Monday, 30 April 2018

Debbie Young Thinks Outside the Box about Bookmarks


Call me old-fashioned, but I love a good bookmark, and I have a large collection ready for action whenever I need one. 

Some of these have been made for me by those too young to read my books yet...


I have some that I've treasured since I was very young - I've had these two since I lived in California at the age of 8...



I have some handmade ones, such as these two I embroidered when my eyesight was sharper than it is now...


Some are souvenirs of bookish events I've enjoyed or at which I've spoken...


Bookmarks make great low-budget souvenirs of places that I enjoy visiting as a tourist...


So when I decided to produce some swag to promote my growing Sophie Sayers Village Mystery novels (four and counting...), a good bookmark was the obvious choice.

But as to the design, I was stumped. I love the gorgeous book cover designs produced for me by the wonderful Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design, but with three more books to come in the series, and three more spin-offs planned, if I featured the covers on my bookmarks, I'd either have to wait till I'd written the whole lot, or be stuck with bookmarks that didn't feature the latest additions to the series.

Beautiful book covers by Rachel Lawston of Lawston Design

Then came a light-bulb moment from an unlikely quarter. It was when I was planning the most recent Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, the fourth of which took place last Saturday. (Diary date for the fifth one: Saturday 27th April 2019.

Gosh, Festival bookmarks - bet you didn't see those coming!

In previous years, I'd used my dad's watercolour of our best-known local landmark to promote the Festival, but this year, when adding a new venue to our programme, Hawkesbury Primary School, I shared a photo of it on Facebook.

Next evening, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful sketch that one of the Festival authors, Thomas Shepherd, had produced, entirely unsolicited.

Hawkesbury Primary School - Copyright Thomas Shepherd

Ever the opportunist, I immediately sought and was granted his permission to use the image (which remains his copyright) in Festival publicity, putting it on the printed programme and on the website. He also kindly offered to provide a high quality print, which I bought as a thank-you gift for the School, which they liked very much.

"Do you take commissions?" was my next question, as my plot began to hatch...

A New Episode for Sophie Sayers

As anyone who has read any of the books in the Sophie Sayers series will know, the stories take place in a pretty Cotswold village similar to the one where I've lived for the last twenty-seven years, and one of the focal points in each book is the village bookshop, Hector's House, where Sophie works and falls in love with the charming, enigmatic proprietor, Hector Munro.

Thomas's drawing gave me the idea of commissioning a picture of Hector's House to go on a bookmark that purports to promote my fictitious bookshop - though there's also be a line on there to promote my books more subtly than simply displaying the covers.

"Can you send me a photo of what you have in mind?" asked Thomas, which sent me scurrying around the Cotswolds looking for a building that matched my mental picture of Hector's shop.

The closest I could find was Nailsworth Computer Shop, which needed a few architectural adjustments to make it right.

Long story short: the drawing that Thomas produced was lovelier than I could possibly have imagined, and he even added touches of his own, such as Hector's personalised numberplate - and he's given me strict instructions to write into the series a mysterious event taking place in the hayloft above the garage!

Hector's House - Copyright Thomas Shepherd

As you can probably tell by now, I was thrilled - and enormously grateful - and immediately ordered a simple bookmark that shows it off in all its glory, leaving the flip side blank so I could also use it as a compliments slip or correspondence card.


It is now capturing the imagination of so many people who see it - including my dad, who has found a further application for the design: a promotional shopping bag! 


I had fun giving them out when I launched the fourth book in the series, Murder by the Book, at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival last weekend, and I now have a supply permanently stashed in my purse so I can pass them on to anyone I see reading a book, anywhere I go!

So if you're also a fan of bookmarks...

A fan of bookmarks (ho ho)

...and you're looking for an illustration of a key venue in your books to promote them, you know who to ask: Thomas Shepherd of www.shepline.com, who, as it happens, has also just launched The Imaginary Wife, the second in his extraordinary series about a man who marries his imaginary friend. (That is not his imaginary friend in the photo below - it's fellow Festival author Katharine E Smith!)

