Archive for the ‘ Ones To Watch 2012 ’ Category

Trans-Atlantic Team-Up – Exploring Discoverability

Buzzwords. What did we do before they were invented? Or maybe they’ve always been with us, just under a different name.

One thing’s for sure – the buzzword of the day among indie authors is “discoverability”.  The art of getting noticed. It’s not a new word, created in the epublishing revolutionm though looking about you you might think indie authors created the concept.

Actually it’s been around since forever.

But in the world of digital book selling it’s never been more important.

The e-charts get ever more competitive, and while we still love to read about the success stories of new and unknown authors beating the odds and winning the Amazon lottery, the simple fact is it’s getting harder and harder. By the day. Even for established authors with a brand and a loyal readership base.

As ebooks become more acceptable there are tons more indie authors out there competing for the attention of a limited number of ebook readers. Even by the most optimistic estimates only 25% of buyers are buying ebooks – print still has 75% of the market. And while the e-shelves may be infinite, the number of books that will be bought is not.

Most importantly, the once indie-friendly e-charts are suddenly not so indie-friendly after all.

Getting noticed is hard, and getting noticed beyond your home shores is harder still.

One advantage we still have as indies is the ability to be nimble. To take risks. To experiment. To look at new ways of becoming discoverable, and then trying them out.

Say hello to the Trans-Atlantic Team-Up.

Yes, it’s an experiment. Yes, it may fail abysmally. It may stall this year and take-off next year. Who knows. But one thing’s for sure: Nothing ventured…

So we figured, supposing we took a good seller from the UK doing less well in the US, and a good seller in the US not doing so well in the UK, and put them together in one volume? And then released it both sides of the Atlantic, so fans of author A would see author B’s work, and fans of author B would see author A’s work?

Box-Sets are commonplace ways of getting one author’s books “doubled up” to increase exposure, and exchanging links and recommending one another’s books is also a commonplace method of cross-promotion among indi9e authors. So why not take it to the logical next step?

We approached our in-house cover-designer Athanasios and put the idea to him. Back came a design we loved. A simple, yet elegant frame, whereby any two separate novels could be presented in one volume.

For the launch we chose Tom Winton’s stunning social-justice thriller, The Last American Martyr, and the first of our Rose Red crime thrillers, Snow White.

Yes, both are also still available as individual books, so this is very much a way of increasing exposure for both authors and both titles, while offering readers value for money.

This, the  first of the Trans-Atlantic Team-Up series, has just gone live on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, and will be appearing on other platforms very shortly.

Other titles will follow soon. Anyone interested in having their book(s) paired with an author across the ocean should get in contact and we’ll see what we can do.

 

 

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The State of Play in the UK: An Update – and Merry Christmas!

Okay, so I’ve been forced out of the cave by events. Which is ironic given it’s been other events that have kept me in seclusion. Namely local conditions here in sunny West Africa, which have conspired against my best laid plans.

But not for long. If all goes to plan I will be solar powered by the end of the month.!

Meanwhile, life has been chugging along between power-cuts. Next month sees MWiDP launch a new How To guide for writers. One with a difference, of course, as the title might suggest.

Co-written by award-winning blogging guru Anne R. Allen and NYT best-selling author Catherine Ryan Hyde, this is a How To with a difference, and will be updated every six months to ensure it’s always up to date. More details on this in coming weeks. Here just to say that every six months might not be enough.

For instance, take this line from the Introduction to the new book, written by our very own Saffi:

The only certainty is that there is no certainty. The publishing world is changing daily. What was established fact yesterday can be questionable today and history tomorrow. 

This past month has proven that to be very timely.

A short while ago I wrote a post on The State of Play in the UK – an overview of the British ebook market and what the near-future holds for those writers targeting the home of the English language. Given recent totally unpredictable developments in the UK I’ve been inundated with emails asking how I see the Brit’ ebook scene now.

At the time I was optimistic (aren’t I always?) that while the future of ebook Britain was bright, Amazon was facing the prospect of being eclipsed by the burgeoning Kobo which had teamed up with UK retailer W.H. Smith, and there was the much rumored partnership between Barnes & Noble and Waterstone’s, which would have brought the nook to Britain.

A formal announcement was expected at the London Book Fair in April, but the Book Fair came and went with no news.

In fact, unbeknownst to all but the privileged few, Barnes & Noble was simultaneously in negotiations with Microsoft, and shortly after the LBF an official partnership was announced between Barnes & Noble and Microsoft.

A deal that left Waterstone’s out in the cold, the nook plans for international expansion on hold, and my predictions for the UK ebook market seriously holed.

Suddenly it seemed like Kobo had an open goal for the British ebook market.

W.H. Smith is the second-largest bookseller in the UK, with stores in pretty much every major town, and countless stores in the big cities. A chain that, because it also sells stationary, DVDs, music, games and newspapers, gets far more footfall than Waterstone’s.

And Kobo was busy installing wi-fi kiosks and staff to promote the Kobo e-readers and tablet, while selling ebooks through the W.H. Smith ebook store it operates. With Kobo’s black and white e-readers significantly cheaper than the Kindles, and with Kobo’s tablet  (which is actually cheaper than Amazon’s best b&w device) facing no competition from the KindleFire, which remains unavailable outside the USA, it looked like Kobo was a sure-fire winner in the race for ebook supremacy.

Then came another bolt from the blue, just weeks after the B&N-Microsoft deal, as Amazon and Waterstone’s announced a partnership, in a move that left observers stunned. Me included.

On the list of the top one million least likely things ever to happen this was number one million and one. I honestly checked the date of the report when I first read this, thinking it must have been an April 1st post turned up late.

Waterstone’s boss James Daunt had previously been widely reported as comparing Amazon to Satan, and while that was probably wildly exaggerated by the media there’s no question Amazon and Waterstone’s were business rivals, not allies.  Observers compared the move to letting the fox into the hen-house. Of mortgaging Waterstone’s future for short-term gain. Some suggested it was the beginning of the end for Waterstone’s.

Amazon and Waterstone’s in partnership? You couldn’t make it up.

Not here to analyze the numerous unverified guesses as to what’s in it for Waterstone’s. The simple fact is we don’t know (and may never know) the detail of the deal. But what is clear is that Waterstone’s will now be selling the Kindle in its 300 stores across the UK.

True, the Kindle is already available in supermarkets and electronic goods stores in the UK, but there it’s just another gadget. One among many, easily passed by.

But for the Kindle to be sold in Britain’s leading bookstore gives Amazon unprecedented access to its prime target audience – book buyers. Would the nook ever have taken off were it not for the Barnes & Noble bricks and mortar stores?

Waterstone’s chief James Daunt is neither stupid nor suicidal (I’ve been following his moves closely since he took over running the company last year and have been impressed with his objectives, if not yet his achievements), and we have to assume there are major benefits to be accrued by Waterstone’s from selling the Kindle and directing customers to the Kindle UK ebook store.

Obviously Waterstone’s will make money on the sale of the device. But how will Waterstone’s make money once the customer leaves the store and buys ebooks from their own home? Possibly the Kindles sold will be linked to Waterstone’s in some way (perhaps getting the buyer to sign up a Kindle account whilst in store) and the company will receive a commission on future sales through that account.

What will happen to Waterstone’s own ebook store is equally unclear. At the moment Waterstone’s ebook store is a not insignificant player in the UK market (it still brings the Saffina Desforges brand significant revenue each quarter, although very few indies are there) and presumably will continue to operate. No doubt the Waterstone’s store will be able to pick up trade from customers who prefer not to use Amazon, and those who have  a device other than the Kindle.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Amazon will take over running the Waterstone’s store in the same way as Kobo now run the W.H. Smith ebook store.  That would be an impressive move by Daunt. But that’s pure speculation.

