Hammer of Fate will soon be ready to go to print, ready for my heroine Adelais to be sent out into the world on 1st June.
Publishers Second Sky (an imprint of Bookoutoure/Hachette) sent out ‘Advanced Review Copies’ of Hammer of Fate in February, and the first reviews are coming in. I’m particularly pleased with this one: ‘There is something about a good fantasy book that always grabs me and lures me in, holds me hostage until I can finish it, and then leaves me pining for more. … I can only urge you to pick up this book and thrive in it…’
If you’d like to pre-order an ebook, it’s available here.
The final stages:
Editing is hard work. The finished book will be the end product not only of years of writing but of four cycles of editing:
Firstly my editor makes ‘structural edit’ suggestions, related to plot and characterisation. We then hand the agreed changes to a ‘copy editor’ for more nuanced revision. Line editing follows. Hammer of Fate is now at the final, proofreading stage when we discover infuriating glitches. Like runes, which are important to the plot. Kindle transposes them, turning the rune bjarkan, for example, from a correctly typeset ‘ᛒ’ into ‘B‘. The rune’s esoteric meaning of renewal becomes just ‘buh’. I am so glad I have a publisher to help.
Book 2 in the series has just finished the copy editing phase, and by my count the edits on the first two novels in the series have taken me about 110 full days of work since October. All this editing has left Book 3 on a cliff edge, with a key character facing a very tricky situation and begging me to ‘please please please come back and write me out of this’.
No pressure, then. You’ll find more about Hammer of Fate, including the publisher’s description here. Sign up to my newsletter here to hear announcements about subsequent releases in the Rune Song series.
Late last year I was invited to join the shortlisting panel for the 2022 Best First Novel Award, the UK’s longest-running prize for debut fiction. It has been a delight as well as a significant burden of reading. Over the next few weeks I’m going to highlight some BFNA gems by authors that are, by definition, little known. This won’t be the long-list (pictured below) since in the nature of panel discussions not all the books I thought worthy made the cut. However they resonated with me enough to want to share them.
The Best First Novel Award for debut fiction
First, the award. Inaugurated in 1954, the £2,500 Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award is almost the oldest literary prize in Britain. Each publisher may submit two works of debut fiction, so between us the panel had about ninety novels to read. This year’s winner guest adjudicator was Alex Wheatle, who selected the winner from the panel’s shortlist:
Yvonne Bailey-Smith, The Day I Fell off My Island (Myriad Editions)
A.K. Blakemore, The Manningtree Witches (Granta Books)
Catherine Menon, Fragile Monsters (Viking)
Lucy Jago, A Net for Small Fishes (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Melody Razak, Moth (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Tish Delaney, Before My Actual Heart Breaks (Hutchinson Heinemann)
And the winner was: Tish Delaney, Before My Actual Heart Breaks
I hadn’t expected to like this one so much; the context made me nervous. It’s a 25 year drama through the eyes of one woman in an intensely Republican, Catholic family near Omagh. It shows I should read outside my comfort zone more.
We follow the woman from her childhood with an emotionally abusive mother through to empty-nester, and it takes place almost entirely within the scattered farming community of one remote valley. It’s a story of love; parental, sibling, and amorous, and it hinges on communication and mis-communication, with heavy doses of Catholic morality, guilt, and hypocrisy.
I truly engaged with this story. The language is straightforward, unflowery, and only lightly sprinkled with Irish vernacular. The mother’s abuse sets the context for much that happens later, including a disastrous adolescence. By then I wanted to stand in the girl’s way shouting ‘don’t do that’. Before she is long into her marriage I was just as keen to slap some sense into her, but then we would not have a story. For a while it is a sharp portrait of a woman so wrapped around her own wounds that she does not realise that silence can cut deeper than words.
There’s a rich cast of characters, all well drawn, and enough humour to lift what could be a depressing tale. The reader ends up laughing, loving, and shouting with them all as if we were part of the ‘craic’. Brilliant.
One that also deserved to win: Lucy Jago, A Net for Small Fishes
More to come
DRACA: IN SUPPORT OF COMBAT STRESS
CHALFONT ST GILES AND JORDANS LITERARY FESTIVAL
SATURDAY 15TH MAY, 5PM, ONLINE
‘A war-damaged veteran on a mission to self-destruct. A yachtswoman who risks everything to pull him back. And between them, an old boat with attitude in a page-turner that will leave salt on your lips and a bruise on your heart.’
Draca was due to launch last year at the Chalfont St Giles & Jordans Literary Festival, until covid forced its cancellation. This year the organisers have invited me back to talk about Draca, the story behind the book, and my partnership with the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.
