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Historical Novel Society: Oxford 2016 Part One

Evening all! Yes, that’s right, it’s September and that means it’s Festival Season in the Book World after the ones in Music World. A good time to mingle with famous people, spend a fortune on books, meet up with friends and make new ones.

First of all is the Historical Novel Society’s biennial (not biannual, or is it? Anyway, it’s every couple of years) which was held at Oxford University. First up was a panel discussion on what the Next Big Thing might be. Here are some of the periods mentioned:

  • Second World War: many younger people are not as aware of the events of this time. It is mainly covered in espionage but there isn’t much known about other events such as the war in Africa.
  • Ancient Greece: Has not been as widely written about as Ancient Rome, which has been very popular over the last few years.
  • People from a wider range of backgrounds throughout the ages, although there is increasing diversity as there is more translated material becoming available.
  • The Cold War. This is a fascinating time period and a new generation are coming of age with no memory of it.

The impact of television series were mentioned as being very popular with serials such as Downton Abbey and The Last Kingdom being two recent examples. There was also discussion on how historical fiction can be labelled in a book shop. Should it have its own section or put in general fiction or those crossed with other genres such as crime be put in that sections? One thing everyone agreed on was as long as the writing is good and tells a good story that is all that matters.


Something Rich and Strange

Can’t think of anything to buy people for Christmas? Want to treat yourself but haven’t seen anything you want? Was Black Friday more like Blank Friday?

Then why not buy this latest offering from the Random Writers? Something Rich and Strange is an anthology of fourteen stories that explore what happened next after legends or folk tales placed in historical settings.

The electronic version of this books is available to pre-order now and the paperback is on sale from the 12th December.

And while you’re waiting for that, you can whet your appetite with the first anthology the Randoms produced: A Seeming Glass.


Read Through History: February 2015

Pinch, punch, first of the month and no retur… OW!

Anyway we’re now two months down in 2015, doesn’t time fly? I’m still writing 2014 down! In fact I think I wrote 2013 down the other day…

So here’s what I read in February and what I thought of it.

1) Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. Really good story following a group of characters trying to avoid the Black Death in the late 1340s.

2) Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor. Bit of non-fiction to go with the fiction. Give it a go.

3) 1356 by Bernard Cornwell. The latest installment in the Thomas of Hookton novels, this covers the lead up to and the Battle of Poitiers in the Hundred Years War. Very good. Got it signed as well!

4) R. U. R. by Karel Capek. This was the BBC Radio adaptation of the Czech play that brought the word ‘robot’ into the English language.

5) The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. Read this alternative history on holiday and enjoyed it very much. I also watched the pilot episode of the series and look forward to seeing the rest when it’s available.

6) The Amber Antidote by Tom Harris. This is the sequel to Tom’s previous book The Amber Room. A brilliant piece of work from an up and coming Young Adult Fiction writer.

7) The Ten Thousand Things by John Spurling. Taking a break from European history, this is set in China between the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. It’s also been nominated for the Sir Walter Scott Award.

8) Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham. After talking about the film Village of the Damned with friends, I thought I’d read some of the work by one of Britain’s leading science fiction writers. This is one of his first novels. See what you think.

And as for my current scribblings, The Lenin Plots is currently being hawked around the agents and Novel Three (who still hasn’t got a title) is half way through its edits.

Read Through History: November 2014

So, December is upon us and tis will soon be the season to be jolly. Here’s what I’ve been reading along with doing the Christmas Shopping:

1) The Hidden Crown by David Haworth. This is the first in the Northland series, set one hundred years after the Battle of Hastings in an alternative timeline. Instead of William of Normandy winning the throne of England, Harald Hardrada comes to an agreement with the surviving brothers of Harold II and England is once again divided between the English and the Norsemen. Very interesting.

2) Death and the Devil by Frank Schatzing. A crime thriller set in thirteenth century Cologne. It was good to read something set in a setting where very little has been written about it.

3) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A tale about life in a Stalinist gulag.

4) Too Long to Die by Pat Jackson. A murder mystery set thirty thousand years ago. A very interesting idea and well worth a read.

5) Renegade by Robyn Young. The second book in the Robert Bruce series. I enjoyed Insurrection and I am halfway through this at the time of writing. It’s very good and I’m already looking forward to the third book.

So there we are for November. If I don’t put another post up, I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! Oh, and if you’re stuck for something to read over the Yuletide season and there’s nothing in the bookshop except Space Poems, Ghost Stories and that Viking Novel I wrote, you could always have a look at this.

Self-Publishing in the Digital Age

This week I went to a talk at the University of Portsmouth all about self-publishing. Tom Sykes, travel writer and lecturer at the University, led the session which consisted of a panel of writers and entrepreneurs, all of whom have published work themselves in a variety of ways. Independent publishing has risen by sixty percent over the last few years (according to Publishers’ Weekly) and this seismic shift is largely due to the increasing professionalism of the writers.

Mike Manson of Past and Present Press, a Bristol-based publisher, decided to publish his work himself in the 1990s. He gave advice based on his own experiences including: 1) Get the book edited and proofread properly. 2) Choose a decent font that is readable (Garamond has been around for two hundred years). 3) Consider paper, layout and size (will the book fit on the shelves of most shops? White or cream paper? What images, if any?) 4) Sort out barcodes and ISBNS (depending on how you publish).

Mike also discussed how to sell the book. There are very few bookshops around now apart from chains and a few independent ones. Depending on what you are writing you can look at other places such as gift shops. There is also the internet and this is also useful with selling the book and finding an audience for the book.

