Mastodon The Writing Desk: June 2017

30 June 2017

Guest Post by Ruadh Butler, Author of Lord of the Sea Castle (The Invader Series, Book 2)

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1170 is a tumultuous time for the people of Wales, England and Ireland. Raymond de Carew is in love, but the woman he desires is an earl's daughter and so far above his station that he has no hope of ever winning her. However, Raymond s lord has a mission for him: one that if it succeeds will put an Irish king back on his throne and prove Raymond worthy for in Norman society, a man can rise as high as his skill with a sword can take him. With only a hundred men at his side, Raymond must cross the ocean to Ireland ahead of his mercenary lord's invasion. There he will face the full might of the Viking city of Waterford... and either his deeds will become legend or he will be trampled into dust.

It was a wet March morning when the terrible truth was discovered. As a tiny spectacled and freckled red-head with a mouthful of braces and only one full year of secondary school under my belt, few could have realised the monster that lay within that diminutive frame.

Our first class of the day was history, always my favourite of mine, and as usual it was noisy as the children filed into their seats to begin the lesson. News that our teacher, Miss Somerville, was off sick soon began to circulate, causing the braver lads to begin a small cheer and ever more rambunctious play.

That ended abruptly as Dr Marsh strode into the room, halting just inside the door to cast an imperious stare over everyone in the class.

“Good morning, 2H1.”

Three paces took him to the blackboard and he carves the words, big and brash, up there in chalk: THE NORMANS.

Without elaborating, he swept up the class roll from the desk and runs his finger down the names.
“Wilson, Thornton, Black, Suitor, Smyth, Jeffers, Purvis, Cuddy, Simpson,” he murmured as he searched through the list, disappointed it seemed with what was contained therein. Then suddenly his eyes lit up. “Ah-ha!” he cackled. The folder snapped shut in his hand.

“Butler! Where is Mr Butler?”

Blood poured to my ears, away from my chest, as my hand gingerly rose in the air. Dr Marsh beckoned that I should join him at the front of the class. His face gave away nothing to indicate what might follow.

I was turned by my shoulders to face my classmates. They seemed as shocked as I that one of their number – particularly the smallest and most bookish amongst them – had been pulled from the safety of the flock to be exhibited before them. Each wondered what was to befall me.

“This,” Dr Marsh announced, his hand landing onto my head, “is one of the most dangerous people ever to arrive in Ireland. This is one of the Normans. Beware.”

I like to think that there was a sharp intake of breath, a strained silence, and, as I wandered back to my desk, that my classmates inclined away from my path. What did happen was, as everyone else listened in to Dr Marsh continue talk about crop rotation, the manorial system, and the Doomsday Book, my mind drifted elsewhere.

I was thirteen. I had just learned that I bore the name of conquerors. I couldn’t have been more delighted.

Fast-forward fourteen years and I came across a number of journals about the Butler family while I was staying with my father’s cousin in London. Remembering back to that moment in school, I began reading. I was hooked. I had to know more and began investigating the deeds of their great rivals, the FitzGeralds. I had stumbled across an untapped treasure trove of stories; of battles beyond the frontier, of adventure and grand romance, of political scheming at a time of great change. They were my ancestors’ deeds. I was fascinated. I knew had had to write about them.

My first attempt was Spearpoint. Told from the perspective of an exiled Irish king, I didn’t think it quite worked. So I began again, this time from the angle of one of the real-life mercenaries from Pembrokeshire who he had employed to help him reclaim his kingdom. With a bit of patience a book called Spearpoint was transformed into one called The Outpost with the Welsh-Norman knight Robert FitzStephen as the main character for the first time. 

Further work and fine-tuning – for one hour during lunch break at work as well as a good few weekends and late nights – saw The Outpost become Vanguard. It was only when I was confident that the book was ready that I sent it to my father’s old sailing pal, Wallace Clark, a respected (and much missed) travel writer, for his thoughts. He loved it, but suggested a name change. Thus, Swordland was sent out for the consideration of literary agents. It found a home with Accent Press and was published in paperback in April 2016. The second in the series, Lord of the Sea Castle, was released in June 2017 and I am writing the third right now.

Am I doing homage or attempting to keep these people alive beyond their lifespan is through storytelling? I’m not a religious person, but I suspect my writing is a form of ancestor worship. My characters are all based on real people and real events, and by telling their story with as much authenticity and passion as I can muster, I hope that they will be in a sense resurrected and that I can help my readers have a glimpse of a different world. And, of course, I too am a Norman. Beware!

