Thursday, 29 August 2013

Blog Interview with author GORDON DOHERTY

Who is this Gordon Doherty person?  Okay, rhetorical question in part, since I know many of you know who he is, but many won't, and some of those who may know of him still may not know much more than 'he is an author of some historical fiction books isn't he?'.
If you have not heard of him nor read any of his books, then please, let me introduce you.

As a person, you will get to know him better through this interview. Therefore, from that angle, I really only need to say that he is a Scot and lots of fun and I would love to hang out chatting with him in a pub one day. That is the kind of person he is. Without airs and graces.  Good natured and completely devoid of pretentions.

But that's Gordon as a person. What then of who he is as an author? Since you are avid readers and you are always looking for new books and authors then let the work speak on who this author is.  So, in answer to the question I began this blog interview with, this is the answer, this is Gordon Doherty. Legionary , Legionary: Viper of the North, Strategos: Born in the Borderlands, Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart

As you can see, he's written some books. Some very fancy looking books. And, for shame, like many of you, I have not yet read a single one.  That is about to change however, as I venture into the land of Gordon Doherty this September with his book Strategos: Born in the Borderlands.

Strategos: Born in the Borderlands
I know many of you will be joining me for that and I am looking forward to it.  Gordon Doherty will also be joining us for the read of his book and to help give you a multi layered experience with the group read, he was kind enough to do this interview.
I hope you enjoy it and that it excites you even more about the September read of his book. I know for myself, that after reading Gordon's interview responses that I certainly am ready to put on my black kohl and get eye gouged in Byzantium.  Care to join me?

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Do you think it is important to be as historically accurate as possible in an historical fiction book?

Ah, a nice easy one to start with . . . I can’t just say yes and move on, can I? :)
Seriously, the question can be posed to almost every aspect of historical fiction from a grand scale right down to the minutiae: Does the tale stay true to recorded events and dates? Do the characters converse and behave in a manner appropriate for the belief structures of their time? Does the protagonist use the correct type of loom to weave cloth for their latest outfit?

At the finer end of the scale, I think there is a distinction to be made between historical accuracy and historical depth. Yes, accuracy is paramount. If you’re going to mention a loom in your tale, then make the effort to ensure you research and describe it as it would have been in that time. However, don’t spend a whole chapter describing that loom. I’ve seen good stories suffocate under historical info-dumping. Balance is the key in this respect. The best histfic works I’ve read are those that draw me in with dashes of authentic detail while allowing the tale to flow and the imagination to breathe.
At the thicker end of the scale, concerning recorded events and dates, I think any work of historical fiction has to be well-researched in this respect. I spend months immersed in the primary and secondary sources before I begin my story planning. This forms the spine of my work. The storytelling comes next. Where history does not provide the characters, the scenes or the twists*, I will add flesh to the tale. At times, this might require bending the historical fact (e.g. shifting dates by a few weeks or so to fit a character’s timeline) and I’ll usually highlight this to the reader in my author’s note. I think the fiction part of historical fiction allows licence for this.
* Though it often does, and sometimes in eye-wateringly brutal fashion – I’ve lost count of the number of eye-gougings described in Norwich’s excellent Byzantium trilogy.

A two part question I always like to ask historical fiction authors. Who is your favourite historical figure or figures and why? And if you have not already written about them, do you think you one day will?

Justinian and Belisarius. What a pairing and what an era! They could and almost did reconquer the empire’s lost territories. The image of Belisarius holding the decrepit walls of Rome – the gates bricked up and the battlements crumbling – with just a handful of men against the Ostrogoths armies is pretty awe-inspiring. It’s a shame Justinian’s ego curtailed his brilliant general’s progress, but then who knows for sure that Belisarius didn’t covet the imperial throne?

Will I write about them? I’ve started planning now, thanks to this question . . .

As a stalwart of the historical fiction genre, I was happy to discover the setting of your book. I feel not enough historical fiction is being written about Byzantium from both a local and a border lands perspective. What attracted you to this era and to the settings in this Strategos series?

