A Sunday Lockdown Update

So, we’ve watched The Witcher, and found it entertaining, in a ‘Dungeons and Dragons for the telly’ kind of way. Which probably says a fair bit about our family approach to tabletop and LARP gaming. It was uneven at times – the range of accents was occasionally distracting for me. The dialogue lurching from ‘verily, we must make haste to yonder castle’ to ‘bollocks to that, pal’ could do with smoothing out. Some more obvious cues about the different timelines wouldn’t have gone amiss. That said, the perspectives on magic and politics, and the continental setting were interesting and did some testing of cliches. Other cliches were embraced, alas, at least for the moment. I’ll be interested to see where those particular story elements go. Overall, I’m sufficiently engaged to look forward to Season 2.

In other news, Husband and I were both overdue a haircut when all this started. I have now resorted to a hairband to keep my fringe out of my eyes. He’s developing an unexpectedly Tintinesque look. No, there will not be pictures.

The recent special offers for The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Foe have prompted a very nice flurry of positive reviews and ratings by satisfied readers on Amazon and Goodreads. That’s very much appreciated and a boost for morale. I’ve also been making an effort to sit in the garden or the lounge and read a bit each day, for destressing purposes.

However my subconscious is still finding lightning rods for the nebulous anxiety that surrounds us all, sending my thoughts down unproductive pathways. This gets me about as far as a hamster running on a wheel. The latest has been seeing other authors busy doing readings and panels and chatting online by video. Should I be doing that ?! Why am I not doing that?!

Well, I am honestly too busy – my next deadline is still in place and it’s a tight one. True, but that doesn’t get the hamster-brain off the squeaky wheel.

But I don’t know how to do this stuff. I’ve done plenty of video interviews, but that’s always been with someone else doing the tech. Yes, I’m sure I could work it out, but that would take time I don’t have to spare – see above. All true, but once again, that doesn’t get the hamster off the wheel .

But I simply don’t want to do it – and it’s not only because my hair’s a ragged mess at the moment, though that is a part of it, because I prefer to present myself professionally. It’s the thought of the total demand of prepping material, being on time for something remotely organised, coordinating with other people, doing the tech stuff at my end etc etc etc – when I am so busy and life is still so odd and uncertain. I do not need more stuff to do.

Thankfully admitting that to myself gets the hamster to stop scampering. I am under no obligation to do this stuff. Time I can spare from work is at least as well, if not better spent on self-care just at present. If I decide I want to, that’s fine, and I can ask for tech help then. When I’m ready. If I want to.

So I will continue to write the next Ancient Athens murder mystery and focus on that – which is proving very enjoyable. So far I have encountered another of those things they don’t tell you about being a writer – that you will need to look up the history of fruit. No, Philocles can’t have peaches for breakfast. If he does, someone somewhere will know that’s wrong, and a) be thrown out of reading this book, and b) will say so online these days. So – and apologies for spoilers – Philocles is eating cherries instead.

Sunday thoughts on manifestations of stress.

It’s all still very odd, isn’t it? And at the same time, such a lot hasn’t changed so very much for households like ours – those of us without kids out of school and with jobs we can still do. Believe me, I appreciate that good fortune. Even so, the possibilities… the uncertainties… It doesn’t do to dwell on these things, but it can be hard not to.

As a novelist, I can’t help observing what’s going on around me as people react to all this – and realising that I am in no sense immune. I found doing the supermarket run peculiarly stressful. There was the oddity of having to queue to get in, though I didn’t have to wait particularly long. There was seeing the anxiety on so many faces, and the awkwardness of social distancing when all you want to do is get some frozen peas and there’s someone in your way. Will there be any peas?! Such questions assume an importance out of all proportion at the moment. Rationally, I know the supermarkets are getting their supply chains sorted out – and honestly, the world won’t end if we eat green beans instead this week. But the part of my brain that’s chasing possibilities and uncertainties like a hamster running on its wheel doesn’t want to hear that.

I’m seeing other manifestations of stress on social media. There are a lot of spats and bickering around that I could well do without. Personally I’m trying to focus on posting useful and/or mildly amusing things. People need to curate their own level of exposure to distressing news at the moment, so I’m leaving that up to them. But I have had some responses which have struck me as unhelpfully abrupt and even confrontational. People saying their individual experience is different, or that they simply don’t agree based on nothing more than personal opinion. Or going off on a tangent, wanting to discuss another topic entirely – something that I don’t want to be drawn into. These responses are very much the exception, thankfully, but hamster-brain and writer-brain can’t help being drawn to them. Are people more inclined to sense of humour failure at the moment? Am I being unduly sensitive? Are both sides reading more into casual posts than is really there? I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle, at some ever-shifting point.

We’re all going to need to find our own ways of managing stress – all the more so, the longer this weirdness goes on. Books, films, TV and my own work are what I am using to get that bloody hamster off its squeaky wheel. Successfully, for the most part, thankfully.