Thomas Shepherd and Katharine E Smith at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest last weekend (photo by fellow Festival author Kate Frost)


To order a copy of Murder by the Book, visit viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook - now available in ebook and paperback around the world.

To find out more about the Sophie Sayers series, visit the series page at viewbook.at/SophieSeries - or visit my website's fiction section.

To commission your own drawing by Thomas Shepherd, contact him via his website: www.shepline.com - and tell him that Hector Munro recommended him!

FOOTNOTE
When I was sharing this experience with some local writer friends, one of them told me that the Nailsworth Computer Shop, on which the drawing was based, used to be a bookshop - how spooky is that?!






Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Talking Stage: N M Browne


I am at that chatty stage of my new novel. It’s still new enough that I can  talk about it without boring myself rigid. I have
instead bored my husband rigid, not to mention a few other family members, who have all expressed just the right degree of enthusiasm. They know me well and they know they won't have to endure it for long: the chatty stage  won’t last. Soon, even a polite inquiry will be met with a grunt and an expletive and not long after that, the novel will be a topic that is simply not discussed. Ever.
    Although this is a relative good moment in the  novel writing cycle, it is a slightly dangerous one because the story of the story gets shorter with each retelling. That’s great for elevator pitches, but as I’m more of a stairs girl myself  (and the backstairs at that ) I don’t need to make a story shorter and simpler, but longer and wilder if it is going to go the distance. I don’t like to know too much too clearly or I lose interest so fixing a story's form through conversation can kill it dead.  
     Luckily, I am not the only one doing the talking: my characters are bickering in the background, having coffee together, going to the pub speculating, gossiping even soliiloquising in the low level, largely ignorable way of the radio. I don’t think this means I’m mad. I hope it doesn’t make me mad. Whenever I catch myself thinking, I am thinking about the next scene, eavesdropping really. I rarely write the scenes I’ve overheard,  at least not in the way I’ve heard them. Maybe because, having imagined them one way, I have to write them another, in order to keep myself interested.          
     I realise this all makes me sound like some hyper active teenager with a low boredom threshold and a tendency to start projects she doesn't always finish, and apart from the teenage bit, that is not an unfair representation of my mental state. Finishing a novel requires me to walk this narrow, slippery tight rope  slung between the beginning and the end, knowing neither too much nor too little. 
         At some stage even this chattering will stop, the characters will only perform on the page and sometimes not even then. The tightrope will swing  and my balance will grow ever more precarious and it is all about somehow making it to the end before I fall off it altogether. Is that how it works for you?


Saturday, 28 April 2018

The Short Story – a Format for our Times. by Bill Kirton





Last week, Ali Bacon covered this topic and asked ( and  answered) some penetrating questions about many of its technical aspects as well as its potential. These are just some additional musings on the form.

The best short stories can have the same intensity and levels of reader involvement as a novel or the concentrated power of a poem. Edgar Allen Poe and Maupassant packed more into theirs than other writers manage in entire novels. Bizarrely though, given that we live in times where speed is essential, sound bites are the norm and it seems that ‘we have no time to stand and stare’, lots of publishers/agents still say explicitly, ‘No short stories’. And yet, in theory at least, it ought to offer the perfect fit for commuters with their e-readers and anyone who relishes grabbing a few moments during the galloping days to relax with some fiction.

The beauty of the form is that it can be so many things, some of them just an evocation of a mood, others a complete, self-contained ‘story’ with beginning, middle and end, others still a simple memory or a dream. If they’re written with care, they don’t need to have an ending. Some very good ones simply set the scene for what readers know will be a lifetime of misery or bliss for the characters. In terms of length, my own range from 6000 to 500 words. And then there are the mini ones like those on some online sites. Perhaps the most-quoted example is that attributed (dubiously) to Hemingway, a ‘six-word novel’ which we’d now call flash fiction:

‘For Sale, Baby shoes. Never worn.’

although I have another favourite, which was definitely written by my brother Ron. It was called Lost and, in its entirety, it went:

“That ring you lost, was it your wedding ring?”
“Not really.”

