New free book cover reveal!

My new story The Trappings of Memory is going to be available soon, and if you join my author mailing list, the Learned Society of Tempus Abbey, you’ll be able to pick it up for free. I’ll make another post once that giveaway is in place, with the signup link. In the meantime, I’d like to do a little experiment…

Here’s the new cover. To see if it does its job, leave a comment below telling me what genre you think it might be or what it could be about. It’ll be fun to know what, if anything, people presume just from one image.

And if you leave a comment I’ll send you a copy of the story so you can find out if you were right!

trappings cover 1b s


Thoughts for Authors, Issue 1

I’m hoping to make something of a series of this. I thought it might be interesting as there are many developing writers out there, and quite a lot of us are on WordPress. Simultaneously, there are a lot of people writing reviews of books. Maybe some overlap would be possible?

The idea here is that when I’ve read a book (and I often – but not always – read YA fantasy because it’s what I write), I plan to put up a review of it, but rather than simply saying how much I liked it and awarding it “three-out-of-four chocolate cakes”, or some trite nonsense, I’ll write about what I learned from it and how it informs my own process.

I suppose it’s all about getting to know the market and audience better. Hopefully others among you who have read the same book or similar ones, or are working on fiction in this area, will benefit and feel motivated to comment.

I’ll put information about the book, so you’re familiar with what it is, and also a bit about how I got hold of it. I won’t be doing ratings. This issue is about Rachel E. Carter’s book, First Year. The following details refer to the version.


Title and author: First Year (The Black Mage book 1) Rachel E. Carter

Length: 322 pages

Publisher: Rachel E. Carter

Primary category:  Kindle Store > Books > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery (Rank #10)

I paid: 99p


Amazon description:

Before the age of seventeen, the young men and women of Jerar are given a choice –pursue a trade or enroll in a trial year in one of the realm’s three war schools to study as a soldier, knight, or mage…

For fifteen-year-old Ryiah, the choice has always been easy. Become a mage and train in Combat, the most prestigious faction of magic.

Yet when she arrives, Ry finds herself competing against friend and foe for one of the exalted apprenticeships. Everyone is rooting for her to fail–first and foremost among them is Prince Darren, the school prodigy who has done nothing but make life miserable since she arrived.

Will Ry survive, or will her dream go down in flames?

Why did I read it?

I read a good review. That’s pretty much it, and I’m sorry if that’s disheartening to the many, many folks out there who struggle to get their work reviewed. (NOTE TO SELF #1: Reviews increase conversion)

It was a good review, and I was intrigued because of my unfamiliarity with the genre. I suppose that for a person who often reads YA romance fantasy stuff First Year might seem quite archetypal, but I  almost never read that type of thing as it just doesn’t interest me. Probably the last thing I read that was even vaguely close to First Year would be the Harry Potter books, and that was at least a decade ago now. They’re also set in a school and feature magic, but really that’s about where the similarities end. If anything, this is more like The Worst Witch only with kissing, betrayal and an array of moderately severe injuries.

However, my own writing overlaps with the YA fantasy genre, and so I was intrigued to find out more about a typical top seller. It was on sale for 99p and I thought Why not? (NOTE TO SELF #2: Consider barriers to entry)

What did I learn?

I know, I know, that section title sounds like something a ten year old would write on their homework. I don’t want this to sound like a book report, but part of the joy of being an adult is in allowing oneself to make up the rules as you go.

Apart from the above notes-to-self, the thing that struck me was how my initial cynicism pretty well melted away during the course of the book. Seriously, I went into the thing thinking, Well, of course, I hold far loftier ideals than this, but let’s do it for the sake of study, and ended up enjoying it perfectly well for its own merits.

The thing is, this is not a groundbreaking piece of literature, and that’s absolutely fine. The first impression it gave me, in fact, was that it might be inspired by video game mechanics to some extent. It features some slightly odd references in its early pages that made me genuinely wonder if I was reading an Elder Scrolls Online fan-fiction for the first couple of chapters. Video game style references to whether certain characters wish to specialise in Restoration or Combat, what to do when one’s stamina runs low, and a description of a character’s dark, brooding appearance and deep reddish eyes that surely had to be the portrayal of a dark elf… It all seemed to be inspired by the cannon of role-playing games.

This didn’t worry me as I like the Elder Scrolls games very much (Morrowind fan alert – and speaking of which, I can’t believe it turned 15 last month!). Indeed, I hoped that Carter might have had something to say about the relationship between the verbal rhetoric of books, in which words communicate meaning, and the tension that many games exhibit between reliance on verbal rhetoric and procedural rhetoric, in which performing actions imparts meaning, but this didn’t arise. I can see why Carter didn’t fancy that route: It may be interesting theoretically, but to incorporate that discussion into the book would surely have increased the complexity of the writing process beyond what her workflow requires. That’s a perfectly valid reason for keeping things simple, to my mind.

And that, perhaps, is my main takeaway from the book. It doesn’t set so much as a toe off the edge of the path set out by its genre conventions (as far as I understand them), but it is also tightly plotted, rapidly yet smoothly paced, populated with enough characters and content to be vibrant without tipping over into bloat, and it’s also fairly short. It knows the job it needs to do, it knows the audience it’s addressing and the content they expect, and then it delivers a good quality interpretation of that form. I suppose it’s a bit like ordering a meal in a restaurant – it may be the same thing you’ve had before, but if it’s well prepared and presented it’s still entirely satisfying.

Irrespective of content, provided a book passes a certain bar of quality, I think the concept of providing a small, simple, well-made product to an audience who knows what it likes is a useful one for me to bear in mind. It’s not exactly where I position my own writing, but if you’re in business this is always going to be a balancing act between being wildly original and being familiar enough to be trusted.

