As of today, the Chalfont St Giles and Jordans Literary Festival is going ahead, so pandemic permitting Draca’s book launch will be at 4pm on Thursday 21st May in the lovely old Friends Meeting House in Jordans, Buckinghamshire. I’m in prestigious company; fellow speakers include Dr David Starkey, Dame Sandra Rhodes, John Dickie, and Andrew Lownie as well as some great local talent. For further details, including ticketing, please visit the festival site.
Draca has had a long path to publication since the idea was born in the cockpit of a friend’s boat in the summer of 2013. I’ll describe the story behind the book, including my partnership with the veterans’ charity Combat Stress, with whom I am sharing royalties. There will be wine and light refreshments afterwards.
I have reserved a small number of free seats for existing supporters of Draca. Please contact me directly, either by email or here, if you have pre-ordered a copy and wish to come. First come, first served.
You’ll find more details about Draca, including a synopsis and extracts, here.
And a London book launch?
I’m delighted that the Literary Festival in the leafy lanes of Buckinghamshire is going ahead, but I have given much thought to a central London launch event. Inviting people to brave City transport and a crowded venue during what may be the peak of the virus feels a little like announcing a beach party after a tsunami warning. Daunt Books had kindly agreed to host an evening event for Draca’s launch, but I have decided it would be responsible to postpone this until later in the year. Many of Draca’s supporters are London based, and I’m sad not to be able to raise a glass with you around the day of Draca’s release, in a location that would be convenient to you. You will, of course, be doubly welcome in Jordans on 21st May.
Draca’s cover, including some humbling cover quotes from ‘names’, should be finalised next week. I look forward to sharing that.
In these worrying times let me wish you and your families good health, and for all of us a speedy return to normality.
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.
There’s a dragon in Draca; a restored figurehead with a dark history. The Vikings who carved and venerated that fearsome head would have celebrated not Christmas but Yule, the midwinter solstice and the birth of the new year. So Happy Yule, God Jul, or, in Old Norse, Gleðileg jól.
About Draca & Unbound
If you’d like to know more about Draca’s dragon figurehead, there’s a synopsis of the book here and extracts here and here. It’s my second novel (Saxon’s Bane actually reached #1 in its genre) and I took an unusual route to publication so that I could share financially meaningful royalties with the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress. The book’s hero is a PTSD-afflicted survivor of Afghanistan. Is he haunted by his past, or just haunted?
Unbound are highly selective, like any publisher, but wait until pre-orders have passed a threshold before committing to publication. They are new but making an impact, with a Man Booker long-lister to their credit and, this year, a Rathbones Folio finalist. And Draca? With the help of over 250 supporters, many of them committing to multiple copies, Unbound’s threshold for publication was reached three months ago.
Publication is coming closer…
Since then there has been lots of editing, all now complete, and Unbound are moving towards final cover design and launch scheduling. They plan to despatch supporters’ copies in mid May, in time for the first of the launch events; I’m speaking at a literary festival on 21st. Unbound say general release is likely to be in July. That’s when we can all start helping veterans whose wounds are more than physical. Combat Stress will receive half the royalties.
Last chance for your name inside!
Unbound will close the supporters’ list soon, before typesetting. All supporters names appear in every edition of the book, so if you’re lost for gift ideas, how about pre-ordering a paperback and putting the recipient’s name inside the covers? Or your own? Click here for all you need to know.
And meanwhile, God Jul. Gleðileg jól.
Thanks to the support of around 250 enthusiasts, Draca has achieved crowdfunding success. We’ve reached the threshold of pre-orders when Unbound starts the publishing cycle. Each of those 250 believed in the project enough to pledge money towards a book that didn’t exist, and which would never have existed without them.
Draca will now enter the long cycle of editing, copy editing, cover design, and typesetting. The current forecast is for general release in June 2020.
However I have been invited to speak at the Chalfont St Giles Literary Festival on 21 May 2020. It’s too good an opportunity not to factor into launch plans, so Unbound will try to ensure that pre-release copies are available ready for that date.
Meanwhile the supporters’ list will remain open during the initial editing phases. Anyone wishing to pre-order a copy can do so here. As from now, the royalties will be mounting up for the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.
Huge thanks to all those who’ve carried Draca to this crucial stage. You have truly earned your place inside the covers.
Draca is now at 93% of the threshold of pre-orders for the publisher, Unbound, to start the publication cycle. Once published, 50% of author royalties will go to the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.
I’ve acquired an unexpected but very welcome deadline, in the shape of an invitation to speak at the Chalfont St Giles literary festival on 21st May 2020. To have printed books ready by then, Unbound need Draca to reach 100% by mid September. No pressure, then. I’m told I’ll share that day’s billing with a “household TV name”. Previous speakers at this biennial festival have included John Carey, Dan Cruikshank, Katie Hickman, Lord Winston and Ffion Hague.
This is too good an opportunity not to factor into launch plans for Draca. So if anyone would like to place a pre-order, any time between now and 17th September, I’d be delighted to send you a book of five short stories as a ‘thank you’. Just follow this link to Draca’s page at Unbound, place your order, and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know whether you’d like the short stories in .epub (Apple) or .mobi (Kindle) or pdf format. There are lots more details about the book here and extracts here and here.
