Monthly Archives: March 2013

My paperback is out!

Well, ask and ye shall receive, or so it seems. A search on my name on Amazon now results in both the e-book as well as the paperback showing up, so I can now also cater for those people who prefer traditional books.

For readers in the UK, follow this link:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Ritual-Theft-Sorcery-Volume/dp/1482620200

And for those in the States, you can use this one:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Ritual-Theft-Sorcery-Volume/dp/1482620200

Can we say excited? E-books are great, but there’s just nothing quite like the feel of a book in your hands, especially if it’s your own.

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My tuppence

Quick update before I start: I have just approved the proof of the print copy of my novel and it should be available through Amazon in the next 5-7 business days, apparently. This makes me happy, though 2-3 business days would make me even happier. But then, I’m an impatient sod really.

So, today’s post will be on points of view. Literary points of view that is, not opinions. I have plenty of those, but I’ll spare you them (for today at least).

Back when I was in secondary school I was taught that there are three possible points of view that can be used by a writer: first person, hidden first person and third person. I have since learnt that there is also second person, but whether that simply wasn’t used at the time (ie. 25 years ago in the Netherlands) or whether my teacher didn’t think it worth discussing I don’t know. Also, I believe that the ‘hidden first person’ is more generally known as ‘third person limited’, and what my teacher called ‘third person’ is ‘third person omniscient’.

That’s the boring stuff out of the way. Plus I just realised that you’re going to get my opinions anyway, because that’s rather the point of me doing this blog entry.

Let’s start with third person omniscient. I personally think that there are actually two types of third person omniscient. First there are books like George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, in which each chapter is written in third person limited viewpoint, but because each chapter switches to a different character, the book as a whole is 3rd omniscient. Many other writers I have read will do the same, but they might switch PoV from paragraph to paragraph, even if within those paragraphs they remain with a certain character. In such instances I mean paragraph as in a section of the book separated from other sections by a white line or any other type of separator. Is there a word for that? I don’t actually know, but let’s call it a meta-paragraph.

And then there are those writers who don’t really stick with anyone’s PoV but hop all over the place. Nora Roberts is a prime example of that, and it used to bug the hell out of me. I really don’t mind switching between characters, but initially I found it very confusing that this happened from one sentence to the next. One moment you’re in one character’s head, the next moment you’ve hopped to the other one. Usually while they’re kissing each other.

Note that I say this used to bug me, because it doesn’t anymore. Not necessarily because I think it’s a good thing to do, but because I’ve got used to it, and Nora Roberts’ books are just too damn entertaining to abandon them for something as trivial as whether the PoV appeals to me or not.

That said, it isn’t the type of PoV I would ever knowingly use. In previous stories I have written I’m pretty sure I’ve always used 3rd limited with character hopping, and until fairly recently this would have been my preferred PoV as a writer. The one full-length novel I wrote before The Ritual was 3rd limited in its entirety, though I later noticed that I’d inadvertently slipped into someone else’s head at one point. I intend to rewrite this novel at some point and publish it on here as a serial, and that will certainly be an issue I will fix, because it was sloppy of me.

Most books I read as a teenager/tweener were third person in some way, and I’m sure it’s safe to say that it’s the most popular PoV in use by writers. Whether it’s the easiest one is probably a matter of debate – I’m sure there are many writers who find first person easier. I do believe that it is easier to accidentally slip into someone else’s head if you’re referring to the protagonist as he/she throughout the book, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, whereas if they’re an ‘I’ it might make you more aware of the fact that you’re in their head, and therefore cannot know what other people know unless they tell you.

Second person PoV isn’t something I came across in books until very recently, and I doubt it is a narrative mode I’ll ever get used to. It might work in short bursts, like poems or songs (or letters! Does anyone still write letters?), but poetry is entirely wasted on me, and while I will quite happily bellow along to any song I really love (as my husband can testify), I often don’t start paying attention to what they are actually singing about until two years after I first heard the song.

(In fact, I pay more attention to getting the words right, which may not sound difficult until you find out that one of my favourite bands is Värttinä, a Finnish folksy ensemble. Since my knowledge of Finnish is extremely limited, it becomes quite a challenge to learn the words by heart so I can confidently sing along. But I digress again.)

So, 2nd person PoV is something I personally wouldn’t touch even if you paid me, and I can recall only one short story in which it didn’t bug me. This was most likely because the bulk of the story was essentially in 1st person, with only the odd ‘you would have thought [blah] about it’ thrown in.

