Author Hot Seat with Misha Burnett

Today my guest in the Hot Seat is Misha Burnett, an author I didn’t know before I decided to try and tempt the more off-beat authors to reveal themselves. I’m pleased that I did as it has given me the opportunity to discover some really original writers. Misha is one of those writers who seems to have defied every convention in the book—an ideal candidate for the ‘unclassifiables’ I was so keen to get into the hot seat.
Handing over now to Misha, to tell it as it is.

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G. K. Chesterton once remarked that when inscribing a circle, one can begin anywhere. To begin trying to explain the world that I have created in my novels, I want to start with a drunken conversation at a party some years ago in which I was discussing William Burroughs with a friend of mine and someone entered into the discussion under the impression that we were talking about Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The confusion didn’t last long, but the chance juxtaposition of two very different writers, both of whom I happen to enjoy for very different reasons, started a chain of thought in my mind. What if (and “what if” is writer talk for “hold my beer, I want to try something”) I took what I liked from both writers and put it together?
The world has changed and grown some since then, but the seed crystal with which I started was an attempt to combine the cosmology of William Burrough’s Nova Express novels with the very prosaic and quotidian style of an Edger Rice Burrough’s narrator.
My novels are set in a world that seems very much like ours, but is under attack by bodiless parasites from outer space, creatures that exist only as information and feed on order. They have destroyed their own worlds and have attached themselves to the Earth, entering the minds of human beings to sow madness and chaos, increasing entropy and sucking the sanity out of everything they touch.
They also make deals with human beings. They sell technology that allows humans to change themselves into other things—ambimorphs, blue metal boys, necroidim, minraudim, hives, pale surgeons. I deliberately set out to create a new mythology of semi-human creatures, avoiding the standard vampires, werewolves, zombies, elves, and so on.

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Now, that’s the half that’s easy to explain. The other half is my narrator, James, and his alter ego, Catskinner. This gets a little personal. I have a mental condition that is known as Dissociative Identity Disorder—what they used to call Multiple Personality Disorder. In creating James & Catskinner I wanted to capture the subjective experience of dissociation. I fictionalized it and made it into something with a fantastic explanation because I wanted to concentrate on the feelings rather than the facts behind them. (I, myself, do not believe that I have an alien demon living in my head, nor do I kill people. Just so you know.)
Clearly, I have some difficulty giving an elevator pitch on my novels. I have a main character who isn’t entirely himself, in a world where nothing is quite what it seems. I deliberately blur the line between science fiction and fantasy, keeping the true nature of the Outsiders ambiguous. My narrator is not a hero, he is, at best, the least of a host of evils. My romantic lead is a half-plant hermaphrodite. My protagonist’s sidekick makes his living conning government agencies into thinking that he works for them.
And don’t even get me started on James’ family.
My experience with traditional publishing has been somewhat underwhelming. I queried twenty-something agents when I finished the first novel, Catskinner’s Book. I carefully sorted through listings for those agents who were currently looking for new authors, who accepted science fiction and fantasy and horror (since my book could be considered any of those), and who specifically said that they were looking for works that broke new ground.
I never got a single reply. Not even a “no, thanks, this isn’t for me.” Nothing. To be honest, I don’t know if any of them even received my query. I know that people say that I should have kept working on trying to get representation, that I should have sent out two hundred or two thousand letters, but when the first twenty—the ones that I had hand-picked as being most likely to accept something really different—failed to reply at all, I gave up.
I decided to self-publish.

