A little bit of magic!

If you've ever walked up a steep hill, or climbed a mountain, or run a marathon, or triumphed over seemingly impossible odds, you'll know about the moment. It's hard to define, but it's a silent sense of wonder and awe and relief and inner joy all rolled into one.

My mountain, which became a steep hill and then, finally, a playful gallop, is the path to publication for my novel Covenant. Yes, it's here at last - first and an ebook and then shortly to follow as a paperback. And just in time for Christmas...

In many ways, Covenant's journey is a reflection of my journey as a writer. How it looked at the beginning bears little resemblance to the finished product, but there are elements still in there that harken back to the soul of the original. The characters ended up going in different directions to how I expected, and I have to admit that the book is better for it.

So I'm taking a little breather now before the next ascent. No book is ever created in isolation and I'd especially like to thank the following people, who'd kept faith with the project and continue to keep me on track:
Nancy Zilch, Villayat Sunkmanitu, Warren Stevenson and Sarah Wiles.

Cue music!

Okay, here's the back cover text:

Isca has followed the faith since childhood, taking her from the Settlements and into the City States. Now, as a priestess, a prophecy bears fruit; she receives a stone tablet to liberate her people and reveal their spiritual homeland.
In order to preserve the faith, she must be willing to teach the path of True Will to a heathen, whatever the consequences. When a stranger appears in the city of Tarsis, he uncovers the truth about the tablet and the boy chosen to protect it. But what if the long-awaited Righteous One isn't so righteous after all?

And here's the foreword:

Covenant is a fantasy, inspired by the Western Mysteries. It can be read as a magical quest without any specialist knowledge, and will also be appreciated by those readers with an interest in meditation, mysticism, the tarot, path-workings and the Tree of Life.

The archetypal landscape still calls to us in the language of visions and dreams. It’s a realm dimly remembered, and eagerly sought, where the light of our True Will shines strong amid the shadows of the Unseen.

"Serve the Many through the One and Serve the One through the Many."

The ebook version is available through Amazon here:

Amazon UK

Amazon outside the UK

More news on the paperback soon. Meantime, I'm available for interviews aplenty, about Covenant, about why I decided to self publish, and about what I'm working on now!

The return of Sparkle Puss

Stella Benson is a fellow writer, based in Cornwall. Unlike me, she's also a talented artist who has worked on many prestigious animated films including 'The Snowman & The Snowdog' a sequel to the 'The Snowman', to be screened on Channel 4 this Christmas.

In 2011 Stella combined her love of storytelling, illustration and design to create her first book 'Sparkle Puss: The Cornish Chocolate Apothecary'.

Her latest book 'Sparkle Puss: The Search For The Jaguar Bean', is launched on 3rd of November 2012. I caught up with her ahead of a book-signing tour around the Far West.

We can skip the 'dogs or cats' question, but what was it that gave you the inspiration for a cat's tale?
I have always enjoyed writing about my daily observations especially when travelling.  In 2006 I acquired a kitten. I had always wanted two kittens that I could call either Galaxy & Mars or Frankincense & Myrrh. I named the kitten Frankincense and abbreviated it to Insie. Insie is a striking cat and with her amusing and intelligent nature, she soon started to inspire me to draw and write about her.  I initially started e-mailing one of my sisters, Susie, keeping her updated with ‘the Insie antics’.  With the drawings developing and the Insie antics growing, it seemed to be a natural progression to put it into a story. I make jewellery using glitter and rhinestones and became aware that Insie started to sparkle with the glitter that she was inadvertently picking up in her fur.  In 2007 the story of ‘Sparkle Puss’ began.

Which came first - the cat or the chocolate?
I suppose the chocolate came first, although I had been wanting a cat for ages. However my study of and interest in cacao and good quality and ethical chocolate really came first.

Your beautiful illustrations have such a vibrancy about them, have you considered creating animations of your books?
Thank you, yes I have been thinking about animating my books. I have contact with some of the very best animators, and background artists, etc. to enable the production of  what could be a really good film. It is only the funding I'm lacking as yet!

Are you conscious of wanting to convey an environmental message in your books?
The environmental aspect is very important to me. I'm passionate about organic production, and fair trading where possible.

What does the future hold for Sparkle Puss?
I can not know exactly, I have a third story outlined and I hope I will be able to produce a third book in the series. I really have to thank the people who bought the first book as the sales have financed the second book. At the moment that is how I am progressing, taking each day as it comes. Ideally I would like to find a publisher.  

What was your journey from inspirations to the printed page?
It took over 4 years to produce the first book. Having not been through the process before I had to learn as I was going along. The second book was much quicker to produce as the story was written a few years previously and I had a much better idea of how to put the book together.