Which brings me to the last PoV, which is 1st person.

As I said earlier, back in the day, everything I read was in some kind of 3rd person PoV. I even recall the very first novel I read in which I consciously noted that the narrative wasn’t in 3rd person, and it was Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice. Boy, did it throw me at the time. For the first few chapters I’m sure I came close to hating it, but then I got into the book and I got used to it. I am still very grateful for that, because it remains one of my favourite books ever.

And it was that book which made me curious: would I be able to do that? Having always written in 3rd person it was such an unusual concept to me that I figured it must be a lot more difficult to limit yourself to just one person’s head. I decided to give it a go, and thus the very first chapter of The Ritual was written.

I can’t remember exactly how long ago this was, but it must have been at least six or seven years, and of course I never touched it again after the tabletop roleplaying campaign that it was based on was abandoned. It was a short-lived experiment, and I happily returned to my 3rd person writing, which I did whenever the mood took me.

When I went back to that chapter around a year ago, I initially simply continued the story, so I continued it in the PoV it had started out in. Only once I had about five or six chapters in total did I realise that chapter one was very old, far too closely linked to roleplaying in terms of what the characters were, what they did and how they were defined, and that it was simply too dissimilar to my new writings to be fit for purpose. So I rewrote it.

It makes me wonder whether I would have changed it to 3rd person limited if I had started from scratch immediately. As it stands, the story itself requires that you only see things from Chiarin’s point of view, so I would never have character-hopped anyway, but I suppose there is no real reason why it couldn’t have been 3rd person limited. Still, it is essential to the plot that you can only speculate about Zashter’s motives, and that you don’t find out exactly what’s going on until you get towards the end of the book.

For me, I think it remained an experiment right until the moment I finished the first draft, and at the time I was still living in the blissful delusion that 1st person PoV books were rare.

Hah. Enter Twilight *shudder*. Enter  Fifty Shades of Grey *double shudder*. Enter The Hunger Games. (No, no shudder. I really like the Hunger Games, actually.) Three very popular series of books (two of them bafflingly so), all written in 1st person PoV. So, I wasn’t as niche and out there as I thought I was. Which I suppose means that at least people won’t reject my book because of the viewpoint it’s written from.

So that’s the story of how The Ritual came to be 1st person PoV. Since it’s the first of a trilogy, and I have an innate need for consistency, this meant that the two sequels had to be in the same narrative as well, even if there is less of a need for it from a plot perspective.

From my own experience I believe that the hardest part of first person writing is to ensure that you truly write as the person would. My editor has on many occasions chided me for being too detached, for taking a step back from action or feelings when I should be more emotional about it. I think I’m getting better at it, but it has certainly been a learning curve.

As a last part in this post I’d like to briefly comment on tense, because two of the three series mentioned above are not only in 1st person PoV, they are also written in present tense rather than past. (Twilight I think was past tense, though I may be mistaken. I honestly can’t bring myself to care either way, since I never managed to finish the book.)

Personally, I genuinely dislike present tense writing (in novels that is, before anyone points out that these blog posts are in present tense). It is the one thing that continued to bug me throughout reading The Hunger Games, and if I hadn’t liked the books as much as I did, I’d have abandoned them because of that. Some people say that the present tense is essential, since past tense writing in 1st person PoV books implies that the protagonist has survived whatever has happened to him/her in the book, but I remember reading at least one series where this is not the case. I admit that it did startle me very much when the protagonist died in that series, but it happened nonetheless. In any case, it bothers me more that a book would try to present things to me as if they were happening now, when I know this cannot be the case: I’m holding the book, am I not? So it must have happened in the past.

Note that I’m not mentioning it as the one thing that bugged me about Fifty Shades of Grey, but that is because there were far worse things that bothered me about that book. In fact, I could write an entire blog post about all the things I hated about it. Maybe one day, if I feel masochistic enough, I might.

Will I ever publish a novel which is written in 3rd person PoV? I honestly have no idea. Right now I am still mulling over book three in the Theft and Sorcery trilogy, and I don’t have a clue whether I have any other books left in me after that. My gut instinct says no, but then I didn’t think I had anything else in me while I was writing The Ritual, until I spent an hour in the car on the way to visit friends (which meant I wasn’t able to write) and I got the initial idea for The Conspiracy.

Never say never, right?

This is not my mother tongue

Before I start this post I would like to warn any Jane Austen lovers to not bother with the slice of boredom that is Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James. Personally I feel the urge to wash it from my mind by reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies next.

