Saturday, 31 October 2015

Serendipity, Bernard Cornwell, and ‘Warrior King’ – by Sue Purkiss

I’m very fond of my book about Alfred the Great (and his daughter, Aethelflaed). There, I’ve admitted it. I always feel a bit guilty when children (or grown-ups, for that matter) ask which of my books is my favourite. As if you shouldn’t have favourites among your books, just as you shouldn’t have favourites among your children. But I think if I did have a favourite, Warrior King would be it.

Why? I think it’s partly because I became so very intrigued by the character and achievements of this Dark Age king, who believed so strongly in the value of education and the arts; who had a vision of how to unite his people and make them safe; who, although he was, by all accounts, a sensitive soul who was not always in the best of health, still managed to defeat the Viking leader, Guthrum, against all the odds. And when he had Guthrum at his mercy, instead of simply killing him, he instead had him christened and made him his godson. Interesting, eh? Unlike a certain permatanned recent Labour leader, he knew that what happened after the battle would be as important as winning it; he had a plan for the aftermath; he had a plan for the peace.

When I began researching Alfred, all I really knew was the story of how he burnt the cakes. I was planning to write a light-hearted little number for children involving a time-travelling dog, and I just wanted to find out a little more detail about Alfred and his times. But I quickly became fascinated. And serendipitous things happened. It turned out that Athelney, where the cake-burning took place, was only a stone’s throw (well, if you’re a giant and very good at throwing stones) from where I live. Then I discovered that only a few weeks later, Somerset archaeologists and the Time Team were going to make a ten year anniversary programme about Athelney and Alfred. Next, I was on a school trip with my daughter, and I overheard the history teacher telling someone else that there was to be an open day at the dig the following weekend – I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. I went to the talk and learnt that a knife had been discovered on the site, made using materials and techniques that could only have been employed by a high-ranking Saxon nobleman, probably of royal rank. AND – that they had found smoke charred stones: evidence that there had been a smithy here (not a bakery), where weapons could have been forged for use in the climactic Battle of Ethandun (Eddington), where Alfred defeated Guthrum. Suddenly, Alfred felt very close. I was treading in his footsteps.

Then disaster struck. As far as I knew, no-one else had written about Alfred in a very long time. I was going to get in first. But then I read that someone else had beaten me to it. And not just any old someone, but someone who was guaranteed a prominent place in bookshops and shedloads of sales – Bernard Cornwell, creator of the Sharpe books. And he was way ahead of me – I found out about his new series when I read a review of the first book.

A bit like Alfred when he was moping in Athelney and burning cakes, I was cast into a cloud of gloom. What was the point, I asked myself and anyone else who would listen? Who would ever want to read my book now?

Then serendipity intervened again. We went away for a few days, to one of those nice B&Bs where you stay in a lovely house owned by interesting people. The interesting person in this case was a woman who had a relative who was an editor. We got talking about my prospective book, and I told her about Cornwell’s book and my doubts about whether it was worth going on.

“But,” she said, “your book, from what you say, will be different. I think you should write it.” Moreover, she said, she had just been reading a book sent her by her editor relative; it was to go with a forthcoming David Starkey TV series called Monarchy, and there was some very interesting stuff in it about Alfred.  I was encouraged and intrigued, and that was it – I was off again.

Well, I wrote my book, and it was published by Walker Books. It’s the usual story: it had some nice reviews, and Kevin Crossley Holland sent me a lovely postcard saying he’d enjoyed it, and the people who read it seemed to like it – but there weren’t enough of them. So the book went out of print, I got back the rights, and now it’s my second ebook and my first Createspace book. I decided this time to market it as a book for anyone, not specifically for children. For the cover I’ve used a photograph I took almost two years ago of the floods on the Somerset Levels. It’s very close to Athelney, and I think it suggests the magic and the mystery of that lonely landscape – and, I hope, of my book.

