Friday, 23 September 2016


Ever since Indie (formerly known as Autharium) closed down in February this year I’ve been trying to sort out the republication of the two books I had published through them.  I found myself hesitant and uncertain of which direction to take.  Should I once more tackle the traditional route or should I persist in my stubbornness and continue to self-publish?

I took the opportunity to rework the books I’d previously published and at the same time continued working on new projects.  But I know that deep down I’ve been dithering and feeling a little unsettled about the whole process.  After all, Indie had sorted out the two things which terrified me:  formatting the text and royalties.  I would now have to tackle these on my own along with front cover design and marketing. 

by Nathan Vidler

I’ve been extremely lucky in the front cover stakes.  For my first novel (Six Dead Men) a friend’s son used an image from his university work which suited the feel of the novel and he designed a brilliant cover for me.  

by San Jaya Prime

When it came to my Sci Fi novel (Where Rainbows Hide) I found a fantastic cover designer through the site Impossible

Artwork by Kids do Art

My children’s book (The Lonely Dragon) could not have been easier.  All I did was use the marvellous drawings the children from the Tooting based group called Kids Do Art and Louise Pearce at Inkhead helped me put the cover together.

Now I’ve finally decided to continue down the self-publishing path and relaunch everything, including a republication of a new and improved version of The Lonely Dragon, through Createspace.  This means that my books previously only available on Kindle will now also be in paperback albeit through print-on-demand.  This leaves me free to focus on learning how to improve my marketing skills while editing and finishing off projects I started last year. 

I finally joined ALLi and am already reaping the benefit of their wonderful experience.  I’m also currently following a publishing course run by Mark Dawson which is giving me vast amounts of insight into how the whole business operates. I can’t claim to understand everything he talks about, particularly when it comes to understanding the graphs on Amazon but I think it’s all taking me to where I want to go for now.

So the major news to take from this post is that there will be staggered launches of the following books in October:

Where Rainbows Hide
Six Dead Men
The Lonely Dragon

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who’ve been unfailingly supportive of my endeavours while I faffed about trying to decide what to do.  First of all, my wonderful writing pal up in Sheffield.  You know who you are.  Also special thanks to my terrific Facebook Street Team and my best London pal who lets me drag her to tango and any other diversion imaginable. 

Before and during the relaunch keep your eyes peeled for special offers both on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Finding Haddington

So, as many of my loyal readers know, I set off to Edinburgh in search of Haddington because I’ve set my prequel Palindrome there.  You will be pleased to know that after a bit of argy bargy (namely exploring the delights of Edinburgh) I did indeed find Haddington.

Along the way I also found Edinburgh Old Town – a place I now love as much as I love parts of Italy.  I vow to return to this part of the world once I’ve learnt how to speak Gallic so that I may more easily commune with the inhabitants of this fair city.  What the heck, I’ll come back even if I don’t master a single syllable of Gallic.

Yes, Arthur's Seat is up there
 in the distance
I pretended to climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat.  Don’t tell anyone please, I don’t want half the world to know this fact.  Urged by Sheffield best buddy, I went on board my first ever city tour bus.  In all my travelling adventures since I first discovered the art of travel in my early twenties, I’ve never done this activity.  But the commentary by the guides was so entertaining that I did it twice and also because the ticket was valid for 24 hours so why the hell not my lovely Sheffield bud and I reasoned.

Tempted by the look of the newly added wing to the Museum of Scotland, we ventured into its dim halls in search of how Scotland began.  There were Picts and Celts and Romans and Vikings. Then there was woodworking and stone working and weaving and…   Well, I think you get the idea.  I very much wished I’d studied archaeology or anthropology at university rather than English literature but only for the very briefest of moments.

Pangs of hunger forced us beyond the new wing to the original museum buildings and here we found a delight of colour and sound and a glass roof one would expect to find on the tropical greenhouse at Kew Gardens and a catacomb brasserie which served a spinach and potato soup worth dying for.

My one regret is that in the Old Town, I haven’t explored as many closes (alley ways) leading to amazing squares or walkways with vistas of the New Town below as I’d have liked to.  I feel this merely gives me the excuse to return in the future.  Best Sheffield bud is very willing in this possible venture so I will not be alone.

