Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas

I love Christmas. It's a time when with one voice we all wish each other joy and happiness. A time of giving and a time of receiving. It is a time when we show those we love how much they mean to us.
So here it is. I wish you joy and happiness, and I hope that 2014 will bring you everything you wish for.

Monday, 2 December 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 - Done and Dusted?

If you participated in National Novel Writing Month this year, I have a message for you...

Over three hundred thousand people participated in this year's event, and a huge number completed 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. For any writer that's quite an achievement. Many of us have produced an early draft of a complete novel. Not everyone completed 50,000 words, but everybody who wrote anything managed something they may not have achieved without NaNoWriMo. That's a win whatever the word count.

As always there has been no shortage of people in the mainstream media who criticise NaNoWriMo participants for doing something they consider worthless and annoying. I have a simple answer to those people. Try it some time and you'll find out that you're wrong.

Much of the criticism is based on a complete misunderstanding of what NaNoWriMo is all about. It's not about publishing, and it's not about getting an agent. It's about being inspired to write. Those of us who participate do so because we love to write, and NaNoWriMo is probably the most inspirational event that exists for people like us. We get together, we encourage each-other, we chivvy each-other along and we make wonderful new friends. Oh, and just to set the record straight with the critics, many participants have no interest in getting their work published. They write for the love of it, as we all do.

The nay sayers seem to think we want to write a complete, awesome and publishable novel in one month. Few people are capable of such a feat and I've never yet met a NaNoWriMo author who believes they can do that. We all know we'll have to work on edits and re-writes, but pretty much every professional author on the planet does that anyway.

Enough about the misguided critics. I was in the middle of congratulating you.

Now that we've got all this writing we produced during November we have to decide what to do with it.

In my case that's simple. You see, I'm a strange and unusual person. I like editing my work. I love to go back over my writing and make it better. I fix plot problems, deepen my characters, improve the quality of the writing. I begin with a manuscript that contains the bones of my story and with every editing pass through it I get to improve on what I started with. How could I not enjoy that!

Whatever your plans for your NaNoWriMo manuscript you are awesome. You've created something new, and the creative soul inside you has been fed.

Every year hundreds of thousands of people find renewed inspiration in their writing by participating in National Novel Writing Month. If you haven't dipped your toe in yet, there's always next year...

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

National Novel Writing Month, 2013 - Good luck!

November is nearly here, and that means NaNoWriMo - the National Novel Writing Month.
If you are giving it a go this year, then...
Good Luck!
NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge for anyone who wants to participate, and the objective is to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. Are you planning to have a go? I am, and the more who join in, the merrier the party.
One of the wonderful features of NaNoWriMo is that everyone who takes part is so supportive of everyone else. We're all in this together and we all want each other to do as well as possible. There is a website which is packed full of fantastic resources - not least of all is the forum section where participants gather to chat, ask questions, share ideas and help each other overcome any problems along the way. If you set up a login with a user profile, you can also connect up with other writing 'buddies' and the sense of community becomes even stronger.
Talking of community, a huge number of people from all over the world take part, so wherever you are there's probably a local community of NaNoWriMo participants, and guess what - you can find out who they are, and connect with them, on the NaNoWriMo site. Could it get any better? Well yes! There are goodies to buy, motivational videos, pep talks from the organisers and loads more. Really, if you haven't been there already, go and take a look. You won't regret it.
When I first came across this in 2010 I was rather intimidated. After all, what if I failed? What if I couldn't keep the pace up? What if something came up during November and I couldn't carry on with it? If, like I was, you are worried by such things, you can relax. In fact there is no pressure whatsoever. Even if you write nothing during November, nobody will think any worse of you. We all have last minute changes to our plans, and despite the best planning we don't all manage to do what we hoped. Many people participate but don't achieve the full 50,000 words, but that's okay. There's no such thing as failing. Any words you do write are words you might not have written if you didn't participate. That's a win however you think about it.
Then again, you might complete the 50,000 word challenge. How great would that feel?
Already planning to participate? Good luck.
Still thinking about it? I really hope you join us. It'll be great fun.
My NaNoWriMo username is ambenson, come on by and add me as a buddy. We can encourage each other along the way.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Guest Post by M Pax - Patience and Perseverance