What do you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
I can't think of anything in particular, it's all hard work, never easy!  

Do you wear different hats as a writer and an illustrator?
Not really, although it does require using different parts of the brain and I am very aware of that, that they require two very different applications. However perhaps my writing is able to express more about the environmental aspect. And my truffles are created with organic ingredients. 

Where can we find out more about your books - and the chocolate of course!
More information can be found on www.sparklepuss.co.uk.
My books are available from The Edge Of The World Book Shop, Penzance.
And available to order from all good book shops, and from Amazon:

Mondays with Monika - 2

If you're new to these Monday posts, pull up a pew. I'm chatting with Monika Spykerman, about the things that matter to her as a writer, mum (or mom, if you prefer), wife and writer. Here, Monika talks candidly about her own blog - Motheroad - and about the ways in which she uses her writing.

Previous posts will be located here: Part 1 Monday 22nd Oct.

So your writing is a way of making better sense of your internal world and what is going on around you. Are you conscious on thinking about the reader when you put the posts together - does it make you feel vulnerable in any way? Also, is there conscious choice about what you express and where you draw the line because you know that someone will probably be reading your words?

Are you therefore writing for yourself or do you want the reader to understand, to feel and to engage with you? 

Yes, I suppose I am thinking about the Phantom Reader. Most of the time I imagine my best friend, Michele, reading my entries, mostly because she's one of about three people who do. Sometimes I imagine a complete stranger, someone I don't know at all, and the point of my writing is that I'm trying to persuade him or her that I'm not a completely shitty person. Or at least, if I behave in shitty ways sometimes, I HAVE MY REASONS. AND HERE ARE ALL 512 OF THEM.

I don't feel even slightly vulnerable. I feel . . . powerful. I feel like I don't have to be trapped inside my own head. I'm not a prisoner in the dungeon of my thoughts. I'm not alone. All I have to do is throw the words out there, and make a connection. 

The only, only person that (whom? who?) I ever worried about reading my blog entries was my mother, and now she's dead, so that's convenient. I was always going to tell her about my blog - I really, really was - but I kept thinking that I might tell her sort of closer to the end, when I was sure she was going to die. That way, if she read something that upset her, she'd have the prospect of her impending mortality as the impetus to forgive me. (Ha! I've never even confessed that to myself!)

But I never did tell her, for a couple of reasons. First, we didn't know she was for sure going to die until a few days before she DID die, and by that time she was pretty much out of the whole "conscious interaction" thing. (I know, I know - she had terminal cancer, but no one ever used the word "terminal," and even after it was clear to every nurse in the hospital that Mom was on the way out, her doctor and oncologist were still saying stuff like, "Well, you never know . . . ") 

Second, actually telling her proved to be so much more difficult than I ever imagined. There were times in my blog where I was not very flattering to her, because I wanted to represent what our relationship was ACTUALLY like, and ACTUALLY it was, for most of my life, hard and painful. And for Mom to be hurt by words that I had written . . . I just couldn't bear it. Even if the words were true from my perspective. (See? Even now, I can't just say "true" - I have to add "from my perspective." In case Mom is listening.)

Sometimes I regret not telling her, because maybe Mom never really did know the genuine ME that lives in my blog. And maybe that goes against my vow, made to myself and to her after she was diagnosed with cancer, not to hide myself from her anymore, not to edit myself around her. Maybe I chickened out from 100%, full-on honesty.

And sometimes I'm glad I never told her. Because who wants to read that her double chin is like "a spring peeper in full croak"?*

So basically Mom was the entire reason that I wrote using made-up names for a couple years. And now, honestly, I sometimes still worry that Dad might read my stuff, and be hurt by the things I say about Mom. Or his farting dogs. But no, he thinks that dog farts are funny. And I think that even if Dad read something that bothered him, he'd understand that an artist has to be faithful to his or her vision of the world. For example, Monet - sorry to choose such an overrepresented artist here - painted things AS HE SAW THEM - all blurry and in pastels - not, HERE IS A TREE. SO IT MUST BE GREEN. If it looked purple to him, he painted it purple.

So, okay, I guess truth is subjective. And also objective at the same time. ("Deep stuff, man," as one of my college friends used to say.)

But the whole point of the blog is to show, as faithfully as possible, what goes on inside my head. If I say "Fuck!" inside my head, I try to be brave and put "Fuck!" on the page. If I have selfish motives for doing or not doing something, I try to just say so. Although, frankly, it's less scary to show myself being selfish or stupid than to write "Fuck!" So sometimes I wimp out and write "Fluck!" BUT YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT I AM THINKING ABOUT FUCKING.