That’s’ a good example of how short stories, however complete (or however short) they are, often still leave you with echoes, aspects of people and events you’d like to know more about.

As for where the ideas come from, or how I know a particular topic is a short story rather than a play or whatever, I don’t think there’s a rule. My short stories tend to come from times when I think ‘OK, I have x hours free and I want to write something so I’ll write a complete story’. There’s a satisfaction about giving yourself exclusively to a piece of writing that you know you’re going to complete – in terms of its first draft anyway – at one sitting. You may not, of course; complications may arise, new, uninvited characters may barge in. And, anyway, it won't be the finished article because you’ll be returning to edit the thing in a day or two (or longer, preferably).

An anthology, especially one which features several different authors, can offer a range of perspectives, styles and experiences which keep refreshing the reader’s curiosity and illustrating just how flexible the story form is. If you want proof, just get hold of a copy of A Flash in the Pen, Another Flash in the Pen, One More Flash in thePen, or Ghosts Electric – all anthologies from the Authors Electric team.









Friday, 27 April 2018

Why Risk Poverty Just to be a Writer? - Andrew Crofts



Another book recommendation for anyone who likes to read about writing and writers. “Self & I: A Memoir of Literary Ambition” by Matthew De Abaitua.



Almost anyone who came of age realising that the only thing they wanted to do with their lives was write will find something moving, funny or frightening in this memoir of a young writer from an entirely non-literary family wading out into the swamps of intellectual snobbery and potential poverty in search of the elusive uplands of literary success.

The USP for this particular story is that young Matthew was employed by Will Self, a novelist famous for being a terrifying mixture of drug and drink fuelled intellectual rigour, Hunter S. Thompsonesque japery and, some might say, literary pretension. The book is marketed as being a real-life "Withnail and I" – and it certainly fulfils that brief, but it is also a serious look at why on earth so many of us are willing to risk starving to death in order to be free to write what we want.

Reading it reminded me of how scared and excited I felt when reading Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” as a teenager. Books like these are what keep us glued to our keyboards day and night when so many more pleasant distractions are beckoning us away.

Quick disclaimer: This book was edited by the excellent Scott Pack, who also edited my “Confessions of a Ghostwriter”.  


Thursday, 26 April 2018

A Malaysian Literary Festival wins at The London Book Fair 2018, by Dipika Mukherjee

Picture from Facebook

The George Town Literary Festival (GTLF) won the Literary Festival Award at The London Book Fair in 2018, on April 10.
But why should we even care about this win by a little-known literary festival?
The judges chose the George Town Literary Festival as it “stands out as a vibrant, diverse and brave festival that engages with a wide community of voices, speaking to the world from a complex region”.
BRAVE. In a complex region. 

YES. This is first South-East Asian literary festival to win the prestigious award, GTLF director Bernice Chauly and her team continue to do the impossible. Buttressed by booksellers like Gareth Ismail of Gerakbudaya, this festival presents an eclectic range of world voices, with an emphasis on Asia, despite the odds.
Malaysia has some of the toughest censorship laws in the world. 

Books, as well as movies are censored, and the authorities just passed a fake-news bill on April 2, 2018, which is likely to further stifle free speech with punishments of up to six years in prison and a fine of RM 500, 000 (US$128,000).
The Malaysian Prime Minister is embroiled in the 1MDB financial scandal under investigation by the Department of Justice in the US, but the Malaysian newspaper commenting on this issue was shut down. Free speech, or a free judiciary even, is under siege in this democracy.
Among the books banned by the Malaysian authorities is Zunar's Sapuman: Man of Steel  which has illustrations of the Malaysian Prime Minister and the allegations surrounding the 1MDB scandal.
Yet Zunar's work has been featured at the Georgetown Literary Festival, as have voices of opposition. The panels are feisty and free-wheeling, for the George Town Literary Festival is held in Penang, and has been a bastion for free speech in a country where the laws are getting more draconian. 
What can we do to support these brave writers and literary curators? 
Read books by authors writing about Malaysia. Go beyond your usual readings lists and explore the world of writers in countries where writing or speaking can be seen as acts of sedition. There is much to be discovered.
Or, if you can, attend the Georgetown Literary Festival from November 22-25 this year. I'll be there!