But wait, what about Haddington I hear you ask.  Well, the archive department was closed on the day we ventured there but a delightful lady who runs the museum gave me a very useful card with the number and email of a research facility provided by the local history department.  So, if I think of any burning questions I can simply contact them and hey presto, problem solved.  I took some photos of bits of the town but was aching to get back to Edinburgh to explore it further.  So that was exactly what we did.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Hello Holiday

This summer I’m wending my way up to Edinburgh with my best Sheffield buddy for my annual ‘summer’ holiday.  The weather isn’t exactly playing its part in my idea of a summer break, but then choosing to take a holiday in the UK is the price I have to pay for that.  So no bikini or sunblock.

There are two reasons why I’m heading to Scotland.  And no, one of them isn’t my defection north of the border due to Brexit, though I was sorely tempted.  Nor is it because the knuckle-biting good looking redheads up that way are more plentiful.  I have certain friends who would argue this second is exactly why I’m going, but I insist there are two more pressing reasons.  These are:

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit Edinburgh and decided after being in the UK for over 20 years it was about time I finally did it.
  2. I need to do some research for my prequel – Palindrome.  The research will take place in and around Haddington but it seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine a holiday with work.  I believe the common parlance is busman’s holiday.

In the midst of all this literary research I plan on spending time investigating what Edinburgh and the surrounding area has to offer.  Sheffield best bud and I are staying in a venue with stunning views and I cannot wait to get there and experience it in person.  For those of you interested in a blow by blow account of our stay, it will be on Facebook shortly.  This will be my only social media outlet while on hols as I won't be tweeting my comings and goings.

My literary research will cover such questions as:

  • Does Haddington have woods nearby?
  • Is there a house big enough to be considered The Big House and would it be on a sort of hill?
  • Where is the police station in relation to the nearest housing development?

And so forth and so on.

I’m currently wishing I’d visited Haddington before embarking on writing the prequel.  But being the person that I am my impatience and impetuosity intervened so that I wrote the prequel first and then began to consider the wisdom of my chosen location.

After confirming myself a total idiot for my decision to write before exploration I’ll console myself by indulging in all that Edinburgh has to offer. 

Here are my top five must does for my Edinburgh holiday itinerary:

Tartan Weaving Mill – primarily because I hope to purchase a kilt if at all possible.

Day trip to Glasgow for the Rennie Macintosh House – I’ve always loved his designs and even copied some for the stained glass panels of the door of my living room.  This by the way is not my copy but an original.

Edinburgh Castle – because you always have to visit a castle, fort or cathedral on your travels so that you can expound on your meagre knowledge of buttresses.

Arthur’s seat – simply for the view never mind that it’s a volcano or that it has a hill fort dating back 2000 years.  That’s just geology and history crying to be stepped on.

The Museum on The Mound – it’s all about money and how it’s made.  Their gift shop has souvenirs made from recycled bank notes and it’s been endorsed by Ian Rankin so why wouldn’t you want to go?

Hello Holiday!

Friday, 12 August 2016

For The Love of Cheese

My favourite cheese in all the world is Pecorino.  The fact that I can name an Italian cheese as my first cheese love is entirely due to my university boyfriend, Andrew.  He also introduced my very na├»ve South African butt to pubs and Belgian fruit beer, but that’s a whole other blog post.

The main point of this post is that I regularly have wedges of stinky weird cheeses taking up space in my fridge.  They don’t last in the fridge for very long as cheese with a piece of fruit is a regular snack when I’m lounging on the sofa watching a box set or two.

Even before I met Andrew I liked a bit of cheese.  But if you’d asked me about varieties I would have looked at you with a blank stare.  In South Africa I ate of the cheese.  Of course I did, but it was mainly of the Cheddar and Edam sort.  Red Leicester was introduced into the repertoire once I came to the UK.  I didn’t really know there was much else.  

Please remember, before crossing an ocean to my adventurous life in the UK I lived in the land of big meat and any other food group was categorised as a mere condiment.

But after I met Andrew one of our Sunday brunch rituals involved lounging for long periods of time in The Mark Addy Pub which is located on the banks of the river Irwell.  There they served sizable chunks of any cheese you could care to name with hunks of tasty bread and heaped spoonfuls of chutneys and pickles to boot.