Ruadh Butler
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About the Author

Born in Derry and brought up in Tyrone, Ruadh Butler studied Biomedical Sciences and has worked in newsrooms, bars, and laboratories, as a security guard, musician, and a lifeguard. A keen reader of historical fiction from his youth, he decided to try and emulate his heroes - Conn Iggulden, Bernard Cornwell, and Robert Louis Stevenson - and write an adventure during lunch time at work. A year later he had completed the first draft of his debut novel, Swordland, which charts the remarkable career of Robert FitzStephen, a Norman-Welsh warrior who became the first invader of Ireland in 1169. His second novel, Lord of the Sea Castle, was published by Accent Press in June 2017. It tells the story of Raymond the Fat and the Siege of Baginbun, Ireland’s version of Hastings, in the summer of 1170 when a hundred Normans faced a Viking horde twenty times their number on the south Wexford coast. Find him nattering about all things Ireland, Norman, historical, and rugby on his author page on Facebook, on Twitter at @ruadhbutler, or at his website,

29 June 2017

Guest Post by Stephanie Churchill, Author of The Scribe's Daughter

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Kassia is a thief and a soon-to-be oath breaker. Armed with only a reckless wit and sheer bravado, seventeen-year-old Kassia barely scrapes out a life with her older sister in a back-alley of the market district of the Imperial city of Corium. When a stranger shows up at her market stall, offering her work for which she is utterly unqualified, Kassia cautiously takes him on. Very soon however, she finds herself embroiled in a mystery involving a usurped foreign throne
and a vengeful nobleman.

When Fantasy Could Be Historical Fiction but Isn’t

Genre is a funny thing.  While the lines delineating genre have probably been around for as long as books have existed, it is really in the most recent generations that the explosion of the subgenre has occurred.  Books used to just be books.  Now a reader walking into the nearest bookstore can order a book like one would order off the Starbucks menu: ‘I’d like a fiction, mystery, half-romance / half-paranormal, with a shot of psychological thriller, please!  Oh, and I’d like it to go.’

When I was a child I was drawn to fairy tales and mythic history, to stories that lived somewhere in that realm where truth and legend collide, where the real things are tinged with the fantastical.  One of the earliest books to capture my imagination was In the Hall of the Dragon King, by Stephen Lawhead, followed a close second by his Song of Albion trilogy.

The Song of Albion trilogy is considered mythic fantasy.  Set in a real, concrete world, it focuses on the Celtic legend of Llew Silver Hand.  Like other legends of old, mythic fantasy is based on heroes of tradition.

Was Llew Silver Hand real?  How about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table?  Beowulf?  Likely all of these men were real.  Their immortalization came from the performance of a heroic feat or from the completion of a task of such great immediate importance that the peers of these men perceived what they had done as something superhuman, even mystical.  

So overwhelmed by the amazing exploit, tales were told, quickly taking on a sort of sentient life.  Songs were sung around home fires and were thusly handed down and passed around from people group to people group throughout the ages.  As with all good oral cultures, the story grew in the telling, evolving with each repetition, over and over throughout the centuries.  It’s in this crossing of real and history, in the ever-growing mythos, that we have the beginnings of fantasy.

Mention the fantasy genre to most people, and immediately the mind will directly conjure images of wizards, witches, unicorns, dragons and magic in fairytale-like worlds where the impossible is possible, and a wand-wielding protagonist saves the day.  Harry Potter, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, The Game of Thrones -- these are undoubtedly fantasy.  The worlds are imaginary, the people fictitious, there is magic and fantastical beasts, but the feel of the books echo the historical.

And yet what if fantasy lacks the magical or even the fantastical?  This is the place I found myself when I wrote The Scribe’s Daughter.  My first love is history and historical fiction, but I knew when I set off to write a book that I would not write historical fiction.  Instead, I used a sort of cultural familiarity, the world of historical fiction, as the foundation for my own world building.  The world I created in Mercoria has no fantastical aspects.  It is fantasy only in that the world came from my imagination.  It is like historical fiction in that it echoes historical realities.  My world reflects real, historical people, places, and cultures even though they never existed.  As award-winning historical fiction author Elizabeth Chadwick said of The Scribe’s Daughter, “It felt historical without containing any actual history.”

To me, this is the best of both worlds.  My version of fantasy has the heart of historical fiction without requiring the constant devotion to exacting research.  And since my characters are fictitious, their timelines were mine to control.  They can continue to pretend to be real even if I’ve never had the heart to tell them they are imaginary!  But unlike fantasy, I didn’t have to remain true to any rules governing the use of magic since there is none.

If you enjoy historical novels but don’t necessarily need the history, I invite you to try out the world I have created in my novels The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter, fantasy that reads like historical fiction.

Stephanie Churchill

Now Available for Pre-Order from Amazon US and Amazon UK:

About the Author

Stephanie Churchill grew up in the American Midwest, and after school moved to Washington, D.C. to work as a paralegal, moving to the Minneapolis metro area when she married.  She says, 'One day while on my lunch break from work, I visited a nearby bookstore and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman.  I’d never heard of her before, but the book looked interesting, so I bought it.  Immediately I become a rabid fan of her work. I discovered that Ms. Penman had fan club and that she happened to interact there frequently.  As a result of a casual comment she made about how writers generally don’t get detailed feedback from readers, I wrote her an embarrassingly long review of her latest book, Lionheart.  As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?”  And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.' 

Find out more at Stephanie's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @WriterChurchill.

27 June 2017

How To Market A Book: Third Edition, by Joanna Penn

Pre-Order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Do you want to sell more books and reach more readers?

Do you want to discover how to build an author career for the long-term as well as spike your book sales right now?

