Miniature Men In Tights Down Under – Prue Batten’s Bizarre World

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a guest on MWi gets a hard time of it before I finally let them have their say.

Today is no exception.

When today’s guest, Prue Batten, said she was dreading to think what I might say in the intro, I of course spent the next three days thinking of something really dreadful to say about her in the intro.  And boy, did I think of some really dreadful things to say!

Unfortunately none of them were true. In fact despite my best efforts scouring the seediest parts of the internet I could find nothing unseemly to dig up about Prue.

But if you’re thinking “Time to read another blog – Nice people are boring,” then hold on just a little longer. How about if I told you Prue lives in Tasmania, has a pet tasmanian devil called Gisborne, eats kangaroos’ testicles, has the most ridiculous one-star ever awarded on Amazon, and wrote a novel on twitter?

Yeah, I know exactly what you’re thinking. Who in their right mind would live in Tasmania?

But actually that bit’s true. The rest is rubbish, of course.

We all know tasmanian devils are the figments of Bugs Bunny’s imagination. Okay, apart from that one in the photo, left. But as for being called Gisborne… Wasn’t he the nemesis of Robin Hood?

Prue doesn’t “do” Robin Hood, so we can cross that off the list.

Kanga bits? Okay, I made that up too up, but it could be true! She’s in Australia, right?

Actually I don’t even know if kangaroos are indigenous to Tasmania. It’s a huge island off the coast of Australia, sure, but by “off the coast” I mean about 240km away. A long way to bounce! So that’s a maybe.

The most ridiculous one-star review on Amazon? That’s true!

Imagine writing a fantasy novel that gets reviews like this:

An intriguing and highly inventive story, a heady mix of folklore and fantasy. The plot is intricate and the storytelling elegant, with a wonderful otherwordly atmosphere. By turns whimsical, passionate, brutal and lyrical.

No, that was a glowing five star review, not the one-star.  The thing is, some bozo saw the title, The Stumpwork Robe (it makes sense if you read the book, honest!) and bought it not realising it was a work of fantasy fiction.

Whoops! I thought I was buying a fantastic embroidery book, but in fact, it’s a novel! Should have read the details more carefully.

Which is absolutely hilarious!

Except for Prue. The idiot left her a one-star negative.

Yes, absolutely true!

Which leaves us with the obvious lie. That Prue wrote a novel on twitter.

But incredibly that is true too!

Seriously! Prue wrote a novel on twitter!

Not on her own, admittedly, but you have to question the sanity admire the total disregard for convention of anyone who would even attempt such an endeavour, let alone pull it off successfully.

But this isn’t the only crazy thing Prue gets up to when her husband’s away on business. She writes miniature books. About Robin Hood’s nemesis Gisborne!

Which was how, somewhere along the line, I originally stumbled across Prue’s writing, via her blog Mesmered, where she had been writing flash fiction about Guy of Gisborne.

Flash fiction? Well, a future guest blogger Thea Atkinson will be talking about her flash-fiction streak in due course, but very briefly here’s what Prue has to say on writing flash fiction:

As I writer, I find working on a novel is filled with rules that must not be broken when one wants to try for mainstream publication.  Writing fan/flash-fiction is a whole other thing.  Basically anything goes.  If I was an artist, it would be akin to a miniaturist standing back and throwing buckets of paint on a giant canvas.

Sounds interesting!

In fact I’ve never actually read any of Prue’s flash fiction on Gisborne.

Truth is, that though you all know me as a crime-thriller writer I actually dabble across so many genres you wouldn’t believe it. And one of my WIPs (when you get to my age you have a ton of WIPs) is a study in medieval history through the eyes of Isabella of Angouleme, wife of King John.

That’s her, above. Well, it’s Lea Seydoux, who played Isabella in the 2010 version of Robin Hood. And for the record I was working on my story about Isabella many years before Lea appeared on the scene, inspirational though she undoubtedly is. Anyway, the point is Guy of Gisborne inevitably features in my novel, and so I avoid any fiction that might influence me.

Speaking of influence, time now to hand over the reigns to the lady herself. Prue, it’s all yours.

When Mark approached me to guest-blog, I seriously did wonder what I had to offer. Let’s face it… Sugar and Spice is a lesson in success in the marketplace so what could I say that might be of interest? Then I thought back to his recent post: Why blog? And I figured there might be something. So let’s go back a little in time…

Not long after my two fantasies The Stumpwork Robe and The Last Stitch were POD published by YWO.com in 2008 and 2009, I ‘virtually’ met an American miniature book artist, Pat Sweet. She had bought my books, read them and been inspired by the world I’d created.

Pat asked if I was interested in forming a partnership in a wing of her business which she wanted to call the World of Eirie. Her plan was to create miniature mapbooks, pocket terrestrial and celestial globes, tellurions and orreries that mimicked my world.

I said yes (How could I not? It was unique.) and we signed a business contract which gave us a creative partnership. She then introduced me to another friend, Rebecca Bingham, who had just ventured into the bloggers’ world. Between the three, we decided to hold a virtual Masked Ball on my blog, the idea being to raise awareness of us in our various fields of endeavour.

