Monthly Archives: April 2015

My Novel Is Published!

scroll 2015 for blogs

Self-published, of course, but then you knew that.

(Takes a deep breath)

Now I need to market it and I’m telling you all about it here in the hope that some of you might decide either to buy it or to recommend it to someone you know who might.

The purchasing details are as follows:

If anyone wants a free review copy, let me know by email or in a comment and I’ll send you a coupon for Smashwords. Obviously you’d then have to review it somewhere – maybe just on your journal – and explain that you had a free copy for that purpose. You wouldn’t have to be gushing about it – any publicity whatsoever is welcome. And obviously I’d have to email it to you to avoid giving everyone the freebie. I tried that with my last publication and it resulted in a lot of downloads and no sales.

(And yes, Chris, I know you have already done a great job for me! Many thanks!)

I am hopeless at marketing. Don’t tell me to get a Twitter Account or a Facebook one. You have to build up a following on those and I haven’t, so it’s too late. Besides, I gather from a lot of writer friends that the amount of work and time you have to put into those is out of all proportion to any sales they might generate. I would welcome any other advice!

The story is the first in a series called The Skilled Investigators. The ‘heroine’ is a female elf who wants to be an investigator (detective in our terms) and has to solve a murder mystery before she can be accepted as a trainee. Her assistants/sidekicks are a teenage dragon who imprinted on her at hatching, and her brother. The brother is gay and provides the romance subplot for the series but there is no explicit sex.

Whilst it has some similarities to urban fantasy books it takes place in a different world so in that respect it has more in common with other fantasy genres. I deliberately set out to blend the two kinds.

It isn’t intended for the young adult market in particular – I was thinking more of the Tanya Huff/Seanan McGuire/Lynn Flewelling type of reader when I was writing – but it would be, I hope, attractive to older teens looking for coming-of-age stories, either to do with career choices and training, or to do with LGBT issues. As I said, there is no actual sex in the books but plenty of romance and angst. And whilst it is fantasy, there is very little magic.

However, what I really wanted was to merge fantasy and crime and dragons, and hope I’ve succeeded. Anyone who wants to read that kind of merger would, I hope, enjoy the story.

I have finished the sequel – it is just waiting for the dreaded formatting and will probably be published later in the year. The third book is at the ‘listen to your betas and do some amendments’ stage. The fourth consists of some messy notes and the fifth and sixth are just plot outlines. That’s it: the whole series.

The formatting has been a nightmare. Smashwords and Amazon have different views on how to present your manuscript, neither of them really get to grips with the latest version of Word, and it all took a lot of intense concentration interspersed with panic. But it seems to have worked.

I’d be really grateful if you could think of anyone who might enjoy the series and direct them here – or to one of the purchasing pages, though probably here as the offer of a free review copy extends to strangers.


Posted by on April 28, 2015 in publishing, writing


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April on The Wirral

new brighton

Pale shards of semi-whiteness across the river mouth:

thin cranes and looming gantries of the docks.

Against them, a brighter whiteness,

a lighthouse layered in sharp focus on its rocks,

the causeway a line of dark in the murky sea,

gulls following in case scraps were left behind.

An unrenovated fort stands

(proud as the lighthouse), sand

beneath, the strip decreasing with the rising tide.

Children, crowded on the shrinking beach,

pull small dogs in and out of lapping waves

or scramble barefoot, risking a spiked ending to the day

on boulders that keep the invading sea at bay.

A small yacht motors calmly towards the open water,

heading for the mists,

a noisy boat pulls a smaller one

in looping spirals round

the lighthouse just for fun

and there are shrieks of fright

or glee

while shuffling figures watch

from a pontoon

moored by a buoy that guards the channel

in case a ferry should go astray.

Crowds, shops, cars

as far

as the eye can see.

A queue

to find a space and then

another queue

for toilets or a drink,

or sandwiches that by the time the queue has gone

have vanished too.

Shaking the sand off our feet

and clutching a picnic we steal away

further along the coast and round the headland.

Turning south we reach

a long flat beach,

the tide

by now almost to the horizon.

A few dogs chase each other or a thrown ball;

a car braves the boat ramp

driving in crazy rings

near the sea wall.