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Am I a financial success? Not so much. I have reached people, though, and I have a small but very enthusiastic fan base. My work isn’t for everyone, but those who like it seem to really like it, and it’s not something that they can get anywhere else. The reviews for both Catskinner’s Book and Cannibal Hearts have been very positive, and I have a lot of interest in the third book, The Worms Of Heaven. (I’m working on it, okay? It’ll be done when it’s done. Soon, though, I promise.)
I have tried a lot of different kinds of promotion, ranging from expensive stuff that doesn’t work to cheap stuff that doesn’t work. I’m a terrible salesman. Most of my new readers learn about my books from other readers, one friend telling another, “You’ve got to check out this book… it’s so weird!”
I also pick up new readers from my blog, where I talk about the art and business of writing and post samples of my work.
Now that I have some reviews on the two books that I have out there and a third nearly finished, I have started looking for a publisher again. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that there is a lot more to putting a book together and selling it than just writing the damned thing, and I am very willing to share the profits in exchange for help with editing, formatting, promotion, and the rest.
It is still an uphill battle, but now I can point to my fans and say, “See—people will actually pay real money for this stuff! And say nice things about me, too!”
So we’ll see what happens.
To whom would I recommend my work? People who like books that mess with their heads. I consider myself a New Wave writer, in the tradition of Phillip Dick, George Alec Effinger, Ursula K Le Guin, Samuel Delany, and, more recently, Tim Powers, Clive Barker, and China Mielville. I don’t think that speculative fiction—by which I mean science fiction, fantasy, and horror—should be safe or comfortable. I raise a lot of hard questions in my work, and I don’t even try to answer most of them.
I like questions that don’t have easy answers. I think that they’re the only questions worth asking.
For more of my work you can check out my blog at: http://mishaburnett.wordpress.com/
My Amazon author’s page is here: http://www.amazon.com/Misha-Burnett/e/B008MQ8W4K/

Thank you for telling us about yourself and your writing, Misha. I think many of us would agree with you about the discomfort factor being somehow necessary in spec-fic, even if it is possibly easier to win over a certain readership by slipping in a romantic element that distracts attention from the potential nastiness of futuristic/fantasy worlds.
Your reasons for self-publishing will also seem pretty familiar to many of us. Interesting that you are going to persevere with your search for a publisher. I hope you’ll come back and let us know how you get on.

The Author Hot Seat: Second round

My first guest in this second round of The Author Hot Seat is an old (in blogging terms) friend, Seumas Gallacher.

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We all know you as the Scottish crime writer who wears a kilt even when he’s trolling about among the dunes of Abu Dhabi. What we might like to know is what he did before he became a camel driver that inspired him to write international crime novels. So, to satisfy the morbid curiosity of the red top readers among us, I’ve shoved said Scot into the hot seat, manacled him and got the irons nice and hot just in case he wants to hold something back.

J : Do your early years in Glasgow influence your writing?

SG : Undoubtedly. They say you can take the boy out of Glasgow, but you can’t take Glasgow out of the boy. Much of the grit and values that I’ve instilled in the main character in my crime thriller series, Jack Calder, reflect much of what tens of thousand of Dockland Govan residents were like sixty years ago. Survival there, as in many similar inner city post-war environments, demanded resilience, adherence to decent human values, a strong work ethic, and not least, a communal sense of humour.
In fairness, however, having left Govan in my mid teens, time spent in other locations, such as the Scottish Hebridean island of Mull, and a decade in London, also shaped the memories from which I believe most authors write.
A further 25 years in Asia, and the last 10 years in the Middle East, contribute immensely to differing experiences and character descriptions.

J : Where does the inspiration for these very high-powered heists come from?

SG : I’d like to say they come from personally having perpetrated one, but they’d come and lock me up and throw away the key if I owned up to that. My credo in writing my type of crime thrillers is to have ‘high impact’ passages where relevant. This also translates into an almost minimalist descriptive style. I aim to provide enough to let the reader colour in as they imagine, which I think we all do anyway when reading fiction. That ‘punchiness’ also lends the writing more pace.

J : Is it easy being a Scot writer in Abu Dhabi?

SG : Abu Dhabi, where I live, is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It’s somewhat more laid back than Dubai, which tends to attract the more ‘lifestyle’ headlines and interest from the international press and magazines. It’s an Arabic, Islamic society, but is liberally accommodating of other faiths. Living expense is relatively high compared with the UK or most of the USA. I find it easy to write here. Having been an expatriate for the best part of 45 years (if I consider London a ‘foreign’ posting), I tend to adapt readily to wherever I land.