I’m always a sucker for the underdog, and Byzantium comes across as just that – an echo of lost greatness, permanently at war on eastern and western fronts without the manpower to make a decisive move on either side. Such a fatalistic backdrop can’t fail to conjure strong characters. I also felt a little sorry for the modern, possibly western notion that Byzantium was a duplicitous and somewhat craven state. The truth is that they often had little option but to resort to espionage and artifice. That said, I don’t for a moment believe they were universally altruistic . . . as you might see when you meet certain characters in ‘Strategos: Born in the Borderlands’ *rubs hands together and throws head back with evil cackle*

I thoroughly agree though that Byzantium is criminally under-explored. Who knows – perhaps the Strategos trilogy will prompt a Byzantine revival. Soon, folk might be strolling the streets with kohl-stained eyes, purple buskins and gold-hemmed tunics on their way to Byzantine-night at the local nightclub. But then you might get authentic eye-gougings too, especially in Glasgow. Okay, scratch the revival idea . . .

If you could go back in time and meet a person of history (not necessarily a favourite person of history) who would it be and why?

On 29th May 1453, one man took his place atop the near-crippled walls of Constantinople bearing arms, the banner of his god and the weight of nearly two millennia’s history on his shoulders. Constantine XI Palaeologus, the last emperor of Byzantium, stood with a few thousand weary, starving and desperate men. The Thracian countryside beyond the city was masked by Ottoman regiments – numbering over three hundred thousand – and the colossal guns that would blast the walls asunder and consign the Byzantine Empire to history.
 Before the siege commenced, Sultan Mehmed II offered to spare the emperor’s life if he would surrender the city, to which Palaeologus replied;

“To surrender the city to you is beyond my authority or anyone else's who lives in it, for all of us, after taking the mutual decision, shall die out of free will without sparing our lives.”

The stance epitomises Byzantium. If one man could convey what it was like to strive against the odds as the empire did on those dark, final days, it would be Palaeologus.

A question along the same lines, but also a fascinating one to see an author’s thoughts on...
If you could go back in time and witness a moment in history, for example; an event, a battle, a court, a construction (I have always thought I would like to go back to see Stonehenge being built), what would you like to witness firsthand?

I’d love to see what really happened at the fall of Troy. So many legends spread from that event, doubtless exaggerated many times over. I think there would be something quite humbling in witnessing the true scale of what happened in the Troad all those centuries ago. I actually indulged this fantasy by writing a time-travel short a few years ago where an average fellow from the present day travelled into the past to witness the climax of the siege (not in a sitting back wolfing a bag of maltesers way, more in a peering over an adjacent hilltop, terrified that an Achaean warrior might find and gut him way). It wasn’t my best, but I certainly enjoyed writing it.

You also have a Roman Series. Your Legionary Series. What prompted you to write it?

Legionary was my first foray into full-blown noveldom. As much as I was intrigued by Principate-era Rome, I never really felt compelled to write more than short stories about those centuries. I mentioned my love of the underdog previously, and later Rome, specifically the late 4th century, absolutely snared me. Like Byzantium, it deserves so much more attention than it currently receives.

The legions were impoverished, scattered and low on morale. The borders were overstretched, undermanned and creaking. Then came the small matter of the Huns, riding from the steppes like a dark storm, displacing and driving the masses of tribes before them onto the imperial borders. This was utterly irresistible for me. Imagine standing on the walls of a crumbling Roman border fort, clutching a spatha, spear and shield, watching this tide of invaders wash towards your homeland. Your dilemna is simple - you and your comrades must stand firm or the empire will fall.
Here’s a guest blog I wrote a year or so back discussing on the state of the imperial borders at this time:

With the recent release of book two in your Strategos series, I was wondering, with both your Strategos series and your Legionary Series, how many books have you planned for them?

Strategos started out as a one-off and it’s now planned as a trilogy. Legionary started out as a standalone yarn and it’s now a series of five books at least! I’ve learned how easy it is to underestimate just how much characters and concepts can burgeon from those initial story ideas.
With Strategos, I was sorely tempted to expand beyond a trilogy. The story potential is certainly there. However, from the beginning, I felt that there were three momentous periods in Apion’s life. ‘Born in the Borderlands’ charts his childhood and the making of him as a man. ‘Rise of the Golden Heart’ finds him at his lowest ebb, a pivotal moment for him and the empire.

The yet-to-be-penned conclusion to the trilogy ‘Island in the Storm’ will put him squarely in the face of fate itself – his own and that of everything he knows – as he treads the fabled plains of Manzikert.