Pat lives in California, USA, I live in Tasmania, Australia and Rebecca lives in Maryland, USA but our very disparate geographical locations proved no impediment to our plans as we moved on.

We issued an invitation to blogosphere guests and then started a 3 month novella on the blog to entice people. We posted a Ball programme and dance cards. We posted about the kind of dresses we would be wearing and what type of manners were expected for a Regency ball and all the while the novella continued, the idea being to finish it at that ultimate moment at the end of the Ball. We had competitions that people could enter on the night with prizes which included my books, Pat’s work and Rebecca’s paper artwork. Guests RSVP-ed in a character of their choice and had to maintain that persona on the night.


The Ball went online for three hours and we ran it by keeping a chat room open between the three of us in addition to the live blog and we had 1500 hits in real time. It was fabulous. My book sales lifted, Pat went from strength to strength and Rebecca moved into Squidoo and hasn’t looked back.

Since then I’ve e-published both my titles, finished a further fantasy and contracted the designer of my previous covers to do two more covers ready for e- and POD publishing later in the year.

In addition, I’m writing a historical fiction to be published at the end of the year. Entitled Gisborne it was initially written as a rough first draft on the blog to the 40,000 word mark and managed to secure a good following. The conclusion is being written off the blog ready for publication, the novel itself changing beyond recognition.

But the fascinating part has been that readers have shared in the novel’s ups and downs and have given enthusiastic feedback. It focuses on the legendary Sir Guy of Gisborne, about what he may have been like and why he may have become what he was reputed to be. I am taking the novel off on a tangent by endeavouring to make him redeemable, and in addition am trying to have no connection with Robin Hood whatsoever. The timeframe is about 1190-1220ish and so my research necessarily carries me to something I majored in at university: the Middle Ages.

Recently Pat asked me to write a Gisborne short-story which I did and which she printed and specialty-bound and illustrated as a piece of fine miniature art and its actually selling like hotcakes right across the world!

Mark insisted I also tell all about the Twitter novel that I’ve just been involved with.

#A4T was conceived by UK author Lynn Shepherd, and her American friend, Adam Spunberg. Lynn is well known for the highly successful Murder at Mansfield Park. Writers were asked to collaborate every Tuesday for three months, tweeting their sequential contributions for a novel called A Ball at Pemberley. (www.austenproject.com) The idea of tweeting like Austen who is renowned for the length of her sentences was so innovative, the press (including The Times), blogs and Facebook took it and ran with it.

It finished on the first Tuesday in May and I have to confess to feeling great pride that I was involved and thrilled to have met 50+ writers across the world. The novel was funny, touching and clever in so many ways and Lynn and Adam are now debating its future. Writing it reminded me of the BBC radio show Just A Minute as we would literally fly off the back of what the previous person tweeted.

My writing takes place between running a wool-growing property with my husband, an acre of gardens, two Jack Russells, embroidery, a cottage called House by the sea and absolutely anything to do with the sea (I adore boats, beaches, swimming and kayaking).

The interesting thing about my entire writing life is that whilst I have a substantial number of followers from the Northern Hemisphere, I have perhaps a handful of Australian readers and followers. Whether this is because Australia is less involved with blogging and the social media generally, I have no idea. But I do know that I have no single acquaintance here who has an e-reader.

The mainstream publishing market is as narrow as a blade of grass and well nigh impossible to break into even with a book that is declared ‘commercially viable’ by one of the top UK literary consultancies.

All this brings me to a final point. In my writing and publishing journey I have ‘met’ people through blogging who are true kindred spirits.

I may never be a Dorothy Dunnett or a JK Rowling but I am selling and I’ve secured a niche following of deeply genuine people who take time to ‘talk’ on a regular basis and if that’s as far as it goes as I write each book then how could I not be happy?

I’m guessing that quite a few mainstream-published writers might not have been so lucky!

Which is the perfect note to end on. Thanks very much, Prue.

I should add that Prue sent me some delightful images to include in the latter part of this post, but technical problems prevented them uploading, despite my best efforts.

What you’ve seen above is just a small part of the amazing goings on over at Prue’s blog Mesmered, where, when it comes to writing, the rule-books just don’t apply.

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  1. Fascinating stuff. And this is the first time I’ve heard Dorothy Dunnett, one of my favourite writers – I love her Dolly books – mentioned online. You have good taste, Prue. Really intrigued by your experiments. The novel which resulted sounds well worth reading.

    • Thanks Gerry. It’s certainly not what I expected to happen on publication! DD is my utter favourite hist.fict writer of all time. I read the Niccolo and Lymond series every few years. Imagine the thrill when my latest fantasy, A Thousand Glass Flowers, came back from assessment with Cornerstones Literary Consultancy UK (they of the ‘commercially viable’ tag) saying that the novel had a Dunnett-esque quality. How I wish one could use such comments on the cover in a strapline!

      • I guess we forget how lucky we are to live (or formerly live, in my case) in a country with a large publishing tradition.