Anyway, onwards to today’s post, which I promised would be on the experience of writing a book in a foreign language. So, to clarify this to anyone who didn’t already know this: I am Dutch. I was born in the Netherlands, lived there until I was 25 and until age 10 I spoke no other language. However, since very few non-Dutchmen speak our language, it is pretty much standard to learn foreign languages in school. Back when I was a child this meant that from age 12 you would be educated in English, French and German as standard, and only after you started ‘specialising’ your education could you drop any of these languages. It’s more complicated than that, but I’m not here to explain the Dutch education system, nor do I have any idea whether it is still the same as when I was a child. Suffice to say that I attended one of the few primary schools that started educating children in English, which is why I started at 10 rather than 12, and that until age 16 I received regular education in three foreign languages.

For most people that would be it, really. You received a few years of formal education in those languages, which would give you enough to get by when going on holiday, and anything else you might pick up from television. I would personally say that television is the main reason why the Dutch have a reputation for speaking English so well, since all foreign programmes are subtitled, and exposure is therefore a given, even if you choose not to pay attention to the spoken word. My mother speaks English pretty well, but has never had any formal education in it – she has learnt everything she knows from watching TV.

For me personally, languages are a thing of beauty, endlessly fascinating and never boring. Some are more interesting than others (I don’t speak an awful lot of French, nor does that bother me much), but on the whole I love finding out things about languages and how they are connected. I also have a knack for them. I won’t say that learning a language is easy, but it has always been easier for me than for many other people, and I have the fortunate talent that my pronunciation is generally close to native-sounding. I could talk for hours on the subject of languages, and have probably bored people to tears with it when I got going.

In addition to this general love of languages, I very quickly also developed a love for all things British. (As an aside, twenty years ago I would have said all things English, but thirteen years of living in Britain will quite thoroughly cure you of saying English when you mean British.) I’m not certain what sparked it – possibly watching the TV-series Robin of Sherwood, which introduced me to both the legend of Robin Hood as well as the most handsome man I have ever seen. (Michael Praed. He’s gone grey quite early, unfortunately, but as Robin Hood he was – and still is – pretty much my ideal man in looks.)

It may seem shallow that a handsome man caused me to love an entire country, but it is a fairly well-known fact among my friends that I’m a sucker for a pretty face, and that handsome men can convince me to do many things that I wouldn’t normally do. I should add that the TV-series Blackadder also contributed in a large part, mainly because of its copious use of sarcasm. I am also a sucker for sarcasm, and the Brits are very, very good at it.

So, my love for all things British started in my teenage years, and ensured that in school I did my absolute best in English class. My teacher was a lovely man who also adored Britain and would happily regale us with tales of his holidays over there, and he added further fuel to my growing adulation of the country and its language. When I finished secondary school, all my classmates expected me to study English at university.

What I did instead was study Slavonic languages. Russian mainly, but my second language was Czech.

This may tell you a third thing about me, which is that I’m very contrary. Everyone was expecting me to study English, which is one reason why I didn’t. The other reason was that by that point I had already had eight years of education in English, as well as a lot of exposure to English-spoken TV and film, so I already spoke the language pretty well. Not fluently, but better than most people my age, and well enough that I drew admiration from native English speakers whenever I spoke with them. Still, at that age most people would be expected to speak a fair bit of English, and as such the university curriculum was likely to concentrate more on literature than on linguistics, and my interest in languages has always been purely linguistical. I love to read, but I have never cared much for ‘literature’, so the prospect of four years of labouring over such marvels as Wuthering Heights or Animal Farm or The Canterbury Tales didn’t appeal to me at all. I may have been completely wrong in my assumptions of course, but there you have it – I went and studied Russian instead, since this was a new and exciting language I didn’t yet know.

It was a mistake, but unless anyone is really interested I won’t go into the reasons why. Suffice to say that during my university years my love for Britain continued to grow, and via a very convoluted route I got to know a lovely Englishman. Fate would have it that he hailed from Nottingham, which was of course home to Robin Hood, thereby neatly closing the circle. We fell in love, and after two years of maintaining a long-distance relationship via the Internet, I finally graduated from university and promptly moved to England to go and live with him. That was in the summer of 1999.