J : Did you try to get publishers/agents interested in your books or did you go straight for the self-pub route?

SG : When I drifted off the pink cloud of having written ‘The End’ on the first novel, THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY, I spent a considerable amount of time researching the best way to acquire that elusive endangered species… an Agent… or that even more under-threat-of-extinction creature, a Publisher… in the end, I sent 40 Query Letters to addresses in London… 40 rejection slips/non- answers later, I was persuaded to consider the new-fangled Amazon Kindle route… the rest is history, and the stuff of legend for me… 75,000+ downloads later, I’d still welcome a top-class Agent or Publisher if one knocked my door, but I thoroughly enjoy the freedom and the hard work that goes with it, in being an independent self-publisher.

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J : On the face of it, your writing looks as though it fits quite easily into the crime category. Is that too simplistic an analysis?

SG : It’s probably the principal tag that describes the novels, but as with most authors, there’s usually divergence and some overlaps into other part descriptions in the writing, such as with mine for example, I could add ‘action’, ‘thriller’, ‘police detection/procedure’, ‘black ops’ and so on.

J : How do you deal with promotion?

SG : I fully believe that the writing is the comparatively simple part of what I call the ‘business’ of writing. Promotion and marketing is where the ‘slog’ comes in. And it’s so necessary. I saw a quote the other day that says ‘you don’t make money from writing—you make money from selling your writing’. I determined from the outset to get aboard properly on the correct usage of the so-called ‘social networks’… ‘social’ it isn’t… hard work it is… I’ve developed a presence on my chosen channels of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Stumbleupon, Google+, etc… but the most vital part of all is my blog, on which I try to post daily… every post is automatically linked to all of my social networks. The potential marketing/promotional ‘reach’ is staggering. For example, when I launched on Kindle my third title, SAVAGE PAYBACK, I asked a few hundred select followers to Re-Tweet the message. I tracked the potential ‘hits’ through the algorithmic ‘delta’ extent of their ReTweets, and after three days I stopped counting at 2,750,000. The strength of the Web is powerful.
I’ve published on Kindle how I deal with this stuff, with SELF-PUBLISHING STEPS TO SUCCESSFUL SALES.

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J : Self-pubbed writers are often criticised for clogging up the machinery with poor quality, poorly edited writing. How hard have you found it to be taken seriously as an indie writer?

SG : There’s no doubt that tons of, at best, ‘average’ offerings have come on stream. The eBooks phenomenon allows the dream to become real for many new wannabe Rowlings, Pattersons and Childs. The tenets of good ‘production’ includes excellent proof-reading, editing, cover art, and so on. The more successful writers will adhere to that, if not immediately, but eventually as they progress through the maze of self-publishing, improvement should develop. For my own work, I strive to sculpt my writing to the best of my ability, but only to the point where I am pleased with it myself, not overly concerned about how other people regard it. If we try to please all of the people all of the time, we know where that leads us. My sales figures tell me I’m on the right track.

Well, Amazon has one satisfied customer at least! Those are pretty impressive figures. Thanks so much for sitting in the Hot Seat today, Seumas, and presenting such an up-beat take on self-publishing.
All aficionados of thrillers can find Seumas’s books at the links below
http://bookShow.me/B00JBL6K80
http://www.amazon.com/seumas-gallacher/e/B005DVJY8U/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
http://www.amazon.co.uk/seumas-gallacher/e/B005DVJY8U

I thoroughly recommend The Violin Man’s Legacy to readers like me who have problems following the plots of standard thrillers. This one is much more character-driven and appeals to the softy just as much as the hard-boiled. You can read my review here.

Biography
SEUMAS GALLACHER escaped from the world of finance five years ago, after a career spanning three continents and five decades.

As the self-professed ‘oldest computer Jurassic on the planet’ his headlong immersion into the dizzy world of eBook publishing opened his eyes, mind, and pleasure to the joys of self-publishing. As a former businessman, he rapidly understood the concept of a writer’s need to ‘build the platform’, and from a standing start began to develop a social networking outreach, which now tops 15,000 direct contacts.

