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.
It’s great to discover Draca is being well received by lovers of nautical fiction. It has been reviewed in the December 2020 issue of Yachting Monthly. Rather nicely, I think.
For more information about Draca, including other reviews and extracts, click here.
Draca is available via all good bookshops, or via Amazon here.
The online book club The Pigeonhole has selected Draca for serialisation, and it is wonderful to see the reactions around the world. The current episode includes the first of several sailing scenes. The graphic of Draca’s sail plan and internal layout in the print book and ebook’s front matter has not been included in The Pigeonhole’s online version, so I’m including it here for ease of reference. I have asked The Pigeonhole to add it to their site.
Anyone wishing to join the online group (who seem to be having a lot of fun with the book) should go here. There are nearly 200 people reading it at the moment but there is space for more.
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
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.
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.