The crowds have stayed

near the shops and ice cream vans.

Here there is loneliness and space,

only a few miles away.

We eat, watching a huge stretch of

damp sand

spread out to a charcoal smudge of what might be


A horse thuds past,

cantering against the sky.

Could we ride, we wonder,

all the way out to Ireland

if we were foolish enough to try?


I don’t usually post two poems in a row but this was an immediate reaction to a lovely day out, and needed to be posted while the date was still appropriate. Dedicated to Flair, who showed me round The Wirral, and whose birthday is this week.


Posted by on April 14, 2015 in poetry



The End Of March


March came in like a lion;

went out like one

as well, roaring.

(There had been

calm times in between.)

Pale petals

grabbed from trees before

the flowers were fully formed

mixed with the snow

that dissolved on the bare ground.

Bins scuttled down the road,

alive and rattling,

shedding rubbish as they went.

Washing landed

in a fishpond

for a second soak

(startling the inhabitants).

The prop that should have held

the clothesline firm

dug itself into the grass

to avoid being sent arcing

like a javelin

point first to a bitter end.

Hail drummed

on cars, paths, windows, roofs

and all around,

nestling like spilled sugar

in new foxglove leaves.

A fence waved, rippling

as if a mirage had taken hold

but it was only the wind

telling the world

that April was coming;

in its own, cold,

boisterous fashion

trumpeting Spring.


Posted by on April 5, 2015 in poetry



Some history books


I like history books. I prefer to read them in print because I like to be able to move to and fro with ease, looking at maps, family trees, glossaries, and that kind of thing. Pictures, too, in one of these. In fact of these ten books only one was an e-book. It was the one that irritated me!


I am not so fond of historical novels. I like my history served up in a fairly scholarly fashion. But I have included three novels which appealed to me because they taught me a lot about things I was only peripherally aware of before I started. I suppose what I should say is that I don’t much like mainstream historical novels set in periods or places I’m really familiar with. Crime stories are usually OK but they have to be very good at both the crime element and the period. I enjoy fantasy, too, the kind that looks sideways at our history and refreshes it.


Anyway, some reviews! of books I have read during the last year. If you follow my personal journal you can skip this post as I posted the reviews there too!


Because we travel through Spain frequently we became interested in Spanish history and found a review of The Spanish Holocaust by Paul Preston. This was a superb account of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, its causes, build up, aftermath, personalities, etc. If I have a criticism it is that since it was written largely for the English reader rather than the Spanish one there could have been more effort to deal with the unfamiliar naming system. I frequently lost track of who was who, partly because Preston flitted between first, second and third names of the main characters, expecting his audience to keep up. It certainly deepened our understanding of a country we are beginning to get to know, and sent us post haste to Modern Spain by Raymon Carr which dealt with the Spain of the nineteenth and very early twentieth century, thus giving us more background for the Preston account. His attitude to names was as cavalier as Preston’s but I felt more forgiving because his background is Spanish so he might not know, so to speak, just how confusing Spanish names can be. So now we had looked at Spain from post-Napoleon till the death of Franco and were still fascinated. To understand Franco and his cronies better we felt the need to read Morocco. From Empire to Independence by C.R.Pennell. Franco’s movement grew from his army experiences in Morocco and we realised we knew horribly little about Morocco other than what we’d read in La Prisonni√®re by Malika Oufkir. We’d read that the previous year so I’m not reviewing it here but I’d recommend it. Pennell’s book on Morocco was fascinating, and added to my knowledge of the western fringes of the Roman Empire as well as the growth of the current kingdom. However, it was the hardest of the three to read. It had very few stories about individuals other than the various rulers and this made it harder to empathise with the people who lived through the events described. I found it rather distancing. Of the three books, I’d recommend the Preston one first, and then the reader could research whatever else appealed to their wish to know more. Preston brings into the daylight the appalling mid twentieth century suffering of the Spanish which we tend to forget since they were not combatants in the second world war.