His first two crime-thrillers, THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY and VENGEANCE WEARS BLACK blew his mind with more than 75,000 e-link downloads to date. The third in what has become the ‘Jack Calder’ series, SAVAGE PAYBACK, was launched late 2013.

He started a humorous, informative, self-publishers blog less than two years ago, never having heard of a ‘blog’ prior to that, was voted ‘Blogger of the Year 2013’ and now has a loyal blog following on his networks. He says the novels contain his ‘Author’s Voice’, while the blog carries his ‘Author’s Brand’. And

Blog : seumasgallacher.com
Twitter : @seumasgallacher
Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/seumasgallacher
Email : seumasgallacher@yahoo.com

The author hot seat: That was nice. What was it?

My next guest author to share her experiences of writing outside the Amazon norms is Nikki McDonagh. In Nikki’s case it isn’t so much the genre, which is broadly dystopian speculative, but her style of writing that knocks the reader sideways.
I was attracted to her first book by the beautiful cover and was immediately drawn in by the narrative. There is something Dickensian in the speech of her characters, a quirky style that bears no resemblance to modern tv soap dialogue, but makes me at any rate think of nineteenth century boatmen and other London low life. There’s something sad and out of time in the words that sits very well with the underlying story of loss.

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J: Tell us what the story/your work is about, the setting, the background, and where it takes the reader.
N: The Song of Forgetfulness is an unsettling and mysterious vision of the future where animals are almost extinct, humans are subjugated by the sinister and secretive Agros, and gifted children know as Meeks, are going missing.

In the book I deal with issues that are of concern to us today. Such as overpopulation, rapid advances in technology and global warming. The book is set in Scotland because oceans have risen and that is all the land that is left in Great Britain. There are no animals because of viral infection, except for the elusive birdybirds and they never land. In ‘Echoes,’ I am trying to suggest that if mankind continues to abuse this beautiful planet, then a world like the one I have created might happen. But I am also trying to say that we are all connected somehow, and that we all have something special inside us, even if we aren’t sure what it is. That we are all capable of doing something amazing if put to the test.

Brief synopsis of both books: Set three hundred years in the future, it follows the journey of 17-year-old Adara from the comfort of her hygienehome through the ravaged territories of NotsoGreatBritAlbion, as she searches for her brother Deogol. One of many Meeks abducted by the all-controlling Agros. A misfit in her community, Adara is the only one who can sing to the birdybirds and make them land. In a time of hunger she must keep her talent a secret from those who would abuse her power.
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During her journey, Adara is kidnapped by lustful Woodsmales, befriends a Nearlyman, is attacked by ravenous wolfies, falls for a Clonie, and is helped by a S.A.N.T. Yet Amongst the outcasts and deviants she encounters, Adara finds unlikely friendships that help her come to terms with her ability and realise her true potential. Whilst hiding out in the Lady Camp, Adara is told she must go to the Clonie zone to find a Backpacker who will help her on her mission. Accompanied by a Nearlyman Wirt, Adara is joined by Eadgard a S.A.N.T. who takes her to the Monastery in the clouds where she discovers her true potential as a Bringer and powerful weapon.
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In the second book, A Silence Heard, Adara and her friends escape from the monastery in the clouds and with the help of a mysterious map, travel to Agro headquarters. The place where the little ‘uns are imprisoned and Agros carry out sinister experiments.
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Disguised as Ladies and their escorts, Adara, Kendra, Eadgard, Wirt and Marcellus, enter Agro headquarters ready to infiltrate their colony and free the Meeks. However, Agros are smart and Adara and her companions find themselves at the mercy of torturers and sleazy seducers. However, there is hope. The Meeks have a secret weapon and outside, folk are gathering. A legion of Woodsfolk, Clonies, S.A.N.T.S, Holy ones and Ladies, are on their way.

