering questions is fun If you would like to ask me anything (within reason, of course) go ahead and either ask here or through my contact form or email. I’ll do my best to give you as comprehensive answer as I can and be grateful for the prompt.

Happy New Year to all

Guess who got a year’s subscription to Photoshop as a Christmas present 🙂 It doesn’t half make moodboards easier to create.

I’m going into the new year cautiously optimistic about the three pen-names thing. I have just finished writing a space opera, and a cozy mystery before that, and now I’m eager to write a mm romance again. I think having the ability to change genres in an organized way will really help me when I’m having my next attack of “I cannot stand to write another [whatever genre] novel ever again!” And it may mean that you’re not subjected to quite so many Frankenstein’s monsters of novels that don’t belong in any category in future.

As you can probably see from the moodboard, I’m itching to start the next Trowchester novel, Seeing Red, but I just have to get the edits on Starship Ragnarok done first. Hopefully Seeing Red will be underway by the end of the month, though.

I have a marvellous new program called Book Report which is telling me all sorts of things I didn’t originally know about my books. One of which things is that Leanne was quite right to suggest that more people liked The Reluctant Berserker than I had previously thought. So that may eventually get the sequel I originally half planned for it after all 🙂 (After I’ve written Seeing Red and the Age of Sail book I promised you, of course!)

It’s nice to have some enthusiasm again, and even better to have accurate information on which to base a plan for what to do with it.

What book of mine would you most like for free?

Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

In keeping with the re-vamping of every single thing that is going on in my life as an author, it finally occurred to me that at the end of my books I offer people the chance to sign up for my newsletter in exchange for 4 free books. This is all well and good, but one of those books is Lioness of Cygnus Five, which is now not an Alex Beecroft book at all.

People who want Lioness probably want SF/F and therefore probably ought to be signing up to Alex Oliver’s newsletter, not mine. I need to replace Lioness in my offer with an actual mm romance book.

So, my question is, out of my self-published books – which is now everything except False Colors, By Honor Betrayed, His Heart’s Obsession, Foxglove Copse and Contraband Hearts – which book would you most like to have for free? Which book (if any) would tempt you to sign on for the newsletter?

If I had to guess, I would go with Blue Eyed Stranger, because a lot of people are reading Trowchester Blues, and would probably appreciate getting to try the next book in the series for free, but I’m not hugely good at guessing what readers really want – that’s why I’m getting into the habit of asking 🙂

So what do you think? If you were coming at my books as a newbie, what book would you like to have most without having to pay for it?

Contraband Hearts named one of the top 11 mm romances

How cool is this? https://wiki.ezvid.com/m/OLuxM0gLspvj9 Contraband Hearts joins books by ZA Maxfield and JL Merrow on this list of top 11 mm romances.

The vid at the top is narrated by a strange robot voice which pronounces slavers (people who take slaves) as slavers (drools a lot), and the actors they’ve got for Perry and Tomas would not have been my first choice, but that’s just me being curmdgeonly.

I’m actually delighted by the whole thing. There are actors playing Perry and Tomas for a start! That’s more than I’ve ever had for a book of mine before. It’s worth watching just for that 🙂

They obviously liked the Porthkennack books, because they’ve also mentioned my Foxglove Copse and JL Merrow’s Love at First Hate from the same series.

Hah, I’ve still got it 🙂 (She says with a total lack of shame.)

Yet more cover art changes

Did I say I’m sprucing up my backlist? I feel sure you must have noticed that by now 🙂

This week I’ve been improving the books’ description pages on Amazon and flexing what I’ve learned about writing better blurbs.

But one of the other things I’ve learned since really getting into the self-publishing mindset is that when people want a book of one genre and they see a book with a cover that looks like it belongs to a different genre, they don’t go “oh, how unique and interesting!” They go, “That doesn’t look like the type of book I want. I’ll give it a pass.”

Which means that if your cover is too ‘unique and interesting’ you’re actually putting readers off. What you need is cover art that looks similar to all the other covers in your genre, so that readers are reassured that they are indeed buying something that they want.

It really grieved me to have to replace these two covers, because I was so pleased with them both when I first made them. And I still look at them with pleasure. They are nice book covers – for a Fantasy and for some kind of literary fiction about the surfer lifestyle.