I got myself a job in February 2000, and it was in customer services. Up until then I thought my English was pretty good, but having to deal with enquiries and complaints on the phone all day made me realise that I had a long way to go still, especially if I got a native Glaswegian on the phone. It was a very steep learning curve, but it did wonders for my knowledge of English, and especially the colloquialisms in everyday language that you simply do not get exposed to unless you live and work among native speakers. Add that to my inherent ability and desire to soak up anything language-related, and I can confidently say that my English is as fluent as my Dutch. In a way it may even be better than my Dutch, since I speak English all day, and speak Dutch only when talking to my family. My colleagues also often say that I speak better English than they do, and they are only half joking. I certainly can spell better than many of them. This may sound arrogant, but it is mainly pride – a pride which many other foreigners who speak English have confessed to. Like them, I dread misspelling words (even if it is just a simple typo), because people may think that I don’t know the correct way of spelling it, and that’s not a thought I could live with.

I’m not saying I never misspell words, but if I do I will at least misspell them consistently. For a long time I misspelled ecstasy as ecstacy, for instance. That I never noticed this is due to the fact that in general I refuse to use spellcheckers. A spellchecker does not know the difference between whether and weather, between past and passed, or between their and there, and until it does it’s pretty useless in my eyes. Still, I realised that it is impossible to write a book of more than 100,000 words and not miss any typos, so I grudgingly switched on the spellchecker and realised my error (and a few others which put a bit of a dent in my confidence of always knowing the correct spelling, or knowing when to check the dictionary). Still, I could confidently claim to know the spelling of supersede (from Latin super sedere – to sit above), even if three of my colleagues thought it was spelled supercede. But I digress.

I’m not entirely sure where I was going with all this, but I guess I’m trying to say that I am confident enough in my ability to speak and write English to be able to write an entire book in it, rather than in the language I have spoken from birth. That said, I do realise that there are parts of me which will always remain foreign, and will always treat English as a foreign language. Swearing is one aspect of that. In Britain, the f-word and the c-word are considered pretty harsh. Usage of the f-word tends to vary in frequency, depending on who you speak to (I know at least one person for whom it probably is every third or fourth word in anything she says), but the c-word is still pretty taboo, and some people are visibly upset when you use it. I, on the other hand, don’t particularly care, because it’s all foreign to me. In fact, the f-word especially I quite like. It’s versatile, and it has a good ring to it. I do understand people’s reactions though, because I react exactly the same to certain Dutch swearwords. But then, the Dutch tend to use diseases for swearing, which I find much more offensive than using genitalia, like the Brits do.

In addition to that there are certain constructions that I might not be familiar with. Recently I used ‘the crown on the creation’ in a draft, until my husband pointed out that in English it is ‘the crown of the creation’. Since this isn’t an expression often used in everyday conversation, I never knew this. My editor has on several occasions pointed out things to me which were simply wrong, and which were Dutchisms that had crept into my work. However, such things are rare (and on occasion they turned out to be Britishisms instead, which as an American she was unfamiliar with), and that is exactly why editors and beta-readers are so important to a writer.

So, with that established, the choice of whether to write in English or in Dutch was never really an issue. I speak English all day, which made it the logical language to write in. Added to that is the fact that there are many more speakers of English than of Dutch, so the reader audience is far more extensive. English also has an astonishing vocabulary, far greater than Dutch as far as I know. Or maybe both languages have the same inherent number of words, but English uses a much greater range far more frequently than Dutch does.

Let me try and illustrate. I have just opened my thesaurus at a random point, and came across the word reinforceSynonyms given include fortify and strengthen. That’s three words which mean more or less the same thing, and which can easily be used in a fairly everyday situation without anyone looking at you as if you’ve gone all Shakespeare on them. In Dutch, all three words are translated as one word: versterken. Dutch has no such word as fortificeren to use as an alternative.

Let’s take another example: slender. Synonyms in my (mini) thesaurus are slim, willowy, lean, thin, skinny, lissom and svelte. Now, let’s look at all those words. Personally, as a true synonym I would only consider slim, thin, skinny and possibly lean. Willowy and lissom to me add a note of gracefulness which isn’t necessarily inherent in slender, and svelte adds a further note of sophistication. (As an aside, svelte is an absolutely brilliant word, and I must find a way of somehow including it in one of my books. But I digress again.) Still, that’s eight words, six of which can easily be used in everyday conversation, depending on what kind of slender you want to talk about. Lissom and svelte are a little more highbrow, but most of my friends will have heard of these words and know what they mean, even if it is only approximately. In Dutch, I can think of only three words: slank (slender), mager (skinny) and dun (thin). Oh, and tenger, which adds a note of fragility. I’d say it probably means petite more than slender, even if slenderness is inherent when you are petite.