If you don’t know much about marketing, don’t worry. We all start with nothing.
I’m Joanna Penn and back in 2008, I had no book sales, no audience, no website, no social media, no podcast, no email list. No nothing.
Now I’m a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers and non-fiction. My books have sold over 500,000 copies in 83 countries, and I’m an award-winning creative entrepreneur and international speaker, making a multi-six-figure income with my writing.
Learning how to market my books and my personal brand changed my life. Yes, you need to write an awesome book, but you also need to know how to get it in front of the right readers.
How to Market a Book is for authors who want to sell more books, but it's also for those writers who want to think like an entrepreneur and build a long-term income. It's for traditionally published authors who want to take control of their future, and for self-published authors who want to jump-start a career.
There are short-term tactics for those who want to boost immediate sales, but the focus of the book is more about instilling values and marketing principles that will help your long-term career as a writer.
It's also about going beyond just the book, because these methods can take you from being an author into making money from other products, professional speaking, and creating opportunities that you can't even imagine yet.
In this completely updated Third Edition, you’ll discover:

˃˃˃ Part 1: Marketing Principles

Book marketing myths, how discoverability works, and the polarities of marketing that will determine what you choose to implement

˃˃˃ Part 2: Your Book Fundamentals

Prerequisites for success, how to optimise your book for online sales, categories and keywords, exclusivity, pricing and use of free, box-sets and bundling, and writing series

˃˃˃ Part 3: No Platform Needed. Short-term Marketing

How to get customer reviews and find book bloggers, paid advertising with email blasts, paid advertising with Facebook, Amazon Ads and ad stacking, algorithm hacking, big data, and production speed

˃˃˃ Part 4: Your Author Platform. Long-term Marketing

Building an author brand, author website, list-building and email marketing, content marketing, blogging, audio and podcasting, video and book trailers, social networking, professional speaking, marketing audiobooks, PR and publicity, TV, radio and traditional media

˃˃˃ Part 5: Launching Your Book

Why launching is different for indie authors, soft launch, launch spikes, post launch, how to relaunch backlist books. Includes an example book marketing strategy and launch plan checklist.

˃˃˃ Part 6: How to put it all into action

When to start marketing and how to balance your time, how to market fiction and non-fiction, questions to ask yourself if your book isn’t selling, plus mindset aspects of book marketing.

Joanna Penn
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About the Author

Joanna Penn is an author, international speaker and entrepreneur based in Bath, England. She was voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. Joanna's site, helps authors with writing and creative entrepreneurship. She has a popular podcast on iTunes and a YouTube Channel and is also a New York Times and USA Today bestselling fiction author as J.F.Penn. Her books include the ARKANE conspiracy thriller series, the London Psychic crime thrillers and Risen Gods, a dark fantasy thriller. Find Joanna on Facebook and Twitter @thecreativepenn.

26 June 2017

Book Launch: Love's Sunrise ~ An American Historical Romance (Wilderness Hearts Historical Romances Book 2) by Dorothy Wiley

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Gabe McGrath has secured the title to his land among the blue-green pastures and rolling hills of 1806 frontier Kentucky. During a violent storm—the second worst night of his life—Gabe seeks shelter at the home of a nearby cattleman and meets the man’s stunning, strong-willed daughter, Martha Wyllie.

Burdens of grief and a desire for justice stand in the way of Gabe’s happiness. And Martha holds a sacred, secret promise deep in her heart that makes her deny her attraction to the handsome neighbor. While Gabe heroically confronts both the haunting tragedies of the past and the ruthless and wide-ranging violence of a brutal gang, Martha must make a heartrending choice between keeping her word and following her heart.

LOVE’S SUNRISE is a riveting historical romance teeming with action and brimming with emotional realism. Dorothy Wiley, an Amazon bestselling and award-winning author, has artfully written a memorable story that will touch your heart.

"A beautifully written romance that was historically accurate. The author's use of figurative language was perfectly balanced and her use of imagery allowed me to create a vivid picture in my head that followed the story line." - Sefina Hawke for Readers' Favorite - Five-Star Review

"Tears, anger, laughter, and fear are some of the emotions that I felt while reading Love's Sunrise.  Reuniting with the Wyllie family and their offspring along with meeting newcomer Gabe McGrath was heartwarming and I felt I was home once again in the wilderness of Kentucky." - JoAnne Weiss, Review for

"An absolute winner of a read! You will find yourself...cheering for joy with a happy sigh of relief when the story ends in a happily ever after in wonderful  in true Wiley style." - Award-winning author Deborah Gafford

"LOVE'S SUNRISE is a wonderful and emotional journey. Highly recommend." - Librarian Tabatha Pope

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About the Author

Amazon bestselling novelist Dorothy Wiley is the award-winning author of two series, the highly-acclaimed American Wilderness Series and Wilderness Hearts Series. Wiley blends thrilling action-packed adventures with the romance of a moving love story to create exceedingly engaging page-turners. As she skillfully unravels a compelling tale, Wiley's books include rich historical elements to create a vivid colonial setting. Her novels are enjoyed worldwide by readers of American historical romance and westerns. Dorothy attended The University of Texas and graduated with honors, receiving a bachelor of journalism. Her husband's courageous ancestors provided the inspiration for her novels. After a distinguished career in corporate marketing and public relations, Wiley is living her dream--writing novels that touch the hearts of readers. For further information, please visit her website and find her on Twitter @WileyDorothy

24 June 2017

Special Guest Post: Writing a Series, by Summer Lane, Author of State of Hope

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK
The highly anticipated final instalment of the Collapse Series 

Cassidy Hart and her comrades have returned to their home: California, the final battlefield in the fight against the global terror, Omega. Commander Chris Young is in critical condition, the United States Navy has acquired new weapons, and the militias have just made a discovery that could change everything. 