Suddenly, along with intermittent bouts of studying, my life was full of blue veins, oozing Bries, Stinky Bishops and a whole lot more.  I’ve always been of the opinion when it comes to food that one should taste first and ask questions later.  This particular brand of cavalier food negotiation skill has led to some truly yeugh moments but equally to other mouth-watering moments of taste-bud bliss.  So all in all it’s a tack which has led me down new food routes I’m very happy to have taken.

And with my taste tour of cheeses within the walls of the Mark Addy overlooking a rather splendid view of the river I might add, I learned to love the cheese.  I care not for all those health warnings about high cholesterol.  I am a health food rebel and proud to be so.

So I was heartily pleased when I attended a wedding earlier this year to see that the wedding cake was made up of several wheels of delicious cheese.  Now these are my kind of people I thought and this wedding cake only serves to confirm that.

There is a belief held in some cultures that one meets and interacts with certain people so they can enhance certain aspects of one’s life and hopefully you do the same for them.  Well, university boyfriend Andrew – you’ve certainly done that for me with regards to cheese.  So, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Some out there may think this a trivial thing.  But opening up to something as simple as a new cheese is opening up the possibility of new tastes to savour in life itself.  So my advice: try new things people and see what the world has to offer.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Character: The Peripherals

This is the final instalment of posts about my writing process.  So last but not least I'm focusing on my peripheral characters.

It seems wrong to name these characters such: marginal, outlying, minor.  Because they are far from it.  Often they are integral to the further development of the protagonist and serve as strong a role as the antagonist.

My list of subsidiary characters will seem strange to some of you.  But what my protagonist requires I write to accommodate that need.  So they range from aunts, brothers, fathers and magical realms to animals.  Here they are in all their glory:

Roxanne, Francesca and Thorin (Sharp Dark Things)
Bruno Kiefer (Sharp Dark Things)
Faetaera (Sharp Dark Things)
Arthur Deed (Palindrome)
Horatio Luther Henry (Of Dragons & Witches series)
Jinx & Snookie (Of Dragons & Witches series)
Chisanda (Where Rainbows Hide)
Marco Zeppo (Where Rainbows Hide & When Rainbows Cry)

In Sharp Dark Things: Roxanne, Francesca and Thorin could almost be protagonists in their own right.  As Alanna’s mother, Roxanne’s death is required or there would be no story.  Roxanne’s sister, Francesca is integral to the plot as she is a character who both hinders and helps Alanna in equal measure.  Alongside Francesca I needed a character who would explain why Francesca shuts her life up in a box and so her twin Thorin was created. 

The creation of one character can at times produce the need for another character.  This is not always the case as I sometimes keep them in a coma in the backstory so they never get into the book itself.  But at other times the character forces their way into the plot.  This was indeed the case with Bruno.

He is Alanna’s father and comes with his own set of issues which could be a novella in their own right.  I wanted Alanna to have a complicated relationship with her father which would explain the absence of a male role model in her life.  While Alanna’s day to day existence is peopled with strong women, her fantasy world is filled with all manner of creatures: male, female and other.  There are correlations to my own life here.  Growing up, my world was full of such Amazonian women.  But I was nevertheless aware of the diversity around me.  It has been absorbed into my writing via my fantasy creations.

Bruno however, is not a good father.  This is not a reflection on my dad.  In fact, Arthur Deed and Horatio Henry are much more like him.  Arthur is my dad in his non-receptive moods when he couldn’t be bothered to understand why the teenage me was crying on my mother’s shoulder over a broken love affair.  Horatio however, is my dad’s unfailing support of my life decisions, his deep love for me – which I have never doubted – his kindness, his gentleness and incredible sense of humour.

Other subsidiary characters are born out of my love for subjects or things.  So as an animal lover it seemed only fitting that at some point one or two would creep into my work.  In childhood I had a little Pekinese called Snookie who apparently shared my cot, bottle and pacifier.  From stories told by family members, we were inseparable.  So his literary counterpart has made an appearance in my Dragons & Witches series.  I’ve changed the breed to a terrier but the cheeky personality remains the same.

It seemed unfair to have a dog in the mix without the assistance of a supporting cat character.  So Jinx is in these stories to serve as Kastaspella’s pet.  But I also wanted to move away from the run of the mill narrators.  Having owned both cats and dogs I also thought it would be fun to illustrate the differences between their personalities.  I was further inspired by a short piece Romi wrote on Wattpad.  I hope she doesn’t mind that I’ve taken her idea and run away with it.