I then had two books recommended to me. A friend told me about Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon and my brother-in-law told me about a book by the daughter of a friend of his, Fallen Order by Karen Liebreich. They covered a similar period of history – mediaeval Rome, so I bought both and didn’t regret either. Liebreich looks at the way the Piarist order of priests and monks fell from grace in both a sacred and secular fashion by nurturing or at least protecting paedophiles in their midst. The book is very detailed about the Rome and the church of the time of Galileo and Caravaggio, and has messages for today, with our current abuse scandals. Fascinating and informative. Then the book about Caravaggio was an incredible journey through mediaeval art and its major sponsors, the church and various churchmen. I read it in paperback and just about coped with flicking to and fro to look at details in the illustrations, but if you can get a hardback copy from your local library I’d recommend that. By the time I got to the end I felt as if I’d attended a history of art course and was much better informed. I already knew something about the period and had of course seen a lot of the art, but the author brought it all vividly to life, including the stories behind the paintings and the lives and crimes of the painters. Anyone at all interested in art or history should at least read that one, and I’d recommend the Fallen Order to anyone wanting details of mediaeval church practices and their relevance to us today.


My family reads a lot of books about finance, an interesting topic since it concerns us all so intimately and since so much of the ground covered serves to explain various protests, bank collapses, and so on. A recent book I borrowed was This Time is Different (Eight Centuries of Financial Folly) by Reinhard and Rogoff . It was an interesting read, spanning various financial plots, disasters and manipulations since the so-called dark ages. The basic premise of the books was that this time is not different and we do not learn from our mistakes.


A book that had a huge time span to cover was The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond which is the only one in this review post that is on my Kindle and yes, I got annoyed with it. In fact I almost didn’t finish it. Diamond takes us through evolution to the present state of humanity. He has a lot of theories which he presents with a great deal of arrogance. His wikipedia page says he ‘is arguably best known for authoring a number of popular-science books combining topics from diverse fields other than those he has formally studied.’ That about sums it up. I got annoyed with various aspects of his explanations on evolution and consulted my biologist daughter who said she thought (charitably) that the book was simply out of date. For example, he is convinced that Neanderthals died out completely whereas we now know they interbred with the newcomers who became modern homo sapiens. I was doubtful about some of his more rigid theorising about the spread of language, something I know a little about, as opposed to biology where I had to take what he said more or less on trust. I also consulted an Australian friend about a chapter dealing with Australian Aborigines and their lifestyle, postulating a lack of easily domesticated crops and animals leading to the hunter-gatherer way of life, and she was dubious about some of the theories put forward. In the last section of the book he deals with genocide, mass extinctions and the possibilities for the future of humanity and presents his opinions as facts, leaving me irritated and inclined to argue even with things he said that I agreed with.


And now for three novels, wildly different and all well worth reading.

Pompeii by Robert Harris uses the story of a small group of people to show us how the Roman population reacted to the eruption of the volcano. It is a fascinating book, going into great detail about the way the water system worked and what was known about flow, contaminants, etc. and about the research and observation done by the Plinys, father and son. The romance that drove the plot was always secondary to the volcano itself and was never overwhelming, unlike the mountain’s outpourings! Memoirs of a Geisha byArthur Golden gives us a detailed picture of the Japanese way of life that included geishas in the first half of the nineteenth century. In some ways it shows us how alien the culture that went to war with the west could be at times, and in other ways it gives us a domestic tapestry that leaves us feeling some kind of cross-cultural empathy with the geishas who struggled for emancipation. It’s an absorbing story, told from the point of view of one person and purporting to be written by her and merely transcribed and translated by the author. She is, of course, fictional, but at times the reader believes in her whole heartedly. Rangatira by Paula Morris was a gift from a friend in New Zealand. It is based on the true story of a Maori who went to London with some of his fellow citizens at the end of the nineteenth century and had very mixed experiences in England. The events unfold as reminiscences. He is having his portrait painted towards the end of his life and talks to the painter about everything that happened both in New Zealand and on his travels. So he, like us, is looking back at a different time and a different culture, both that of the Maoris and that of the British. Today, I suppose, he would simply get on a plane and then be back home again almost before he’d arrived.


I know it’s the current ‘fashion’ to show the thumbnails of the covers of books when reviewing but I decided not to – I thought it was something that would work for a few books but not for ten – eleven including Oufkir’s story which I’d read the previous year. If you’re interested in any of the books they’re available on Amazon and I can happily answer questions.











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Posted by on April 1, 2015 in reviews