Friday, 29 May 2015

Quirk - Charlie Huston

The Joe Pitt novels of Charlie Huston

Reviewer: JW Hicks, author of Rats

This series of Vampyre novels are the epitome of Quirk, and are right at the top of my fave-list.

In Huston’s scarily innovative re-imaging of vampire noir, the style is as ferocious as the content. Huston employs no chapter breaks and no speech tags and the narration is first-person, exclusively through the main character: Joe Pitt.

While Vampyres band together in clans to facilitate survival, Joe Pitt, rogue vamp, goes solo, preferring freedom. But, being a loner, adrift from the safety of a warding clan, is to live on the last inch of a fast-crumbling cliff.

The five novels in the Joe Pitt Casebooks, are set in modern day New York City, with each clan occupying their own territory on Manhattan Island. In the first book, Already Dead, Joe gets mixed up with the Coalition, the city’s most powerful clan; a cross between the mafia and a corporation. To make things right not not only has he to find the missing child of influential parents, but kill a shambler (zombie) infected with flesh-eating bacteria and avoid the crazy Vampyre cult stalking him – all before the sun comes up.

In No Dominion, the second in the series, hard-talking Joe is hovering at the bottom of the barrel, out of blood, his stash empty. So he takes a job with the Society, a gang of liberal vamps. The job? To investigate the new high on the market, a killer scourge that could tear the roof off the Vampyre world and expose it to the human gaze. Turns out it’s a typical Joe Pitt job, involving enforcers, Vampyre hounds, anarchist turncoats, mystical zealots and a punk named the Count, all of them out to skin Joe’s hide.

In Book 3, there’s a battle brewing between the divided Clans of the city’s undead. Guess who’s stuck right in the middle? You’re right, Joe Pitt. He’s been dispatched into the uncharted territory of Brooklyn to seal an alliance with the Freaks. But gets swept into a murderous family feud that will paint the borough scarlet from Gravesend to Coney Island.

The fourth book, Every Last Drop, unlike the first three might concentrate less on the kill-em-all action, and more on dialogue, but still moves twice as fast as your everyday noir fantasy. After a year of hiding out in the bronx, Joe is offered an assignment he can’t refuse. In his search for answers he comes face to face with the horrendous secret that lies beneath the vampire world. Where do the powerful ones get all that blood?

The search for an answer takes him to Queens, and leaves him in possession of vision that he’ll never scrape off his retinas, as well as a bargaining chip that redefines his place in the Vampyre universe.

In the last Joe Pitt book, My Dead Body, civil war is raging. The Clans are at each other’s throats. Joe would be wise to stay out of it, but an old acquaintance drags him in.

Will Joe finally get the answers he’s been looking for?

This is a war with no middle ground, when the blood stops flowing, what side will Joe Pitt be on?
Will the loose ends be neatly tied?
You bet’cha.

Questions and Answers

Emailing his publisher brought no result, but I found an interview published in Ed Zitron’s blog. Ed is the founder of EZPR, an East Coast media relations firm. He has been published by Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, PC Gamer and PC Zone, and is the author of This is How You Pitch: How To Kick Ass in Your First Years in PR.

I emailed him for permission to reproduce the interview and he gave it willingly.

Charlie Huston on Detective Fiction, the Joe Pitt Casebooks and Vampires (With a Y.) 
Interviewed by Ed Zitron. 20/9/10 Follow Ed Zitron on Twitter: 

What made you bring vampires into a detective novel?

It was just one of those things. You're sitting around and thinking about your ideas, and suddenly it's a vampire detective - it isn't rocket science.

Were things like True Blood, Twilight, etc. part of the decision?

No. I don't need anybody's reaction to lead me. I mean I've never read [any of the Twilight] books. I'm not a very aware consumer of pop culture. Even though I write vampire books, it took a really long time for Twilight to penetrate my awareness. I can remember a long time ago having people write me emails and ask me what I thought of Twilight and I said, "What the f**k are you talking about? I have no idea."

Twilight bubbled up in my consciousness about the same time as Charlene Harris and the Sookie Stackhouse stuff, along with the True Blood show and the Twilight movie came about. It doesn't appeal to me at all. Ultimately, I don't like vampires that don't kill and eat [laughs]. You either find a way to take these creatures, and if you are going to use them as your protagonists, and take them on their own terms and find a way to deal with them on their own terms and still make them a character that somebody can get behind. Otherwise, you're just cheating. Well...okay, maybe that's unfair. You're writing something else.

How did the character of Joe Pitt, the protagonist of the books, come about?

Joe was kind of reaction to Hank Thompson, one of my other characters. I'd finished writing the first Hank Thompson book, Caught Stealing, and Hank is definitively not a tough guy. When Hank gets the upper hand on people, it's usually scenarios where he kind of gets the upper hand by accident. He steps on the end of the board and the board pops up and hits somebody else in the head. It was hard to keep him alive during the course of the book and when I starting Caught Stealing I'd originally thought Hank was going to be more of a tough guy, and it just didn't work out that way.

So, I really wanted to write about someone hard-boiled - someone who is a legitimate badass who I didn't have to constantly be rationalizing how he could survive things. I think I just, at some point really wanted to write a tough guy character. I don't even remember where the Vampire thing came in.

You obviously take a lot of inspiration from New York - the series is set there, after all - how long were you here, and how much did you travel?

I lived in NYC for 11 years - I think I wrote up to Half the Blood of Brooklyn before I went to Los Angeles. I then had to return to write Every Last Drop - so much of the book is set in the Bronx, and I hadn't spent much time there. So, I spent a few days in The Bronx.