Dipika Mukherjee is a writer and educator. Her work, focusing on the politics of modern Asian societies and diaspora, is internationally renown. In the past year, she has given a keynote at the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference (Bali, 2017), juried at the Neustadt International Literary Festival (USA, 2017), spoken at the Hearth Festival (Wales, 2018) and the Singapore Writers Festival (Singapore, 2017), among others. More at dipikamukherjee.com.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Gold! Gold, Gold, Gold... by Susan Price

I started with this >>>>.

I'd decided to get my Elfgift books out as indies. Originally they were published as part of Scholastic's 'Point Fantasy' series, but they'd been out of print for ages. People kept asking me where they could buy them.

Publishing the interior of a book isn't hard, with Createspace's help. The hard part is the cover. Hence this experiment. Since Elfgift is set in a fantasy Anglo-Saxon Dark Age-- yes, it's that kind of a book, a kind you either like or hate-- the lettering had to be suggestive of that. And I quite like the lettering. The font is 'Viking.' Not straight Viking-- I made some letters much larger and moved them about.

Since Elfgift is a sort of 'green man'-- yes, again, it's that kind of book-- I tried the 'peering through the forest leaves' idea. And abandoned it. Too fussy, too cluttered. Too difficult to bring off.

I thought: Less is more. It needs a font that lets you know it's set in the past. And a bit of barbaric splendour... It happens that, in the story, a burned and broken shield-decoration is brought to a character, as proof that his brother has been killed. So I got a wikimedia photo of one of the Sutton Hoo shield ornaments and came up with this.

Nearer the mark, I thought. Simpler. Clearer. But still not right. I asked my brother's advice. "Get rid of the red," he said. I'd chosen a red background and had experimented with overlays to change the tone, because I'd thought red was rich, royal-- y'know, barbaric splendour and all that.

He just pulled a face and said, cryptically, "Blue is the opposite of yellow." And true, a blue background would make any yellow look richer and yellower. A red background tends to kill it.

Thinking about making yellows richer got me thinking about making the gold shine and I soon became obsessed with making the lettering look as if it was made of gold. I followed a Photoshop tutorial by Steve Patterson, which you can find here on-line.

After much brain-bashing, I managed to produce this:--


I played about and experimented a lot more. I took a hint from the original publication and added the screamer line 'I choose the slain!' One of the characters is a Valkyrie, see. And the meaning of the word, Valkyrie is, 'Chooser of the Slain.'

I came up with this. I was still trying with the red.



Then I decided to make the shield fitting much bigger -- and while I was doing that, might as well try the background in dark blue.


I was very pleased with this at first. Now I have an actual paper copy in my hand, though, I'm not completely happy with it. Maybe I should have stuck with the original white lettering? Or maybe the gold should be a lot paler.

I can change it easily. I still have the master-copy with all its photo-shop layers. I can change the tints and shades of the gold and make it less red-gold and more white-gold. I can make my name plain white letters.

I like the size and position of the shield-fitting, but I can alter the placing of the screamer line.

Can't spare the time to mess about with it now, though, as I'm working on getting the sequel, Elf King out as well. And I'm finding the cover even more difficult.
 
Do I use this? It's based on the famous purse-lid from Sutton Hoo. The man between the wolves is often thought to be Odin, and Odin is a main character in Elf King. My brother took one look at it and said, "Silly face."