I hope you  enjoyed my thoughts on this, whether you agree with them or not. I would love to know where you come down on the question too, and whether this is a book you’ve read. Please let me know!

mailing list call

Making yourself write

I’ve decided to try a little something, an experiment, if you will. I was watching a video on YouTube the other day from a filmmaker whose work I enjoy a great deal – Khyan, seen here – who was talking about the dangers of “falling into a kind of pre-satisfaction” as a content-creator, in which telling everyone you’re about to produce some new work actually stops you doing it. Why? Because you’ve already had the buzz. The satisfaction of being told “Hey, that’s a great idea, can’t wait to see/read/hear it!” kills the desire to make it happen.

In his video, Khyan concluded the technique would, however, probably still be valuable if in failing to put out everything you promised, you still put out more than you otherwise would have. That is the spirit of this post: announce greatness; achieve more than nothing.

Anyway, I’ve got a new fantasy novel out (Right here, fans of quality and excitement). But how to attract audience? How to drink sweet, sweet nectar of popular acceptance? Do I write more? Market… somehow? (That’s an arcane art, and is it me or are there exactly equal numbers of people promoting certain approaches as there are issuing assurances that they don’t work?)

I know one thing, and that’s that a novel (even a mighty 500+ page meisterwerk) sitting all alone by itself is a sad thing. It needs a little brother. So, I’m going to write one, 1000 words at a time. And to prove to myself and the nonexistent audience of this blog that I can do it, I’m going to do 1000 words per day, and post it here each and every day for your delectation until it’s done. Then, after a week or two, I’ll have a little novella that I can put up alongside the novel. Genius. Watch this space.

Tempus Abbey – 2hr Audiobook Preview is Ready!

Looking for something to listen to? Interested in a thrilling northland world in which industry and religious might are pitted against one another in a battle of wits for the integrity of a whole country? Intrigued by the story of two children and their rabbit companion playing a game with the past deep within a vast frontier abbey?

Of course you are 🙂 Well, fortunately for you I’ve created a 2hr preview reading on YouTube so you can dip in your toe (and hopefully get hooked) prior to the actual release of Tempus Abbey.

Take a look!

I’d love to hear your feedback, on the story or on the production quality. I’ve given it my best shot, with a new mic, careful editing, custom artwork and so on, so tell me what you think! And if you’re interested, I have a blog post right here on the setup I used to make it.

Making an Audiobook version of an indie Novel

I recently decided that as a useful way of proofing my new novel manuscript, I would do a reading of it. Let me expound my reasons for you.

It’s a 160,000 word novel, and after reading it through several times, over what feels like many, many months I just can’t face the idea of reading it in my head again.

I’ve purchased a shiny new microphone. After some research I settled on a RODE NT-USB, which, as its name suggests, has the advantage of connecting to one’s computer using a USB port, which makes things simpler. In addition to that it comes with a built-in pop screen and offers a very impressive level of quality. Yeti microphones are another popular option, but the RODE was my personal choice.

I’ve got a YouTube channel. So far I’ve only really got one video of note up there, a Wind in the Willows complete illustrated audiobook that I put up in 2013. As of now, it’s got about 78,000 views, which I’m pretty pleased with. The reasons for that solid number (I suspect) are the fact that there is a fairly large and stable base of people using You Tube to look for audiobook, and a fairly large proportion of those looking for Wind in the Willows, which means that a video that can distinguish itself (mine offers completeness – it’s the whole book, unique illustrations for each chapter, and is read in an English accent that works better than it might for, say, Huckleberry Finn) will attract a certain, stable number of clicks. Mine gets about 100 views per day, give or take 20. So that’s good and dandy, but I’m also trying to promote my new novel, and you have to use the tools you’ve got, after all. So I’ve decided to put out a preview on my channel, and hopefully a small number of people will come by and decide to give mine a look.

But, you cry, how do you make your new audiobook?

Well, having had some experience before, might I first refer you to the point above about the choice of microphone. The Wind in the Willows audiobook was recorded using a small voice recorder with a kitchen sponge stuck on the end to act as a pop screen. It worked… adequately, for what it was. I guess. Not great, anyway. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve got a feeling that some of the dislikes my first effort received (fortunately a small number compared to the likes) were due to sound quality, which is perfectly listenable-to, but not exactly studio.

So you’ve got a microphone. Good start. You will also need: some writing; a computer; some software to record audio; some software to edit audio; some software to turn audio into a video; some software to make imagery to go with the audio on the video, and; somewhere to put up the video when you’ve made it. Got all that? Smashing.

My setup is somewhere between hobbyist and rank amateur, so I’m rolling with the following:

  • A RODE NT-USB microphone
  • My novel
  • A six year old Dell laptop with dodgy screen hinges
  • Audacity (which is free) for the recording and editing
  • Windows Movie Maker (also free; stop laughing at the back there) for making a video
  • GIMP (free – you see a pattern) for creating video imagery
  • The aforementioned YouTube channel for uploading the gourmet AV experience these ingredients serve up

Other than that, the main thing is to be aware than recording in a dynamic and listenable way is quite tiring, physically, and going from laying out your equipment to clicking the “Publish” button on your platform of choice typically takes many, many times longer than the actual run-time of the video.

This is what I’ve come up with:

Please take a look and let me know what you think. This is very much still a learning experience, so any advice you can offer is well appreciated. And if you’re wondering, the novel will be available very soon!

Coming tomorrow!

Like fantasy? Like suspense? Like the idea of Pratchett and Pullman combining to make something not quite as good as either? Then you’ll LOVE Ten Steps to Fray!

On Sat 3rd Sept 2016 this new suspense fantasy novella will be launching FREE on Kindle for a limited time. Subscribe here for the download link, as well as writing on libraries, architecture and academia.