I'm pleased to have author Mary Pax here today with a guest post in which she talks about patience and perseverance. Mary has a fantastic blog, and today you'll find me over there talking about what authors read. Mary is a successful author publisher, writing science fiction and fantasy for her growing and very happy audience. Over to you, Mary...
Patience and Perseverance
The author gig is tough. It’s filled with a lot of downs and a lot of ups. Don’t ride it alone. Don’t ride it without a plan to keep moving forward.
I really stink at patience. My husband and most people who know me in person will tell you that. What saves me is that I’m extremely driven, ambitious, stubborn, and tenacious.
My first foray into publishing was two and a half years ago. I published three short stories and gave them away for free. People I didn’t know read them and sometimes left great comments [sometimes not so great comments]. The good comments kept me going and onward I went.
I published the novelette, Semper Audacia two years ago. It was my first venture to earn some money. It sells maybe three copies a week. Funny thing happened over the summer. I was contacted by a publisher who wanted to put Semper in an anthology. I agreed, they paid me. Space Jockey happened and sells better than my story does on its own. It’s great exposure.
Then I readied my space opera series, The Backworlds. The first novella is perma free. It takes a beating, but keeps on ticking and keeps sales of the sequels going at a steady pace. The crap it sometimes takes used to really bother me. It wasn’t until recently I was able to let it go and make peace with it. It sells my other books. That’s all that matters. And I still think it’s a damn fine book.
Stopover at the Backworlds’ Edge came out very shortly after. A real bargain at $1.99. It was my plan to lure my audience in. The steady sales and fan mail keep me publishing the series and now has my writing supporting itself.
I noticed when I released Beyond the Edge [Book 4] earlier this month that sales of all the series books picked up. Awesome.
All is not Star Trekathons and pumpkin ale in my publishing universe. The Renaissance of Hetty Locklear, which I published a year ago, remains my problem child. It has yet to catch on like the Backworlds series did. So I decided not to write anymore in that series for the time being.
And my Husband Unit will attest to how much whining I did this summer over slow sales. They weren’t really slow. I wanted more [my impatience].
Here I am doing what I’ve dreamed to do with my life – writing books. And it’s awesome. I stuck that on my wall, and I stare at it on crappy days. I’ve published five books, a novelette, and have been in two anthologies so far. Doing what I love is far from crappy even on a day full of crapitude.
Why are you doing this?
M. Pax-- Inspiring the words she writes, she spends her summers as a star guide at Pine Mountain Observatory in stunning Central Oregon where she lives with the Husband Unit and two demanding cats. She writes science fiction and fantasy mostly. You can find out more by visiting her at:
Website / FB / Twitter / Goodreads / Pinterest / Wattpad
Beyond the Edge
Some truths are better left unfound.
For two years Craze’s dear friend, Lepsi, has been missing. The murmurings of a haunted spaceship might be a message and may mean his old pal isn’t dead. The possibility spurs Craze and Captain Talos to travel to uncharted worlds, searching. Out there, in an unfamiliar region of the galaxy beyond the Backworlds, they stumble upon a terrible truth.
Meanwhile, Rainly remains on Pardeep Station as acting planetlord, dealing with the discovery of her lover’s dark and brutal past. Alone and questioning her judgment, her introspection unlocks more than heartache. Latent protocols in her cybernetics activate, forcing her to face a sinister secret of her own.
In the far future, humanity settles the stars, bioengineering its descendents to survive in a harsh universe. This is the fourth book in the science fiction series, The Backworlds. A space opera adventure.
Amazon / AmazonUK / Nook / Smashwords / Kobo / Other Outlets

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Genre: Stick to the Knitting?

Genre is a tricky word. Arguably it's no more than a label for something which could exist perfectly well without it. So why is genre considered so important?

There are several reasons. Firstly, libraries and bookshops – whether online or bricks and mortar – have to have some way to organise the books on their shelves, and it has to be such that the average reader, browsing the shelves, can easily find what they are looking for. That calls for a method of organisation which is pretty much universal.

Secondly, people just love to categorise things. Find me something which isn't categorised and I'll find you someone who wants to fix that. On the surface this desire seems gratuitous, but there is an underlying reason for it. Our minds naturally organise things so we have quick access to them in our memory and can better understand them.

As readers, when we find a book we like, we often want to read more of the 'same kind of thing'. Genre, at least in theory, allows the reader to choose books that are likely to be to their taste. If a reader likes stories about aliens and space travel they might be disappointed by a book which is a love story – then again they might be pleasantly surprised.

The enjoyment of a book is highly subjective, and two big factors influencing a reader's potential enjoyment are the genre and the author.

So does that mean a fiction author should stick to a chosen genre?

Most authors do. That doesn't, however, mean it's necessary. It may simply be a preference on the part of a large number of authors. Interestingly, those who do write in more than one genre frequently use different author names for the different genres. The much loved Ian Banks comes to mind. When writing science fiction he put an M in to be Ian M Banks. Many others use completely different pen-names.

The question is what goes wrong if an author writes in multiple fiction genres under the same name?

I think the biggest risk is with readers – particularly in a world in which a given author name is usually associated with a particular genre. The last thing an author wants is to let their readers have a hard time figuring out whether to read their next book. Worse still, if an author has a strong following, they could end up with disappointed readers if there's confusion over the genre of the next book. No author wants that.

Personally I like Ian Banks' approach. An Accident of Birth is dystopia, which comes under science fiction. If I write outside of the science fiction genre I shall use a variant of my name to differentiate between the two.