The covers of your books, in particular your Strategos series, are really lovely. Have you had much of a hand in their design and are both series' done by the same cover artist?

I designed the original cover for my first book, Legionary. I had a vision of a desperate band of limitanei legionaries charging into the fray, but I simply didn’t have the graphic design talent to execute this. In the end I cobbled something together – an image of a Roman intercisa helmet on a grainy purple background. Some readers emailed me to say they loved my book, but nearly didn’t bother trying it because of the ropey cover art – cheers, Ray ;). So I opted to contact a professional designer to revamp the cover, sending them a rough textual description of my original vision as guidance. It was a rock-solid investment, and I’ve never looked back.

Now I have a process; I will get the crayons and pencils out and sit doodling out my cover as best I can (and we’re not talking fine art here – my outline sketch for ‘Strategos: Rise of the Golden Heart’ had the warhorse looking more like a crazed Scooby-Doo). This tends to convey my requirements far more accurately than a textual description.
I’ll then send this sketch over to Olly and Barry at GB Print. Within a few weeks, they have turned my manic etchings into a thing of beauty!

Any new ideas on the horizon for Gordon Doherty? Any new Historical Fiction settings you would like to write in?

Besides the Strategos trilogy and my Legionary series, there is another top, top secret project underway. So secret that no one person knows all of the details. So secret that if I was to reveal anything, I’d probably go missing overnight. So secret that even the local secret squirrel knows nothing about it. Okay, I’m exaggerating a wee bit. Actually, I’ll be co-authoring a new novel with my good friend Simon Turney. We’re trying to keep it under wraps while it comes together and it is still in the formative stages, but the early signs are promising. Suffice to say that it pitches us both into an era that will appeal to fans of each of our works.

Apart from that, I sense a trip to Bronze Age Anatolia on the horizon. A tale I worked on some years ago in that setting has been calling out to me in recent times. And then there are the centuries between Legionary and Strategos that ooze story potential (more Justinian ideas bouncing around my thoughts now!). Just a few days ago, I also had a friend insist that I should write some Scottish histfic. I suggested Skara Brae, he demanded Dalriata. In the end the debate turned to the subject of beer . . . and beer won (that happens a lot).

Which do you prefer? Ebook or Paper?

Paper is hard to beat. I love dark, brooding and evocative cover art, and treebooks are always going to win in this respect. A quick glance at my bookshelves and I can see Helikaon of Gemmell’s ‘Troy’ trilogy, Dionysius of Manfredi’s ‘Tyrant’ and Eskkar of Barone’s ‘Empire’ series gazing back at me and I’m quickly whisked back over the joy of those reads. I also appreciate the absolute escapism of possessing nothing other than a paper volume and an open mind. No texts, tweets, emails or otherwise to distract me.

That said, these days I use my eBook reader for the majority of my reads. It’s dangerously easy to sample and stockpile books, and I find my particular device very discreet (no notifications/distractions other than a prompt to charge it up once a month or so). I can lose myself in eBooks as easily as I can in treebooks. The portability of eBooks is another major bonus; I was in south-western Turkey earlier this year, researching for the final part of the Strategos trilogy. I was on a dolmus, heading into Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus), when I realised my itinerary for touring the city was flawed. I whipped out the eReader, switched on 3G, and within 30 seconds I had before me a copy of Jay Artale’s excellent city guide. Problem solved and city well and truly explored! You can read about my exploits here: Searchability (pretty sure that’s not a word) is another big win for eBooks, particularly when researching, or when I simply want to find that passage in a favourite read and relive it.

To conclude; the eBook/treebook debate is a popular one, but I think both have a firm place in my reading life. Beyond this, I always try to remember that the medium is transient and story is king. Indeed, a few millennia back the argument was probably: “which is better: bard or paper?”

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Thanks Gordon Doherty for giving such fun answers. I learned some stuff and laughed at some stuff.  Those are my favourite kind of interviews.