Well, yeah... I am always thrilled by this jewel. It whispers to me, 'mysterious past, ancient myth, fascinating archaeology...' But I can't deny that the man between wolves -- if they are wolves and not dogs, maybe even whippets -- has a silly face.


Or there's this. It's based on a helmet-plate from a swedish grave. The original shows (it's thought) one of the einherjar. They were the companions of Valkryries, though hardly anyone knows about them. The Valkyries chose the slain but the einherjar killed them. There is another helmet plate which shows an einherjar floating in the air and grasping the end of a spear which is held by another man. The
einherjar is directing the spear.

They were Odin's host, his ghost-warriors. The original plate (right) shows a bear standing behind the youth with a spear -- an armed bear, wearing a sword. He is probably meant to be a berserk, who were sometimes thought to turn into bears. (There's an argument about whether 'berserk' means 'bare of shirt' because they fought naked; or 'bear-shirt' because they were said to put on a bear skin and turn into bears.)

And how do we know that the youth on the helmet plate is an einherjar? Because he wears a horned helmet. I have banged on, here and on other blogs, about the fact that no viking ever wore a horned helmet-- except, that is, for the supernatural ones. There is a bronze figurine of a kneeling youth, dating from 'The Nordic Bronze Age.' He is some forgotten god because he wears a horned helmet. Though, in his case, the horns look more like bent lengths of gas-pipe. Yer ordinary mortal viking didn't wear horned helmets any more than we go about wearing halos.


I copied the youth on the helmet plate and flipped him over so there are two youth dancing back to back-- it refers to an incident in Elf King.

But I can't help thinking that the dancing youth looks rather silly too. Back to Photoshop?




Anyway, here's Elfgift, on sale at Amazon.

Only fair to warn people that the cover will be subject to change without notice.






Picture Credit: Figure from Sutton Hoo Shield, British Museum

© Johnbod https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Johnbod


Tuesday, 24 April 2018

You are old, Boris Johnson, the young man said ... Jo Carroll

We live in grim times. Those of us in the UK are faced with a government busy eating itself, unable to manage the competing demands of the negotiations that will sever us from Europe, the consequences of austerity that sees the NHS at breaking point and poverty spiralling out of control, and a blatantly racist discussion about who belongs here and who doesn’t. Our environment is drowning in plastic. Even our weather is non-compliant. (It’s not for me to comment on presidential difficulties in America). 

One solution to this madness - distracting the electorate from things that really matter by bombing a country thousands of miles away. 

People (by people I mean readers) need fiction more than ever. Fiction that not only addresses the deal and meaningful, but also provides some light relief, entertainment, brain-space away from all the guff that fills the newspapers and leaps at us from the internet.

What a responsibility for us writers! How wonderful it is to be able to provide a few minutes of cheer among all the wailing and gnashing of teeth!

If only I could. And here I speak only for myself. For all my efforts to cheer others - and myself - tend to end up in something of a diatribe, helping no one.

For instance, I love playing with parodies of poems. Someone else has done the hard work deciding on form and rhyme scheme - I just mess about with the words. Surely that would bring a little light relief? But ...

You are old, Boris Johnson, the young man said
And your hair has become very white
And yet you persistently lie through your teeth
Do you think at your age it is right?

It’s not lies, it is Latin, Boz Johnson replied
The fruit of my posh education.
It’s not my fault if you and the great British press
Are as thick as the rest of the nation.

But now you’re an MP, the young man said,
Your great words should carry authority.
Such piffle, said Boz, don’t speak like I care 
For the so much less privileged majority.

But you should care, Boz Johnson, the young man said
For these are the crowds that elect you.
And they’re happy with twaddle, Boz Johnson replied
Or they’d never have been taken in by all that Brexit shit ...


You see what I mean? This began as a game, but yet again it leads me down a miserable road. (Unless anyone, possibly with better Latin than I have, can come up with something frivolous. I, for one, would be deeply grateful.)