That's not going to be an issue in the near future, though. My plan was, until recently, to write a crime thriller next. However, that plan has changed. At the moment I'm really fired up about a science fiction space opera, so that will be next.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Dominic's Recipe – Blackcurrant Vodka

We picked our blackcurrants a few weeks ago, and those we didn't use at the time have been in the freezer ever since. That's all very well, but it's about time I put them to good use, so I'm using Dominic's recipe to make some Blackcurrant Vodka. Here it is:

Blackcurrant Vodka
Ingredients
1 Bottle vodka (75cl)
12 oz Blackcurrants
6 oz Sugar
Method
Mash the blackcurrants and transfer all the juice and pulp, together with the vodka and sugar, into a closeable glass or plastic container, large enough to hold all the ingredients. A bottle, demijohn, large soda bottle, etc. is suitable. Note, the mixture won't fit in the original vodka bottle, but keep the bottle for the finished product.
Shake repeatedly until the sugar is dissolved. Place the container in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Shake every day for the first week, then leave until it has been kept for two months. At the end of two months decant the liquid and, if necessary, filter it. This is now ready and can be put back into the original vodka bottle. Drink any that won't fit.
As a bonus you now have some blackcurrant pulp that is steeped in vodka. It makes rather a nice dessert with ice cream.
Dominic loves to give Francesca little presents when he visits. He sees it as a small compensation for the oppression of her captivity. Francesca is not allowed alcohol, but she does love blackcurrant vodka, so Dominic smuggles it through the inspections on the way in.
Enjoy your blackcurrant vodka, but whatever you do, don't do what Francesca did at the Autumn Ball.
Dominic and Francesca are characters in An Accident of Birth. The recipe is real.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Indiestructible - Inspiring Stories from the Publishing Jungle. Guest post, Jessica Bell

In today's guest post Jessica Bell tells us about Indiestructible - Inspiring Stories from the Publishing Jungle. She has brought together 29 indie authors, each contributing an article about their own experiences in the indie publishing world. The book makes fascinating reading, and is a must read for anyone who is considering taking the plunge into indie publishing.

Better still, it's only 99c, and the proceeds will be donated to charity. Here is Jessica to tell you more.

ONLY 99c TO HELP SUPPORT THE INDIE AUTHOR & AN AMAZING CHARITY!

by Jessica Bell

The day I realized I’d been obsessing over my sales figures way too much was the day I closed my eyes and tried to think about the real reason I am an indie author.

Is my primary goal to make money? No. So why do I keep obsessing over my sales stats? I realized it’s because more sales means more people reading my work. What I really really want is to be read. I want to share the one thing in this world I would cut my fingers off for. I know. If I didn’t have any fingers, I wouldn’t be able to physically write, but you know what I mean.

My passion for writing comes with a perpetual replacement button, attached to my side seam, just in case it becomes unraveled, and falls off, after a day gallivanting through the publishing jungle. It can be tough in there, but in the end, being an indie author is OH SO WORTH IT.

This made me wonder … what’s everybody else’s story?
Then Indiestructible was born.

Need motivation and inspiration to self-publish, or sign that contract with an interested small press? Have you done all the research you can, but still feel ambivalent about the idea? Indiestructible: Inspiring Stories from the Publishing Jungle brings you the experiences of 29 indie authors—their passions, their insights, their successes—to help you make the leap into indie publishing.

This is not a how-to guide. This is the best of the indie tradition of experienced authors paying forward what they’ve learned, giving you information to help you on your journey. The personal essays in this book will leave you itching to get your work into the hands of readers and experience, first-hand, all the rewards indie publishing has to offer.

Not only is this anthology packed full of interesting, unique, and genuinely helpful information, and totally worth the 99c (only 99c!!!), 100% of proceeds will be donated to BUILDON.org, a movement which breaks the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education.

Pretty amazing, huh?
What are you waiting for?
Buy Indiestructible—support the indie author and an amazing charity—TODAY!

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE INDIESTRUCTIBLE

eBook: $0.99 USD
Publisher: Vine Leaves Press
ISBN 10: 0987593102
ISBN 13: 9780987593108
Language: English
Edited & Compiled: by Jessica Bell

Contributing authors:
Alex J. Cavanaugh <>  Angela Brown <>  Anne R. Allen <>  Briane Pagel <>  C.S. Lakin <>  Ciara Knight <>  Cindy M. Hogan <>  D. Robert Pease <>  Dawn Ius <>  Emily White <>  Greg Metcalf <>  Jadie Jones <>  Jessica Bell <>  Karen Bass <>  Karen Walker <>  Kristie Cook <>  Laura Diamond <>  Laura Pauling <>  Laurel Garver <>  Leigh Talbert Moore <>  Lori Robinson <>  Melissa Foster <>  Michael Offutt <>  Michelle Davidson Argyle <>  Rick Daley <>  Roz Morris <>  S.R. Johannes <>  Stephen Tremp <>  Susan Kaye Quinn

About Jessica Bell:
The Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet, and singer/songwriter/guitarist, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers(English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

She is the co-publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca.