Strategos: Born in the Borderlands is the September 2013 Group Read in Ancient & Medieval Historical Fiction Group on Goodreads. It starts September 1 and runs throughout the month.
All welcome to join in. Discussion thread here: Group Read of Strategos by Gordon Doherty

- MM

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Mayhem For Mayhem

It has been such a busy month for me. Computer died and when it did, it took with it my ability to blog. I do have a Tablet, but it is impossible to blog from it, as many Blogger features do not work on it.
I am now armed with my new baby. Shiny, black, delightfully quick. My first foray into Wndows 8 too and I have discovered this amazing thing called Windows Writer which allows me to blog to Ancient & Medieval Mayhem straight from my PC’s desktop.  What a wonder of the modern era!
So I will be back in full blogging swing soon. Stay posted for an upcoming interview with author Gordon Doherty. He is the author of the A&M Historical Fiction Groups September Group Read Strategos: Born in the Borderlands and will be joining us for the discussion of his book in group.
See you here or see you there.
- MM

Monday, 19 August 2013

Code and Conduct: THE KING'S SPY by Andrew Swanston

A very decent debut novel from author Andrew Swanston.
Set against the backdrop of the English Civil War, around the time of the Battle of Newbury. The main character Thomas Hill, a bookseller from a small rural town, is commandeered to assist Charles I with codes and ciphers, encrypting and decrypting. He must leave the secure home that he shares with his beloved sister and nieces in Romsey, and relocate temporarily to Oxford.
The book twists and turns and has you guessing. The 'who is bad/who is good' that a reader of historical mystery has come to expect is there in spades.
The historical description, as far as the environment and the times go, is good. Not too much, just enough to help you see through the looking glass into the character's world.

I did have some issues with the detail in which the author has gone to to demonstrate how codes are written and broken in the 17th century and I felt it fractured the flow and ambiance of the book early on. From the very first page the story was delightful, the characters charming, and then it changes tack and turns into a lesson on early coding and nothing else is really going on in the story. A lot of going for walks and more code breaking sessions. Letter by letter, cipher by cipher, number by number. A similar issue happens at the gambling table, when the characters are playing Hazard. Much too much detail, that breaks the spell and jolts you out of the story.

This is mostly in the first 120 pages and if you can make it through that and still maintain interest then you will discover the info dumps come down to a dull roar. If the reader is not interested or they had enough in the early stages of the book, then it is easier to scan over these sections as they come to make up paragraphs instead of the whole pages from earlier scenes.

The King's Exile by Andrew Swanston
It was this detail and a couple other minor problems (that would be spoilers to mention) that nearly made me give the book 3 stars, but then I realised that a book which can make me read virtually non stop until finished surely deserves 4 stars, despite the rather dull coding and 'Hazard' info dumps, so let's call it a 3 1/2 star book for now.
All up, as mentioned in the beginning of this review, a very decent first outing for Mr Swanston. I will definitely be reading the next one: The King's Exile which is due for release in some countries in September 2013.

- MM

Monday, 12 August 2013

Let's See What The Indies Think Shall We?

In the Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction Group we have many members who are authors or aspiring authors.  Some are Traditionally Published and some are Self Published.
The A&M Group is, in its essence, not a place for authors to actively seek sales from the non author members. It is a reader's group. Authors, Traditionally Published or Self Published, are asked when they join to not be in the group only to sell books. Their first priority is to be in our group as a reader and to enjoy reading and talking books with us.
 Over time, as members get to know these authors and trust that they are not just there to sell books, genuine relationships are built and then sales start to happen naturally. Of their own accord.
We have a lot of authors who try to aggressively market their book or books, but we have some lovely self published authors who join the group conversations because they love historical fiction in general. They may like to write it, but they also love to read it.
I wanted to reach out to some of these lovely authors this month and interview them here on the blog. To let them know that we really do see them and that, as readers of historical fiction, we appreciate that they have joined us to chat books, not just to sell them.
It is also an opportunity for me to ask, on behalf of myself and the readers in the group, what is happening in the Indie world.
 I would like to introduce the three Indie authors that I invited onto the blog for this interview.


Bryn Hammond - Bryn lives in Australia and has been a member of the A&M book group since May 2012. Most active members of A&M know Bryn. She is as big a book fan as any of us.
Her first love is the Steppes and the history of the tribes. The Mongols have become a passion for her and she is proud of the way she has presented the Mongols in her books as a people. Not as the violent, cultureless, bloodthirsty hoard that they so often portrayed as. Pictured is her book Amgalant One: The Old Ideal

Jean Gill -  Is a writer of many varied genres, but the ones that are of interest to us today are her historical fiction.  Jean hails from Wales but lives in the South of France and has a lifestyle that many of us may consider a perfect idyll. With bee hives and an orchard and a near proximity to the vineyards of this area of France.
She writes, currently, in historical settings in the 12th century. Narbonne and Jerusalem.  Pictured is her book Song at Dawn.