I have never read Cornwell’s books – though I shall certainly be watching the forthcoming TV series, The Last Kingdom, which will have begun by the time this post appears. He was interviewed in connection with this in a recent Radio Times, and he shared his formula for success: ‘Kick off with a battle – gets the book off to a nice, fast start. Lots of dead Frenchies. Introduce the plot, right? Plot begins to sag? Wheel on 40,000 Frenchies and start slaughtering them. Keep it moving. More plot. Finish with a set-piece battle that ties up all the plot ends and kills off the four villains. Works every time.’

This refers particularly to the Sharpe books, but you get the idea. And his formula clearly works.

But, if by any chance you like the idea of a rather different take from Cornwell’s: a hint of myth and mystery; a variety of characters from all walks of Anglo-Saxon life, with at their centre the relationship between Alfred and his daughter; a magical landscape; and an exploration of what Alfred was all about and how he came to be the exceptional king that he was – then maybe you might like to give my newly available book a try. I’d really love it if you did.

And don’t worry, there is some slaughter too. Just probably not as much as in Cornwell’s books.


Friday, 30 October 2015

From Teen to Mean ... Making the transition. A Guest Post by Caroline Akrill

Books by Caroline Akrill

Whilst one’s own transition from teen to adult is usually comfortingly blurred, the transition from writing for the teenage fiction market to the general adult market is a definite step – in my case more of a stumble, because nobody realized what I was up to until it was too late, so secure had I appeared to be in my little niche.  


I had produced nine books all aimed at the teen market, all in the horse and pony genre, and the eventing trilogy had exceeded all expectations – there was even a supermarket deal for 25,000 copies (for which I would receive a derisory 10p per copy, but I didn’t know that at the time) so everyone at Arlington Books was in celebratory mood, and Desmond had brought out the champagne, and when I enquired as to what I should write next (having hitherto never written anything not actually commissioned) they waved their arms airily and said ‘Write whatever you like.’  A casual, champagne-fuelled statement they would live to regret.
The 'Star' trilogy by Caroline Akrill
I delivered the new book and for a week or two there was a resounding silence whilst they debated what to do about me.  Then I was summoned to the office. There was no mention of lunch. The first thing I noticed was that there were three people behind the desk and only me in front of it. This did not auger well.  I asked them if they had enjoyed the book.  There was a small silence.

It wasn’t that they hadn’t enjoyed it, they said carefully, it just wasn’t what they were expecting.

I asked them what they were expecting, as I had been given what I believed was carte blanche to write whatever I wanted, and what I had wanted to write was sitting on the desk in front of them.
 
Sensing rebellion, they explained that I had placed them in a very awkward position because they had been expecting a horsey teen read the same as before and, because I now had a fan base and Collins were already lined up for the paperback rights (having done exceedingly well with the paperback of the eventing trilogy) I had caused them great anxiety by delivering a monster and they were not sure what to do with it. 

Flying Changes
You told me I could write whatever I liked, I said. The senior editor said they had assumed I would stick to the age range and the genre.  I said I had stuck to the genre.  The commissioning editor said what about the sex.  I said there wasn’t any sex.  All right then, the implied sex.

The copy editor said she had found it dark, and the style was different. I said what did they want me to do, write the same book over and over again?  And it all got rather heated.
In an effort to lighten the atmosphere somebody fetched coffee and sandwiches and, although it wasn’t exactly lunch at Fortnums, things calmed down a bit.  Eventually the editorial committee decided that they could live with the book but only if I removed the sexual implications, toned down the darkness and added a bit of light relief.

It won’t work, I said. It will, they said. It didn’t.  The result was a hybrid; neither fish nor fowl, and Collins immediately turned it down saying it ‘had outgrown the Dragon  list’  which was a kind way of saying it wasn’t a children’s book.  They were absolutely right. 

Looked at in retrospect, it was all my own fault.  Of course they were expecting more of the same, why wouldn’t they?  Having found a congenial publisher (and I have so many happy and hilarious memories of Desmond Elliot, Christine Lunness and Arlington Books, and still remember them with enormous affection) I should have taken pains not to deliver anything which might frighten the horses.  Consultation, discussion and sample chapters would have saved much anguish. 