Special Offer on the first two Green Man stories, and the first news of Book 3…

Good morning, and here’s some good news. The Green Man’s Heir is a Kindle Daily Deal in the UK (and depending where you are based, it may show up cheap on the US store). To celebrate the offer, Wizard’s Tower Press and I have also temporarily dropped the price of The Green Man’s Foe worldwide. So that’s both ebooks for around the price of a fancy cup of coffee today – which you won’t be buying anyway just at the moment.

This means everyone can get nicely caught up with Dan’s adventures, before reading The Green Man’s Silence, coming this summer from Wizard’s Tower Press. Dan’s in the Fens, in the east of England. It’s a part of the country he’s never visited before, so everything’s unfamiliar, from the roads and rivers raised up above the black peaty fields that surround them, to the supernatural creatures that live there. One thing he soon notices is the lack of oak trees. He’s going to need help from elsewhere to solve the complex challenge he faces.

So boost the signal, spread the word and tell your friends! And if you’ve already read both books and enjoyed them, remember that leaving a review or rating however brief on your preferred website will help the team bringing you these stories long after this offer’s done. Thank you kindly.

Purchase links – ebook edition
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Artwork by Ben Baldwin

Sunday thoughts – things learned this week.

Something this past fortnight has shown me is just how many people I know and work with have a close connection to the NHS. Another thing I’ve learned this past week, reading reports from Spain and Italy, is how appalling the impact of all this will be on all of them, to a greater or lesser extent, I’m not (just) talking about the risks of serious illness that they all face, but the effect of being far closer to mass deaths than any of the rest of us. So staying home when we can, and keeping our distance when we can’t takes on an added personal dimension, as well as being essential for the greater good.

So I’m doing what I can, for the GP my friend T is married to, and for my friend B’s partner the ICU nurse, for my friend S’s brother the nurse-manager, for young L and my long-standing friend K who work in hospital admin, and for my friend G’s in-law the hospital pharmacist. Those are merely the ones that come immediately to mind.

Something else I have learned is how good it is for morale to actually see someone’s face and hear their voice when we’re catching up with more than just work stuff. Keeping in touch by messages, email and texts is great, but the added impact of that personal connection, when my day to day contacts are now just the family really surprised me. I foresee a lot more Skype and Zoom in my future.

In other news, we are both still working so won’t be tackling any new/overdue exciting projects or taking up a musical instrument or learning a new language in some wealth of unexpected down time. The usual chores remain, and yesterday I caught up with the ironing. So far, so routine – except I keep finding the new surreality intruding into such mundane things. I ironed the last shirt and stopped in my tracks to wonder how long it will be before I’m doing that again. I have no idea and nor does anyone else. (Yes, I iron my husband’s work shirts. No, that does not make me a bad feminist. How we apportion tasks is up to us.)

We have done some sorting out of the Son in the North’s erstwhile bedroom to give the Husband a better workspace for the duration. Now, I freely admit I am not a tidy person and I am inclined to hold on to stuff, as friends and family will attest. The final thing I learned this week is, compared to my younger son, I am Marie bloody Kondo…

Free reading for the cooped-up, from me and other writers

There’s been a flurry of SF&F authors having a look in the back cupboards of their hard drives this week, to see what stories they could make available for free. We know a lot of readers have time on their hands just at the moment, but we are also well aware that they may be finding themselves uncertain as to prospects for their bank balance and bills for the next however-long.

With the always invaluable assistance of Cheryl at Wizard’s Tower Press, and artist Ben Baldwin, I’m offering up The Wizard’s Coming, a short story that stands alone, and as such, should give a good introduction to my style and my approach to epic fantasy. In the overall chronology of my successive epic fantasy series, it sits between The Lescari Revolution trilogy and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, so there’s added interest if you’ve read those books.

You can download the ebook in your preferred format from Wizard’s Tower Press here – worldwide.

You should also check out the BSFA page where a whole lot of interesting things are on offer.

Looking forward, Cheryl and I are also working on making some Aldabreshin Compass short fiction available as ebook singles. Details to follow in due course.

Meantime, happy reading, and hoping you and yours are well.

The Tales of Einarinn – back in print!

The Tales of Einarinn – Wizard’s Tower Press edition

How’s this for a shelfie? I am thrilled to show you the new editions now available from Wizard’s Tower Press. We’ve been working on this for a while now, around our other commitments, and the plan was a (re)launch at this year’s UK Eastercon. So much for that… but hey, that means we can make them available a few weeks earlier now. So spread the word! All signal boosting will be very much appreciated.

We’ve given the source texts a thorough proof read – and then gone over them again. I printed them all out and sat down with a ruler and red pen to go over them the old school way, to check the formatting etc. Having done that we’ve also taken the opportunity to update the ebook versions to catch any remaining glitches, and to share the new cover design by Ben Baldwin, using Geoff Taylor‘s original artwork.