Connect with Jessica online:
Website |  Blog |  Facebook |  Twitter


Monday, 26 August 2013

Interview With the Editor – Sher A. Hart

Today I’m interviewing Sher A. Hart, the editor of An Accident of Birth. Sher is an author and editor, and you can find her website here. Sher has been a pleasure to work with. She carried out a structural edit and copy edit, then proofread my finished manuscript. Her attention to detail, combined with insightful feedback on story structure has worked wonders. I highly recommend Sher to anyone who wants a talented professional to do an excellent job.
Sher, first of all, tell us about your own writing.
First, thank you for the praise! I was looking for another hobby when gardening got too painful for my back. Then my youngest son, who was in middle school at the time, got run over by a truck, his second run-in with a moving vehicle within a few years. He’s fine now, but the hit and run in a busy intersection combined with a witness who disappeared later motivated me to write about a different kind of illegal aliens at the wheel. At first, I wrote very sporadically because I was too busy. Doctor appointments, hauling schoolwork back and forth, physical therapy. We also had hurricanes for three years running. Along the road between major revision one and umpteen, my middle grade SF evolved into two separate book series. The illegal aliens are in a YA paranormal, and the middle grade SF features Boy Scouts who try to save the broken Heartland of a sentient Earth. I also wrote a rhyming picture book I need to resubmit—sometime.
What made you choose editing as a profession?
I didn’t choose editing at first. More like it chose me. When I joined my first critique group, I found out I could spot and fix more problems than most. I traded critiques with local writers, and I helped Anna Banks with Of Poseidon before she got a two-book deal. Then I got a Kindle and started sending error lists to authors everywhere, including Susan Kaye Quinn for her Mindjacker series. By the third book, I helped copy edit, thinking someday I’d ask her to beta read my book. I would have traded forever, but after I sent Julia Dweck a rhyming verse to replace one with bad rhythm, she asked me to edit, not critique, her next rhyming picture book. For pay! That was a huge eye-opening moment. Since then, I've edited about two books a month for her, including, Blucy, her latest.
How do you balance your time between writing and editing?
Well, there’s not much balance. After I revised my website, I went from mostly writing to mostly editing. Now I only write when I’m between editing jobs, and that isn’t often because I keep sending error lists for books I review. I guess my love of reading other authors’ books overtook my desire to write my own. Part of it may be my knowing how my own book ends. No more mystery, but that’s not all. As a teen, I did a personality test that said I was “nurturing” and hated that label. But being a mother, volunteering at schools, church, and Boy Scouts taught me better. I even chose my pun name (my real name is Sheryl Hartwell) for the sound of sharing my heart. Now I feel I can help more people by editing, making their books attract more readers, than I can by finishing my own.
You offer the three kinds of edit – structural edit, copy edit and proofreading. Perhaps you could explain the differences between them and what’s involved in each.
Structural editing is like building or remodelling a house. For new clients, I usually find content problems that would adversely affect sales. Changing a scene from narrative to dialog and action, showing vs. telling, is like straightening a wall. Resequencing events is like moving the wall. Inconsistent world building may require resetting or expanding the foundation. Content editing is also called substantive line editing if it’s done by the track changes tool. I add notes at the location rather than just in an editorial letter. It’s important to know where to nail, not just that you need nails.

Copy editing is like changing out cracked or broken single-pane windows for impact-resistant double panes. It brings the book up to building code. But building code for books isn’t limited to the rules we learned in school. Unlike academia or the press, novels follow style rules from the Chicago Manual of Style. But where their style creates a jarring appearance, I follow typographer Robert Bringhurst’s advice. Let’s just say I like strong and pretty windows.
Proofreading is the last phase, like washing the new windows so readers don’t even notice there’s anything between them and the imaginary scene inside the house. With good proofreading, readers feel like they're taking part in the action, and they'll have no distractions until the author closes the curtains at the end. Then they’ll bang at the door until the author opens the curtains to the next book. Don't blame me if your windows end up with finger and nose prints!
You can find a more detailed explanation on Ellie Garratt's blog, along with the picture of the Queen Borg outfit.
What is it like, as a professional editor, working with independent authors?
I love it! You often made my day by going beyond what I asked of you. I loved your sense of humor and your complements. And it was fun working together to find ways around conflicting meanings of American and British words and blending styles. As a group, indie authors are anxious to succeed and willing to learn. They do what it takes to make a sturdy yet exciting, mysterious yet beautiful house, so readers will want to return again and again.
Does it help or hinder your work if you like or dislike what you are editing?
Great question. Reading anything beats cooking and house cleaning. Before I started editing for pay, I critiqued many memoirs and mysteries, not my areas of highest interest. I gave them the same attention as more exciting material and tried to make them more interesting. I also have the ability to concentrate for long hours of unexciting detail work (I once made a Queen Borg costume). I did decline a book for which I didn’t have the historical knowledge I considered necessary, and I don’t do erotica. But if I accepted a book and then found out I didn’t like it, I would consider it a challenge to make it likeable—not for me alone, but for a wider audience. If I couldn’t do that, I would not charge the author.
How much do you find your work as an editor helps with your own writing?
On the rare occasion I write between editing, I often look at my manuscript and wonder what I was thinking when I wrote such a bad scene. I’ve added some scenes, moved others, and rewritten still more, yet I have no doubt I will need an editor to help remodel my book.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what kind?
No, although I love music. I sing most of the time I’m not writing or editing. I even sing to my cats. But reading takes my full attention. I'm in another world. People can talk to me, and I’ll never know they’re speaking until they say my name. That focus may be why I catch errors others don’t. Or maybe that's because I have an artist's eye for detail. Maybe both.
Do you have any words of advice for budding indie authors out there?
Join a critique group, and not just any group. Make sure it’s for your genre and that you learn from the people. I wrote my first book over double the acceptable length for middle grade and never found out until I submitted it and got rejected. Later, I learned that the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is THE group to join for kidlit up through YA. With no local SCBWI critique group available, I put an ad in my area’s website and critiqued online until I got local members almost a year later. What a difference a good group makes. They motivate me to improve and keep trying. And they’ll serve for my first few rounds of structural editing. Your group can do the same for you, so when I edit your book, it’ll cost less. Woo-hoo!
Also, don’t ever think your spouse, partner, friend, etc. will tell you all the bad news you need to hear. They’ll want to spare your feelings. Don’t think even your worst enemy would give you the bad news you need because he or she won’t want you to improve and succeed. Find a good editor! One person may not be the best for all the phases. Give everyone the same sample pages, then choose.
Many writers say they can’t afford an editor. Wise writers know they can’t afford not to hire an editor. My rates are low, but I can and do refer writers to my trainee editors for content and copy editing at even lower rates. I believe in team building and cooperation to help us all rise together. I hope that sharing my heart helps others become better writers and better people. In other words, I believe in The Golden Rule.
You can call the phone number on my business card or contact me via my website.
I do free author hosting on my book blog (limited to kidlit up through YA).
I'd be honored to follow you back on twitter as @sherahart.
If you like my Sher A Hart page on Facebook, I'll return the favor. Please leave a link.
I will circle writers back as Sher A Hart.
Tony, thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me edit your book and for the interview!
Sher, thanks for joining me here today, and thanks for an interesting and entertaining interview.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Francesca's Bookshelf: Child Ballads - The Elfin Knight