It has taken me five years to create and conclude the Collapse Series. For five years and 17 books, I have been consumed with post-apocalyptic landscapes and stories. For five years, I have researched and worked and written and created and edited. And for five years, I have been enormously blessed in the encouraging response from the reading community. I have so many new readers every day, and for some reason or another, people seem to enjoy the storylines of the Collapse universe.

Writing a series is a lot different than writing a standalone novel. With a series, there is a lot of pressure to produce each instalment in a timely manner, because throngs of dedicated readers are anxiously awaiting to see what happens in the next book. The Collapse Series itself consists of ten books. I have released two books a year, traditionally, in this series, which gives me just six months to write, edit and publish each installment. It’s quite a schedule, and it doesn’t count the other novels I have published during this time. I typically release between 4-6 publications annually, which means I’m writing and working all the time. I’m convinced that the only thing that keeps my brain from turning into scrambled eggs is the fact that I don’t work on Saturdays or Sundays.

People constantly ask me what a typical day is like for me. I always answer, “Just like any other work day. Nothing terribly special, just a lot of writing.” My work day begins between 7-7:30 a.m. every morning, Mondays through Fridays. I drink anywhere from 4-6 cups of coffee to keep me awake. When I’m between releases, I spend the first half of my day working on a manuscript. I like to write at least 2,000 words per day in any manuscript I’m working on. If, for example, I am working on three manuscripts at once, I must produce a total of 6,000 words per day. At the moment I am working on four different projects, so my word count is more than it usually is.

After I am done writing, I typically move on to correspondence and event coordination. I work on marketing, I work on editing the upcoming release. I have editors, artists and illustrators. I am always collaborating with someone. If I play my cards right, and everything goes according to plan, I have already completed a full workday before 4 p.m.

The cool thing about what I do is that I never waste time. I’m never twiddling my thumbs, waiting to find something to do. There is always something to do. To put this in perspective, I have always surmised that I can get 10 hours-worth of work done in 4-5 hours, because I am working quickly and efficiently. Even if my workday turns out shorter than an average 9-5, it doesn’t matter. I’m not being paid by the hour – I’m being paid by the book, and it comes out the same. It’s up to me to make everything move, sell and produce. It’s up to me to make my books and my business breathe every day. It’s a lot of responsibility! Ask anyone who has ever owned their own business, and they will wholeheartedly agree.

Writing a series, however, was not something I expected to get caught up in so early in life. I didn’t think I would have a following until I was in my thirties, maybe. I was wrong! The madness of catching deadlines every day, every week, and every month has taught me the value of being professional and dependable. Writing a series has made me work faster. It’s helped me to learn how to structure and organize my novels better. It’s helped me to refine my business to a point where it is so cost-effective and efficient that it runs like a well-oiled machine.

Want to learn how to sell a book and run a publishing company? Write a series and promise your readers a release every six months. Ready? Go! I promise you: you will learn more in one year than you would by obtaining a master’s degree in marketing at any ivy-league college. In the world of writing, experience is the ultimate education. It’s something you simply have to tough out, because publishing is constantly evolving and changing. You can’t track it, you have to roll with it, breathe with it, grow with it.

Collapse has been good to be. It has given me so much experience and it’s been a blast creating the stories. I’ve met so many wonderful people because of it, and as I enter this new phase of authorship – traveling, holding book signings and meet and greets –I go into it with the feeling of accomplishment and happiness. I’m proud of what I’ve done with Collapse, but mostly: I am thankful for where it has brought me. I have the best readers in the world, and as a writer, I could never ask for more than that.

Summer Lane
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About the Author

Summer Lane is the #1 Bestselling Author of the COLLAPSE SERIES and the bestselling ZERO TRILOGY, a novella adventure series. Summer owns Writing Belle Publishing, a digital publishing company devoted to releasing exciting and engaging adventure and survival stories. Summer is also the creator of the online magazine Writing Belle, in addition to being an accomplished creative writing teacher and extensively experienced journalist. She is an entrepreneur at heart, and proud of it! Summer lives in the Central Valley of California with her husband, Scott, and their German Shepherd companion dog, Kona. Summer loves to travel, read and cook. Find out more at and find Summer on Facebook and Twitter @SummerEllenLane

22 June 2017

Special Guest Post by Jane Johnson, Author of Court of Lions

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Kate Fordham arrived in the sunlit city of Granada a year ago. In the shadow of the Alhambra, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, she works as a waitress serving tourists in a busy bar. She pretends she's happy with her new life – but how could she be? Kate's alone, afraid and hiding under a false name. And fate is about to bring her face-to-face with he greatest fear.