The locations in Already Dead were very much just my everyday backdrop. The apartment that Joe lived in is actually an apartment that some friends of mine lived in. They had a ground floor and a separate room underneath some big set room, and that's how I kind of setup the architecture of Joe's apartment in Already Dead - the one where he's got a secret below-ground room. All the bars he hangs out are bars that I was hanging out at or had worked at one time or another.

There was even a time when I was spending up my every waking hour at the pizza place. That's the opening of the book, the pizza place where he gets a slice. That's where I'd stop on my way home from work - whenever I got off from bartending, that's where I'd stop off for a slice before I went home.

Has there ever been any talk of adapting the Joe Pitt books into film, TV, comics, anything like that?

There's a screenplay out there that I've read, actually - it's quite good. It was very faithful, but adapted the story in a more Hollywood way - for example, it took the relationship with Evie at the center, which was appropriate.

Who would you have cast as Joe, if you had the choice?

You know, I only have one answer for that, and he's not available - a young Robert Mitchum. That kind of imposing, swaggering, physical presence. He was so unflappable.

So, what's next for you?

Well, the next book is already done, and it's called Sleepless. It was a huge push for me because it's crime in a speculative setting. It's set in 2010, in Los Angeles - the premise is that there's a plague of sleeplessness that's infected 10% of the population. It's a multiple viewpoint narrative. As a result, it's a little denser in terms of the prose. It's not as lean as the stuff I've been writing, and it's definitely much more somber in tone.

Friday, 15 May 2015

ISIS at the gates of ancient Syrian city Palmyra - can Syria preserve the World Heritage site?

by JD Smith, author of The Rise of Zenobia

With the conflict in Syria, Palmyra is not a place I’ve ever managed to visit, despite having spent years writing about the city. Today, Jihadists from the Islamic State Militants are just over a mile from the Unesco World Heritage site at Palmyra and fears are mounting that they will destroy the monumental ruins.

Palmyra dates back to the first century AD, and is most famous for its infamous Queen Zenobia who in the third century led one of the greatest, most threatening rebellions the Roman Empire ever faced. This is the part of history which captured my imagination and led to years of writing the story of the rise and fall of the beautiful city and determined queen …

Buildings sparkled, towering and elegant, marble paved the streets and fountains threw up streams of water. Locals bustled about their business. Gowns draped women, embroidered and woven with threads of gold and silver, sewn with rare stones, and men wore colourful robes or leather armour, carrying shields and spears and swords. Deep scars marked olive skin, and on their arms warrior bands were found. The raucous noise of the busy city deafened. Not unpleasant, but an exciting, pounding rhythm of a prosperous city. I stepped cautiously, for everywhere seemed so fresh and clean and delicate.

Market traders pulled their wares from the path of elephants, camels and horses. Stalls packed every space. I thought many things a rarity, but found them now in abundance. Silks hung from racks: blues, greens, yellows, reds, golds; every colour in between. Bottles of coloured oils and potions swung from wooden pegs, clinking, swaying, jostling to the city rhythm. Ginger, poppy seeds, aniseed, coriander, cumin, fennel, pulse, cloves, bay leaf, Indian spikenard, costly saffron shouted as being for sale, their names spoken for all to hear, yet I smelled them, rich aromas and head-dulling scents of the east.
(The Rise of Zenobia)

Palmyra was a vital caravan city on the eastern trade route. It was taken under Roman control in the mid-first century but, despite this, its people were of mixed Aramaic and Arabic stock, and the language used a form of Palmyrene: a mixture of Middle Eastern Aramaic and Greek.
According to the BBC, ISIS are attacking the nearby town of Tadmur after making an advance across the Syrian desert. Syria's director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdul Karim said he believed Palmyra would end up destroyed, like other ancient sites in Northern Iraq.
He said: "If Daesh [ISIS] enters Palmyra, it will spell its destruction.
"If the ancient city falls, it will be an international catastrophe.
"It will be a repetition of the barbarism and savagery which we saw in Nimrud, Hatra and Mosul." 
In March, ISIS members in Iraq razed 3,000-year old Nimrud and bulldozed 2,000-year old Hatra - both UNESCO world heritage sites. 
The ISIS interpretation of Sharia law sees ancient sites as being idolatrous and sinful.
And this for me is the most ludicrous of views, quite clearly an excuse to cause more unrest, destroying what can never be remade. As if taking lives were not enough the past must also be extinguished. There was a time when Palmyra was at its greatest, an ancient city on a prosperous caravan route, the people living in harmony and many religions mixing happily with one another. Sadly religion seems so often to be an excuse for our actions, rather than a guide as to how to behave in order to live life to the full and in harmony with one another.

I am a preservationist at heart. I cannot bear to see the past slip and slide away from us in any medium. I want to hold it, treasure it and live in it. I am a member of the British National Trust, a restorer of an 18th century English School House, a collector of the old and the wonderful, and a writer who aims to capture in words deeds and actions and places now eroded by time.

I only hope mine and the words of others, photographs and footage, are not the only remains of the desert city. I hope to one day visit the place I have spent so long imagining, and see it in the glory in which it stands at this very moment as I type. I want to see it as L. Double, author of Les Cesars de Palmyre (1877) once did …

When, after a wearisome day of marching across the Syrian desert, the long caravans descry, in the pale clarity of the stars, the uniform horizon become a serrated line of uneven colonnades, of broken walls, of half collapsed palace facades; when the sand seems at last to disappear, not beneath the verdure of an oasis but beneath an accumulation of marbles and worked stones, silence falls among the travellers, even the calling cameleers cease from their marching songs, and there is nothing to be heard but the sand which cries beneath our feet, and the wind which moans afar among the ruins, and the lugubrious plaint of a hungry jackal; it is then that a man, even the lease civilised, feels himself to be small and, despite himself, meditates on the presence of that mighty ruin as on a mighty sorrow.