Francesca collects old books. She loves to read, but she also loves the look, feel and smell of ancient books. She has many books in her collection, but none more loved than her ballads, songs and poetry.
Over the years she has collected many rare and valuable books. Among them is a set of ten volumes of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child. The collection is commonly known as The Child Ballads, and these days when it is available it is usually printed in five volumes - two of the original volumes to each in the new edition.
Today I've picked one of my favorite ballads from the Child collection, called The Elfin Knight. We'll take a look at the ballad, and see a rendition of it by J Lenoir, and a relatively modern interpretation by Simon and Garfunkle called Scarborough Fair. It tells of two lovers setting each other impossible tasks before they can be together.
First, let's listen to J Lenoir with an interpretation which is pretty much straight from Child's collection. If you like this performance, please support the artist by buying the CD.


Child collected eleven different versions of this song, and provided copious notes about each. The version I have chosen is Child's second, which he attributes to A Collection of Curious Old Ballads, etc., p. 3. Partly from an old copy in black letter, and partly from the recitation of an old lady:
The Ellfin knight sits on yon hill,
Ba, Ba, Ba, lillie ba
He blaws his horn baith loud and shrill.
And the wind hath blawn my plaid awa
He blaws it east, he blaws it west,
He blaws it where he liketh best
‘I wish that horn were in my kist
Yea, and the knight in my arm niest.’
She had no sooner these words said,
Than the knight came to her bed.
‘Thou art oer young a maid,’ quoth he,
‘Married with me that thou wouldst be.’
‘I have a sister, younger than I,
And she was married yesterday.’
‘Married with me if thou wouldst be,
A curtisie thou must do to me.
‘It's ye maun mak a sark to me,
Without any cut or seam,’ quoth he.
‘And ye maun shape it, kinfe-, sheerless,
And also sew it needle-, threedless.’
‘If that courtisie I do to thee,
Another thou must do to me.
‘I have an aiker of good ley land,
Which lyeth low by yon sea strand.
‘It's ye maun till 't wi your touting horn,
And ye maun saw 't wi the pepper corn.
‘And ye maun harrow 't wi a thorn,
And hae your wark done ere the morn.
‘And ye maun shear it wi your knife,
And no lose a stack o't for your life.
‘And ye maun stack it in a mouse hole,
And ye maun thrash it in your shoe sole.
‘And ye maun dight it in your loof,
And also sack it in your glove.
‘And thou must bring it over the sea,
Fair and clean and dry to me.
‘And when that ye have done your wark,
Come back to me, and ye'll get your sark.’
‘I'll not quit my plaid for my life;
It haps my seven bairns and my wife.’
‘My maidenhead I'll then keep still,
Let the elphin knight do what he will.
We don't find out the young lady's name, but I confess I admire her. She was no pushover.
And to finish, how better than with the wonderful Simon and Garfunkle, with their own very special version of this same ballad - Scarborough Fair:
The old ballads were passed down by word of mouth and evolved with every generation. Even today it's unusual to find two performers who perform the same ballad with the same tune and the same words. Indeed, I sing a version of this same ballad which is a hybrid of the words in Child's collection, a tune and refrain which I received via oral tradition and a unique flavour which is my own. Such is the fate of the old ballads.

Francesca is a character in An Accident of Birth by Tony Benson.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Guest spot on The View Outside blog


Hi, folks. Today I'm over on Vikki's excellent blog, The View Outside.

