Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Secrets

2013 has been an odd year. It's the year I've finally found my feet as a writer - come out and been proud of what I do, even if what I write isn't to everybody's taste. It's also a year in which I've made contact with a lot of old friends.

Facebook - for all its issues and reputation - is a marvellous tool. I browse around groups and pages, find a thread and pull ... and suddenly there are people I haven't spoken to in over 25 years. Friends from university, girlfriends, boyfriends - and I rummage through their photos online (doesn't everybody do this?) and I realise that I wouldn't recognise some of these people if I walked past them on the street. These are men and women I was close to for many years, some of whom shared huge parts of my life. And I wonder how I look to them now. Have I changed as much as they have?

Anybody who reads the Daily Mail will have heard of their columnist Liz Jones. Over the years, she's recorded her life, warts and all, in the back of one of the colour supplements. It's a diary of sorts, detailing everything, and often in far more detail than can be considered decent - especially when she's talking about friends, boyfriends and lovers. Rarely names - but sometimes scandal gets out.

How far can you go with that, I wonder? Everybody blogs these days; celebrities and nonentities alike enjoy recording their lives and dreams for all the world to see. Can you blog about real people, like Liz Jones does? Record their achievements and failings in black and white forever? It doesn't seem decent to me. Sometimes I think I'd like to write about events in my life that have made me who I am, but that might involve other people and is it fair to them? What if I inadvertently revealed secrets they've kept for years?

And what of photographs? Copyright of photos belongs to the photographer, but can you post pictures online of other people without their permission? Let's say I wanted to write about some (entirely fictional) person I shared a flat with in my youth. Would that infringe their privacy? I really have no idea where free speech ends. And so I say nothing, simply write about me and keep anything else as pure fiction ...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Picking Those Literary Scabs!

It's like picking a scab. You think it's healing, the wound is clean and you know you should leave it alone and forget about it, but you just can't resist picking at the edges, opening it up and making it bleed. Just because.

So it is with writing. When I wrote Hamelin's Child, it was a one off story. It was complete in and of itself with no loose ends to tie up. Everything got resolved one way or another. But when I self-published, people - fans! - started emailing me to ask what happened next. Friends who'd read it wanted to know what life was going to throw at poor Michael next, so I wrote a second book Paying The Piper. And then a third Calling The Tune.

And now it really is over. There is no more. Michael's story is told - rather satisfactorily, if I do say so myself... The ebooks and paperbacks are out and selling well. I'm doing a good deal locally with gift wrapped paperback sets at a discount. And I should be moving on and finishing some other projects.

Except...

I just can't resist picking at that scab...

And it's not Michael anymore. Now it's Lenny's turn. My bad-boy needs to tell his own story. We got a glimpse of it in Calling The Tune, but he needs his own space to talk.

It won't be a novel, I don't think. Maybe a novella. Probably ebook only unless I can find a way to make a paperback viable at short length. It's tentatively titled Rat's Tale and my brain is once again in overdrive.

Watch this space...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

On Shopping With Men....

One for the girls - I've noticed recently that there is a distinct difference between going to the shops and going shopping. The first implies a quick trip with the express purpose of buying something - toiletries, perhaps? But something specific. The second is more general - a browse around clothes shops or looking for Christmas presents.

For the first, you may take a man along; for the latter, you go alone or with girlfriends.

Now I'm not sexist, really I'm not, but if I go into town with my husband in tow, he'll trail around behind me looking like a bored toddler. I can't browse clothes, weigh up the merits of leggings or jeans or try on underwear in M&S. After ten minutes I feel guilty and I'm trying to persuade him to go and look in man-shops. But he's not interested in clothes and B&Q isn't within walking distance.

There are dozens (and I'm not exaggerating) of empty shops in our town centre - possibly due to the fact that they keep knocking things down and "redeveloping". Which in planning-speak means: yes, we're going to give you another supermarket. We have Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Sainsburys, a large co-op that used to be Somerfields and a brand new Waitrose. And they've just promised us an Asda. In a small market town. Can you tell how excited I am?

But I digress. Why doesn't some bright spark open up one of these empty shops as a man-creche? Think how useful it'd be with Christmas coming up. You'd need a few comfy sofas and a tea machine (a bar with beer for the ones who aren't driving). Food of sorts - cheese and onion pasties and bacon sandwiches would probably be fine. Chuck some lads mags and Maplin catalogues on a coffee table. Add a large television with Sky Sports and playstation or two in the corner. Maybe some flat-pack furniture for them to play with.

They'd be happy. We'd be happy. And everybody wins!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

I'm opinionated!

I've just been chatting on facebook and the conversation turned to the matter of opinions. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I wrote I also find it particularly important to have opinions on subjects I know absolutely nothing about. 

It got me thinking. Because it's true, isn't it? Not just in my case. I admit I'm frequently far too opinionated, that I'm sure I know everybody else's mind as well as I know my own and that I'm sure I'm right most - well, probably all - of the time. I'm also sure that I drive my family mad, as I hate to admit I'm wrong and I'll do anything to avoid giving in. I think my daughter has inherited my stubborn gene and I hope it will serve her as well as it has done me!

So yes, I'm opinionated. And yes, I'll often argue a point that I don't even agree with just for the sake of a good debate. Sometimes it's rather fun. I remember many long alcohol-fuelled debates as a student, when somebody would eventually say: you don't really believe that, do you? And I'd say: no - not in the slightest, but I just fancied arguing with you. And they'd shake their heads at me in amazement. Or it might have been disgust. Or pity.

But having an opinion on a subject we know nothing about? Isn't that what we do as writers? You might argue (because we're all about arguing on this post - oh, yes we are...) that writers are supposed to research their topics, to write what you know, but you can only take that so far. If you are writing from the point of view of a character who doesn't know, isn't it far more convincing if you don't know either? And isn't any kind of writing having an opinion on something? Be it modern times, politics, whatever - a lot of writing is the author's own opinions disguised as fiction. Or not disguised at all in a factual article or deliberate opinion-piece.