Paula Lofting  - Writes in the 11th century which is a favourite period of history of mine as well, so I can understand why she wants to write in it. Paula truly loves her 11th century history and can talk about it all day long. A mother and nurse as well as an author, she is currently working on the follow up to the book Sons of the Wolf.


What does being 'Indie' mean to you?

Bryn: It means you keep control of your work. Every decision is yours. Whether it’s artistic integrity you care about, whether it’s your own choice of cover and title: your book is in your hands. That’s what I like.

Jean: Freedom. I can publish exactly what I want, without cuts or compromise, and I write to my own deadlines. I love designing my own book jackets – three previous publishers let me do so but I still remember the disappointment of seeing the woman’s face on my first novel – nothing like my character! I write in many different genres and I’ve got over not finding Editor Right. I will never have another rejection or be let down by a publisher again in my life.

Paula:  I guess that being Independent means that I have full control over what goes in my book, the content, what I am writing about and the cover images. I take advice but the end of the day, being Indie means I am in the 'Driving Seat' and I can make choices that often mainstream authors can't. Also, being Indie doesn't mean I do everything myself, it just means I have the power to employ whoever I wish to help me produce my book. Some Indie writers are self-published. I don't think that's me, I am more assisted published.

Did you investigate going 'Indie' before going it alone? ie seek advice, online research etc.. Or was it a decision you had to make due to major publishers' reluctance to sign up new historical fiction authors (especially in light of what has happened this decade in world economies)?

Bryn: Neither of the above... no, I didn’t investigate much. I had always been afraid of a number of things about traditional publishing. One is the changes they make to your book. That’s an issue for me, and I expected conflict, since we’d have different aims. Theirs is to make my book as commercial as they can, whereas I’d sacrifice ‘commercial’ to ‘what’s right for the book’. Next anxiety: publicity demands. I’m acutely shy in person, but you can’t say no, can you? The only comfort I ever saw on an agent’s site was that shy writers are catered for: they might be asked to do radio interviews. Yeah, right. Then, it’s typical, I think, that you have to produce a book a year, by contract. To me, that’s a factory line. A book needs the time it needs.
So I’d always thought of (traditional) publishing as a necessary evil. Not necessary any more.

Jean: No, I jumped first and checked out the flotation devices afterwards. The books were already written and ready for publication, a mix of ‘near misses’ with publishers, and rights-reverted, so I went crazy and published 11 e-books in one year as soon as amazon allowed writers outside the USA to publish kindles. Prior to that, I was desperately seeking a friend in the USA to publish with and it was so frustrating to be held back from entering the new marketplace. I also discovered smashwords and Mark Coker's advice there - so helpful.

Paula: I did investigate going to a publisher but the whole prospect seemed very daunting. In the end, after speaking to a well known author who had decided to go to an assisted publisher, I thought, what the heck, lets do it. I could be dead by the time I found a publisher who would take me on, if one did at all! It took me 6 years to research and write my first two books, I didn't want to wait another 6 years looking for a publisher.

How common do you think it is these days for Indie authors to choose not to shop a manuscript around and from the very beginning they write with the intention to only publish independent?

Bryn: To become common. When I think of how past writers have struggled with publishers. Last year I read John Cowper Powys’ giant Arthur novel Porius, painstakingly reconstructed out of his notebooks. He’d had to cut a third of the book to satisfy a publisher – which must have hurt. As an independent, you publish what you want, when you want. If big publishers make conservative choices, if they want clone books, then independence means freedom – from trends, from what’s judged to be in and out, and even, still, notions on what you can and can’t write about. That’s got to attract creative minds.

Jean: That’s exactly what I do but I think many Indie authors are hoping to attract a big publisher with their success, rather than to remain self-published. Maybe I’ll change my mind if a big publisher sweet-talks me but at the moment I feel I would lose more than I’d gain by signing a contract. Indie suits me.