Come on over, say hi to Vikki, and check out her blog. She's interviewed me and I'm over there answering comments and questions, so I'd love to see you there.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Kindle Release Celebration Today - An Accident of Birth


Launch celebration today, July 30th, from 2pm to 10pm BST

You've all been so supportive and kind while I was writing and publishing An Accident of Birth. To thank you, today I'm giving away five ebook copies and one paperback copy (when it's available).
Want one? It's easy. Either mention this launch on your blog and leave a comment here, or visit my Facebook page, like the page and share the announcement for the launch.
I'll be responding to comments here, and on my facebook page chatting with people who come by and posting excerpts from the book, so do come over and say hello.
Coming soon... an interview with my editor, Sher A. Hart.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

An Accident of Birth - Kindle launch & book giveaway

The time has finally come! Thank you so much to all of you who have been so supportive during the writing and publishing of An Accident of Birth.
Next Tuesday, 30th July, is the official launch for the Kindle version. I'll be posting here, and launching on my Facebook author page. The launch celebration will be from 2pm-10pm BST.
To celebrate the launch I'll be giving away some books. I'll be giving away a paperback copy, with worldwide postage, and five Kindle copies. I'll be selecting the winners from people who 'like' my author page and share the post announcing the launch and giveaway. Please swing by to like and share - I'll be pleased to see you there.
Alternatively, you can qualify by announcing the launch and facebook page on your blog. If you do so, please be sure to leave a comment here so I know you have done so.
Please spread the word - I'll be glad of any help I can get in putting the word out there.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Author Interview: Lisa Cutts

Never Forget: Cover.

Today I’m lucky to be interviewing Lisa Cutts, whose début novel Never Forget was recently published by Myriad Editions. Lisa is a serving police officer, and has written a gripping crime novel which gives a vivid impression of what it’s like to work on her side of the thin blue line.

Lisa, perhaps you can introduce yourself by telling us a little about your background and the kind of work you do.

Thank you, Tony. Prior to my current job, I had a number of others in London and Kent before joining Kent Police in 1996. I’ve spent the majority of my service in CID and a number of years in the Major Crime Department, investigating serious crimes, including murder. It’s very interesting work and can be very varied, although often disheartening seeing the things that people do to each other.

This is your first novel, and hopefully many more will follow. What inspired you to get into writing fiction?

In a nutshell — Elizabeth Haynes. I met her after reading her début novel and contacted her to congratulate her. It wasn’t something I would normally do as I had no aspirations to be an author at that time. I contacted her because we worked in the same building at Kent Police Headquarters and just wanted to tell her I had enjoyed her book. We met and she encouraged me to write. I’d always thought that someone like me would read books, but I never thought I would be able to write one. It was her enthusiasm that sparked my interest in writing fiction.

Many crime authors take liberties with real police procedure and experience, yet your story gives us an insight into what it’s like to be part of a real police team solving crime. Was it important to you to keep the portrayal accurate? If so, why?

I set out to write a book that readers wouldn’t want to put down, but almost as important to me was its accuracy. I’ve made sure that I’ve stuck to procedures and have at times told the reader why something has been done in a particular way without going into too much detail. I was well aware that the law isn’t always interesting but I wanted to make sure that the fictional murders in the book would be investigated in the same way if they actually happened. I felt it was important to show readers the team work involved: no one single detective can do it alone, irrespective of their rank. That’s something that is sometimes overlooked in crime fiction.

To what extent did you base your detective character Nina on yourself?

We both like a drink. Apart from wine and doing the same job, there are a few things that we both share such as detesting injustice and people not being held to account for what they’ve done. She is taller than me though.

I’m not sure how much you can give away about your work, but have you ever worked on a serial killer case?

I can’t write about specific investigations but no, I have never worked on a serial killing. The main reason I wrote about one in Never Forget was because I have a written agreement with Kent Police that I wouldn’t write about actual crimes I’ve worked on. I felt that I was on safe ground writing about a particular crime I had never investigated. They are also, extremely rare.

Now the book is out, how are fellow police officers reacting? Are they looking for themselves in your characters?

Colleagues and friends at work have been extremely supportive. It’s been lovely for me to have so many of them backing me. I have assured them they aren’t in the book but one or two have asked if certain characters are based on certain people. I’ve done my best to reassure them that it is fiction and that includes the characters — apart from Nina’s fondness for wine.

You’ve said you intend this to be the first of a series. What’s coming next? What about Nina’s love life?

The next book is called Remember, Remember and starts with an investigation surrounding something that happened years ago and follows Nina and the team as they attempt to amass the evidence for a conviction. I wanted to do something slightly different with a few of the same characters. Must admit, I haven’t quite made up my mind about her love life.

Finally, do you have a message for your readers who might be reading this post?

If writing is something you want to do, then please get started. If it’s something you already do and love, please just keep going. I know how difficult it can be to find the time and put the work in but you never know what may happen. And a massive thank you to anyone who has bought my book and read it. It doesn’t matter what’s in a book if no-one reads it.

From the back cover:

A brutal serial killer is stalking the streets. As the body count increases and the force’s biggest-ever manhunt gets underway, Niina is determined to find the murderer.

But when the story of her own traumatic childhood comes to light — a past she’s worked hard to hide — her role on the team is threatened.

Suddenly her job, her peace of mind and her safety are all in danger.