Wait, that came out wrong.

But at least you understand why.

* I'll ask her to translate.

Mondays with Monika - 1

As you may recall, a trainee clinical psychologist, exploring the therapeutic benefits of creative writing, interviewed me. The experience got me thinking about some themes I return to in my fiction, such as loss, separation and sacrifice, and the ways in which fiction comes to be as authentic as non-fiction.

But what about non-fiction that tells the truth - warts and all? How far can or ought we go in our quest to connect with the reader?

I'd like to introduce my friend, Monika. We 'met' at San Diego based A Word with You Press, although I'm at least 50% certain that neither of us has visited the HQ.

What makes Monika's blog, Motheroad, special is its combination of honesty, engaging writing and ability to connect with you emotionally.

It's my great pleasure to bring Monika into the limelight.

Let's start with what might seem a steep dropping off point. 

Your mother died recently and you chose to write about it in detail - not just how you were feeling, but also what was going on around you. Was it a conscious decision to commit it to the page and has that helped you in the grieving process? 

Regarding writing about my mother's death: it was both a conscious decision and a reflexive action. Writing a blog is like having a conversation with yourself that you allow other people to overhear. I have occasionally kept a journal, but I just couldn't get motivated to write anything that no one else was going to read. But I really enjoy talking to myself, and I find that I can be a very clever self-conversationalist if I think that someone else might be listening. And that's the whole value of therapy right there--just knowing, or at least hoping, that someone is listening. I mean, besides myself. (Maybe blogging could be called "tautological therapy" - a self-referencing and self-reinforcing loop with restorative powers.)

Writing is also a good way to separate the strands of thought that get so tangled inside my head. My head is like a big knitting basket, with a bunch of crazy-knotted balls of yarn inside. Writing allows me to take out one ball of yarn at a time, examine it, and untangle it. And the delightful part about writing is that, as you're untangling your yarn-thoughts, you find strings that connect to other balls of yarn in unexpected ways. Although sometimes that's exhausting, because you're like, "Damn! I thought I was DONE untangling this ball of yarn!"

And then writing is also a way of recording what's happening to me, so that I can remember it more clearly. I don't mean that I go back and read my blog entries from two years ago, because I generally don't. I mean that the act of writing helps to cement an event in my mind more clearly. It's like this: I write down a shopping list, go to the store, and realize I've left my list in the car. But I still get everything I came for because the act of writing things down has made me remember them. It's the way my mind works--some people have to hear things spoken to remember them, and some people have to write things to remember them. Some people think in images, some people think in words. My thoughts are almost completely in words; my inner images and feelings are always accompanied by descriptive language.

Another benefit of writing-as-therapy--a therapeutic aspect that many people overlook--is the act of producing something, and the corresponding feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when you are done. You made art! You told a story! You didn't just sit around and stew about what's bothering you; you put a bunch of words together and you made something beautiful, something real, something that exists OUTSIDE of your head, something independent and separate from you. It's part of you, and it came from you, but it's also not-you. It now also belongs to whoever reads it, and it takes on a life of its own that you have little or no control over. You made a baby. And the best thing about this baby is that you don't have to change its poopy diapers or pay to send it to college.

More from Monika next Monday - and please head over to her blog, Motheroad, and drop into her world. If you've enjoyed what you read here, you won't be disappointed.

Bonjour la classe

Once upon a time, not so long ago - all right then, it was only back in August, Susan Louineau sat in the virtual chair and told me about her ebook, The Chapel in the Woods, which she self-published this year.

Unlike me, Susan has a track record in marketing and put all that knowledge and experience to good use by creating a buzz for her book

I caught up with her recently, in a cafe overlooking a windswept harbour, where she attempted to enlighten me about the joys of being a successful self-published author. 

I had my peppermint tea in one hand, a forkful of chocolate brownie in the other, my notepad on the table and ears pricked up. Who says men can't multi-task?!

What made you choose to go with Kindle from the beginning? 

To be truthful at the time I didn’t realise there were so many platforms for epublishing but I think I chose the right one as I’m not sure there are many souls in this world who haven’t bought something from Amazon at some time or another.

Which has been the best social media tool for you? 

Twitter wins it hands down on this one.  When I first published The Chapel in the Woods I told all my friends on Facebook who were extremely loyal and downloaded it and some even read it and reviewed it favourably.  I quickly realised that once my personal connections had been exhausted I wasn’t going to sell very many.  If no one knows about your product they can’t buy it! I was no social media fanatic and had seen no use for Twitter previously but as soon as I started gaining new followers and following  the example of other authors the books began to sell and the reviews came rolling in. 