Sunday, 22 April 2018

The Power of the Short Story: Ali Bacon gets involved

Launching 'In the Blink of an Eye'

In a very busy week (book launch, book launch!) I found myself a last-minute stand-in for one of a a series of talks called Desert Island Books in which the theme was The Power of the Short Story. I jumped at the chance to contribute (isn't my novel at least in part a series of short stories?) then wondered if, as a somewhat reluctant short story reader, I was the right person for the job. 

In fact the discussion was a good humoured affair - organised by the Friends of Redland Library in Bristol - with a very well-informed audience who posed some acute questions. I'm now cross with myself for not taking notes, but here are the topics I recall took  up most of our time.





Does the short story form give freedom or impose restrictions on the writer?

It was generally agreed that the short form at least brings freedom from the weight (physical and mental!) of a novel-in progress. Otherwise it was left to  Pete Sutton to suggest that just as poetic form (sonnet, villanelle etc)  grants a kind of freedom, the same could be said of the restrictions of word-count implied by a short story.  

I understood where he was coming from, although it occurred to me later that for me to concentrate on a single episode or character also granted freedom from considering a wider and more complex story arc - yes, a plot! Which was probably how I came to write In the Blink of an Eye in the way I did. The wider story was in my head, but I resisted the desire to think about it while dealing with the immediate concern of the 'short story' or chapter I was working on. In retrospect I think this was a good thing, even if it began as an escape route - a virtue of necessity!   


How has the short story developed in recent times?

New ways of presenting short stories
I think the factor of length was mentioned - the trend towards shorter forms which are readable on a commute, flash fiction, and even story tweets. Also the proliferation of media outlets - audio, podcast and short story vending machines! 

I thought it worth considering that short story styles mirror fiction writing generally, e.g.  the modern preference for 'close' view points rather than the omniscient narrators of previous eras. Which brought us to the next question.. 

What are the origins of the short story as we think of it?

Here was an excellent opportunity for us all to show off a bit with mutterings of Homer, Chaucer, Arabian Nights oral tradition etc etc until an audience member brought us to heel with a reminder of the antecedents of the literary short story which we agreed began in the nineteenth century. Serialisations were also mentioned - from Dickens to women's magazines today. 

The future of the short story

I'm not sure this was addressed as a separate question, but as well as developments mentioned above, Jonathan Pinnock talked about the relative increase in short story publishing via small presses and also the trend to use short stories as the basis for a novel. Here I was a bit too excited at being held up as an example to notice who else came up, but I know I've referred to Ali Smith and Donal Ryan in this context before, to which I would add Kent Harulf's stunning Benediction. 


Here are some of the other books and authors who featured in our Desert Island choices - with apologies for the lack of detail. (It has been a long week!) 
Jonathan Pinnock - Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies.
Pete Sutton - The Weird Compendium edited by & J
Ali Bacon (me) - Sandlands by Rosy Thornton
Bertel Martin (http://www.citychameleon.co.uk/) Collected Stories of Aldous Huxley
Louise Gethin - stories by Roald Dahl

Thanks to my fellow panel members for their erudite and entertaining company and of course to  the Friends of Redland Library for the opportunity to meet and talk - and for the reminder of the huge part libraries play in our lives. 


Ali Bacon's In the Blink of an Eye, is a novel in ten voices and nineteen stories , inspired by the work of early photographers Hill and  Adamson.
'Brings colour and texture to a story only told before in black and white.' (Roger Watson, Curator, Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock, Wiltshire)

'Written with insight and passion, I couldn't put it down.' (Rob Douglas, 21st century calotypist)