With social distancing rules still in force, all the festival’s presentations this year will be online. The upside is that we are no longer be constrained by the capacity of the lovely 17th century Friends’ Meeting House in Jordans. The downside is that I will not be able to offer you hospitality afterwards.
The talk will last for about 40 minutes plus Q&A, and is ticketed. If you would like to join me online please click here to buy a ticket (£5). All my speaker fees go directly to Combat Stress.
HOW ARE WE DOING?
I’m often asked me how Draca is faring. The short answer is that until I receive a royalty statement, I don’t know. November’s royalties, of which a little over £600 went to Combat Stress, only covered receipts preceding the launch. The lack of bookshops, libraries, and speaking engagements since then won’t have helped sales, but I can say is that Draca is collecting a gratifying number of brilliant reviews.
In July and August last year Draca was also selected for the online book club The Pigeonhole, and I had the pleasure of seeing the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reactions of nearly 200 readers around the globe as they read and discussed each daily instalment. The Pigeonhole themselves commented ‘we love discovering gems like this’, and I honestly don’t know the club reader who said it was ‘the best book I’ve ever read’.
More details about Draca and an extract are here.
JOIN ME AT THE LITERARY FESTIVAL
I’ll share more on 15th May. I hope to see you there. Once again click here to buy a ticket.
I’m delighted to say that the online book club The Pigeonhole has selected Draca for serialisation commencing Sunday 26th July. They will release Draca in ten daily episodes ending on Tuesday 4th August. So if you’re not already enjoying the book, why not read it with a strictly-limited group of bookish people? What’s more, it’s free to join.
So how does The Pigeonhole work?
The Pigeonhole say:
‘We work with publishers to bring their users the best in modern fiction, from bestselling authors like Ken Follett to new voices. Our serialisations enable readers to interact with authors and other readers inside the book as they read and comment in real-time. Launched in September 2014, The Pigeonhole was nominated for the Digital Innovation Awards at the London Book Fair, and Future Book’s Digital Campaign of the Year. The Bookseller magazine named Pigeonhole’s founding editor Anna Jean Hughes as a Rising Star of the publishing industry.’
The Pigeonhole release selected books in daily serialisations called ‘staves’ to strictly limited numbers of readers, free of charge. They do invite you to leave a review at the end. You can read more about The Pigeonhole here.
Want to join in?
In the three days since The Pigeonhole selected Draca, take-up has been strong. Less than half the available slots remain. If you’d like to grab one while you can, you can sign up to Draca on The Pigeonhole here and I look forward to ‘seeing’ you during the serialisation. Remember, it is free of charge.
If you want to know more about Draca, there’s a synopsis and extracts here. If you’d like your own copy to read, you’ll find it on Amazon Kindle here, Amazon paperback here, and through all good bookshops.
The guys at the books podcast We’d Like A Word are making quite a name for themselves. Previous guests have included Graham Norton and Anthony Horowitz. I’m honoured to follow in their footsteps. In their mid June broadcast I shared the spotlight with General Sir Peter Wall, the President of Combat Stress. Combat Stress is the premier charity for veterans with complex mental health issues such as PTSD.
Paul Waters and Stevyn Colgan, the show’s producers, had chosen a theme of ‘should trauma influence stories’. Sounds heavy, doesn’t it? Just follow the links below and listen; we laughed. A lot.
We started by talking about Draca, my novel about broken relationships and misunderstandings where one character is a veteran with PTSD. General Wall has read the book and had some wonderfully enthusiastic words to say about it. Paul asked how much trauma can, or should, shape a story. That’s a serious question which prompted serious discussion, but which morphed into reminiscences of Armed Forces life and became just a little explosive. Best line of the broadcast came from Paul Waters, after one anecdote from General Wall: “Just think how far your career might have gone if you hadn’t been caught!”
Where to listen
The podcast is in three parts. Choose any of these links to listen: Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts Spotify Anchor FM
Sir Peter Wall and Combat Stress
Sir Peter Wall was Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, until 2014. If you’d like to know more about Combat Stress and their outstanding work with veterans, their web site is here.
There’s more information about Draca, including extracts, on this site here. For Draca’s Amazon pages, go here for paperback and here for Kindle. At the time of writing, one month from launch, it is scoring a very gratifying 4.6 ex 5 with 20 five star reviews. Draca is also available via Waterstones, Foyles, and all good bookshops.
Draca’s launch was supposed to happen today. Tonight I expected to be sipping a celebratory champagne, basking in the glory of the first reviews. After all, all Draca’s wonderful supporters were going to have their copies early, weren’t they?