Thank you! And it would be great to see you & to sign your copy at the festival.
As anyone who has read Saxon’s Bane knows, I like to write stories where worlds collide. Not, I hasten to add, in the astronomical sense; I don’t write Science Fiction, but I do like the past to echo in the present. Even better, to play on it in a way that has the reader wondering if there is more in today’s world than can be explained by science.
Weaving the past into the present
In a previous post I described how the initial idea for Draca came at anchor in a friend’s boat, watching the ebbing tide reveal the bones of dead ships. What else did the silt’s ancient layers conceal? After all, Guthrum’s Viking army wreaked bloody havoc in that very harbour during their war with Alfred. There’s a contemporary, 9th Century poem by Torbjøn Hornklov which evokes the moment when the dragon ships surged out of the mist:
Ships came from east-way,
All eager for battle,
With grim gaping heads
And rich carved prows.
They carried a host of warriors,
With white shields
And spears from the Westlands
And Celt-wrought swords.
The berserks were roaring
(For this was their battle),
The wolf-coated warriors howling,
And the irons clattering.
But how might such a moment impact the present? Weaving history into a contemporary novel is tricky. In Saxon’s Bane I set whole chapters in the Saxon era. In Draca I took a more subtle approach, revealing the past through the contents of an old man’s bookshelf; his diaries, his obsessive research into his own Danish heritage, and his copies of the ancient sagas. If the tidal scour revealed a Viking artefact, he’d probably keep it. His diaries could reveal his mental disintegration, until he dies raving that he ‘tried to give it back’.
The joys of research
Researching a book can be wonderfully diverting. It sucks time as you wade through bogs of facts. Whole days sink without trace. That old man dies in the first chapter and it’s his legacy that triggers events. Still, just populating his bookshelf mired me very happily in perhaps a month of reading ancient history. I could use almost none of it. All for a book set in the present day.
There are a few exceptions. A dictionary of Old Norse taught me obscure words that became chapter titles; (Chapter 1: Arfræningr, one stripped of his inheritance). Snorri Sturluson’s 13th Century Heimskringla taught me the lilt and vocabulary of Old Norse, even in translation. It taught me enough to ‘book-end’ chapters with short extracts from a Viking saga.
So readers of Draca will find slices of history framing a modern tale; slices that tighten the tension as the ancient and brutal past starts to resonate ever more loudly in the present. Next year, after publication, you’ll be able to tell me if it worked. For now, here’s how that back story begins.
From the saga of King Guthrum, c.875AD
That winter King Guthrum laid down a mighty dragonhead ship for his son Jarl Harald, whom he loved and honoured most of all. Of oak did he build it, cut finely that it might bend with the sea, with benches of pine for twenty oars on the one hand and twenty on the other. The fittings were splendid, as befits a great jarl, and a richly carved strake rose to a wondrous dragonhead at the prow. As was the custom, this could be taken down, like the helm of a warrior, lest it offend the landvættir, the land spirits.
Then Guthrum and Harald made sacrifice in this wise: Harald took a stallion that he loved, and calmed the beast, covering its eyes that it might not see whence the blow would come. Then they took their axes and struck; Harald between the stallion’s eyes, and Guthrum at its neck such that the sound of the blows was one, and none could tell who made the killing wound. So mightily did Guthrum wield his axe that the stallion’s head was wholly struck off, and the wise ones said that the fall of the blood was good, for the dragonhead tasted blood before ever a bowl was brought to its mouth.
Then Harald knew that the gods would sail with them, and would find them even in the furthest reaches of the sea, for the dragonhead was truly consecrated to the Æsir.
Draca is available to pre-order through Unbound here. It’s £10 for an ebook and from £15 for a paperback. The names of all supporters at this pre-publication phase will be included in the book. Half of all royalties will be donated to the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.
Like all writers, I’m often asked where I find the ideas for my books.
“Sainsbury’s,” I usually reply.
Others have a less flippant answer. I once heard an author quote Michelangelo; ‘I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free’. I snorted at his pretension, even though I had a sneaking admiration for anyone who can claim to see the finished work at the outset. I’d love to have an Epiphany where a complete novel bursts into my head. My stories have small beginnings. I pick at one idea, and in time may encounter another that multiplies the first; a kind of writerly serendipity. Sometimes I can’t even remember the sequence.
The birth of a book
But, unusually, I can remember the exact moment when Draca was born. A friend had asked me to crew for him in his sailing boat, and one evening we’d anchored in one of the great natural harbours that open into the English Channel.
It was a wild, ethereal place, filled with the sunset screaming of gulls, and we sat in his cockpit, sipping whisky and telling stories with the comfortable ease of long friendship. The only sign of life was the squat tower of a Saxon church, far away over the water. Around us the long summer evening faded from pink to peach to grey, and the ebbing tide exposed the bones of dead ships, poking through the mud. It was a twilight so atmospheric that it had to become the setting for a story, and the story would have to feature boats and people who lived at the sea’s edge.