In short, I want to stand in the beautiful ruins of Palmyra as I once stood in the Coliseum in Rome and remember Queen Zenobia and the times in which she lived.

JD Smith, is the author of Tristan and Iseult, The Rise of Zenobia and The Fate of an Emperor, editor of Words with JAM and Bookmuse, and the mother of three mischievous boys. 

The Rise of Zenobia is available in ebook, paperback and audio. For more information visit:

Liza Perrat interviews Alison Morton, Author of Aurelia

I’m delighted to welcome Alison Morton to the Triskele Books bookclub today.

Alison is the author of the Roma Nova series: INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, alternate history thrillers set in Roma Nova, a society founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women.

I recently had the pleasure of reading her newly-released novel, AURELIA, the first in a new three-book cycle within the Roma Nova series. Not having read any of the other Roma Nova books, and knowing nothing about this society, I came to AURELIA with a completely open mind, which is ideally how I like to read a book.

Set in the late 1960s, Aurelia remains within the Roma Nova world – the last Roman colony that has survived into the 21st century. Circumstances force Aurelia Mitela, a proud Praetorian officer, to give up her career, but Roma Nova still needs her to investigate and try to stop grand scale silver smuggling.

Whilst investigating in Berlin, in a page-turning sequence of suspenseful, action-filled adventures, Aurelia meets her terrifying childhood nemesis, Caius Tellus, who seems intent on destroying her. She also meets the beguiling and mysterious Miklós.

I loved discovering the “foreign” land of Roma Nova, the mix of historical and contemporary and of course, the edge-of-the seat thrilling action. A highly recommended read for lovers of alternate thrillers and I look forward to reading not only the previous books in this series, but also the ones to come.

Interview with Author, Alison Morton...  
LP: My first question is probably the most obvious: what gave you the idea of Roma Nova? And why a society run by strong women?

AM: Roma Nova started in my head when I was eleven years old and fascinated by the Roman mosaics at Ampurias, in northeast Spain. My father told me stories of soldiers and senators, traders and engineers, farmers and settlers, politicos and slaves. I listened under the hot sun and when he’d finished, I asked, “What would it have been like if women were in charge?” Clever man, he replied, “Well, what do you think it would be like?”

Normal life intervened, but this fantastical idea stayed in my head. I grew more and more fascinated with Rome – a complex society that was noble and brutal, ordered yet adaptable, a great trading and military power running Europe and the Mediterranean basin, yet ending with a teenager kneeling in front of a conquering Goth.

I had the great good fortune to be brought up by a feminist mother; it never occurred to me to do or think anything different from my brother just because I was a girl. When I put on my army uniform, I didn’t think it was remarkable. But I never dreamed the experience of serving in a mixed unit with common purpose would be extremely useful for my writing career years later.

When I sat in front of my computer to write my first novel decades later, all these elements crashed together and my fingers had to work frantically to keep up with my brain!

LP: Did you decide to do a series from the outset? And why?

AM: I wanted to write Karen’s story from the very beginning to when she was fully established, but also wanted to explore the strange place I had cooked up in my head. Of course, it was going to be a thriller – I’d devoured The Saint and John le Carré as a kid. But I found my story was far too big for one book, so before I did the first revision of INCEPTIO I had planned out book two (PERFIDITAS) and was thinking about the outline of book three which became SUCCESSIO.

LP: I found Roma Nova an intriguing concept, but it must be sometimes hard to marry the historical and the contemporary. What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered?

AM: Most people have some sense of history whether they realise it or not. It could be a grandparent and their war stories, or scoffing cake with the family at a 16th century stately home or watching Poldark or Wolf Hall on the television. We all come from somewhere – look at the popularity of ‘Who Do You Think You Are? To Roma Novans, history and tradition have formed the glue of their society; Roman values have enabled them to survive, so their sense of history is ever present in their daily lives.

Writing this is fun as well as challenging. I approached it in two ways: firstly, getting into the Roman mind-set and secondly, extrapolating from conditions prevailing in the disintegrating Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century, when the timeline from the real world diverged to form the Roma Novan one. Ancient Romans were superb technologists and engineers as well as skilled strategists. So in the modern era they are at the forefront of the digital revolution. All my Roma Novan characters use advanced gadgets and systems for their period. And staying in their traditional mind-set, they exercise the robust response of their ancestors to challenge!

LP: I believe you have an MA in history. Does this background help at all in writing your historical fiction?

AM: Apart from the sheer pleasure of discovering the layers of women’s agency and role in a military context in the 1930s - the subject of my dissertation - the chief skill I learnt was a systematic and persistent approach to research and reporting. I learnt how to look for sources, interpret and contextualize them. Without three sources, any ‘fact’ is rocky. When writing historical fiction of any kind, you have to be so immersed in the society, that you fill gaps intelligently. If you are truly in the zone, you might actually bring insight into a knotty area and make a fresh contribution to history!

LP: Aurelia is the beginning of a new three-book cycle within the Roma Nova series. What made you decide to write another three books about Aurelia?

AM: Two things, really. Firstly, we meet Aurelia as an older woman in INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO and as I was writing her I found myself becoming fascinated by her common sense, toughness and her loneliness. In INCEPTIO, Karen struggles to visualise her grandmother Aurelia twenty plus years before as a military commander leading a unit to retake a war-torn city. And the mystery of Aurelia’s single life – there is no husband, lover or companion in the family circle or memory, yet she is Karen’s grandmother. Plenty to chew on there. Secondly, I wanted to write about the terrible events twenty-three years before INCEPTIO that scarred Conrad - the heroine’s love interest in the first three books - and threatened the destruction of Roma Nova itself. AURELIA is the pre-cursor to that story.

LP: You publish with SilverWood Books. Was your decision to publish independently a conscious one, and are you happy with self-publishing at this point in time? 