Thank you, Lisa. I very much enjoyed Never Forget, and I’m looking forward to the next book in this series. Good luck.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Indie Books: An Ocean Of Choice

Independent book publishing is a rapidly growing industry. Huge numbers of authors are taking control of their own work, and reader choice has never been so great.
Is this good or bad news for readers?
Prior to the explosion in indie publishing, readers were faced with a problem. How do I choose my next read if I want to find a new author? There are many answers to this, but mostly we find recommendations or read reviews. Broadly speaking this has not changed, but the nature of what is available to readers has changed considerably.
Many people argue that the traditional publishing industry acted as a quality gateway to ensure that whatever you pick up will at least be a good book, even if not to a particular reader's taste. To some extent that's true. We have all, however, had that experience when you pick up a book from an author you don't know, only to find that it's poorly written or poorly edited. If this were not true of works from major publishers, it would be easier to argue that the industry provides an adequate quality gateway, but sadly it happens all too often.
The situation with traditional publishers has become worse with the advent of e-books. Those who patiently format paper publications to be perfect frequently seem happy to throw out badly formatted e-books, and charge almost as much as for a paperback – sometimes more.
Constraining Choice
Putting aside the formatting and pricing issues, traditional publishers have always served to constrain the choices faced by readers. For every book that was published by a traditional publisher hundreds, or even thousands, were never published. The agents and publishers simply could not keep up with the rate at which authors produced books. Thus, well written, high quality books frequently went unpublished.
In today's difficult market the publishers are becoming more risk averse than ever. They will go with authors who come up with something which fits their expectations rather than taking a risk on something which is out of their mould.
Opening Up New Choices – At a price
The rapid growth in independent publishing gives readers an opportunity to read those books which publishers did not have the bandwidth to publish. The pain threshold for 'getting published' is now much reduced for an author, and many who would not have even tried to approach an agent or a publisher are willing to publish their own work.
This puts vast numbers of books into the marketplace, and presents readers with an ocean of choice. If all books were well written and well produced this ocean would be a wonderful thing. However, the reality is a little different, and the benefits to the reader come at a price. There are vast numbers of badly written, or badly edited books on the market.
So how should a reader find a good quality read in a genre they like when the choices are so huge? Nobody wants to pay for ten books to find one which is a good read, nor do we want to be limited to free e-books. The 'look inside' option helps here, if it is available. At least the reader can gauge the quality of the writing. Unfortunately, however, too many authors don't use this feature.
I have already said that picking a good read is frequently done by means of recommendation or through reading reviews. This is all well and good until we realise that most independent books don't have much opportunity to get reviews, and many good books languish at the bottom of the sales charts simply because people don't find them. Readers understandably go for better selling books with a body of positive reviews, yet many feel they might be missing out on good reads by using this approach. Indeed, the truth is they are.
Reviews – Quality Gateway or Bottleneck?
In this new world of independent publishing, then, reviewers have tremendous power. They can make or break an independent book. That is helpful if they are always right, but we must not forget that in many respects a review is simply an opinion. What one reviewer says might be different from another, or from what I would think if I read the book.
There is however a much bigger problem. Most reviewers are inundated with books to review, and only have the opportunity to review a fraction of those they receive. Recognise the problem? We're right back with the problem we had with agents and traditional publishers. They're not always right and they don't have time to look at more than a tiny fraction of what they receive.
That places reviewers in the position of being the new bottleneck in bringing quality reads to readers.
What Next?
In the future I see readers becoming the ones with the real power. They are, after all, the ones with the spending power. They will recommend, and post good reviews of books they enjoy. If they don't enjoy a book they will either post a bad review or not review it. This is the best possible outcome, and it seems likely to be the way of the future. We already see this on Amazon's website, as well as others, where readers post their opinions. They are not always gentle, and often post inappropriate reviews of books for which they are not the target audience. In general, however, reader reviews are a powerful and successful tool.
Does this help you, the reader, to find a good book when it's a new author and a newly published book? Not usually, but as the market continues to grow, the good books will generally float to the top.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May Day Celebrations

Hal-an-Tow, jolly rumbelow
We were up long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer
To welcome in the May-o
The summer is coming in
And winter's gone away-o

We were, indeed, up long before the day.

This morning, May Day morning 2013, we went to Coldrum Stones in the North Downs of Kent at the crack of sparrowfart to welcome in the dawn in the company of the Hartley Morris Men. The celebrations began with Dave piping in the dawn on his bagpipes, and then at about 5:30am, as the sun rose behind a grey, cloudy sky, the Hartley Morris Men danced their first dance of the morning, which was Banks Of The Dee.

What would May Day morning be without fruit cake, impaled on a sword? Thank you, Phil, it was delicious.

The sun clearly had plans for the rest of the day, but it was keeping itself to itself during the dancing. They danced for about half an hour, finishing off in style with Bonny Green Garters.

To round off the celebrations at the stones we all went down to the foot of the hill, looking up towards the entrance to the burial chamber.

There we sang Hal-An-Tow to welcome in the May.

When all was done we went on to the Rose and Crown in Wrotham for a hearty breakfast, which was much needed, after our cold and early start.

The programme for the Hartley Morris summer can be found on their website.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Quote Of The Week - Rudyard Kipling, The Land

Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, and during his lifetime he travelled more than most. He knew and loved many countries, so it is telling that when he wrote about England he displayed such tenderness. His love of the country shines through his words, and for today's quote of the week I have chosen one of my favourite Kipling poems.

