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On genres and reading

I've never talked about the importance of reading to being a writer. It's something I hear mentioned all the time, that you can't be a writer if you don't read. Now I don't like can't statements and I am sure there are writers who buck the trend. But, for me, reading and writing go hand in hand.

I was the child who walked into a lamppost because I was reading. Who has missed many, many train stops. Who brings anticipated reads on holidays because it's a treat to have time. I read - everywhere. In the bath, in the bathroom, in bed, in the car. I read the back of cereal packets if I have nothing else.

I also don't always read science fiction and fantasy but I have read a lot. For instance, I say I'm not a big epic fantasy fan but I've made my way through Lord of the Rings, some Sanderson, Rothfuss. I've read Grimdark (ironically far from my favourite genre, although I like the humour), portal fantasies, young adult stuff, mythic stories, Iris…

3 little things

I have so many writing thoughts whirling through my head that I haven't even titled this blog yet. I'll see what explodes first, before I do.

The sort of things that have been traipsing through my mind this week are related to the writing business, to brand and markets and to reviews. Perhaps the three are linked. If so, let's see -and then we might have a title.

1. Brand. I am brand Jo Zebedee, just like every writer is brand xyz. But brand Jo Zebedee is a bit mixed up at the moment. There is sf writer, who writes Abendau, there's a YA writer, who wrote Inish Carraig and a few other unreleased goodies in that demograph (and never markets themselves as YA, one of the biggest book markets there is) and there's the Irish writer, who writes fantasy with an Irish touch that would probably appeal to that market.

Which means that, when someone moseys off to my author page, my range is becoming increasingly confused. Do I expect a lover of Abendau to love Waters and the W…

On Stickability

Sometimes the going - at anything - gets tough. In my day job (a management consultant when we're being swish, a management nerd when we're not) stickability is identified as a key requirement in the modern workplace and one not always met.

I think I'm quite lucky with my stickability - which is, I think, sometimes mistaken for drive. It has been my long-held belief that trying hard is only one part of the equation - keeping trying is the other, and bigger, part of success.

Of all the areas of my life where sticking at it has been most needed, it is with writing. I've set up a business and that was easier than finishing a novel, and then a trilogy, and then more novels. Honestly, getting an agent only to lose them (careless I know) led to probably one of the most bleak days of my professional life. Sending out the emails to tell people what had happened, letting the news out on Social media, was all hard enough to make me slink off.

And yet I didn't. I brought the …

When the Middle Ages and Modernity collide

Today I'm joined by Thaddeus White, one of my favourite indie writers. His new book, Traitor's Prize, a sequel to Kingdom Asunder came out this week. It's his fourth novel in that world, mixing the fantastical and a realistic version of a medieval world, guided but not constrained by history. Even then, there are some conflicts between what most people think today (or how they perceive the medieval world) and what actually happened and this blog is an interesting one, exploring that. 
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Mercy and brutality is a difficult area to try and grasp. We live in a very civilised world (not perfect by any means, but compare it to a time when beating a pig to death was considered a fun game and it’s not hard to appreciate the difference). There were often strong reasons to exercise mercy or be brutal in medieval warfare. The former could encourage people to switch sides, knowing they’…

Non-agented writers - how does that work?

Just last week, a great writing chum of mine, who knows his way around a bit of PR, commented that I'd done well to get as much visibility for my new book, Waters and the Wild, (you have bought ten, right? You should because it's getting the most awesome reviews) without being agented.

Let me very clear, right from the start. I wanted to be agented. I'd still quite like to be agented. This is not an agent-bashing blog, far from it. I am not anti-agents: it seems they're rather more anti-me. This is frustrating - my books have all done well, for being with indie publishers/self-published but, more to the point, the reviews are stellar. People, when they find the books like them and recommend them. But still the agented world and I are not linked, probably for the simple reason that my books and a big publisher are not seen to be a good match.  

Let's go back a couple of years. I was, as is quite common, agented for my second novel. I then received a publisher's…

inspiration

I remembered this today. The original 300 word story that became Waters and the Wild

Song of the faerie.




There's a boat on the beach and it’s not of this world. 

