Books in Limbo

Still no writing – not book writing anyway. It has been a confused week of editing and cover design for the Local History publication, demonstrating Family History websites in the library, interspersed with a guest post on the Discovering Diamonds Blog about the excitement of receiving copies of my book. Thank you Helen Hollick for accepting it.

Richard Denning explains the Anglo-Saxons. Spot the Sutton Hoo helmet.

Saturday was the second of my promotion events. I had hijacked the monthly meeting of the Rugby Archaeology Society, by suggesting a talk about Anglo-Saxons. Fellow author Richard Denning came to tell us about “Life in Anglo-Saxon England”. It was an entertaining talk including history, food, religion – everything Anglo-Saxon – even genetics. He brought a large collection of objects, which were handed round or inspected afterwards. He brought some of his books for sale, including several for children.

I had my books there, of course, and there was another chance to taste my mead. I got several favourable comments – perhaps I should give up writing and go into mead production!

Now I have a cold. I don’t think it’s anything serious, but I don’t feel like doing anything. I have forced myself to the computer to write this (it probably shows!)

Although not writing, I have been doing a lot of thinking, helped by last week’s class. It was about plotting – regular readers of this blog will know my opinions on that. This was about applying different methods to your writing: “The Three-Act Structure” and “The Hero’s Journey”. Book Three looks good – words like Birth and Death, Shipwreck, Battle and Rescue scatter the chart. The problems come with Beginning and End.

I thought Book Two, although needing more editing, was in its final shape. Was the ending too final? OK for a single book, but for a series? I was finding it difficult to decide where to start Book Three – I’ve written a lot, but the vital beginning is unclear. I had a thought – what if I cut the ending of Book Two and use that for the start of Book Three? It might work, although it might leave Book Two a bit short – more detail earlier on? It would also make Book Three even longer.

But. Could I cut the end of Book Three? There’s that convenient point when… Is that the start of Book Four? I haven’t thought much about that yet. It might work. Do I have an over arching structure for the series? I don’t even know if Book Four is the end, or not.

I think I will be spending some time in planning – comparing what I have against the various structures. I think some synopses will help – I tried to write one for Book Two. When I found it difficult I should have known something was wrong.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking. I should just get on and write. I’ve had an idea for a short story. Do I have time for that?


Interviewing my Character

A couple of years ago, in 2016 I  read some interesting posts on Helen Hollick’s blog Let us Talk of Many Things

She interviewed characters from other writer’s books  – see the full list here

What an interesting idea this was. You can learn a lot from questioning your characters – putting them in an unusual situation or asking them to explain themselves. I decided to have a go.

I sat Byrhtnoth down with a horn of mead to get him relaxed, but everything got out of hand, so I abandoned the interview until the next day. This explains some of the grumpy responses.


Q : Would you like to introduce yourself – who you are, what you do?

A : My name is Byrhtnoth. I am a warrior – at least that is what I was trained for. I did something very bad. I don’t know what I am now.


Q : Where and when are you? Are you a real historical person or did your author create you?

A : At the moment I am living in a small village in the English fens, near Ely. It is the year 946 or thereabouts. I am a real historical person – my author says they wrote a poem about my glorious death in battle that is still sung by the scops in your time.


Q : In a few brief sentences: what is the novel you feature in about?

A : It’s all about me. My mother died when I was young, I don’t really remember her. I was sent to the King’s court to train as a warrior – that would be King Athelstan, grandson of King Alfred who you call “The Great”. I grew up with the other boys. Some became my friends. Others I thought were friends, are not. I am sixteen now, a man. I have killed Viking raiders and rescued women – the usual things warriors do. And I am searching for a sword – it belonged to my father. I need to discover if he still lives


Q : How did your author meet up with you?

A : I was very crafty. She had no idea what she was doing, searching for a subject to write about. I dropped her a few subtle hints and before she knew it, she was hooked.


Q : Tell me about one or two of the other characters who feature with you – husband, wife, family? Who are some of the nice characters and who is the nastiest one?

A : As I mentioned above, I am an orphan. No wife, not even a girlfriend, although there is this girl I really fancy.
My best friend is Wulfstan, we meet right at the start of the book. I have to look after him, he is smaller than me and nasty things happen to him – he’s much brighter than me, but don’t tell him I said so!
Elfhere was another boy in our gang. Very friendly to start with, but he changes. He’s a bit posh – he has relatives, unlike the rest of us. He is good at fighting, but not as good as me. I’m the best. You’ll have to wait until the end of the book to find out what happens to him.


Q : What is your favourite scene in the book?

A : That has to be the scene when I discover a relative. It’s good to have friends, but suddenly to find family, after thinking you are alone in the world…


Q : What is your least favourite? Maybe a frightening or sad moment that your author wrote.

