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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Counting down to Draca’s release in ten days. The main character is Jack, a flawed hero of Afghanistan. He’s a veteran with PTSD, but the book is not universally dark. Suzie Wilde, author of Sea Paths and Obsidian said in her review, ‘Tension release, 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.
Yet to understand the man you need to know what’s going through his mind. Here’s a glimpse:
(Extract from Chapter One)
Getting to sleep was usually easy, with a little liquid help. It was staying asleep that was the problem.
One summer when Jack was a kid, the family stayed on a farm for their summer holidays, and the farmer set a magpie trap in his yard. In the centre, in a little cage within a cage, was a live one. The ‘call bird,’ the farmer said. He’d left it a dish of water and even a bit of dead pigeon to eat, but the thing flapped around making a lot of noise in that harsh, rattling way of magpies. As Jack and the farmer watched from inside his barn, three more magpies arrived and hopped down through the wire door to see what all the fuss was about. They went frantic when the farmer walked over and they couldn’t get out, and he shot them, one by one, with a .22 rifle he kept for vermin.
The Taliban hadn’t killed Jack outright because he was their call bird, but they’d used Dusty Miller for target practice. It was usually Dusty who woke Jack in the black hour before dawn, and always with the same pleading look, that way he’d stared at Jack as if he could do something. Dusty had come running back for him through the firefight in a mad, heroic, suicidal dash, and he was still coming back for him, pulling him out of the fug of sleep when the alcohol drained from Jack’s system and all that was left was the sour taste of guilt. Sometimes, in those first moments of wakefulness, Jack could smell roasting meat. Then he’d have to walk outside and breathe clean air, whatever the hour, whatever the weather. He’d have run, if he could. Even in summer, the air just before dawn can be pure as snow.
You need to meet ‘George’
Only about 2/5 of Draca is in Jack’s ‘voice’. There’s almost as much written from the perspective of Georgia, ‘George’, the feisty yachtswoman who runs the local boatyard. She’s an orphan with attitude, the light to Jack’s dark, and I’ll introduce her in a couple of days.
Draca can be ordered now
There’s more about Draca here, including some stunning early support from very distinguished generals. Meanwhile, if you’d like to order the book there are links to many UK and international retailers including Waterstones and Foyles via the ‘buy’ link here, or if you’d like to go straight to Amazon UK then click here for a paperback and here for a Kindle version.
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.
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:
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.
Draca is going to print. A book that has been seven years in the creation is about to be reality, with a release date of 14th May. Many of the conventional aspects of a book launch have necessarily been cancelled during the pandemic, but I could send out review copies. I’ve been stunned by the reactions.
From Combat Stress:
Combat stress is the veterans’ mental health charity. They will receive half the royalties. Their President, General Sir Peter Wall, describes Draca as ‘A really cracking read about a soldier who attacks his battlefield demons through his passion for sailing – and sadly still needs help.’
From a fellow author:
Suzie Wilde, the author of Sea Paths and Obsidian, enthused ‘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.’
From the Armed Forces:
I served for nearly eleven years in the armed forces, but never saw action, yet the protagonist is a war-damaged veteran of Afghanistan. So it was with some diffidence that I approached General Sir Nick Parker to take a look. Sir Nick was Commander British Forces Afghanistan in 2010, and he says it’s ‘a terrific and compelling story which highlights mental and physical challenges that many who have served will recognise.’
And from a distinguished sailor:
Those who know me also know I am an occasional and inexperienced sailor. I have sailed very enjoyably with a hugely more competent friend, but I was a little nervous about the authenticity of some sailing scenes. The book, after all, pivots around a very idiosyncratic, vintage pilot cutter. It was an area, like combat, where I had to rely on research and imagination rather than personal experience. Then Ewen Southby-Tailyour OBE, a former Yachtsman of the Year, told me he’d lived on a Bristol Channel pilot cutter. He reassured me that Draca is ‘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.’
A ‘book launch’ with no bookshops
Draca is sailing out into a strange world where no physical bookshops are open, and no libraries, so the book launch I was planning can’t happen. All authors with books coming out during these stressful times have had their wings clipped, but with a little help, I think Draca is reaching flying speed.
Draca will be released by Unbound on 14th May 2020, ISBN: 978-1-78965-105-8, and will be available to pre-order shortly. Further details to follow on this site and on my Amazon author page. You’ll find a synopsis of the book, including extracts, here.
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.