But time is running out. Adara’s struggle to save her kin becomes a desperate battle of life and death, as Agros send in their army of cloned killers to destroy the insurgents who are moving ever closer. Adara is forced to use her voice again and again, to try and stop the Agros from winning the war, but each time she does, a part of her dies.
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As filthy battles ensue and loved ones perish, Adara must sing The Song of Forgetfulness one last time if she is to save not only the Meeks, but all the folk of NotsoGreatBritAlbion, from a life of slavery and despair.
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J: What inspired the story in the first place?

N: The Song of Forgetfulness began as a challenge from students that attend a creative writing class I teach at my local High School. We discussed issues that they were concerned about such as global warming, cloning, and the rise in deadly diseases. They said that I should write a book for YA readers. Now, I had never thought of doing this, but when I started doing some research about the threat of future global famine and advancements in technology, I became hooked on the idea of incorporating what scientists are doing now, tweaking it a bit, and using it in my story. Adara, has a Synth bag that is both invisible and so light that she cannot feel it, despite it being full of stuff. Also, the students wanted me to incorporate characters doing things they don’t normally do in YA fiction. Things like going to the toilet and having a menstrual cycle. I asked them if they really wanted to see this in the books they read and they said, “Yes.” Then they said, “Are you going to write one?”
I said, “Okay.” And I did. In fact two, so far.

J: Did you try to get agents/publishers interested? What reactions did you get? Have they been helpful in promoting/marketing your work?

N: I did try to get an agent, but got the usual reply, “We like it, but we just don’t love it.” So I decided to get in touch with Indie publishers. The response was better, and several offered me a contract. Being new to this publishing lark, I went with the one I thought offered the better deal and would do some of the marketing. The reality of the matter is that the author does pretty much all of the promotion and marketing for their book. I am not good at it, but I am learning as I go. Selling books and getting an author profile takes time as does building a fan base and an audience. Most publishers traditional or otherwise do seem to leave the marketing to the authors. Which is why, I suppose, that so many writers are self- publishing. Why do all the work and only get 30% of the royalties?

J: Has it been a handicap not being able to stick a handy label onto your books?

N: I don’t really know? My YA books are described as dystopian and science fiction but they aren’t really just that. Putting a tag on any book will pigeon hole it into a genre or category. This will inevitably attract a certain audience. If the book disappoints that reader, then it could hinder its saleability. So far, I have had really great reviews, but this has not reflected in great sales. I suppose I just have to keep going and write more.

J: How do you tackle promotion?

N: With my hand over my face!
I promote on Facebook with an author/book page and advertise when I do giveaways and Amazon deals. But I have no control over a lot of promotion since it is up to my publishers how and when and if, they decide to make it free or do the Kindle countdown deal. So that can be a little frustrating. I twitter, I have a blog, I do author interviews, and very occasionally I have bought a cheap promo on a site. Sometimes that has generated a few sales. I have found that just telling people I know or meet, and doing a few readings in libraries, have been a good way of letting my target audience know about the book. My book is available in libraries and people are borrowing it to read, so that is really nice to hear and may lead to future sales. It is all about getting the word out to as many people as possible. Also, I work in a High School and am slowly building a fan base with some of the young people. Hopefully they will spread the word. I am planning on trying to get some radio spots. I have made some book trailers and hope they have helped to raise awareness. Building a fan base is a long process though and I keep slogging at it.

J: Are there any writers you feel you share some common ground with?

N: All Indie writers struggling to promote their books!
I would like to believe that I share the same kind of ethos that Ursula Le Guinn has in her books. The philosophical aspects she includes are similar to mine, in that she questions the role of mankind in the grand scheme of things in a lot of her sci-fi works. Also, Ray Bradbury in The Martian Chronicles. He deals with mankind’s arrogance and destructive ways with a sense of beauty and tragedy that is simply compelling. I hope that I have created my futuristic world that is somewhat similar to the way in which these two authors describe their alien environments; with strong imagery, pacey narrative, and interesting use of language.

J: Anything else, advice, experiences, anecdotes you’d like to add, feel free.