Enter Corona-chaos. I.E: Publishers, printers, distributors, and logistics companies all working with reduced staff on socially-distanced shifts. Massive dependency on Amazon, since bookshops and libraries are shut. Amazon working to priorities as arcane as their algorithms. End result:
- Initial print run reaches publisher. Stacks of paperbacks. Yay! But too late for early copies to reach supporters before release day.
- Publisher can’t get stock to Amazon. Decides to postpone launch.
- Delaying Draca’s launch on release day proves to be technically impossible.
- Publisher releases Draca anyway. Amazon will sell Kindle copies but are ‘Out of Stock’ on paperback. They probably won’t receive/accept stock into their system until early-mid June. [Don’t ask. I have. I still don’t understand.]
The way around Corona-chaos:
So here, lovely people, is how to acquire a print copy of Draca during Corona-chaos:
Go to the publisher, Unbound, here. For £9.99 they will ship you a copy, just like Amazon. They will even cover the cost of UK postage. For £4.99 they will also sell you an ebook or Kindle version if that’s what you want.
Message me. Contact me via the web site. Email me, whatever is easiest. I am assured that a stack of copies is on its way, so when that arrives I will send you a signed copy, with a dedication if you wish, for £10 via PayPal. Just add your desired dedication to the PayPal message. And yes, I too will cover UK postage. While stacks last, as they say.
For more information about Draca, including extracts, click here. No less an authority than General Sir Peter Wall calls it ‘a really cracking read’. Remember half the royalties go to the veteran’s charity Combat Stress.
Let me introduce you to ’George’. She’s a key character in my novel Draca, with almost 2/5 of the story in her ‘voice’. In a previous post I introduced Jack, the flawed hero of Afghanistan. George is a feisty orphan – with – attitude. She’s made her own way from care homes to be manageress of the local boatyard. As I crafted the book, George acquired a tough, shoulders-back manner that hid her vulnerabilities. By the time I had finished writing the book I think I was a little in love with her.
George is also a very competent yachtswoman. I’m an indifferent sailor, so writing credible storm scenes required a lot of research and imagination. That must have paid off; a former Yachtsman of the Year gave me an excellent quote for the cover. ‘A cracking, believable yarn made even more authentic by the wonderfully descriptive sailing scenes...’
Here’s George at Jack’s grandfather’s funeral, observing his dysfunctional family and showing that ‘attitude’.
Orphan – with – attitude at Eddie’s funeral
George could learn a lot from watching people. At first, everyone looked the same. All in black, all with that funeral look as if they wore a passport photograph where their faces should be. She could make out the Ahlquist crowd, all hugs and kisses except Jack, and then there was an older man and two women who stood a bit apart, both more smartly dressed than the rest, and the only women in hats. A husband, wife and daughter, at a guess. The man was a short, lean, military type who stood very square. When people came up to the older woman, she offered her hand palm-down, fingers drooping, as if she expected them to go down on one knee and kiss it. No one stayed with them, and the three kept to themselves as if they knew it was pointless to try to talk.
Jack moved between them and the rest, half belonging to both groups, neither oil nor water, looking stressed. Like all the men he was sweating in his dark suit, with spots of damp staining his shirt across his chest. The younger woman must be his wife, so the military man and the duchess were the in-laws, and the families didn’t get on.
Jack waved when he saw George. Nothing too enthusiastic, but enough for her to wander over and say hello. She was ready for the mother-in-law’s fingers. If you slide your hand under that kind of regal greeting, then grip and twist, you can turn it into a proper handshake. The duchess didn’t like that. She didn’t like George’s looks, either. The duchess was tall enough for her eyes to be at the level of George’s hair, and George saw her wince. So what? George liked orange. It’s a strong colour, and it was only a streak. While Jack fumbled the introductions the woman’s eyes dropped so she was looking down her nose at George’s skirt, and her mouth pursed into a tight, wrinkly, cat’s–arse circle of disapproval. Maybe yellow was a bit bright for a funeral, but there wasn’t much call for dark, smart stuff in a boatyard. At least George had put a decent jacket over it, and she bet the duchess couldn’t tell that the jacket came from a charity shop.
Draca, described as ‘a really cracking read’ by General Sir Peter Wall, will be released by Unbound on 14th May 2020. Half the royalties will flow to the veterans’ charity Combat Stress. Click here for more details of the book, including stunning early reviews.
If you’d like to order the book there are links to many retailers including Waterstones and Foyles here. Just click the ‘buy’ link.
If you’d like to go directly to Amazon UK, the paperback is here and Kindle here.