It is true to say that Flying Changes was published to a very mixed reception. Readers either loved it or absolutely loathed it.  Reviewers were not sure what to make of it. Horse & Hound said, ‘Caroline Akrill is never dull and writes with first-hand knowledge of the equestrian scene.  The story is woven around a strange young man and has a sad and dramatic finale.'  You will notice at once that they did not actually say they enjoyed it.

The Telegraph reviewer actually commended it to ‘a wider audience than teen-aged girls mad about horses,' which was quite flattering, until he went on to say that Oliver was ‘one of the most unpleasant characters I have encountered in a book in a long time,' which surprised me, as I had rather liked him.

The Sunday Telegraph said it was ‘ …racy and absolutely gripping with melodrama in all directions. Riveting.’  By now my confidence was at such a low ebb that I assumed they were being sarcastic.   

Reviewing for the Irish Times a kind-hearted lady said that although it was aimed at an age range of teen to adult she would recommend it as ‘a good light read with a charm that will appeal to all ages.'  I wondered if she had actually read it. The only rights Arlington managed to sell were to Germany, where it remained in print for quite a long time. Make of that what you will.

All this happened many years ago when publishers, and the book trade, were very different.  But moving from the junior to the adult list is still fraught with difficulty.  The one certainty is that once one has made the leap there is no going back.  One must press on.  Even then, it is not expedient to hop from genre to genre.   Hence, my latest effort, The Last Baronet, is definitely aimed at the general market and could be described as a somewhat eccentric English country novel, and the one currently in progress, The Park, seems to have turned itself into a crime novel.  And somewhere in the dark depths of my office cupboard lurks my vampire novel, which has yet to see the light of day.

Some people never learn.    


Click on the following links to Caroline's books on Amazon: 

Flying Changes
Eventer's Dream
A Hoof in the Door
Ticket to Ride
Make Me a Star
Stars Don't Cry
Catch a Falling Star




Thursday, 29 October 2015

Staying Sane: N M Browne

Whenever I go on Facebook, which, because I am a procrastinating, distraction seeking excuse for a human being, is all too often, I come across something connecting writing with poor mental health. Back in  2012 the Karolinska institute found that writers had a higher risk of anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, substance abuse and schizophrenia. They or rather, we, are also twice as likely as the general population to kill ourselves.
I’ve often wondered whether people with these disorders are drawn to writing as a way of dealing with their disorder or if writing itself produces it .I mean it can’t be that healthy sitting alone in a solipsistic universe, killing off characters and reopening old wounds or as Ernest Hemingway would have it, opening a vein and bleeding. The job itself, with its isolation, its constant rejections, obliges the writer to believe in their own talent in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Worse, we are constantly bombarded with the evidence of other people's creative success. And the successes are never as good as us.
Sylvia Plath, herself the patron saint of all depressive geniuses, pointed out that the worst enemy to creativity is self doubt and, as in the creative world everything conspires to make us doubt ourselves, it isn’t surprising that our creativity is a fragile thing: we can spiral downwards in ever decreasing vicious circles to disappear down the plug hole of despair, or up our own backsides. Most of us don’t make any money either,  so we live under financial as well as creative pressure. I think it's  fair to say that writing as an activity is not particularly  conducive to mental stability.
 As I know quite a lot of writers, of varying degrees of sanity, my feed is often stuffed with platitudes - to the effect that the cracked let in more light or some such, a celebration if you like of our common strangeness. I get it. With all the bad stuff and vulnerability it’s nice to be part of a tribe, an alliance of souls who are somehow more sensitive and wiser than other people. Some beginner writers feel the need to become egocentric, melancholic and alcoholic in order to be 'real' writers. I don’t buy that. Nobody in their right mind would want to be mentally ill: even those who aren’t in their right mind don’t want to be mentally ill. Let’s not pretend its a prerequisite for genius and focus instead on helping people to get better.
Given all this, I was interested to come across an article recently which seemed to claim that making stories up about people was, in fact a remarkably healthy way to deal with the world. Of course it wasn’t talking about us special people but ordinary MOPs (Members of the public) Apparently when someone is angry, red in the face and and screaming at you, the very best thing you can do is to try to find a story that might account for their response. You could for example imagine that they'd woken that morning to find their car clamped, their partner copulating with the milkman on the sofa and their kitchen cupboards devoid of any kind of caffeinated beverage. It's no wonder they are upset. Trying to understand another human by contextualising their anger, by story-making, helps people to deal with emotion in a way that promotes their own continued mental health.
  I liked that approach. I’m not sure how practical it is but,  nonetheless it made me regard my chosen job in a different way.  How does anyone learn how to make stories up about others but by reading? Books allow us into the heads of others as nothing else ever does. So, rather than focus on our own dodgy mental health we can see ourselves as offering an empathy service to the world. Read us, learn about story telling and lo, you will deal better with all the ordure that life throws at you. It’s a thought.