AM: Yes, I’m really happy with SilverWood Books’ professionalism. I self-published a history ebook in 2012 via KDP with 200 academic references which I had to bookmark with hyperlinks. That was hard work, but I learnt a great deal about digital publishing. Mind you, my starting point was zero! I’d edited a local magazine for nine years so had some experience of commissioning printing, and image editing, but I realised that to produce my novels to the high standard I wanted for my novels I needed professional help. Working my way through the Wild West of vanity, subsidy and publishing services companies, I found SilverWood Books, an ethical company run by a multi-published author and which privileges authors and books.

LP: Any hints about the next book in the Aurelia series?

AM: Yes, it’s half-drafted! It starts in the early 1980s when unrest and petty grievances against a weak ruler bubble just under the skin of Roma Nova. A charismatic power-grabber builds a power base and heads a populist rebellion that threatens Roma Nova’s destruction. Even the formidable Aurelia Mitela can do little to stop it…

Alison Morton Bio...

Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre – regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF – all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now…

But something else fuels her writing… Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women…

Now, she lives in France and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines.

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series

– shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award

– B.R.A.G. Medallion

– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

PERFIDITAS, second in series

– B.R.A.G. Medallion

– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

SUCCESSIO, third in series

– Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014

– B.R.A.G. Medallion

– Editor’s choice, The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

Links ...
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova blog

Facebook author page

Twitter: @alison-morton


Buying link (multiple retailers/formats)...


AURELIA book trailer:

Monday, 11 May 2015

DIY LitFests

by Debbie Young

On World Book Night, Thursday 23rd April, a new kind of literature festival placed indie authors centre stage in an old Gloucestershire village inn. 

I founded the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival ( for many reasons: to share my love of books and reading, to provide a literary festival accessible to a rural community, to benefit local businesses, to promote libraries and bookshops, and to showcase indie authors in a festival setting.

Guests at the first Hawkesbury Upton LitFest

Most important of all is to encourage adults to read books. Shockingly, an estimated 30% of adults never read books, despite proven benefits of regular leisure reading: greater academic and career success, stronger relationships, better social skills, and a greater sense of personal happiness.

To help erode that figure, for the last four years I’ve volunteered for World Book Night, giving free books to reluctant adult readers, but I wanted to do more. The place where I felt I could make the most difference was in the village where I’ve lived for nearly 25 years.

The festival originated from a low-key plan simply to raise the profile of World Book Night in the village. Encouraged by the staff of local bookshops and libraries, which I constantly promote on the “use ‘em or lose ‘em” principle, I aimed higher.

Weary of celebrity-focused litfests affordable only by the middle classes, I pledged that our event would be free, echoing World Book Night’s ethos. Consequently, I had no budget! Tentatively I invited indie author friends to take part without remuneration. Nearly 20 volunteered, eager for the opportunity to “cut their festival teeth”, as one of them put it. The Fox Inn’s landlords, recognising the potential business benefits of a festival bringing outside money to the village, were full of helpful ideas.

Orna Ross, Katie Fforde & Debbie Young
Sorting out secondhand books for the village shop, where we sell them to raise funds for the village school library, I chanced upon Katie Fforde’s Love Letters, a novel about a woman who starts a literary festival in a rural community. It was clearly meant to be that she would launch the event, and she generously accepted my invitation. My friend Caroline Sanderson of The Bookseller, an advocate of indie authors, also agreed to come, as did Orna Ross, ALLi’s founder.

This high-profile triumvirate adds credibility, but the event’s focus is on readers, not authors. Provocative themes should interest even reluctant readers, eg “How many words does a story really need?”, “How do you like your fiction - contemporary or historical?”, “Poetry - sublime or ridiculous?”

A sprinkling of other features will break the ice: an exhibition by local illustrators and literary calligraphy as a backdrop to informal readings in the bar. We’re now hoping to make it an annual event and a model for other communities. Already it’s inspired a village in Crete to start its own festival.

PS: After the event:

In the run-up to the Festival, I was oscillating from worrying that no-one would turn up to fearing we'd be inundated and no-one would be able to get in. On the day, we hit the perfect balance - over 100 guests, which meant standing room only in the Function Room where the discussion panels were running, plus plenty of people happy to attend the programme of readings. I was bowled over by how well it all seemed to go, and ever since, I haven't been able to venture out into the village without someone coming up to tell me how much they enjoyed the event. One particular interesting piece of feedback was this: "I really enjoyed discovering authors that I hadn't heard of before". The authors, too, who so generously gave their time free of charge, went away buzzing with enthusiasm, and I'm now starting to compile an anthology of their work, to continue to raise their profile before the local audience, and to sell to help us fund the 2016 Festival. Because, yes, by the end of the evening, we had already decided to turn it into an annual event, which will run on a Saturday, during the day, to enable us also to offer children's events. In the meantime, we've been given a free stall at the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show in August (the biggest social event of the village calendar) at which we'll hold a pop-up mini litfest, selling the anthology, promoting the 2016 event, and offering participating authors another opportunity to stage readings before a live and receptive audience. I couldn't be happier with the outcome, and am already dreaming up new events to make the 2016 HULitFest bigger and better.