I could continue like this forever, but the point I’m trying to make is that English has a far wider range of words at its disposal, which a writer can use without sounding like they’re trying too hard. Dutch simply isn’t that versatile. Dutch is a great language for swearing in (as my cats could testify to, if they could speak), and there are certain things which are easier to say in Dutch than in English, but on the whole I find English much richer and more rewarding to work with.

Which brings me to the issue which always baffles my husband: I do not think that I could write the things I write in Dutch. Don’t get me wrong, Dutch is a wonderful language (though I am of course incapable of looking at it objectively), but it is not a language for writing Romance in, and certainly not a language for writing about sex. This is entirely my own personal opinion, but sex simply isn’t… well, sexy, in Dutch. If my book ever gets to the point of being a bestseller and it’s going to be translated into other languages, I wouldn’t touch the Dutch version with a barge pole, and I would let the translator get on with it quite happily. No, I really don’t need to get involved, thank you very much. (Plus, just because I speak two languages fluently doesn’t make me a qualified translator.)

To summarise, it may seem strange that I write in what is essentially a foreign language to me, but it hasn’t felt like a foreign language for a very long time now, so it’s just not an issue for me.

Next week I think I shall write a post about points of view in writing, and what made me choose the one I have used in The Ritual.

In the beginning

So, I promised a post on where it all began for me, but the problem with that is that I’m not sure exactly when that was. I initially thought that I started writing things when I was a teenager, but after some research into the dusty depths of my archive I now have to adjust that to my early twenties, or definitely no earlier than when I was about nineteen or so.

My first ever writing effort began as a collaboration between me and two of my fellow students. When I dug it out of said archive, I was surprised to find that it is in Dutch. I’m not entirely sure why that surprised me, since I was living in the Netherlands, speaking Dutch and interacting with fellow Dutchmen, but there you have it. The story itself was a Fantasy adventure about a young man who sets out on a quest to find three magic swords. I think. I’d have to read the whole thing through to refresh my memory, and having read through the first part of it I’m not particularly keen to do so, since it’s dire. I’ll give you a tiny excerpt (translated of course):

“The girl looked at Yastar with her deep blue eyes, in which shone something green and yellow. ‘Fine,’ she said. ‘You must be on a journey; why else would you carry such a big and valuable sword, right? I’ll give you something else valuable.’ She gave him a ring with a stone as red as her hair. ‘I cannot explain to you how it works, that would take away its magic. But I think you’ll find out soon enough.’

Yastar put the ring on his finger, looked from the stone to her hair and asked, ‘Aren’t you afraid that you’ll stand out too much with that hair?’

She laughed. ‘Nah.’

Yastar laughed as well, showing his beautiful white teeth.”

To be fair to us, it started off as every one of us doing one line each, which then shifted to paragraphs, sections and eventually ended at almost full chapters. I’d get the manuscript back and find that my predecessor had taken the story into a completely different direction, requiring further adaption and adjustment, and in the end it just petered out. Still, the story is interesting because here already there is the evidence of my deep-seated preferences: Yastar was dark, as all my male protagonists have been so far. This will likely remain the case – I simply do not like blond men. The girl was a redhead – another recurring favourite. People who have already read The Ritual will certainly recognise this.

After this ill-fated foray into the realm of Fantasy, my next attempt at writing was based on the Play by Mail game I had started to play. It was a simple turn-based game in which you controlled a group of adventurers who travelled from town to town, encountered monsters on the way and generally did whatever adventurers do in a turn-based Fantasy game. The game’s language was English, so the story I wrote about it was in English as well. I spun it out into the story of a young man who had run away from home at age fifteen, then joined a troupe of travelling entertainers. When this troupe was then pretty much obliterated by trolls around twelve years later, he swore to rid the land of such vermin and became an adventurer instead. In essence it was a Fantasy biography, and the protagonist was a dark-haired, dark-eyed man called Yastar.

At this point you may start to realise that I’m very big on recycling ideas, but this too was dire. Here’s another excerpt:

“The scream cut through Yastar’s thoughts like a knife, waking him from his semi-absent state and he looked around, trying to work out what it had been that had hit him.