Reports suggest Waterstone’s will be investing serious money (“tens of millions”) into upgrading all the UK stores with wi-fi kiosks and trained staff. Rather like rival Kobo is doing with W.H. Smith, in fact, and as Barnes & Noble has been doing very successfully with the nook. I suspect this will be financed by Amazon. The Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, who owns Waterstone’s, may well have that kind of money to splash around, but impossible to see how it could be recouped, unless there is a commission on future ebook sales as per the possible scenario above.

But whoever is footing the bill, it looks like full steam ahead to upgrade the Waterstone’s bricks and mortar stores this autumn / fall and be in a position to market the Kindle in-store before Christmas.

For Waterstone’s, I suspect this deal was its last hope of competing in the digital future.  An offer it couldn’t afford to refuse. Waterstone’s was way behind with its digital strategy, despite running the second largest ebook store in the country. To understand just how far behind, consider this:

Last year, as the UK’s biggest-selling indie author and at number two in the Kindle store and just launching on Waterstone’s ebooks, we approached Saffi’s local Waterstone’s branch to do some promo.

The manager looked blank. “We have an ebook store?”

By late summer we were riding high in the Waterstone’s ebook charts, with two books simultaneously in the top ten, and kept off the number one spot only by the Steve Jobs biography soaring when Jobs died. We were the top most searched-for name in Waterstone’s ebooks. We approached a bigger Waterstone’s store in the hope of getting some media interest.

“We have an ebook store?”

By spring 2012 we were officially the biggest-selling indie author of the previous year, and Sugar & Spice was officially the eleventh biggest-selling ebook in the country for 2011.

Ever the optimist we approached a major Waterstone’s city bookshop.

“We have an ebooks store?”

Yet James Daunt clearly sees and understands that digital is the future. It’s just that, for whatever reason, he’s been slow to get the company’s ethos changed.

Still the optimist, I believe Daunt has joined with Amazon for the right reasons, and that Amazon will play this fairly.

Yes, it would be very easy for Amazon to use its presence in the heart of its biggest print-books rival to undermine Waterstone’s. Yes, it could easily take Waterstone’s down the Borders route, and then buy up the stores and all that prime real estate for a pittance, from its petty cash.

But as things stand Amazon has the perfect deal. It will have bricks and mortar ebook presence across the UK in the best possible way – in the country’s leading book-store. It will be able to go head to head with Kobo, its only serious rival on the international scene.

And while buyers will have to pay full VAT at UK rates on the Kindle devices sold through Waterstone’s, Amazon will continue to supply ebooks via Luxembourg at a fraction of that rate (just 3%), giving it a continuing price advantage over Kobo and all other rival sellers. If Amazon were indeed to run the Waterstone’s store that would give Waterstone’s a huge advantage over Kobo-W.H. Smith.

Whatever the detail, Amazon gets the best of both worlds, just as it always has. Bricks and mortar presence and off-shore tax advantages. But at a price – the survival of Waterstone’s as an independent nationwide book-store chain. If Waterstone’s fails Amazon would lose its bricks and mortar presence or have to take over the stores and lose the tax advantage. A symbiotic relationship unprecedented in publishing history.

What does this mean for the future of publishing in Britain?

Long term, that’s anyone’s guess. I just hope I’m right and Waterstone’s will survive.

Short term it means that the Christmas/New Year season 2012/13 is going to be UK publishing’s answer to the Rumble in the Jungle. The biggest booksellers and ebook players in  the country will be going head to head this winter for the hearts and minds of the British book-lover, both intent on converting the UK to e-reading.

It’s going to be an ebook bonanza for those of us lucky enough to have our ebooks in the right place at the right time. The clock is ticking. Select fans may want to reconsider their options.

Who will win? .

At the moment my money is on Kobo. Kobo is already way ahead with its plans for in-store facilities, potentially reaches a much wider audience (i.e. not just book-store shoppers), and has cheaper e-readers than Amazon. Most importantly it has a cheap tablet available. And it’s being sold in the store that sells magazines. Wonderful to read on a tablet. A total disaster on the Kindle.

If Amazon can get its act together and launch the KindleFire in the UK (promised since January but still no sign) then Amazon’s market supremacy will probably continue. Without a tablet to compete then Amazon faces losing its dominant position in the UK despite the Waterstone’s deal, just as it has now taken second place to Kobo in Canada.

Whoever the winner is in the retail stakes, it’s a win-win for us all as writers and self-publishers, with huge new market-share being opened up.

Make the most of it. It’s going to be a great Christmas.

St. Mallory’s Forever! – Coming Soon

Never let is be said we rush out our ebooks prematurely! So much for the Christmas release…

But Easter is looking promising! Maybe.  Anyway, it’s coming soon!

You can check out the story behind the story over at the official St. Mallory’s blog where the latest post is entitled I Jolly Well Don’t Talk Like That!, courtesy of our resident boarder, Charley.

For recent visitors unfamiliar with the St. Mallory’s project, St. Mallory’s Forever! is a four-author collaboration between ourselves and two fantabulous teen writers as per the cover credits. A modern day boarding school series with all the jolly hockey sticks fun of Elinor Brent-Dyer, Angela Brazil and Enid Blyton, with some Jennings and Billy Bunter-esque farce thrown in for good measure, but without the stone-age social hang-ups that bedevil those classics of children’s literature.

As befits a modern-day teen novel the story is told through the blogs of the three MCs. For those who can’t wait, here’s a taster.

*

Abby 1: Welcome To My World.

 

Schools are strange places, where strange things happen.

But in an *insert fingered air quotes here* ordinary school, the students leave at the end of the day, and there are a few hours where those buildings are magical. They’re empty, they’re quiet, and they’re free of bossy teachers.

Empty schools are also creepy beyond reason, if you’ve ever been in one at night, but at least you can walk freely down the corridors. Those are the hours during which Behind The Scenes Stuff  happens. That’s when they fix the computers and the lights. Cleaners come and go. Rude graffiti and disgusting stains caused by unmentionable human fluids miraculously disappear. By the time students return in the morning, all the little mysteries they hadn’t quite solved are gone as if they’d never been there at all.

Boarding schools aren’t like that. Sure, there are still cleaners and maintenance teams doing their jobs in the background. And sure, departments don’t talk to each other; errors, clashing events and new rules can be ignored for months before finally surfacing when they reach critical status; and everybody in charge seems determined to make everything twice as complicated as it needs to be. You think state school teachers are bossy? You don’t know the half of it!

But there are always students around in a boarding school. True, they’ll be in their houses, but they still need attention and supervision, and if left alone for a moment, prep will be abandoned and all hell with break loose.

At least, that’s what it’s like at St Mallory’s School for Girls.

How do I know? Because I’m a boarder at St. Mall’s. Three years, now, and I’m just starting the Middle Fifth. The Middle Fifth? Exactly. Unless you’re a boarder too you won’t know what the heck that means. Which is why I’m starting this blog.

I’m just back from the summer hols and I’ve got to tell you I am seriously urinated off (we’re not allowed to swear on the school’s time) at the misconceptions and stereotypes everyone out there in the “real world” has about boarding school girls. It’s not true! Well, some of it’s not, anyway.