It's a bit like voting isn't it? I've always been a firm believer in the need to vote - to express an opinion. If you don't vote when you have a choice, if you let apathy get the better of you or simply don't like the choices on offer, do you really have a right to complain at the outcome?

Far better to have an opinion on everything. Even the things you know nothing about.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Indie Ebook Watershed? (part 2)

Last month I blogged about the scandal that hit the ebook market when UK high street retailer WH Smith fielded numerous complaints about books of a more - shall we say - adventurous nature appearing alongside kiddie books on their website. Their search engines were not filtering out adult content or indeed even flagging such content as appropriate for over 18s only. WH Smith's slightly knee-jerk reaction was to take its online store down completely while the matter was investigated.

you'd be surprised what else comes up in a search... 
WH Smith gets its ebook feed from the Kobo store, as do many other online retailers of ebooks. In response to complaints from WH Smith, Kobo in turn pulled all "independently-published" ebooks from its virtual shelves. Don't ask me how it defined independently-published - anybody can set up a publishing company or imprint with little or no financial outlay. Only the taxmen in their various guises need to know the true legal entity of a business.

So. Fast-forward a few weeks. My ebooks are once again listed with Kobo (at least some of them are - my new release hasn't yet appeared there but I'm confident it will in time). They've not yet reappeared on WH Smith's shelves and I doubt they will. But is this the end of the story? I don't think so.

Online stores do deals with different ebook suppliers. Like Kobo, Barnes & Noble/Nook Press ebooks go out to small online stores throughout the world. For instance, here's one of my books in the Indigo ebook store. Indigo is a Canadian company with physical stores across the country.

And don't forget physical books. I have three paperbacks now, published via CreateSpace. This is US-only and frankly nobody ever buys books from the CreateSpace site itself - they buy via Amazon or via one of the many sites that CreateSpace distributes too across the world via its Expanded Distribution option. This optional extra distribution used to cost an extra $25 - now it's free - and I've actually sold more print books via Barnes & Noble than I have on Amazon itself.

So what's wrong with that? Well - I have no idea where my books are being sold. Google alerts doesn't seem to help here (you all have Google Alerts set up, don't you? Authors and non-authors alike, it's invaluable for knowing who's talking about you...). So I was surprised to find my paperbacks being sold on UK site Fishpond. No, I'd never heard of it either. Quite why anybody would even consider buying a UK book priced in dollars and shipped via the US, when they could buy it from Amazon.co.uk is beyond me - but what is disturbing is the description:   

black & white illustrations and Age Range: 15+ years.

Yes, really.

For the purposes of anyone who has not read my books, my thrillers are very dark, very graphic and absolutely in no way are suitable for under 18s. Oh, and there are no illustrations.

I have no idea where this information is coming from. It's not in my meta-data from CreateSpace, so who tagged my books and why? There's no "look-inside" feature, and I'd be horrified if people thought it might actually have illustrations and be suitable for mid-teenagers. I could possibly understand all books defaulting to an age-range (even if it's clearly the wrong one, and there is nothing that suggests it's a child or YA book), but to state it has illustrations? How? Why?

I've contacted Fishpond and they are looking at the my issue and hopefully amending the description. But what will happen if I change my book, re-upload and CreateSpace pushes a fresh copy out to all its satellite sites? And what else is out there that I know nothing about? How can I control  how my books are presented to the public?

Answer - I can't. And that's why I think this ebook watershed has only just begun.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Calling the Tune is Now Available to Buy!

Aaaand it's out. Calling the Tune is now available in paperback and ebook at amazon.co.uk, amazon.com and smashwords. Other e-retail sites will follow as soon as they are approved. Cover design by the awesomely talented JT Lindroos who has designed all the covers in this series.

"Don’t believe what they say: money can buy everything – and I have lots of it.” 

It’s Eddie’s trial and Michael is reliving events he’d rather forget. Giving evidence means he can’t hide, and there are still people looking for him and old debts to be repaid. It was never going to be easy.

Face to face with the man who raped him, Michael runs from court, but he’s not alone. Close behind him is trainee reporter Becky, and the story she wants will make or break her career after a telephone call sends Michael running for his life.

But running away never solved a problem. Michael realises he has to face his demons head-on if he's ever going to move on with his life – and now he's on a collision course with his worst nightmare.
 

Following on from Hamelin's Child and Paying the Piper, this novel contains adult material.

Monday, 28 October 2013

A Cabinet of Inspiration

I was rummaging through my filing cabinet recently, looking for some pre-digital photographs from an American holiday so I could scan them in and use them to illustrate a post on another blog (using photos as inspiration for stories and scenes - can't link it as it isn't yet live...)

Apart from the usual folders one has in a filing cabinet for bills, car documents, bank stuff and other household gubbins, I have stacks of junk I hoard. Things I've picked up over the years that inspire me, remind me of people and places and that might trigger a story or provide research material.

I got the leaflet on the right at Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire. This place is a Cold War relic and well worth a visit if you're ever near Nantwich (fascinating journey underground into a nuclear bunker - the scariest thing being the civil service furniture that was still being used when I started work in London. Those lurid purple and green chair covers ere enough to scare anybody). But does anybody remember these actual leaflets being delivered to houses in the 1970s? I do. I remember being thoroughly terrified by the idea of nuclear war as a child - watching the BBC drama Threads and wondering what was going to happen to us all.

What else is in my folder. A Rand McNally road atlas of the USA. Great for mileages and logistics but probably redundant in the days of Google maps. More useful are the tourist guides to the National Parks. I've got the original tv script for an episode of Urban Gothic - the one I novelised which eventually appeared in an anthology alongside Christopher Fowler, Graham Masterton and Paul Finch, amongst others.

There are also several 'Europa' newsletters. These date back to the early 1980s when I was involved in a wargames campaign based on the 30 Years War in Europe. This involved a lot of scheming and plotting - there were a dozen or more people involved and the girl who ran it produced these exquisitely-detailed newsletters containing 'letters to the editor' and local news snippets as well as the main issues of 17th century Europe. Remember that this was pre-computer and very much a labour of love typed up every month on a typewriter, literally cut-and-pasted, and photocopied. So much rich detail for anybody writing historical fiction (which sadly has never interested me yet).