And here's another:



http://time.com/4069899/anger-management-tips/?xid=fbshare


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Nasturtiums, Caterpillars and Cornwall, by Enid Richemont

I was recently persuaded, by my daughter, to get myself a ticket, jump on a train, and leave next morning to visit her in Cornwall, which, to my own amazement, I did (travel-wise, I am usually not that spontaneous,  but the weather was lovely). That evening, she complained about her nasturtium invasion which happened when she was away in Edinburgh for a month, with a play in the Fringe. She'd planted herbs and a few vegetables earlier in the year, plus a few  nasturtiums, and expected to see them all thriving. Instead, she'd come home to this...

That's her workshop in the background, to which there should be a path. She now has to navigate through the nasturtium jungle. Somewhere, down deep, are other plants struggling, and probably failing, to survive. We all know someone should get out there and hack, but she can't bear to, and neither could we, because, in October sunlight, the colours are stunning - the reds, golds and oranges splashed among those flat, waterlily leaves like something from Monet's garden at Giverny - I can remember the way he used nasturtiums like random pieces of stained glass glinting along the paths. There will, of course, be hundreds of seeds lying dormant until next year's invasion. Oh, and a strange thing about nasturtiums - their smell. Everyone I've ever asked comes up with the same answer: they smell of caterpillars. Why?

This is my daughter's dog, Hattie. Now I am not, by nature, a doggy person - I prefer cats because I, like them, tend to be a bit like the cat that walks by itself. However, this one has totally won me over. She has so much character. A fastidious lady, she walks on her front legs when she pees because she doesn't like getting her hind quarters wet. She's addicted to carrots, which she's fed occasionally as a special treat (a carrot wrapped in tissue paper was her present last Christmas). We began fantasising about her vast library of smells - she clearly has one. She also recognises words, notably her own name, and the one beginning with a 'w' and ending in a 'k', which should never be uttered in her presence unless your intentions are serious. I have a feeling she's going to find her way into a picture book text one day.



And staying with the Cornish theme, we went to see an installation http://restlesstemple.co.uk/ in the sculpture gardens at Tremenheere, just east of Penzance, because my family was involved in part of its making. It's rather amazing - you walk up a steep, grassy hill towards a mini-Parthenon which has been so constructed that its columns move and sway with the wind (the secret being in the counterweights below the plinth and the lightness of the pillars). Disturbing and fascinating to see something that your instinct tells you is a solid structure, moving and swaying. I would not like to come across it, though, after too many gin and tonics!

"What are you working on at present?" 

How many times do writers get asked that question. For me, if I'm working on something, I don't want to talk about it, and even less so if I'm not working on something. What's your answer?
And the other one - "Where do you get your ideas?" That's harder to answer - inspiration is like the itch of sand that turns into an oyster's pearl. It rises out of small, or not so small, life events, fascination with a subject, era, person or simply the eternal question of: what if...? 

Right now, and for far too many years, I've been dancing to a publisher's agenda, but it wasn't always so.  Once, (cliche warning!) in  the distant past/mists of time - take your pick - I was commissioned by a major editor, and paid an advance for a middle grade novel as yet unwritten - can you imagine that happening now? If you're curious, it was the late Wendy Boase at Walker Books, and the book that grew out of this gamble was "TWICE TIMES DANGER", which is still selling well as an e-book.