A : I was alone and injured; lost in a dark forest. Death seemed certain. I don’t remember much about it, but I’m sure there were monsters in the darkness.
My author decided my life was too easy – she really laid on the misery!


Q : What are you most proud of about your author?

A : She’s not bad for a woman. She does what I tell her to, even if she does think the ideas are hers. Sometimes she suspects I’m in charge, but I tell her how brilliant she is and she soon calms down.


Q : Has your author written  other books about you? If not, about other characters?
How do you feel about your author going off with someone else!

A : This is my author’s first book. She has started planning a second one about me, perhaps it will be a trilogy. I’m still young and apparently I have a long life before that glorious death. How many books has that Bernard Cornwall chap written about Uhtred? His character got onto television (whatever that is) as well. Uhtred is getting old – it’s time for a younger, better looking Anglo-Saxon warrior.
I sometimes catch my author thinking about someone else. A pirate called Jack (not that one!). He’s probably a Viking and we know what to do with those, don’t we?


Q : As a character if you could travel to a time and place different to your own fictional setting   where and when would you go?

A : It would be interesting to go back and find out more about those Romans who left so many ruins scattered around the land. They must have been giants.
I think though that I’d better jump ahead eight hundred years and get rid of that pirate chap – don’t want him distracting my author.

If we’ve finished now, can you pass the mead?


Look out for interviews with some of my other characters. Perhaps even Jack!

(Not if I have anything to do with it! – Byrhtnoth)


Self-Publishing – The Conference

On Saturday I attended the 4th Self-Publishing Conference in Leicester, organised by Troubador Publishing.


It was my first time attending this annual event, so I was a little nervous. I have been to Family History Conferences before, but I know family historians are very friendly, helpful people. What would a mass meeting of authors be like? I needn’t have worried, everyone was very nice.

I am at that point: First draft written, immersed in editing, and I have started to wonder “what next?” How do I turn that big pile of words into something that readers might want to read? Perhaps I would find out in Leicester.

The omens were good – Leicester City FC were crowned champions the same day. I had an uneventful drive there and arrived as Registration opened at 8.45, plenty of time for a mug of coffee and an orientation of the venue. Sitting on my own as the place filled, I was approached by a friendly lady (staff/bookseller?) for a chat. I was really made welcome.

At 9.30 we all collected in the main hall for the welcome and Keynote Speech: “Publishing, the media and self-publishing.” Caroline Sanderson is Associate Editor of “The Bookseller“. She told us about what she looks for in new books and what self-publishers can do to get noticed. I wrote down the sentence “Make your book the best it can be.” The rest of the day was aimed at helping us to do just that.

We separated into different groups. We had selected the subjects that interested us when we booked. My first session was on “Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission” with Cressida Downing. This dealt with how to write that all important letter to a publisher or agent. Don’t rush, wait until you really feel your work is ready. Make sure you write to the right person and send them what they ask for – if you get it wrong your time, and theirs, has been wasted. We were given information on what font to use and formatting. We also looked at some examples of what not to do. We were assured that these were all genuine – all I can say is that there are a lot of stupid authors out there!

After a break for refreshments, the next session was “Historical Fiction” – of course. I was surprised how few delegates had booked for this. Perhaps there are not many historical fiction writers about – hooray! More likely they were all at home writing – boo! Or the other subjects were more popular: “Secrets of a Successful Book Launch”, “Using Your Author Website to the Full” or “Maximising Your Ebook’s Potential”. Anyway, a small group of us had three authors: Helen Hollick, Griselda Heppel and Lucienne Boyce (with her husband to talk for her as she had a sore throat.) to tell us about what the huge range of books covered by this genre. Apart from different eras, there is historical fiction for children – a sadly neglected genre at present. When I look back at all the books I read when I was young which ignited my interest in history, I despair for the future of history knowledge – it certainly wasn’t the history I was taught at school that got me interested. Then there is the difficulty of deciding if your book is history with a bit of fantasy or fantasy with a bit of history. It all depends on who you are trying to sell to.

By now it was nearly 1 o’clock and I was ready for lunch. This was held in a building across the road which allowed us a bit of fresh air and a sight of the lovely sunshine we were missing. I was near the end of the queue and by the time a reached the food, some trays were empty. It didn’t really matter as there was plenty of choice left. The other problem was a lack of tables – and even chairs. But I discovered that sitting on the floor was a good opportunity to meet other delegates and soon we were chatting and exchanging personal details. I was glad I had thought to run up a few cards before I went – must get something more professional  printed.