I have masses of police leaflets too. Everything from the Forensic Science Service glossy brochure to the Crown Prosecution Service leaflets of sentencing and court procedures - if nothing else these are useful for me to know what is and isn't in the public domain when I'm writing crime.

I'll go through it all eventually and chuck out the stuff that has outlived its storage space. But most of might come in useful one day and I'm far too much of a squirrel!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Are We Ready Yet?

So you're all eagerly waiting the new book. You are, aren't you? I'm not just shouting into the abyss here?

Well the paperback is (unofficially) out. I had to publish it in order to be able to order stock myself. Amazon hasn't yet caught up, so it's not on my author page, but you can search for it. I'm not putting up links etc here until I've "launched" it properly in the next few weeks, although I've already sold three! The ebook will come out on most platforms around the same time - or a day or two beforehand. You can even pre-order at smashwords now in any ebook format that takes your fancy.

Whether it will ever be available at kobo or their subsidiaries remains to be seen. At present none of my titles are available there; not even my YA fantasy Edge of Dreams where the most erotic action is a single very chaste boy/girl kiss....

Monday, 14 October 2013

An Indie Ebook Watershed?

A couple of days ago, UK high-street retailer WH Smith took the unprecedented step of switching off its entire online store and replacing it with a “holding page” explaining the reasons for this action. This was apparently due to customer complaints after a number of ‘inappropriate’ books were retrieved by the website search engine while customers were looking for children’s books.  More information and examples can be found at a variety of online news sites, such as the BBC, the Daily Mail and the Mirror. Even the Guardian is getting in on the act.

For those readers unfamiliar with the store, WH Smith has a branch on most UK high streets and sells books, stationery items and magazines; the bigger stores also sell CDs and gifts. It has a generally wholesome image, promotes Richard & Judy book titles and is considered family-friendly. Not the place you’d expect to find hardcode pornography then – even the lads’ mags are doubtless regulated to the top-shelf where small fingers can’t innocently pick them up with a comic. I say doubtless because in all honestly, I’ve never looked …

So why do they exist in the online store? Because WH Smith – like many other retailers – takes a data feed from Kobo, an ebook retailer that publishes books from anybody and everybody with little or no vetting of the contents. Kobo itself takes data feeds from other ‘ebook aggregators’ – websites that distribute a book to multiple online retail sites on behalf of the author or publisher (and either charge a per-title flat-fee or take a cut of the profit in return for the service). Kobo is slightly different however in that it also allows authors to upload direct to the site.

This isn’t uncommon in the online retailing business. But as the sale of ebooks and ebook readers has taken the market by storm, ebook aggregators and retail sites have never really invested time or money in content-filtering – ensuring that not all books get published, and those that do are regulated and tagged appropriately to ensure that they do not fall into the wrong hands. Many of the books that have caused this furore have apparently violated the t&c of the sites in question and may even been illegal. WH Smith is potentially liable for prosecution - hence the reaction to pull the entire website.

And with the explosion in ebook sales comes the realisation that anything can be published. By anybody. Whether there is a market for it or not. Since Fifty Shades of Grey, there’s been a race to the bottom, even from the big publishers to produce ever more explicit erotica. Who can blame the independent authors for wanting a slice of a very lucrative pie? But with no gatekeepers, no content-filtering and little quality control from the online publishing/retail sites that Amazon’s KDP, Kobo Writing Life, Smashwords etc, there is nobody to police the increasingly smelly cess-pit of internet pornography. And some of the stuff out there is horrific. Just the other night I glanced through some new titles available via Smashwords. One in particular stood out with tags that would make your eyes water, a blurb that was offensive in the extreme and certainly not something any self-respecting author would want to be connected with. Does nobody at Smashwords even take a cursory glance at the titles uploaded?

Rape-fantasy and incest are not topics I would personally want to read about. I don’t believe in censorship, but if authors cannot or will not self-police or self-regulate, do we really have a choice? There is a world of difference between pornography written for titillation and memoirs about child-abuse. Or a textbook on healing or psychology, or the description of a rape in a crime novel. Do we deny victims of abuse a voice? It’s the glorification of it that is the issue – therefore simply searching for keywords or titles will never been a means of identifying books which should maybe be in a category all of their own, and invisible to store search engines unless explicitly invoked. But then who is to say that Fifty Shades or even titles like Lolita should be banned? Even Lady Chatterley's
Lover was considered indecent in its time. 

So what will happen now? I sense a watershed moment for ebooks. WH Smith has said it will remove 'all self-published books' before it re-opens its site. So that will leave Fifty Shades and other ‘legitimate’ erotica titles, and readers will lose the ability to buy some amazingly good books of all genres from writers who for a variety of reasons do not always publish with a publishing company. Kobo has already deactivated possibly all titles it considers to be self-published, regardless of genre or content - none of my titles are currently available to buy. Other ebook sites like Barnes & Noble, Apple and Sony are doubtless considering their own actions. Even the mighty Amazon has pulled several books recently. And how do you define self-published anyway? Anybody can set themselves up as a publisher. Anybody can buy ISBNs. We are in danger of throwing out the entire bathroom as well as the baby with the bathwater.

For the record, I think that WH Smith has made the right move in the short term. It remains to be seen how the company will deal with this crisis in the medium-to-long-term and how companies like Kobo react. Now you may say that children should not be surfing the net unsupervised and I agree with that. But even with supervision, do you really want your five-year-old seeing book covers and blurbs that are at best distasteful and at worst illegal? And imagine the online revenue that WH Smith is losing by pulling the entire online store while they work out what to do next. That shows you just how seriously they are taking these allegations and their concerns may not be unfounded if some of the offending titles are found to be illegally obscene and not just morally obscene.