My strangest yet most wonderful character thus far has been Faetaera.  It is the magical realm which features in Sharp Dark Things.  The first character I met from Faetaera was a pixie called Sprax.  Once he launched himself at me, I was forced to create a world for him to inhabit.  So Faetaera came into existence.  It is still a realm in progress as it is a fantasy world and these, as you well know, are in constant flux.

While you would think the characters in my science fiction books would be equally as unusual as my fantasy ones, this is not entirely so.  Yes, Chisanda is a genetically engineered chimpanzee with a human splice in her DNA but Marco Zeppo is not unusual.  The creation of Chisanda came about because I love apes, specifically orang-utans, gorillas and chimpanzees.  I always turn to what I know and love when I write.  I hope this serves to give the characters fullness.

Marco’s character is another example of someone who goes through trials and tribulations but comes out good in the end.  This is because I truly believe we can throw off adversity and be the best possible us there is.

As with every character I write, even my marginal characters are imbued with the personalities of the people around me, whether they are loved ones, enemies or merely passers-by.  I am always watching, listening, absorbing.  Sometimes I’m not even aware I’ve done it until I start writing and a character emerges on the page.

This is how my characters come into being and I know no other way. 

So I apologise to all those who know me.  If you believe you see yourselves or fragments of your personalities in my stories, I promise, I always change names to protect the innocent.  And sometimes, even the guilty.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Character: The Antagonists

Now it's back to writing about my writing process and it's time to focus on the antagonists I write.

It seems I don’t mind having male and female antagonists even though I’ve plumped so heavily for females in the protagonist camp.

Robert Deed (Six Dead Men)
Terence Ire (Six Dead Men)
Zaq (Where Rainbows Hide)
Irina Bushka (Where Rainbows Hide)
The Authorities (When Rainbows Cry)
Kastaspella aka Jocasta Incantata (Of Dragons & Witches series)
Grief/Brairton (Sharp Dark Things)

Robert Deed’s name in this list may well surprise you.  Let me explain.  To begin with, his main aim is to prove Madison Bricot guilty of her boyfriend’s murder.  The twists and turns of the plot however mean he ends up sharing protagonist status with Madison.  He ultimately has too sound a nature to be the villain and his role shifts to that of the main romantic interest.  But then, that was my aim all along, to trick the reader into thinking he was the enemy.

It is in fact Terence Ire who is the true villain of Six Dead Men.  He and Robert are two sides of the same coin.  I wanted a character that shared many of Robert’s traits but had a rough time in life and chose to use that as an excuse for his future actions.  He is a character most definitely born out of all the villains I’ve encountered in the crime dramas I watch on telly.  The list is endless.  I won’t go into it here.  It is a little worrying that I did not find Terence hard to write.

In my Rainbow series of science fiction novels, Zaq is a short lived antagonist but is crucial to plot development.  I liked the idea of having a completely obnoxious and unlikeable child genius character who Neera and her friend Chi have to tussle with on their journey.  So out popped Zaq.  He was fun to write and I could be as outrageous with him as I liked.

But he had to die because waiting in the wings was Irina Bushka.  With this character I wanted someone whose outer beauty belied the ugliness inside.  She has no terrible backstory to justify her actions.  Much like the Stazi or Mafia or Nazis, she does what she does and enjoys it far too much.  As with Terence Ire, I found writing Irina very easy.  There may well be a cruel streak lurking at the centre of my being which emerges whenever I get to write these characters.

In the second book of my Rainbow Series I opt to have the government as the antagonist.  This is most certainly born out of the fact that currently, governments around the world are making decisions I find difficult to fathom.  It’s my way of crying out at the injustice heaped upon the average person on a daily basis.  Through the book I can win out against the authorities and show there is always an alternative solution if only they’d give it a try.

Okay, rant over.

Now on to my dastardly witch Kastaspella.  Unlike Irina Bushka, Kastaspella most definitely has a backstory which is behind the way she behaves as she does.  She is the embodiment of all the young people I meet who are damaged by the circumstances they encounter on a daily basis.  Some of them find a way out of the madness and invent new lives for themselves.  Others do not.  Thankfully Kastaspella’s character has a way out and friends she is yet to make to help her along the way.