I first visited the Moorish palace-complex in Granada known as the Alhambra over twenty years ago and like everyone who walks beneath its graceful arches and gazes upon its serene pools and lacy, geometric stonework, fell under its spell. I never planned to write about it: I was just a tourist.

That was long before the Moors captured me, dragging me out of my comfortable London life to take up a new life in a remote mountain village in Morocco, much as they had my ancestor, Catherine Tregenna. It was in 2005 I first travelled to Morocco to conduct research for a novel about the Barbary corsairs and their depredations upon the Cornish coast in the 17th century. The research took place on the north coast, near Rabat: but somehow I ended up climbing the Lion’s Face on the Djebel Kest some 600 miles south and west, enduring an epic near-death experience on the mountain, and marrying a Berber tribesman. As you do.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with that here (you can read about all that on my website ) but suffice to say my new life in North Africa made me intensely curious about Moorish history and I set about reading voraciously. Three big Moroccan novels followed (The Tenth Gift, The Salt Road and The Sultan's Wife) before I decided to tackle the really big subject in Moroccan history: the fall of the kingdom of Granada, the last foothold of Islam on the Iberian peninsula in 1492, that great hinge-point in history, when Isabella and Ferdinand drove the Muslims out of Spain; when Columbus – flush with the spoils of the conquest – was dispatched on his epic voyage; and the Inquisition took root.

Tackling any big historical subject as a novelist always feels like climbing a mountain, especially since I start from a point of almost complete ignorance. You get to that point in the research when the amount and complexity of the information you’ve amassed threatens to crush you and you doubt whether you can find your way out from underneath. And that’s when I took a phone call that would change the shape of the book entirely. It was 2013 and the producer who was interested in making a film of The Sultan's Wife told me about a discovery by restorers in the Alhambra. While moving one of the great doors they had come upon a scrap of paper that had been hidden deep in the intricate latticework of the wood. It appeared to be an ancient love letter: but the provenance of the note and the identity of the scribe remain a mystery.

The movie deal sadly stalled but the story was a gift, and I remembered Lorca’s quote – “In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead in any other country in the world”. And that got me thinking about how the past and present arc towards one another, and how love is an eternal force. And Court Court of Lions turned into quite a different book to the one I had originally envisaged, more than a straightforward retelling of history it became a thriller, a mystery, a romance in the grand tradition; and that was it: I was off up the mountain, soloing joyfully, leaping for crazy handholds and unlikely pinnacles.

I hope the enjoyment I had in writing it shines through and that readers will feel some of the mad energy that galvanised me as I sat on a balcony looking out over the Alhambra, with the scent of roses and jasmine in the air, sustained only by a massive pile of cherries bought in the market in the Albaicin, a jug of tinto de verano and a loaf of fresh bread, scribbling like a madwoman till I had wrestled the task into submission.

Jane Johnson
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About the Author

Jane Johnson is a British novelist, historian and publisher from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for thirty years. She blogs regularly about writing, publishing and cooking Moroccan food (her husband is a Moroccan chef). In 2005 Jane was in Morocco researching the story of a family member abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa which formed the basis for The Tenth Gift, when a near-fatal climbing incident (which makes an appearance in The Salt Road) made her rethink her future. Jane says, 'i gave up my  office job in London, sold my flat and shipped the contents to Morocco. In October of that year I married Abdellatif, my own 'Berber pirate', and now we split our time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. I still work, remotely, as Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins and am the editor for (among others) George RR Martin, Sam Bourne, Dean Koontz, Robin Hobb, Mark Lawrence, Sam Bourne (aka Jonathan Freedland), SK Tremayne (aka Sean Thomas) and Raymond Feist.'  Jane was responsible for publishing the works of JRR Tolkien during the 1980s and 1990s and worked on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, spending many months in New Zealand with cast and crew. She has also written several books for children. Find out more at Jane's website and follow her on Twitter @JaneJohnsonBakr. 

Guest Post by Marian Veevers, Author of Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth were born just four years apart, in the 1770s, in a world torn between heady revolutionary ideas and fierce conservatism, and both were influenced by the Romantic ideals of Dorothy’s brother, William Wordsworth, and his friends. 

Until now I have always been a fiction writer and my first non-fiction book, Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility, which traces the lives of Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth, has taken me on an interesting journey of discovery.

Hilary Mantel has recently accused some women writers of historical fiction of 'falsely empowering' female characters, endowing their subjects with anachronistic ideas and behaviours. As a writer of historical fiction, I am keenly aware of the difficulty of balancing historical accuracy with editors' insistence on 'strong' 'sympathetic' central characters. Female protagonists are expected to be, in some sense, 'empowered'; a hapless victim makes for a dull story. And they should be appealing too. One American editor objected that a heroine of mine was just not likeable enough; the character in question was Lady Macbeth and I felt I had done everything I could to make her sympathetic, considering the constraints of history!

But as I turned from fiction to fact and traced the Austen and Wordsworth stories, I began to wonder whether the difficulty might lie in how we define 'strong' and 'empowered'.