N: I would say to new authors, don’t rush to get published. It is so tempting to jump in when you get a positive response from an agent or publisher. I think I was flattered so much by what my publisher said that I was caught up in the euphoria that goes with the promise of being published by a publishing company.
Test your writing out on good writing sites to get a feel of what readers like. There is a really good one called youwriteon: http://www.youwriteon.com/ You submit some of your work, it is then randomly sent to readers who will review it and give feedback. You must do the same thing in return. I did this with Echoes since I wanted to test the waters about using such a slang-based language. Due to the mainly positive feedback I received I went ahead and sent my book off to agents and publishers. I also made sure that I had the manuscript looked at by a trusted professional writer and tutor who also proof read it for me.
After my experience with being published by a small Independent publisher, I decided to self-publish a collection of my short stories – Glimmer and other stories. I do the same amount of marketing and sell roughly the same amount of books that I do being signed with a publisher. I now question the role of many small presses, as it seems from my experience, that they do little to promote their authors. I’m sure there are some really good small independent publishers out there, but I would hesitate to send another manuscript to one unless I was convinced it would help to raise my profile and sales of my book.
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One of the nicest things I heard recently as regards to Echoes from the Lost Ones and my heroine, was a teenage girl saying that she wished she was Adara, and could do all the things she could do. I was so touched.
Oh, and keep writing! Really it is good advice. The more you write and experiment with genre and language, the more you learn. Edit your work after you have written it and don’t give it to friends and family to read if you want honest feedback.

Thank you so much Nikki for sharing your publishing experiences as well as giving us an overview of your writing. You are certainly not alone in wondering exactly what purpose some small presses serve. They have limited promotional clout and many of them don’t want to waste their time and money on it anyway. Romance seems to be the exception to the rule, but even with the best will in the world, we can’t all squeeze into that particular bracket.

If you would like to sample Nikki’s writing, Echoes from the Lost ones will be a free Amazon download from May 29th through to June 2nd.

To find out more about Nikki and her work—writing and photography—here are some links to follow.

Relevant links:

Book trailers:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoh9FB_bNO4rQdNvJ5AWA5Q/videos

The Song of Forgetfulness website: http://www.thesongofforgetfulness.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thesongofforgetfulness?ref=hl

Twitter: @McDonaghNikki

Website photography: http://www.tracerlight.co.uk

Blog: http://nicolajmcdonagh.wordpress.com

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17986040-echoes-from-the-lost-one

The Amazon links to her books are here:
http://www.amazon.com/Glimmer-Nicola-McDonagh-ebook/dp/B00H89AN1M/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1401198359&sr=1-3

http://www.amazon.com/Echoes-Lost-Ones-Song-Forgetfulness-ebook/dp/B00CXSZIGS/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1401198466&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Silence-Heard-Song-Forgetfulness-ebook/dp/B00JMPWRX2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1401198536&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nicola-J.-McDonagh/e/B00D4NAH0S

What’s your genre?

I was reading an article on a friend’s blog today about that much-discussed subject: genre. There was a time when the classification of book types was sort of instinctive. There were books for adults and books for children. Within the adult books there was literature, books for the ‘serious’ reader, with sober covers; and there were the books for people who read books in much the same way they eat a packet of crisps, for the simple, easy, accessible pleasure of it. Often they had easily recognisable covers: pink for romances, black for crime, and great big font for airport thrillers. You knew where you were.

Not so anymore. Now there is a plethora of genres, and subgenres, and each is supposed to have its own market. They are not watertight; there is some leakage on either side, but each category is supposed to have its own target group of readers, and to approach them accordingly.

It makes things easy for booksellers. The author/publisher specifies the genre and the bookseller sticks the book on the right shelf, or under the same electronic heading. It makes it easier for readers to go straight to their preferred fantasy genre without having to plough through the nineteenth century classics, the spy thrillers or the bodice-rippers. The fans of epic fantasy aren’t distracted by the steampunk, zombie, or dystopian selections, and the legal minors will be safely diverted to YA paranormal and away from the adult vampires. For people who like sorting things, I can see the attraction, but to get to this kind of precision implies authors producing books that fit into a very specific category and have a very specific age group in mind.