“Do you see anything?” I ask.

Gary’s the most grounded person I know; he holds me where I’m safe. “Yeah,” he says. “Beautiful.”

I hadn’t expected that. “Why here?”

He shrugs. “Isn’t it obvious?”

Yes. A faerie boat from the underworld. My breathing tightens. Prickles cover my skin, great welts that itch and fade a moment later. “Why now?” 

He puts his hand on my arm. “Amy, what do you see?” 

I point at the ark and it sings a faerie song to me. Gary holds me so tight that it hurts. “Amy, what is it?”

I shake him off. Amy, amy, amy; a dangerous lullaby. I reach out and touch the ship, run my fingers over its rusted edges, take comfort in its solid form. 

“Amy!” He takes me in his arms and smells of coffee and orange. He kisses me, even though he knows I’m bad. “What do you see?” 

His voice, heavy with fear, rips through me and brings me…

The Last Seer - chapter two: Space Princess

CHAPTER TWO – KERRA
The planet hung below, a shimmering cast of sea and cloud. This was an old planet: Kerra could feel it in the bones of her body, in the dry aged knowledge of them. Silence hung around her, waiting her decision. “Anything from the planet?” she asked. “An old distress signal,” Rana said. He flashed her a smile, one that she knew the promise within, but she ignored him. A mission was not the time to indulge, no matter how pleasant that indulgement was. Especially a mission that she hadn’t filed a flight-plan for, had taken out of the mesh, and which had taken her far beyond the Seven-Stars. A mission she hadn’t, truly, expected to succeed in. Excitement bubbled. She’d spent the last weeks imagining returning to her father and telling him what she had achieved. This was his mission, although he did not know of it, carried out on the back of their last meeting, on a planet deep in the outer zone. Her father was so different to the one she’d known as a child. He ma…

The last seer

This, then, is my experiment. It follows on from my blog of last week about new models of writing, about how the current model does nothing to support writers anyhow. 
The process:  I have no idea where this story is going. It's certainly not going to happen quickly but in between other stuff I'm writing. But, every so often, I'm going to be popping up chapters of this book, The Last Seer (read into that what you will. At some point my sub-conscious might even explain it). They will be early drafts, so don't expect sparkling prose, and any comments about where things are going, what is or isn't working, will be more than welcome.
It's designed to be read by people new to the Abendau series, as well as those familiar with the original trilogy (although reading this first will give spoilers to the trilogy https://www.amazon.co.uk/Abendaus-Heir-Inheritance-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00VF6C1Q4, be warned). 

CHAPTER ONE
Baelan stretched in the early-morning sun, hea…

Pieces of time

I love to write. I think it's safe to say that no one becomes a writer without wishing to write. Unlike some jobs, I don't think you can write - creatively, I mean, not copywriting, or technical writing for a job role - unless you genuinely have a desire to write the story. Which means, of course, that I can warn anyone starting out that they will find it hard to get their book noticed, that they will most likely make very little money, and that they will find the going tough sometimes, and they will still write. No amount of warnings would have stopped me writing, at any point, nor do they now.

But! Writing is a slow process. I'm by no means a turtle at this process, but nor am I among the quickest writers I know. Somewhere in the middle: a reasonable rate of getting-things-out. How long does it take?

I tracked my last book from the day I started it to the day I had a draft I was prepared to let beta readers get their teeth into. It took me 72 writing days - not day-days…

How to keep churning them out

Two people this week have indicated to me (following my last blog) that I’m a pretty prolific writer. This is not the first time such an observation has been made. (In fact, compared to many writers I know of, I’m not wildly prolific. In six years (almost to the day) I’ve written and released five novels, have another two trunked for now, and a sixth pretty well at completion. That’s not jaw-droppingly prolific – twelve would be getting there.)
But I also have a day job (I run a consultancy), have kids to run after and a range of pets and what-nots, and don’t really have a lot of time to fit writing in. Which means, when I do write, I have to make the most of my time.
Now, I’ve been self-employed for years and one thing you have to be able to do to succeed when self-employed is to sit down and work, in my case amid the distractions of a busy house. I apply much the same approach to my writing.
Here, then, is how I churn out whatever I do churn out:
I work at one project at a…

On sequels

On Sequels

I've written two sequels to date and, by and large, I enjoy writing them. One of the hardest things for me, when beginning a new book, is getting to know the characters. Once I have them nailed - as in they live in the dark hole in the back of my brain that seems responsible for writing books - I can, generally, happily write a new book about them.