You see, there are (advance warning: silly pun coming up!) three schools of thought about girls and boarding schools. First there’s the jolly hockey sticks world of Eleanor Brent-Dyer, Angela Brazil and Enid Blyton. And yes, you bet we call our school Malory Towers sometimes, when not in earshot of teachers!

Then there’s St. Trinians. Of course we know all the songs! Altogether now, St. Mallory’s, St. Mallory’s Will Never Die! Sadly, real life here at St. Mall’s is nothing like that, though the Head could well be in a man in drag. Hmmm. Now there’s a rumour worth starting…

Finally there’s Harry Potter. I mean, what was JK Rowling thinking of, making Hogwarts a mixed-sex school? She should have got rid of Harry and all those daft boys, made it an all girls’ school with Hermione the star of the show (not that she isn’t anyway –  Hermione rocks!) and she probably would have sold a lot more books and might be rich by now.

Of course, none of these are remotely accurate portrayals of modern boarding school life. Believe it or not we don’t walk around with books on our head and learn how to hire a governess. We don’t run riot in the science labs and make stink-bombs, blow up the school or scare off teachers. And we can’t turn the younger kids into frogs – but don’t tell my little cousins that, because they’re convinced that I can.

So I’ve decided to write this blog and expose what really goes on in a top-notch school like St. Mall’s. The world has a right to know!

I’ll be posting here whenever I can get a moment’s privacy. Not easy in a school with 400 marauding adolescents, hordes of bitter and twisted teachers, and who knows how many other ancillary staff we see but never actually meet – imagine Piccadilly Circus on a busy day and you’re not even half-way there. But I’ll do my best to dish the dirt on everyone and everything, as it happens.

Jolly hockey sticks!

And no, we do not say things like that here, but you were expecting it, right?

Which is why you need to subscribe to my blog. Because everything you thought you knew about girls’ boarding schools is totally and utterly wrong, I promise you.

Yes, even that bit!

 

 

Abby 2:

Chaos, Carnage and Confusion – Travelling Day.

 

They call it a travelling day, but to Abigail Roe (that’s me by the way, just so as you know) it looks more like a traffic jam day. Every parking bay is taken, and a long, straggly line of overstuffed cars trail away out of the courtyard, through the gates and up the long, snaking school drive to vanish among the Sussex hedgerows.

The air thrums with the grumble and snarl of expensive motors (I swear some of them hire a Rolls just for the day, to make a good impression) while frantic parents struggle through the school gates, laden with trunks, suitcases and lumpy carrier bags. Harrods, mostly, although occasionally a Fortnum & Mason bag will put in an appearance. And very occasionally an M&S Finest. You can spot the scholarship girls a mile away!

Bitchy? Moi?  

I was joking. Honest! Actually, when we’re at home our parents go out and do the weekly shop at Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s just like everyone else. But this is the first day back, so everyone is out to make a good impression. Hair coiffured, nails perfectly manicured, uniform all crisp and new and hitherto untouched by human hands. Shoes polished until they positively gleam. Unblemished undies, newly fitted bras that are a tad too big so we can grow into them, and –

“Abby! Abby darling, could you come here for a moment?”

Oh. My. God. Excuse me. Must go. That’s my mother calling.

She never calls me darling at home (wouldn’t dare!) so why in the name of all things sane does she call me it here? If boarding school has that effect on parents, what chance do us poor students stand?

“Coming, Mum!”  *Stretches lips into big happy smile*. Rule number one: never show how embarrassed you are by your parents. No matter what they say or do, or what they’re wearing

Reluctantly I dragged myself from in front of the big oak doors and made my way down to the parking area. Drat! I’d just got prime position on the top step, too. Queen of all I surveyed. Great for spotting old friends arriving, and even better for identifying any potential fags I mean new girls – but more on that later.

I darted down the steps and jinked my way through the oncoming crowds towards Mum’s car. Of course she’s only parked right between a Roller and a top of the range 4X4 with huge wheels and an even bigger back seat, with enough inbuilt games consoles such that you could happily never get out.

No idea what sort of vehicle it is, mind (I’m a girl – knowing car brands is the boys’ equivalent of reading Hello! magazine) but you can be sure it’s never been off-road in its life, and the trip down to sunny Brighton is probably the first time it’s ever been outside the M25.

Oh, did I say sunny? Strike that! I’ve never known first day back to be anything but overcast and dreary, and today’s no exception. I think the guy upstairs is sending us a subliminal message about the term ahead. Gloomy outlook. Storms on the horizon.

“Well, I’d better be off, sweetheart,” said Mum, eyes moist and ready to flood. “I want to get back on the road before the traffic gets too bad,” she managed to finish, her voice breaking slightly.

Oh God, I hate this bit. You know, the “saying goodbye in front of all your friends” bit. Why can’t they have a private “Saying Goodbye Room” where this can be done behind closed doors? Luckily I’m an old hand at this now. I know how to put a brave face on it as we both realise we won’t see each other ever, ever, ever again. Well, for a month or two, anyway.

That’s why Dad and my little sister aren’t invited. Seeing your father in tears is just soooo embarrassing! Little sis’ Ruby is embarrassing too, of course, but for entirely different reasons. Last term Ruby only picked her nose, licked it and the offered it to Matron. No wonder she’s been left at home this time. My sister, I mean, not Matron.

“Will you be alright, Abby?” Mum was asking in that special voice she reserves for such occasions. A typical Mum question. Only one answer is permitted.

“Of course, Mum.” I rolled my eyes theatrically (may as well put my drama lessons to some use!). “I’ve done this before, you know. I’m not a Lower Fourth any more.” *Refrains from spitting to clean my mouth of that reference to the tadpoles of the Lower Fourth now I’m a senior.*

Mum pulled a face, as she does, then flung her arms round me like she was at some theatre audition, hugging me as if this was the end. “I’ll give your love to Daddy when he comes on leave.”

“Mum!” I mock-glared at her, though the effect was somewhat spoiled by the smile tugging at my lips. Daddy? Hello, Mother? I’m fifteen, don’t you know?

“Make sure you write to me,” Mum went on. I want to know all the latest goss’.”

 Goss’? Don’tcha just hate it when parents try and talk cool?

“It’s not the nineteenth century anymore,” I said. “Have you heard of email?”

“Very funny, dear.  You know full well it’s not the same if it hasn’t got a stamp on it. Anyway, Abby, I…”

Uh-oh, here we go. Big rush of emotion. Please God, don’t let any of my friends be watching. I squeezed Mum one last time, then carefully eased her into the driving seat before she could start another round of hugs. “Hi Becky! Just coming!” I shouted at no-one in particular, knowing Mum couldn’t see over the 4×4 she’d parked next to. A last kiss through the wound-down window.

“Gotta go. All my friends are here,” I lied.

Well, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. I know blubbing at every little goodbye is part of a mother’s job description, but I’m not six any more, and it’s not a major untruth. I mean, my friends will all be here by now, just not here.

“Toodles!” I shouted. “Gotta scoot!”

And I ran for it, back to the safety of the patio outside the oak doors. I watched as Mum wriggled our large Ford (Now don’t start – I only know it’s a Ford ’cause it says so on the front) out of the parking bay. The great grey beast looked a bit out of place among the smaller, sleeker cars of most other parents, and the palaces-on-wheels of the More-Money-Than-Sense brigade, but my family have always been the practical sort – well, for the most part. 

I snickered as the car squeezed through the iron gates and headed up the road, imagining Mum muttering about how inconsiderately people were parking. Either that, or she’d be cursing the SatNav to Kingdom Come because it was taking a decade and a half to load up the route home.