Paula: Its very common. A lot of indie authors publish very cheaply. sometimes the results are not that good, the product is not a professional standard but if you know what you are doing, it can be a very good choice. I prefer to use an assisted publisher I trust to take care all of the details that would give me a headache like uploading into the Nielsen System etc. But its worth shopping around for a good affordable price for a quality book. You don't have to fork out thousands.

How do you find the market responding to Independently published historical fiction? Is it growing in popularity do you think or are other genres dominating and taking the lion's share?

Bryn: Romance is going gangbusters. Maybe it’s an adventurous spirit, maybe it’s about cheap ebooks, maybe – as I suspect – it’s a catch-on thing. People do what their fellow enthusiasts do. I don’t know whether they have killed the prejudice, over in romance.

Prejudice remains, and I think a double-standard. Indie’s sins are pointed out where I see those sins in trad. But indie hf is in a healthy state and can only grow.

Jean:  I don’t think readers these days distinguish between independently published and traditionally published authors, and Historical Fiction is hugely popular. It’s the 4th biggest genre out of 19 listed with the popular bargain-chaser site Bookbub, after mysteries, romance (including historical romance) and thrillers. However, this makes HF very competitive and very difficult to break into the bestsellers lists. You need huge, regular sales to get to the top 100. My ‘Song at Dawn’ had 26,000 downloads when it was on free promotion, reached Number 8 on the HF bestsellers’ list, has great reviews, but dropped straight back out of sight when the promotion finished.

Paula: historical fiction is extremely popular, both indie and main stream published books are doing well. I do think that chicklit and crime is more popular though

When you write historical fiction do you research what eras are popular and more likely to sell, then fit a story to that more marketable era? Or do you choose an era you already love, whether it is popular or not, and then write your story into it?

Bryn: Definitely the latter. Writers ought to write what they love – and what they have things to say about. I was a writer without a story for years, the symptom of which was unfinished novels... until I stumbled on a subject ideal for me. Then I felt those trials (failure and frustration at the time) had been an apprenticeship. I remember the fortnight – now eleven years ago – when I read Huc and Gabet’s travels in Mongolia; straight away to Rene Grousset on Temujin’s life; and third the Secret History of the Mongols itself. Most exciting fortnight of my life. Might be like meeting your future spouse.

Jean: Not at all and an Editor friend has said this is the mistake most writers make – we don’t check out the market. Maybe she’s right but that just wouldn’t work for me. Stories come to me and demand to be written. My historical period chose me when read the statement ‘It was rumoured that a female troubadour toured the south of France with a large white dog’. How could I not write that story?! It was during my research that I narrowed the year down to precisely 1150. When I plan the book in detail I do think about 'what shelf' it will go on and how long it should be to fit reader expectations. It wasn’t until after I’d written the first HF book that I thought seriously about marketing it.

Paula: I write what I enjoy the most. Writing Sons of the Wolf was a labour of love for me. I write for me first, then if people buy it its a bonus. If they read it and like it, its an even bigger bonus.

Where do you see Independent Publishing and Indie authors going in the future? For example; Do you foresee Indie books only ever being available and bought in digital form or do you think book stores will start to carry more lines of hardcopy Indie books?

Bryn: With Amazon’s Extended Distribution paperbacks are available, for instance, from The Book Depository and Australia’s Fishpond (who have increased my prices hideously). Possibly in actual stores in North America... it’s a start. Smashwords, meanwhile, pioneers in ebook distribution – including to libraries, an idea they are committed to. Availability is a happening area, there’s frequent news on that front.

Jean: Here in France, people are still saying that ebooks will never catch on, which makes me very aware of how fast the world has changed. Obsolescence usually takes three generations (of people, not of iphones!). Take the invention of the calculator: grandparents refused to use calculators; parents used them but had good mental arithmetic; the children relied on calculators completely. I think the same will happen with e-books. We are the dual-use generation, loving physical books and also enjoying e-book advantages. The children will grow up with lightning-fast keypad dexterity, able to search and find, plagiarise and annotate, but very slow in use of physical books.

