Posted in culture and society good stuff from other authors Links to interesting stuff Publishing & the Book Trade Unexpected things about Juliet

Silver for Silence – a new Philocles story for a very good cause

Regular readers will recall me flagging up the Books on the Hill project last year, aiming to publish quick reads specifically intended for dyslexic adults, to encourage them to explore and enjoy the great range of fiction available these days. I wrote about that here.

I’m delighted to say the initiative has been a great success! Alistair and Chloe are running a second Kickstarter this year, offering another tremendous selection of stories to give readers a taste of different genres. You can find Open Dyslexia: The Sequel here. You will note that names from the bestseller lists and TV adaptations such as Bernard Cornwell and Peter James are supporting this splendid initiative. I was naturally most honoured when Alistair asked me – or rather, my alter ego JM Alvey – to write a short history mystery (12,000 words) for this year’s line-up.

What you may well not know – because I certainly didn’t, and yes, I am embarrassed by my ignorance – is that making a read dyslexia-friendly is a case of formatting and layout and similar. For an author, the writing process is exactly the same. I’m aiming to challenge, entertain and intrigue with this new Philocles short story in the same way that I do with anything I see published. The only difference is more people will be able to read it – and I love the thought of that.

This project really highlights how much new technologies can do to make books more accessible for people with dyslexia. And that makes the absence of such initiatives by the mass-market publishers glaringly obvious. The book trade needs to take a long hard look at this situation.

Posted in creative writing culture and society good stuff from other authors Links to interesting stuff Publishing & the Book Trade

The J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature 2022

Last night’s thoughtful and thought-provoking JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature by Rebecca F. Kuang is now available on the organisation’s YouTube channel – along with previous years’ talks from Pembroke College, Oxford, where Tolkien served as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1925-1945. All very well worth your time.

You can find out more about Rebecca and about the lecture series here.

Here’s the link to this year’s video.

I went into Oxford to be in the audience, and it was great to see established friends and to make new acquaintances. I used the Park & Ride – and on the way back, I really thought I was going to just miss the bus and have to wait half an hour in the rain for the next one. But no! There is a special place in heaven* for a bus driver who sees you start running as he’s driven past, and so waits at the next stop for you to get there, even though there are no other passengers waiting to board. (*or equivalent spiritual reward)

Posted in creative writing Links to interesting stuff Publishing & the Book Trade

Is it a steal? The questions to ask about paid-for publishing

The Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain have published a joint report looking into companies that charge writers for publication. You will not be surprised to learn there are a lot of shady goings-on in this area of the book business. For one thing, the sharks and charlatans like to muddy the waters with terms like ‘hybrid’ and ‘indie’ publishing. They’re able to do this because these terms mean different things to different people.

‘Hybrid’ originally meant authors self-publishing alongside working with a mainstream publisher. ‘Indie’ used to mean small independent presses not owned by one of the multinational conglomerates. These days, ‘indie’ has been co-opted by self-publishers (not with any underhand intent), while what used to be called ‘vanity’ presses would have you believe that ‘hybrid’ now means the author putting in money up front for a project, as well as the (alleged) publisher.

Now, there are currently a whole lot of different ways to work with a publisher. At the moment, I have five separate agreements on the go, and the details of each contract are different. For one, I have chosen to commission and pay for editorial input and artwork myself and to then supply the complete package to the publisher rather than have them undertake this part of the publishing process. These choices I have made are reflected in the royalty rate I receive. All of this information is readily available to me, the whole process is transparent, and at no point am I paying the publisher for anything. This is a legitimate way to do business.

Compare and contrast the sharks and charlatans. When I’ve been judging genre prizes and books come in from a publisher I don’t know, I go and check who I’m dealing with. Legitimate small presses I just haven’t come across before are easy to identify , but when it comes to vanity presses, the tell-tale info is often very deliberately and well hidden on websites. There are weasel words like ‘contributory’ and ‘partnership’ as well as hideous rights grabs buried under layers of obfuscation, just in case they are handed some real gem.