Up until now, however, my sequels have all been in the Abendau world. Not only do I know the characters insanely well - I can slip into any of their point of views easily - but the first book hadn't been released so there was no weight of expectation. If I write another in that world - and my plan, eventually, is a second trilogy based around the younger generation - it will be because it has exploded out of me and I'm writing it because I need to and I love to.

The sequel I'm starting to work on is different. It's to Inish Carraig, it's been asked for and will follow up a book that is popular and the one …

What’s in a cover?

This week, and coming soon to an Amazon near you – honest! I just have a few hoops to jump through first – I updated the cover to Inish Carraig. I’ve also, a few months ago, had a new cover designed by Gary at Tickety boo for the Abendau trilogy – and this is the cover I think best represents the trilogy.
Here’s that cover: 


I’ll talk about why we went from a spaceship to a picture of a person, looking determined and dogged first.
A spaceship is a great cover image for many Space Opera books. It tells, clearly, what genre the book is in, it states who its target audience is. But! There are a zillion Space Opera books with space ships on them and, frankly, they don’t tell the reader much about the story. Which is fine if you’re playing with the SO tropes and writing a conventional, space-based, story.
Which Abendau isn’t. It’s a big sprawling story about people, centred on one man. Anyone picking it up to read about space battles will be sorely disappointed. Which is why, when it c…

Filtering things

I apologise in advance of my rant. Feel free to have a cuppa, go and vote (if you're in the UK), read a book, whatever, and completely ignore me.

My long-suffering critique partners will assert that if there is one thing bound to annoy every writing gene I have on my radar, it's filter words. But, generous soul that I am, I can tolerate them in critiques - that's why we go through the hell of such matters, after all - and in my own first drafts. But when I read published books absolutely full of them, I get a rant on.

Now, let's get this out of the way. I know there is, sometimes, a place for filter words. If you want to keep the reader distant from the character, they're a tool for that. If you want to ape an older style, yes to keeping them in (remember, omnipresent narrators used to be the norm). And if you want to write in omnipresent, filter away.

But! If you want to write a book with close character interventions that will pull a reader into the character,…

Writing a sense of place

Capturing the sense of a place


'It feels very rooted in its landscape' - Bryan Wigmore

'Take this book to the Glens of Antrim and read it with the waves crashing on the shore' - Annie Rose


In my first reviews of Waters and the Wild, a theme is emerging of how strong the sense of place is within it. I'm pleased about that, and relieved. I love books with a really strong sense of place* and hoped to achieve the same when I set out to write Waters and the Wild. I hoped to capture not just the look of the Antrim Glens but the feel of them too.

How does a writer go about capturing the land in a book? How do they make it real enough that a reader can imagine being there?

Here's what works for me:

1.
It's not enough to just describe. To pull a reader into the story enough that they can feel part of the setting, the writer has to play with the senses.

Take this passage from Waters and the Wild:

'The hill was bleak, the wind raw. What heat there had been from th…

On Belonging

This is a blog that's been circling me for a day or two, about themes and the like, and where they come from. What we take from our own selves and put into our books, sometimes unconsciously.

As many of you know, I'm from Northern Ireland, that divided little part of the world that challenges and rewards, often in equal measure. Many people think the divisions here are over religion - and they do, indeed, follow religious lines - without realising the deeper rifts that drive them. Our culture, our upbringing, our beliefs. Our need to belong.

Belonging is important here. You belong to a community. You might well belong to a religion. You belong to the UK, or Ireland or, increasingly it seems, Northern Ireland (where I have always put my identity and sense of belonging). It's important to work out where you belong, here, in the maelstrom of myriad beliefs. And it's important to recognise others have their own right to belong to wherever - or whatever - they chose to.

I s…