Next up was Tessa Ditner, a local writer and editor of the spellbinding Portsmouth Fairy Tales (available at all good bookshops). Her experiences with self-publishing meant she was in complete control of all areas of how her books were produced, while being published the traditional way would have meant losing much of that. Tessa was able to have a say in the design of the cover, the size of the book and how and where it was sold. Self-publishing is also a much faster process than traditional publishing, particularly if you know artists, photographers and booksellers who can help you.

Tessa also talked about the collaboration element of publishing a book yourself. The Portsmouth Fairy Tales (that is still available at all good bookshops, and no, I am not being paid to say this) involved many different writers, graphic designers, a photographer and people to make the trailer. There were also events at two festivals, which gave the book free exposure, and there was the chance to write articles for magazines and work with venues to host events (theatres, libraries, etc).

The final speaker was Alex Sebley, who founded the publishing company 137 Albion Road using a crowdfunding site called Kickstarter. He discussed how he published the work of a local writer, Gareth Rees, by setting up this company. He also mention the Independent Publishers Network and the need for editors.

All in all this was a very interesting event and it was also good to see there are many writers who are hoping to get their work out despite rejections and that their is a growing entrepreneurial spirit among artists in Portsmouth.

Events in the Area

Over the last couple of months I have been to two literary festivals: Havant and the Portsmouth Bookfest. Both of these were very interesting and laid on all kinds of different events.

At Havant I was lucky enough to have the chance to sell some books (I managed to pay for my train fare and have some left over so thanks to all those that came and bought some). I also went to two talks in one evening. The first was with crime writer Fergus McNeill, who has written for the games industry too and he was also on the panel for the Gaming and Story session along with a leading figure in the game industry, Sam Barlow, and the actor Doug Cockle. Both sessions were very interesting and there will be a future post on computer games and storytelling.

The following evening I was back in Havant to see one of the keynote speakers, Will Self. His talk was most entertaining and I got a book signed. That’s the thing with these events: I’m running out of room in my signed-books box…

The Portsmouth Bookfest kicked off with a talk from historical fiction author Simon Scarrow. Simon is the author of the Macro and Cato series of Roman novels and has also written a series set during the French Revolution. There is now a game featuring the protagonists of his Eagle series which I should download at some point.

The following week was the launch event with the launch of the paperback of Portsmouth Fairy TalesGive this a go as there are some brilliant stories in there (and, no, they have not paid me to write this!)

The Bookfest also has non-fiction events and there was a very interesting talk on Portsmouth during the Great War by local historian Sarah Quail, about the men that joined as soldiers, those left behind, the role of women and the navy at the time.

On Halloween I was lucky enough to be invited to perform a story from my anthology at the Day of the Dead event. This was a splendid soiree of spooky scribbling assembled by Mister William Sutton. Good fun was had all round.

Last Friday was another historical fiction event about sex, love and violence in the Middle Ages with James Burge and Michael Jecks. This discussion was very entertaining and I look forward to reading their books that I bought.

The final event I went to was CSI Portsmouth in the Royal Naval Museum. I enjoyed this series of discussions very much but not the cold that was doing a merry dance on my chest…

So it’s been another busy season of literary events down on this part of the South Coast so do keep your eyes out for next year!

Coming Soon…

Front PageAvailable to pre-order soon…


Festival of Writing 2014: The Last Bit: Closing Address

This year’s Festival closed with a talk from bestselling author Matt Haig, who gave us an inspiring insight into his writing life and how he overcame negativity and illness to build a fiction writing career. The best piece of advice I got from this talk was that people create to make sense of life and books are maps through a very confusing world.

This year’s writing events have been thoroughly inspiring and insightful. My thanks goes to all those who were part of the organising and running of these two weekends. Respect is due to you all.

And if you, dear reader, have enjoyed my writings of these events and want me to go to more, do buy my books. Keep your eyes peeled for an announcement of my next one soon!

Festival of Writing 2014 Segment Ten: Psychic Distance

Debi Alper took us through how to get inside the heads of our characters and the stages in which a writer can do this.

This skill is very useful when writing in the first person as the voice needs to be able to move in and out of the narration but, whatever voice is used, the work needs to manipulate the reader’s emotional involvement with the characters.

There are five types of sentences that each have a degree of connection with the characters’ psyche: 1) factual (and telly), 2) a bit of personal information, 3) a bit more, 4) even more 5) right under their skin (showy). These should be put together in equal measure but how this is done is up to the writer, providing there is no jump from one to five or the writing gets clunky. In a film it can go from being a long shot to an x-ray.

This session was very useful and interesting but unfortunately I had to leave early for a one-to-one but here is some further information about it:

Festival of Writing 2014 Section Nine: The Nuts and Bolts of Self-Publishing

Last year I attended David Gaughran’s workshop on why self-publishing found it to be really insightful and useful. This workshop was a natural progression from the first and did not disappoint.

The purpose of this talk was to find out how writers can build an audience and make a living from publishing their work themselves.

The best time to get sales is within the first three days so the book can ride high in the Amazon charts and this will get it noticed by those who follow them. If a book is high in the charts, more people are likely to buy it. This is why sales are a good idea as they encourage readers to buy the book initially and later readers will be happy to buy more when the price goes up as they’ll pay a little bit more for something that looks good.

Mailing lists are essential for this. Don’t bombard subscribers but just let them know when a release is imminent and maybe have a link to the pre-order pages. Word of mouth is also invaluable and once you have a series, you can drop the price on that so you can encourage sales of further books. Boxed sets with other authors can also do this.