My final antagonist is grief.  The reason for this is most definitely the death of my parents and dealing with the emotions and fallout of it.  I began writing the book shortly after my mother died.  It is no accident Sharp Dark Things has a lot of fantasy content.  

Whenever I’m feeling particularly low, I turn to this genre for solace.  It takes me away from painful thoughts and the decision making process which becomes a person’s life when a much relied on love one dies.

In the fantasy (Faetaera) sections of the novel, grief takes on physical form in the shape of another extremely cruel and vicious creature – Brairton.  He is a cat-fairy hybrid.  I chose this shape for him because cats have an intrinsic cruelty.  We see it in the way they play with animals they’ve caught before they finally eat them.

All these characters share the desire to come between the protagonists and their ultimate goals.  They are there because without them the protagonists would not have the possibility of overcoming adversity.  When I write antagonists, my protagonists are sitting on my shoulder, whispering.  And whenever they shout an objection to my creation I know I’m on the right track because my antagonists are there to push the protagonists’ buttons and force them on to newer and better things.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Guest Post by Anna Caig

By day, Anna Caig manages the media relations team at Sheffield City Council, walks up hills in the Hope Valley and takes care of her two amazing and very cheeky children. But by night, she loses herself in the world of reading, and writing about reading, that is Murder Underground Broke The Camel's Back, her beloved book review blog.

 How Murder Underground Broke The Camel's Back

In March 2015 I visited the amazing Salts Mill bookshop in Saltaire, and bought Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay. It looked fantastic, so up my street it is untrue.

But I took it home, and it joined a shelf of ‘to read’ books. Which was just one of many shelves of 'to read' books.

I have a house full of books. Bookshelves in nearly every room, crammed with hundreds and hundreds of books, some of which I have read and loved (and would happily read again), and many of which I have never read but thoroughly intend to (in some cases I have been thoroughly intending for up to 20 years, yes 20). Books that I read and wouldn’t read again, I give to a charity shop. But in my last ‘really ruthless’ clear out, I managed to get rid of six.

But still I was buying more. And more.

I realised that day that it had to stop. Murder Underground broke the camel's back. I resolved to read the books on my shelves, and only the books on my shelves. And my beloved blog was born.

The original plan for the blog was to give focus and structure to my attempt to read the house dry, and to provide an incentive to keep to my self-imposed book buying ban. I review each book I read with a non-spoilery post not just on its contents, but also any musings it provokes.

But over the past 14 months or so, my blog has become much more than this. It is a celebration of one of the most enriching parts of my life. An exploration of the many ways that the books I read impact on the life I live. In just one year, I reduced the amount of meat I eat; I gave to different charities; I survived a mini mid-life crisis; I lost some of my greatest heroes, but reflected on and reaffirmed the best of what they taught me; I laughed my head off, and cried several rivers. All as a result, direct or indirect, of reading these books.

And… have I kept to the vow? Well, the answer to that is of course is a big resounding no.

But I have only bought 6 books in the last 14 months (although I have borrowed many more than that), and I have made inroads into the 'to read' pile for the first time in many years. By my conservative estimate, I will have read everything in my house in 16 years' time! Not too bad.

Rae has asked me to chose the five top reads of the blog so far. Which is spectacularly hard, as I have read some absolute crackers. But these are my recommendations for you.

Possibly cheating as this a trilogy, but these are the books that I was reading when I started the blog. All three are incredible, and the final installment, Monsters Of Men, is a rollercoaster of constant action bringing it all to a spectacular conclusion.

An absolute no-brainer. This is my favourite book of all time, ever. I reread this in January when I took my daughter to Haworth for the first time, and as always I got something new from it.

I feel like I should have a claxon to sound when I read a book this fantastic by a new (to me) writer. There is a huge amount going on in Boy, Snow, Bird. Oyeyemi’s writing is so good that she can take on huge themes, and make them feel entirely personal and encapsulated in her quite frankly outstanding characters and their experiences.

Yes, I loved Go Set A Watchman. I know not everyone felt the same, but I absolutely loved it. More than anything though, I loved the event that the publishing of this book became: it was shocking; it was exciting; it was controversial; it was emotional. It was a giant kick in the teeth for anyone who says the book is a dying medium.

This book is wonderful. It feels like this generation’s A Christmas Carol, even dare I say it this generation’s nativity story. It is at once bang up to date and incisively political, whilst also feeling utterly timeless.