Something that Mary Meddlemore said in her blog post about stories being stories, not genres, made me think that this analysis hits the nail on the head. Despite what agents and publishers require, that the author have a very clear idea of who their book is intended for, and know exactly which category it fits into, they are still just stories. They are inspired by all sorts of things, and pour out as they think fit. A story doesn’t hesitate on the edges of the imagination, undecided about whether it’s suitable for the under sixteens, or whether there is enough retro stuff in it for it to be considered steampunk. It just comes out and gets written.

Any insistence on the genre, the age group, or the fantasy type; pinning down into a definite genre a thriller/horror/paranormal/mystery, is to enter into the realms of marketing, and not writing. I know, who doesn’t market doesn’t sell, but there must be a better way of ‘selling’ a story that by sticking a label on it. ‘Ballet Shoes’ has a precise target readership of young girls who aspire to be ballet dancers. But it is rarely so easy. Where would you stick “The Call of the Wild” for example? YA dogs?

© Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak
© Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak

Hope

Hanging onto that slender thread, pale gold and full of hope; that slips in and out of the light. It runs through forests of trees, over mountains, and across plains. It loops around the necks of running horses and threads through the hair of mane and tail. I hang onto the sun glimmer; yearn after the scatter of silver in the dark night.
So slender it twists through the water ropes of a stream and tangles damp and slippery among the kingcups. Shading my eyes against the brightness, I twist fingers round the lightest gossamer, fearful of it slipping, breaking, reeling away and out of sight, into the empty vastness of tomorrow.
Ariadne kept tight hold, and her thread, so firm and strong, bound her to a furious chimera, a wasted dream. I hold and hope, clutching tight, and peering into the veils of morning. Though the mist turns to rain and the thread leads into obscurity, that’s all there is, tenuous and fragile. Hope.

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Book review: Land of Midnight Days by Katrina Jack

Land of Midnight Days is a story without the usual fantasy tropes, and the familiar elements (elves, ogres) are altered in such a way as to appear completely original creations. The hero is a lonely, mute boy, whose sole possession and tenuous link with an unknown past is a silver flute. The setting is out of the ordinary too. There are no orderly Hobbit-type Shires, desolate howling deserts or leafy, elf-filled forests; this is a mucky, violent, industrial city.

These are perhaps the story’s greatest strengths. The city is a character in its own right, ever-present and menacing. The underbelly of our large cities with their gang violence and underground economies becomes in this story the reality for everyone. There seems to be no escape from the street gangs, the despair, and dirt for the apathetic population. Into this grim, monochrome setting is introduced Jeremiah Tully, an engaging, intelligent waif-like boy who, as a half-breed, is an object of revulsion even in this city where nobody seems to give a damn about anything. Katrina Jack doesn’t clutter the storyline with explanations about the history behind her world. She doesn’t need to; we can all understand prejudice, and know it doesn’t need a reason.

This was my favourite aspect of the book, the atmosphere of indifference and menace, in which Jeremiah’s blundering search to find out who he really is seems doomed to failure. Circumstances push Jeremiah out of his fragile nest and into the maw of the city, and as he searches for clues that might lead him to a link with his lost family, the reasons for his very existence start to appear. The clues lead to real people and the action takes off into surprising realms.

If I were to make a criticism of this magical story, it would be that the introduction of the other characters in the second half occasionally seems rushed. Zebediah takes form gradually (and very surprisingly!), but the others appear already made; credible and original, but for that very reason I would have liked a bit more background about them. The action moves into a higher gear, and the intimacy of Jeremiah’s perspective has to take a back seat. But this is YA, there is a limit to the amount of introspection a younger readership will tolerate, and the action is very well done, ending with a fabulous, demonic tableau.