At what stage did you put your marketing plan into action, and would you change it for future books?  

I put it in action really rather late.  Next time I will start creating a buzz about the new one as soon as I have completed the first draft.  Now that I have established a worldwide readership I have a significant number of customers who are eager to read the next one and provide reviews early on.

Can you explain the logic of the Kindle giveaways? Call me stupid, but I don't see how giving away books can encourage people to then buy them.

When you self-publish with Kindle you are initially an unknown entity.  Your book appears on the Amazon rankings to begin with quite high up, CITW came in at 4,000 in Fiction; which may seem terribly low but out of half a million novels that’s actually not bad*.  If you don’t sell many your ranking quickly slips.  Let’s face it we’re all a bit lazy and when we open our Kindles/e-readers to browse for something to read we will look at the top 20 or 40 most of the time but often won’t go any further.  

Kindle has both a free chart and a paid chart which appear side by side when you open your device or view on the website.  If your novel is languishing at the bottom no one will know it’s there.  We all like a freebie and giving it away for a set time period, two days in my case, will send it up the free chart and hopefully to the first page for the world to see. 

What's your progress with your current work-in-progress, The Weather Gods?

I am still in the research and plotting phase for The Weather Gods.  It is important for me to learn something new when I write a novel.  CITW taught me about life in the Dark Ages in both England and the feudal Loire Valley and the struggles of the resistance and SOE Agents in the 2nd World War.

The Weather Gods is opening up a whole new raft of knowledge for me; from meteorology to celtic mythology. Writing has given me the opportunity to be an eternal student, for which I feel blessed.

I mentioned that your marketing approach has really worked for you so, without giving away all your secrets, what were some of your goals and the results?

I heard that the average sales for a first novel are around 300 – 500 in a 12 month period; I decided to set my target at the top end.  CITW smashed this target in just 2 days after the free promotion ended.  Having reached #3 in the Free Fiction chart within 40 hours, it hit #2 in Amazon’s paid UK Spy Stories category by the fourth paid day. 

In your opinion - and this is a biggie - is it possible for a part-time cynic with maybe half an hour a day to make a difference to the success of a new ebook? I ask because my own self-pubbed fantasy, Covenant, should be out soon. All tips gratefully received!

Absolutely!  The best advice I can give is to start networking on Twitter and find the people who will be delighted to read your book, review it and tell their friends.  There is a very supportive network of self-published authors on Twitter who are more than happy to read and spread the word about your work.

One of the biggest pleasures I have discovered is reading other indie authors’ work in all kinds of genres that I would almost certainly never have picked up off a bookshop shelf.  I have discovered a plethora of talented writers that have unexpectedly extended my range of personal taste in fiction. 

Now that The Chapel in the Woods has begun to make a name for itself as an ebook, have you considered making the move to paperback as well?

Yes, I have begun the formatting process for a paperback edition for all those who are reluctant to indulge in the current e-reader frenzy and I hope to release it in time for Christmas.

Links please!

My Twitter handle is: @susanlouineau and you can find me here - https://twitter.com/susanlouineau

Chapel in the Woods can be purchased here: 

So what is your experience of self-publishing ebooks? 
Have you formed the same conclusions as Susan, or did you take a different path?

* Blimey!

What goes around

Not the prettiest image, unless you're a jobbing writer.
I've said in the past that I'm a big fan of short story competitions. You are usually presented with a theme, a word count and a deadline - and all for no more than a nominal entry fee (we can have that debate some other time).

Even if you don't win a prize, you've still come out on top because, if you've written something new, you'll have an original piece of work inspired by the comp requirements. Which means you have something else to add to your portfolio, sell on, use in a blog post, or rework into something different.

But, let's face facts for a moment, the big happy ending is becoming a prize winner. So allow me to share my joy at getting a 'olympic silver' in the Arc / Tomorrow Project fiction competition, for Perfect Circle.

My thanks to Intel, New Scientist. Reed Business Information and Simon Ings.

But mostly, my thanks to Write This Moment for bringing the competition to my attention. Another year's subscription that was money well spent! 

Perfect Circle tells the tale of Billy Cloudsbury, who finds out he has a deceptively simple - and rare - talent. You can read the story here.

Now, some of you out there have been asking about my fantasy, Covenant, which is due for self-publication this month. It's still on the way in paperback and I'm also playing around with ebook formats. Expect an announcement in the next two or three weeks.

And then there's the tale of a hellish takeover, but that's another story altogether!