Maybe sites like Amazon and Smashwords should be charging independent authors to upload a book for sale? Perhaps that would generate sufficient revenue to employ staff to vet books offered for publication. At the very least the retail sites should be employing better filters on their search engines. It's not rocket science these days.

I predict that October 2013 will be a turning point in self-publishing and ebook retailing and I hope we go forwards in the right direction.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Rock Night!

So last night I went to a rock concert. In the village. Yes - sleepy little Moulton in Cheshire hosted Wille and The Bandits, an indie band who've toured with Deep Purple and Status Quo and are apparently on the verge of making it big. Now I've seen the Quo and Rainbow in concert and am not averse to a bit of rock (the red leather mini in previous posts might be a bit of a giveaway?) But in Moulton? Hosted by local music appreciation group Malt 'n' Music, the gig was a huge sell-out success and our little village hall was rocking until late.

But it got me thinking. The last live music concert I went to was probably Meat Loaf way back in the early 1990s at Wembley. I stopped going to standing-only venues (Deeside ice rink in my teenage years) as I have a real fear of large crowds. Standing in the middle of hundreds of people is my idea of hell and I like the security of a seat - yes, and the comfort too as I get older!

But when I was 17 or so, I used to see a lot of indie bands. In the backstreets of Birkenhead (say it with a Scouse accent - it has to be done - Beerkin-ed), behind Hamilton Square station was a place called the Sir James Club that used to host lots of local bands. My friend Ruth and I would go and watch whoever was playing on rock nights and on several bank holidays they'd run 24-hour rock-marathons with several bands and a rock disco. Sometimes I'm amazed that my parents were so relaxed about all this - although maybe they didn't always know! I even remember dancing on the tables in the BierKeller in Liverpool one Saturday night ....

So I did a little bit of digging. I don't think Alternative Radio ever made it big, despite winning Battle of the Bands in the 1980s. But apparently they are still touring....


Or how about French Lessons? Another 80s band and I still have their albums on cassette. I even managed to run them through some software and convert them to digital files a few years back, so the tracks are on my iphone now and still as good as they were 30 years ago. I recommend them - can't find anything on YouTube but you can download for free from their website.

Who would I go and see now? I did like the small local venue of our village hall. I liked being able to dance at the front and knowing most of the people there. On a bigger stage I'd like to see Blackmore's Night as I've always loved Ritchie Blackmore's stuff and I like the way they've rocked-up Bob Dylan and other folk tracks. I'd probably go and see Jethro Tull again too. And I confess I'd love to see Alice Cooper in concert, though I don't think I'd dare ...

I'm looking forward to seeing what Malt 'n' Music put on next locally. And I really, really want to get my daughter Clare up on stage - even if she only performs one song. She's singing in a competition in a couple of weeks and has such an amazing voice, but she's a classical singer and is far happier with something from Rodgers and Hammerstein than anything from the top 40. She sang at a friend's birthday party last month and blew everyone away ...

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Cover Reveal!

So here's the new cover for Calling The Tune. I think it fits rather well with the other two, doesn't it?

It's finished. Wrapped up earlier this week in a flurry of action. I wasn't quite anticipating where we ended up, but you can never tell with these things. I do most of my editing as I go along, so it's now gone out to a trusted reader, who I'm confident will tell me exactly what is and isn't working and what I need to rewrite and/or change. And then I'll be onto final edits.

And so the journey is over. I've lived with Michael for so many years that I'm sad to say goodbye to him now, but I really do have to leave him alone to get on with his life. We've met sister Kate, partner-in-crime Amanda and in Calling The Tune we also get to know trainee reporter Becky. And then there's bad-boy Lenny who makes another appearance ...

Hopefully the finished product will be available this side of Christmas in ebook and paperback. There are a couple of advance review copies up for grabs for anybody who doesn't mind finding the last of the typos, and who can provide me with a quote I can use on the paperback. You'd also need to agree to post a review on amazon within a few days of it being available, so the quote is verifiable. Email me if you're interested, thanks!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Acting the Part

It's hard, this writing thing. Not the writing so much - although that can be a long, hard slog sometimes, but the rest of it. The promotion, the selling, the publicity of it all. Now I don't spam. Never have, never will. When I release a book, I will send a one-time-only email and/or facebook message to people I know have read my stuff and I have interacted with in some way, be in in person or online. But I won't keep mithering, or tweeting or pushing myself into people's faces. That's not what I do. I'm not a pushy person by nature. Although people who know me might find it hard to believe, I'm really quite shy. Everything else is an act.

Here's the proof! I was 20, I think.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I owned a bright red leather mini-skirt. I wore it to student parties in Liverpool in the early 1980s with red fishnets and a black leather biker jacket (I was a wannabe rock-chick).  Why am I telling you this? Because to wear an outfit like that, you have to "be" the person that goes with it. You can't be shy or sit in a corner. It's a statement outfit that demands a statement personality to go with it. So you act. And I did. Frequently. It's not always easy to do - sometimes it requires a huge effort that half a bottle of wine doesn't fix on its own!

So I have mixed feelings about my almost-full-page article in this week's local paper, complete with huge photograph (which actually isn't too bad, given that I usually look fat, old and drunk in photographs - photoshop is my friend...). I talked to our local reporter for half an hour last week; I know her reasonably well - enough to chat with at village events and she'd said she'd like to do a feature on me.

But it's so personal, having your background splashed across a page and knowing your neighbours and work colleagues may read it. My reasons for starting writing in the first place came from a time in my life as a young teenager when I didn't have many friends. Somehow seeing that in black and white makes it more real, I don't know why. It's history.

And then there's the nature of what I write. It isn't nice. People judge other people on so many different levels, and I remain concerned that there will be those who will read a bit of my book for the novelty value and then judge me by what they read. It's nonsense, I know - some of the big crime writers do far more and it isn't a problem. But I don't have that validation yet - right now I'm just me. One person. Thankfully I have a lot of great friends who appreciate me and love what I write.