But wait, there’s more! Hardback versions are also in the pipeline – with an added bonus that you’ll find out about soon. So those of you who like a physical book rather than digital will have your choice of formats. One reason for doing this is conversations with readers who have been keen to have their own copies for their bookshelf – as well as chatting to second-hand booksellers who tell me how hard it is to find copies of my early books. Apparently readers who’ve bought them hang on to them – which I am naturally delighted to learn.

And finally… we’re taking the opportunity of this forced hiatus to put together some other things that we’ve had in the ‘when we get around to it’ folder for a while now. Not that Cheryl or I are short of other things to do. As freelancers who both work mostly from home, we’re already set up for remote working so a lot of that side of life is carrying on as usual for us. Anyway, there’ll be more news about what we’re up to in due course.

Welcome to the new normal – abnormal…

It’s all very odd, isn’t it? Not to say unsettling. And there is so little we can do about any of this – apart from staying home, washing our hands and keeping our distance when we have to go out for essentials and shopping responsibly when we do that.

So what am I blogging about? Well, not everyone I know is on Twitter or Facebook, so I thought a few updates here wouldn’t go amiss. I’m happy to say me and mine are fine. Mum and Stepdad are in Hampshire and my elder brother lives locally there, so he’s shopping etc for them. My dad and stepmother are down in South Wales and they have a whole lot of support already in place as they are now both registered blind. The Son in the North is now working from home up there and if Resident Son ends up out of work, he’s okay here with us.

Husband is working from home now – which is a bit distracting as there are a lot of conference calls going on, but that’s a minor consideration. We don’t have school age kids which must be a whole other nightmare. The social distancing message seems to have got through hereabouts and people are being polite and considerate overall. While there are minor hassles with what is or isn’t available in the supermarkets, we routinely keep a well-stocked freezer and store cupboard – as we have the funds, space and car to do that. I am very well aware that a lot of folk are facing far more difficulties.

So I can get on with my own work much as usual. And at the moment that means working flat out on the third Green Man book, a rescue plan for the Ancient Greek murder mysteries that I’m writing under a pseudonym, and another project that hasn’t been announced yet. Unless of course someone here or one of the assorted parents/my brother falls ill, in which case all bets are off. But at the moment, all we can do is take things day to day, don’t you think?

With aikido suspended for the duration and not wanting to risk the gym since before they were closed, I have started doing some yoga in the lounge first thing in the mornings. Sooty settles down to watch, paws tucked up and ears pricked. Curious cat meets downward dog.

So that’s about it for now. Take care of yourselves and stay home!

This year’s lesson – no writing is ever wasted…

As I’m signing off social media until the New Year, it’s a time to take stock. It’s certainly been a year of ups and downs. Highlights were the Worldcon in Dublin, and readers’ enthusiastic reception for The Green Man’s Foe; a book drawing on work I started well over a decade ago, which found a new and much better purpose. Working with Cheryl, Toby and Ben continues to be tremendously rewarding, and you may rest assured that Dan’s adventures will continue in a third story.

In shorter fiction, The Echoes of a Shot, my alternate take on the early 20th Century, appeared in the Alternate Peace anthology from ZNB, while The Hand that Rocks the Cradle appeared in the Newcon Press anthology Soot and Steel. That’s a story I never expected to see in print after the project it was originally written for never came to pass, but editor Ian Whates had liked it and he remembered it. Finally, as highlighted recently, my ‘Charles Dickens meets Doctor Who’ story finally saw the light of day, through the good offices of Paul Cornell. So I’m not only bearing in mind that no writing is ever wasted, I’m thankful for such good friends, and for the support of the wider writing community.

Much less good was the lack of publisher support, for various reasons that had nothing to do with the books, for my new venture into writing historical crime fiction as J M Alvey – Shadows of Athens and Scorpions in Corinth are murder mysteries set in classical Greece, published in March and September respectively. This year has definitely shown me how much has changed in twenty years, when looking at what a writer can expect from small and large publishers. That’s a longer blogpost for 2020, but my other experiences this past year make me determined to stick with that project, to see what can be done to bring Philocles’ adventures to a wider audience, in this new and ever-changing world for authors.

I’ve also finally finished writing a new epic fantasy novel, as yet untitled, and set in the River Kingdom. That’s another project that’s been picked up and put down so often, that I wondered if it was ever going to be completed. Over the last couple of months though, particularly after Fantasycon, it suddenly came into focus. I had a polished draft to hand over to my agent on Friday 13th December. It’ll be very interesting to see where that book goes in 2020, but I’m not making any predictions, because 2019 has also been a year showing the folly of doing that, on so many levels.