‘Can’t you pay attention to where you put your legs?’ an angry voice said from somewhere down below. Yastar looked in the direction the sound came from and saw a girl sitting on the ground. She rubbed her knee and was surrounded by a large amount of apples, scattered all over the ground. It was only then that he noticed the apples in his lap and the large basket on the other side of his legs.

‘I…I’m sorry,’ he stammered. ‘Did I trip you up?’

‘Yes, you did, how very observant of you,’ the girl said sarcastically.”

Needless to say, this attempt too was abandoned before it ever even got close to finishing. Still, it was very enjoyable to write, since my best friend was playing the same game and was writing her own story about her group of adventurers, and her group leader was Yastar’s elder brother (that he didn’t remember he had. This story had more drama than your average TV soap series).

After that I should mention the semester during which I dabbled with the English Language department (I studied Russian) and took a literature class in Science Fiction and Fantasy, which has always been pretty much the only kind of literature I’ve been really interested in. In order to get the study credits for this class all the students had to write an essay. This could either be a ‘regular’ essay, or if you wanted to you could write an additional chapter or different ending to any of the books we had read. This latter option seemed much more attractive to me, so what I did was write an alternative ending to Forty Thousand in Gehenna, by C.J. Cherryh. It appears this book is out of print, since Amazon only offers used copies for sale, but it tells the story of forty thousand clones who are sent to a planet to settle and colonise it, together with a few hundred non-clone personnel, and are subsequently abandoned and have to adapt to a planet with an indigenous species completely unlike any man has encountered before. Fairly classic sci-fi, I suppose, but I hated the ending, so I wrote a different ending.

When I got the essay back, the teacher had given me a 10.

To clarify, Dutch grading doesn’t work with percentiles or A to F grading. Instead you are marked between 1 and 10, with 1 being a reward for putting your name at the top of your work (but nothing else), 3 being a bag of shite, 6 being barely sufficient, 8 being good and 10 being perfect.

When I went to query such a baffling grade (how on earth can an essay ever be perfect?) the teacher explained to me that the book was his all-time favourite book ever, and he had always hated the ending as well. My alternative version, he said, was how it ought to have ended, and as such he had given me the perfect score.

It remains one of the biggest ego-boosts I have ever had in my life.

Not much happened for a few years after that. I met my husband while I was still at university, and shortly after graduating I moved to England to live with him. Existing friendships became remote and I began to spend more time online, where I stumbled across an Elfquest fanholt. Elfquest is a series of absolutely gorgeous graphic novels with a storyline that encompasses war, betrayal, loyalty, love and anything else you can think of in between. For more information, go here: http://www.elfquest.com/social/index.php

This rich world inhabited by humans and elves has spawned many fan-sites where people own their own Elfquest-based characters, and the site I joined was no different. I owned two characters, a sister and brother called Birchbark and Rock, and although I contributed some pretty bad artwork, my main efforts were always short stories centred around one or both of these characters. Simple tales of everyday life in a community of elves, involving hunting, love, fears, hopes and loss. Here is a small excerpt, from a story in which Birchbark loses the wolf she has bonded with (as all elves of her kind do):

“His fur was patchy, Birchbark noticed. Funny how she hadn’t noticed it before. She scratched his favourite spot behind his ears and smiled through her tears when he squeezed his eyes shut in delight.

They didn’t open again. His head slowly seemed to grow heavier as his strength slipped away, and when Birchbark carefully placed his head on the ground, she noticed that the steady movement of his chest going up and down had dissipated.

She sat for a moment, a blank look in her eyes, then the first howl welled up in her throat. She tilted back her head and let it out in one long, mournful sound.”

Looking through these old stories it seems I didn’t write as many as I thought I had. I quit the holt when I ran out of ideas, when I felt there was nothing else I could write about the two characters I had created save one last story, which would have been in response to an event which had not yet happened. I returned once as a guest author when that event finally did happen, and that story is one I am truly proud of. I wrote it in 2004.

My next project must have started a little before then, and has kept me occupied on and off for close to ten years. In essence it was a Mary Sue based on the Lord of the Rings films, in which I was a young make-up artist drafted in to work on film set during the year-and-a-half project in New Zealand. I’ll spare everyone the details, save that it was driven by a film which very quickly became one of my favourites of all time, and a rather persistent crush I developed on Billy Boyd, the actor who played Pippin. What can I say, I’ve always had a soft spot for Scotsmen.