But of course - as every real writer knows - there's something of you in everything you write. You bleed a little onto the page every time. You open yourself up to criticism, ridicule and abuse. It's like self-harm sometimes, letting the blood flow and coming up feeling like you've produced something real, something worthwhile. But it hurts. It really does. Witness the current furore online, where some poor new author is allegedly being mercilessly bullied before she's even released a book. It's tough enough out there without wearing your heart and soul on your sleeve. And all that probably sounds horribly pretentious, but it's true.

I don't regret doing this article at all. If I'm to grow as a writer I need to reach out more. There will be people who hate my books - I expect that. But I hope some might like them too. Finding somebody who connects with what you do, who sees the blood on the page, makes it all worthwhile.

But then a work colleague came in the other day after being away on holiday and told me he'd taken my book with him, read it in a day and thought it was better than the first one. If that's not a result then I don't know what is

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Lightbulbs and Photography

As I wrote on facebook recently, the really, utterly, amazing thing about seat-of-your-pants writing (as in having no idea where you are going until you get there), is that every now and again your character says or does something that explains their entire backstory.

There I was, minding my own business, writing a conversation between a major character and a character who started off with a relatively small part to play, but is becoming more important (because he's a bad boy, but so damned cute and I secretly fancy him). And suddenly ... wham! ... lightbulb moment. There's a look that passes between two people and I know his entire history in that moment. And it explains everything and gives me a way forward for this particular plot-strand.

Sometimes my subconscious is so awesome that I want to kiss it! It sets me up, makes me write things that make no sense at the time and it won't let me delete them. And it's not until ten, twenty, fifty thousands words later that things fall into place and I understand the why of it.

And photography - that's the local paper, which sent a photographer out to my house yesterday. My local paper is doing an article on me, so heaven knows what will come out of that. No hiding away now, is there?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Calling the Tune

It’s Eddie’s trial and Michael is reliving things he’d much rather forget. Giving evidence means he can’t hide, and there are still people looking for him and old debts to be repaid. And when trainee reporter Becky follows him out of court, she gets more than a story when Michael is on the run for his life.

But running away never solved a problem. Michael realises he has to face his demons head-on if he's ever going to be able to move on with his life - and now he's on a collision course with his worst nightmare.

Available in ebook and paperback towards the end of 2013 - let me know if you want to be added to my email list to be notified when it's out. I don't spam - it's a one-time only per book email, I promise!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Writing Groups

I can't remember if I've ever done a post on writing groups, so I thought it was about time I did, or at least updated you all. You see I joined a new writing group about six months ago...

Let's define writing group first, shall we? There's probably one online, but I'm going to go with my own hot off the keyboard - a group of people who enjoy writing for pleasure or profit, and meet to exchange ideas, network and offer mutual support. You may or may not agree with that definition, but this is my post.

There are several different types of writing group:

The mutual back-scratching group. Here everybody will love your work, darling. They will listen in rapt silence (while they're probably thinking of what to buy for tea tomorrow) and tell you how wonderful you are and how perfect your prose is. Utterly useless. Run away. If your work was that perfect, you'd be JK Rowling by now, wouldn't you?

The rottweiler group. Here they'll lay into your reading like a group of rabid dogs and rip it to shreds. Nothing pleases these people and they're generally so unsure of their own abilities they'll do anything to bring you down to their level. Again - run away! And have faith in yourself. You know when you've written good stuff. Trust me, you do.

The sit-com group. There'll be a man in mirrored shades who writes celebrity expos├ęs. The woman in a barbour jacket and green wellies who wants to be the next Jilly Cooper. The young lad who's really only there to see if there are any fit birds who write about sex... A great group for material, but not so good for support.

The ramblers. These people like to talk a lot about how the group runs. Who should take the money, how long everybody should read for. Or who gossip for two hours - and totally forget the purpose of the meeting is the writing. We all need administrators but keep it simple, guys!

The group that works! A group that has rules and structure, but that doesn't take up too much time. Where everybody gets a chance to shine, read their work out and receive helpful constructive comments. Where it doesn't matter if you're aiming for publication or just enjoying the words for themselves. And nobody is more important than anybody else.

I've seen all of the above. Some have worked at different times in my life. I'm still a member now of a great group that meets very infrequently, but it's more about our shared history and long friendships than anything really productive. Oh, and food of course. Always the food.

But six months ago I joined a local group that meets once a month. And it's fun! They're a great group of people - men and women, all ages, all stages and types of writing. And everybody listens and everybody contributes. And it's so useful. I come away motivated - by the ten minute compulsory writing exercises, if nothing else. I'm lazy and it does me good to be forced to produce something right then and there. But there's never any pressure to read it out if it's not right, or the brain refuses to play. I'm not a poet but I'm enjoying listening to other peoples' poetry, and it's lovely to share my own triumphs and rejections with people who understand what I'm talking about.

So thanks Vale Royal Writers Group. I'm proud to be a member!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Free? Free? FREE?

What is this free of which you speak? The days you get to price your book at zero on Amazon's KDP Select. (See link for a blog post I wrote a while back explaining how it works). That means you get zero, zilch, nada for each and every "sale".

Why would I want to give my work away for free? Authors say making the first book in a series free generates sales of subsequent books. That may indeed be true for them and if so, I'm happy for them. But I just can't get my head around the concept. I don't want to just sell book 2 (and book 3 soon) of my crime thriller series - I want to sell all 3 books. If I want to make one free, I'll do it when I want and for as long as I want - via Smashwords, which will let me set my own prices.

My books aren't exactly expensive at full price. I work hard to write them - hundreds, if not thousands of hours. I want people to make a decision to buy and hopefully read my books, not download a freebie and probably never look at it. My ebooks cost less than the price of a cup of coffee. Anybody who doesn't consider that one of my books is worth the price of a cup of coffee is not my target audience.

Monday, 8 July 2013

OBEs or Oscars?

Political rant time... sorry, but sometimes things HAVE TO BE SAID!