Of course, with e-publishing we're released from all that, but we're also on our own, with no publisher to do the back-scene stuff, and no one to define the difference between "War and Peace" and Aunt Aggie's ruminations on the Afterlife. Writers are, on the whole, solitary beasties, not given to blowing their own trumpets, but hugely gratified when others do it for them. Of course, if you're a celebrity 'author', you actually are the trumpet.

Find out more about me and my books at: http://www.enidrichemont.org.uk 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Does BookBub Sell Books? – Andrew Crofts




A couple of months ago I blogged about hiring Midas PR to garner a few reviews for my novella, “Secrets of the Italian Gardener”, concluding that the resulting reviews added a few more bricks to the wall of the book’s reputation, but were probably not going to result in many direct sales.

The next thought was to use the reviews to convince BookBub that they should feature the book in their recommendations.

My publisher – the utterly wonderful Clare Christian at RedDoor – made the approach to BookBub in September, but was turned down. In October she tried again, perseverance being the only weapon we authors and publishers ultimately have in our armoury, and they said okay.



If we were willing to drop the price of the book to 99 pence in the UK, $1.50 in Canada and 65 rupees in India they would try it out in those three markets for a few days. For that they would charge US$90.

On the first morning of the promotion the Canadian version went up from number 1,402,298 in the Amazon charts to number 27. India went from 397,840 to 605 and the UK from 198,000 to 618. There even seemed to be some knock-on effect in the US, with the book climbing from around two millionth place to 48,516.

These seemed like exciting figures as they came in but, as any dedicated watcher of Amazon charts will know, they did not indicate huge sales. The book had dropped in recent months to selling only one or two copies a day and, according to my agent, in the three days of the BookBub promotion we sold a little over 200 copies, albeit at very reduced prices.

So, an interesting exercise, (that has more or less paid for itself), and one more brick in that slowly rising wall. Next? An audio version, read by an experienced actor, set up through Amazon’s ACX platform. I will keep you posted on how the process goes.



Monday, 26 October 2015

Hallowe'en Thrills, Technological Spills by Mari Biella


Picture credit: laobc, via openclipart.org
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that it just doesn’t do to rely too much on technology. Just when you get to that point at which everything depends on a gadget, invention or app, what happens? Why, the blasted thing fails to work, of course!

Our regular poster on the 26th, Ruby Barnes, has very recently found this out to his cost. A combination of computer woes and travel plans have made it impossible for him to publish his regular post, so I’ve stepped in at the last minute. And, ironically enough, my replacement post will, after a fashion, concern technology.

Two things have, of late, been taking up my meagre mental resources: firstly, the Authors Electric newsletter, of which I am the administrator; and secondly, my favourite festival, the fast-approaching Hallowe’en. I’m at that age where I should regard All Hallows’ Eve as a bit of fun for kids, but come this time of year I’m often to be found carving pumpkins and selecting my favourite horror films. I just can’t help it: the annual festival of all things foul is one of the great joys of my life.

Luckily, I’ve found a way to combine these two preoccupations.

For a limited time, all new subscribers to the AE newsletter will get a free gift: a copy of my ghost novel The Quickening, on the house. Here’s some information to whet your appetite:

England, 1897. When botanist Lawrence Fairweather returns to his lonely Fenland home after an extended trip to Europe, he hopes for a time of peace and tranquillity. The Fairweathers are a family in need of healing, having experienced a tragedy that has left Lawrence’s wife Julia immersed in grief and their daughter Hazel unable to speak.

As Fairweather soon finds out, however, Halfway House is not the peaceful place it once was. Its lonely rooms and empty halls are thick with shadows and secrets, while the surrounding Fen crawls with menace. Julia and Hazel both seem to sense something gathering beneath the surface calm, and even Fairweather finds his rationalism challenged by a series of inexplicable events. But are the Fairweathers haunted by their own memories, or by something altogether more sinister?

A traditional haunted house story set in the Victorian Age, The Quickening explores the boundaries between perception and reality, religion and science, and truth and mystery.