The Land

When Julius Fabricius, Sub-Prefect of the Weald,
In the days of Diocletian owned our Lower River-field,
He called to him Hobdenius—a Briton of the Clay,
Saying: "What about that River-piece for layin' in to hay?"

And the aged Hobden answered: "I remember as a lad
My father told your father that she wanted dreenin' bad.
An' the more that you neeglect her the less you'll get her clean.
Have it jest as you've a mind to, but, if I was you, I'd dreen."

So they drained it long and crossways in the lavish Roman style-
Still we find among the river-drift their flakes of ancient tile,
And in drouthy middle August, when the bones of meadows show,
We can trace the lines they followed sixteen hundred years ago.

Then Julius Fabricius died as even Prefects do,
And after certain centuries, Imperial Rome died too.
Then did robbers enter Britain from across the Northern main
And our Lower River-field was won by Ogier the Dane.

Well could Ogier work his war-boat—well could Ogier wield his brand—
Much he knew of foaming waters—not so much of farming land.
So he called to him a Hobden of the old unaltered blood,
Saying: "What about that River-piece; she doesn't look no good ?"

And that aged Hobden answered "'Tain't for me to interfere.
But I've known that bit o' meadow now for five and fifty year.
Have it jest as you've a mind to, but I've proved it time on time,
If you want to change her nature you have got to give her lime!"

Ogier sent his wains to Lewes, twenty hours' solemn walk,
And drew back great abundance of the cool, grey, healing chalk.
And old Hobden spread it broadcast, never heeding what was in't-
Which is why in cleaning ditches, now and then we find a flint.

Ogier died. His sons grew English—Anglo-Saxon was their name—
Till out of blossomed Normandy another pirate came;
For Duke William conquered England and divided with his men,
And our Lower River-field he gave to William of Warenne.

But the Brook (you know her habit) rose one rainy autumn night
And tore down sodden flitches of the bank to left and right.
So, said William to his Bailiff as they rode their dripping rounds:
"Hob, what about that River-bit—the Brook's got up no bounds?"

And that aged Hobden answered: "'Tain't my business to advise,
But ye might ha' known 'twould happen from the way the valley lies.
Where ye can't hold back the water you must try and save the sile.
Hev it jest as you've a mind to, but, if I was you, I'd spile!"

They spiled along the water-course with trunks of willow-trees,
And planks of elms behind 'em and immortal oaken knees.
And when the spates of Autumn whirl the gravel-beds away
You can see their faithful fragments, iron-hard in iron clay.

      .       .       .       .       .

Georgii Quinti Anno Sexto, I, who own the River-field,
Am fortified with title-deeds, attested, signed and sealed,
Guaranteeing me, my assigns, my executors and heirs
All sorts of powers and profits which—are neither mine nor theirs,

I have rights of chase and warren, as my dignity requires.
I can fish—but Hobden tickles. I can shoot—but Hobden wires.
I repair, but he reopens, certain gaps which, men allege,
Have been used by every Hobden since a Hobden swapped a hedge.

Shall I dog his morning progress o'er the track-betraying dew?
Demand his dinner-basket into which my pheasant flew?
Confiscate his evening faggot under which my conies ran,
And summons him to judgment? I would sooner summons Pan.

His dead are in the churchyard—thirty generations laid.
Their names were old in history when Domesday Book was made;
And the passion and the piety and prowess of his line
Have seeded, rooted, fruited in some land the Law calls mine.

Not for any beast that burrows, not for any bird that flies,
Would I lose his large sound counsel, miss his keen amending eyes.
He is bailiff, woodman, wheelwright, field-surveyor, engineer,
And if flagrantly a poacher—'tain't for me to interfere.

"Hob, what about that River-bit?" I turn to him again,
With Fabricius and Ogier and William of Warenne.
"Hev it jest as you've a mind to, but"—and here he takes command.
For whoever pays the taxes old Mus' Hobden owns the land.

Rudyard Kipling

Photo by Margo Benson

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

An Accident Of Birth - Cover Reveal

The moment has arrived... I now have cover art for An Accident Of Birth, which is planned for release in July/August 2013.


The year is 2754 and Francesca is 21 years old. As a rare fertile person in a largely infertile society she is a valuable resource for breeding and by law she is kept in an Atelier which is effectively a luxury hotel prison where she is required to breed.

Since she was brought here she has been waiting for her sweetheart Dominic to rescue her. She is coming to believe that he will never do so, but still hangs on to the possibility that he will. She ponders about the last few years and regrets that she didn’t run away and become a bolter when she had the chance. Exile would surely be better than this.

Baron Drake is a Fertile who has bolted and built a criminal empire exploiting people who either want to bolt, or who have done so, some with his rather expensive assistance.

Dominic, having exhausted his ideas for springing Francesca from her captivity, engages Baron Drake to do so on his behalf. It is a black market transaction with a large deposit and a huge balance to pay.

Baron Drake decides that Francesca is a worthy trophy and he will have her for himself. He turns on the charm and gains Francesca’s affections.

What follows is a competition between the sensitive and caring Dominic and the ruthless Baron Drake to get her free from the Atelier and to gain her love.

Cover design by www.jdsmith-design.com