Available in paperback from Linen Press and on Kindle

Saturday, 21 April 2018

How to get a publishing contract: Then and Now - Katherine Roberts

Author launch - Then (take one)
I started publishing book-length fiction in 1999, about ten years before Amazon opened their Kindle Direct Publishing platform and made it possible for authors to publish themselves without first winning the lottery. In other words, there was only one route to market, and it relied on an editor saying "yes". My first book Song Quest did the rounds, agented by me out of necessity, and eventually came out with a small UK publisher in the traditional way: hardcover first with a modest print run of about 1,000 copies (which sold out), and then paperback with a slightly larger print run that probably would have done quite well in the shops, since by then my book had won the Branford Boase Award given to a debut author and their editor for an outstanding book for young readers, on the strength of which I had been taken on by a top London agent keen to develop my career. Unfortunately, though, Element Books went into receivership a few weeks after the ceremony and pulped all the copies, so we never did find out how well.

Song Quest - first edition hardcover
(Element 1999)

Author launch - Then (take two)
After a year or so of contract-wrangling, which I left up to my agent (one of the big publishers HarperCollins was taking over Element's "mind, body and spirit" list, but my book was a fiction title, and my editor at Element had decided to set up his own publishing company The Chicken House and wanted to take on Song Quest himself), I signed a second contract for Song Quest and two sequels with The Chicken House. This turned into a brilliant experience. My editor Barry Cunningham had previously worked at Bloomsbury, where he'd commissioned the first Harry Potter title, so he knew what he was doing. So did my agent. A deal with Scholastic US for the American rights swiftly followed, and what was by now an epic fantasy trilogy for teenagers came out with lovely new covers on both sides of the Atlantic... you can see all the editions on my website.

By this time, because an excited debut author obviously does not sit around twiddling her thumbs while contracts are being wrangled, Chicken House and Scholastic US had already published my second novel Spellfall (an unrelated parallel world fantasy), which they launched in style at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco in 2000. Spellfall became my debut book in America, outselling Song Quest and making my world a bit smaller when I was invited 'over the pond' at Scholastic's expense to stay at the historic St Francis Hotel, in return for doing a five-minute reading at a banquet that I could not eat very much of due to a serious case of jet lag. An author must put up with these things when she goes international.

Spellfall - my debut title in America
(Scholastic 2000)

Author launch - Then (take three)
More contracts quickly followed, including a seven-book historical fantasy series signed with HarperCollins, on the strength of a one-page proposal and winning the Branford Boase Award (told you my agent knew what she was doing). This became the Seven Fabulous Wonders series, which found its way into 12 languages across the world, making me a debut author in places as far flung as Korea, as well as the financially important German market. I got to see my name in strange formats, such as Katerina Robertsova. I couldn't even read my name in Japanese, nor the beautiful Japanese hardcover edition, which had intricate fold-out maps in the front and opened backwards - eat your heart out, Game of Thrones!

The Babylon Game - my debut novel in Japan

The beginning at the back, with fold out maps.

Then my lovely agent died. In the same month, my marriage broke up and I had to move out of my lovely writing room in our 17th century cottage with its spiritual round window, which I'd decorated with glass paint when we moved in, and which looked out across a field of horses. Fortunately, I had just finished writing my epic historical novel for Chicken House about Alexander the Great told from the horse's mouth I am the Great Horse, although this book still had not been published, mainly (I gather) due to lack of support for the proposed hardcover edition by Waterstones. By now it was 2006, and the publishing industry was already changing. My publisher had to do some serious wrangling to agree a suitable format that the shops would stock in quantity, which delayed its publication. However, the book came out in the US in hardcover on schedule, and in paperback here in the UK the following spring with a beautiful colour map by artist Brian Sanders (once destined for a fold-out similar to the Japanese edition of The Babylon Game) printed on the inside of the cover.

I am the Great Horse
(Scholastic US first edition hardcover, 2006)

Meanwhile, because an author without an agent cannot afford to sit around twiddling her thumbs while bookselling deals are being wrangled, I started writing another book - this one about Genghis Khan.