Now it’s time for rest and relaxation with family and friends, and for wishing everyone the best of the season, however and whenever you celebrate at this time of year.

Once upon a time, Charles Dickens met Doctor Who…

Oh yes, says you, I remember it, Christopher Ecclestone and Simon Callow, great episode! Ah well, says I, it so happens I wrote a different story before anyone knew what Mark Gattiss was doing for the first season of the Doctor’s return.

Back in 2004, Paul Cornell was editing a Christmas anthology for Big Finish, and invited me to submit a story. I really enjoyed writing ‘Who the Dickens…?’, researching all the detail was fascinating, and Paul was very pleased with it. All was well until … the BBC spiked it. Sorry, that particular story was a no go for the forthcoming book.

Everyone was very nice, and thoroughly professional, and I was paid, and so while I felt a bit wistful, I didn’t feel in the least hard done by. These things happen with licensed property work. And when the new series aired, all was explained!

The story stayed in my computer archive because unlike a story of my own, I couldn’t sell it elsewhere, obviously. Then Paul contacted me earlier this year to ask if I’d ever done anything with it. No, as I explained, as far as I recalled without digging out the contract, the copyright and intellectual property rights belonged to Big Finish and the BBC, as is standard for such work. It would never see the light of day unless the powers that were gave their approval. Let me talk to a few people, says Paul…

Well, now you can read that story if you click over to Paul’s website and this year’s 12 Blogs of Christmas, free and gratis, to entertain you as this year draws to a close. Enjoy!

My flying visit to Sweden – an absolutely excellent trip

I’ve been pals with multi-faceted writer Steven Savile for years now, so when he asked if I might be interested in doing an event in Sweden, naturally I said yes. A little while later, Jan Smedh of The English Bookshop in Uppsala got in touch to invite me to the evening he was organising for the city’s annual Culture Night. When everything was finalised, we had a mini-SF-Crime convention, with me, Steve, Stephen Gallagher and RJ Barker being interviewed together by way of an introduction, followed by us discussing crime fiction and then a session on fantasy fiction, since one way and another, we’ve all written across both genres. There were intervals for book signing, and to give fans of one genre or the other to come and go as they felt inclined – not least because there were so many other events going on. The city was packed all day.

Now, I’ve only ever met Stephen Gallagher on a handshake-and-hello basis before, and never crossed paths with RJ Barker, but once we met up on Friday, it soon became apparent that Saturday evening would go with a swing, as we chatted about what we write and what we read. That’s exactly how it turned out, as we had different things to say as well as enough interests in common to generate really interesting conversations. We were also made wonderfully welcome by Jan, his wife, and the bookshop staff, as well as by Uppsala’s SF and Fantasy fans. Feeling so at ease made Saturday evening even more fun, and the time simply flew by. The audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves as much as we did.

Those of you who couldn’t make it will get a flavour of the event in a little while, as Stephen, RJ and I were all interviewed on video by Magnus, another of our new friends, earlier in the day. We did that on the deck of the floating hotel Selma, where we were staying, moored on the river. I’ll post links in due course. Those of you who travel to European conventions should also note that Uppsala fandom are putting in a bid to run the 2023 Eurocon – follow @Uppsala2023 on Twitter to keep in touch with their progress.

Before that – yes, we really did make the most of our time – Jan had arranged for us to have a short introduction to the city’s history and a guided tour of Uppsala Cathedral with a brief visit to the museum now housed in one of the original University buildings. The cathedral is beautiful and full of fascinating memorials and stories – and something of more personal interest. Thanks to local Swedish fan Jonathan, who I first met at the Worldcon in Dublin, I knew to keep a look out for the Green Man carved on a pillar capital as we went round. I could go on and on, but I’d be writing this all day if I attempted a full recap. Put Uppsala on your own holiday destination list, that’s the best idea. Seriously. There are great places to eat as well as everything else to see in the city.

The museum was equally enthralling, and has one of the most ornate and astonishing examples of a Cabinet of Curiosities in the world – the Augsburg Art Cabinet. Other treasures include the original prototype Celsius thermometer. Carl Linnaeus is by no means the only globally renowned scientist that the university is rightly proud of. Mind you, the students Linnaeus sent out worldwide to collect his samples often came to an unexpected and early end… Of course, as authors, we love this sort of thing, so I suspect echoes of our trip will appear in all our writing one way or another over the next little while.

So that was Saturday, and on Sunday morning, Steve, Stephen and I took a train to Stockholm to walk around and get a flavour of the city, old and new, before it was time to head for the airport and our flights home. Now I must find time to rewatch my DVDs of the original Swedish TV series adapting the Millenium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc.) and see what I can see differently.

But now I must get some work done today. Still, I know that will come all the easier after a trip like this. Not only did we see countless things to fire the imagination, but meeting keen readers and enjoying so many varied conversations always inspires me to do my very best for the people who I ultimately write for.