My books are all available in print and not just because I like to hold them and look at the jackets. I see physical books as a shop window and loss leader for e-books. Goodreads will only do a giveaway for a print book. I always have 50 books printed, which I sell directly and from a local bookshop. I use a print-on-demand service, with ISBN, and readers can order my books from bookshops. Sometimes a niche book can be placed on sale where it fits best and, as physical bookshops are an endangered species, other outlets for print books will become vital. I mailed the Pyrenean Mountain Dog Club of Great Britain, and the one in France about my dog book and they have copies of my book for sale.

Paula: I'm not sure really. It would be nice if there were more Indie bookstores like the one near my home who stocks my book. The owner there John has a few indie author's books in there. He has been a great help in giving me somewhere to sell my books. I think that attitudes in most of the mainstream market is still pretty snobby toward Indie.

 If someone was going to write a novel or is thinking of writing a novel, would you encourage them to shop their manuscript first and publish Indie as a last resort? Or would you encourage them to forget the big publishers and go Independent first?

Bryn: Whichever they feel comfortable with. I wouldn’t nudge them either way.

Once I was tempted. Knew a writer who had his opus online, getting attention, but he kept trudging around agents, as he’d done for ten years past. He never talked about indie, instead we heard his gallows humour about the next rejection. The guy already had a readership. I felt like giving him the elbow, believe me... but I didn’t.

Jean: It depends on the writer’s publishing skills, financial situation and confidence. If your aim is to make money, forget small presses. If, however, you value a well-produced book and an Editor who works with you, a small press might be just the thing. If you want to say ‘My book is published by Penguin’ then you need to approach Literary Agents and you need to be prepared to wait, probably for years, with no guarantee of publication. Most publishers no longer read unsolicited manuscripts and they are as confused as authors about what’s going to happen next.

Paula: I would say do whatever feels right for you. If you're young enough to wait ten years or whatever it takes to find a publisher, then do it. If like me you want to get your life's dream realised quickly, then go indie!

What would be the best advice on publishing independently and the best tips on marketing you could give an author who was thinking of going Indie?

Bryn: I have a warning. Indie books can sit there obscurely, even terrific indie books – I’ve seen them, and seen their authors grow disheartened.

On the other hand, think of the reality for the trad-published. Most books never sell enough to cover the author’s advance. You have six weeks to sell, or you’re off the shelves. Your book is then dead. They can leave you out of print, and digital unused, and you’re stuck, without the rights to your book. We don’t hear about those authors but they are the majority. Even an obscure indie is out there, in print: paperback and ebook can be bought worldwide. Your book always has a chance.

Jean: Get critical input on your work. I have an invaluable network of writer friends and we do quality-control for each other. Beta-reading (error-checking what we oldies call the draft version) is a great idea – I’ve had readers volunteering to beta-read my next novel and I know they’ll spot any plot inconsistencies. One true fan is worth 10,000 freebie-chasers.
If you don’t seek, or don’t find, a publisher, then you need to assess what you can do yourself and what you can’t. You can pay for services but beware the crooks! has free booklets on formatting ebooks correctly and on marketing. It also has lists of jacket designers and professional formatters, at reasonable prices.
You have published a great book? Now network. Read writers’ blogs. Use social media to share what you learn. Little and often is better for social media.

And face the Giant. Amazon. No-one markets your books better than amazon. Make your author page and your book pages attractive to your readers. No-one makes you sign your soul away to the extent amazon does. Your choice.

Paula: Shop around if you're going assisted, there are many companies who will charge you a fortune and you most certainly wont ever get your money back on a first novel. Use a good editor whose work you have seen or someone has recommended. Blog, join book groups on FB and Goodreads and network! And remember, for most of us, this is not a career. Very few writers can give up their day jobs. Its a lovely hobby, that's how I see it.


Thanks Bryn, Jean and Paula for all the time you put into your answers.

- MM

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Getting Real at Acre: TEMPLAR'S ACRE by Michael Jecks

Templar's Acre by Michael Jecks
Anyone who writes reviews for a review site or their blog knows that feeling when you sit down to write and your fingers sit on the keys motionless. You write a few words. Erase them. Try again. Erase them. It is a dance I am sure the writer of novels knows only too well, especially when things are not so straight forward, and reviewers who want to write about the books they read are no different. It is a dance and I was in it when I sat down to write about Templar's Acre.