Author launch  - Now (take one)
Ten years later and, despite my best efforts, my book about Genghis Khan still had not found a publisher. By then, I did not have the heart to bother agents with it - or with anything else I was writing at the time, for that matter. My older titles were dropping out of print at the speed of light, I had very little money coming in, and felt as if my publishing career and was over. I contemplated burning all my half-written manuscripts. I recycled a lot of the paper and gave away spare copies of my books to charity shops. But by this time I was writing on a computer, and all those pesky unpublished and unfinished writing projects were still lurking on its hard disk, clamouring at me every time I logged on like attention-starved children: "Write ME - no, write ME, ME, ME!"

An author, even an author who has lost her agent and her favourite writing room, cannot ignore her children. So I took the most commercial (in my opinion) half-written project of that time - a series of books about King Arthur's fictional daughter - and thrashed it mercilessly into shape. Then I sent it, agented once again by me out of necessity, to a publisher I'd heard was looking for fiction for 9-11 year olds. Thankfully, that publisher - Templar Books - took the entire series and paid me an advance I could live off (just) while I finished the books. There were four titles altogether, published as The Pendragon Legacy between 2012 and 2014 with beautiful covers by talented New York artist Scott Altmann.


The first two books sold to Hachette, and La Fille du Roi Arthur: L'epee de Lumiere became my debut title in France. Sadly, however, Templar got swallowed up by Bonnier shortly afterwards, who cancelled Templar's fiction list and laid off the entire fiction team, so the series had to fend mostly for itself after that.

French edition of Sword of Light
my debut title in France

By this time, because an author without publishing contracts cannot afford to sit around twiddling her thumbs while her books go out of print, I had rescued and republished most of my previous titles as ebooks. Also, following various comments by editors and other readers, I'd pretty much edited my Genghis Khan story to death over the years. It seemed a small step for an author (if a giant step for the publishing industry) to format the story as three ebook novellas and publish them direct to Amazon for Kindle... my first true indie project! A little embarrassed to be publishing myself, I brought the ebooks out quietly under my middle initial 'Katherine A Roberts', mainly because the story contained elements unsuitable for my nine-year-old fans of the Pendragon Legacy (which was - and is technically - still in print).


The Legend of Genghis Khan, my debut indie project
(these covers were inspired by portraits of Genghis Khan's family).

Author launch - Now (take two)
The Kindle novellas found a few readers and picked up some nice reviews, plus one troll who gave the first book one star for being very similar to Conn Iggulden's series about Genghis Khan (which is actually a back-handed compliment, even though my treatment of the history is quite different). But something made me hold back from publishing the epub and paperback versions, even though I had by then discovered the joys of print on demand with Createspace for my out-of-print titles. I still had a glimmer of ambition to see The Legend of Genghis Khan in the shops, which does not happen with a print on demand title. So I sent the ebooks to a small independent publisher The Greystones Press, who had recently set up to publish historical YA fiction ignored by the bigger publishers, and signed a contract for a new edition of the story combining all three novellas into one volume, which was launched earlier this month under the title Bone Music. Those who were at the Facebook party enjoyed fermented mare's milk and marmot steaks, among other Mongolian delicacies... feasting virtually with Genghis Khan was surprisingly quite fun!

Bone Music
my debut YA title
(Greystones Press 2018)

The paperback edition had a tiny print run, even smaller than the original hardback run of Song Quest by Element Books back in 1999 when I was still an untried debut, but there's always the possibility of reprinting. The lovely part of working with a publisher is that half the work - cover design, formatting, editing, proof-reading, publicity - is done for you, and the paperback will be in some (the best!) UK bookshops... if it's not in your local shop, you should be able to order it from them. Here's the magic number: ISBN 978-1911122210.

And that, my friends, is how an author continues to publish through changes in fame, fortune, and technology. One thing remains constant. Books don't write themselves, and an author these days no longer has any excuse to sit around twiddling her thumbs while publishing deals are being wrangled.

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Find out more about Katherine Roberts and her books on her website

And if you've still got 5 minutes, here is Katherine reading part of Borta's story from Bone Music.