Though that is unlikely. When it comes to the books, vanity presses are almost always horribly, wretchedly obvious. I mean 99.99% of the time at least! I recall one first person narrative which included the detailed description of a knife that had just stabbed our heroine in the back where she couldn’t reach it. So… how could she see it then? The whole book – okay, the 65 pages I read before I quit – was full of these basic creative writing errors. There had been no meaningful editorial input at all – though I bet the author had paid well above the going rate for that, from what I read on the website. Things like this might be funny, except these authors sometimes contact prize judges, wondering why they haven’t been short-listed (yes, really) and it’s painfully clear they’ve been fed wholly unreal expectations by, well, con-artists. It’s awful to be the person trying to explain what’s happened to them.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise to me at all to see from this report –
• 94% of respondents lost money, typically in the thousands.
• The average loss was £1,861 with some writers reporting losses as high as £9,900.
• The median cost of publication was £2,000.
• A median of only 67 books were sold per deal, resulting in royalties of only £68.
• 59% of writers said their book was not available to buy in retail outlets

You can read the Society of Authors’ article here, and download the full report.

Do spread the word, and bookmark the info, in case you come across another writer in danger of being bamboozled.

Posted in fandom Links to interesting stuff News public appearances

Join in the BFS 50th Anniversary celebrations on 26th February!

The British Fantasy Society is 50 years old this year! There’s going to be a day of celebration online on Saturday 26th February, and I’m delighted to say that I will be having fun discussing fantastical creatures with Anna Smith Spark and R J Barker at 10.15 am.

There’s a great programme of readings, panels etc soon to be revealed, so mark your diaries. You can find more details here.

Posted in Links to interesting stuff public appearances travels and such

A lovely day out at the Clevedon Literary Festival

I had an excellent time on Saturday, down in Clevedon at their literary festival. This is a little Victorian seaside town between Bristol and Weston Super Mare if you’re trying to place it. I had a very straightforward run over from West Oxfordshire as the traffic on the M4 was nowhere near typical summer Saturday levels. It was also striking how many cars were content to do 65 in the ‘slow’ lane rather compete with each other in the usual mad racing ahead. I suspect, like me, drivers were realising how little long distance driving they’ve done this year and taking it steady. Everything slowed right down when the M4 joined the M5 unsurprisingly, but the traffic kept moving, and since I’d allowed for horrible traffic, I arrived in good time. 

The Princes Hall community centre was clearly once a grand villa with a sea view and the large gardens are now a charming little park. I met up with Alistair from Books on the Hill, Anna Smith Spark and John Llewellyn Probert and we sat down with an interested audience to chat about fantasy fiction under a gazebo in a corner by some trees. The three of us have very different ways of working, and different approaches to what we write, so that made for an absorbing discussion.

This may seem odd, but I was surprised to remember just how much fun doing this sort of thing in person really is. Don’t get me wrong, virtual events have been an absolute lifesaver for authors, bookshops, conventions and publishers, and I have no doubt that they’re here to stay – but it will be lovely to get back to meeting up with other writers and fans again. So I will be signing up for Bristolcon, which promises to be a fabulous event this year. I will also be signing up for Octocon because if I can’t get over to Dublin just yet, the online convention will do very nicely in the meantime.

It was great to see some local friends, and yes, they were startled to see me with long hair. It was also an opportunity to see the actual copies of BOTH Press’s dyslexia friendly books after the success of the Kickstarter. The books are very handsome and this is an initiative well worth supporting.

As an unexpected thank you, we were given goodie bags with little gifts from the local independent businesses supporting the festival, which added up to a very generous collection. If you’re within striking distance and looking for a place to go to browse interesting shops for gifts and treats, head for Clevedon!

And there was even less traffic on the way back.

Posted in bookselling good stuff from other authors Links to interesting stuff News Publishing & the Book Trade

Open Dyslexia – publishing dyslexic friendly books for adults

Books on the Hill is a dyslexic friendly, independent bookshop in Clevedon, North Somerset, run by Alistair and Chloe. They are both passionate about books of all genres, and about getting as many people as possible reading. Alistair is dyslexic himself and so is always on the look out for ways to help people who have dyslexia, or any difficulty with reading, to access the joy of good fiction. For instance, he advised me and Cheryl on fonts that would suit dyslexic readers better in the Green Man books – I had no idea that something so simple could make such a difference!

As a bookseller, Alistair has long been aware of the Barrington Stoke books for dyslexic kids, but hasn’t found any equivalent for adults. So he’s decided to do something about that, and has recruited a group of very fine writers specifically to write stories for a new publishing project, funded by Kickstarter. As of this morning, the first funding goal has been reached inside the project’s first week. So the first three books will definitely be happening. Now let’s see the stretch goals reached, so more books will be available. This should be the start of a long term initiative.

You can find out all about the the Kickstarter here

There’s also a detailed and interesting report by the BBC here.

Do take a look, and definitely spread the word to whoever you know who’ll be interested. Given up to 10% of the population is dyslexic, there’s sure to be someone.