Mum and I had arrived long before the worst of the rush – previous experience had taught us to avoid the period between three and four o’clock wherever possible – so I trotted back through the main foyer, through the inner courtyard and off across the playing fields back to Marylebone Boarding House. That’s my “home” for the next eon and a half. And while the rest of the house unpacked their belongings, I sat down on the semi-comfy sofa in the house office to watch the rest of the girls arrive.

By the way, if you’re confused about all this “house” business just stick around – I’ll explain it all as I go. You have to understand boarding schools exist in a different world from everything else. If there’s an easy way and a hard way of doing anything, you can be sure the boarding school has chosen the hard way, just to be awkward. For instance, we –

“Hi, Abby! Great to see you again.”

“Hey ho, Don Pedro!” I gave Teresa a welcome hug as she plonked herself down on the sofa next to me. Teresa and I go way back to the Lower Fourth, three years ago. And if you’re trying to work out how I can be in the Middle Fifth now if the Lower Fourth was three years ago, then join the club. Boarding schools have their very own version of the English language, I tell you.

“What’s the damage out there?” Teresa asked in that lovely Spanish accent of hers. Yeah, she’s from Spain, hence the nickname, but I can’t do accents on a blog, so just use your imagination. And yeah, the Spanish accent comes with that perfect olive complexion, long dark hair and huge brown eyes that would make a Labrador jealous. It’s so unfair!

“Chaos as usual,” I said as I watched another girl struggle in with her cases. I gave her a friendly wave. “Good holiday, Sandra?” But Sandra had already barged through the door with her trunks. “I turned back to the Don. “I swear we have more and more people here every year. Any idea how many newbies coming our way this term?”

“Not a clue,” Don Pedro shrugged, adding, “About twelve in the Lower Fourth. One in the Upper – moving over from another school, or something like that. The usual crop for the Lower Fifth … and two for us. One’s a foreigner. Zoo-Anne, or something weird. And there’s a Helen somebody too.”

Hey, don’t ask me how the Don knows all this stuff! But if you want top secret admin info, D.P is your man. So to speak.

“Two newbies with us?” I asked, just in case I’d misheard. It was pretty rare to have new students join the Middle Fifth.

Teresa nodded. “But I don’t know much about them.”

Like I believe that! Not. I’m sure the Don has secret access to the student files.

“I expect Mrs T. will get around to that when they arrive,” Teresa finished, a wry smile on her face.

We sat a minute in silence taking in that first-day-back-at school ambience. You know the one. Everything perfectly polished and spic and span. A place for everything and everything in its place. This time tomorrow it will look like a bomb’s hit it.

“So, ready for yet another mind-numbingly dull hour-long House Meeting?” Don Pedro asked.

“Ready to doze off more like,” I said, and we both exploded into a fit of girlie giggles.

 Let the madness recommence!

Abby 3: Meet The Inma– I Mean, Students.

 

Teresa and I sat by the window for a few more minutes, watching out for familiar faces and snickering every time we saw some poor over-laden father skittering after a gaggle of giggling daughters. However, before long, the Don and I got the fidgets and decided to head for the penthouse suite, as we call our private quarters, to see how many of our fellow inmates had survived the mad crush outside. Up two flights of stairs we went, and onto a long corridor lined with low doors.

 Yes, I did say doors. Discard your medieval mental images of Ye Olde Communal Dorm where twelve teenage girls sleep side by side in a big round room with nothing but a curtain and a tiny chest of drawers between them.

Here in the twenty-first century, we have worked out that people actually need space to store suitcases, clothing and creature comforts. Thus, the invention of the cubicle – or cubie, for short. A bed, a wardrobe, three drawers under the bed, as well as a larger sliding drawer for bedsheets, spare towels and such, a desk with a totally inadequate number of plug sockets and an Ethernet point. And a window with the usual assortment of sill-dwelling spiders, of course.

But I’m wittering.

Amidst all the hugs, squealing and babbled tales of holiday misadventures, Don Pedro spread the news about the new students, and before long all six dorm-mates (that is to say, the six who weren’t still mired in packing or lost at Heathrow airport) were sitting on my bed animatedly discussing the new arrivals.

“Do you remember that awful French girl we had in the Upper Fourth?” the Don asked. “The one who used to bang on all the doors to ask who was in the cubies?”

“Oh yes, how could we ever forget dahling Fleeeur,” Philippa giggled. Pip’s another old hand from the Fourth form, though most of the Lower Fourth are taller than her. She makes up for it though, and I challenge anyone to have a conversation with her and not laugh. “I swear the T-ster nearly had a fit when she found her washing her hair at midnight,” Pip added.

“It was ten to midnight, actually,” said the Don.

“Pedant,” said Pip, pulling a face at her.

“Peasant,” countered Don Pedro, to a round of giggling from the others.

“I’m sure the new girls won’t be that bad,” I said, cutting across the playful bickering. “And, come on, it’ll be nice to see some new faces, right?”

“Too true,” muttered Pip. “I’ll go mad if I have to spend another minute surrounded by your ugly mugs.”

 “Oi!” I did my best impersonation of our surly Deputy Head, Mr Tuftt. “Mind your manners, you scurvy ruffian!”

This, however, only made everyone laugh louder, though not loud enough to drown out the booming voice from below.

 “Middle Fifth!”

 It was Mrs O’Kallaghan, the House Matron. She’s not a very big woman – even I’m taller than her! – but her voice carries like anything, even on the corridors. “Would anyone care to come down and meet the new girls?”

 Despite the phrasing it was an order, not a suggestion.  Matron has this wonderful way of making us think we have options when there is only one choice.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends!” Pip struck the pose we’d used in the play last year (think Superman meets Usain Bolt and you get the idea). No matter how many times we’d burst out laughing at it, batty Miss Cantrip insisted it was perfect for the powerful nature of the line. Personally, I reckon Shakespeare would have choked on his metaphors from laughing so hard if he saw it, but none of us complained.
 Fun Fact: It was also during that year that we’d given Teresa the nickname of Don Pedro, after another of Shakespeare’s characters. What can I say? Aspiring thespians, the lot of us.

And so, in yet another red-faced state of muffled hysterics, we thundered down the stairs and into the house foyer to meet the newest additions to the Middle Fifth of Marylebone House at St. Mallory’s.

 

Helen 1: Stranger In A Strange Land

 

Hey out there, non-existent readers. I’m hoping there’s someone somewhere who’ll be able to tell me I’m not the only one who’s had to go through this. I mean, there are other teachers’ kids out there, aren’t there? But I guess they’re not usually moving to *cue menacing music and clap of thunder* a boarding school.
BTW, I’m new to this whole blogging thing, so don’t yell at me if I do anything wrong. It’s just, I have no-one to talk things through with here, because I don’t know anybody yet, Mum aside. And I’m pretty sure if I try and keep my emotions inside for any longer, I’ll explode, and then there’ll be bits of me splattered all over this fancy-arse building.

To make matters worse (if that were possible) I’m having to write this on a proper computer. You know, sat at a desk with a separate monitor and keyboard, like in the olden days, which means anyone can sneak a look over my shoulder.

 Not that I need worry. The only other person who’s used the computer room so far is a Chinese girl, who’s also new here. I thought about trying to make friends with her, but she’s in the English as a Second Language class, so I’d probably be wasting my time.

She’s obviously on a scholarship if she can’t afford her own laptop. Everyone has them here, except me and China Girl. Mum says she’ll get me one once she gets her first salary in, but that could take forever, so I’ve asked Dad, secretly. Mum will go spare when she finds out (in case you hadn’t worked it out, they hate each other) but what’s she gonna do? Ground me? I’m already grounded just being here.