Hawkesbury Show website:
Images courtesy of Clint Randall at

Debbie Young writes short stories and flash fiction, as well as non-fiction on various topics. She is also the Commissioning editor for, the blog for the Alliance of Independent Authors. She’s also the co-author of Opening up to Indie Authors

Photographs of IAF15

The Showcase Magazine

Nancy Freund & CJ Lyons

Tech table: Porter Anderson, David Penny & Jay Artale

Dan Holloway and Rohan Quine
Glynis Smy, Carol Cooper and Marisha Pink

Bookbuyers chat to Jane Davis and Alison Morton

Sharmain Lovegrove & Orna Ross

The fair in full swing

L-R: AD Starrling, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, Roz Morris,
Andy Bromley

Tea and Triskele Books

Friday, 8 May 2015

IAF15 - Indie Picks #4

House of Silence, by Linda Gillard (Recommended by Gillian Hamer)

There’s a haunting quality to this book. There’s a mix of mystery and romance and yet, I had a feeling that Creake Hall was surrounded by ghosts – but living ones, not yet dead. Gillard creates some superb characters here, complex and damaged in so many different ways and yet all totally believable. I also loved the twists and turns as the plot unravelled, feeling confident for one moment that you knew where the story was headed, only to be disarmed and taken in an opposite direction. It left me with that same disorientation, that although everything had been settled and all questions answered, there was still an element of the unknown left dangling. Spellbinding!

The Red Hill, by David Penny (recommended by John Lynch)

Tom Berrington, surgeon and one-time warrior, is from a north European country (never named but probably England) but has lived in Andalucia for many years and presents his story of murder and intrigue from a point of view steeped in Islam. It is the late fifteenth century and the Islamic hold on Spain is loosening but not yet broken. The task of the writer of historical fiction is to make us believe everything we read, while we’re reading it. David Penny achieves this better than most. This is a novel that you sink into, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds, and Penny moves the story along skilfully so that you never question the people or the motivations. The characters come alive with their fears and hopes and, if none of them is presented in great depth, deep psychological insight isn’t what you look for in a thriller like this. Most notable of all in an independently published book, it’s well edited and the writing is to an exceptionally high standard. A first class read and well worth your time; I recommend it.

The Chase, by Lorna Fergusson (Recommended by Alison Morton)

Seeking a new life in the ‘ex-pat paradise’ of the Dordogne, two Brits are soon immersed in the disturbing atmosphere engendered by local characters, the brooding landscape and hidden secrets from their new home’s past.
Netty and Gerald are failing to work through their own grief and guilt surrounding a recent loss; their dialogue and characterisation are achingly convincing.
The ‘hunting and hunted’ theme is clever, giving form and structure to the book. Lorna Fergusson drills down through several layers to expose the essence of this finely written and rewarding read which I found it hard to put down.

The Written by Ben Galley (Recommended by Chele Cooke)

I love fantasy books and Ben Galley's 'The Written' is a gritty, honest epic fantasy. Not every hero is kind and good, and not every villain shows themselves that way. It's a great, detailed plot and a great intro into the rest of the series.

The Bet, by Vivienne Tuffnell (Recommended by Philippa Rees)   

A compelling book that takes a reader by the collar and leads them into some dark places. Antony Ashurst, the principal character, is a distracted damaged (and emotionally very young) wanderer, who falls down an open manhole and seems lost to view and to reason. ‘The Bet’ was the leaving of that man-trap open and shepherding him towards it. How he will climb again to the light is uncertain, indeed perilous.
Yet that is far from the book’s whole substance, merely the means whereby to examine much larger issues about our world of exploitation, manipulation and acquisition. A unique vision.

One Night at the Jacaranda, by Carol Cooper (Recommended by Alison Morton)

A compelling book that takes a reader by the collar and leads them into some dark places. Antony Ashurst, the principal character, is a distracted damaged (and emotionally very young) wanderer, who falls down an open manhole and seems lost to view and to reason. ‘The Bet’ was the leaving of that man-trap open and shepherding him towards it. How he will climb again to the light is uncertain, indeed perilous.
What looks like an easy read about thirty-somethings soon develops into a touching and deepening story of people threaded together by one speed-dating evening.
Ms Cooper draws her characters with insight and sympathy. We all know people in situations like these; sticklebricks, cats, ambitious au pairs, eternal washing, whinging clients, glamorous flats, health scares, but also vulnerabilities, deep, sad secrets, unthinking neglect. The humour is soft, but sometimes laugh out loud.
And clever, clever writing. “This last au pair posting was a huge success. So successful that she had been promoted to stepmother.”
Wholeheartedly recommended.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

IAF15 - Tips for Writing Romance

By Sandy Osborne

Fantasy v Reality: Following the demand for the ‘Vampire sagas’ of the last few years, publishers are now on the lookout for good women’s contemporary fiction and romance. Hurrah! There’s a fine line between fantasy and reality when it comes to writing romance fiction. Whilst we want to be transported into a perfect world, a reader still wants it to be achievable – and believe that it could happen to them! Being constantly plied with expensive gifts and holidays would be very acceptable in that perfect world where money is no obstacle but maybe being whisked away for a rare mini break in New York is something we could all see ourselves doing (well, I can dream too!).

Timelines: As readers ourselves we are critical of plot blunders so it is essential to adhere to timelines. Make a note of the month or at least season of each chapter so that your storyline flows naturally for your reader. When writing my Girl Cop romances I kept a calendar of the year or years the novels were set in, pinned up beside my desk so that I could see what days the weekends fell on as well other significant dates like Easter/bank holidays etc. Good old Google can tell you whether the date you chose for your protagonists wedding falls on the same date as a national event or an international disaster that might make your reader balk.

Atmosphere: In trying to create the right atmosphere for a romantic scene, I would recommend visiting the place (if it is a real location) or a similar place to the one you are describing and just take in the finer details so you can allow your reader to be there with you. Looking around you will notice so much you can add to make your writing more ‘visual’. Visiting at different times of the day or in different weathers can help to portray for example how the subdued lighting reflects off the pavement glazed with fresh rain. And back to my subject of reality, don’t necessarily make the rain add to the romance with your heroine’s make-up remaining perfect – allow your reader to identify with her and make her worry her hair will frizz!