 

But goddammit, I am trying to make a living here, so I’m going to take the hit and hammer that genre button for all I’m worth. Which means that these books now look like this:

 

On the plus side, sometimes you can spend days trawling through stock-photo sites looking for the perfect picture, but that picture of Kjartan, which genuinely looks like him fell into my hands in less than an hour. How often is it that you can go looking for a white-haired elf prince and actually find a good photo? Vanishingly rare. It must be an omen.

I think I’m going to keep a cover-art graveyard on this site. I surely can’t be the only one who finds the constant evolution of images interesting.

Also I think some of them might make good posters.

I bought “How to Write A Sizzling Synopsis” by Bryan Cohen recently and read it yesterday at a coffee shop, where I had gone because I felt too ill to actually go into the gym even though I’d come into town to do just that.

It’s quite a short book, with large text, and normally I come out of these ‘how to’ writing books with the feeling that I’ve had maybe one sentence-worth of good advice after having read 100 pages of blather. But this one is really good, and I think quite worthwhile. I’ve taken on board most of its suggestions and re-written some of my book blurbs, in the hope that more people will be moved to buy my books. For example:

Under the Hill

Old Blurb

Voted Best multicultural fantasy of 2013 by the Swirl Awards, and now presented in one volume, Under the Hill is a contemporary fantasy adventure story featuring dragons, elves and world war two fighter planes.

Targeted for abduction by the Faerie Queen, Ben Chaudhry reluctantly turns to Chris Gatrell and his eccentric Paranormal Defence Agency for help.

But it’s hard to keep anything out of the snatching hands of determined elves. Chris himself was abducted from his own time – shot down in WWII, and shot forward seventy years in time, stranded far from his wartime sweetheart Geoff and his Lancaster bomber crew.

When the inevitable happens and Ben is abducted, he finds himself a major player in a game of elven politics that may lead to the invasion of Britain.

Chris has to convince the police he didn’t just murder Ben and hide the body. Determined not to lose another sweetheart to the elves’ treachery, he presses the ghosts of his old crew back into action for a rescue attempt.

But Geoff isn’t dead at all – he’s been on ice in Elfland all this time. Now he has a dragon and he’s not afraid to use it. If only he could be entirely sure which of the elf queens is the real enemy—the one whose army is poised to take back planet Earth for elf-kind.

In the cataclysmic battle to come, more than one lover—human and elf alike—may forced to make the ultimate sacrifice.

~

New Blurb

The fairies at the bottom of the garden are coming back with an army.

Ben is a modern, sceptical man but the fairies are trying to abduct him. When he hires Chris’s paranormal defence agency to protect him, he doesn’t expect to fall in love.

Chris is a refugee from his own time. He’s lost one lover to the elves already. Terrified, but determined that this time he’ll do better, he promises Ben that the elves will get him over his dead body.

If only that wasn’t looking so likely.

Under The Hill was voted Best Multicultural Fantasy 2013 in the mm romance Swirl Awards. Previously presented in two books, this new edition has the whole story in one volume. If you love KJ Charles’ Green Men and Magpie Lord books, you’ll love this.

Buy Under The Hill now and prepare to be enchanted.

~*~*~
Basically the advice was to simplify everything, focus on the characters, cut as much as you possibly could cut and include a clear call to action at the end. And considering that Amazon now only gives you about 200 words above the cut, you’ve really got no space to work with. Making it short is the way to go. What do you think?

Amazing SF/F novel sale bundle

Check out this fantastic bundle of SF/F titles available for 99c over December!


https://storyoriginapp.com/…/1ed7f546-d6d5-11e8-81e3-4b0367…

My Witch’s Boy is one of them, but there are thirty-four other books to choose from! Yes, you heard that right! THIRTY-FIVE sf/f books to choose from. You could buy five books for the price of a coffee

Must the sins of the father be passed down to the sons?

Peasant boy Oswy, sold to witch-lord Sulien FitzGuimar, thinks he’s destined to be carved into spell ingredients. Yet behind Sulien lurks someone even worse – his old master, Tancred, now the king’s mage.

When Tancred stages a coup, dragging the elves into his Empire-building plans, the woman he has set his sights on as a bride – aspiring nun, Adela – sets out to find someone to oppose him. But dark magic is addictive and hard to escape. With all their lives in peril, the fate of the world may balance on Sulien’s traumatized soul.