Living in a school! It’s just so not normal.

Oh yeah, intros. Sorry, Got carried away. My name is Helen Stroud, and I’m fourteen years old. At a normal school, I’d be going into Year 10, but like I say, this is so not normal. Apparently here it’s called Middle Fifth. Until now, I’ve been going to a scuzzy comprehensive school in London that I won’t name for legal reasons (ha, like they could afford lawyers!), because that’s where my mum taught.

All my life I’ve moved schools whenever Mum got a new job, promotion, or whatever. It wasn’t so bad at primary school because I just went to the local one, wherever we moved, but since I got to secondary school age I’ve generally gone to wherever she was teaching. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that (obviously not, unless you’re a teacher’s offspring too), but the only advantage is the lift in the morning. Seriously. And now I actually have to sleep at school too – it’s just like being in prison. And I didn’t do anything wrong!

Okay, the background just so you’re up to speed. About two weeks before term started, Mum announced that she’d got this job at this place called St Mallory’s. I looked it up, only to find it was some posh private boarding school in Brighton.

Brighton? All my friends are in Wandsworth!

As for Boarding School… I thought that only happened in Harry Potter! At least at a normal school we escaped in the afternoon, and had fun at weekends. Now I’m a real-life prisoner of Azkaban. 

Of course I kicked up a fuss and said I’d rather go and stay with Dad in Birmingham than go to a boarding school full of stuck-up snobs with posh accents walking about with books on their heads.

Oops! Not a good move. Even mentioning dad is a hanging offence in our house. Mum went ballistic. I got the full kabonga about how difficult things were for her since Dad walked out on us. As I remember events she chucked him out, but that’s another story.

And then she started telling me about how wonderful this St. Mallory’s place was. Incredible facilities, she said. I’d even be able to learn Latin! Yeah, like that will come in handy buying a ticket on the London underground. Come to that, they don’t even have an underground system in Brighton. I mean, be serious! How can anyone live without the Tube?

Of course, Mum said I was overreacting. Moi? Overreact?  It’s Brighton, for God’s sake! It hasn’t even got a sandy beach. There was no way I was going to any snotty boarding school.

I was all but ready to run away from home when Mum told me about the music facilities. Now that got my attention. Mum being a music teacher an’ all, I’m kind of a natural at music. So maybe this St. Mallory’s place wouldn’t be quite so bad after all.
 So, I said goodbye to everyone (that’s the part I hate) and to my old school (no tears there). Now I’ve swapped my old black skirt, white shirt, black blazer uniform for a kilt, blouse and jumper. Seriously, why do all private schools have a kilt? Is it because they’re expensive and can only be bought from one particular shop? Answers on a postcard please…

And today we finally came to the school.

Well, I say finally but of course Mum had been before, for the interview, but muggings here missed out on the Open Day tour and everything, so apart from the brochure ad the website – which of course are all special effects photography, not real – I had no idea what to expect.

It was madness.

Utter flaming madness! And yes, I do know stronger expletives than that. I’m just being polite, seeing as this is my first blog.

Anyway, the place was massive, bigger than the pictures in the brochure made it look, and all the kids arriving were proper posh with their cars and expensive clothes, as you’d expect. It made me, in my Primark outfit, carrying a suitcase that we got on special offer from Argos, look like a complete tramp. I could almost feel their eyes on me as I walked up to the steps and tried to work out where to go. A snooty-looking girl at the top of the stairs glanced at me once with a face like she was chewing a lemon with added vinegar, but I just  ignored her.

When we got inside, some teachery person explained to me where my dorm was. Ugh, great. Sharing a room with some posh girl. Okay, so it’s not actually a dorm, not like in the films, anyway. And it’s not really sharing. We have these door-partition things which mean we’ve got our own cubicle, kind of, (the walls between them don’t have ceilings) but I can still hear whatever’s going on and it means I won’t be able to play loud music.

Then this teachery person took me on some grand tour. Well, she’s not actually a teacher, as you probably guessed from the adjective. She’s a matron, in fact. Can you believe that? A real-life matron, just like in the films! Talk about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie! Still, could be worse. Could be like Tom Brown’s Schooldays. I say, Fag! My shoes need polishing!

And I wish I could show you photos of the music room coz it is to die for, seriously. The range of instruments here alone is worth all the suffering. They’ve got more instruments in their woodwind section alone than my last school had of everything! In fact I’m almost – Oh, sorry. That was Matron at the door, telling me to come and join the others. I’ll have to chase after her because I haven’t a clue how to get anywhere here yet. The school map is about as useful as a chocolate teapot on a hot day.

I’ll explain more later. Unless you’re a posh kid like the girls here, you don’t know what these places are like on the inside. But don’t worry, I’m going to expose the truth about this place. They may have a great music room, but they’re still all snotty-nosed posh brats who think they’re better than us normal folk. Except maybe China Girl, but as she can’t communicate I guess I’m on my own. Helen Stroud vs. St. Mallory’s Posh School For Snooty Girls. Bring it on!

And yeah, you should subscribe, so you don’t miss anything. I may not be very interesting on my own, but my revelations will be, I promise. And if you could comment occasionally just to let me know you’re around I’d appreciate it. I’d hate to think I’m going to all this effort and no-one is reading.

Wednesday Review: Gerry McCullough on “Life Is But A Dream” by Cheryl Shireman

Gerry McCullough

Once again it’s my pleasure to welcome back our reviewer in residence Gerry McCullough, with this long overdue post on Cheryl Shireman’s novel.

By coindence I was e-discussing this book yesterday with Cheryl and I was echoing almost exactly Gerry’s thoughts, as below, about how this novel is absolutely nothing like you expect it to be. And I’m sure that has accounted for its amazing sales.

Anyone masochistic enough to be hoping for my usual lengthy preamble will be disappointed today. Yes, I can hear the rest of you cheering.  Thanks for nothing.

Anyway, both Gerry and Cheryl are regulars here and have been through my cruel introductions many times. They escape today because my net server is playing up as usual, and I’m miles behind with everything, also as usual. If I delay any longer the evening net signal will be too weak and I’ll miss the Wednesday deadline.

So without further ado, here’s Gerry on Cheryl.

 

Life Is But A Dream: On The Lake

Reviewed by Gerry McCullough

 

The word which stays with me when I think about this book is ‘powerful.’

Right from the first page, when Cheryl Shireman takes us into Grace’s thoughts, dreams, and dream-memories, she grips. Using a poetic, literary style, she plunges us right into Grace’s psyche, just in the same way that Grace plunges into the swimming pool. And throughout the book she takes time to bring us into the head and soul of each of her major characters as we meet them – Nick, Tony, Bert, Paul.

It’s Cheryl Shireman’s amazing way with words more than anything else that makes her people so alive.  The reader knows so many deep things about each of them in such a short time after she meets them.

The child Grace’s thoughts as she moves slowly nearer and nearer to the pool, unobserved by her mother: ‘She does not see. She does not. See me. See. Me.’

Nick’s pain as her mother fails to return. ‘When he found her she would ask him, “Quanto tempo ti amo?” And he would pull out the picture and say, “Ti amero sempre.”’ Words repeated with immense emotional effect towards the end of the book.

Grace’s experiences with God, and her feelings.

Paul and his child, and his final experience… ‘a little girl was waiting. A beautiful little brown-eyed girl named Julie whose arms stretched toward her Daddy. And Paul had smiled.’