Posted in creative writing Links to interesting stuff New Releases The Green Man's Silence

These Green Man books are rooted in British folklore – but what does that actually mean?

I grew up with folklore as a core element of my reading. I don’t just mean the fairy stories that everyone knows, taken from Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, commodified and sanitised by Disney. My local library and the primary school bookshelves had numerous collections of folk tales alongside other reading – and as I was reminded just last week by Simon Spanton posting this Book of Goblins cover on Twitter, they were often collected by authors who had written other books on those shelves. Then there were the older books; the collections of fairy tales by Andrew Lang, and George Macdonald’s stories. Victorian editors had softened the sharp edges of these tales, but they couldn’t do away with the strangeness, and that was so often reflected by illustrators like Arthur Rackham in books such as Puck of Pook’s Hill.

Some of these collections were themed – goblins, giants, witches – while others were regional – tales from the Orkneys, from Cornwall or Wales, to name but a few that I recall. Either way, these stories belonged in the world where I was living rather than some fantasyland, even if I couldn’t see what was going on in the shadows. As a voracious reader, I saw no division between these traditional stories and the fantasies written by Tolkien, Lewis and Garner. There were the same otherworldly beings in the Hobbit, Narnia and underneath Alderley Edge after all: wizards, goblins, elves. The folklore books also had darker, scarier things, and stories with uneasy endings that didn’t offer the consolation of some of those fictional narratives…

As an adult, I turned to reading scholarly and still very readable analyses of folklore, by writers such as Diane Purkiss. As a fan of local museums, and of National Trust and English Heritage visits, I would pick up books of local tales collected by antiquarians and enthusiasts. I began to see the depth and breadth of the folklore that still endures in rural England. I continue to see the extent of such mythology’s influence, as I recognise these stories from passing mentions in literature from Shakespeare to Kipling and right up to the present day.

At the same time, I come across half-tales and references that make it clear how many stories have faded away for lack of telling, leaving only tantalising traces. I discovered that mystic beings we think of as ancient archetypes have been recreated comparatively recently. The Green Man, the Horned Hunter, the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. Oh, the images are ancient, but the tales that went with them have all but vanished. Looking at the ways these things have been reimagined, when and by whom, is an ongoing fascination.

All told, these varied aspects of our folklore legacy offer me tremendous scope as a writer. I am able to draw on a familiarity with traditional fairy-tale creatures and themes that readers may not even be aware they have acquired. At the same time, I have a free hand to weave in those stray fragments and the strangeness that I come across to enrich my new story with surprises. As I write these particular books, I become more and more aware that I’m working in an age-old tradition as I do so.

Cover art and design by Ben Baldwin
Posted in creative writing good stuff from other authors Links to interesting stuff Short fiction & anthologies

Why does this novelist like writing short stories for ZNB anthologies?

Hopefully you’ll have noticed that the excellent small press ZNB (Zombies Need Brains) are running a Kickstarter to fund three new anthologies, titled THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, DERELICT, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors in the field and new voices found through an open call. The fundraising is going well, so we can hope to reach some stretch goals. Do check it out!

Regular readers will know that I’m a regular contributor to these projects, sometimes as an invited author, sometimes through submitting to the open call. The thing is though, I’m really not a natural short story writer…

A great many authors will tell you they have an instinctive length when it comes to writing. That can be novel, novella or short story. It’s the sweet spot for their imagination, where ideas come together most effectively. For me, that’s most definitely the novel. It has been said, with perfect justification, that my early short stories read like excerpts from a longer work.

So that’s the first thing. I want to improve my skills in this particular area. Short stories, in anthologies and as standalones are having a resurgence just at the moment. That’s thanks to the ease of digital downloads, a smartphone in every pocket or bag, and the way short-form fiction is ideal for a commute. That makes the short story an ideal way to introduce readers to my writing, so if they like it, they can look up my novels. But it has to be a good short story, and that’s why I always want feedback from professional editors so I can learn how to create my very best work. I get that advice from ZNB projects, without fear or favour! That advice doesn’t only help my short stories. Learning more about the differences between different forms of fiction hones my novel writing as well.

The second thing? Ask any author where they get their ideas from, and they’ll tell you lack of ideas is never the problem. The challenge is knowing what to do with them. My wide-ranging research reading turns up a whole lot of interesting possibilities which are often nowhere near novel-length material. Short stories offer me the chance to get these intriguing tales onto the page. My story for last year’s Alternate Peace anthology is a case in point. I’d read Bill Bryson’s book on the remarkable summer of 1927, and quite some while later read a much less amusing book on the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-1919. These books had nothing to do with each other at first glance, but that’s not how this works. If I put together that piece of information from one book and a passing footnote from the other, as well as a few more ‘what if?’ possibilities from both, I got an intriguing idea… I wasn’t sure it would make a novel though, and in any case, my other writing commitments would make that impossible. But this idea was ideally suited to this collection’s theme.