Audible accompaniment: A romantic tale is tricky to tell without the assistance of the mention of music. But a few warnings here – check the copyright status. You can generally use titles but the use of lyrics is restricted. And of course make sure the song was released at the time of your tale. The song––especially as it is likely to be a romantic/love song––will mean something to someone out there who can date it in an instant. Though don’t get too hung up about it, as it is a work of romantic fiction after all.

Suspense: Just as with Bridget Jones’s Mr Darcy, it should be the romantic novelists’ goal to achieve that air of suspense of ‘will they won’t they’ and to share the heroine’s heartache and yearning to be with her love interest. The path to true love is never smooth and introducing a few barriers and stumbling blocks along the way can keep your readers turning the pages to see how it will all come full circle. Because we all love a happy ending!

Sandy Osborne is a serving Police Officer who has self published her two novels with SilverWood Books. Sandy’s writing started after an unflattering picture of her running a charity half marathon was printed in her local paper and she felt compelled to respond with an amusing account of her training programme. She now shares her knowledge and tips for self publishing success with a diary of speaker events at Literature Festivals and with writing groups. A percentage from the sales from Girl Cop the life and loves of an officer on the beat and Girl Cop in Trouble is donated to The Police Dependants’ Trust and St Peter’s Hospice.
Twitter @Girlcopnovel

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Writing Erotica for Women
by Barbie Scott (aka Barbara Scott Emmett)

Ten Top Tips on Writing Erotica for Women

It may seem obvious but erotica needs to be erotic. It must be sensual, exciting, arousing. Be brave – write about what arouses you. After all, if something turns you on, it will turn others on as well.

Never forget that an erotic story is still a story. There must be characterisation and plot. There should be tension, build-up and denouement. Of course there’ll be sex, but there must be more than this. The depiction of cardboard cut-outs banging away is not erotica.

Erotica must entertain. It must be sexy and fun– but take note that’s ‘fun’ not ‘funny’. Amuse on the journey towards the act by all means but when your characters get down and dirty, focus on the serious business of sex. Make your reader smile, but not burst out laughing.

Let your reader enjoy the sexual exploits of a daring female protagonist. Your heroine should be sure of herself and know what she wants. She’ll be in full control of her desires and the satisfaction of them even if she voluntarily relinquishes that control to her lover.

Write from a woman’s point of view. Though a male point of view is sometimes acceptable in women’s erotica, the focus should always be on the female: – her desires and the satisfaction of them are foremost.

Find out what’s been done before and do something different. Some erotic scenarios have been overworked to the point of exhaustion:  sex with the stranger who turns out not to be a stranger, sex with a ghost, vampires, the milkman, the postman, the meter-reader … the list goes on. If you do use these scenarios try to give them a new twist. Be fresh and lively and avoid the obvious.

If you are writing for a magazine or ezine check your target publication to see what level of erotic language is acceptable. Most are happy with the use of four-letter words but some prefer a less direct approach. Avoid the overuse of Latin terminology. Erotica should sizzle but it doesn’t require repeated descriptions of bodily parts.

Bear in mind that the greatest female erogenous zone is the mind. Most women prefer to read about what is going on in the characters’ heads, or their emotional states, or their heightened physical arousal, rather than about the hydraulics of the act itself. So set the scene, let your words conjure up an image, an idea, a possibility. The depiction of the brute act of sex is far less erotic than the anticipation of it.

Be outrageous. Be transgressive. At one time erotica gave off a whiff of the taboo. Now – after Fifty Shades of Grey and such like – it’s out and proud. ,S&M, bondage, threesomes, group sex, gay experimentation, transvestism, transsexualism – these are now the stuff of soap opera and Sunday supplements. So let your imagination fly!

There are still some absolute no-nos, however. Scenarios involving children, animals, blood-letting, and serious harm or death, should be avoided. So make sure all your characters are consenting adult humans and are there because they want to be there. Consider featuring condoms and lubrication to promote safe sex.

So keep it upbeat, entertain and above all, have fun writing it!

~ ~ ~

Condensed from Writing Short Erotica : Words with Jam Feb 2010

Barbie is the author of The Stiletto Heel and Other Stories and Dinner with Daniela and Other Stories

Twitter: @TheStilettoHeel

First image courtesy of Christian Javan

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Literary Fiction – Isn’t it all just clever marketing?

By Jane Davis

Jane Davis
Asked whether she wanted to market her fiction as literary or commercial, Adele Parks enquired, ‘What’s the difference?’ The reply came: ‘Literary fiction sells an average of 7,000 copies. Commercial fiction sells an average of 70,000 copies.’ There was her answer. She wanted to eat.

It’s just as well that the advice received on this occasion was practical. I have always thought that careers’ advisors neglect the question, ‘How much do you want to earn?’ The agent in question might well have waxed lyrical about great literary traditions. Because once an author has made his or her choice, the chances are that they will be pigeon-holed.

Parks was only offered this choice because elements of her writing might be considered to be literary. While we all know what it is not, debate continues about what literary fiction actually is.

"Literary Fiction is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves." (Huffington Post)

‘Literary fiction’ is a label I continue to feel uncomfortable with. As someone with few formal qualifications, it seems arrogant to claim a title shared by the likes of Dickens, Austen and Booker prize-winners. I am also aware that it can be off-putting for some readers, who associate it with something difficult or inaccessible, something that will have them constantly reaching for the dictionary. As John Gardner wrote in The Art of Fiction: “I don't want to be lectured, have issues thrust down my throat or, dare I say it, be called upon to admire the beauty of the language.” While Eimear McBride used her competition wins as a platform to urge publishers to back fiction that is challenging, a large section of readers just want to be entertained.