It is these moments and many more like them which make this book so special.

For the first few chapters, I thought I was reading a gentle, moving, literary romance with great characters, a story which focused mainly on the people, their backgrounds, and their interaction.  Halfway through, I woke up and realized that this book is also a thriller full of action, excitement and a terrific climax which seizes us and hurls us along breathlessly.

And yet the focus on the characters is basic to the book, too. It’s because Cheryl Shireman has taken the time to build her characters and to allow us to feel for them that the impact of the action is so strong. As Grace rows across the lake our hearts are in our mouths with her. And the dreadful discovery in the cabin closet hits us as surely as it does her, as a further horror almost beyond believing and yet something which has really happened.

The ending is beautifully handled. We really want Grace to be happy. There have been so many possibilities for her, all of them abortive. The final resolution is everything we want for her; and yet it does not seem contrived, or only there to tie up the story nicely. Instead, it seems inevitable, something which couldn’t have worked out in any other way.

The murder plot is deft and agile. There are a satisfactory number of suspects, and enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, but the final solution arises straightforwardly from what we already know about the characters. And when Grace, at the last, turns away from approaching rescue and goes back into the cabin, the little scene, and the repetition of the words ‘Ti amero sempre’ is immensely moving. It is so right that Grace should go back in.

The spiritual element of this book is one other thing, a one of great importance, which makes it different and powerful. Introduced through Irene and Harold, God takes His place as a major character in the story from then on. Grace says at one point that she finds the whole idea too confusing. But as things begin to happen, she turns more and more to prayer as a natural response to the need for help, both for herself and for others. The beautiful picture of the sunset and her delight in it is a key point in Grace’s development.

The sun slowly slides from the sky, from another day in my life. It meets the water with a languid and silent splash, pulling a riotous mane of color behind. A wild shock of orange and pink is tangled amid tousled blue and purple tresses. Such beauty is overwhelming. Suddenly, it does not matter that I am divorced. It does not matter that Laney is not with me. At that second, that glorious second, all is right with the world.

And later she and Tony sit quieting watching the wild geese and feeling at peace.

Like me, you will probably find that this book is not what you expected. But you will find it striking, moving, exciting, powerful and very, very readable. Don’t miss out!

Life Is But A Dream: Beyond The Lake can be bought from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Highly recommended by Gerry. Highly recommended by me.
***

Finally, a reminder that today’s reviewer Gerry blogs regularly over at Gerry’s Books.

And if you like her reviewing style you’ll love her books. Gerry’s debut novel Belfast Girls is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Her latest novel Danger Danger is of course also available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Gerry also has a book of short stories out but my net won’t let me grab the cover or link. C’est la vie.

Call Me Demens, But… – Charley R. reviews Susan Kaye Quinn’s “Open Minds”

If you’re wondering what that snazzy little Saffina Desforges Recommended logo is all about then I’m afriad you’ll have to be patient  a little longer. All will be revealed shortly, but not today.

Suffice to say that, despite the teething problems (as with any new start-up enterprise), and local conditions and ailments delaying progress, the MWiDP wagon is still rolling, and the YA / teen fiction imprint is gathering pace.

Our very own St. Mallory’s Forever!, the first of a new YA boarding school series, is close to launch, and it will be joined by a very, very different YA book Anca’s Story. Both will be in an ebook store near you this spring, along with our top secret (so top secret we can’t even mention title or topic at this stage!) MG / 8-12 series which could be live as early as next month.

For those who missed yesterday’s post, our own Sugar & Spice was officially declared the UK’s best selling indie ebook of 2011, and came in at number eleven out of ALL ebooks sold last year, despite being up against some of the biggest names in the industry. We made the top rankings not in some fly-by-night promo blitz, only to disappear a week later, but held poll position for months at a time and was the most searched for brand for several months.

I mention this now because, wiith our new distribution outlets now live (see post here for background) we’ll be looking to emulate that success in 2012, not just for our own titles but for those who have joined with us under the MWiDP banner. The Saffina Desforges Recommended initative is just one part of that master-plan, using our brand recognition to help promote your books. More in coming weeks.

Here just to remind regulars, and inform recent newcomers, that we last year lent our commendation to many promising YA authors who went on to great success (Michelle Brooks, Marion G. Harmon and Megg Jensen to name but a few) and plan to expand that support this year.

And first in line for 2012 is Susan Kaye Quinn (that’s her on the right), whose book Open Minds was itelf a mind-opening experience. I absolutely loved it, and predict a huge success in the future for this title as word spreads.

And Susan herself will be here after the weekend talking about YA in general.

But for now, back to her book. I have to admit I was sorely tempted to review this myself, but my co-writer Charley R. beat me to it. Here’s Charley:

Call Me Demens, But…

Charley R. reviews Susan Kaye Quinn’s Open Minds

Before I begin, I have a confession to make. Despite the fact I am not yet old enough to drive, order a drink in a bar, or marry without my parents’ consent, Young Adult fiction usually isn’t my scene. Call me a literature snob, but most of the time I feel they just reiterate the same old story, with a few mythical creatures thrown in just to spice things up.

So, for me, Open Minds was a lovely breath of fresh air. The premise of the story is very simple – it’s our world, in the future, and everyone can read minds. Well, almost everyone. Our heroine and first-person narrator Kira is a zero – she can’t read minds, or project her own thoughts, which makes life surrounded by constantly gabbling mentalists something of a daily trial for her. That is, until she accidentally clobbers her best friend’s brain and discovers she’s not a zero … though she might just wish she was.

I found the world to be a very engaging place – it was intriguingly realistic, while at the same time managing to make me go “ooh, shiny!” at several very strange moments (especially when it came to the mindwave controlled cars. So long, SatNav!). The slang is also completely believable and, for me, was one of the highlights of the book. It’s hard enough working out why certain words are slang today, let alone devising convincing ones of your own! “Demens” is my favourite 

However, despite this, I think the story was pretty effective. It was quick, snappy and moved along at a good pace to keep the action coming and – praise be! – avoided any long stretches of angsting that seem so common to today’s teenage heroines. The characters were clear cut and sympathetic – well, except the baddies, but even they manage to look rather cool. Regrettably, due to an unfortunate combination of brisk pacing and a small cast of characters, every event did turn out to be rather Kira-centred, and I found the singling her out as an extra-special individual among an already gifted group was a little irksome at times. Thankfully, the author knows too well to let me get a solid point on that, because she then went and showed us a perfectly viable and believable conclusion for Kira’s individual prowess. Curse you, logic!

On a similar note, I did very much like the deft handling of the grey area concerning the shadowy Clan. Rather than confirm them as either good or bad people through events of the book, the author has performed that oh-so-delicious yet utterly frustrating feat of presenting them both ways. It’s up to us to decide what we really think of them (personally, I’m just as confused as Kira. Though I would rather like to give Agent Kestrel to Andre and Molloy, just for kicks and giggles…)

In short, therefore, I’d say Open Minds is a pretty piece of YA indeed. True, it’s not flawless – Kira sometimes falls into the trap of out-of-character altruism, and I found the swiftness with which she attached herself to Laney (and, to a certain extent, Laney herself), a bit peculiar – but, I think the fact I’m now planning to pass it around my friends is testament to its charm. That, and I have to fight down an urge to describe everything as “mesh” now.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and test my own jacking skills … here kitty kitty …

Thanks, Charley.

I just adore the future teen world Susan has created with Open Minds. And in particular I loved that it was almost at the very end of the book that the author finally gave us a date for when this is set, and throughout the book the new world was spoonfed to us without ever info-dumping or contriving dialogue to explain why things are like they are.