I won’t embarrass myself by posting up an excerpt of a Mary Sue story, but one of the things it spawned was a vague what-if idea. What if Middle-Earth really existed, and it was a land in a parallel dimension? What if there was a way of travelling between the two realms? What if a young woman from Earth somehow ended up in Middle-Earth? This idea lived in the back of my head for nearly ten years before I did anything with it, but once I did it turned into A Shire Romance, a novel I wrote in the space of about two to three weeks in the summer of 2011. This was completely unprecedented for me – never before had I had such an urge to write, to the extent that I literally plonked myself down at my computer the moment I got back from work and wrote until near midnight, stopping only for dinner. I just did not want to do anything else until I finished the novel. It eventually came in at around 75,000 words, and I realised that in little more than two weeks I had produced something that would have qualified for NaNoWriMo, had I written it in November rather than August.

I expressed my surprise at this on Facebook, and got a few reactions from people who said they were interested in reading it. Until then that wasn’t something I had ever even considered – I wrote for my own pleasure, and had no real intent of ever foisting it onto someone else. Then the first person I had sent it to came back to me, several weeks later, to say she had pretty much read it in one go because she couldn’t stop, and had really enjoyed it. Another ego-boost, and certainly more than I had ever expected. It led me to privately publish it and distribute it among colleagues and friends, mostly at cost to myself.

Reading that novel now, barely two years later, it makes me cringe a little. Not because of the story, which is good, but because of the elementary errors in basic writing style it contains. I fully intend to rewrite it at some point (maybe as a bonus for this blog), once I get the time. For now I want to concentrate on finishing my trilogy.

At the time I was doing a course in Italian, and one of my fellow students informed me that Good Housekeeping magazine were running a ‘Get your Novel published’ contest. They required three chapters and a synopsis, and the grand prize was a £25,000 book deal. I really wanted to enter, but A Shire Romance could never qualify due to copyright issues (the Tolkien estate would sue my arse off if I ever published it properly). The only other thing I had available to work with was a barely-started project dating from about six years earlier. Unfortunately I cannot find out exactly when I started it, but it was based on an ill-fated tabletop roleplaying campaign which never went beyond two sessions. For this campaign I was playing two characters, identical twin sisters, one a rogue and the other a sorceress, and Chiarin and Shaniel were born.

In its first incarnation the story was weak – it was too closely based on the roleplaying campaign and I was too intent on writing two more chapters to have enough to enter the competition by the deadline (since it was not necessary to have a completed novel). With hindsight I realise that what I entered was a badly-executed rush job, but it did what I needed: give me a kick up the arse to write a proper, publishable book. I continued knocking out chapter after chapter until I had worked my way through the plot concept and had a book of 16 chapters and around 109,000 words.

I should mention at this point that after writing A Shire Romance I had re-established contact with an old friend who I knew was writing her own book. She had sent me drafts of it before, years ago, but I had never truly made the effort to give proper feedback on it, and now that I had my own taste of how good it felt to have people say nice things about your work, I decided that I should make up for my earlier lack and offer feedback on my friend’s book. I will add that even in that early draft of years ago it was a very exciting book, and I was curious to see how far it had got.

This has since then developed into a mutually beneficial friendship where she offers fantastic constructive criticism on my writing, and I generally just tell her how fecking awesome her writing is. Still, neither of us is afraid to tell the other when something doesn’t feel right or is missing something, which is exactly what any writer worth his/her salt needs. She ripped apart my first draft of The Ritual (in the nicest possible way), and because of that it owes a great deal of its quality to her, which is why I dedicated the book to her. A lot of what I now know about writing I owe to her, and once she is ready to publish her own book I will do everything I possibly can to promote it to people, because it deserves to be read far more than my book does.

So that brings me to where I am now – with my first proper novel published and out there and my second novel in beta-reading stage. Feedback on both has so far been much better than I had anticipated, and the main thing I have got out of that is that it’s worth being out there. It’s not as good as what some of my favourite writers have produced, but it’s a damn sight better than what some other authors with proper publishing deals have churned out.

If you have read The Ritual and liked it, please spread the word. You could do me no better favour than that.

Next week I might try and write something about the traps and pitfalls of writing in a language which isn’t the one you learned from birth.

First impressions

Looking back on my first post after a night’s sleep I realised that my ramblings rather made me look like a sociophobe, or even worse, a misanthrope. This is not the image I wished to put across! I was merely trying to explain that I am not the kind of person who is the centre of attention at parties or happily goes out and talks to complete strangers on the street. However, that does not mean that I do not want to interact with people – on the contrary! I just find it easier to respond to people than to be the one to make the first step.