Jane and Dorothy were born just four years apart, neither ever married and both faced a world in which it was almost impossible for genteel women to live independently; a world which expected women to marry; a world which ridiculed the 'old maid'. Neither of them made a fortune as a businesswoman or enjoyed a gloriously uninhibited love-life – as they might have done had they inhabited the kind of fictional world of which Hilary Mantel disapproves. But there was rebellion and subversion. Neither life was a passive acceptance of injustice.

Theirs were small but significant acts of independence which deserve recognition. Whether it is Dorothy's 'unladylike' striding across mountains, or Jane's quiet writing on subjects of which her family must have disapproved; whether it is Dorothy's running away to live with a slightly disreputable but dearly loved brother, or Jane's integrity in refusing to commit her life and body to an advantageous but loveless marriage, we should not underestimate the courage which lay behind these actions.

But sometimes Jane and Dorothy's decisions brought pain and heartbreak. Jane's empty life as a spinster in Bath affected her mental health. Comparing her letters and the recollections of her relatives with modern medical analysis of depressive illnesses suggests just how much it cost such a brilliant woman to live the dull life of 'moral rectitude' and 'correct taste' which her nephew would celebrate in his memoir. And Dorothy's relationship with her brother was a troubled one. The talk of incest which began in her own lifetime resurfaced in the mid twentieth century much to the discomfort of some scholars who chose to take refuge in Thomas De Quincey's derogatory dismissal of Dorothy as 'unsexual'. But there is no evidence to support this denial of Dorothy's sexuality and when I set recent research into the sexual attraction of siblings alongside certain known facts about William Wordsworth, I found a heart-breaking narrative. 

Jane and Dorothy were born into similar circumstances, but their decisions took them along diverging paths. For both there was a degree of fulfilment, for both there was a measure of pain.

Marian Veevers

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About the Author

Marian Veevers lives in a small village in the English Lake District and when not writing is a guide for the Wordsworth Trust at William and Dorothy Wordsworth's home, Dove Cottage in Grasmere.  She also writes under the pen name of  Anna Dean and her Dido Kent series of murder mysteries are published by Allison and Busby in the UK and MacMillan in the US. Marian says, 'I am a thorough-going Jane Austen enthusiast; though I find some of the film and television adaptations a little too sugary. Jane Austen was an intelligent and perceptive woman and I believe there is a complexity and, occasionally, a hard edge to her work which is sometimes lost in translation to the screen.' Find out more at 
Marian's  website and find her on Twitter @MarianVeevers.

21 June 2017

Tracking Your Writing Using Excel #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

All writers have different approaches to outlining and tracking progress on their books, ranging from not at all, to an obsessive preoccupation with word count. After years of trial and error, I've settled on a simple system using Microsoft Excel which works well for me.

A typical novel can be somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 words - although there will always be writers who insist on at least 300,000 and others who like to push word count to extremes (in both directions).

You need to leave scope for cuts in the editing process, so I like to aim for 25 chapters of 4000 words each to arrive at somewhere close to 100,000 in the unedited manuscript. The screenshot above is an actual example from my novel 'Owen' (which ended up as 91,238 words). It's important to remember the word count for a chapter is only a useful guide, although some readers like the reassurance of fairly regular chapter lengths.

Of course you could do all this on scraps of paper or in a lined notebook. The reason is works so well for me is all my writing is done on my laptop, so Excel is only one click away - and it's all backed up to the cloud and available wherever I happen to be.

Using Excel for Outlining

Once you have the basic structure of your book set up in Excel, it's easy to add notes in the next columns to the right of each chapter. As a historical fiction author I like t have a column showing which year most of the chapter is set in, as well as key events. This can then be added to and developed as your writing and research progresses.

Adding Character notes 

I find it useful to add a separate tab at the bottom of the worksheet where the ages for all my characters are calculated for any particular year. You could have tabs for notes on each of your characters or locations.

Planning your launch publicity

I like to create another tab to keep track of guest posts, reviews, book signings etc. with dates, emails and hyperlinks. This has proved invaluable as it's so easy to forget who agreed what and when. The tracking from previous books also offers a great starting point for the next, as you can add notes about what worked best.

Tony Riches @tonyriches

Do you have some great writing tips you would like to share?
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The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.

20 June 2017

From Passion-draft to Product: What Developmental Editing Can Do For Your Book ~ Guest Post by Editor Nikki Brice

Congratulations! You’ve spent months, years even, pouring your creativity and talent into the first draft of your novel, what I like to call the passion-draft. Then, like any serious artist, you’ve honed and refined your work, with a view towards turning it into a readable product. You can’t do any more with it. What’s the next step? You’ve heard of some shadowy thing called ‘developmental editing’, but you can’t just quite pin down what that means, let alone whether it might help you. Well, allow me to shed some light on the situation…

What is developmental editing?

You’ve probably heard the term developmental editing, but what does it actually mean? Well, that’s a tricky one. The answer is: it means different things to different people. Why? Because editors and authors use different terminology for this level of editing, particularly in relation to how it’s delivered. But the bottom line is this – it’s the big-picture stuff. Forget grammar, punctuation, formatting dialogue and looking at word usage; polishing the prose is a useless exercise if there’s redrafting to do. Think of it this way: you don’t get a top-notch valet on your car if the mechanic warns you there’s something going seriously awry under the bonnet.