We rushed back across the road, just in time for the Plenary Session in the hall. “Why I need to find a new research subject.” The blinds were now down to cut out the heat of the sun, but I think that, despite the facts, figures and graphs, most people stayed awake through this interesting talk by Professor Alison Baverstock of Kingston University. Alison has been researching the rise of self-publishing. How it has risen from a pariah in the publishing world to becoming just another way to do it. Apparently self-publishers have a very high rate of satisfaction and editors prefer working with self-publishers. “Proper” publishers beware!

Most of us remained in the hall for the next session, “Self-promotion for Self-publishers.” Mike Bodnar is an independent author who wrote a book “Against the Current” about his move from New Zealand to barging around France. He entertained us with a flood of useful information on how to get your book noticed, you can find the notes here (bottom of the page).

Cressida Downing competing with a thunderstorm

Cressida Downing competing with a thunderstorm

After another coffee break (I heard afterwards there was cake – how did I miss that?) the day ended with a bang. I was back with Cressida Downing for “Synopses, Blurbs and Keywords.” A couple of weeks before the conference, we had been invited to send in our own synopses for comment. Ten people had sent something in, some anonymously, and parts were read out. I discovered that mine needed work, but I had got the right idea. At least I think that was what she said –  above the claps of thunder and the pounding of rain on the roof! We also had fun identifying tag lines from films and guessing books from their synopses.

By the end of this session I was starting to feel I had had enough, my brain overloaded with information. I had debated whether to stay for the final Drinks Reception, especially as I was driving and couldn’t have any wine. It was still raining hard, so I had a glass of apple juice and browsed the canapés. Time for a bit more networking, then I decided to leave. I drove through another (the same?) thunderstorm and a few large puddles, but made it home safely, tired but exhilarated.

So, looking back, what did I learn?

  1. Self-publishing is not something to be ashamed of. It can cover everything from vanity publishing to something indistinguishable from the best traditionally published book.
  2. I need an editor.
  3.  I found that people have a problem with my hero’s name. It has confirmed my decision not to use it as the (main) title of my book.
  4. That sentence I noted from the keynote speech. Make your book the best it can be!

Thank you Troubador for organising the day. I’m sure I’ll be back next year.

I had planned to tweet during the day and take photos. Sorry, but it seems there was so much to do, I didn’t have time.


Thinking About Covers

Since I completed my first draft and started editing (coming along nicely, thanks for asking) I have started to think about the future.

I now know that I will continue the story of Byrhtnoth in a second book. Perhaps a trilogy. More? Who knows. That brings with it a problem, A Title.

So far the book has been called “Byrhtnoth” or just “My book” (My Precious!). I need an overall “Chronicles of Byrhtnoth” or “Byrhtnoth’s Saga” type of thing. I’ll talk about that another time.

The other thing a book needs is A Cover. This is something I have been thinking about for a long time – I wouldn’t say before I started writing, but close to it. I have ideas for covers to books I haven’t even written.

I have been reading recent posts by Derek Birks about what he looks for in a cover on his blog here . And just looking at other authors books and deciding what I like. More important what I don’t like! My first conclusion is that you need a professional. However good you are, or think you are, an amateur cover always looks just that. People judge a book by its cover. So, by extension, if your cover looks amateur, the contents must be.

Many of the covers that I have liked have been produced by the same designer, Avalon Graphics.
Books by Helen Hollick , Richard Denning and Madalyn Morgan (the latter a previous student at the same group, I attend – see here)
They also do web graphics and advertising materials.

All this was swirling around in my head when I saw a mention by Helen Hollick that Avalon Graphics was having a special April Offer on web advertisements. This was too good to miss, so I got in touch.

I had an immediate reply from Cathy Helms (always a good sign) and we decided on three banners – for this blog, Twitter and a Facebook page I was thinking of starting. I sent her a couple of pictures of background I had come across online and liked.  I  requested a sword (Books of this period have to have a sword, don’t they?). I hadn’t found an image of a sword I liked, but I was specific in my request. It had to be the correct period (early to mid 10th century), It had to have a pattern welded blade and some gold on the hilt. The Battle of Maldon poem mentions Byrhtnoth’s “golden hilted sword”.

Cathy did her best. She also found it difficult to find the right sword, we had to abandon the pattern welding, but within a few days she sent me three potential designs. There was a bit of discussion: background from number one, font from number two and sword from number three. Then, back to original sword. That was it!

Within a week I had the perfect image to put at the top of this blog. I had to change the colour of the blog to match – do you like it? The same image is on my twitter account @YoungByrhtnoth (please follow if you don’t already), and my brand new facebook page

Every time I look at them, my heart swells with pride.

Thank you Cathy, I’ll be back. All I need to do is make my book worthy of what I am sure will be a wonderful cover.