There’s another character with his own version of events to tell as the story unfolds. Jack’s father is a dominating, controlling presence, and just because he’s opinionated doesn’t mean he’s always wrong. You’ll meet him next.
The wait is nearly over. Draca, which a former Chief of the General Staff describes as a ‘really cracking read’, will be released on 14th May, and can now be ordered online. Details below.
About the book
Draca pivots around the tensions between three characters;
- a war-damaged veteran who tries to rebuild his life by restoring a vintage sailing boat, but seems to be on a mission to self-destruct,
- his overbearing father, who pushes him ever closer to the edge,
- and a yachtswoman who gives everything she has to pull him back.
And between them all, there’s an old boat, Draca, with a very dark history. So is the veteran haunted by his past, or just haunted? There are more details about the book here, and extracts here.
All author royalties are shared equally with the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.
‘A really cracking read about a soldier who attacks his battlefield demons through his passion for sailing – and sadly still needs help’. (General Sir Peter Wall)
‘Tension release, fear, laughter, fear, lust, so you don’t notice the tightening of the noose … the story sucks you in and won’t let go.’ (Susie Wilde, Author of Sea Paths and Obsidian)
‘A terrific and compelling story which highlights mental and physical challenges that many who have served will recognise.’ (General Sir Nick Parker)
‘A cracking, believable yarn made even more authentic by the wonderfully descriptive sailing scenes – and by falling in love with the true heroine, the Bristol Channel pilot cutter Draca.’ (Ewen Southby-Tailyour OBE, former Yachtsman of the Year)
Draca is available in the UK via all good bookshops with an online ordering facility, incuding Waterstones, Foyles, Apple Books, Kobo, Hive, and, of course, Amazon; click here for a paperback and here for a Kindle edition.
For those who like to support independent bookshops, there are two fine examples near my home:
The Little Bookshop in Cookham will take email orders via this link and Marlow Bookshop will fulfil orders via their parent group Daunt Books.
Outside the UK Draca is only currently available as an ebook through retailers including amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
Over the next few days I shall be posting excerpts from Draca and introducing you to each of the key characters.
Meanwhile, stay safe in these troubled times. Escape to a different world; read a book.
Cover reveal! Unbound’s wonderful production team have created stunning artwork for Draca, which will be released on 14th May. I think it captures the mood of the book perfectly. They’ve also created a very accurate picture of a Bristol Channel pilot cutter, which plays such an important part in the book that the boat becomes a character.
And the all-important back-cover description? Read on…
DRACA WAS A VINTAGE SAILING CUTTER, OLD EDDIE’S PRIDE AND JOY. BUT NOW SHE’S BEACHED, HER VARNISH PEELING. SHE’S DYING, JUST LIKE EDDIE.
Eddie leaves Draca to his grandson Jack, a legacy that’s the final wedge between Jack and his father. Yet for Jack, the old boat is a lifeline. Medically discharged from the Marines, with his marriage on the rocks, the damaged veteran finds new purpose; Draca will sail again. Wonderful therapy for a wounded hero, people say.
Young Georgia ‘George’ Fenton, who runs the boatyard, has doubts. She saw changes in Old Eddie that were more sinister even than cancer. And by the time Draca tastes the sea again, the man she dares to love is going the same way. To George, Jack’s ‘purpose’ has become ‘possession’; the boat owns the man and her flawed hero is on a mission to self-destruct. As his controlling and disinherited father pushes him closer to the edge, she gives all she has to hold him back.
And between them all, there’s an old boat with dark secrets, and perhaps a mind of its own.
Intrigued? If you’d like a longer synopsis, you’ll find it here. There are extracts here and here, and lots more about the book at Unbound. And I’d love to point you towards a url where you can place pre-orders, but for now, let me simply share the joy of a brief well executed by the publisher.
Good news. Draca’s publication date will be 14th May 2020, hopefully in time for everyone’s summer holiday reading.
As publisher Unbound moves into the production phase, they will close the supporters’ list at midnight on Monday 27th January. So if you’d like your name inside the cover, now’s a good time to pre-order your copy, here.
For those who haven’t seen previous posts, Draca is the story of a war-damaged veteran who struggles to rebuild his life restoring vintage sailing boat. Is he haunted by his past, or just haunted? He’s on a mission to self-destruct and his controlling father is pushing him ever closer to the edge, while his yachtswoman friend gives all she has to pull him back. Half the royalties go to the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.
For a synopsis of the book and an extract, here’s all you need. If you’d like to know more about Combat Stress and their work, click the Combat Stress logo.
Next stage; the cover. I’ve already seen the first draft, and it’s going to be good. Then come the launch events, both before and after publication date. Exciting times.