So what does developmental editing cover?

This list will give you a flavour of what a developmental editor can help you with, although it is by no means exhaustive because each manuscript is unique.

  • The opening of your story – does any prologue work? Will the reader keep turning the pages?
  • Characterisation – are your characters believable and do they have depth?
  • Pace – does your story drag where it shouldn’t and whizz where it should savour?
  • Plot – is it engaging and plausible? Do subplots work?
  • Dialogue – is there too much, too little, is it varied, does it flow? Does your tagging work?
  • Point of view – are you using point of view consistently and in a way that complements your story?
  • Structure – does it work for your story? Does it suit your genre?
  • Final chapters – does your ending work? Will your reader sigh with satisfaction?
These are seriously fundamental issues, ones that absolutely must be right or your book won’t cut the mustard with agents, publishers or readers.

Surely I can skip the developmental stage of editing?

Many authors do skip this stage. Experienced authors probably can. But for other writers it should be viewed as an investment in their work, a mark of a professional attitude towards their writing. If there’s a problem lurking in your manuscript, you need to know about it. If your story lacks pace, uses muddled points of view or has one-dimensional characters you really don’t want to be notified by an agent, publisher or online reviewer. I have heard publishing professionals confess that the slush pile is so huge manuscripts are rejected for the most minor of errors. You can no longer assume that an agent or publisher will pay for editorial services as long as there’s a spark of talent in the manuscript.

More and more they expect to see a draft that’s almost ready for publication. Use your creativity and imagination to produce your passion-draft. After that, take a professional view and approach your project with a business head on. I know that goes against the grain, but I’m serious. Getting your book out there these days requires more than talent. Selling your book (whether to an agent, publisher or online reader) is like running a business; so invest in your product to make it the best it can be.

What does developmental editing look like?

That depends on the editor and the author. A developmental editor will offer one or both of these services:

A critique (aka a manuscript appraisal/assessment, editorial letter/report – do you see what I mean about the different terminology now?) which is delivered as a written report addressing both the strengths and weaknesses of the book, and what needs working on. Examples from the manuscript will be used in the report, but the manuscript itself won’t be touched. The author can then use the report to redraft where necessary.

A marked manuscript (this form of developmental editing is often referred to as structural or substantive editing) where the editor will go through the manuscript itself, usually using tracked changes and comments, tends to be a much more detailed process, normally involving collaboration with the author and, possibly, more than one redraft.

Isn’t it something I can do myself? Or ask a beta reader?

There are certain steps an author can take to make their own work clearer and more consistent, with fewer typos. Developmental editing, however, is not something an author can carry out on their own work. Better to engage an experienced professional who has the distance needed to see what’s what. It’s extraordinarily hard to objectively assess a piece of creative work into which you’ve poured your heart and soul over many months.

Beta readers should not be dismissed, but may not be just what you need at the developmental stage. It’s a different service entirely from developmental editing, although there’s no reason why an author can’t use both. You need to research carefully what you’re getting. Some beta readers charge for their services and will provide a short report. You need to know whether that report is simply a few lines about whether the reader enjoyed your work or not, or something more detailed. The price of the service (more of which shortly) will give you a clue; if it’s next to nothing, then what you’ll get back may well be minimal.

Other beta readers don’t charge and what they offer can be little more than a read through and a yes or no on the enjoyment issue. The idea is that you’ll then reciprocate with something they’ve written. It’s an idea with great pros, but just remember: the reader is unlikely to have the editorial experience to tell you why something isn’t working and what you might be able to do to fix it. But if you just want a sense of whether someone out there would find your project remotely readable and enjoyable, go for it.

What should I look for in a developmental editor?

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge. What sort of editor should you choose? Research is the key here. Unless you’ve had a recommendation, you need to find someone you can trust with your work. The internet is always helpful for research, of course. Do you have a favourite literary mag? I love Mslexia, a magazine aimed specifically at women writers but, frankly, it would be a great asset to any writer. It’s a top-notch publication in terms of quality and while they can’t vouch for services advertised in there, it’s a good place to look.

Once you’ve found an advert or website that appeals, here are some points to consider:

  • Look for an editor with respected qualifications and relevant experience.
  • Check out the editor’s website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter account and so on. Get a feel for the person. You’ll want to have a good working relationship. 
  • Some editors specialise in a particular field. For instance, Sophie Playle who runs Liminal Pages ( is a specialist editor of speculative fiction, and boy does she know her stuff. 
  • Email the editor and introduce yourself, explaining a little bit about your project and what you’re looking for. You’ll get a good sense of whether you’d get on with the editor. A good editor will always be realistic but constructive and encouraging. If an editor doesn’t seem terribly interested in your project, they’re not the editor for you. 
  • Look for flexibility. If you just want general big-picture feedback, that’s fine. But if there’s something on your mind – you know your middle is saggy, or your subplot is weak – mention it and ask if the editor will bear that specific issue in mind. 

Will I have to remortgage my house to pay for this?