One of the true joys of indie-reading is coming across new writers who have all the skills and flair of an accomplished long-published author. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does you know pretty much from the first page that you have stumbled across something special. That you are reading the work of a future superstar.

Susan Kaye Quinn is one such, and I have no hesitation in introducing her as the first Saffina Desforges Recommended author of 2012.

Open Minds is available on  amazon.co.uk, and of course on: Amazon.com:

B&N:       Smashwords:     iTunes:      Diesel:   and Kobo.

*

Finally, just to say Charley R., our intrepid reviewer, is herself in the spotlight in the newly released short-story anthology Saffina Desforges Presents… Volume 2 of the Kindle Coffee-Break Collection. I’ll be covering that here in detail on MWi after the weekend (yeah, a busy week ahead on MWi – you have been warned!).

Ones To Watch 2012: Sarah Woodbury – the next Ellis Peters?

Okay, so I’m in historical mood just now. Another year has whizzed by, and we’re all another step closer to departing this mortal coil.  Which got me thinking about legacy.

When the day comes, who will remember us, apart from our loved ones? Most people toil through life, day by day, month by month, year by year, without ever leaving their mark beyond the immediate circle of family and friends.

It’s rather sad when you think about it.

Every job is important, whether we sweep roads, swipe barcodes at a supermarket till, drive a train, design tall buildings or perform life-saving surgery. Most work goes unappreciated by those who benefit. Who knows or cares about the person who sweeps their roads, takes their money at the till, or drives their train to work? Unless it’s an exceptional building, who knows the architect? Unless it was the brain of you or a loved one, who would know the surgeon?

If we have a pleasant train journey on Monday when Tina the Train Driver is at the wheel we don’t make a point of finding out which train she will be driving next, and booking a ride. When Brian the Brain Surgeon saevs our life we’re eternally grateful, but we don’t then try find out who he will be operating on next. Just the opposite. We hope we’ll never see him again. We don’t form appreciation societies or invite them on blogs for interviews.

But when we read  and enjoy a book something altogether different happens. We form a bond with that author. It may not be a personal one, but it’s a bond nonetheless. Harry Potter fans talk of JK Rowling as if she’s a personal friend. Stephen King fans will buy his next book simply because it says Stephen King on it.

And it’s not just living authors. Show me the Jane Austen enthusiast who does not know every detail of her life, or the Dickens fan who cannot tell you all about Victorian childhood tribulations, or the Shakespeare fan who has never heard of Anne Hathaway’s bed…

Through their books these writers have created their legacy.  Each one of us does the same when we put our works before the public. But in the new world of epublishing there is infinite shelfspace and no books will go out of print. Our legacy is assured, however great or small our success while we are alive to enjoy it.

***

This is turn got me thinking about history.

History writers expand the legacy of the past by making it accessible to the modern reader. In doing so they assume responsibility for imparting factual context amid fictional story. No easy thing to do.

Prue Batten has recently, and most kindly, handed me her manuscript of Gisborne to cast an editing eye over. With luck Gisborne will be out there on the e-shelves as part of Prue’s legacy next month.

But in reading Prue’s manuscript I am reminded that my own WIP on King John, seen through the eyes of his young wife Isabella of Angouleme, is languishing on my hard-drive still, with no chance of completion this year. What idiot decided to create days with only twenty-four hours in them?

Then yesterday I heard from our translator, who is sorting our Sugar & Spice into German (more on this next week on MWi), that Umberto Eco’s works were free as ebooks on Kobo over Christmas. Of course I rushed to Amazon, only to find no sign even of of Umberto Eco’s classic The Name Of the Rose in the Kindle store.

But by now I was in historic-obsessive mode. I checked out Robert Graves, of I, Claudius fame, only to find they were available, but ridiculously priced.

And so to Cadfael.

Hands up, who remembers Cadfael? I’d had Cadfael on my mind anyway, because Sarah Woodbury’s The Good Knight has been making steady progress in the e-charts. Sarah writes (among ther things) medieval mysteries set in Wales, and Ellis Peters’ wonderful series of Cadfael Chronicles, while actually set in Shrewsbury, England, was about a Welsh  monk turned sleuth. The books spawned the equally delightful Cadfael TV series.

Ellis Peters

For those outside the UK, Wales and England border one another. Shewsbury is an English town bordering Wales. Ellis Peters combined her love of Wales with her affection for her home town by bringing the Conwy-born fictional character Cadfael to the market town that was historic Shrewsbury.

Sarah Woodbury doesn’t live in Wales either. In fact she’s American, and in Oregon. Unlike the Cadfael series, Sarah’s books are actually set in Wales. And unlike Cadfael, Sarah Woodbury’s MC is female.

For much of history England and Wales have been uneasy neighbours, often at war. At the time Sarah’s book The Good Knight is set, Wales is not even united in itself, let alone with England as part of the modern United Kingdom. Life then was short and brutal, and of course the concept of gender equality quite unknown.

So for Sarah, sat at home in Oregon, USA, to write a medieval mystery set in Wales, with a women sleuth running rings around the menfolk, was either madness or a stroke of genius.

My money is on genius. This is Cadfael for the twenty-first century, set in the twelfth.

My prediction, here in writing on MWi, is Sarah Woodbury is going to be the next Ellis Peters. With a range of novels from YA to historic magical fantasy to historic detective, and using her impressive research to bring to life past times and locations, I’m very confident Sarah is going to be one of the indie stars of 2012.

Sarah Woodbury

Here’s Sarah:

A Woman Detective in Medieval Wales?

It is a stereotype that women in the Middle Ages had two career options: mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two. Whether we like it or not, for the most part this stereotype is accurate and the status and role of women in that era revolved around these categories.

This is one reason that when an author sets fiction in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life. Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women. Such women may or may not actually have had more autonomy, but their lives didn’t consist of drudgery and child care from morning until night.

This is not to say that men in the Middle Ages weren’t equally restricted in their ‘careers’. A serf is a serf after all, of whatever gender. Men as a whole, however, did have control of women, of finances, of government, and of the Church, and thus organized and ruled the world. Literally.

There are obvious exceptions—Eleanor of Aquitaine, anyone?—but women such as she were one out of thousands upon thousands who were born, worked, and died within five miles of their home.

At the same time, within Celtic culture, women had the possibility of greater personal autonomy. In Ireland, where the Roman Church had less influence, women had a viable place both within the Druid religion and within the Celtic/Irish Church. Wales, too, was less subject to the restrictions of the Church. There, women had a higher status than in Christendom as a whole, including the right to divorce her husband and societal acceptance of illegitimate children.

The Laws of Women (part of the Laws of Hywel Dda) included rules that governed marriage and the division of property if a married couple should separate. Women usually married through contract, but elopement was allowed, with the provision that if the relationship lasted seven years, a woman had the same entitlements as if she’d been given to her husband by her kin.

The Good Knight is the story a young woman, Gwen, who investigates the murder of a King of Wales. She’s a bard’s daughter, which gives her mobility, ambiguity in terms of social status, and an autonomy that any good detective needs. Gwen’s sleuthing takes her from Wales to Dublin and back again, and earns her the trust and confidence of high and low alike.