With that hopefully clarified, I hereby invite anyone reading this to make me respond. Ask me questions, give me problems, invite me to vent my opinion on something – I am open to anything. The only restriction I would like to place is to try and keep it book- and writing related, since that is my main theme for this blog. I’m sure I can think of plenty topics to keep everyone entertained, and I do understand that blogging is an inherently egotistical activity that doesn’t normally invite a lot of interaction, but I am very much open to suggestions from anyone who is interested enough to read my stuff in the first place.

Everyone, the floor is yours. For myself, I am dashing off to watch Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth edition, of course.

Hello World…

Procrastination is a wonderful thing. There are many things I haven’t got done in my life due to procrastination. However, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and actually do something that’s been floating about in the back of your mind for days, weeks, months even, simply because you really, really want something, and procrastination just won’t do the trick.

So here it is. I have a book, and I want people to read it. In fact, I almost have two books, and I have a third one in my head. I want people to read those as well. While I’m at it, I might as well say that I’d quite like to be the new EL James, except with a trilogy that’s actually worth reading. Ambitious? Sure, but if I didn’t think my books were any good, I wouldn’t be putting them up for sale. I was out there pushing short stories on people ten years ago and they liked them, and what I have available now is much, much better than what I produced then, so why not?

Except how do you go about being the next massive hype? EL James did it by writing bad Twilight fanfiction, but quite frankly, I’m not prepared to suffer that badly for my art, so I’m going to have to do it some other way. And one of those other ways, I have been reliably informed by my sometimes rather naggy editor*, is by getting yourself out there, through blogs, forums, social media or any other friggin’ way people use to push their stuff down other people’s throats.

(*Hi Hillary! Read her blog, she’s awesome. She’s about to publish her first book, and it’s better than mine. http://warofmemory.wordpress.com/ Careful though, because that’s got spoilery stuff galore.)

The problem is, I’m not a social person. I’m not a people person. I’m fine with most people I know, like work colleagues and suchlike, but put me in a room full of strangers and I’ll be the quiet one in the corner that no one talks to all night. Big groups of people irritate me, and shopping trips into town on a Saturday afternoon make me contemplate mass murder. No, I’m not much of a shopper either, which probably doesn’t help, come to think of it. So throwing myself out there on writers’ forums to go and talk to complete strangers fills me with the kind of dread that most people tend to reserve for the dentist or other professional torturers. Add to that the fact that I’d feel like a kind of wolf in sheep’s clothing, infiltrating the unsuspecting masses to shove my book down their throat at the first opportunity, and you may understand that I’m just a teensy bit uneasy about promoting myself on forums. (Hi, you don’t know me, but read my book! Bye!)

Social media is a little easier, since I already have a Facebook account, but after three posts of ‘Hi guys, read/buy my book, tell your friends!’ I get that uneasy feeling again, this time for spamming my friends’ walls to get some free advertising. Soon there will be a feeling of ‘oh, not her again with her bloody book’, and then I’ll get the opposite effect, which isn’t the intention either.

I could open a Twitter account, but that fills me with even more dread than the dentist does.

So, to cut a long story short, I finally stopped procrastinating and started a blog, and here it is. Clever people will point out that I will still need to get that out there and into people’s attention, but hey, one step at a time. I’m rather hoping that I’ll nudge a few people towards it (Hi, you do know me, read my blog!) and they’ll be so floored by my deep philosophical insights and lightning wit that they start badgering their friends to read it all by themselves.

Hey, I can hope.

So, here’s the deal. I am going to fill this blog with anything I can think of, but I will try to keep it at least vaguely related to the fact that I have spent the past year and a half or so neglecting many social activities to write a book or two. If this interests you – awesome! Pull up a (computer) chair and come take a look inside my head. It’s a scary place sometimes, but I guess that’s the case for many people. (I hope. It is, right? Right??) While you’re here, tell your friends, and tell them to tell their friends as well. I’m going to try and post something new around once a week, and hopefully it’ll entertain people.

Comment if you want, ask me questions, talk to me, suggest things, I’m open to anything. I might not listen, but that’s because I’m a stubborn cow and I often think I know better. For now I’ll just sit here and bask in any attention anyone is willing to give me.

Tune in next week for a profound, soul-searching trip down memory lane where I will regale the many-faceted story of how I began my writing career, and how I got to the point where I am now. Maybe. I might change my mind yet.