The question of cost is a difficult one. Editors have different charges and it depends what level of developmental editing you’re looking for. A critique will generally cost much less than a full developmental (structural/substantive) edit where the manuscript is worked on in collaboration with the author. The cost of either service will vary depending on other factors such as the length of the manuscript and the urgency of the job. (But it’s a no, by the way; you shouldn’t be remortgaging your house…)

So there you have it: the nuts and bolts of developmental editing that can take your book from a passion-draft to a product you can be proud of. Questions? Comments? Fire them my way and I’ll do my best to help.

Nikki Brice 
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Abut the Author

Nikki Brice runs the editorial business Splendid Stories and helps authors of both fiction and non-fiction to make their story splendid. Over the last four years she has immersed herself in everything from erotica to theology and prides herself on offering authors a positive and supportive service, tempered with realism. Find out more about Nikki at and find her on Twitter @SplendidStories

19 June 2017

Book Launch Guest Post ~ The Secret of Summerhayes, by Merryn Allingham

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A war-torn summer A house fallen into ruin A family broken apart by scandal...Summer 1944: Bombed out by the blitz, Bethany Merston takes up a post as companion to elderly Alice Summer, last remaining inhabitant of the dilapidated and crumbling Summerhayes estate. An evocative and captivating tale, The Secret of Summerhayes tells of dark secrets, almost-forgotten scandals and a household 
teetering on the edge of ruin.

A sense of place has always been important to me and looking back at the books I’ve written over the past few years, it’s clear how often setting has been the inspiration behind a novel. Two years ago I made a memorable visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, ‘lost’ because they were only rediscovered in 1990 and since that time have been lovingly restored – the work, in fact, is still ongoing. The gardens’ heyday was in the late Victorian/Edwardian period when their owners spent a great deal of money, time and effort in creating a beautiful and exotic paradise.

But when in 1914 war came to England, everything changed. Most of the gardening staff perished in the mud of Flanders and the gardens were left to a slow disintegration. It was as though they went to sleep for the next eighty years. And because they remained untouched, the buildings the gardeners had known in 1914 – the bothy, the bee boles, the pineapple pit, the summerhouse and wishing well, among others – stayed essentially the same.

These were what the pioneers who hacked their way through the undergrowth in 1990 discovered, along with what had once been a two acre vegetable garden, south facing walls for the fruit harvest and a series of beautifully designed individual spaces, among them the Flower Garden, the Sundial Garden, the Italian Garden and the Ravine. There was plenty evidence from earlier times, too. Lead and zinc Victorian plant tags lay buried in the soil. A giant vine weaved its way through broken panes of glass in the walled garden. True romance!

Not quite so romantic were the effects of requisitioning. In 1916 Heligan became a military hospital and during the Second World War housed the American army. The beautiful lawns, or what was left of them by then, were concreted to provide hard standing for tanks and jeeps and the trees, many of them rare, used as target practice.

My fictional estate, Summerhayes, is nestled in the Sussex countryside rather than Cornwall, but prior to 1914 it offered the same perfect idyll. And like Heligan that idyll is disrupted by the First World War, a conflict that serves as background to the first Summerhayes novel, The Buttonmaker’s Daughter.
The Secret of Summerhayes is set thirty years later during the summer of 1944 when Britain is once again fighting a world war. Sussex as a county is almost cut off from the rest of the country, its lanes filled with tanks, the Downs a practice area for the big guns and its coast the site of  rehearsal for the invasion of Europe. The Summerhayes estate is now a shadow of its former glory. Like Heligan, the house has been requisitioned by the military and its battered interior serves as offices for the Canadian army. Its wonderful gardens, the talk of the county in Edwardian times, are overgrown and uncared for.

Into this crumbling estate walks Bethany Merston, a young  teacher who has been bombed out of her London school by the blitz and forced to look for other work. She takes up a post as companion to the elderly Alice Summer, the last of the Summer family, forced now to live in an apartment at the top of her former home. Alice struggles to cope with the realities of wartime, but there is something darker haunting her, too. She is not a woman at peace, plagued by haunting visions of her old household and tormented by the anonymous letters that convince her they come from a daughter who disappeared thirty years earlier.

At first Beth tries to persuade her employer that the letters are fantasy, but it soon becomes clear they hide something more sinister. She sets out to unravel the mysteries surrounding the family’s uncomfortable past, and in doing so puts herself in danger. The final episode of a simmering family drama is played out against the background of the massive military might that leads to D Day and a turning point in the war.

Merryn Allingham
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About the Author

Merryn Allingham worked for many years as a university lecturer and between job, family and pets, there was little time to write. But when the pressures eased, she grabbed the chance to do something she’d always promised herself – to write a novel. Under the name of Isabelle Goddard, she published six Regency romances, but in 2013 adopted a new writing name and a new genre. The Daisy’s War trilogy, set in India and London during the 1930s and 40s, was the result. Her latest books explore two pivotal moments in the history of Britain. The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 as the First World War looms ever nearer and its sequel, The Secret of Summerhayes, thirty years later in the summer of 1944 when D Day led to eventual victory in the Second World War. If you would like to keep in touch with Merryn, sign up for her newsletter at and find her on Facebook and Twitter: @MerrynWrites.