This week, The Telegraph published an article under the heading, ‘Why Great Novels Don’t Get Noticed.’ In this case, the great novel had been written by Samantha Harvey, whose debut had been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for both the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Guardian First Book Award, and had won the Betty Trask Award. Her third novel, ‘Dear Thief’ had a cover quote from Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, and scores of glowing reviews following its September release, yet, even with these advantages, it has only sold 1,000 copies. Harvey’s editor Dan Franklin explained that, ‘She writes serious books, which is not to the modern taste.’

When we hear Will Self mourn the death of the literary novel, we tend to think of this dilemma as being new. A recent re-reading of Diana Athill’s wonderful memoir ‘Stet’, about her career working as an editor at Andre Deutsch Ltd, served as a reminder that it is anything but. Athill goes on to describe how, when the typescript of a literary book arrived on her desk, she would hope it was bad, because then the decision was easy. But if it was good, the dreaded editorial conference would follow at which the team would estimate how many copies they thought they might shift, and the answer would generally be, ‘About eight hundred’. The decision was then to turn something wonderful in the knowledge that it wouldn’t wash its face, or to accept that they would make a loss.

So, what’s the answer? Kate Mosse, author, founder and defender of the Orange Prize for fiction has found one. She has begun to distance herself from the literary tag, claiming that her skill is story-telling, not literary fiction. The inference is that genre labels are all just clever marketing.

Jane Davis’s debut, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ She was hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch.’ Five self-published novels have followed: I Stopped Time, These Fragile Things, A Funeral for an Owl, An Unchoreographed Life and now her latest, released March 2015, An Unknown Woman. Jane’s favourite description of fiction is that it is ‘made-up truth.’

Monday, 4 May 2015

IAF15: Indie Picks #3

The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer, by Laxmi Hariharan (Recommended by Fran Pickering)

A white-knuckle ride through the disintegrating streets of Bombay as a terrifying encounter with a molester on a train propels Ruby from her everyday commute into a battle for survival – her own and that of the city she loves. A powerful and unique voice drags you into Ruby’s world, her love/hate relationship with supercool but dangerous cop Vikram and her no-holds-barred bloody battle to the death and perhaps beyond with sinister Dr B. A dystopian fantasy with a strong heroine and a central role for Bombay, the city Ruby both loves and hates.

Wood, Talc and Mr J., by Chris Rose (Recommended by Philippa Rees)

A poetic evocation of life in Sheffield in the 70s, rich with song, and even richer in its original images of a family, welded together by factory work, loyalty, dust-ups with Mods and Rockers, and the portraits of people, secure, and indifferent to public opinion. This is memoir through the affectionate nostalgia, a coming of age tribute to what shapes vision and memory. But it is the poetic vernacular that springs the surprises; they allow dandelions to bloom between the paving stones, tossed over the shoulder prolifically and without stopping; those ‘wagged schooldays’, ‘Madame Shake ‘n’Vac’, ‘heart-splintering honesty’ and ‘prematurely ripened humbug’. Brilliant.

The Art of the Imperfect by Kate Evans (Recommended by John Lynch)

The setting is Scarborough. Dr Thelmis Greene’s murder is investigated by DS Theo Akinde who suffers from being: an outsider (he’s not even a Yorkshireman, let alone a Scarborough native; black in a predominantly white skinned and white thinking town; and gay. He isn’t short of suspects, most of whom demonstrate forms of what Yorkshire folk would call madness ranging from post-natal depression through obsession to simple, out-and-out barminess and one of the pleasures of the book is the way in which characters’ mental fragility is not spelled out from the beginning but emerges over time. The way we see character development through watching what people do is far more accomplished than is usual in a first novel. Akinde is fortunate to have the help of a local woman in threading his way through Scarborough family connections but it takes a coincidence of an unsatisfactory kind (the only weak point in the book) before he is able to identify the killer. That, though, is hardly the point; The Art of the Imperfect is an absorbing and sometimes hilarious romp through a seaside resort that still thrives as many today do not but maintains its individual character.

Social Engineer by Ian Sutherland (Recommended by Mari Howard)

This novella – a prequel to Ian Sutherland’s IT-based thriller Invasion of Privacy is a wonderfully gripping read. The story bounces along alternating between the present day and the previous week or so, revealing increasingly toe-curling aspects of the age of digital and the culture of reliance on all things info-tech. The author evidently knows his stuff, and the revelations are toe-curling.
The book is a real page-turner. I loved the crazy sudden end, even if it was frustrating: we of course need to know more...and I’ve already bought the longer novel. Even though 'crime' is not what I usually read…  

 The Golden Lynx, by CP Lesley (Recommended by Liza Perrat)

16th century Russian adventure featuring Nasan, an Islamic Tatar. Witnessing the murder of her brother by a Russian, which triggers a battle, the Tatar princess becomes the peace offering. Nasan is sent far from her homeland to marry Daniil, a relative of her brother’s killer.
Wilful and independent, Nasan refuses to play the expected role of women in this society and before long finds herself caught up in events that will decide the future of Russia.
I knew nothing about this period, and thoroughly enjoyed learning about it through the author’s vivid descriptions and intriguing exploration of the contrast of the two cultures. A compelling historical adventure, and I look forward to reading the sequel, The Winged Horse.

My Memories of a Future Life,
by Roz Morris (Recommended by Lorna Fergusson)

The title alone introduces you to the haunting appeal of this story which weaves an extraordinary vision of the future with a concert pianist’s quest, aided by a mysterious hypnotist, for the cure for her pain – pain which is preventing her from performing. The story examines the role of the artist and questions how well we can know ourselves and others. Dreams and nightmares, conveyed in high-quality writing, along with images of hallucinatory clarity, make this novel memorably atmospheric and highly unusual.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

IAF15: Genres Busting Out All Over

By Linda Gillard

Rave rejections. That’s what authors call them. Publishers say, “We all loved it, but it just won’t sell.” Translation: “We wouldn’t know how to market it.” Books that belong to no clear genre or to more than one, are (it’s said) difficult to market and for something to sell (it’s said), it has to be marketed. Publicity budgets and marketing departments are organised around this commercial fact of life.