My aunt was one of many children. Unlike her siblings, she didn't marry and have children of her own - my cousins and I were her family. Instead she spent her entire life helping other people. For 40 years she took disabled Guides on holiday; for longer than that she worked tirelessly in the Girl Guide movement and for her church - even to the extent of spending her free evenings making toys and decorations to sell to raise money. And she still always had time for her nephews and nieces.

Some years back, she became ill. At that point my immediate family and I decided to nominate her for an Honours - isn't that what they are for? To recognise service to your country and community? It's a long and complicated process and we wanted to complete it while she was still alive, so at least she would know what she meant to us and the people she cared for. There are endless forms to fill in and "statements" to obtain, but we did it and submitted it. We had an acknowledgement and that was it. Nothing. Zip. Not even a thanks but no thanks. Or a sorry, but we had so many deserving people to choose from. Nothing.

And the Honours go to celebrities - actors and footballers.

Sadly, my aunt passed away several years ago. She is much missed by us and her community in Manchester.

And David Cameron wants to give Andy Murray a knighthood for winning Wimbledon?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Review Time

I don't make a habit of cross-posting from facebook - but just have to make an exception here with a message from the lovely (and talented) Kate Hanney....

Well, Debbie, I've just finished Hamelin's Child and I'm shell-shocked! My emotions are raw, you've pulled and pushed them all over the place over the last few days, and I now need to some time to recover! Really, I absolutely loved it - it's upset me, it's even given me nightmares, but it's just brilliant. You must be so proud; having such an effect on your reader is no mean feat, and you've done it so skilfully. I've left a review on Amazon, and also downloaded Paying the Piper ... but I might need to let my emotions settle for a day or two before I brace myself and start reading it. x x 

There are days when I love this writing lark!

Friday, 21 June 2013

An Ear Fetish


Hi dear Debbie, thank you for hosting me today to talk about my urban romance fantasy series Boreal and John Grey.

It always starts with elves... Their pointy ears, in fact. At least for me. ;)

Tolkien described them as “leaf-shaped” and in their many incarnations in books and films, the elves acquired ears that range from slightly pointed and small to huge, sharply pointed ears that rise over their heads.

As far as I know, Tolkien wasn’t much interested in the origins of those ears. In fact, he may not have meant his elves to have pointy ears at all, as “leaf shaped” may mean many things. But it was interpreted as pointy – because the Victorian fairies and the folk creatures like pixies, were described as having pointy ears.

Why would they, though? What’s up with the pointy ears?

I think an explanation can be found in other mythologies and folk stories. Let’s move to Greece, for instance (not entirely by chance, since I’m Greek myself) and examined the neraides, the elves or fairies inhabiting streams and forests and high mountains. These are tall and beautiful, often with long golden hair – and with goat hooves and animal ears (sometimes even donkey ears!) Or let’s look at the legend in Japan, where the fox spirits (kitsune) have fox tails and ears.

Pointy ears were probably animal ears originally, the mixture of animal and human an indication of the elves’ divine nature (like the Egyptian god Anubis, for instance, with his jackal head).

One could wonder, at this point, if elves actually had tails...

But I digress. Back to the pointy ears! :D

I blame the ears for my fascination with the elves, although their wicked ways  (bringing illness, exchanging healthy children for sickly changelings) also intrigued me. They were said to interbreed with humans, accepted sacrifices, healed wounds, but also caused nightmares.

They were obviously not all kindly and cuddly. These elves were akin to gods. They had great magic and didn’t always use it for good. They sort of disappeared after the Middle Ages, and nobody knows where they went.

It doesn’t matter. Because now they are back – pointy ears, wicked ways and all. With technology, magic, power. Bent on conquering humankind.

Ella Benson, Paranormal Bureau agent, fights all that comes through the Veil – dangerous Shades crossing into our world. But increasingly dangerous creatures are slipping into her city, her work partner has just gone missing, and a mysterious – and, frankly, quite hot — guy saves her life. His name is Finn and, as it turns out, he’s a natural when it comes to fighting the Shades.

When after centuries of peace the Gates between the worlds start opening and our old enemies, the elves, make a comeback, Ella needs a new, temporary partner. Enlisting the mysterious Finn is a no-brainer, until she realizes he is guarding dangerous secrets of his own.

Together with Finn, and the fate of the world on her shoulders, what’s Ella to do but grab her weapons and figure it all out, one way or another.

Read the complete First Season of the series Boreal and John Grey, books 1-5 (The Encounter, The Gate, The Dragon, The Dream and The Truth) at a special price with an Author’s Note at the end. This is urban fantasy verging on paranormal romance. A sexy love story set against a backdrop of dragons, trolls and magical portals, fast-paced action scenes and suspense.

The first episode in the series is free so you can sample it on Amazon US or Amazon UK





Excerpt

Finn’s attention had strayed to a counter covered in blades of all shapes and sizes. He reverently touched a katana. Then he lifted a throwing knife. He twirled it between his slender fingers and Ella wondered if he’d cut himself to shreds. But he didn’t.

Her new partner. She shook her head in disbelief. How had things changed so fast?

“Grab two of those,” Jeff told Finn who jerked back and almost dropped the knife. Jesus, talk about jumpy. “And throwing stars. Shuriken. Good for catching the Shades from a distance. Pure iron, special delivery, came in today.”

Finn hesitated, glanced from Jeff to Ella, then ran his hands over the knives and stars. His eyes fluttered closed, as if he were playing a musical instrument, fingers moving lightly over the shiny blades. Ella held her breath.

“Good weapons,” Jeff said, “all of them.”

That snapped Finn out of his trance. With a little sniff, as if to say he’d be the judge of that, he proceeded to pick up various knives and test their balance and grip, spinning and thrusting them through the air. So graceful. It reminded her of the first time she’d seen him fighting Shades, moving like a dancer through the night.

When Finn selected two knives and prepared to pass them through his belt, she turned to Jeff. “Sheaths?”

“Sheaths, yeah.” Jeff, who’d been staring at Finn, blinked and pulled out several from a drawer. He threw them at Finn who snatched them out of the air without missing a beat.

Jeff whistled, brows rising into his hairline.