The Good Knight (A Medieval Mystery)

Intrigue, suspicion, and rivalry among the royal princes casts a shadow on the court of Owain, king of north Wales…
The year is 1143 and King Owain seeks to unite his daughter in marriage with an allied king. But when the groom is murdered on the way to his wedding, the bride’s brother tasks his two best detectives—Gareth, a knight, and Gwen, the daughter of the court bard—with bringing the killer to justice.
And once blame for the murder falls on Gareth himself, Gwen must continue her search for the truth alone, finding unlikely allies in foreign lands, and ultimately uncovering a conspiracy that will shake the political foundations of Wales.*

Links:

My web page: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/
My Twitter code is: http://twitter.com/#!/SarahWoodbury
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahwoodburybooks

The Good Knight is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

There wasn’t supposed to be a post this Sunday, but loss of power meant I couldn’t run this yesterday, nor follow up as I usually do. But Sarah will be back here next week with some posts about medieval life, and to show why historic fiction is so popular.

Sarah also writes YA, and her book Daughter Of Time is available free on some platforms.

So, no question, Sarah Woodbury’s legacy is assured.

What will be your legacy?

Wednesday Review: Gerry McCullough Discusses Dead Is The New Black by Christine DeMaio-Rice

If you’re thinking you’ve already seen that cover on MWi recently you’re right. Christine was here before Christmas with a much-praised post on why men hate fashion.

Gerry McCullough

Christine will be back with us soon with a follow-up, but meantime, it being Wednesday and all, Christine’s book drew the short straw for dissection by everyone’s favorite reviewer, Gerry McCullough.

Withou further ado, here’s Gerry on Christine.

Dead Is the New Black

Reviewed by Gerry McCullough

I’ve been a fan of the classic detective story all my life. Of recent years, these have become harder and harder to find. Labelled ‘Crime Stories,’ they have become more and more police procedural/ serial killer in nature. To me a classic of the genre should have wit, imagination, and a puzzle element with fair play clues presented to the reader in a cleverly misleading way. The plot should be fast moving, full of twists and turns, and with a central character or characters who are easy to like.  The characters should not be mainly policemen, unless we are allowed into their private lives, although the occasional cop whom we can get to know is fine. It’s also a plus if the setting is interesting and is presented accurately in a way which tells the reader a lot about it, without dumping too much information.

Dead is the New Black fulfils all my requirements.

Set in the New York fashion world, it immediately attracted my attention. Rex Stout set several of his books here; and Marjorie Allingham’s marvellous The Fashion in Shrouds is similarly set in the London fashion scene. Christine DeMaio-Rice knows a lot about her background, and this makes the book especially fascinating and enjoyable to read. The sophisticated atmosphere takes us by the throat from the first page.

Then there are the characters. Laura and her work mates, particularly Jeremy St James, are vividly drawn. Laura, we learn straightaway, is hopelessly attracted to Jeremy. (She wonders herself if she would have dared to allow their relationship to develop if she hadn’t believed he was gay – because then there would have been a risk that it might become serious.)  So we feel sympathy for her from the start, and at the same time realise that we are in the hands of a writer who can give us characters with depth.  Laura’s sister Ruby is a bright contrast. Stu becomes more likeable the more we see of him.  And Cangemi, the cop, is a much cleverer detective than we are led to expect at the beginning.

Christine DeMaio-Rice

The handling of the plot is all we could ask for. The clues are thrust at us in a way we should be able to pick up – but almost certainly won’t.  The murderer appears in the first few chapters.  When Laura arrives at her desk to find coffee waiting for her, she tells us, she knows that Jeremy must be already there, because he is in the habit of buying coffee for them both on his way to work. The coffee, unusually, is spilt – which is not like Jeremy, she thinks. But when she goes to his office, she sees that he is in a state of extreme distress – he has found a dead body there.  Laura spends the next hours ringing the police, talking to the cop who arrives to take over, Cangemi, and assuring other members of the company who turn up for work that Jeremy is not guilty and that work will continue as normal.  And I wonder how many of DeMaio-Rice’s readers will be able to pick out the important clues, and identify the murderer, from what they have by now been told?  The motive, also, has already been trailed before us, even earlier in the action.

The title of this book tells us at once that here is a witty, clever writer, and the cover backs this up. The book is full of amusing one liners and funny situations.  As an example of the one liners, when Laura tells Stu, ‘I’m not pissed off with you,’ Stu says, looking at Laura slyly, ‘You’re honesty-challenged right now.’  Laura thinks, on hearing that Jeremy is in prison in Rikers, ‘If Central Park was the city’s backyard, Rikers was the haunted house down the block that your mother told you to stay away from.’  And Ruby and Laura decide to call their fashion business ‘Sartorial Sandwich.’ How about that?

And as an example of funny situations, the description of the sisters’ housing problems, with Ruby always coming out on top compared to Laura, is consistently amusing.

Laura’s tangled love life finally works out, just as her career does; and the murder mystery element is solved in a satisfying way which is clearly believable. This is one of a series, I’m told.  If the other books are as excellent as this one, I’ll look forward to reading them.

Chrstine has a book trailer for Dead Is The New Black on youtube. On a good day my ISP will let me add a video, but today is not a good day, so check it out here.

Christine has a great blog called Fashion Is Murder. Her book is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, not to mention Barnes & Noble.

Our thanks as always to Gerry for a great review. Dead Is The New Black is high on my TBR list. Sadly there just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with all the great indie books flooding the e-stores.

Ever since epublishing took off there’s been a lot of talk about how self-publishers are flooding the market with mindless rubbish. And badly typed mindless rubbish at that. And I’m sure it exists. Some people are quite concerned by this. Check out our co-writer Miriam Joy’s sister Bella for a non-writers’ viewpoint.

But my Kindle is coming up to its first birthday. I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read on there, but strangely I have yet to find a single example of the “tsunami of crap” that supposedly makes it impossible for good books to stand out.

One reason for that is that I choose ebooks in the same way as I used to choose print books – by looking before I buy, and by reading reviews like this one of Gerry’s, to help find new material.

Reviewers play a crucial role in our lives as writers, and as readers.  We should all be thankful to people like Gerry who set aside time not just to read, but also to write in-depth reviews when they’ve finished.

As authors we know how valuable that service is. We all love it when someone publishes a review of our books. Yet so many of us, while craving reviews from others, rarely take time out to do it ourselves for the authors we read. And yes, I’m as guilty of that as anybody.

But writing a review – not just  a paragraph of praise on Amazon but a full review for Goodreads, or the author’s website, or here on MWi – is one easy way to thank the author for the pleasure they gave you, and to pay it forward for the future.

Speaking of pay it forward, watch out for some related news here on MWi this coming weekend!

Meanwhile, a reminder that today’s reviewer Gerry blogs regularly over at Gerry’s Books. Rather appropriately given discussion here on MWi yesterday, Gerry’s last review on on her own blog was of The Lord Of The Rings. Well worth checking out.

And if you like her reviewing style you’ll love her books. Gerry’s debut novel Belfast Girls is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Her latest novel Danger Danger is of course also available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Finally here today just to add that that wonderful cover for Dead Is The New Black was designed by Christine herself.

In fact Christine has an alternative cover live on am.com at the moment, which refuses to copy here. It’s jus one of those days…

One of the dilemmas of indie writing is were you pitch camp in the genre fields. It’s murder-mystery crime fiction but its also comedy-thriller and chicklit. It must be great to be able to design multiple covers to test the market.

But Christine’s talents range far wider. I leave you with three covers Christine recently produced for fellow MWiDP author Sarah Woodbury. Sarah will be here on MWi next week to tell us more about her life as a history obsessive, now combining authentic research and fantasy writing skills to good effect. Meanwhile, just sit back and admire Christine’s designer skills.

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