A boat as a character?
I’ve learned that boats have characters. That may sound fanciful, but several more experienced sailors have told me that at first, a boat simply has characteristics, such as her best points of sailing, or the way she lifts and slews to a wave. In time, this basic understanding grows until you recognise her moods; the boat becomes a friend who talks to you, and her language is the feel of the tiller in your hand and the singing of the wind through her rigging. When the ship is sailing well, she feels happy, and when she’s shoulder-charging the waves into a storm, she can be belligerent. Treat her badly, and she can be as angry as a wronged lover. I sense that the older the boat, the more her idiosyncrasies, so why not have a boat as a character?
2 x 2 = 5. Multiplied ideas acquire a momentum. The next time we anchored, in an equally desolate place, I stared at the ribs of another rotted ship and wondered what human stories they could tell; heroism at Dunkirk or the Normandy beaches? Exotic trading voyages in the days of Empire? Those bones might lay on other bones, in ever deeper layers of history, back to a time even before that Saxon church was built. After all, Vikings raided this coast in the 9th Century, exploiting their sea power in their war against Alfred.
All those ‘what if’s’…
That took me off at a tangent. So much of plotting a novel is asking endless ‘what if’ questions. What if an artefact exposed by the mud could be evil? An object that has been central to atrocity, perhaps? People are rarely wholly good or wholly bad; most heroes are flawed, many villains have some redeeming aspect. Humanity implies imperfection. But an object? Europe’s equivalent of a blood-soaked Aztec god? I began to see my angel in the marble.
Except that it was a gargoyle. Or a dragon. Very ugly. With a story to tell.
Read the full story
Draca will be published by Unbound when their threshold of pre-orders has been reached. Today we’re at 65% and rising.
Half the royalties go to the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress. Click here for a synopsis and here for an extract. For the full story, you can order your copy at https://unbound.com/books/draca/
I’ve been enthusing to friends about Thursday’s crowdfunding launch of my novel DRACA with publisher Unbound, in support of the veterans’ charity Combat Stress. Not everyone ‘gets’ it. Typical conversation:
FRIEND: “Great! Sounds fantastic. I’ll buy a copy. In fact, put me down for four. Presents for the family.”
[MEANINGFUL PAUSE BY AUTHOR]
FRIEND: “Oh, you mean I need to buy them now?“
AUTHOR, OPENING IPHONE: “Yup. Let me show you. Click here “
So here’s how crowdfunding publishing works:
Unbound select a manuscript (and with a Man Booker longlister to their credit they’re VERY selective!) but like all publishers they can never be sure which books will succeed. We live and write in an age of huge publishing ‘noise’; about 500,000 English language titles a year hit the market.
So Unbound make the author build support before they publish. In my case, that means ‘pre-selling’ about 500 books. With that lower risk, they pay high royalties, which is excellent news for the veterans charity Combat Stress, who get 50%. (The rest is the budget for fees, taxes and promotion.) The bad news is that I don’t even know 500 people, and I’m staring at Pledge Mountain.
What you can do:
- Click on Unbound here
- Pledge your support. Think of it as a pre-order.
- Spread the word.
Thank you for helping me to help those whose wounds are more than physical
In case you missed the announcement:
DRACA is the story of a war-damaged veteran of Afghanistan who struggles to rebuild his life by restoring an old sailing boat, while his dysfunctional family push him ever closer to the edge. It is a subtle, ambiguous ghost story in that the reader must decide whether he is haunted by his past, or just haunted. Half the royalties to to Combat Stress. I’m crowdfunding so that contribution is financially meaningful. See full post here.
Publishers Unbound have accepted DRACA. I’m sharing royalties with veterans’ charity Combat Stress. You can help make it happen.
Unbound are a new and fast-growing force in publishing. They won the Bookseller Book of the Year Award in 2015, and their recent successes include the Sunday Times Bestselling ‘Letters of Note’ and the Man Booker long listed ‘The Wake’. Unbound have a revolutionary publishing concept; they team with an author to build support before publication, which lets readers decide what is published. You can join the DRACA community – and see your name inside the cover.
Draca: supporting Combat Stress
Combat Stress help former servicemen and women deal with issues like post-traumatic stress, providing specialist treatment and support to give veterans hope and a future.
Early endorsement has come from Vice Admiral Charles Style, a former Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, who says Draca is ‘a powerful and gripping story, wonderfully told. It’s brilliant that a book of this calibre is offered in support of Combat Stress.’
Building the DRACA community
You can subscribe to the publishing of the book, secure your own copies and other privileges by clicking here:
You’ll find a synopsis, an extract, and a video. There’s a Q&A, so go on… challenge me! Naturally, there’s also a chance to pledge your support. This can be as little as one ebook, or as much as a bundle of signed copies for a book group. All supporters will see their names inside every edition of the book.
So please help me to help the heroes like Jack whose wounds are more than physical.
AND! Share this post, reblog, tweet… let’s get the word out.
Thank you for making a difference.