Finn lifted his shirt and took off his belt to attach the sheaths, and Ella had to drag her gaze away from his perfect abs. She resisted the urge to fan herself. Whoa, baby. How hadn’t she noticed the night before?

Oh, right. Finn, passed out in her car and then her couch, covered in blood. His abs hadn’t really been the first thing on her mind.

“That looks like a nasty wound.” Jeff nodded at the stained bandage on Finn’s side, and she made a mental note to check that too, later. Soon she’d need an organizer for all those mental lists.

Finn buckled the belt and sheathed his knives. He looked up and grinned. His smile was startlingly beautiful and she found herself gaping — again. God, get a hold on yourself, girl.

“Like a porcupine,” she muttered, her own lips lifting in a matching smile. It was nice to see Finn happy — or at least pleased with his weapons. “What about guns?”

“Here, Finn.” Jeff lifted a Heckler and Koch USP CT pistol for inspection, a calculating gleam in his eye. What was he going for? “Semi-automatic, lightweight and accurate. Give it a try.”

A concentrated look on his face, Finn stepped forward to receive it. She opened her mouth to ask if he knew how to use it, but she needn’t have worried. He checked the magazine, and when Jeff threw him a shoulder holster, he pulled it on, tugging on the black leather straps as if he’d been doing it all his life.

Jesus. Who was he anyway?

The straps pulled on the neckline of his t-shirt, exposing a swath of muscled chest and his left shoulder. Before he adjusted it, a mark drew her eye, sort of like a starburst. A birth-mark?

“Have you used one of these before?” Jeff beamed at Finn, obviously considering him a kindred spirit.

“Similar one,” Finn grunted. He sheathed the pistol in one of the two holsters hanging over his ribs and folded his arms. Armed to the teeth, legs spread, head bowed, he looked ready to take on a whole army of Shades.

Jeff winked at Ella. “Well, well, Elly. Where did you find him? Ex military, is he?”

That was a thought. Might also explain why Finn was so mum about his identity and past. “Thanks, Jefferson. Now we can go to the lab. Finn?”

Finn lifted his head, his gaze unfocused. “At your command,” he whispered, shoulders tensing, back straightening, and the funny thing was he didn’t seem to be pulling her leg at all.  

Where to find the complete season 1 

About the author
Greek Cypriot with a penchant for dark myths, good food, and a tendency to settle down anywhere but at home, Chrystalla likes to write about fantastical creatures, crazy adventures, and family bonds. She lives in Cyprus with her husband and her vast herds of books. She writes mainly fantasy and science fiction. Her dystopian YA science fiction series Elei’s Chronicles (Rex Rising, Rex Cresting, Rex Equilibrium) is available on Kindle and in print. Shorter stories set in that world are also available, and a Companion to the series is also in the plans.

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Friday, 14 June 2013

Work In Progress!

Quickie update as I haven't posted for a while. I don't know whether anybody actually reads these posts, but last month's stats shot up to over 2,500 views, which is something of a record for me as I generally get about 1,000 hits a month. I'm not that interesting...

So the new book will be called Calling the Tune and will complete (oh, yes it will) Michael's story. It will hopefully tie up a few loose ends, introduce at least one new character and provide a resolution to events that have happened. There'll be a blog post over at Authors Electric on 6th July (my monthly day to post) which will talk about book titles and how they work for me.

Just over halfway through writing. I have a couple of beta readers, I hope (haven't asked one of them yet) and with any luck it will be out in e-book and paperback before the end of the year, depending on how long edits take. I've also just approached my designer about a cover.

I may even post a few more extracts. Watch this space ...

Meanwhile, my garden looks like something from a terrorist training camp. Where else would you see an array of black hoods on a washing line? It's that time of year again -

Moulton Crow Fair

Thursday, 30 May 2013

On A Knife Edge In Liverpool.....

Knife Edge 

An anthology of twenty-five crime, thriller mystery and suspense stories from twenty-three authors, including Booker prize nominated Jim Williams. All profits to Booktrust.org.uk. 

Authors: Jim Williams, Mike Berlin, Kim Fleet, Eric Tomlinson, Grace Fallon, Eileen Condon, Dennis Thompson, Gerry McCullough, Debbie Bennett, John Holland, Judy Binning, Pat Griffin, JJ Toner, Harriet Steel, Anthony Farmer, Tom Rhoyd, Maura Barrett, Kathy Dunne, Diana Collins, Damon King, Janet Wadsworth, Mike Berlin, Stewart Lowe, Ruby Barnes 

Published 30th May 2013 

Kindle ISBN 9781908943262 
ePub ISBN 9781908943279 
print ISBN 9781908943286

What's the significance of the title? My story in this anthology is called The Leaving of Liverpool

Friday, 17 May 2013

White Witch of Devil’s End

Reeltime Pictures are pleased to announce a new drama production for release on DVD to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.

White Witch of Devil’s End is a spin-off from the highly regarded Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story The Daemons and will star Damaris Hayman reprising her role as Miss Hawthorne.

At the grand age of 84 (in June this year), you’d expect Damaris would be happy to be enjoying retirement quietly in her Cheltenham home … but no! When approached by producer Keith Barnfather about the idea she jumped at the chance. “I shall retire, I think in my coffin!  Miss Hawthorne was my all-time favourite role and I was enchanted by the thought of being her again for a little while.”

“I was amazed and delighted that, as an octogenarian, Damaris was prepared to take this on,” says Keith. “We had recently recorded an interview with her for our Myth Makers series profiling actors who had appeared in Doctor Who and I already knew she still had a hunger to act. But I really didn’t expect her to be so keen.”

Although eager to take the project on, Damaris knew she had to pace herself, so in an innovative move, director Anastasia Stylianou decided to film the drama in a “talking head” style – adding dramatic cutaway material to bring Damaris’s words to life!

Says Anastasia; “I knew it would be a challenge. We needed to film a 50 minute drama at least, so I decided to make an asset out of a limitation.”

Primary filming has already taken place at a cottage near Damaris’s home. The crew collected and returned Damaris each day – allowing her to return home each evening to recover and study the next day’s script!