        There are some major agencies in the UK, of course, but I’m intrigued to know: do you also approach the US agencies, or do you have an affinity for British publishing?

        Being UK based we tried several major UK agencies and got nowhere. No-one wanted Sugar & Spice. “Unpublishable,” said one. “The last taboo,” said another. So we stuck it on Amazon.

        This past week we were headhunted by one of the most prestigious literary agencies in New York. Yes, THEY called US!

        Nothin signed yet. Discussions on-going. Watch this space!

  2. Actually, I’d really like to add a huge thanks to Mark for his marvellous intro. I did quail at what he might write and of course when I saw that he’d mentioned the dreaded one star review, I blushed all over. But then I thought how bad press can be good press and the next thought was ‘what the hell!’

    I had a good laugh as I continued through the intro: and must clear up some room for doubt. We do have a version of a kangaroo called a wallaby which is smaller than a roo. I haven’t yet eaten roo’s testicles but I bet there’s Aussies who have. The Tasmanian Devil is much more than a Warner creation, being our unoffical mascot and under dire threat at the moment from a lethal facial tumour disease. Scientists are trying to manufacture a cure before the little Devils are wiped out.

    And you ask: who in their right mind would live on an island that is at the ‘arse-end’ of the world? Hmm, good point. Obviously what the Brits thought when they sent our convict forbears here for penal servitude. My own great, great, great whatever was transported for stealing a sheep. But the place is scenically superb, has beaches and water to die for and grows on you, and I can’t bear to leave anymore. Its island mentality and quietness has wrapped itself around me and swallowed me whole. Call me insane, but I love it!

    Cheers!

    • Very sad about the tazzes, or whatever you refer to them as. Surely a great PR opportunity for Warner Bros to step in and fund some assistance? Has anybody told them?

      Your environment would not apeal to me, but can understand you being happy away from so-called civilization. That’s why I love it here in West Africa.

    • Judith Madore (fitzg)
    • May 17th, 2011

    Lovely interview. I’ve been following Ms. Batten’s Mesmered blog for a while as one of a group of “fans”. supporters of an English actor. Not particularly enamoured of fan fic per se, I’ve found it delightful to follow the author’s journey from fan fic to historical novel. Ms. Batten’s visual and literary imagination are a great pleasure.

    • Oh Fitzg. Hi! Thanks so much for following me to West Africa which is where Mark is based. Followers who comment as I write and post the efforts are what help Gisborne make the transformation from fan-fict to hist.fict. Its like the theatre staff assisting a plastic surgeon transform a face. So much more than just one person’s efforts…

  3. Mark Williams :
    Very sad about the tazzes, or whatever you refer to them as. Surely a great PR opportunity for Warner Bros to step in and fund some assistance? Has anybody told them?
    Your environment would not apeal to me, but can understand you being happy away from so-called civilization. That’s why I love it here in West Africa.

    The Tassie Devils have the benefit of monies supplied by Warner’s. I believe they were approached very early on in this awful tragedy. The issue is slowly getting global press but as in all things, there is so much else going on in the world that i doubt other nations really care. So its up to Australia to do it itself.
    Mark, I quite understand your response to living in Tassie. Trust me, I feel the same about the tropics. OH could barely drag me to Queensland as I abhor humidity and overt heat. I’m a temperate climate bod but all that aside, everyone has there own comfort-zone.

  4. Mark Williams :
    I guess we forget how lucky we are to live (or formerly live, in my case) in a country with a large publishing tradition.
    There are some major agencies in the UK, of course, but I’m intrigued to know: do you also approach the US agencies, or do you have an affinity for British publishing?
    Being UK based we tried several major UK agencies and got nowhere. No-one wanted Sugar & Spice. “Unpublishable,” said one. “The last taboo,” said another. So we stuck it on Amazon.
    This past week we were headhunted by one of the most prestigious literary agencies in New York. Yes, THEY called US!
    Nothin signed yet. Discussions on-going. Watch this space!

    Oh Mark CONGRATULATIONS to you and Saffi! Highly deserved. We wish you all the best and will indeed WATCH THIS SPACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just don’t forget we lowly writers as you tread the cobbles of NY.

    You ask did I approach the States. No, I didn’t. And yes, I should as the one thing that has struck me about the UK is their xenophobia. They tend to only consider someone with a UK passport. My closest call was with a wellknown London agent who actually admitted she might kick herself later on but she just felt Tasmania was too far away for her to deal effectively with me: this in a time of email, Skype, Chatzy and formal video-conferencing. The other thing that blows me away is that a number of US agencies, will, I believe, accept email submissions whereas the English, bless them, insist on hard copy submission.
    When you mail a 100,000 word ms to the UK from Australia, it costs $A30 to print and $A60 to mail. So multiple submissions are almost financially impossible.
    So many reasons to just get that major editorial assessment done, prove to yourself that you have a viable story and then hit Kindle and Smashwords… even though the HARD work is convincing the marketplace one IS worth reading!

  1. May 17th, 2011
  2. February 27th, 2012
  3. February 29th, 2012
  4. February 29th, 2012

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