To claim your free book, all you have to do is click here, or on the sign-up form in the top right-hand corner of this page, and follow the instructions. That’s if the technology doesn’t let us down, or the newsletter hasn’t fallen under some kind of diabolical Hallowe'en curse...

Happy Hallowe'en!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Visiting L-Space - by Susan Price

Terry Pratchett
     Books bend space and time.  One reason the owners of those aforesaid little rambling, poky second-hand bookshops always seem slightly unearthly is that many of them really are, having strayed into this world after taking a wrong turning in their own bookshops in worlds where it is considered commendable business practice to wear carpet slippers all the time and open your shop only when you feel like it.  You stray into L-space at your peril.
      Terry Pratchett.


I'm a long-term fan of Terry Pratchett, and recently experienced the thrill of venturing into L-Space myself.

      It happened because - as a wandering writer of rags and patches, who travels over hill and dale to earn a crust by speaking in schools and libraries - I recently stayed the night with Authors Electric’s Whippet-Queen, Karen Bush.

     Karen is another long-time Pratchett fan, and told me that she could take me into L-Space - that is, to the second-hand bookshop which Sir Terry had visited himself, and which had inspired his notion of L-Space.
     In L-Space, the vast weight of knowledge and thought contained within collections of books has a density that bends and twists space-time, meaning that books connect interdimensionally. Unwritten books influence books written in their past and future. And, indeed, vice-versa. Libraries, in fact, alter their worlds.
 
Karen Bush
     Which is a simple truth.

But before our inter-dimensional adventure, Karen gave me the warmest welcome you can imagine, fed me very well with shepherd’s pie and apple crumble, and entertained me with talk of books, dogs, horses, longbows, gardening, history... She is a wonderfully generous hostess, and a very talented and knowledgeable one..

     After breakfast, we walked the whippets, Angel and Archie. They are another entertainment. When they see events shaping up towards a walk, they become excited, Archie in particular. He charges about the house, leaping sofas and terrorising a stuffed bunny, which he brings to your feet to be thrown the length of the room, so he can dash off and give it hell again.

     Once togged up (the dogs as well as us,) we walked through the rain to the church where Roald Dahl is buried, and sat on his monument in the graveyard (it has benches.)  We returned, dried off, and after a lunch of homegrown pumpkin soup with yoghurt (which was delicious) we set off for L-Space.

The Cottage Bookshop
     It’s actually called The Cottage Bookshop: and it lives up to its reputation. The building is old, with worn, curved floors and low, head-bashing beams. Shelves are packed into every possible space. They turn corners and create small nooks, into which you can step and disappear, surrounded by the smell of old books and old wood and seeing nothing but books.

     It is paradise for book-lovers. There are new books - but at least 95% of the stock is second-hand: ranging from recent and good-as-new to very old and well-handled, with inscriptions, old prize notices and notes in the margins.

     Every subject and genre is covered. There are old comic annuals, and bound collections of magazines. There is everything! Book-lovers can go a little mad in there, as Time-Space bends around them.


     There is a notice stuck on a beam: ‘Science-fiction in the conservatory.’ Not a sign I expect to see again. But crammed into the conservatory there is indeed, every variety of science-fiction, old and new.

     Karen warned me that upstairs - mind your head on the beam - is where L-Space really begins to L. She’s never been up there, she said, without getting completely pouk-ledden* and unable to find her way out again.
     The cramming in of shelves is even more ingenious above stairs than down. There are places where the shelves are so close together that they form little end-blocked spaces that you have to edge into sideways. You are then nose-to-title. To look at the books behind you, you have to slide out again, because there isn’t room between the shelves to turn round.
     To see what’s on the bottom shelves, I imagine you’d have to lie down on the floor and stick your head in. I don’t think the regulars would be surprised, or notice, if you did. Well, how else are you to discover what goodies might be on the bottom shelf?