Some years ago I parted company with my publisher over my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. My editor claimed if I didn’t re-write it as a romance, they wouldn’t know how to market it. It was a country house mystery/gothic rom-com/psychological family drama, so I could see their point. But I thought it was a rattling good yarn as it stood, so I withdrew the manuscript, thereby committing professional suicide because every other editor delivered the same verdict: HOUSE OF SILENCE was unmarketable.

After two years of rave rejections, I published it myself in 2011. It became a Kindle bestseller. I’ve sold more than 56,000 downloads (it’s never been free) and over 800 paperbacks.

Marketing? I don’t have a clue. (Neither do publishers, as overflowing remainder bookshops will attest.) My marketing budget was spent on a professional cover. I actually promoted HOUSE OF SILENCE as a mixed-genre novel and my teaser blurb ended: “REBECCA meets COLD COMFORT FARM.” Possibly my smartest move was putting my backlist and two more new novels on Kindle and Smashwords as soon as HOUSE OF SILENCE began to sell.

I dealt with mixed-genre marketing problems by ignoring them, refusing to believe selling fiction is all about genre. It isn’t. It’s about story. Time and again, readers tell me they don’t care about genre. It’s all about the story, the characters and the authorial voice.

I had to promote my stories (and myself) because I don’t write genre fiction. It worked because readers are looking for authors to fall in love with and when they find one, they read everything s/he’s written. My novels range from psychological literary fiction to paranormal romance, but someone reviewed me on Amazon recently saying she’d read all seven books in two months. That’s someone buying a voice, not a genre.

Traditional publishers see themselves as gatekeepers, vetting the content and quality of what we read. What authors always knew (but readers didn’t) was that the gates were mostly kept shut. Only certain types of book got through - increasingly, the type supermarkets prefer to sell, with does-what-it-says-on-the-tin covers. Pioneering indie authors took creative risks and discovered readers are far more adventurous than publishers give them credit for. With the subsequent proliferation of genres, sub-genres and creative inter-breeding, boundaries have become gloriously blurred.

So it’s a brave new book world now. Whatever you want to read – gay nautical historical fiction, steampunk erotica, Roman romance with male or even female gladiators – someone is writing it and, thanks to indie authors, someone is publishing it. All kinds of books for all kinds of readers. Isn’t that just what we always wanted?

Linda Gillard lives in the Scottish Highlands. She is the author of seven novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and HOUSE OF SILENCE, selected by Amazon UK as one of their Top Ten "Best of 2011" in the Indie Author category.

Friday, 1 May 2015

IAF15 : Genre Bender

By Rohan Quine

The genre labels assigned to a novel reflect its content, but they are also perpetrations of marketing. Behind that front cover, complexity can be a rich asset; but in marketing, it is more of a liability, because this is a realm of clear, simple categories. Which must explain why I took the cunning step of writing what is best categorised as “Literary Fiction with a touch of Magical Realism and a dusting of Horror”. A smooth move, marketing-wise, I think you’ll agree…

The three categories in that phrase are intrinsic to the five tales of mine that are published so far, but their basic DNA is Literary Fiction. These categories were applied only after the books were completed, however: the writing of them was guided only from within, where they felt simply unified in themselves, sitting in the middle of their own coherent world. Each story just grew into itself, dragging me along, with overpowering visuals as well as powerful verbal rhythms throughout; then once it was written, it jumped into the brand-new business of being its finished self, and remained there. I once overheard someone ask “What is that plant there – or is it a weed?” as they peered at an unidentified green thing, and I imagined the plant piping up in reply, “What are you talking about? I’m just me, growing here happily, thank you!”

So what are they doing, then, these five little monsters? The only reply I can give is that I’m aiming to push imagination towards its extremes, as best I can, in order to explore and illuminate the beauty, horror and mirth of this predicament called life, where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time. All five were written as a celebration of the darkest and brightest possibilities of human personality and language, as far as I’m able to see down those avenues. They are often humorous, in the context of a lot of fucked-up darkness and complexity, because to me these ingredients taste like salient flavours in the dubious-looking cocktail that life will keep on pushing towards us across this cosmic cocktail-bar, whatever different drink we actually placed an order for. Though often focused on the darker aspects of our existence, all five also seek ways of our transcending those aspects with emotional and aesthetic honesty, love, and a healthy dose of mirth along the way.

I respect the reader’s sophisticated ability to take on the most subtle and complex fireworks this rich English language of ours wants to explode at us; but I’ve aimed to make all five as accessible and entertaining as possible too, provided they’re read with a degree of focus. And if they are read with that, I guarantee this investment by the reader will be repaid with double-digit interest, even in a tough economy.

Within the wider commercial marketplace I’m aware that a cross-genre LitFic endeavour like the above is a strangely non-commercial one for anybody to embark on; but those of us who are nonetheless barmy enough to embark seriously on such a thing are doing so, of course, out of a very deep love and respect for the endeavour. If the content or voice in those five tales had been guided by genre/marketing expectations, then I reckon the process would have felt wrong. For me there was a lot more joy to be found in being steered and challenged from within the tales themselves. After all, writing may as well be as joyful as possible, we hope! Otherwise, let’s face it, there are plenty more sensible things to be doing instead.

As an added extra, here's Rohan and Dan on protecting artistic diversity.

Rohan Quine is an author of literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and a dusting of horror, celebrating the darkest and brightest possibilities of human imagination and personality: The Imagination Thief, The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong. @RohanQuine