When a story, or in this case a review, is not an easy do - as in, there are some contrary and not so straight forward opinions to share – things get tough. With this book most of those opinions are positive and worthy of some wordy salutes and yet I have some gentle critique to give too. The review requires thought and so my fingers wavered and my mind stalled and the dance began.

So, how should it evolve? This contrary review. I gave the book 4 stars out of 5, not 5 out of 5. Which foot should I put forward first then? The negative that made the book lose a star from me? Or the positive that gave it a bountiful four?
As my fingers waver again, I think I need to put my negative foot forward in this dance and whirl of words and imagination. The reason I dropped a star.

I enjoyed the book. Enjoyed it from the beginning, but it had its ups and downs for me at first.
Michael Jecks begins the book on a high seas journey to the Holy Land with our main character Baldwin de Furnshill, who is the son of a Knight and “A man of honour and trained in the sword”.
In time, he will become familiar to you as Sir Baldwin de Furnshill, one of two main characters in Michael Jecks' 31 book mystery series, A Knights Templar Mystery. Only this one, Templar's Acre, is a prequel to that entire series. Technically it is book 32, but is a spin off of sorts called A Knights Templar Adventure and it is the most recent released to date.

So he is not Sir Baldwin the stoic and war weary character of the Knights Templar Mystery series. He is a different man, his younger, unexplored self, a youthful Baldwin the Pilgrim. And in 1290AD he is on a sea journey and under attack by Genoese pirates.

It was a fantastic kicking off point and I instantly knew that I was going to like this book. I just had to, once we got away from the sea battle and off the boat, get passed some Holy Land character set ups and scene creation that failed to really draw me in. The characters were not very exciting at that stage and there was a very mild love story that I felt nothing for. To this reader, that love story felt forced and disconnected. Included just to make an extra plotline. It improved for me later in the book, but I could have done without that storyline altogether. Others will disagree, but that was how I felt.

And then it happened. The Siege of Acre. And what a beast it was. It caught me off guard, in fact. I was kind of reading along, liking but not loving the book, and then some momentum started to build. Things started to happen. Scenes and plotlines locked into place. The book began to pull together. The characters came into their own and by the time Qalawun, then in turn Khalil, and the Muslim army marched upon Acre my eyes were wide and my pulse was actually racing.

I stood on the walls with Baldwin and the defenders of the city as they watched the Muslim army, strengthened by Egyptians and Syrians, gather and raise their siege machines across the rugged Levant landscapes beyond the confines of Acre. Here was an army well versed in siege warfare, who had taken Tripoli by siege not long before. They were driven by revenge and a passion to repel the Crusaders from the Kingdom of Jerusalem and so they built their machines, their catapults and mangonels, and they planned their deadly strikes with precision.
Men on foot and on horse back, moving about and forming up in greater numbers than the defenders of Acre could ever have dreamed of and when those mighty siege machines swung back and released upon the walls and towers of the city, Baldwin stood - I stood - watching them, feeling the thud and quake run through the stone and our bodies as they smashed and pummeled the gigantic walls of Acre to dust and rubble. Crushing the defenders, tearing the town apart from the inside out and burning its inhabitants alive with their barrage of Greek fire.

Now things were getting interesting.
Now we had ourselves a book.

If you know your history of the Fall of Acre, the last major stronghold of the Crusaders, then you know what was to eventually happen. The outcome of this battle is not written by Michael Jecks, it is written by history and the author needed only do what he knows he must. Place his characters across the battlefield in our mind's eye and hope we can see what he saw as he laid it out for us. For this reader, I believe he managed it. He harvested his years of experience as a writer, dosed it with his experience with research and threw it out across the page like the artisan of historical fiction that he is.

That was why I gave this book four stars. I took one away for the part that left me unmoved and gave him four for the craft I saw in this fictional version of the real life battle of Acre.
When I closed up the book I had one train of thought that I remember repeating to myself several times.

Write more of this, Michael Jecks. Write more of this.
Find yourself another field of play and another collection of set pieces and write more of this.

- MM

I did an interview with Michael Jecks on this blog when Templar's Acre was released, in which he speaks of the book.

I received my copy of Templar's Acre for reading and reviewing from Simon & Schuster Australia.
Boy, am I grateful they sent me a review copy or I may have put off reading this book for goodness knows how long.
A big thanks to them for the great read.