“We used autocue to help Damaris,” says Keith. “It was an impossible task for any actor to learn so much dialogue. Damaris was a true professional and took to it instantly.”

With a planned release date of 31st October, which is appropriately also Halloween, Anastasia hopes to have the project completed for the 50th anniversary celebrations. “It’s just getting all the dramatic cutaway material ‘in the can’ that is crucial. The drama is really an anthology – a set of connecting stories about Olive’s life told, as it were, in her own words.”

When considering who to approach to write these stories which would exist within an overall theme, Keith immediately thought to contact old friend David J Howe at Telos Publishing. “I thought it would be fantastic to ask individual writers knowledgeable in the occult and magic to write each story and David, through Telos, knew so many of the best young talent in the country.”  

“I was delighted when Keith got in touch,” says David Howe, “and immediately started to think of who might be a good fit for the project. Along with my partner, the award-winning author Sam Stone, we contacted several authors who we felt would be sympathetic to the material and were pleased to get them all on board for the project.”


“I took on the task of outlining the whole story,” says Sam Stone, “and then asked the writers to come up with ideas which fitted that framework. We needed to tell stories at different points in Olive Hawthorne’s life, and the writers rose to the challenge and delivered scripts which exceeded all my expectations. I then worked with them to refine the scripts into the completed screenplay.”

The writers involved in the project are, as well as David J Howe and Sam Stone, Raven Dane, Debbie Bennett, Jan Edwards and Suzanne J Barbieri, with a final script-polish from Big Finish writer Matt Fitton. All have brought a unique perspective on Olive’s life, and the end result is an anthology of tales which will surprise, entertain and hopefully move the viewer.

Does Damaris have any regrets about throwing herself into such a big commitment? “Definitely not! I was enchanted to work with Anastasia and Keith again, who are great friends anyway. After a lot of working together consulting over the scripts, I’d subsequently never enjoyed filming more - and I can’t wait now to see the final result.”

RRP: £12.99
PROVISIONAL RELEASE DATE: 31/10/2013

Friday, 10 May 2013

Policies & Planning (or Money v Integrity)

The attached link is a podcast of a council planning meeting - round two which was adjourned from its first incarnation in April. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of listening to me rant on facebook or talked to me in the pub or around the village, this concerns a battle that has been raging for 9 months or so now - ever since a few people were spotted mooching around a field behind our village last summer...


So Richborough "buys up" 20 acres of green field site on the edge of our village, pending planning permission to build 148 houses. A greenfield site, protected by all sorts of laws and policies - or so we thought. Mr Cameron himself protects us - Hands Off Our Land: Housing estates will not be 'plonked' next to villages, he tells us in the Telegraph in 2012. This is an estate that will be accessible only through one small cul-de-sac off an existing small estate, in a small village that has one co-op, two pubs, a post office, chip shop and tiny Victorian primary school, which is full. There are already village kids who can't get primary school places and neighbouring primary schools are also full.

Moulton is one of a handful of villages in the country with only one road in and out. Main Road is a dead-end. The Victorian layout and sharp corners make it difficult and dangerous for buses and delivery lorries which frequently mount the pavement to get by.

Now nobody is against development per-se. But it needs to be sustainable. This proposal would increase the size of the village by 15%. There's nothing in this application that benefits our village at all - even the people who buy these new houses will lose out (they'll be living on land that floods regularly, on an estate with one narrow way in and out, in a village where the nearest "service centre" for doctors, dentists, etc is a couple of miles away, with a school that has no places). In fact the only beneficiaries appear to be Richborough Estates who would have a parcel of land with a much higher value on it if it had planning permission attached. But hey, that's what all these planning policies are for, surely? To protect our precious environment. To ensure that things are fair, that they work, that everybody is happy?

No. Apparently not. 

The school is full. Site constraints make it near-impossible to expand. No problem. The developers bung some money at the council and that's sorted. Where do the kids actually go to school, then? Doesn't matter - it's not relevant and not a reason to refuse a planning application. The road infrastructure won't support more traffic. No problem. The developers bung some money at the council and that's sorted. There's insufficient play facilities to meet current requirements for play space for children. No problem. The developers bung some money at the council and that's sorted. But there is nowhere else to build a new play area (because they built houses on the last one...). Doesn't matter - it's not relevant and not a reason to refuse a planning application.

Are you starting to see a pattern here?

To consider a planning application, various bodies have to submit reports. Education department, highways department, etc etc. Most of the reports seem to be desk assessments based on information submitted by the applicant. Hmmm - spot the bias there? As it happened, the education people didn't get their reports done in time which is why the first planning application was deferred to the recent meeting a few days ago.

And at the recent meeting, the helpful council advisors advise the planning committee that they have no grounds to refuse the application, that all the policies to protect us bear no weight against the apparent "need" for more housing in the area. There are huge developments going on in a ten mile radius - who is buying all these houses? There are houses for sale in the village now - from terraces to four-bedroom detached houses - and I don't see a queue of people fighting to buy them. There are many brownfield sites locally that would benefit from redevelopment - but that costs more money, doesn't it? Not quite as attractive a proposition as a nice green field...

Fortunately our committee see sense and reject the application. And our ever-helpful legal team advise them that they have no grounds, that when it goes to appeal they will personally have to give evidence to back-up their vote, that they will cost the council huge sums of money in legal costs. Yes, it's down to money again, isn't it? Money versus integrity. 

Thank God for integrity. Despite the bullying tactics, the vote had been cast and was irrevocable. Our councillors vowed to stand-up for their beliefs. And the battle was won. With one of the biggest cases the council had ever seen - in terms of numbers of objections raised - we now have to go and fight the rest of the war at the inevitable appeal.

But it all makes you wonder, doesn't it? Cameron says one thing, local councils do another. Plans and policies change so fast, nobody can keep up and the greedy developers latch on to the confusion and stick their applications in. But where will we be in 20 years time when we've destroyed our countryside to line the pockets of people who don't give a shit?