     And the subjects up there are endless — sport, sociology, psychology — oh, all the ologies. Fashion, crafts, science, gardening… Around every corner, in every nook, more delicious books on everything you might ever want to know about, or have ever had a passing curiosity about — and another corner and more books, and a niche, crammed with books, and another narrow dreel leading off into book-shadowed and hushed elsewhens —

     And when you do eventually, find you way back to the stairs down, you stumble out into daylight with your books, feeling that strange disorientation you get when you leave Elsewhen and totter unsteadily back into the real world — as when you leave the darkness of a cinema after an absorbing film and find it still daylight outside.
L-Space quietly L-ing
     I bought The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Gilman, Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell, a little hard-back of Limits and Renewals by Kipling, Infernal Devices by Philip Reeve and The Blackest Streets by Sarah Wise, a history of the Old Nichol, one of the filthy slums which made landlords rich and the Empire great, back when those good old Victorian Values were upheld, in the 1880s. It looks fascinating.

     I had to ask for a carrier bag for my purchases. Karen, an experienced voyager into L-Space, had brought her own large bags with her. And filled them.
     I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, both to Karen and to L-Space, but I'm glad I don't live within L-Space's gravitational pull... I would feel its call... I'd never be out of the place. I'd have to set up home in one of those book-lined nooks and the staff would never know I was there. The occasional cup of coffee or bun would go missing - but every time anyone came near, I'd slip away through a bound collection of Masonic Speeches to three weeks next Tuesday.

     If anyone's ever in Penn, Buckinghamshire, I highly recommend a trip into L-Space.

     Back to Karen's we went, with our loads - and then, alas, I had to leave, because I had other committments I had to get home for. Karen sent me off with: a bag of new potatoes from her allottment, a bag of alpine strawberry plants, and, most wonderful of all, a new prized possession, a little model she'd made for me of the deerhound, Cuddy, from my Sterkarm books. The woman has skills and talent coming out of her ears.



This is obviously Per Sterkarm's view as he looks down at Cuddy lying at his feet.
     Thank you, Karen, for a lovely stay.

* Pouk-ledden: An expression from my home-county: puck-led: to be led by pucks or fairies. When people walking, especially at night, become disorientated, even in places they know well, and become hopelessly lost, they are said to have been led astray by fairies or 'pucks' - hence 'pouk-ledden.' Some cynics claim that other kinds of spirit are involved. 

Karen Bush's Amazon page, and links to some of her excellent books on helping dogs, can be found here.

Susan Price won the Carnegie Medal for The Ghost Drum and the Guardian Fiction Award for The Sterkarm Handshake. Find out ore about her and her books here. 

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Let's build a house! - Jo Carroll

What's house-building got to do with writing?

Not a lot - at least not right now. I've other things on my mind. For I've just come back from Nepal and witnessed first hand some of the devastation of the earthquake. Too many families have spent the monsoon huddled under tin roofs. Too many schools are still in tents.

The big charities are very active in the cities - the temporary shelters are fairly well organised in Kathmandu. But in the villages - often only reachable along narrow tracks - the story is very different. I met a family who were living in the ground floor of their home - the first floor had collapsed but they daren't move the rubble in case it all fell down. Others had homes which were cracked from top to bottom and faced months in tarpaulin shelters.

It is easy to retreat into helplessness in the face of such need. We can't rebuild a city. We can't rebuild a town. Even a village is beyond us. But one house - we can rebuild one house.

This house belongs to a family I know. But I'll say no more about them - they do not need, nor ask for, sympathy. The man can rebuild this house himself, and it will cost just £1500. (Yes, you read that right. Just £1500. I haven't left any 000s off.) So the plan is to raise this money - and give one family a future.

How?

Firstly, I have a Go Fund Me page here.

I do know that times are tight, and that we all have our favourite charities. But all contributions (and encouragement) are much appreciated.

Here's where the writing bit comes in - I'm writing an ebook about my recent trip, and all proceeds will go to the house fund. I want to do it quickly, but it's at the first draft stage and so needs simmering before I can stir it and tell you more about it.

And this is where you expect the link to my website or my books. Sorry, if you really want to find those you'll have to go hunting. For here, again, is the link to the appeal. Right now that feels far more important than my writing.