Land of Midnight Days is the kind of story that stays with you, and I am looking forward to reading the next instalment. From what we know of Katrina Jack’s world, we can be certain it isn’t going to be all beer and skittles.

See Katrina’s blog for details of where you can buy this wonderful book

Copy of midnightdayscover

Book review: Wildewood Revenge by B.A. Morton

Wildewood RevengeWildewood Revenge by B.A. Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book I highly recommend for lovers of historical romance who like their romance to fit into a story of adventure, action, mystery and…time travel.

This was a good read, more in the style of historical romance than fantasy adventure, which is what I imagined it would be. I mistakenly thought Grace was a teenager to begin with, and found her relationship with Miles a little bit disturbing until I realised she was in fact much older. Once that point was cleared up I found Grace a great character, strong, but not brainlessly spunky. She is consistent in the way she behaves and sticks to her guns throughout.
Miles is a perfect mate, good to look at and with an air of mystery about him that keeps him from being a cardboard cut out knight in shining armour. The descriptions of the wintry forest are very convincing, and I had no difficulty visualising the scenes. The action is circumscribed and the cast of characters is limited so the reader’s attention is concentrated on a small area, more like a theatre production than a film. Put me in mind of Robert Bolt’s The Lion in Winter.
The period details are well researched creating a convincing slice of life in Norman England. The language is well chosen and the dialogues are convincing, even though the one flaw for me in this piece of writing was the language. It was always going to be a problem, the moment you have a woman from the 21st century landing in 13th century England—Miles and Grace wouldn’t have been able to understand one another. Miles would have spoken Norman French, quite different from modern French, and Edmund and the English characters would have spoken Early Middle English.
That said, language is a hobbyhorse of mine, so my problem, and who wants to read a story written in Middle English anyway? I probably wouldn’t have even thought of it if Grace hadn’t drawn attention to the fact in her first efforts at conversation with Miles and Edmund.
The story ends in a cliff hanger, it’s true, but I didn’t find that a let-down. It’s obvious there’s a sequel, and the final chapters of the story create quite enough drama and leave quite enough loose ends to make the reader immediately start searching the Internet for the next installment.

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Is fiction ‘real’?

Commenting recently on the growing number of chick-lit vampire novels I’m finding lying around the house, I asked their owners why they never read any other fantasy novels. Their reply was, “Because fantasy’s not real”.

There followed a discussion about what exactly does ‘real’ mean in terms of fiction. Isn’t it all ‘unreal’? My two vampire fans who don’t like fantasy or ‘imaginary’ stories as they put it, argue that there is a difference between stories that involve magic and imaginary worlds, and ‘Twilight’ type stories that are real and believable. To be honest, the nuance escapes me. I think what they mean is that some stories create a familiar ‘real’ landscape by using characters like the gorgeous and mysterious new boy, the popular rich girl, and a school setting. Add a bunch of card-carrying vampires and you are just adding a bit of spice to the familiar ‘real’ brew.

I enjoy the other kind of fantasy, the kind some of my children dismiss as ‘unreal’. I read to escape to a world I am not familiar with, not to be beaten over the head by misery, misfortune, and unhappiness. Even less do I want to read everyday stories of everyday folk, heart-warming, tender, and humorous. I’m in the middle of living one of those and have no desire to write or read about it. I like my reading to take me somewhere new and surprising. It could take me to Northanger Abbey or Middle-earth, anywhere as long as there aren’t cars and bus stops and all night supermarkets. I don’t mind that the writer’s fantasy world has different rules to ours, that our rules of physics don’t apply, and there isn’t a High School in sight.

Like probably all writers, I write the kind of thing I like to read. It doesn’t even spoil it to know how the story ends, because often I’m wrong. One of the great things about writing fantasy is that sometimes the story runs off on a track of its own, and takes the writer into undiscovered areas of her imagination. In other words, the car turns into a horse; the horse sprouts wings and flies through the invisible boundary of a parallel universe, where a malevolent forest is gradually…

Ford Mondeo with fantasy attachments
Ford Mondeo with fantasy attachments