Thirdly, you never know where a short story will take you as a writer. Before ZNB was born, Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray edited a couple of anthologies for the US publisher DAW. One was The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity where I found I had an entertaining idea about dryads in the English countryside facing a road being built through their oak grove. There’s a passing reference in that story to dryads having sons with mortal fathers. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I did find myself thinking about it later though. Long story short? That did turn into a novel-length idea, and that was The Green Man’s Heir, followed by The Green Man’s Foe. Next month will see The Green Man’s Silence published by Wizard’s Tower Press.

So these are three of the things that writing short stories offers me as a novelist. Why not see what these projects can offer you as a writer – and a reader, obviously.

Posted in Links to interesting stuff New Releases The Green Man's Silence

The Green Man’s Silence – where did these particular ideas come from?

This story started with some casual information that I didn’t think much about when I added it to The Green Man’s Foe. The folk tale that inspired Finele as a character is from Cambridgeshire, so it made sense to say that’s where her family lives. Afterwards, I found myself wondering what Dan would make of the Fens if he ever visited her there. Like most people who don’t know the region, he would just think it’s a flat place with very few trees. While I was thinking about that, the archaeologist Francis Pryor had a book published looking at this area and its long, complex history – titled unsurprisingly The Fens. That’s a fascinating read which started me on the path to writing the story you have just read.

East Anglia isn’t a part of England that I know well myself, so my husband and I spent a week’s holiday near Ely last November, to see what inspiration I might find. As you will see, that trip was very worthwhile. I definitely recommend visiting the Fens, and the local museums, historic houses and churches. Places like Ely, King’s Lynn and Wisbech are well worth simply walking around, to see their history reflected in their architecture. I found the Seahenge exhibition in King’s Lynn particularly interesting as I looked at it through Dan Mackmain’s eyes. We also found a carved Green Man who doesn’t look to be taking life at all seriously as he pulls a face and sticks his tongue out in St Margaret’s Church.

This book owes a particular debt to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. The Museum Society was founded in Wisbech in 1835 and there was a Literary Society in the town from 1781 to 1877. If you visit the current handsome building, you will see all sorts of fascinating things, as well as one particular exhibit that would certainly give Dan a nasty surprise – but no spoilers! The National Trust nature reserve at Wicken Fen supplied me with further essential information about the communities that lived and thrived all across the region, cutting reed and sedge, digging peat and catching fish, eels and waterfowl, both before and after the waters were drained. As you might imagine, staff at both places were intrigued when I explained my reasons for buying an armful of books of local history and the distinctive local folklore.

So what’s this story going to be about? Well, here’s what the cover will tell you…

“Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.

But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?”

The Green Man’s Silence will be published on 2nd September 2020 by Wizard’s Tower Press.

For ebook preorders:
UK Amazon
US Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo

Other formats will be available.

Posted in forthcoming fiction good stuff from other authors Links to interesting stuff News Short fiction & anthologies supporting the SFF community

In Other Writing News – Three New SF&F Anthologies about Deities, Derelicts, and Clashing Cultures!

Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ll be part of the @ZNBLLC Kickstarter for three new anthologies this year. I’ve had stories in four of these collections so far, as well as two earlier projects from this team. Sometimes that’s been as an invited author, sometimes I’ve gone through submission because I had an idea that was too much fun not to write. That’s the thing about these projects – they’re always full of intriguing possibilities.

That makes for great collections of stories and excellent value for readers at the entry levels. For those of you looking for something extra, there are a whole range of bonus reward levels. I’m offering assorted books and a couple of Tuckerisations (your name for a character in my story). There will be more detail on each theme soon, but for now, readers aware of my alter ego’s mystery novels set in Ancient Greece will not be surprised to lean that I’ll be writing a story for the ‘Deities’ anthology – as long as the Kickstarter funds.

Alongside the designated authors anchoring each book, there is always an an open call for submissions offering first rate editorial advice as well as professional rates of pay for the stories that make the cut. ZNB are also very keen to offer debut publication opportunities. Any SFF writers starting out should definitely go and take a look.

The project goes live later today. Meantime, you can click on the ‘Notify me on launch’ button here.

and here’s a taste of the cover art…